The Seven Cs of Atheism

August Berkshire is the president of Minnesota Atheists. He’s written some very popular pieces on this site, including “34 Unconvincing Arguments for God,” and he’ll be speaking at the Project 42 Freethought conference in Fargo, North Dakota on September 18th.

August’s latest piece explains The Seven Cs of Atheism (PDF):

Conservative

Atheism is a conservative position. We accept statements only so far as there is reason and/or evidence to back them up. Anything else is speculation. We make no leaps of faith. If there should some day be a compelling reason or piece of evidence for a god, then we would acknowledge it and change our views.

Clarity

An atheist possesses clarity in his or her thinking processes. We are able to identify those things for which we have evidence and separate them from other things that are merely wishful thinking.

Consistent

An atheist is also consistent. We apply our skepticism equally to all supernatural claims. We do not say, “All prophets, saviors, or gods are false -– except ours.” We make no exceptions or special pleadings.

Contradiction-free

Another benefit of atheism is that it is contradiction-free. We don’t have to try to reconcile an all-loving, all-seeing, all-powerful god with the existence of evil. We don’t have to define love exactly the opposite of how we normally define it in order to make it applicable to a god. We don’t have to claim that a poor supernatural designer is intelligent.

Courage

An atheist possesses courage. It is natural for people to have a healthy survival instinct. However, some people have such a fear of death that they feel compelled to believe in an afterlife to alleviate those fears. It takes intellectual and emotional courage to abandon belief in an afterlife because there is no evidence for it (and compelling evidence against it). It also takes intellectual and emotional courage to abandon one’s belief in a cosmic, supernatural “protector” and realize that, as far as we know, we are alone in our universe and must therefore help each other as best we can.

Consequences

There are certain consequences that naturally follow from being an atheist. Since there are no gods to help us, we must rely on ourselves and each other. Since there is no afterlife, it becomes more important to improve life on Earth.

Conclusion

One of the arguments of Pascal’s Wager is that a person loses nothing by believing in a god. This is not true. Accepting Pascal’s Wager means saying that we are willing to abandon reason and evidence as our guides to living, and instead make a leap of faith to… where?

It’s true that by converting (or deconverting) from theism to atheism a person will lose his or her sense of divine specialness, cosmic meaning in life, and any hope of an afterlife. But you can’t lose what you never really had.

The reality of atheism far outweighs the dream of religion. There is an excitement and beauty to perceiving the world as it really is, and not as an illusion.

Would you change, remove, or add to anything on this list?

  • Ed Hicks

    rather die than describe myself as conservative.

  • Aj

    Atheism is a lack of belief in gods, nothing more. The list could be derived from the principles of freethinking or secular humanism.

  • Edmond

    No Critical thinking?

  • NewEnglandBob

    I agree with Ed and Aj

  • Dave B.

    Several of these seem to be more about skepticism than atheism. Atheists are more than capable of being unclear, inconsistent and full of contradictions. Being an atheist says nothing about how you got there.

  • Miko

    Every newborn baby is an atheist. Merely being an atheist is nothing special.

    And really–conservative? Gack.

  • http://yetanotheratheist.net Yet Another Atheist

    The “Conservative” part made me cringe. That’s a term applies solely to politics in this day and age, and not something I’d describe myself as.

  • http://www.tomshamma.wordpress.com Thomas Shamma

    It seems everyone else is saying what I first thought. I don’t like the assumption that ‘atheist’ means ‘active member of the atheist movement’ and the values that implies. I definitely think most of us in the movement would approve of those values, but this seems to edge dangerously close to what Greta Christina warned about when she talked about the doomed nature of atheist’s specialness.

  • NIja

    This wasn’t the 7 ‘C’s of atheism. This was the “7 ‘C’s of why I’m glad I’m not a theist” except he generalized to all atheists.

  • http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com Andrew S.

    Agree with AJ, and agree with everyone who cringed at “conservative.”

  • SeanG

    I agree with previous posters. This describes skeptics better than atheists. Being an atheist is only one dimension. I’ve met atheists who take homeopathic medicine and think that aliens seeded earth with life.

