I spend a fair amount of time soaking in lots of information in the debate over whether a god exists. I watch YouTube debates, read Twitter debates, blogs, articles, etc. And one thing I’ve seen over and over is the theists ability to equivocate (improperly define) or straw man (misrepresent) what atheism is. I have a few ideas as to why this happens, as follows.
- The theist is ignorant to what words really mean. This could be because the theists just made up what they think a word means, or they obtained an improper definition, and accepted it as truth.
- Atheists will often claim things such as “religion is harmful,” “faith is a bad thing,” or something like that. Many theists will respond with statements like “atheism is a religion, too,” or “atheism requires faith.” These claims are spurious at best, and are used intentionally as a tu quoque argument. In other words, the theist is saying “you think X is a bad thing, but you are X, too.”
In my opinion, the biggest problem with these arguments is that the buzzwords used in the arguments are poorly defined, if defined at all. What I’m attempting to do here is dispel certain erroneous theist claims, using dictionary definitions to show why they are untrue. I will be using the same, neutral source for all definitions, so no one can accuse me of cherry-picking definitions to advance my claim. If a definition is ambiguous or too broad (some are), I will state why.
My source will be dictionary.com.
First, we must define atheism.
1. the doctrine or belief that there is no God.
2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.
Although these definitions are similar, I consider the second definition to be more accurate. The first suggests that atheists make the absolute claim that there is no god. Very few atheists make this claim (I know hundreds of atheists, and only know of one who makes this claim). The second definition more closely reflects the definition used by the atheists I know. We typically say that we lack belief in any gods. I see a discussion with a theist going something like this:
Theist: Do you believe that any gods exist?
Theist: What else do you believe as part of your atheism?
You see, atheism is a lack of belief (or disbelief, if you will), in any gods. THAT’S IT. Anything above and beyond that is not atheism, and any claim to the contrary is making assumptions about the atheist.
So anyway, on to the claims…
CLAIM #1: ATHEISTS ASSERT THAT THERE ARE NO GODS, WITH ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY
This claim may be true of some atheists, but it’s not what atheism is. Atheism is a lack of belief. Absolute certainty is a claim of knowledge. Claiming knowledge that no gods exists is called gnosticism.
adjective Also, gnos·ti·cal.
1. pertaining to knowledge.
2. possessing knowledge, especially esoteric knowledge of spiritual matters.
3. ( initial capital letter ) pertaining to or characteristic of the Gnostics.
4. ( initial capital letter ) a member of any of certain sects among the early Christians who claimed to have superior knowledge of spiritual matters, and explained the world as created by powers or agencies arising as emanations from the Godhead.
A lot of people tend to think that people can be one of three things: theist (believe a god exists), atheist (lack of belief in the existence of any gods), or agnostic (indifferent), but this is not true. In fact, you can be a gnostic theist (believe gods exists, and know it to be true), an agnostic theists (believe god exists, but do not claim knowledge), a gnostic theists (lack of believe, but claim of knowledge, i.e., “I do not believe in any gods, and I know it to be true”), or an agnostic atheist (lack of belief, but no claim of knowledge). Most atheists are agnostic, including me. I actually find it arrogant for someone, anyone, to claim to know whether a god actually exists. There are some things in this world we may never know, or properly understand, so I’m not going to dismiss the possibility. However, because there is no evidence to support the existence of any of the 3,000 documented gods, I have no reason to believe. Furthermore, I consider the possibility that a gods exists to be extremely unlikely.
You may also want to reference the following article: The Spectrum of Theistic Probability.
For a nice meme, see this.
So no, most atheists do not claim there is absolutely no god.
CLAIM #2: ATHEISTS HATE GOD
Now this claim is just ridiculous. How can an atheist hate that which he/she does not believe exists?
CLAIM #3: ATHEISTS WORSHIP SATAN
See claim #2. No God = no Satan. If someone claims to worship Satan, they are not an atheist. They are a Pagan. Atheists do not believe Satan exists, therefore, cannot worship him (or her, or it).
CLAIM #4: ATHEISTS JUST WANT TO SIN
Once again, going back to claim #2, atheists do not believe sin exists. Sin is a man-made construct used to control people’s actions.
