Theists: Enough with the Equivocations and Straw Men, Please

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

a·the·ism

[ey-thee-iz-uhm] Show IPA

noun

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?

Atheist: No.

Theist: What else do you believe as part of your atheism?

Atheist: *crickets*

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.

gnos·tic

[nos-tik] Show IPA

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.
noun

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:

re·li·gion

[ri-lij-uhn] Show IPA

noun

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:

dog·ma

[dawg-muh, dog-] Show IPA

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.

wor·ship

[wur-ship] Show IPA noun, verb, wor·shiped, wor·ship·ing or ( especially British ) wor·shipped, wor·ship·ping.

noun

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

faith

[feyth] Show IPA

noun

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!
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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Theists: Enough with the Equivocations and Straw Men, Please

  1. This is a great, well thought out post. In fact, I was about to use the same definitions to reply to your post on the other blog where we were discussing whether Atheism is a religion. My problem with it is that you are picking which of the definitions you prescribe to as an atheist when technically all listed definitions are accepted definitions of the words. For the term “faith”, for example, I was using numbers 1 and 2 in my explanation for why atheists have faith in the theory of evolution (as this can not be proven). You even have leaders like Richard Dawkins to write full books on backing up this faith and why faith in God is ridiculous. You might even say Richard Dawkins is LOOKING for converts….but that’s another point entirely. Back to definitions, both the definitions for atheist use the word “belief” (or dis”belief”) which is basically the same as the word “faith”. With all this being said, I think its clear why I think the definition of religion still works as I disagree that atheism contains no faith. If you don’t believe in God, then you have to believe in something else. Even if you say that atheism is a “lack of belief” in God, you still believe in the theory of evolution to explain how the World came about. Do not all Atheists “believe” in the theory of Evolution and the Big Bang Theory (which can not be proven as fact)? That right there is a shared set of beliefs among all Atheists, even if not technically part of the basic definition of an Atheist. That is all.

  2. OK, there’s a lot here, so I’ll try to address piece by piece.

    First, there are problems with some of the definitions above, because they can be too broad, and sometimes contradictory. That’s why I explained why I chose certain definitions over others, and explained why. I’ve seen people use your argument, and there is some merit to it, but if a word has multiple definitions, I can use whichever one I want to self-define.

    Second, with respect to Dawkins, he’s a bit of an arrogant blowhard, to be honest. He’s an extremely knowledgeable scientist, but comes off as cocky, sometimes. He’s good at putting his foot in his mouth. But anyway, his books are not based on faith. Faith is belief without evidence. His assertions are backed up by evidence. If he says belief in the Christian god is ridiculous because the Bible is filled with contradictions, he can back that up with scripture. If he claims that Christianity has historically oppressed women, he can back that up with historical evidence, and again, scripture (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:12). His assertions are quite the opposite of faith, because there is evidence. Faith necessitates a lack of evidence.

    Third, you’re equivocating the scientific meaning of “theory.” The common theist saying is “it’s ‘just’ a theory.” But a theory is the best we’ve got. It’s the closest anything comes to being a fact, in science. And if a theory is proven wrong, it is discarded for better information. That’s the beauty of science. Theories are the “graduation point” of science, as are laws, just in a different context. People seem to think that there is some sort of hierarchy of terms in science, and theory is somewhere in the middle, as a “guess.” But it’s not that at all. It’s at the very top. It’s the best we’ve got. Theories like gravity, evolution, and the big bang are all supported by observation, historical evidence, etc. And you know what? If evolution was proven wrong, I would no longer accept it as true.

    Fourth, I reject your statement that ” If you don’t believe in God, then you have to believe in something else.” That is a false dichotomy. Atheism is a stand-alone concept. Atheism does not mean believing in evolution or the big bang, or any other scientific theory. In fact, you could be an atheist and not even be aware of those theories. It’s not like being a “conservative,” where you may have a set of beliefs regarding abortion, gun control, economic policy, etc. Atheism is a very specific concept. No gods. That’s it.