  • Susi Bocks

    i think the traditional “conservatives” might have to coin a new term for themselves if that’s the definition.

  • http://toomanytribbles.blogspot.com toomanytribbles

    i’ll chime in — didn’t like the conservative at all… and i do think it’s overdoing it with the courage, clarity, etc.

    atheists simply do not believe in gods.

  • Ron in Houston

    While I understand where he’s coming from in applying the term “conservative” the reality is often quite different. Many atheists were culturally conditioned NOT to be atheists. The fact that they are willing to challenge that conditioning and break the mold makes them distinctly not conservative.

  • Camus Dude

    The point of using “conservative” to describe the atheist position is clearly explained in the paragraph following! It has nothing to do with conservatives in the political sense. There are other meanings to the word.

  • Dean

    “rather die than describe myself as conservative.”

    “I agree with Ed and Aj”

    “conservative? Gack”

    I am, as an atheist, appalled to see those people (who I usually agree with) showing such a level of childishness by getting hung up on terminology. You people whining about the usage of the term conservative remind me of the “conservatives” misuse of the term “Theory.”

    I’m sure the author of this list didn’t even think about lumping atheists into the same group as fundies, and the focus it has warranted is disapointing to say the least.

    I might add that this national obsession with “Liberal Agenda” and “Conservative Values” is nothing but destructive. I have seen (all too often) otherwise rational people disregard ideas and opinions that are sound and well reasoned because they were offered by people who are on the other side of this debate. We are all Americans.

    Carl Sagan said in Demon Haunted World:

    “In our time, with total fabrication of realistic stills, motion pictures, and videotapes technologically within reach, with television in every home, and with critical thinking in decline, restructuring societal memories even without much attention from the secret police seems possible. What I’m imagining here is not that each of us has a budget of memories implanted in special therapeutic sessions by state-appointed psychiatrists, but rather that small numbers of people will have so much control over news stories, history books, and deeply affecting images as to work major changes in collective attitudes.”

    Am I the only one seeing this happen. The country is becoming polarized by relatively small groups of people to loath one another.
    Control over this country has been far more widespread than probably Sagan could have dreamed. We are not meant to agree with each other all of the time. If we did this would be a very boring planet, but such venomous disregard for our fellow citizens is disgusting.

    I’m not saying to agree with the political or religious stances associated with the more common use of the term “conservative,” but to be so hateful is sinking to a level of intolerance I would expect out of Falwell or Fred Phelps, not the “freethinkers” of the world. This ignorance based hatred is something I thought atheists were supposed to be above.

  • http://theehtheist.blogspot.com The “Eh”theist

    I’m shocked, simply shocked to arrive and discover that no one has made the observation that the seven c’s is an excellent credo for persons who celebrate pirates.

    (having gotten that out of my system, I agree with the sentiment that this seems to describe the “People’s Hero of the Atheist Collective” or “Atheist First Class” rather than acknowledging the diversity that exists).

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    Although I relate to the 7 c’s I do think back to that funny George Carlin skit where he condenses the 10 commandments down to (I think) a single commandment. Perhaps the “7 C’s” can also be condensed down.

  • The Scientific Catholic

    Honestly, all/most these points can be countered. The overall fact is that religion or atheism cannot be proven or disproved. I disagree with many of your points, a few of which I will mention.

    Clarity- I’ve met many, many atheists who weren’t clear in their thinking process. They have doubled back on previous statements,and using the argument “Prove God exists. If you can’t, he doesn’t exist.”

    Consistent- I think that the extremists tend to define a religion, which is a real shame.

    Contradiction- There are explanations that are logical. They don’t make sense to some because they don’t look at the teachings of the religion. It is a quickly assumed end.

    Courage- Not every religious person has a fear of death. Some people like religions because of a moral code. If they had a fear of death, they wouldn’t switch religions like some do. People do it because they hope that their is something after, but that is not a fear.

    Another minor point, I don’t understand how people are usually forced to choose between religion or science. I don’t believe most of the stories of the old testament. I believe they might serve as a moral guideline at most. But science and religion can go hand in hand, but most people are so determined to prove something wrong, they can try to make a connection

  • Drew M.