CLAIM #5: ATHEISTS ARE IMMORAL/AMORAL
Morality is entirely subjective, so your opinion is no more valid than another person’s opinion. You’d have to define what morality is before you can even make that claim. My assumption is that a theist will define immoral/amoral as “not adhering to my book.”
CLAIM #6: ATHEISTS ARE (INSERT CLAIM USE TO DEFAME, E.G., LIBERAL, SOCIALIST, HUMANIST, COMMUNIST, NAZI, FEMINIST, HIPPIE)
These claims are solely made to insult the atheist. First, whether an atheist is any of these things is irrelevant, and has nothing to do with being an atheist. In fact, I am none of these things, except for a humanist. Theists are so quick to judge and draw erroneous conclusions just to make themselves feel better. Remember, atheism is nothing but a lack of belief in gods. That’s it.
CLAIM #7: CHRISTIANS IN AMERICA ARE OPPRESSED/ATHEISTS WANT TO DESTROY RELIGION
This may be the most ridiculous claim of all. Christians are not oppressed at all. They think that banning Bibles from classrooms constitutes oppression, or keeping nativity scenes off government property is oppression. The fact is that Christians have had special rights in this country for a very long time. Their religious views have always been given special preference over other belief systems (or the lack thereof). Not only that, but churches get tax exemptions, and ministers get tax breaks that are not available to anyone outside the clergy. How’s that for equality? So if you think Christians are oppressed, just get over yourself. Christianity is fighting to keep its special rights, where everyone else just wants equal rights.
With respect to the claim that atheists want to destroy religion, that depends on the atheist. Personally, I think the world would be a much better place without religion.
CLAIM #8: ATHEISTS ONLY CRITICIZE CHRISTIANITY
While it is true that most American atheists tend to criticize Christianity more than other religions, there’s a reason for that. They’re everywhere. Christianity is by far the most popular, and most visible religion here. We see nativity scenes, Christian churches, and religious symbols everywhere. Christianity is constantly trying to infiltrate a constitutionally secular government. Christianity is what we see, everywhere.
With that said, that’s not to say that atheists don’t criticize other religions, because they do. I am fully aware of atrocities worldwide committed by other religions, as are many other atheists. I will condemn those atrocities no less than any committed by Christians. And some atheists I know focus on Islam and other religions that are less common in the U.S.
CLAIM #9: ATHEISTS ARE ANGRY
Some of us are, and for damn good reason. I’ll concede this one. But anger is by no means monopolized by atheists. Do you know that many atheists are unwilling to “come out” as atheists, for fear of repercussions from their families, friends, and employers? How many Christians fear being ostracized for coming out as Christian, in a country that is 78% just like them?
CLAIM #10: ATHEISTS DON’T GIVE TO CHARITY
I had someone on Twitter once try to claim that there are many Christian charities, but there are no atheists charities. First, this is not true. Second, a charity doesn’t have to be atheistic in nature to count as actual giving. Many atheists, including me, give to charities, some of which are religion-based, and some which are secular, such as the red cross. I also belong to a humanist organization, which does food and blood drives, and other charities. I have gladly give. But I will only give money to secular organizations, because I want my money going to help those in need, not to convert.
CLAIM #11: ATHEISM IS A RELIGION
OK, this is ridiculous. Let’s see a definition:
1. a set
of beliefs concerning the cause, nature
, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
4. the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.
5. the practice of religious
beliefs; ritual observance of faith.
The overarching theme for the definitions above is that a set of beliefs is required. Atheism contains no beliefs. And if you think atheism does include a set of beliefs, I’d like to know what they are, because they don’t exist. Atheism also does not address the cause, nature, or purpose of the universe. Therefore, it meets none of the criteria of any of the definitions. If you start bringing up terms like evolution, big bang, or abiogenesis, you’re not talking about atheism. You’re talking about something else.
CLAIM #12: ATHEISM IS DOGMATIC
Time for another definition:
noun, plural dog·mas or ( Rare ) dog·ma·ta [dawg-muh-tuh] Show IPA
1. an official system of principles or tenets concerning faith, morals, behavior, etc., as of a church. Synonyms: doctrine, teachings, set
of beliefs, philosophy.
