Posted on Aug 14, 2013 by Tom Gilson
Reviewing thoughts on “Atheism is not a belief”
I’ve posted more than once on “atheism is not a belief.” Today I’m republishing some of that, and adding some updated thoughts at the end.
The following portion of this post was first published on June 15, 2009, except the last item which came later.
“Atheism is not a belief,” atheists often say, “it’s just a lack of belief in a God.” Today [in June 2009, that is] it came up in this form:
And, in addition, I would point out that atheism is not my ideology. It simply refers to my not subscribing to a particular belief (theism). It makes no more sense to treat my being an atheist as my ideology than it does to treat your being a non-Muslim as yours.
What I AM is a humanist.
This is disingenuous at best. To say that atheism is just “not subscribing to a particular belief” is to deny everything that atheism entails (requires as part of its package).
Atheism entails that the universe is impersonal and amoral.
Atheism entails that there is no ultimate good (though some atheists will allow for contingent, local, or particular goods).
Likewise and with the same kind of condition attached, atheism entails that there is no ultimate meaning, no ultimate morality, no ultimate beauty, no ultimate purpose for anything.
Atheism entails that the end of physical life is the end of personal existence.
Atheism entails that all human experience is neuronal/electrical/chemical; and though some atheists have proposed ways to rise above that physicalist description (some kind of epiphenomenalism, for example), they have never been able to explain it.
Atheism entails the same specifically for human consciousness and rationality.
Atheism entails that if any sense of meaning or purpose is to be found in human life, it is found in the contingent and accidental experience of humans—for even the existence of humans is contingent and accidental.
Atheism entails that what I do today will not matter for very long, a few generations at most.
Atheism entails that every religion is wrong.
Atheism entails that the universe will one day be empty.
Atheism entails that humans and animals and plants and bacteria and rats and pigs and dogs and boys (google the last four) are ontologically the same thing.
Atheism entails that if one chooses humanism as one’s form of atheism, that choice is made for entirely contingent reasons, probably related to one’s nation and culture of birth and upbringing, and that there is no better reason than that to choose humanism as one’s ideology, since atheism provides no reason to choose humans as having any particular value.
Atheism entails the belief that “I do not need God in order to live my life.”
What If Someone Claims To Be An Atheist But Won’t Accept This List?
Since posting these articles I’ve softened my position slightly. I believe there could be an atheism that does not entail everything above. I don’t know how it would work as atheism with any of these items missing, but I’m open to the possibility. Thomas Nagel thinks mind might be part of the fabric of reality without God; fine: I still don’t know how that works.
In any event, it seems to me that the above list is at least pretty close to a necessary description of true atheism. So what do we conclude if someone calls him- or herself an atheist but doesn’t agree to most of that list? I say this person either:
- Hasn’t thought through what he or she believes, or
- Believes contradictions, or
- Is really an agnostic, not an atheist, or
- Believes, without no positive evidence, in truly incredible undiscovered and unimagined realities, a la Nagel, or
- Has made an active decision to avoid believing anything about life, death, the nature of reality, the good, or pretty much anything that matters except how to make it through the day.
In that last case, then we could fairly say that this person has made an active decision that life, death, the nature of reality, etc. don’t matter very much, which isn’t a lack of belief, it’s a positive belief about those things: again, that they don’t matter.
Are there any other options?