Posts Tagged ‘atheism’

Whether “denial of belief” or “lack of belief”, atheism is a non-ism

September 15, 2018

The conventional use of “atheism” is to describe a denial or a rejection of any belief in religions and gods and deities. To try and avoid the negative connotation of merely rejecting and denying the beliefs of others, some have redefined “atheism” to be the “lack of belief” in religions and gods and deities. As the American Atheists state

Atheism is not an affirmative belief that there is no god nor does it answer any other question about what a person believes. It is simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods. Atheism is too often defined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.

This replacement of “denial of belief” by “lack of belief” is  merely a cosmetic change. A lack of belief cannot define what there is a lack of belief about. To have a lack of belief in something specific requires that “something” to be defined. That “something” is always gods as variously defined by the beliefs of others. To have a lack of belief in the beliefs of others is no different then to a rejection or denial of those beliefs.

Atheism is entirely reactive. It is concerned with rejecting, denying and ridiculing the belief systems of others. It offers nothing itself in answer to the fundamental questions which led to the rise of religion and their gods in the first place. It is not difficult to attack and ridicule beliefs which – by definition – cannot be proved.  Many prominent atheists in recent times have been philosophers who have criticised religions (and their gods). These include such luminaries as Bertrand Russell and more recently, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins. They follow a line of thinkers who go all the way back to when religions were invented. For example, atheist schools existed to counter the Vedic religions as far back as  2,500 – 3,000 years ago. But what is striking is that “atheists” could not exist until religions existed and they had something to attack. (And note that even chimpanzees “believe” in a Sun-god). To criticise religions and their gods is not wrong and I have no time for organised religions and their gods. But that criticism is of no substance unless followed up by addressing the questions which led to the very adoption of the beliefs being torn down.

Atheism is not in itself an “ism”. It is not a belief system or a philosophy or even a practice in itself. It has nothing to defend. It avoids attack because it has no beliefs to offer as answers to the fundamental questions of the beginning of time, the universe and everything. As an “ism” it is empty of substance. (I ignore the “agnostic” which is little more than a politically correct way of avoiding being labelled an “atheist”).

Richard Dawkins prefers distinguishing theist, agnostic and atheist positions along a spectrum of theistic probability—the likelihood that each assigns to the proposition “God exists”

It is only when you get to “determinism” – which incidentally includes a rejection of religions and gods – before the “ism” begins to gain some substance. “Determinism is the philosophical theory that all events, including moral choices, are completely determined by previously existing causes”(But determinism and the limits of science is another story to be discussed elsewhere). To be an atheist provides no substance. You must be something else first.

The proposition that “God Exists” is logically meaningless until “God” is defined. This is the wrong proposition to be addressing. Most religions do not logically come to the conclusion that “God Exists”. They start with that as an assumption which – as with all such assumptions – is taken as self-evident but which cannot be proved. To ridicule this assumption is not difficult. Religions avoid the more fundamental questions by invoking their gods. But this is a method used also by physics and cosmology. The universe is assumed to be homogeneous. The four laws of nature operating in this homogeneous universe are invoked by physicists to avoid the question of why the laws exist in the first place. The Big Bang and Dark Matter and Dark Energy are invoked by cosmologists to avoid the question of why time exists and what time is and what the universe is.

The proposition which must be addressed first is “the unknowable exists”.


 

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Atheism cannot cope with the unknowable

July 8, 2018

I take atheism to be a “lack of belief in gods”.

A lack of belief does not lie in the realm of knowledge. Neither does it lie in the realm of the unknown. A lack of belief is silent about the state of knowledge about the subject in question. A lack of belief does not imply a state of knowledge. A lack of a belief is not in itself a logical negation of that belief. Many extend this and take atheism to be a denial of the existence of gods as professed as a belief by others. I suspect that most of my acquaintances who claim to be atheists use the latter definition when they present arguments to support their denial of the existence of gods to try and negate the beliefs of others. But a denial of some belief is then an attempt to shift something unknown into the realm of knowledge. It shifts the conversation from ” I don’t myself believe in X” to “I know that your belief in X is false”.

This shift from the realm of belief to the realm of knowledge, I think, is incorrect, illogical and invalid. We are inevitably drawn into epistemology. The known, the unknown and the unknowable. The known and the unknown are realms that are self-apparent. Science is the process at the interface of these regions which leads to the growth of the region of the known. All beliefs by definition lie in the region of the unknown. Any statement and its negation ( X and not-X) must both either lie in the region of knowledge, or both in the region of the unknown. It is not possible for one to live in the realm of knowledge and its negation to live in the region of the unknown. A belief in gods lies in the unknown. A lack of belief in gods (which is atheism) is not in itself a commentary on that belief. A denial of the belief in gods cannot then be anything other than belief and cannot shift into the realm of knowledge. A denial of a belief – which by definition lies in the unknown – is to claim knowledge of an unknown thing which is self-contradictory.

Known, Unknown and Unknowable

Is some part (and maybe the major part) of the unknown then unknowable? Some scientists – and some atheists – would claim that the unknowable does not exist; that everything – eventually – can be explained. But I think they delude themselves. This trifurcation into the known, the unknown and the unknowable does not address who the observer is or the time element. “To know” requires cognition. Cognition requires a brain. Known to whom? when? for how long? What is “known” depends upon the brains alive to know. Facts which were once part of knowledge may become unknown, though they may well remain facts. I observe that most of past events are now unknowable, though they were once known. What was once known, may have first passed into the region of the unknown (but was still knowable) and then with the further passage of time may have passed into the region of the unknowable. Most of the past events in my own life are already in the region of the unknowable. The most basic questions of science that we can formulate always lead us first into the unknown and then into the unknowable.  When the unknowable is reached we use labels. Gods, The Big Bang, Dark Energy, Dark Matter, …….. . But they are all just labels for Magic.

But more fundamentally, the Great Unknowable – throughout all of space and all of time – is time and its nature. What came before time, when “before” was undefined, is unknowable. At the most basic level, our causal universe and all its laws and all our logic rely upon the existence of an inexorable and inexplicable Time Magic. (I take all events which occur but which are inexplicable to be Magic. It is my label for that which lies in the region of the unknowable). Beliefs in Gods or the Big Bang also lie in the region of the unknowable.

Atheism is about belief and does not address the nature of knowledge or confront the unknowable. An atheist’s lack of belief in gods then lies in the realm of the unknown and perhaps in the realm of the unknowable (Magic). Even an atheist believes in Time Magic (whether he acknowledges it or not).


 


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