Christopher Hitchens calls it ‘white noise’ or ‘static’ whenever someone approaches him with a flood of Biblical verses. Frankly, I have to agree. I’ve seen some scary looking passages the length of major European cities on the internets, completely filled to the brim with verses and quotes and numbers with colons. Clearly, referencing is something evangelists have completely misunderstood – to say they abuse it would be an understatement.
One of the more ridiculous arguments I’ve seen thrown in my face is the one of ‘anti-God’ or hatred of God, or irrationality for not accepting God. It implies an incredible misunderstanding about atheism, how it works and what it’s about. With this post I hope to clarify it for those Biblically promiscuous people who reach for their Bible quotes before they think about an answer through twice. Hopefully, some will understand the position of atheism for once and for all, so that when they do slam it, at least they will be doing it properly.
Atheism is very bluntly the absence of a belief in God. This does not mean a God has been ‘rejected’. Often, someone who ‘rejects’ a God will quickly find a new one more to their liking. Atheism is not about rejecting a God. Atheism is about living without one. If God descended from the heavens tomorrow, an atheist wouldn’t necessarily hate him (unless it were one of the ‘evil’ gods like Yahweh, Loki or Set).
It is not an irrational decision borne out of childhood trauma. It is not a Judeo-freemason-communist conspiracy belief. It does not imply immorality.
Atheism is very much a thought out position. To be fair, everyone’s born an atheist. You are taught your religion. A baby who has no exposure to religion (as perhaps might happen in the prosperous Scandinavian countries) will simply have no need for a God and will be none the worst for it (often, it will be all the better considering the stellar quality of life in Scandinavia). This is known as implicit atheism, when someone has simply not had the time or the need to believe in anything.
Explicit atheism (non-belief in the knowledge of all the possibilities) is a reasoned decision. You could argue that the only truly sceptical position is agnosticism, since you can never know for sure whether there is a God or not. But this position is very misleading. It’s a fallacious argument – if one took that stance on other scientific hypothesis we would be stuck in a horrible ethical quagmire for every experiment.
Atheists usually consider the question of God as another scientific hypothesis. As such, one would formulate a statistical test for his existence by establishing a negative hypothesis: There is no God. You collect the evidence, and see the probability of the evidence occurring under the negative hypothesis model. Since the current evidence has comfortable naturalistic explanations, you establish that at the time, there is insufficient evidence to reject the negative hypothesis so therefore, although there may be evidence somewhere, as things stand, for all intents and purposes: “There is no God”.
In fact, it is this precise pragmatic stand which makes atheism such a beautiful and elegant way of viewing the Universe. Look outside. Absorb the life thriving around you (unless you live in the Gobi desert). Now think of it as for what it really is: quick, futile existence of a rock hurtling through space. The product of remarkable chemical changes over billions of years which led to this exact moment. Look up into the night sky on a clear night. Absorb the stars around you and think of how each and every one is a bright sun, an unfathomable distance away. Every one of us is lucky to eventually die because it will have meant that we have lived. Atheism gives you all the more reason to live your life worry free and not for it immorally.
It is a foolish atheist who proclaims 100% certainty in the absence of a deity. But you would be hard pressed to find one. The Gospel of Reason is certainly not written with that in mind.
What is ‘faith’ to an atheist? Faith to an atheist is the dictionary definition: “Belief in the absence, and sometimes in the face of, evidence”. An atheist will always strive to explain seemingly supernatural events in terms of scientific models. If said models are incapable, it does not automagically grant “miracle” status to an unexplained event. Instead, a refined scientific model is created using, once again, the principle of testable hypotheses and statistical tests. Can faith be positive? Rarely. Faith is belief in the absence of evidence. It demands the surrender of critical thought. You could say you have ‘faith’ in your family or in the ones you love, but this is mixing two different animals. Faith is not the same as love (no matter how much people proclaim that God is love or they love God or God loves them or any other permutation I may have missed). You can certainly love something for whose existence there is no evidence whatsoever, but you do not need to have faith to love.
An atheist will not display faith. He may have belief in, for example, evidence. But evidence is not something you can have ‘faith’ in. He may have belief in science, but again, science is not something you have ‘faith’ in. You do not punch in 15 x 3 into a calculator and leave it to faith to work out the answer. Science works in a similar fashion. It may, and often does, produce errors, but this is the beauty of science, since it’s a self-regulating mechanism. Any errors are observed and studied and the models are refined, if necessary, to more accurately represent reality.
I have no idea where this idea of a ‘secular agenda’ came from. It’s a phantom invention by fundamentalists to give a demon face to atheism. The US is by definition a secular nation. It is hard to push a secular ‘agenda’ (whatever that means) in a nation already secular from the start. If there is a push from secular people it is to slow the hybridisation of Church and State, which is diametrically opposite to Jeffersonian politics.
An atheist will completely gloss over ‘white noise’. A bible quote can be meaningful in the appropriate context. It does not mean that 50 bible quotes in the same sentence is 50 times more meaningful. You will not ‘convert’ any atheists by reading rhetoric contrary to scientific principles, just like a Creationist will not profess disbelief in God if someone read Darwin to him.
I’m very willing to answer any questions, personal or otherwise that pertain to this. Frankly, I’m a bit tired of reading bible quotes as arguments, and I’m very tired and a bit worried of reading ‘secular agenda’, ‘militant atheism’, ‘anti God’, ‘God loves you’, ‘why do you hate God?’. It honestly is quite simply what atheism is not about.
A chart for quick reference (great for arguments!)
- A thought out decision borne out of science and reason
- A humanist, naturalist world view which can explain events in terms of science
- A world view which is moral and incredibly elegant
- An individual decision
- What babies are born as
Atheism is not
- Anti-God, God-hating or any combination thereof
- A conspiracy
- An agenda
- A belief that requires faith