Updated: Sep 8
Recently, I got into a conversation with a fella in my blog comments.
He began by saying,
Seems to me that atheism begins as a personal statement of denial –hold on there is no offence attached to that– and continues as a state of negativity in that it dwells on what is not believed rather than attempting to answer the really big questions.
and followed that up by telling me he used to be an atheist.
I wasn’t interested in arguing strawmen, so I left it at that. A couple of days later, he came back with a set of questions and another comment. I thought I would write up my responses here, as it’s an easier medium to express ideas that definitely need more space than a comment editor window. So, here goes (I have edited his many misspellings of the words “atheist” and “atheism”, but they do add to my doubt he was ever an atheist):
Do you think that evolution is a basic tenet of atheism ?
No. There are no tenets of atheism. It is merely a lack of belief in a god. Some atheists deny evolution, some are spiritual, some believe in karma, some in ghosts, even psychics. The one thing we all have in common, though, is a lack of a belief in a god. That’s it.
How would you define atheism then –if, as you claim, I was never one ?
A lack of a belief in a god. It’s not my definition, it’s what it means. Just like saying you are a theist doesn’t clarify which belief system you hold to, saying an atheist doesn’t either. It’s not, as you said, a personal statement of denial. To deny something, it must be there to deny. Atheists have no belief in that something being there, until or unless it is proven to be there.
Are you the official arbiter of who is atheist and who is not?
No, but just like I can check a passport and find out nationality, I can find out whether a person is an atheist based on whether or not they meet the definition of atheist. This doesn’t make me the arbiter, it makes me able to match up characteristics with words that are defined by them.
Are there an official set rules for atheism to which one must comply?
No, save for a lack of a belief in a god. If you actively hold a belief in a god, you cannot be an atheist. Just like, if you improved your golf handicap last summer, it’s safe to assume you’re not a snake.
How would you define evolution ?
Evolution, like atheism, is not a word you get to have a personal definition for. These are words with meanings outside of your opinion or my opinion. Evolution is universally defined as the process through which biological populations have diversified over successive generations.
My opinion of atheism is that...
That’s your problem. You think what atheism means is subject to opinion. It is not. Like whether or not I am an actual Canadian citizen is the same outside of your opinion and mine. Whether or not I am a marsupial is the same outside of your opinion or mine. Whether I am a mother or a high school graduate or an astronaut or an Olympic gold medallist: the answers to these things are all the same, outside of your opinion and mine. Whether or not someone is an atheist is the same thing. The sole requirement for being an atheist is a lack of belief in a god. If you answer anything other than, “yes”, to “Do you believe in God?” you are an atheist.
My opinion of atheism is that it is not an end in and of itself— but is for some people a necessary first evolutionary step of a journey to somewhere else entirely ( an intellectual clearing of the decks if you will ) and the mode of transport is the asking of questions both of others but more particularly of ourselves. For others of less inquiring mind it like many other beliefs leads nowhere.
I literally have no idea what any of that means. I don’t speak Deepak.
This is thing about belief systems of all stripes — there are as many interpretations as there are practitioners …
The problem is that atheism is not a belief system. The fact that you think it is makes me sure you were never an atheist. There is no belief required for being an atheist. You don’t even have to believe there is no god. You just have to lack a belief in one until such time as one is proven to exist. There is no other interpretation of atheism, and that, my friend, is how I know you were never atheist. If you had yourself convinced that a set of beliefs you carried around with you made you atheist, you were fooling yourself.
If we distill the atheistic position down to it’s bare bones what are we left with? Seemingly we are left with the proposition that a section of our objective consciousness is capable of discerning an ultimate truth. Doubtful at best, it’s not been done in the entire history of human kind.
Wrong again. You’re assuming atheism is the claim there is no god. Atheism makes no claims of knowledge. We simply don’t believe. Saying “I don’t believe there’s a donkey in your pool” is not equal to saying “I know there is no donkey in your pool.” One position is open to new information, while the other doesn’t appear to be at all.
If we strip the self serving claptrap from a couple of other belief systems we are left with: Love without limit ……………. S. Gautama (Buddha) Spread joy………………………… S.Gautama (Buddha) Love one another…………….. J of N. (Christ) In my very humble opinion these few selfless and unequivocal injunctions contain the solution to all the problems that ever were or will be.
These ideas exist without Jesus or the Buddha. Your very ability to recognize their worth implies you have your own ideas, independent of these teachings, of what is good and what is bad. You don’t need the teachings of Jesus to know what is right and good for our world. You only think you do.
In conclusion will paraphrase a profound Jewish mystic ; the very moment we place limitations or objectively conceived notions upon the all pervasive cosmic consciousness we have entirely missed the point.
Which is why insistence in the existence of a god is a bad idea. Open your mind to other possibilities.
God resides at the heart of the quark ( so far) address all mail there.
Yeah, and hope is a fuzzy green turtle neck neatly folded away in the overhead bin of a Lufthansa flight. I can speak nonsense, too.
And here’s an even greater paradox ; whether you are right or I am right is almost a complete irrelevance…
Right about what? I’ve made no claims.
He keeps posting comments as though I am upset for some reason. I can assure you, Phil, I am not upset. I have this very conversation about seventy times a day and it has less and less ability to get under my skin at all, every time I go through it.
I’m really very sorry for being such a spoilsport but if one sets oneself up as an authority on anything one must expect to be challenged…
I fully expect and happily welcome challenges to every word I say in public.
People”s beliefs are at once very personal and extremely important.
Agreed. However, no belief is important enough to be exempt from scrutiny.
one can see that what what we believe determines the overall course of our lives on this breathtakingly beautiful little blue orb spinning in a sea of infinity.
More agreement. This is the very reason why I challenge religious ideas because they inform the actions of people who have committed horrible things. People who may not have committed these acts without their beliefs.
Does God exist ? Well I’m sure I don’t know definitively or empirically and wonder really does it even matter,
This is my exact position, as I said in the post you’re commenting on.
Here’s a few things we probably should be considering that might be important in the short term: In my lifetime the world population has tripled The plastic island in the pacific has come into existence and expands alarmingly We seem to have altered the balance of our atmosphere. etc. etc. Come on people roll up your sleeves there’s major work to be done to put this right.
Onboard with ya, Philly.
Please continue to believe whatever you see fit but try to be honest with yourself and do it with the blinkers off.
Again, more evidence you were never an atheist – I *don’t* believe. That’s the part that makes me an atheist and would have made you one, too.
How would you respond to Phil’s questions and comments? Let me know in the comments!