The “Religion of Atheism” Myth

12 02 2009

Some Christians think that Atheism is a religious belief that requires just as much, if not more faith than Christianity. Some Atheists rightly reply that Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby. It’s a fair response but I don’t think it’s that simple.

I’m sure that from the perspective of the faithful we Atheists must appear to be remarkably devout especially because our beliefs are in polar opposition to theirs. That we would dare stand against such a vast majority to challenge the “truth” of God and His existence, that we would call out their beliefs as false, is the ultimate heresy that must demand equal opposing “faith” on our part. We certainly don’t view Atheism as a religion but to their eyes it must appear that way.

I personally think that to simply believe in God does not constitute a religion, but the act of worshiping Him does. Ironically then it’s not my Atheism that they’re confusing for religion but my active anti-theism. I abhor, reject and regularly challenge those of faith. It is my opposition to the dogma of their religion and my willingness to challenge the very core of their faith, not merely Jesus but God Himself, that they confuse as a form of Atheist evangelism.

The multitude of the faithful may think I want the populate the world with Atheists. Not exactly. Instead I like to imagine a day when we can actually retire the moniker of Atheist because we all know that there is no God and that we instead learn to treat each other with humility and kindness out of deference to our own humanity instead of killing each other in the name of whatever God we’ve fabricated.

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21 responses

12 02 2009
Chris

Not playing soccer is a sport.

But seriously, I liken religion to a test drive. I’ve driven the Ford, Chevy and Dodge models. But ultimately, it makes more sense for me to just get a bicycle. I don’t need to pay for gas. I don’t like the added features from the Detroit models and they generally seem clunky and outdated. Don’t get me started on the fact that they’ve gotten so big, they’ve lost sight of the original reason they started making cars in the first place.

12 02 2009
SuperJesus

I like how you think.

12 02 2009
Jesse

Meh. Atheism requires an affirmative truth-statement (“there is no god”) which is ultimately dependent on evidence which does not exist (“future evidence” in the words of Dennett). In this way, the Atheism (at least as you describe it) has just as much to do with “faith” as religion. Similarly, Atheism of a “new” bent often manifests a kind of universalism (materialism/physicalism) that is just as dangerous and presumptuous as theism. In spite of these conditions, I’m still comfortable being an Atheist. I just think other Atheists need to be WAY more responsible when it comes to abiding by the complexities of Atheism. So yeah, basically screw “new” Atheists. They are neither!

13 02 2009
Samuel Skinner

“Atheism requires an affirmative truth-statement (”there is no god”) which is ultimately dependent on evidence which does not exist (”future evidence” in the words of Dennett). ”

That is true of ALL OF SCIENCE. You know, it is called being open to new evidence.

“In this way, the Atheism (at least as you describe it) has just as much to do with “faith” as religion.”

By definition, not all positions require faith- one is defensible. It isn’t theism which, by process of elimination leaves…

“Similarly, Atheism of a “new” bent often manifests a kind of universalism (materialism/physicalism) that is just as dangerous and presumptuous as theism.”

Materialism is dangerous? How on Earth do you get that? Materialism is true because the alternative requires substances that don’t exist.

“I just think other Atheists need to be WAY more responsible when it comes to abiding by the complexities of Atheism.”

Atheism now is the same it was 2500 years ago. We haven’t added anything.

” So yeah, basically screw “new” Atheists. They are neither!”

Of course. They just picked them name to symbolize that we have passed the previos activists and are in the next round. This is the post Carter/Reagan batch.

13 02 2009
Chris

“Atheism requires an affirmative truth-statement (”there is no god”)”

Huh? Do you really not see the problem with this statement?

13 02 2009
Jesse

Sam:

Being open to new evidence is far different than asserting evidence that does not exist yet, such as the evidence of an exclusively physicalist/materialist worldview. Being open to evidence is skepticism, not atheism. And I know you’ll disagree with my statements against “new” atheist universalism (of which your argumentative slant illustrates a very good example), but the world of philosophy discarded such views years ago. Think of a fire engine. Or some childhood memory. There is no physicalist model which can do anything but describe a correlation of neurological components with certain thoughts. Thoughts themselves remain troublesomely independent of any physical description. Ooopss… physicalism fail. To believe, as “new” atheists do, in the unlimited range and universal scope of scientific reduction only proves their own ignorance to most, if not all, of twentieth/twenty-first century philosophical thought.

