I recently observed:
Our beloved atheist critics are constantly informing us lowly, ignorant Christians that atheism itself is, alas, not a formulated position, but only the absence of a position (belief in God). It’s not a worldview, etc. I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that. It’s not true, but we hear it all the time. (2-2-21)
Lo and behold, on the very next day, Dr. Richard C. Miller, put up on the notorious Debunking Christianity website (which just banned me again for merely noting that I had refuted one of the big shots there: Dr. David Madison, 44 times, with no reply back) the article, The “Atheist” Misnomer. We shall examine his arguments. His words will be in blue.
Atheist. Let us problematize the term just for a moment, shall we? In classical Greek etymology, the alpha prefix denoted sheer negation, precisely equivalent to the Latin “non.” “Theos,” of course, meant “deity” or “god,” and the Greek suffix “-ismos” became applied in Latin and, as such, pulled up into early English, conveying “adherence toward” or “belief in.” So, an atheist is one who is not a theist, that is, one who does not hold a belief in the existence of any deity.
No one doubts that that is the literal meaning of the word. It doesn’t follow, however, that the atheist believes nothing in a positive sense, or that he or she possesses no worldview or sets of beliefs. They certainly do (as virtually all sentient human beings do, whether they acknowledge it or not). Someone wisely said: “the most dangerous philosophy is the unacknowledged one.”
We often find in the false rhetoric of Christian apologists and of Christian pseudo-intellectuals the claim that atheism is itself a belief.
Technically, “non-belief in God” is not a belief, but a rejection of another; I (and we) agree. However (and it’s a huge “however”), atheists do highly tend to hold to certain beliefs, whether they will acknowledge them or not. And these beliefs do in fact add up to a particular worldview held by the vast majority of atheists. Briefly put, most of them are philosophical materialists, empiricists, positivists, methodological naturalists, enraptured with science as supposedly the sole valid epistemology: making it essentially their religion (“scientism”): all of which are objectively identifiable positions, that can be discussed and either embraced or dismissed.
So it’s not so much that we are saying that there is an “atheist worldview” per se. Rather, we make the observation (from long personal experience, if one is an apologist like myself) that every self-described “atheist” will overwhelmingly tend to possess a particular worldview (whatever they call it or don’t call it) that is an amalgam of many specific, identifiable things that themselves are worldviews or philosophies or ways of life.
Whatever one thinks of the above analysis, it remains the case that atheists call themselves atheists, and that it is highly likely that they will hold to one or more the (usually clustered) belief-systems outlined above. And they will often be blind to the fact that they are doing so, and will talk in terms of their simply following “science” and/or “reason” (with the implication that the non-atheist usually does not do either or is fundamentally irrational or “naive” or “gullible” simply because they reject atheism). Dr. Miller reflects this annoying and condescending attitude as well, when he writes:
We may as well call ourselves the adrogonists or the alephrechaunists, inasmuch as the very identity “atheist” tacitly legitimates the patently ridiculous, as though a genuine rational debate exists between two opposing sides. To carry on with non-belief in fairies, leprechauns, ghouls, gods, angels, genies, or phantoms is merely to be reasonable, not to stake a position in any legitimate debate to be waged in society. The moon is not made of green cheese, and the dismissal of such a “Mother-Goose” characterization of reality does not earn one the tag “a-green-cheese-moonist,” but merely one who is “reasonable.”
For, belief in mythology is and always has been a conscious, willful indulgence, not a compelling, evidence-driven conclusion; the latter we instead properly term “knowledge.” So, when it comes to the matter of deities, in a more honest world we “atheists” instead would be known merely as the reasonable (in the most literal sense of the term), that is, those compelled by a mental construction of reality determined rather exclusively by evidence and reason.
I cannot count how many times and contexts I have come across this ridiculous claim, a claim akin to smokers alleging that non-smokers are also themselves smokers.. Ummm.. huh? No. By very fundamental definition, atheism entails no belief. Indeed, the term affirms nothing other than the negation. By comparison, in the phrase “The man is not a bingo player,” we affirm nothing about the man, except what he is not!
