Several of the reactions to my most recent post that “No one is born atheist” contain some variant of the argument:
Since atheism is defined as the lack of belief in a god or gods, and babies are born without any supernatural beliefs or opinions whatsoever, children are clearly atheist until they engage in this ‘animistic behavior’ – 180andback
Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a deity, nothing more. – Zaki
Sure, if you literally break the word down into a-theism then you can interpret it to mean the lack of a belief in a God but I don’t think this is a useful way to talk about atheism.
If I made the claim that “I don’t think dinosaurs exist” then your natural first reaction might be “Well, what about all those fossils?”.
If I went on about how Satan buried those fossils as a test of my faith, you could safely label me a-dinosaur as I’ve made an active assertion about how the world could be without dinosaurs.
On the other hand, if I simply choose to ignore your question about the existence of fossils, it would be more accurate to label me as a dinosaur denier. Someone who doesn’t want to confront the issue of dinosaur existence.
Furthermore, if I had simply never even heard of dinosaurs before and had no reason to suppose their existence, then it might be accurate to label me as a dinosaur agnostic.
In each of these three cases, I don’t hold a belief that dinosaurs exist but these three lack of beliefs are of a very different nature and calling them all a-dinosaurism confuses the issue.
It is not enough to claim that gods do not exist to become atheist, you must also provide a explanation that explains the evidence for the existence of gods. Any justifiable atheism must be at least about to adequately answer the following phenomena:
- Every single day, hundreds of faith healers across the globe cause countless miracles of healing
- I had a dream about my Aunt Marge dying and when I woke up, I got a phone call that she got into a horrific car accident
- Every time I go to the 5th floor of my office, I feel incredibly sad and lost. I later found out that someone had committed suicide on that floor. I had no idea it happened but I still felt the presence of his ghost.
- My friend had a terminal cancer and the doctors told her that it was incurable but when she prayed to God, it miraculously went into remission. The doctors all said they had never seen anything like it.
- When I rub my lucky coin 3 times in a clockwise fashion, I win much more at roulette
- I can feel God guide me in my life and feel his presence in my soul. It’s impossible for such a feeling to be faked
What’s amazing about atheism is that it can adequately answer these seemingly amazing phenomena in a purely naturalistic manner. However, the answers to these questions are neither simple nor obvious. Any answer requires a great deal of sophisticated understanding of both philosophical and empirical matters and it’s the ability to answer these questions that separates genuine atheism from a simple denial of gods.
Such a confusion does atheists and atheism no favors. Because this distinction is not made clear, most of the Christians I talk to believe that atheists are God deniers. Atheists are atheists because the implications of a God existing is so morally threatening that atheists must construct a psychological shield that justifies their immorality and secularism. The idea that atheists are actually capable of answering the preceeding questions is so astounding that it’s never even considered.
Atheists need to become much more clear about what atheism is and isn’t if they want atheism to be given the respect it deserves as an intellectual position. Atheism is not simply a denial of gods. Instead, it’s an active assertion that the universe can be explained better in the absence of gods.