    @Dean

    I am, as an atheist, appalled to see those people (who I usually agree with) showing such a level of childishness by getting hung up on terminology. You people whining about the usage of the term conservative remind me of the “conservatives” misuse of the term “Theory.”

    You said it better than I would have. I actually guffawed when I read their comments. In a “laugh at” kind of way.

    You people are tilting at the wrong windmills.

  • ben

    I was botheredby the “conservative” statement only because it made me think that being “conservative” was a more advantageous name to take than any other political name.

    Next….any person worth his salt knows that Pascal’s wager cannot be a true wager given an omnipotent & omniscient god ’cause he’d already know your doubt while outwardly saying u believe….presumedly you’d gp to hell…..Pascal has no wager

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Which ones would I remove? All of them. They have nothing to do with atheism and everything to do with a specific brand of philosophy. I can easily find counterexamples to each of the points.

  • JediMike

    atheism means nothing – this list just encourages the point of view that atheism is *something* – it is not .. *all* of the points you have listed could easily be attributed to other “types” of people .. remember that an atheist is what you were *before* anybody gave you a label, therefore any beliefs, or the lack thereof that you acquire later, are added later on, they are *added* on top of being an atheist .. a courageous atheist.. a concise atheist… a scientific atheist… a sceptic atheist… a consistent atheist etc etc .. so yes, technically there is no such thing as an atheist, as not doing something (ie,. believing in god) is hardly a basis for calling yourself something..

    and conservative? Sarah Palin was the first thing that leapt to mind upon reading that word

  • Aj

    The Scientific Catholic,

    Clarity- I’ve met many, many atheists who weren’t clear in their thinking process. They have doubled back on previous statements,and using the argument “Prove God exists. If you can’t, he doesn’t exist.”

    I haven’t met many atheists who believe in the non-existence of gods, let alone those that state if you can’t prove something exists then it doesn’t. I think that’s not true because I don’t believe that atheists willing to debate you would be that bad at it. You’ll find plenty of atheists here that aren’t like your strawman atheists.

    Another minor point, I don’t understand how people are usually forced to choose between religion or science. I don’t believe most of the stories of the old testament. I believe they might serve as a moral guideline at most. But science and religion can go hand in hand, but most people are so determined to prove something wrong, they can try to make a connection

    Science follows methodological naturalism, it ignores supernatural explanations, and purpose questions without agents based on previous knowledge. The reason for this is that science’s mission is to gain testable, reliable, universal, empirical knowledge. Religion is the opposite of that.

    It’s claimed that religion doesn’t overlap science. Yet anyone who claims a virgin gave birth does not honestly believe that. If a tomb was found labelled Jesus, and DNA was found that had half a woman’s genome and then something never seen before for the rest, the Roman Catholic Church would not make the announcement “Nothing to see here, religion doesn’t overlap science”. Not to mention that any theist by definition believes in a god that interacts with the observable universe.

    Attempts to accommodate religion by conciliate it with science are ultimately continuing the trend of God of the gaps theology. Neil Degrasse Tyson said it better than I ever could, science is halted by religion. Religion has had a long tradition of falsely explaining natural phenomena. Even if theists reject ideas of design and miracles, cosmology and neuroscience are in the realm of science, but I haven’t met a theist that doesn’t believe that an intelligent agent created the universe and doesn’t believe in souls.

  • Mr Z

    I would at one C – Credit

    I get the credit when I mess up, and I get the credit when I do well. It is neither satan’s work nor god’s. As an atheist I do not blame others for my actions or skills. In taking credit for both the good and the bad I manage, more often than not, to be honest with both myself and the world around me. I live MY life in MY world, the real world, not someone else’s version of what my life should be in their version of a supernatural world. I credit myself for doing not so bad… not perfect and definitely not bad. I’m proud of myself and I don’t need the approval of some imaginary supernatural sky-daddy. My own satisfaction is far and away enough. I am one of the smartest mammals on this planet. I was born with the good fortune to be a human primate and so have the opportunity to explore this world and this life in a special way. I’m quite pleased with that and myself. I do not need the blessings or guardianship of a sky-daddy… I did it, I get the credit. For anyone who knows me, I take the credit for all those not so good things too. At times I did not know better, and other times I simply didn’t seem to care. That’s life, sorry, but it is. I try to be as good as I can be. If that does not meet your expectations, meh… I’m not on this planet to please you or live up to your ideals of morality. I’m here for me and I personally take credit for what I’ve done. C – credit

  • A Portlander

    Compared to the children squalling about being called a word they don’t like and the pedants who feel the need to remind us, yet again, what atheism is & isn’t, the fuzzy, optimistic inappropriateness of Berkshire projecting his ideals onto a shared fact of cosmological intellectual honesty gets a pass.

