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Dec 17 2009

Atheist Meme of the Day: Atheism is Not Faith

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day, from my Facebook page. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

It is simply not true that atheism is just as much a matter of faith as religion. Most atheists can tell you what evidence they’d accept to convince them that God exists. Atheism is the conclusion that the God hypothesis is not supported by the evidence. If we see better evidence, we’ll change our minds. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    David D.G.

    If this could have been longer, I would have liked to have seen the following parenthetical comment added: “(But good luck with that. In several thousand years, nobody has come up with decent evidence for any god yet.)”
    ~David D.G.

  2. 2
    Meagen

    A few times on the Internet I’ve heard people say “Atheism is not a religion” and they seemed to imply “therefore atheists are not protected by ‘freedom of religion’ and don’t belong in religious discussion”. Is this a common thing?

  3. 3
    Achura

    “Is this a common thing?”
    Yes, but it’s meaningless – they’re parsing words that don’t actually exist.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

    We don’t have “freedom of religion” in the US. What we have is a government that is forbidden to create or outlaw religion.
    The same words that give them the right to worship a Bronze Age zombie without government interference gives us the right to ignore them.

  4. 4
    Tim Foster

    Except people often conflate “faith” with “stance on matters of cosmic significance”. Atheism is a stance on the fundamental nature of the cosmos, so protection from hate crimes should be afforded to atheists just as carefully as they’re provided to theists.

  5. 5
    Meagen

    We don’t have “freedom of religion” in the US. What we have is a government that is forbidden to create or outlaw religion.
    IIRC, you also have more specific laws forbidding discrimination (expressed in a variety of ways) against someone because of their gender, skin color, country of origin and so on, and religion is on that list.
    Basically, the logic would seem to go “if atheism is not a religion, then beating someone up for being atheist is not religious intolerance”.

  6. 6
    Coran

    I’m one of those atheists who isn’t exactly sure what it would take to convince him of the existence of the supernatural, for the simple fact that even if the deity of your choice apparated and said “OH HAI”, I’d probably consider a natural explanation, such as hallucination, more likely. However, I reason that an omnipotent, omniscient deity would know what would convince me, so if they do exist, they must be content that I am unconvinced of their existence.

  7. 7
    Dan

    Atheism IS a “religion”. However, it is not a religion in the way that Christianity is a religion.
    The point I’m getting at is, like Christianity, atheism still makes assertions in the absence of evidence.
    As you said,
    “Atheism is the conclusion that the God hypothesis is not supported by the evidence.”
    What evidence? Probably the best evidence of “God” is that the universe follows certain laws that are never violated. Moreover, these laws can be written in the language of mathematics and this is language is unreasonably effective in describing the universe. Many physical laws actually follow similar equations to each other.
    How can these laws exist without a lawgiver? Obviously this question is open-ended; I’m not saying that there necessarily IS a lawgiver, we just simply don’t know whether a lawgiver is necessary or not.
    Confidently asserting the absence of God requires similar mental processes as asserting the presence of God.
    NB:
    The “God” I’ve argued for here need not be a personal god that has human emotions, gives laws to monkeys on a random planet and rules Heaven, etc.
    There is something majestic about the universe: the answer to it is neither religion nor atheism.

  8. 8
    Greta Christina

    Dan:
    (a) I think there is good evidence for atheism. It’s not absolutely 100% conclusive, but it’s very strongly pointing in that direction. If you’re interested, I’ve laid out my best arguments for atheism in my Top Ten Reasons I Don’t Believe In God.
    And as this meme points out: Atheism is a falsifiable hypothesis. It’s possible for evidence to contradict it. It just hasn’t done so yet… and as I said above, there is evidence supporting it.
    (b) The “How can there be laws without a lawgiver?” is confusing the two different meaning of “law”: legal laws, and physical laws. There is no reason to think that physical laws were created by an external conscious being: they seem to be natural and possibly even necessary results of the very nature of matter and energy.
    But maybe more importantly, I would like to point out that this is a classic case of unfalsifiability. If God intervenes with the laws of nature and creates miracles — that’s proof of God’s existence! But if there are never any miracles and the physical laws of nature appear to be immutable — that’s proof of God’s existence!
    (c) Yes, there is something majestic about the universe. But there is no need to believe in God to experience that.

