USS Clueless - Belief in atheism

Stardate 20030506.1827

(Captain's log): It's time to get all metaphysical. In this post I made a comment in passing that I was certain that atheism could not be proved. As soon as I posted it, I knew I'd have to back that up and started thinking about it.

"Atheism" isn't a unitary whole; it's actually a collection defined by a negative, consisting of all people of all beliefs who do not think that there are any deities. But that leaves a lot of room for beliefs in other kinds of supernatural forces or non-material influences, and because of that "atheists" are all over the map in terms of what they believe. My own form of atheism is known as "mechanism" or "materialism" and refers to the stronger statement not just that there are no deities, but that there are also no other supernatural forces. A mechanist believes that the material universe is all that exists, and that everything we see around us is a manifestation of matter and the way it interacts according to the laws of physics.

To many people a mechanist is the paradigmatic atheist, but there are misconceptions about us. I've run into Christians who thought that atheists were people who knew that God existed and knew that Jesus was the Christ but refused to accept Jesus as savior for some unfathomable reason. For such people it was inconceivable that someone might think that there was no God at all and that Jesus, if he lived, was just a man. (As were Mohammed and Siddhartha.) For them it was a priori true that God exists, and extremely difficult for them to accept the idea that someone else might not agree with that.

Unfortunately, there's another problem with how atheism is perceived, and in this case it's the atheists' own fault. To take a slight turn to the side for a moment, I've noticed that in the case of computer religion that there are some people who cleave to minority operating systems such as OS/2 or MacOS or Linux because they truly think they're good and enjoy using them, but that there are others who tend to adopt any one of those mostly because they're not Windows. Such people are not actually fans of OS/2 or MacOS or Linux as such and may not even be very knowledgeable about them, but tend to be vocally anti-Microsoft in any kind of advocacy discussion and often are much more militant about their claims of superiority of whichever alternative to Windows that they're using for rhetorical purposes. One can generally differentiate these two kinds of users in pretty short order based on what they say and how they say it.

By the same token, there are some people who are atheists because they come around to the idea of atheism as being the most acceptable answer, for whatever reason. I'm one of those. But there are a lot of people who become vocally atheist mostly because it isn't Christianity, and try to wield atheism as a rhetorical weapon in their crusade to convince Christians that Christianity itself is wrong. To that end, they will try to claim that atheism is better. Like all zealots, such advocates can become a pain in the ass; they're usually confrontational and intolerant and actively seek out strife as they engage in anti-Christian evangelism. Because the atheists like me generally don't seek out "the enemy", it's the zealots who are most visible and establish the reputation we all must live with.

This is most commonly a failing of the young, just as operating system zealotry is, and it's not at all uncommon for a young person to vocally embrace atheism, or some very strange religion such as "The Church of the Goddess", as part of a more general revolt against parental authority, which on some level all young people go through as part of the maturation process. It's the same kind of thing as dyeing their hair green or getting a piercing or tattoo; it's as much about scandalizing the grownups as anything else. Most people grow out of that, fortunately.

I certainly can't speculate about the specific motivation of The Raving Atheist, but on his site he has a page which outlines his manifesto in three parts. And like many evangelistic atheists, he seems to strongly equate "God" with "The Christian God", and to try to assume that the kinds of claims made about the Christian God are somehow universal to all theistic religions, even though this is not true. There are many religions where the deities are not omnipotent, not omniscient, and indeed may not even be immortal. (Norse mythology includes a story of how Balder is killed, for instance.)

It is the second of his three points with which I most strongly disagree, and it is short and I quote it in full:

Second, Atheism is not merely one possible theological theory among many. Rather, it is the only true, provable theory, and all other religious theories are false and delusional. The mere fact that you believe or have faith that god exists does not make it so, anymore than unicorns, ghosts, leprechauns would exist simply because you believed in them or had faith in them. Nor does the fact that you have a legal right to believe in god prove that god exists. Similarly, the fact that American law purports to be “neutral” as between theism and atheism does not mean that the theories are equally plausible.

For those who go beyond embrace of atheism for themselves and need it as a weapon with which to bludgeon Christians, this is essential. It's to his credit that he recognizes that and states it openly.

To say that at

Captured by MemoWeb from on 9/16/2004