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Atheism

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Etymology:

"Atheism" is from the Greek α for "without" and θεος for "god".

Atheism is loosely defined as the lack of belief in God.[1] Often it is divided between "weak" atheism, which is simply lack of belief, and strong atheism, which is a positive belief that God does not exist; although others argue that "weak atheism" is a misnomer, and should be called agnosticism, and that "strong atheism" should be simply called atheism.

Contents

Biblical quotes

The Bible as the word of God does not endorse atheism:

Psalms 14:1 (KJV) "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good."

Forms of atheism

Some draw a distinction between two forms of atheism, strong and weak. Strong atheists hold the positive assertion that gods do not exist. The reasons for this are varied but generally strong atheists believe there is a positive argument that can be made that a god (or gods) could not exist. Weak atheists, on the other hand, may admit that a god or gods are meaningful concepts but hold that evidence for them is not in hand, so a default position of not believing in them must be taken in the interim. Others however reject this distinction, and see all atheism as strong atheism, and think that "weak atheism" is better called agnosticism.

The relationship between weak atheism and agnosticism is disputed, with some believing that they are distinct, and others believing that they are identical, and that "agnosticism" is the proper name for "weak atheism".

Some also make a distinction between implicit and explicit atheism. An explicit atheist explicitly believes that God does not exist; and implicit atheist has no such explicit belief, but nonetheless lacks belief in God, such as might a person who has never encountered the idea of God. This distinct leads to the claim that "all babies are atheists", i.e. implicit atheists, since they are not yet acquainted with the concept of God. Others by contrast reject the idea that babies are atheists, as a case of redefining the terms for the rhetorical benefit of atheist, and thus reject the idea that "implicit atheism" is a form of atheism.

Militant atheism is also known as antitheism.

Are Christians atheists?

Many atheists claim that Christians, and likewise other monotheists such as Jews or Muslims, are atheists about all gods except their own.[2] They suggest that Christians are atheists with respect to Zeus, Baal, Vishnu, and countless other gods, and atheists just take it one step further and reject belief in the God of the Bible also. Christians reject this characterisation. There are a number of possible Christian responses to this claim:

  • big-G God vs. small-g god distinction — the gods of polytheistic religions are quite unlike the God of monotheism. The gods of polytheism are generally presented as powerful, yet limited beings, who are often morally flawed; rather than being eternal or having always existed, they are frequently claimed to have come into existence (frequently through descent from another deity). While it is conceivable that many such limited beings could exist, the existence of multiple beings like the monotheistic God is much harder to conceive — if multiple omnipotent beings exist, who wins when they disagree? Unless they never disagree, in which case they are no longer entirely separate beings, but rather have a common will, such as in the Christian Trinity. It is argued that small-g gods and the big-G God are fundamentally different entities, so much so that we should ideally use completely separate words to describe them, even though the English language only uses capitalisation to distinguish them. As such, the claim "Christians are atheists" is misleading, since although they may disbelieve in small-g gods, "atheism" generally refers to disbelief in the big-G God (and, in contemporary Western society, the primary focus of the atheist's disbelief is the big-G God, not small-g gods)
  • polytheistic gods as demons — 1 Corinthians 10:20 states that the gods of idolatry are in fact demons. Adopting this viewpoint, Christians need not deny Zeus or Baal exist; they exist, but are in fact demons. Since Christians need not deny their existence, they cannot be called atheists with respect to them
  • polytheistic gods as distorted versions of the one true God — many Christians believe that polytheistic deities, such as Zeus, are actually distortions/corruptions of belief in the God of the Bible; while the Bible, and Jews and Christians, maintained an uncorrupted idea of Him. Adopting this viewpoint, Christians do not really disbelieve in "Zeus", since "Zeus" ultimately refers to the Christian God; at the same time, they would not call God "Zeus", since that name is irretrievably associated with those distortions. An analogy might be between an extremely distorted rumour about a person, compared to a true account of them — one disbelieves the rumour, but one does not disbelieve in the existence of the person the rumour is about.

Numbers of atheists in Europe

A 2005 European Commission report [3] found that 18% of persons surveyed within the European Union agreed with the statement: "I do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force". It should be noted, however, that results varied widely between different countries. In Estonia and the Czech Republic less than 20% declared that they believed in a God whereas in Turkey, where most people are Muslims, the figure was 95%.

Morality

Atheism itself provides no basis for morality,[4] because atheism does not include any moral claims. This does not mean that atheists are necessarily immoral; many have adopted, to a great or lesser extent, the morality of the society in which they live, which in many cases is one that has a Christian heritage. When atheists are moral they aim to make life better in the here and now for themselves and other people as that is all they know exists. Atheists do not sacrifice present well being for a good afterlife which they think is hypothetical (may not exist or they think probably does not exist).