  9. 9
    Dan

    The particular polemic that I was driving at is that atheism espouses scientific language and then proceeds to misuse it. Atheists convince themselves they’re being scientific about God, when really their qualm is with religion and its followers.
    ‘God’ is not a hypothesis by itself: it is far too generic and easy to misinterpret. Through this vagueness, I have noticed you lumped the silly ideas from religion (miracles, etc.) into a discussion about God. God is not dependent on those ideas. Indeed, there is an entire branch of philosophy dealing with different hypotheses of ‘God’ (called theology, as you know). Different hypotheses predict different results. The model I use is:
    1) God is a non-interventionist (no miracles, no divine prescriptions of law).
    2) God is not human and has no human emotions (no love, no wrath).
    3) God is not good and not evil.
    4) God is omniscient.
    5) God does not necessarily have a consciousness in the way that we understand it.
    6) God is not really that interested in human affairs (again, no “holy law”, etc.)
    7) God is either unknowable (agnosticism), or requires highly advanced technology to communicate with it.
    8) I don’t know what God is, or what it will look like when we find it, IF we find it.
    This model predicts that there should be no observable effects within our current epoch of human development.
    Before you go on about Karl Popper and falsifiability, remember that if it isn’t falsifiable doesn’t mean its wrong or pointless. Here are two examples:
    -The Higgs boson was not a falsifiable hypothesis until the LHC became operational.
    -p-brane theories and other complicated high-energy physics theories require insurmountably large colliders to test any predictions. They will be testable in the far future, when mankind has the knowledge and resources to build these devices.
    Until those theories (or my God model) are demonstrated, they remain
    RE: Point A,
    This evidence you mention merely refutes all the immature ideas about God. All the ideas that lead to so much bloodshed, oppression, etc. We both know and agree with those arguments.
    RE: Point B,
    I was not confusing the meanings at all, although you are right in some respect, as some religionists believe God prescribes legal, moral, or ‘divine’ laws. As an anti-religionist, I refute this idea vehemently.
    How did the laws of the universe arise?
    We do not know. You say that the laws of nature emerge naturally: well yes, evolution arises from the self-assembly of certain types of macromolecules (e.g. DNA, RNA, proteins), but where does the universe arise from? There is no ‘before the big bang’ because time was created at the point of the big bang, so what triggered that? Okay, you could say its these higher-dimensional membranes crashing into each other, making 4 dimensions big and the other 7 all curled-up, but where the hell do these membranes come from? It could be God, whatever God is.
    Matter is ‘solidified’ energy (E=mc^2), but what is energy? Beyond a purely operational definition of “capacity to do work”, what actually IS it?
    RE: Point C,
    There isn’t a NEED for God to experience the universe’s majesty. Then again, there isn’t a NEED for literature to experience it either. However, life is a fuller experience when one can view it through a plethora of lenses: and to stand before my laboratory and know that there exists universal truth and one day, we may know the mind of God – that makes my science all the more meaningful.
    My position is that there is no need for atheism if one has mature ideas about God. Indeed, my ideas about God are akin to poetry. I fully support your anti-religionism, but atheism entails a restrictive mindset: I would describe it as Soviet-esque.
    I leave you with a quote from Goethe,
    “Science arose from poetry–when times change the two can meet again on a higher level as friends.”

  10. 10
    DSimon

    Dan, are you arguing that the existence of a Higgs-Boson particle wasn’t a falsifiable hypothesis until the LHC was actually built? That seems like a misuse of the term: the kind of collider that would be needed to falsify it was known from the very start, it was just a matter of building it.
    And so we did, and now we’re doing the potentially falsifiying test.
    This is in an entirely different realm from your God hypothesis. It’s not just that we can’t falsify it now, or we need an unattainable budget to do so; it’s that there never will be a way to falsify it, because it’s not defined in terms of evidence in the first place.

    Okay, you could say its these higher-dimensional membranes crashing into each other, making 4 dimensions big and the other 7 all curled-up, but where the hell do these membranes come from? It could be God, whatever God is.

    This is the very definition of a “God of the Gaps” argument. Your suggestion is just as arbitrary as if I suggested that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe.

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