“Atheism is a religion without a deity” and other fundamentally wrong assertions

One thing I read a lot, is the assertion that atheists are just as religious as the religious, but their faith is in science, not God. This also takes the form of “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist” and “Atheists believe nothing created everything” as well as other neat little roadside placards which at first seem rather more intellectually considered than further scrutiny would reveal.

Twitter user @my_level observed: “EVERY belief system has some supporting text. Theists=religions w/ deities, atheists=religions w/o deities, agnostic=beliefs based in logic & reason. Agnosticism says that due to lack of evidence some features of our systems can’t be disproved hence it can’t be dismissed.”

If you want to play semantics with words like belief and faith you can show that many atheists arrived at an irreligious world-view, through reason and logic and that, therefore, the supporting text @my_level references would be books like ‘On the origin of species’.

Of course there is also the work of Steven Pinker, who shows that there is a link between physical and therefore subjective brain activity and the belief that religious experiences come from outside of the mind and are not subject to personal influences and experiences as, in fact, he has proven they are.

If this is a kind of ‘faith’ that atheists have in everyone from Darwin to Pinker, then so be it. But I don’t think faith in the methodological process of scientific enquiry can be equated to the same kind of faith Christians place in a book plagiarised from Egyptian folklore and Pagan astrology.

I think these are two very different kinds of demands upon our trust. One claims authority through an assertion that without faith you are offering your physical self and your spiritual soul up for a whole slew of moral, social and psychological pronouncements, based upon the diktat of scriptural literalism.

The other asserts its authority based upon mutually supportive, but nonetheless independently acquired evidence, that descriptions of natural phenomena are as factually accurate as it is possible to be, until a better description of those processes becomes available through repeated observance, hypothesise, testing, and theorised reasoning.

The immediate demand from within certain apologetics, at this point, is that scientific methodology itself is in some way flawed precisely for the reasons given above because the procedural mechanism excludes observations which can’t be described by natural means, i.e., supernatural causation.

I’ve written extensively on why this is the ultimate appeal to special treatment and to be dismissed for some very sound reasons, but as I’ve said before, the ability of the believer to believe without a reasonable basis upon which to build their reasons to believe is not in question.

So I disagree that you need the same kind of faith to be a believer in falsifiable evidence as you do to be a Judeo-Christian follower of Yahweh—or indeed any of the proof of concept gods who preceded Him in ancient allegory and oral tradition. Nor do I garner any useful philosophy from the albeit cleverly self-contained word games with definitions of ‘belief’, which Christian apologists will play to score some moot point on the gaps which do exist in our scientific knowledge at the bleeding edge of neuroscience, cosmology, genetics and every other methodological pursuit of the truth.

Therefore atheism is no more my religion than not being a stamp collector is my hobby. I am not defined by a concept of that which I reject.

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15 comments on ““Atheism is a religion without a deity” and other fundamentally wrong assertions

  1. The point was never to “equate” theism with atheism. Don’t misunderstand…

    Let’s disprove your assertion that Theism religious.
    Proof by Contradiction:
    Let’s assume that all religions are Theisms. Then all the belief systems of humans can be classified into exactly 2 sets: (set T) “One [that] claims authority through an assertion that without faith you are offering your physical self and your spiritual soul up for a whole slew of moral, social and psychological pronouncements, based upon the diktat of scriptural literalism” and another that (set A) “asserts its authority based upon mutually supportive, but nonetheless independently acquired evidence, that descriptions of natural phenomena are as factually accurate as it is possible to be[.]” T and A are disjoint. Members of T are bound by “moral, social and psychological pronouncements” and let (set C) ‘Christians’ be a subset of T. Let a member g of C believe that the world is flat and that the solar system revolves around the earth. Through “independently acquired evidence” g found that the earth was not flat and that the solar system was centered around the sun. However, g is bound by “moral, social and psychological pronouncements” that says that the earth is indeed flat. g continued to gather evidence for the “descriptions of natural phenomena are as factually accurate as it is possible to be” and hence broke the “moral, social and psychological” rules of that time period and was forced to take a vow of silence. g still was a member of T. g was a member of A as well. Therefore, A and T are not disjoint. Hence, Theism != religious. QED

    Example for above Proof: Religious Physicist/Astronomer: Galileo

    Corollary: Atheism != irreligious. Is clear from theorem above.