    And if you assume that, as an atheist, I hold other (probably liberal) values, you’d probably be wrong on a lot of them. In fact, if I had to categorize myself (although I really hate generalizations), I would probably self-describe as a moderate conservative. I just happen to lack belief in any gods.

    Now it is true that many atheists believe in evolution and/or the big bang, abiogenesis, or other theories, but many theists do, as well. Nothing goes hand-in-hand with atheism.

  3. Thank you for your reply. For some reason WordPress did not notify me that you replied or I would have seen this sooner :-). About your response regarding the definitions, since all of the definitions listed are accepted as fair use of the words, then the way I originally used them in my first reply on the other blog was also acceptable. I’m happy for you to use your definitions as long as you also recognize that my use of the words is also acceptable. It seemed as though you disregarded my arguments because I didn’t use the definitions you chose to use, but then I could just do the same thing about your arguments…this seems circular and pointless of course.

    Secondly, I disagree with you statement, “Faith necessitates a lack of evidence.” Do you have faith that your mother or father loves you? Of course, you cannot prove this because you cannot get inside their head and hearts to know how they really feel about you. You have to have faith and trust that they do based on evidence- that they say they love you and the evidence of their actions towards you. The faith I have in God is very much the same. It is a faith based in relationship and on evidence based on how I have seen God working in my life and how he keeps his promises. Dawkins also had no response to this in his debate with John Lennox, both highly respected Scientists. If you haven’t seen this debate, I highly recommend watching it in its entirety, but here is the part specific to this argument: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NzFr4lM-lc

    Thirdly, I think there are too many scientists who want to believe evolution that it would take a long time for this theory to ever be discarded, even though the evidence I’ve heard actually points away from it. If you find it hard to believe in God or don’t want there to be a God, you will look for evidence to give another way for existence other than God and I’m sure you would also say the same of those who want to believe there is a God. Because of this, it makes considering possibilities outside our own worldview or what we want to believe very difficult to look at fairly and objectively. I don’t deny this, but I am trying my hardest to look objectively. This is why I’m open to you or anyone else presenting whatever evidence you have for evolution and no God for that matter. If it is true, then it is true and so be it. Thankfully, if I’m wrong, it doesn’t actually make much difference in the long run… I also realize that many Christians believe in evolution hand in hand with their belief in God and I recognize that this is not a core doctrinal issue. The problem for me is that the evidence I’m aware of for evolution is full of holes and contradictions. Before you even get into how humans evolved, how did life originate? Scientists all agree that the odds of the perfect conditions for life on our planet are astronomical. To believe it was by chance is too much for me. I also know that when scientists first discovered evidence that there was a beginning to the Universe, it was not easily accepted (Einstein’s biggest blunder with the theory of relativity). Perhaps it was a little too close to what the Bible had recorded long before their discovery. And then could that also mean a beginner- the existence of a God to start it? The Law of Causality states that everything with a beginning has a cause- so as the universe is not eternal but has a start, then something else has to be to be the cause of it- perhaps a God? Then going into evolution itself, the very idea of evolution suggests that creatures are gradually evolving to an improved state, but this contradicts the 2nd law of thermodynamics- that everything is continually moving from a state of order to disorder. If we step back and consider nature and humans for all their intricacies for a few minutes I find the existence of many parts (DNA, eyes, human intelligent thought and all the beauty of nature) to be entirely too incredible to be here by random chance or evolution. Taking DNA alone, what other coding system has existed without a creator or intelligent design? I also find it difficult watching documentaries on evolution because it honestly looks just as believable as a fairytale. Much tends to be speculation of how things could have happened or what must have happened for humans to have evolved from a single cell organism- like a fish randomly evolving to leave the water and go on to land (to start the land animals). Why? What would be the point of this anyway? I also find the caterpillar to butterfly example quite difficult to understand with evolution- but I can see why God would have created such a beautiful picture of rebirth as I see creation as a reflection of him and his gospel. To me, life just doesn’t make since without God.

    For your fourth point. Ok. Thank you for your valuable insight into atheism.

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