  • http://rtnc.me Robert T

    This list kinda sounds like a list of rules, requirements, and attributes to me. Isn’t the lack of a belief in a higher power or “god” the only attribute we need. There are all sorts of atheists.

  • Dan W

    I refuse to describe myself as “conservative”. Besides the political meaning of that term, I don’t think it’s very “conservative” to reject the mainstream religious beliefs held by most people .

    Meanwhile, that list is more applicable to skeptics (and perhaps secular humanists) than to atheists. Atheism is simply lack of belief in gods. That’s all it is.

  • Laura

    All together, now: FAULTYYYYYY PARALLELISM. AT LEAST USE THE SAME PART OF SPEECH THANKYOUMUCH.

    It looks like this was written with non-atheists in mind, but it’s has a bit too much of an “inside” perspective. I appreciate the atheism-has-many-positives angle but to an outsider this piece’s tone would seem self-aggrandizing and a little off-putting. One doesn’t become a paragon of perfect thought simply by virtue of not believing in god. I would’ve appreciated a little more “Atheism is” rather than “Atheists are.”

    Please don’t pass judgement on Pascal’s Wager without telling the reader what it is. Also, anyone who thinks they’re on the intellectual high ground by trying to ignore the political connotation of the word “conservative” is doing it wrong.

  • http://fontofliberty.blogspot.com/ Rarian Rakista

    I’m a god eating atheist, I’m not conservative. Even if there were gods, I would hunt them down and kill them.

  • http://toomanytribbles.blogspot.com/ toomanytribbles

    i’m appalled at how people immediately equate the word conservative with the contemporary events in their immediate surroundings and accuse others of getting hung up about terminology.

    this is the internet, and it might surprise some people to realize that it exists outside the united states.

    conservatives seek to preserve existing conditions, institutions, traditions and to limit change. that’s not me and i am very much an atheist.

    as others have said, all of these points can be countered. i have yet to see anybody that’s contradiction-free or a completely clear thinker…

    the only thing that an atheist is, is a non-believer in gods.

  • TychaBrahe

    Anyone who thinks atheists are, by definition, clear and consistent has not watched Bill Maher in Religulous and then sat down and read some of his anti-vax stuff.

    I hate things like this. It’s so self-aggrandizing. It’s like the group who wanted to lump all atheists, skeptics, agnostics, and free-thinkers under the term Brights, implying that anyone who did profess or practice religion was Dim. Yeah, way to win friends and influence people.

    Many people are atheists because it’s just so much easier. I wanted to be part of a faith community. I wanted to believe in some divine mystical supernatural source of love and acceptance. I tried a mainstream religion, a Neo-Pagan religion, and I even invented my own out of whatever was handy in fantasy books (St. Vidicon of Cathode, anyone?). I just couldn’t sustain the effort.

  • muggle

    Gah, not another attempt to codify Atheism. Stop with this nonsense already. We complain about theists stereotyping us then go on to stereotyping ourselves? Bah, humbug! This keeps up I am going to have to call myself either nontheist or ex-tian (thank you Greydon Square).

  • Aj

    TychaBrahe,

    It’s like the group who wanted to lump all atheists, skeptics, agnostics, and free-thinkers under the term Brights, implying that anyone who did profess or practice religion was Dim.

    Just as the term “gay” implies anyone heterosexual is “sombre”.

  • Elisabeth

    Well said, Dean!

  • Dan Covill

    Well, I liked it. And I agree with the statement that “Atheism is a conservative position”. The knee-jerk reactions of many of you to the ‘c’ word put you in the same category as Ann Coulter’s “all liberals hate America”. Conservative (small c) and liberal are philosophic positions, not political parties.