Again, the word does this, but I’m not discussing a mere word; I’m talking about what atheists do in fact believe, and asserting that atheists hold to beliefs and belief-systems (usually quite predictable ones at that). In other words: atheists are just as likely to hold worldviews as anyone else.
In like fashion, the appellation “atheist” stamped upon us has served as a rhetorical misnomer, the binary recessive determined by exclusion vis-a-vis the dominant group, to follow the parlance of Jacques Derrida. Where else do people play such a game with language? Atheism is a non-group, a namespace only by negation.
This is downright comical; as if atheists don’t massively choose to call themselves this name? They could reject it if they like. They’re free to do so. No one is forcing them at gunpoint to use this name for themselves. They could use “agnostic” (and many do, but it is a less certain and less dogmatic outlook), or they could use a word like “humanist” (which a number of them also do). But the fact remains that lots and lots of atheists show no reversion to the term atheist. Quite the contrary, they proudly embrace it.
For heaven’s sake, on the very website where this essay was published, if one looks at the top, we see John Loftus’ books in a photograph: one of which is Why I Became an Atheist (which I have critiqued ten times: with total silence back from Jittery John: he of explosive disposition on the few occasions where we actually interacted).
One can peruse book titles with “atheism” in them at Amazon. The late Christopher Hitchens (a very famous and influential atheist indeed) edited a book entitled, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever. Loudmouthed anti-theist atheist Dan Barker authored the modestly titled volume, Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists. I could note a guy like “DagoodS” whom I have met in person and have debated many times. He used to be very active also at Debunking Christianity. He exhibits no aversion to the term “atheist” at all, and write a post there called “Why is an atheist an atheist?” (1-11-07), in which he opined:
But ask an atheist why they are an atheist, and most times the person is so ready to respond to why the atheist is incorrect in her reply; they literally cannot wait for the poor person to stop talking. . . .
But get into this field, and I have people everywhere almost giddy with the joy of informing me why I am an atheist, regardless of what I say. Yes, sirree! . . .
You want to know why an atheist is an atheist. Ask him. . . .
See, people become atheists for as many and varied reasons as people do just about anything else. Yes, some do because of an emotional reaction. Some are born in atheist homes.
One could easily go on and on, with scores of further examples, but it quickly becomes ridiculous and an insult to everyone’s intelligence.
In conclusion, here are some of the many things that atheists en masse believe:
1) that matter exists.*
2) that he or she exists.*3) that matter can be observed according to more or less predictable scientific laws (uniformitarianism).*4) that we can trust our senses to analyze such observations and what they mean (empiricism).*5) in the correctness of mathematics, which starts from axioms as well.*6) in the laws of logic, in order to even communicate (not to mention argue) anything with any meaning at all.*7) in presupposing that certain things are absolutely true.*8) that matter has the inherent “God-like” / in effect “omnipotent” capability of organizing itself, evolving, inexorably developing into all that we observe in the entire universe. There is no God or even any sort of immaterial spirit that did or could do this, so it has to fall back onto matter. The belief in this without any reason whatsoever to do so is what I have written at length about as the de facto religion of “atomism.”*9) that the universe began in a Big Bang (for who knows what reason).*
10) that the universe created itself out of nothing (for who knows what reason), but it’s deemed more rational than the Christian believing that God is an eternal spirit, Who created the universe.
11) that science is the only method by which we can objectively determine facts and truth (extreme empiricism + scientism).
I’m sure I could come up with many more things if I sat and thought about it a while, but this is more than sufficient to demonstrate my point: atheists (as people) have worldviews, even though the word atheism itself merely means “rejecting a belief in God.”
And that’s what we lowly, despised apologists are saying. If it’s disagreed with, then I’m more than happy to interact and defend this paper. Have at it!