Friday, 27 February 2015

What Is Atheism?

You might think that to say "I am an atheist" is a stand alone statement. You might think that to say that draws a line where your stance on the existence of God is and that's it. You'd be wrong.

Firstly, let's be clear. Atheism is different to agnostic non-theism. Atheism is to believe that the statement 'there is no God' is true.

You might be one of those that sees agnosticism as a type of atheism, and all right whatever, stick with that if you like, but just for the sake of this article, let's go with the proper definition. Let's do that simply because this article has nothing to say about agnostic non-theism. It only speaks to atheism. If you're an agnostic non-theist who (mistakenly) calls themselves an atheist, then this isn't about you. Some of it might cross over, but generally it's about atheists.

Right so the start point is that atheism is the belief that there is no such thing as God.

A lot of people will stop there and say 'end of story'. That's not the case. If you believe that there is no God, who have to believe that the universe can get by without one. So you have to be a naturalist or a materialist.

A naturalist might be able to somehow believe in a spiritual or immaterial dimension, but it would have to have an explanation that came through physics, biology, and chemistry.
A materialist is someone who only believes in physics, biology, and chemistry with no possibility of spiritual stuff.

Which is why the above meme is pretty accurate. Atheists have to believe that the universe was somehow created from absolute nothing. Well, they don't have to, they could go against scientific and philosophical consensus and believe that the universe has always existed.
For atheists, as there is no divine intelligence to guide, create, and design, everything that has ever happened has to be the result of time plus random chance. No purpose, no meaning, no reasons. Just blind luck.

I'm not saying any of this is false (I don't believe it is for several reasons), I'm simply saying that atheists have to choose between these options.

So once an atheist has chosen to be either a naturalist or materialist, and decided if they think the universe created itself or is eternal (or is withholding judgement until one makes more sense than the other), there's one more thing that they have to accept.

To be an atheist, you have to be a moral nihilist.

Now this is one a lot of atheists hate hearing, but unfortunately not liking something doesn't make it untrue. Have a look over The Moral Argument to see why. Without God there is no possible perfect moral standard and so that would mean moral values are all subjective - down to individual opinions. Opinions don't actually have any truth value. So atheists can have the opinion that murder, theft, and rape are bad things, but it doesn't amount to much more than that they don't like them. To build a society atheists could come up with rules that they all agree on and maybe try to base them on the best way to survive and that might be practical and actually work out fine for them. But behind it all they have to admit that all the rules and laws are just things that they have chosen and there isn't any actual real thing that makes them really 'right' or 'good'.

So to sum up. An atheist must believe that the universe either created itself or it has existed forever. They have to believe that the elements and atoms randomly arranged and by pure luck formed into stars and planets. They have to believe that elements on those planets randomly arranged into something we call life. They have to believe that seeing as everything is run on time and chance, that nothing has any real meaning or purpose beyond opinions.

A materialist further has to believe that there is no such thing as intelligence and we are all just advanced robots that follow our natural programming that was randomly generated through evolution. A naturalist could be working under the assumption that immaterial intelligence could somehow arise from unintelligent matter.

It's all bleak, but that doesn't mean it's not true.

I think it's not true because of a few absurdities, but if a materialist or naturalist can find a way to fill those gaps I'm happy to hear them. To me atheism comes from the assumption that everything in the universe has to be explained bottom up. Theism lets you explain some things, if not everything, from the top down. Atheistic science is limited to breaking everything down to smaller, more basic parts until you get to nothing. Theistic science can start with everything being there that was needed to get it all going. It leaves more doors open. Methodologically it's better.
So as a final thing to think about, I'd love to know how atheists even begin to explain these things:
  • Existence from Non-existence
  • Life from Non-life
  • Intelligence from non-intelligence
Saying "science will figure it out" is not answer. That's called 'naturalism of the gaps' or 'scientism' and we're not interested in fallacies.

Finally, I'll restate that this doesn't apply to non-theists. If you're undecided about your answer to the question 'is there a God?' then you don't have to commit to naturalism or materialism. However, it might be worth considering the absurdities atheism offers that you have to face if you were to reject God.

Cos you know, Christians have to believe that God incarnated himself as a man and proved it by walking on water, healing the sick, and raising himself from the dead, but atheists have to believe that a mud puddle got struck by lightning and came to life.