Everyone is born my way!

I was following a conversation elsewhere about how some Christians insist that everyone really knows that their God is real, it’s just that due to sin, they suppress this knowledge. Everyone is exposed to the illumination of the Holy Spirit, it’s just that those of us who remain skeptical prefer darkness.

Muslims, interestingly, do the same sort of thing, perhaps even more often. It tends to be based on their belief that the created nature (fitra) of every human is such that they are naturally Muslim. Someone departing so far from Islam as to not just associate others with God but to deny all gods must be in the grip of pretty strong immorality — they either lie in stating that they do not believe in God or they do something really drastic to suppress their innate knowledge that there is a God.

And then there are the atheists who claim that everyone is born an atheist, since newborns lack a belief in God and aquire it later through social indoctrination. A rock, presumably, is an atheist, lacking any beliefs whatsoever, and therefore being quite the godless infidel. Many Muslims, mind you, very seriously argue that rocks are Muslim. After all, a Muslim is someone who submits to the laws laid down by God. And a rock has no option but to act according to the laws of physics that were determined by the Great Lawgiver in the Sky.

Now, on the face of it, I find arguments such as this whole “people innately share my view, unless they are indoctrinated otherwise” profoundly silly. They’re ludicrously simplistic in their conceptions of how people acquire beliefs, but even setting that aside, what’s the point? Maybe because I’m a physicist by trade, I am very aware of how our commonsense and folk-theories are very bad at grasping how the world works beyond everyday circumstances. I suppose people might feel that if their point of view was innate, that was a point in favor of its being true. Well, maybe, but even if so, that would be very weak support. There is something else that motivates all these claims, by believer and nonbelievers alike, that theirs is the natural, default state of affairs. And I’m not sure I understand what it is.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18398099496947604380 Alonzo Fyfe

    Here! Here!

    Sorry, but I have always found the proposition that ‘an atheist is one who lacks a belief in God’ to be profoundly silly — simply because of the implication ‘rocks are atheists’

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04549444906381131734 Martin Wagner

    It’s not a profoundly silly proposition if you’re talking about a person who is what’s normally termed a “weak” atheist as opposed to a “strong” atheist. Many atheists are simply unbelievers who are indifferent to religion at the least and annoyed by it at most, and don’t take their position to the extent of a direct ontological challenge to the concept of God.

    As for the claim of who’s innately what at birth, I’d agree it’s a silly point, as it’s merely another variation of the “appeal to popularity” fallacy. I do happen to think that everyone is probably innately what you might term an atheist at birth, but only in the same way my dog is an atheist. Someone who’s never heard or cannot comprehend the concept of God cannot, as a matter of common sense, have an opinion on the subject. So I suppose there is a distinction you can make between an innate “atheism” and oppositional atheism. Until a child is introduced to the concept of God, s/he cannot decide whether or not to believe in it. But overall, the whole issue is a red herring in terms of determining the existence or non-existence of God. And there, as always, the burden of proof lies with the believer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Taner — You make an interesting observation. I tend to agree with you. As evidenced by the other feedback you’ve received, this issue is closely linked to the definition of “atheism,” a topic I’ve discussed on my blog here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02029462910780407687 Andrea Weisberger

    I suppose the claim is “profoundly silly” if you are unable to distinguish between those entities which are capable of having beliefs and those which are not, and use the term ‘implication’ in an idiosyncratic way.

    Is it silly to claim that ‘a double amputee is someone who lacks legs’ because of the “implication” (used very loosely here) that ‘rocks are double amputees’?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18018964956914813590 Einzige

    That is a friggin’ good question, Andrea! (and funny, too)