13 02 2009
SuperJesus

I’m not sure what all this talk about “new” atheism is about but perhaps I left my position open to such a straw man argument. If one really wants to be pedantic about it I could be accurately labeled as an agnostic in that I cannot prove a negative and so I’m always open to new evidence that might prove my current opinion incorrect.

I purposefully made the decision to not sound so wishy washy and elected to don the moniker “atheist” only from the operating position that in the entire history of all religions never once has credible evidence been presented to prove the existence of a magical god. Not once. Ever. Given this astonishing lack of evidence in view of the extraordinary claims to the contrary I feel that presuming the non-existence of said God to be well established.

Does that help at all?

13 02 2009
Jesse

110% agreement. I actually have no idea what the hubbub is about the physicalist/materialist Atheist argument, but I think that wrongly interpreted it lends itself to negative, oppositional attitudes. If indeed they get their future evidence (and as a fellow atheist, I actually feel they will), what does describing the world change about the world itself? Nothing. Our lives are still our lives, regardless of how we perceive them through the lenses of some philosophy or system of thought. But, thanks anyway. Couldn’t agree more.

13 02 2009
SuperJesus

I’m confused. You’re an atheist who thinks they will find evidence of God? I’m misreading that right?

As for materialism/physicalism I think most of us are simply advocating the rational evidence based world of science. Without evidence it’s all just a bunch of woo. I agree that our lives are still our lives, but the more we understand about the world and how it really works the better we will be equipped to extract even more understanding and (hopefully) live responsibly within it.

At least I think that’s what you’re getting at.

13 02 2009
Jesse

No, no–an Atheist who is comfortable with Dennett’s (or maybe Dawkins’?) assumption of future evidence supporting a thoroughly materialist/physicalist worldview, although I disagree about their formulation of that assumption. Too often they run with this mythical notion of the completion of scientific knowledge that was challenged decades ago by the likes of Merleau-Ponty, many existential thinkers, and today by what the opposition derides as “postmodern relativists.” Essentially, I think a counter-argument to modern scientific “completion” (or “universalism”) would admit that sure, we may finally gain complete knowledge of a purely physical model of the world, but our access to that knowledge is only indirect and incomplete. That’s all–I’m done. Sorry for ransacking your comment board!

13 02 2009
SuperJesus

Not at all, I’m always happy to get other debates going on, I just didn’t have the background on what you were saying. We’re all cool.

13 02 2009
Chris

I lost interest. Too many -isms.

13 02 2009
Jesse

Watch it pal–that’s ismism.

13 02 2009
Chris

touché!

13 02 2009
Samuel Skinner

“Being open to new evidence is far different than asserting evidence that does not exist yet, such as the evidence of an exclusively physicalist/materialist worldview. ”

Hah! Little do you know I use logical deduction!

“Being open to evidence is skepticism, not atheism. ”

Correct. However you can’t be a skeptic and a theist.

“There is no physicalist model which can do anything but describe a correlation of neurological components with certain thoughts.”

That is because it isn’t legal for them to cut up my brain and start figuring out how it works while I am concious. All this ethics gets in the way of figuring that out- which is good for those who fear mad scientists.

“Thoughts themselves remain troublesomely independent of any physical description. Ooopss… physicalism fail.”

Not really- what do you find so incomprehensible about them? They are physical patterns in our brain at a given time.

“in the unlimited range and universal scope of scientific reduction only proves their own ignorance to most, if not all, of twentieth/twenty-first century philosophical thought.”

I only believe it will work for all of science. Morality, planning and art are different matters entirely.

“Too often they run with this mythical notion of the completion of scientific knowledge that was challenged decades ago by the likes of Merleau-Ponty, many existential thinkers, and today by what the opposition derides as “postmodern relativists.” ”

Would you give an example? There are people in the scientific community who believe some fields will run out of things to research!

“Essentially, I think a counter-argument to modern scientific “completion” (or “universalism”) would admit that sure, we may finally gain complete knowledge of a purely physical model of the world, but our access to that knowledge is only indirect and incomplete. ”

It depends on how much we can improve each new iteration of tools. If there is a limit, than yes, otherwise no. Of course, we could simply do the brute calculating method if that comes up.

13 02 2009
Jesse

Sam:

I always feel like, well, a freakin douche nozzle getting into debates on comment boards. But I’m interested in your views, as I think they represent, both in principle and pathos, a succinct example of new atheism (and its flaws, but I’ll get to that). In either case, I’d like to see where a dialogue might lead–a dialogue, meaning I’m not contradicting you, we’re just exchanging ideas for the betterment of the truth itself (jeez that’s fluffy…). We have a lot more in common than my positions may reflect. I’m an Atheist and I do support a materialist worldview, but I think how it is articulated is incredibly important.

