OOoh, Look! Atheist Babies!

Our little FreethoughtBlogs family is growing, with a whole slew of new little ones here today! Oddly enough, they don’t seem all helpless and drooling; this is more of an Athena-from-Zeus’s-head birth, fully armored and ready to fight. Not like your usual babies at all.

But in welcome, a bit from my old digs about “atheist babies”, after the jump:

I looked at my cute little atheist baby
(With wonderful new-baby smell!)
And thought that she might be more accurate, maybe
With other descriptors as well
The privative “atheist”, so I’ve been told
Is a measure of what she is not;
It’s clearly the case, if I might be so bold,
There are more words describing the tot:

My baby is flightless; my babe is unwed;
She’s not blonde, for there isn’t a hair on her head;
She’s scale-less, of course, for as much as I’d wish
She has no hint of Mermaid, or tidbit of fish;
She’s hatless, for now, till I give her a hat,
And cloudless as well, though I’m glad about that;
She’s treeless, which helps her to fit in her cot,
And windowless—windows, again, she has not.

She has plenty of cute—I shall not call her cuteless—
And she’s sweeter than Mom’s Apple Pie;
But listing her negatives clearly is fruitless
When privatives do not apply.

In case the verse wasn’t blatant enough… I come down on the side that babies are not “dictionary atheists”, nor are trees, rocks, fish, clouds, or galaxies. They are undefined with regard to religious terms. (Ok, they are undefined in my view; some (but not all) religions claim membership from babies, and it is not relevant that the baby actively believe. This baby is (culturally) orthodox, that one is muslim, even though they have not chosen this membership. Other religions wait–the anabaptist tradition requires the active choice on the part of an individual to join the church; prior to that, you may be unsaved or perhaps “innocent”.)

In my (privative) view, if there were no religious believers, there would of course be no atheists. The label would have never been invented, and would have no meaning. We are all, right now, aflargists, because none of us are flargists. We are all amulxists, because none of us are mulxists. I could make up dozens of undefined things we are not. But I prefer it when words actually have meaning, and give useful information. It makes no sense to call my baby flightless, although she is “dictionary flightless”. Since no babies are (I have asked them) active believers in any particular religion, it makes no sense at all to call them atheists. It is simply a dimension which is undefined with regard to babies.


  1. says

    I emerged fully formed from 32 years of video games. And school. But mostly video games. My atheism is a reflection of other people’s theism — atheism doesn’t actually affect my life in any way, because it’s the one “ism” that one cannot truly follow. Well, it WAS the one “ism” until you turned me into an aflargist.

  2. says

    All these discussions are a little too wrapped up in semantics and contradiction for me. Much of the “dictionary atheist” stuff is built around criticizing the theistic claim that they’re the “default.” Which of course they only are when it fits them.

    Christians are particularly deft at this. They are “set apart,” as God’s city on a hill, when that’s useful, and a persecuted minority to boot; they are the majority, when they wish to be, in order to push their beliefs on others through government intervention; are born Christians, when they wish use that fallacy to defend the logic of their belief system, and they are born again, when they wish to claim legitimacy having “not grown up” Christian, or to claim ‘former atheist’ status.

    I think it would be useful for more people to understand that all one needs to be an atheist is to not believe in gods, but I do agree, all this posturing is silly; is having a baby agree with you on the technicality that it hasn’t yet formed any sort of opinion really that important? I think not.

  3. Greg Laden says

    In my (privative) view, if there were no religious believers, there would of course be no atheists. The label would have never been invented, and would have no meaning

    I don’t know much about this, but it is interesting to look at the writings of people who would today probably be blogging here but in, say, the mid 19th century were not “atheists” or “agnostics” because the terms were not yet or only just in use. Even into the 20th century.

    Atheism is a modern concept.

    However, and people get mad at me when I say this, if you reset culture to have no religion or anything like religion, religion would arise fairly quickly, in my opinion.

    Glad to be blogging here, by the way!

  4. Robert B. says

    Well, we can still use words to describe people who don’t know or use or self-identify with those words. An adult male human is a “man” even if he doesn’t know the English word “man,” or even any word for that concept. An FtM transgendered adult is a man, even if he is closeted and confused so that everyone, including him, would instead describe him as a woman.

    But, I would say that “atheist,” “agnostic,” and “theist” refer to people who assign certain probabilities to the existence of God – atheists say that probability is zero or close to zero, theists say it’s one or close to one, and agnostics assign a probability somewhere in between. If you don’t know what “God” is, you can’t fit any of those definitions. So babies, or people from an alternate universe that never conceived of religion, would not be atheists.

  5. says

    In the 1720s, you could be thrown into jail for life for the crime of writing a history book that did not credit god for every event that happened. Even saying that this was all according to God’s plan but some secondary causes were thus and so was considered a crime against God. Although, as usual, God did not do the complaining! Thus Edward Gibbon’s tongue-in-cheek comments in the 1760s about how contemporary historians didn’t mention, say, the three hours of darkness at Jesus’ crucifixion nor the raising of the dead nor healing of the lame, blind, mad, and diseased, were enough to raise a huge storm of vituperation from the orthodox thinkers of the day. The last person to be executed for doubting the Biblical tales in Scotland died in the late 1690s. So when people tell you that nobody “back then” doubted, give them a raspberry Bronx cheer with lots of spittle flecks.

  6. says

    Greg: the word “atheist” is of ancient Greek origin (atheos). It was a pejorative against people that didn’t believe in the gods. We’ve since owned that slur. (Still gotta write a thing about it.)


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