Robert Meyer
Liability of defining atheism part II
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By Robert Meyer
October 3, 2017

Using a "weak" definition of atheism for the purpose of a abdicating the burden of proof may not be worth the can of worms it tips over in the form of unanticipated consequences.

Claiming that one merely lacks a belief in God is a statement regarding one's psychological state that tells us nothing about whether God actually exists or not. One could easily ascribe "lack of belief" to a newborn baby or a house cat, deeming both, therefore to be atheists. The primary distinction would be that neither the baby or house cat would have the sufficient cognitive faculties to even consider the proposition. The adult atheist is not in that situation though, so his identification with the atheist label is something different. I don't think the atheist would want his/her cognitive faculties, or erudition on the topic, equated to a baby or a cat. For that reason alone, I would avoid the weak atheism definition.

As pointed out in the last piece, the atheist frequently offers "lack of belief" as a theoretical position, but then resorts to "denial of God's existence" in his reasoning and application of atheism to life situations.

A classic example is how the atheist answers the question of origins. The atheist may suggest that he/she does not know how the universe came to be(uncertainty), but is sure that the creationist meta narrative is wrong(certainty). It issues in the irrational combination of uncertainty and certainty regarding the same topic.

The lack of belief position is further put into question by the atheist commitment to anti-theistic activism. If I had a lack of interest in professional football for instance, I might refrain from watching games, or talking football in the company break room, but I wouldn't spend my time picketing games or denouncing those taking interest in the sport. Richard Dawkins, on the other hand, has held "Reason Rallies" on the mall in Washington D.C., denouncing Christianity. The people attending obviously have a greater psychological commitment to atheism than a mere lack of belief.

Why couldn't some mischievous theist with rhetorical flair simply redefine the theistic position as a lack of belief in atheism, thus abdicating the burden of proof just as the atheist has done? Possibly because such an evasive tactic isn't part of the Christian mandate.

The weak definition of atheism, in my opinion, disguises the predominant reason for cleaving to atheism. It seems lofty, reasonable and even scientific to claim one rejects an idea because of a lack of evidence. It is less noble to reject something because it ultimately places restriction on the limits of personal or collective autonomy. I'll admit it, I doubt that most atheism is embraced because of a genuine lack of evidence, but rather that it unfettered human autonomy from traditional strictures.

But at least some atheists had lucid moments where they revealed their "lesser angel" motivations. Take Aldous Huxley's quotation from his book Ends and Means for instance...

"For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our secular freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotic revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever.."

NYU professor Thomas Nagel said something similar.

"I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time.."

As stated earlier, it seems rather obvious that the attraction to the lack of belief position is an investment in intellectual laziness. One wishes to establish and justify their own volitional standing as the default position, without a desire to do any more than necessary to defend or warrant it.

© Robert Meyer

 

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Robert Meyer

Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest... (more)

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