That said, you’ve said a lot. So, without any cherry-pickin’, I’ll address a few of those points and then try to enumerate the general thrust of all of them:

In order to perform deductions, you need prior evidence. If you assume evidence and then perform a deduction, you are performing an erroneous act of rationalist dogma. You cannot perform any logical operation if you do not have data to support the truth value of its antecedents.

Yes, there are theist skeptics. I know the polar make-up of American society obscures and stifles their voices, but they are there, even if its a short list. To loosely name a few historical examples: Montaigne, Frankl, Shakespeare, even, well, Jesus (*eeeer…boom!* J-bomb!). There’s some complexities here. One argument (oft withheld, not to invoke the wrath of the “faithful”) is that many theistic views regard logical argument for God’s existence as heresy–this is kinda why American, evangelical, mega-Christianity is more of a do-it-yourself, anti-Catholic, anti-Judaism artifice of political ideology. To knowingly argue for the lives of the unborn but to support soldiers being killed in unjust wars? Depends on the form of Christianity, but an honest reading of the Bible excludes any such people from actually being Christians. (Have fun with your hate-mail, fundies!)

Thoughts are not “just” physical patterns in the brain. This gets into a lot of philosophy of the mind (look it up on IEP; an argument here could go on for days). There are all sorts of arguments here, very few of which actually support the physicalist view, and as such many philosophers have abandoned its notions of explaining creative behavior (conatus), virtual things like human institutions, etc, etc. Mainly just think of a triangle. No one could possibly cut up your brain and find some projection of a triangle inside your head. This is ridiculously simplistic, and mirrors this 21st century mindset that the mind works in a binary, computational framework, just like a computer. The fact is that the mind is basically a maze of organic mush; a mess of shit; hormones, glands, synapses, neurons…; and it will be a long time before you could “port” into someone and see their thoughts, if ever. Mainly I find this troubling because the arc of atheism as opposition to religion is to release people from oppresive ideologies, when the physicalist project ultimately denies the existence of free will. Then there’s the mind-body problem. Then correlationism. Tons of stuff. Still a very young field of research (thereby also contradicting the claim that science is running out of things to study).

But the biggest problem with your claims is that in spite of lack of evidence, and in the presumption of future evidence, most new atheist arguments become endowed with a level of certainty any scientist would reject as antithetical to scientific apparatuses. Scientific apparatuses are provisional and pragmatic; it is a non-terminating process. To say that they might one day obtain completion is to mistake the purposes and intentions of science; it is to mistake a process (action) for something objective. It’s the claim to some perceived future completion that is, to me, actually more frighteningly oppressive than anything I’ve seen religion pull off.

As for certainty:

If you believe that everything is predetermined, then you are forced to assume that the universe is reducible, that somehow it could be turned into a map within which metaphors do not exist, for all is contiguous substance. So think of a man who wishes to make such a map of the world. He wishes to map all vectors, all causes, all antecedents, all consequents, and all descriptive laws. He works tirelessly, our Faustian bro, completing this map. It will be complete. He will have a map that is so much the likeness of the world that it is the world itself. He works inward from the outer edges, mapping the concrete borders of the thing, then backtracking his way *deductively* toward the center. It is nearly completed when he reaches the center, that singularity at which all linear deduction points. He has reached the end of his goal.

But before he is finished, he must resolve one last problem. He must explain where the map is within the map itself. He must draw the map within itself, and therefore that map containing another, and the first one engulfed by the map in which it inheres, and likewise he must include his infinite selves there, temporally, drawing the map, working out its edges and its latitude and longitude. For the sake of the universal oneness of the map, you must admit plurality. So in the endeavor to eliminate plurality, one must depend on the very thing. In the endeavor for total reducibility, one engenders the exact opposite, a kind of fluctuating expansion and overlapping domains, violating the first principles of thermodynamics that two objects cannot occupy the same space simultaneously. And New Atheists. By the same metaphor, New Atheists are stuck within just such a surrealistically angst-ridden succession of mythical maps.

I know that’s pomo as hell, but just think about it.

14 02 2009
SuperJesus

I don’t mean to be rude but…what?

14 02 2009
Samuel Skinner

“I always feel like, well, a freakin douche nozzle getting into debates on comment boards. ”

All you have to ask yourself is this- what would Super Jesus do?

