It’s not surprising that a lot of believers accept common myths about non-believers. After all, religions are based on unprovable stories (i.e., myths), and it would take some effort for believers to look into what they’ve heard about atheists.
Now, in one tidy compilation, 50 Great Myths about Atheism by Russell Blackford and Udo Schüklen, readers have a handy batch of myths about atheism and atheists along with the research and the arguments against those myths. I use the word arguments here, of course, in the philosophical and academic sense, rather than in the yelling-in-your-face-and-degenerating-into-name-calling sense. I’ve summed up and paraphrased some of my favorite examples:
3 of My Favorite Myths:
1. Atheists are arrogant. Au contraire. Like suffragettes, Jews, Blacks, gays, and others, atheists have long been a (sometimes-self-)silenced minority. Fear of repercussions does that. Now that atheism has managed to achieve a bit of cumulative mass, some of the majority like to harp on the outspokenness of some atheists. Passion is not arrogance. Strong opinions aren’t a sign of arrogance. My grandfather used to say he didn’t speak up for himself because he wanted people to know that some Jews were poor and quiet. I think that a lot of people who are called arrogant are demonstrating that my grandfather’s way isn’t a choice they’re willing to make.
2. Atheists are to blame for religious fundamentalism. I’ve seen this incredible claim made in print (see my previous post on the academic book There is No God). Supposedly if you focus on the incompatibility of science with religion, you’re pushing believers toward an even more fundamental version of their faith. Belief by spite? Nah. The authors of 50 Great Myths end their five-page discussion of this myth by saying any such effect, if it exists at all, would be marginal.
3. Atheism depends on faith, just the same as religion. This one’s an assertion that can be tricky for a casual atheist to counter: it’s so easy to end a dispute with, “I just know there’s no god, and you can’t prove there is.” The fact is that atheists don’t simply have faith that their beliefs about the world make more sense than the beliefs of the supernaturalists. They use their minds, their cognitive faculties, and they deduce that, as there is no evidence for a god, there’s no point in believing in one. Believers, of course, do believe their “evidence” is foolproof, but all their arguments can be countered as unscientific.
After Blackford and Schüklenk dispense with all those myths, they provide a brief history (under 40 pages out of 274) and discussion of the rise of modern atheism. I doubt that anyone whose mind is made up and who believes deeply in the supernatural will suddenly acknowledge the inevitable reasonableness of atheism. Still, it’s nice to have the arguments set out succinctly and appealingly on the page.
This elegantly written book deserves a wide readership. A bonus is the inclusion of comics from “Jesus and Mo.”
Copyright (c) 2013 by Susan K. Perry