    The crux of the issue doesn’t lie within who has faith and who doesn’t. Nor is there any equating of the Atheism and Theism (in terms of their levels of “faith”). Atheism means without (Muslim or Christian) God for most people only given that their only deity based exposure is either through views of Christianity or Islam culture. But good definitions are generalizable. So Atheism refers to belief systems without deities all together. “Religion” is only a formal term used for convenience when referring to a major belief system. It’s like the name of a country. A landmass is only recognized as a “country” when there are widely known political boundaries between it and other “countries” as well as having its sovereignty recognized by all other countries. The politics are the same when it comes to a “religion.” Asking a person their “religion” introduces a loaded question given it assumes there’s some widely accepted name and structure for what they believe.

    The first “religion” that may come to mind in the set of all known “religions” would yield the largest ones being listed at a vast majority. But that doesn’t mean that any of the ones not listed coincide with your definition of Atheism. Basing your definitions on the general consensus of how people understand a word in relation to what society teaches them yields all sorts of problems for your argument. A good example would be Buddhism. It is a religion without a deity. But the masses think it’s a religion because they think the followers worship Buddha as a god. Hence they call it a religion. The masses’ template for understanding is a direct result of the preconceived notion of all “religions” involve the worship of gods given how the known major ones are structured. On the other hand, the followers of Wicca worship a god but the masses label it as witchcraft and its followers as having no religion. And it clearly falls under the umbrella of Theism.

    Your use of Atheism demonstrates the miseducation of classifications of belief systems. You are right in a sense where Atheism is the outright rejection of the possibility of a all powerful deity or deities. But how that is rationalized whether is be through science or other means is not strictly Atheism. You should know that science hasn’t proved the existence of deities but it also hasn’t been able to disprove their existence either. And that fact alone points to an Agnostic view on the supernatural. People usually clump together Atheism and Agnosticism and just call it Atheism simply because people of both sects may not believe in a Christian or Muslim God.

    That is all.

  2. It’s not the belief in science that makes atheists like theists, it’s the faith in conclusion: God Doesn’t Exist. The problem with religion, from a naturalistic point of view, is that it assumes a the existence of a god or gods, atheism is the assumption of a nonexistence of a god or gods. The reality is such: Until unequivocal proof of some metaphysical being arises due to observation, than such metaphysical being is irrelevant and adds no information to or about the natural world. A proper, scientific view would be that if God exists, proof will arise sooner or later, but until then, he doesn’t factor in to any of the models – acknowledging his existence (or his non-existence) does not add any useful information to the process of science. For this reason, proper scientists should be agnostic, where agnostic is defined as never having faith in a conclusion without first getting some kind of real proof.

    Reasoning, however, is just fine. There probably isn’t a God or Gods.

  3. I tend to think that atheists have faith in a particular metaphysical presupposition (naturalism), not necessarily science. I actually wrote on this subject not too long ago on my blog.

  4. My_level: I don’t mean to seem dismissive of your well considered reply, by not picking you up on each and every point — but the parts on which we disagree regards definitions are mostly minor differences of opinion and not worth making too much of.

    I’m sure your philosophy lecturer will appreciate your use of form, but I have to say I find the clauses and sub-clause convention rather legalistic, confusing and dare I say elitist—although I appreciate it is a convenient shorthand for many axioms which would take far too long to set out conventionally.

    Your use of Atheism demonstrates the miseducation [sic] of classifications of belief systems.

    I couldn’t agree more. Sadly atheism is “their” word for “it”—but the fact that it has stuck as a catch-all term for what I prefer to call free thinking, secular humanism and rational enquiry is hardly surprising. Atheism is, simply put, shorter and more universally understood to mean ‘those without religious credulity’ and particularly in recent times, certainly in correlation to the ubiquity of Web 2.0, atheism has also come to mean someone who actively campaigns against religious intrusion into secular politics and culture—which rather unfortunately stretches the according to Hoyle dictionary definition of the word even further.

    I am disappointed to yet again read that old assumption, no matter how well you have rephrased it, that atheists would be agnostics if they truly understood what they were talking about. I know you weren’t being quite that blunt, but nevertheless I presume this is what you meant when you stated “..science hasn’t proved the existence of deities but it also hasn’t been able to disprove their existence either”

    I rather strongly disagree with that. I think science has proven that procedural logic undermines the appeal of supernatural causation as an offset to a full explanation, by definition of the fact that there are no descriptions of physical processes which are substantively better for the induction of unfalsifiable conjecture than they are by a Popper deduction of falsified theorem; e.g., “Stars are holes in the firmament” versus modern astrophysics, or “Let there be light” versus the principal of maximum entropy.

    That science is not per se capable of proving or disproving the existence of the ultimate observer, does not mean that the scientific method can not be used to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the only kind of god which may exist is one which behaves, from our perspective at least, as if it does not.