“Yes, there are theist skeptics.”

But they are generally skeptical about everything but their faith. Pascal is a really hillarious example.

“To knowingly argue for the lives of the unborn but to support soldiers being killed in unjust wars? Depends on the form of Christianity, but an honest reading of the Bible excludes any such people from actually being Christians. ”

Trust me, it isn’t about lives, it is about controlling women. On the numbers front the war dead from Iraq is about 3000 US and 100,000+ Iraqis. The number of abortions vastly exceeds that.

“This is ridiculously simplistic, and mirrors this 21st century mindset that the mind works in a binary, computational framework, just like a computer. ”

You can cut up a computer and you won’t find a triangle inside either. All you will find is a huge number of on/off switches.

“and it will be a long time before you could “port” into someone and see their thoughts, if ever.”

Of course not- the connections are unique to each brain. We don’t have a common operating system.

” Mainly I find this troubling because the arc of atheism as opposition to religion is to release people from oppresive ideologies,”

Actually, you are confusing atheism with anti-theism. Antitheism is the drive to fight religion and is part of the reason alot of other countries don’t have our kind of nuts.

“when the physicalist project ultimately denies the existence of free will.”

Actually, I reject free will on the grounds of logical inconsistancy, not materialism. Free will requires that you have a soul… except that souls would be deterministic! Why? Simple. A soul is guiding your actions and is doing so based on sensory information- even though it is a black box, it works like the brain. And if “you” intervene, well, you are the soul and that was based off of previous experience… do you see the problem?

“Then there’s the mind-body problem.”

What problem? Your mind is part of your body. You mean conciousness? I have no idea how that works.

“Still a very young field of research (thereby also contradicting the claim that science is running out of things to study).”

Actually, that problem is based on the rate of discovery, not the total achieved. More scientists live today than any other time in history. More lived in the past 50 years than all the others combined!

” most new atheist arguments become endowed with a level of certainty any scientist would reject as antithetical to scientific apparatuses. ”

Logical arguments CAN be 100% certain. It is one of the benefits of logic- you just need axioms that are true.

” It’s the claim to some perceived future completion that is, to me, actually more frighteningly oppressive than anything I’ve seen religion pull off.”

What do you think happens when we link all the worlds hardware into on whole and have powerful enough tech that it can model thjings perfectly?

Your objection to reductionism is the set problem? Why not just have the location of the set be a hyperlink?

14 02 2009
Jesse

Frankly, I’ll address only one point, because its gotten to the usual mockery:

“Logical arguments can be 100% certain. It is one of the benefits of logic–you just need axioms that are true.”

Well, I just told you that Atheist/physicalist claims are based off unproven principles (“antecedents,” not “axioms”)–“future evidence” to support the physicalist model of the mind and its immaterial nature (in fairness, I’ll give you that its probably more like “pending” evidence). There was a recent Stanley Fish piece in the Times elaborating this very point: “Atheism and Evidence”. But my other points were intended to illustrate that even if they get this “future evidence,” the physicalist model is still direly flawed in its mythical “completion” (see Goedel’s incompleteness theorem, Schrodinger’s cat, Karl Popper’s “Argument for Indeterminism,” any academic work on Quantum Physics…).

“Logical arguments can be 100% certain.” Certainly, but only within the virtual (thought) domain from which they are derived. Jeez you’re an atheist, and you don’t seem to even be familiar with Hume’s argument about the illusory nature of “deductive causality” as merely a conditioned conjunction of two events. Grrr… Logic goes very which way when folks attempt to derive it in the real, non-snarky-blogosphere world. There’s multi-modal logic, there are even measures that have been developed to test the “completeness” and “validity” of any logical system–do you see the point in developing such measures? Because once you learn actual, intermediate logic (not the simplistic binary logic through which programmers view the world; no wonder their attempts at AI are so retarded), logic becomes a thing of plurality. Their is no single, hierarchical system of logic, in spite of everything you have heard in your entire life. Usually its a reference to classical, Aristotelian logic, whose contradictions and lack of applicability is known even to children. Then came predicate logic, that failed. Then multi-modal logics, that failed. Then multi-value logic, that failed. Now very prestigious folks are contending that identity doesn’t even exist. Logic with a capital “L”? Only a symptom of the prejudices of the hyper-reductive views of new atheists. No such thing.

14 02 2009
val

wow, nice thread!

16 02 2009
Chris

SuperJesus (00:20:30) :
I don’t mean to be rude but…what?

That’s what I said earlier.

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