Atheists Think That _____

I have to throw my weight behind the collective beating of what should be a dead horse by now. It feels almost silly to have to talk about it, but there’s a slight chance it might help.

Look at the title of this post. Fill in the blank there. Okay, now it’s time for a little quiz:

Did you write anything but “deities do not exist, or have not been proven to exist,” or something along those lines? If you did… Sorry, but you failed this little test.

This is a mistake made by far too many people; quite often, I think, it’s made disingenuously. Let’s hop on over to a dictionary to get a starting point:
Theism is defined as “belief in the existence of a god or gods.”
Atheist is defined as “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.”

Fairly simple, right? An Atheist just doesn’t believe in a deity. Which is why when people like Kirk Cameron says one of his favourite lines:
“Atheists believe something came from nothing,” he is attempting to speak to a belief that is completely removed from the realm of Atheism, akin to someone saying “NASCAR fans think that lawn chairs are comfortable.” Being a fan of NASCAR says nothing about chair preference, all it says is that you “have a strong interest in or admiration for a particular sport, art or entertainment form, or famous person,” in this case, NASCAR. While it might be possible to infer something from this (perhaps that you’re not a fan of F1), but there is always the chance that any conclusions you come to will be totally false; the only thing that is guaranteed, and quite possibly the only thing the group might have in common, is this one trait.

So let’s take this back to Atheism. While it is true that most Atheists subscribe to scientific interpretations more often than not, it’s not a given. Any given Atheist may believe that powerful aliens created the planet, or that this universe was made from code and that we’re just a computer simulation.

In a similar vein, we could say the same thing about Theists. The only thing a Theist has in common with another Theist is the belief in a deity or deities. There’s no guarantee that anything will be similar between two Theists beyond that. And I think it’s here that some people get confused.

It seems to me like people put organized religious belief beside Atheism and try to assign similar properties to it, as opposed to recognizing Atheism’s proper counterpart, Theism, and using that instead. This causes problems where a broader set of common attributes meets a single common attribute. For a quick example:

  • Christians believe that the universe was created by a supreme being named God, Yahweh, Jealous, etc.
  • Atheism has no stance on the creation of the universe.
  • Christians believe that in death, if proper conditions are met, an essence of the dead can live on eternally.
  • Atheism has no stance on the afterlife.
  • Christians believe that life on Earth was created in its current form (or close to it) more or less all at once.
  • Atheism has no stance on the origin of life.
  • Christians believe that a deity exists who watches over our lives.
  • Atheism rejects the existence of this god.

I am aware that I’m falling into something of the same trap as I’m bemoaning here in describing Christians, but traditionally and according to the central tenants of their beliefs, this seemed like a safe list.

See? See? Isn’t that simple? If you want to compare notes on the creation of the universe, on the origin of life, on evolution, don’t come to an Atheist. Go to a scientist or someone who supports those theories. Hell, that person might be an Atheist anyway, but they don’t have to be. To use math terms, the set of Atheists is not the superclass the set of people who support viewpoints or beliefs commonly attributed to Atheism, and vice-versa. That means that there are people who hold those views but are not Atheists, and Atheists who do not hold these views.

It can be confusing, I know, but Atheists are not a reliable conversation partner for most topics. Religious philosophy? Sure. Not much else.

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~ by buncythefrog on May 13, 2011.

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