    Q.E.D. atheism is a religion without a deity is a straw man argument of Christian apologetics and not a valid starting point for an objective charge against atheism as a philosophical principal—although this should not be taken as an assertion that this can never be the case. Of course that is dependant upon any one of the central tenets of Judeo-Christian theology providing extraordinary proof of its extraordinary claims and not the same caveat into which you insert agnosticism. I appreciate you’re not alone in this regard, Russell and others do the same—I don’t and I hope I have explained why as well to you as I have to my own self—regardless of my literary clumsiness and unconventional scholasticism.

  5. I like the idea of atheists’ presupposition being toward naturalism, e.g. every naturally occurring phenomenon has a naturally explainable cause. That presupposition is not a dangerous one by any stretch of the imagination — given that the preponderance of evidence regarding all phenomena thus far points to natural causes and effects. By contrast, religion presupposes some deity or intervening factor, despite a lack of evidence. That it is a presupposition is not a necessarily bad thing, it’s just your baseline when trying to figure things out before any evidence comes in.

    Making a presupposition that naturalism explains everything seems to be the obvious presupposition to make, in my mind, given that every single natural event for which we have discovered the cause has turned out to have natural causes. Just because we don’t know how the Big Bang happened, or we can’t yet prove our hypotheses of abiogenesis, does not a priori suggest a creator. Rainbows used to be considered proof of intelligent design, until we discovered refraction (e.g. how do the colors know to line up in the “right order”, never mind that the “right order” is actually CREATED by the refraction of light). As Tim Minchin says, “every mystery throughout history has turned out to be… not magic.”

    Also, I’m a little annoyed at consistent misuse of agnosticism as being a “third” variety of belief, alongside theism and atheism, when really you’re looking at a two-axis spectrum of gnosticism/agnosticism and theism/atheism. See my post here: http://www.lousycanuck.ca/?p=545

  6. Hmmm… Is that a yes or a no? Lot’s of big words.

    To believe in something which cannot be proven requires faith. Is evolution proven as fact?

    Don’t tell me you have this proof through independently gathered, insurmountable scientific evidence. I don’t believe the evidence you would present is conclusive, only suggestive. You accept this theory as I accept belief in a omniscient God.

    I conclude your faith must be stronger than mine.

  7. Billy, your capacity to believe, not only despite a lack of any reasonable basis upon which to base your assertions, but in direct contradiction to and in contrast with proof to the contrary, was never in question.

    What is in question, in the second part of your challenge, is whether or not the entirety of the fields of geology, archeology, biology, chemistry and palaeontology stand as evidence that supports a falsifiable postulate. To which it is not a matter of faith to say that they do, it is a matter of fact.

    Therefore, it is no more reasonable to have faith in scientific methodology without good cause, than it is to have faith in supernaturalism. The difference with scientific methodology is that, without exception, where it is applied to that which was once considered beyond any merely physical description, it has illuminated and revealed the true nature of nature. Or as Einstein himself once said, “The real miracle is, there are no miracles”.

  8. @Billy,
    I don’t think you understand. Religion is not in any way testable and therefore is not falsifiable and therefore cannot be researched, analyzed or proved in any sense. As such, religion cannot even be called a theory, as it meets none of the criteria.

    Science is observable, testable, falsifiable and researchable and the results of all those can be replicated – and if they cannot, they provoke further research.

    There is not one single thing in religion that can be replicated, nor have any of the salient points of religion even had an eyewitness who spoke directly to a scribe.

    In short, my dear, as much as you are welcome to it – and I and I think Jim too would protect your right to your faith – your faith is in nothingness and nothing you can say or do or squabble about makes nothing into something.

    The christ figure your religion is based on is a fully stolen idea from a much earlier time – detail for detail. The purported historical events of your religious books mostly did not happen and those which MIGHT have happened have left utterly no evidence, despite that those who wish to continue promoting their myths might like you to believe otherwise.

    The Adam and Eve myth (what strikingly modern names for people who would have existed when?? at least 3000 or 4000 years ago?) is also utterly purloined from much earlier religions.

    As I said, as much as I defend your right to faith, I question your reasons for clinging to something that is so demonstrably ridiculous.

    Science does not and cannot and does not purport to explain everything. The goal of science is to pursue understanding. That’s exactly what all good theories do.

  9. Okay..

    “I don’t think you understand. Religion is not in any way testable and therefore is not falsifiable and therefore cannot be researched, analyzed or proved in any sense. As such, religion cannot even be called a theory, as it meets none of the criteria.”

