From the archives: Atheism is just thinking there aren’t any gods

Yet another post originally published in June 2011. Good month.

Andyman writes:

Also, if there is one criticism of atheism I see too often its that naturalism is, apparently incoherent. It would be great if you could explore this a little bit more, as I’ve seen far more theists attack naturalism than actually defend their own arguments.

I’m probably only going to do one post on this, because I don’t find this topic very interesting, but it’s worth one post. Basically, I’m a naturalist in the sense that I think there aren’t any gods, the miracles claimed by the world’s various religions didn’t happen, there isn’t an afterlife, magic spells don’t work, and so on. But I’ve never heard anyone say naturalism in that sense is incoherent, and I can’t imagine how you’d argue that it is.

When people say naturalism is incoherent, they’re generally talking about some very broad philosophical thesis that’s supposed to have lots of implications for lots of other philosophical issues. I don’t find those debates very interesting, since I’m a David Chalmers-style dualist in philosophy of mind, and don’t care much about most of the other philosophical issues that get roped into debates about “naturalism” (say, abstract objects issue).

Worse, I can’t think of any critiques of “naturalism” I’ve seen that are careful to say, “in this article, I’m going to be arguing against the version of naturalism defended by professor so-and-so.” If they did that, their critique would at least be of interest to people who care about the philosophical issues involved. But instead, critics tend to come up with their own definition of naturalism, and then attack that. I don’t know why anyone would find that sort of critique terribly interesting.

Andyman is right that criticisms of naturalism are often presented as criticisms of atheism, and this is one of the things that makes me think most theistic arguments are best ignored. Atheism is just thinking that they’re aren’t any gods. Arguing that some very broad philosophical thesis is wrong doesn’t do anything to show that there are any gods. When apologists suggest otherwise, they’re no longer making anything remotely like a reasonable argument.

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