Recently I’ve run-up against the argument that atheism is “just another faith” — as if that somehow raised the merit of a believer’s position, which of course, even if atheism were, it does not.

I’d like to begin by quoting my buddy Sam Harris:

I think that ‘atheist’ is a term that we do not need, in the same way that we don’t need a word for someone who rejects astrology. We simply do not call people ‘non-astrologers’. All we need are words like ‘reason’ and ‘evidence’ and ‘common sense’ and ‘bullshit’ to put astrologers in their place, and so it could be with religion.

And I agree… a lot. The label “atheist” makes me bristle in the same way I bristle when someone calls me “Catholic” because a white-collared guy dripped water on my head before I was young enough to object or say “I do”…

Now if by “atheist” one means I am not a “theist,” well then yes, ok — for I am definitely not a theist. I do not believe in a personal God that listens to my thoughts and has a plan for me, who occasionally usurps the laws of physics to do his bidding but cannot seem to figure out a way to give me both free-will and also alleviate “the problem of evil” (I really think I could design this, btw).

Why is the label “atheist” at all necessary? We do not need a term for those who do not believe in bigfoot or vampires, no one is compelled to call me an abigfootist or avampirist…

Furthermore, the idea that atheism is a faith (where this post started) reveals just how caught up in the idea of faith the faithful are — it is as if they cannot imagine approaching the world in any other way. Now, to be fair, extreme atheism can become a bit faithlike, there may be some folks who “blindly” rattle on about “knowing” that God does not exist, and I would say that is a faith-based position… but even Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, writes, “Reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist.

In other words, as the scientific method dictates, new evidence can always come in, no fact is unrevisable… and we can never prove the non-existence of something. In an infinite universe, there is always someplace one has not looked, and a healthy scientific worldview requires that questions are answered by probabilities, not by absolutes…


7 Responses

  1. I like to think I am more of a pantheist with commitment issues.

    Our universe is so big and so many millions of people believe (or have faith in..) so many different things and believe/faith with such conviction I can’t help but think its all true.

    Whatever you believe might just be true.

    I don’t think any kind of belief, faith or whatever you want to call it needs to have a collective group understanding for it to be valid because we all have the free will to believe whatever we want, in absense or presence of evidence.

    Its that category thing , that label idea you were talking about before. Maybe you just don’t want a label?

    this is an interesting thread of idea and depressing,for some reason.

  2. I’m curious, what does “pantheist” mean to you?

  3. Someone told me its all the stuff. Everything? I am wrong about most every single thing lately, so please, you may correct me.

  4. Who could describe “atheism” as just another faith? By my interpretation of the word “atheist” and the context of the word “faith” in the statement, someone has created the ubiquitous “oxymoron”. What is it then that we say to describe a person’s position that there is no deity? This is an all-or-nothing position; there are no “types” of God that may or may not exist, the good and forgiving personal savior or the scary bastard leering over a thunderhead with a handful of lightning bolts waiting for us to step out of line, the word atheist means “godless”. It has been considered a label, but by whom? If you don’t believe in a god why would you show concern over being called godless? Certainly if a person isn’t worried about the wrath of a deity coming down upon them for their defiance I cannot see how any lesser judgement could matter, although people have certainly perished for their beliefs. To be concerned with external perceptions or labeling of your position is either to be uncertain of the resolve in your decision to deny a divine being’s existence or you fear being outcast for something that others do not understand. Possibly the concept of a deity as other people perceive it now and throughout history has played a large role to establish your disbelief. Regardless, you’ve established beyond a reasonable doubt that there is no God and you’re content with your conclusion. Because you’re not the first person to come to this conclusion someone fashioned a word for it, maybe even an atheist, and maybe so atheists everywhere could identify each other. Actually, as I write, I’ve become aware that I need to think about labels in general; I am intrigued. As far as atheism being just another faith, I don’t need to say much. There is a level of courage required to dispense with faith, to accept all that is physical and know that there is no passage to anything other than darkness when we pass. To have faith in nothing more than oneself and the prospect of mankind is a difficult road. To not need the comfort of knowing that we’re all children of a greater being that will take care of us, make sense of all that is unknown, explain the inexplicable, is an admirable strength. To reduce this to “just another faith” is an attempt to join two separate roads that run parallel to each other, one over the mountain and the other through the valley.

  5. Jay wrote:
    To reduce this to “just another faith” is an attempt to join two separate roads that run parallel to each other, one over the mountain and the other through the valley.

    I like that, but I need to think about the metaphor a bit, because it sorta makes atheism sound like “another path”—but it also might be saying quite another thing…

    Anyway, it’s true enough I am not worried about the wrath of a deity, because for all that I can tell wrathful sorts of deities are the product of our imaginations… or more precisely our psychology and evolutionary past.

    That said, I do worry about beings that do exist, and those are all my human fellows. Humans can judge, and make vastly incorrect judgments — misundertandings can so easily arise, and those misunderstandings can have repurcussions… I don’t believe it is small of me to “worry” about such things and to want to avoid them… thus the problems with labels generally…

    As for the label Atheist, not only is it often misunderstood (to mean someone who is “immoral”, arrogant, who claims to “know” things that cannot be known), I just don’t see why it’s necessary at all. If someone doesn’t have “a philosophy” (e.g. they are not a Positivist, Rationalist, Empiricist, etc), we do not have a need to call him/her an “aphilosophist,” do we? It’s just silly to see religious labels as somehow so “defining”, and it’s even sillier to put one on someone who wishes not to play that game…

  6. […] I hope Jay doesn’t mind, but I’m going to quote him at some length (this is a comment from the Avampirism post): […]

  7. […] week later, the post Avampirism touched its bloggy toe into the definition of atheism and whether such a worldview should be […]

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