    You’re right, religion cannot be called a theory! It is a fact, easily observable in many hundreds of degrees and variations across billions of practioners all over the world. I suspect you meant ‘belief in God’, but since that can be neither proved nor disproved by any reasonable measure, that doesn’t work either. Perhaps ‘the tenants and doctrines of your Christian faith’ is more accurate?

    “Science is observable, testable, falsifiable and researchable and the results of all those can be replicated – and if they cannot, they provoke further research.”

    In principle you are correct here. Unfortunately in practise many scientific theories are simply altered in the face of falsifying evidence to maintain the existing paradigm. This is one of the principle reasons for all the exotic and untestable tangents we see today in theoretical physics and cosmology.

    “There is not one single thing in religion that can be replicated, nor have any of the salient points of religion even had an eyewitness who spoke directly to a scribe.”

    I actually think this is a little strawman since religion by definition deals with beliefs which are not testable in the same manner as scientific theories. Also experimental results can be replicated, yet this concept does not apply to religion unless you refer to something like ‘prayer healing’ as a testable hypothesis, or perhaps prosyletization literally speaking! Secondly I think for the religious the bible itself would be considered as witness, (or witness to the witness of the witness etc) not to mention that there will be numerous accounts that exist to ‘prove’ one aspect of it or another, which is partly the reason which as you should know eye witness accounts are not to be considered particularly reliable in any case (due to false memory etc.)

    “In short, my dear, as much as you are welcome to it – and I and I think Jim too would protect your right to your faith – your faith is in nothingness and nothing you can say or do or squabble about makes nothing into something.”

    Now this is just nonsense as this very website exists mainly to separate people like Billy from their faith and it is disingenuous to pretend otherwise!

    “The christ figure your religion is based on is a fully stolen idea from a much earlier time – detail for detail. The purported historical events of your religious books mostly did not happen and those which MIGHT have happened have left utterly no evidence, despite that those who wish to continue promoting their myths might like you to believe otherwise.”

    Oh dear. I wonder, was it Zeitgeist or Acharya S who led you to this conclusion? Either way you should be made away that this theory was first advanced by a man named Gerald Massey in the 19th century, and even at that time he was considered at the fringes of Egyptology due to his lack of qualifications in this field. Beyond the innumerate internet sites discussing these similarities there is actually little to no actual evidence to support the assertion. Now this wouldn’t matter to me in the slightest if you weren’t denigrating poor Billy for lacking evidence for his faith! Don’t you think in the interests of fairness that if you are setting your rules this way that you should follow them yourself? Or is it merely prudent to follow his baseless assertions with your own? Moving on.

    “Science does not and cannot and does not purport to explain everything. The goal of science is to pursue understanding. That’s exactly what all good theories do.”

    I believe you are correct here, except that science itself is not really a theory. What is interesting is that you are on the one hand telling him that he is ‘clinging to something that is demonstrably ridiculous’ (ie belief in God) and then on the other stating that science cannot explain everything! This admission in itself made at the end of your comment is enough to sterilise your argument.

  10. @Michael:
    As I said: I defend your right to believe whatever you wish. I find it (religion) utterly ridiculous but that’s me.

    You are eloquent to be sure, but eloquence and an ability to SOUND logical is not equal to actually being so.

    You’re more than welcome to your beliefs sir and I am more than comfortable with my utter inability to put any faith, belief, stock or respect into such falsehoods.

  11. Hi Writer, I can see why you would think I was religious but I am actually not! Personally I consider myself agnostic, as this is ultimately the only defensibly position from a logical perspective, as I said previously God is something which cannot reasonably be proved or disproved, even if religions themselves are much easier to falsify! My ultimate purpose here is in truthfulness and sound arguments, and I felt some of your positions were wrong! (absolutely no offence intended)

    Michael

  12. Heads up! I’ve had some interest in taking part in the podcast, but I always welcome as many views as possible. Just a reminder for those subscribed to this thread to send your Skype username to thatjim@gmail.com if you want to take part.

    What I’ll then be doing is opening a Google Calendar which everyone who has mailed me with an interest in taking part will be added to, so everyone can put a pin the map and say what time and date they’ll be free to talk with me via Skype. Don’t worry your mail address won’t be revealed to anyone else who shows an interest, just the date and time you say you can make it to talk.

    Then, once we have enough people who can make it at the same time, we’ll get together and just chat. The resulting conversation will be edited as little as possible (literally just to remove unwanted “testing 1, 2, 3, can everyone hear me?” technical set-up) and then put out as a podcast on the howgoodisthat.wordpress.com blog and also mirrored on unenslaved.com

    Thanks to everyone who has shown an interest so far! Jim.

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