2. a specific tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down, as by a church: the dogma of the Assumption; the recently defined dogma of papal infallibility. Synonyms: tenet, canon, law.
3. prescribed doctrine proclaimed as unquestionably true by a particular group: the difficulty of resisting political dogma.
4. a settled or established opinion, belief, or principle: the classic dogma of objectivity in scientific observation. Synonyms: conviction, certainty.
Atheism definitely doesn’t meet the first three definitions. No system of principles, morals, behavior. No doctrine. Nothing proclaimed as unquestionable. You could argue that atheism would fit the fourth definition, as a belief or opinion, but that definition is so vague that any opinion could be considered dogmatic.
CLAIM #13: ATHEISM IS A WORLDVIEW
I can’t seem to locate an official definition of worldview, but I did find this, which I thought was a good way of putting it.
“A framework of ideas and beliefs through which people interpret the world.”
To me, a worldview is a general idea of how the world works, or should work. A worldview is a system of many things that work together to form what you consider to be the world-as-we-know-it-or-should-be. Atheism, again, is a lack of belief in any gods. Nothing else. It takes no stance on human rights, the economy, anything but lack of belief in any gods. Don’t make it more than it is.
CLAIM #14: ATHEISTS HAVEN’T READ THE BIBLE
Actually, most of the atheists I know are atheists because of the reading the Bible. It’s full of contradictions, atrocities, misogyny, rape, murder, silly stories, and so forth. Let’s also consider that there’s no evidence for a global flood, talking snakes, women turning to salt, or 900-year old men. C’mon. Seriously?
CLAIM #15: IF YOU CLAIMED TO BE A CHRISTIAN, YOU WEREN’T REALLY A CHRISTIAN
It’s really disingenuous to tell someone that they aren’t want they define themselves to be. If someone reads the Bible, and attends a Christian church, guess what? You’re a Christian. Rejecting your religion doesn’t mean we somehow didn’t get it, or misinterpreted the Bible, or didn’t go to Bible study, is preposterous.Not only that, but you’re using the No True Scotsman fallacy.
CLAIM #16: INSTEAD OF WORSHIPING GOD YOU WORSHIP (INSERT PROMINENT ATHEIST, E.G., DAWKINS, HITCHENS, DENNET, HARRIS)
This is another example of trying to portray atheists as being like theists.
[wur-ship] Show IPA noun, verb, wor·shiped, wor·ship·ing or ( especially British ) wor·shipped, wor·ship·ping.
1.reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object
regarded as sacred.
2.formal or ceremonious rendering of such honor and homage: They attended worship this morning.
3.adoring reverence or regard: excessive worship of business success.
4.the object of adoring reverence or regard.
5.( initial capital letter ) British . a title of honor used in addressing or mentioning certain magistrates and others of high rank or station (usually preceded by Your, His, or Her ).
Certainly the first two definitions don’t apply. No gods, no ceremonies. Definitions three and four are broad, and could apply to anyone who adores someone else. In that regard, I worship my girlfriend. So no, sorry. No worshiping here. In fact, many atheists don’t even like Dawkins, and many have never even heard of the other three I’ve listed. They are not our deities, and if you really think so, get over yourself.
And finally, my favorite…
CLAIM #17: ATHEISM REQUIRES FAITH
1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.
2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion
: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
4. belief in anything, as a code of ethics
, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
5. a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.
The third definition is the one that atheists tend to identify with. I often hear it defined as “belief without evidence.” In other words, if a theist claims that faith is necessary, then they are conceding that there is no proof. “I can’t prove it’s true, but I have faith that is is.” Atheists lack belief, because of a lack of evidence, which is quite the opposite of faith. Faith accepts a claim despite a lack of evidence. An atheist rejects the claim for the very same reason. Therefore, atheism cannot require faith.
Atheism isn’t about confidence or trust, so definition one’s out. The rest of the definitions require belief. Atheists don’t believe in the existence of god.
Well, that’s all I have. If you have some more equivocations or straw men, or would like to refute my statements above, have at it!