Re-Asserting The Null

The comments to “I thought I saw a dictionary atheist” have been quite interesting. Much is predictable, but not all, and all are quite thoughtful. And looking at something I wrote some time ago, I am reminded that the good that atheism does–even dictionary atheism, I would argue)–is not a function of what (again, even dictionary) atheism is; rather, it is a function of what it is not.

If you don’t think that atheism actually is an improvement over religious belief, then you must have a much more benign view of religion than I do. Not of religious people, necessarily–there is too much variability there, of course–but when we look at the cultural, institutional influences religion has historically had (and continues to have), then yes, even though water has no protein, fat, nor sugars for you… at least it doesn’t have poison. Atheism, even pure unadulterated “no belief in god”, acts to challenge all sorts of cultural defaults, whether it intends to or not. Even if all it is doing is framing the null hypothesis and asserting the burden of proof where it belongs. And then, positions like humanism (or cephalopodism) can add the nutrients.

There’s no reason to think that we’re better
There’s no reason to think that we’re worse
There’s no reason to think we’ve been chosen
Or are damned by some ultimate curse
There’s no call to put faith in the Torah
Or in any or all of its sequels
And without such a misguided compass
We are free to treat others as equals.

There’s no reason to think there is magic
There’s no need for an ultimate cause
There’s no need for some stellar mechanic
Who’s unburdened by natural laws
There’s no need to infer a creator
Looking on as creation unfurled
And without all those misguided questions
We are free to examine the world.


  1. says

    Atheism is an improvement over one religious belief. The belief that there are no deities means you are unconcerned with what deities do/demand/eat/breathe/shit/think…. Huge savings in time to do other things.

    What you do with that time depends on whether you want to advance humanism (or cephalopodism) independently or insist that they be co-opted into atheism and pen a few articles (four, five?) arguing that those positions indubitably and necessarily must follow from atheism despite what the dictionary says.

    “Or else.”

    Like with Deacon, I wish you well.

  2. Cuttlefish says

    So long as what you do with that time is not the sexism, racism, etc. that has been the product of the dominant family of religions (I would quibble with “one”) , we are better off. Even if you wish to replace it with brand new bigotry, at least you have to start from first principles, rather than with the running start our culture currently has. Whether you don’t care what deities do is a bit independent from whether you care about what people do in the names of these deities. When bigotry is supported by a god you are unconcerned with, it is unsupported, but it is still bigotry. In such a case, “doing nothing” is not neutral.

    When the water is poisoned, doing nothing is not a neutral act.

    And it is a bit odd that “or else” is in quotes.

  3. Cuttlefish says

    Of course they do–my very religious sister fights against what she recognizes as the bigotry of her church, for instance. I very deliberately differentiate between religious individuals and religion. My sister, of course has the added difficulty of trying to fight something she simultaneously supports.

  4. Pabs says

    I’d say I’m a dictionary atheist, too, but then I’d also say we all are. I’m comfortable calling anyone who doesn’t believe in God a “real” atheist no matter what else they think – it’s not up to me to define them. And to be frank, it is a little off-putting to have others try to tell me what I necessarily must or mustn’t think/do based on the relatively simple fact I don’t believe in God, especially if not fitting their mold implies I’m a false atheist or a closeted bigot or something. I reserve the right to think and decide for myself, and furthermore, to disagree with anyone.

    More importantly, however, I’m not inclined to get into an argument about it, mainly because all the good humanistic things that FTB associates with movement atheism are things I also endorse anyway. =P

  5. badgersdaughter says

    I’m not a dictionary atheist, because I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t changed my views on religion 12 years ago. I was a cowed, resentful, self-blaming and other-blaming Christian who couldn’t move on psychologically or grow socially because I was convinced that God favored the good and punished the sinful. Accepting and fully understanding that God isn’t real got rid of some major stumbling blocks to my making sense of the world and finding my place in it without assuming my success harmed others who deserved it more than I did, or my failures reinforced for my own good by an arbitrary dictator who just didn’t understand how difficult it was for me to get through every day without calling myself nasty things — who, indeed, taught me the vocabulary to do it in.

  6. says

    Atheism, even pure unadulterated “no belief in god”, acts to challenge all sorts of cultural defaults, whether it intends to or not.

    Precisely. To take just one example, I know a handful of people whose homophobia wasn’t deeply felt but acted out as a (grudging) religious duty. Upon apostatising, their attitude toward LGBT persons changed more or less on the spot.

    Not saying that all Christians have to be heterosexist, but it certainly makes it easier to justify and perpetuate.

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