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    what dean said. and thumbs up for what A Portlander said.

    meh, i kind of liked it. it’s catchy. as a marketing tool for those minds which are just opening to the idea that atheists may not in fact spend all our time roasting xtian babies and stomping on relics and cavorting sexually with satan, etc., it’s not half bad. sometimes you have to walk people down the argument slowly, and introduce ideas in a friendly way. is this “atheism?” no, it’s one guy and his opinions. still, most of what he wrote applies to me, and i’m not sorry to have a writer like this on our side.

    one of the reasons i as a far leftist type call today’s republicans so many nasty names is that i refuse to call them “conservative.” they are anything but. i had a good education and there are many conservative intellectual traditions and figures in history i respect. but to me, a true conservative can be a decent and intellectually consistent person, and most republicans today are not.

  • possiblethreat

    I just de converted and it is a wonderful thing to let go of the fear and really live. Fear dominated my live. The struggle is over I can finally be my self. Not a mindless Robot.

  • Chas

    I agree the “conservative” made me cringe as well, since it’s a buzz word Atheists may be little “c” conservative, as opposed to opposed to a politically conservative.

    I also think there needs to be some “shoulds’ in there as in “An atheist should strive to be consistent.”

    atheist should strive to be contradiction-free.

    We all have biases and I think there is an ideal we need to strive for and accept that we all need to improve on various topics.

  • Eric

    There are several conceptual mistakes with this piece. No doubt statements like this will continue to be repeated until enough minimally philosophically astute atheists and humanists insist on higher standards of thought.

    1. None of the traits listed in the piece are either necessary or sufficient to be an atheist. You can arrive at atheism, for instance, out of mere rebellion to religious authority, or to fit in with a local culture.

    2. Atheism itself is ONLY a conclusion the question of the existence of a god or gods. It logically entails no statements about the personal qualities of atheists, their values or social goals.

    3. These traits are valued by the best thinkers in virtually all intellectually engaged belief systems.

    What explains these confusions?

    1. The unexamined conflation of philosophical atheism with movement or lived atheism. Philosophical atheism might presuppose clarity, consistency and being contradiction-free. After all, these are standards of philosophical reflection. But this doesn’t mean actual atheists necessarily embody these traits. This confusion also pops up in the usage “positive atheism.”

    2. The confusion of mixing idealized value and actuality. Take “contradiction-free.” Surely this is an ideal of critical thought. But making the claim that this is what atheism is as a philosophical position can’t just be assumed or posited like a value statement can. It has to be argued for. Maybe the entire philosophical case for atheism in its best expression IS contradiction-free. But again, this doesn’t mean that all or any given expression of atheism can be merely assumed to be so.

    Lastly, saying that atheism in the philosophical sense is contradiction-free becomes increasingly trivial in a secularizing world. What matters a great deal more to human life are the contradictions between our ethical values and how our social systems (political, economic, educational, etc.) actually function.

    Locating and resisting these contradictions is a vastly broader and more difficult project, and often much harder to understand. This is where the most serious humanist work is at. Somewhere down the list of humanist priorities is the task of reducing religious errors, insofar as these violate truth or don’t serve human flourishing. But atheism is neither a necessary or sufficient condition for creating a better world. Think about it. Critical thinking is vastly more important than atheism for that, and critical thinking just might have the added benefit of reducing irrational religious belief. But you don’t have to be a critical thinker to be an atheist, or consistent, or have courage, etc.

    Ultimately, I have no idea what purpose is served by a statement like “The Seven Cs of Atheism”, other than to perpetuate the very kind of thinking that our movement is supposedly trying to combat in the first place.

  • e-man

    We can cut anything up and I appreciate that the Atheist forum affords such ongoing dialogue – but the point that a large core of Atheists want to use thoughtful analysis rather then blind faith, that a large even central core of Atheist ideology is a value towards critical thinking – seems a legitimate ball park for expressing what it means to be Atheist – it doesn’t mean we aren’t all dumb butts of a different variety but it’s a ballpark foundation with identification points that give rational growth and learning chance.


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