Many atheists subscribe to humanism, which provides a changing consensus of values and ideals.[5] By rejecting religion, most atheists deny an absolute basis for morality -- with some exceptions. Ayn Rand famously based her philosophy, objectivism, on absolutes,[6] without positing the existence of a God.

When an external basis for morality is not available, morality becomes whatever people think morality should be, which means that morality is decided by changing human opinion. In this situation, euthanasia or suicide, for example, are moral if people think they are moral. 'Gerard' attended a forum on depression in Sydney:

I think that some people may have an inability to cope, and maybe this might sound a bit extreme, but that might be Darwinian theory, the Darwin theory of survival of the fittest. Maybe some of us aren't meant to survive, maybe some of us are meant to kill ourselves...

There's too many people in the world as it is. Maybe it is survival of the fittest, maybe some of us are meant to just give up, and maybe that would help the species.[7]

Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer explained how his atheistic beliefs provided no constraint to his actions, whereas a belief in God would have[8] - though nobody is blaming atheists for Dahmer's actions.

Elizabeth Anderson, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Rawls Collegiate Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan,[9] claims that atheistic principles are more adept at generating a system of morality than a theistic system. In her essay "If God is Dead, is Everything Permitted?" she argues:

Far from bolstering the authority of morality, appeals to divine authority can undermine it. For divine command theories of morality may make believers feel entitled to look only to their idea of God to determine what they are justified in doing. It is all to easy under such a system to ignore complaints of those injured by one's actions, since they are not acknowledged as moral authorities in their own right. But to ignore the complaints of others is to deprive oneself of the main source of information one needs to improve one's conduct. Appealing to God rather than those affected by one's actions amounts to an attempt to escape accountability to one's fellow human beings.[10]

Hence, by this view, a serial killer could find justification for his actions in the interpretation of a religious text, while he is always accountable to his fellow human being. In essence, Dahmer's claim of either God or not God is a false one, when there is society and other humans to be accountable to.

However, Anderson uses a number of logical fallacies to to make her case. By arguing that a theist will deprive themselves of the "main source of information" she is assuming that God is not the main source of information, which is effectively a circular argument. She substitutes a person's false beliefs in a false god ("their idea of God") for the true God, and is thus erecting a straw-man argument. And in arguing that a theist considers himself to not be answerable to other humans, she is ignoring biblical teaching that we are answerable to other humans, and at the same time implying that atheism makes people answerable to other humans, something that atheism does not teach.

Some people, including atheists, simply consider that they know better than their fellow man, and will do what they think best. When such people are in positions of power, the results can be disastrous, as was the case with atheists or atheism-influenced Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot. On the other hand, people who believe in God can be made to see that they are subject to God's laws, as was the case with Theodosius.

Consequences of atheism

Many atheists do not fully adopt the consequences of atheistic belief, and still hold to many values common in society, including many values which have a Christian origin[Citation Needed]. However, when atheism is followed to its logical conclusion it has detrimental consequences.

Tracey Rowland says that atheism supports expansion of the state:

…the standard atheist "solution" to the fear of tribalism is to expand the powers of the State. The State becomes our saviour by fostering secularism. This may seem like a good idea at first, but then it is an historical fact that for the last couple of hundred years every serious attempt to do this has gone terribly wrong. The secularist states have been the most prolifically homicidal in human history.[11]

Atheists support science as they see science as providing a basis for reason. However, atheism provides no intellectual basis for science, which was founded on Christian principles. This has led some to predict that atheism will ultimately reject science, although it has not done so yet.

[T]he Western world is largely living on the capital of its Christian heritage. But the push to indoctrinate students into evolution, and therefore atheism (at least for all practical purposes), undermines these Christian foundations of science (cf. Psalm 11:3). Thus evolutionary teaching will not improve science, but destroy it.[12]

That problem may be largely in the future, but already rejection of Christian principles has led to a rise in dishonesty, which is taking its toll on science, with scientific fraud being an increasing problem. There are multiple reasons for this, including the need to produce results to continue receiving research grants, to achieve tenure, and professional rivalry, but it is also due to rejection of Christian values, and this is particular the case in fields related to evolution.

Another factor is the rejection of Christianity and moral absolutes which has resulted in a collapse of the moral foundation that is critical in controlling fraud. Fraud is especially a problem in the fields attempting to support Darwinism, and in this field it tends to take a long time to root out. Hundreds of well-documented cases of fraud have been discussed in the literature.[13]

Charity

An American study has shown that "religious" people give more time and money to charities than "non-religious" people, even when giving to religious causes are discounted:

There is a huge “charity gap” that follows religion: On average, religious people are far more generous than secularists with their time and money. This is not just because of giving to churches—religious people are more generous than secularists towards explicitly non-religious charities as well. They are also more generous in informal ways, such as giving money to family members, and behaving honestly.[14]

This does not mean that atheists do not care for their fellow man. Indeed atheists often support government involvement in charity.

The conventional wisdom runs like this: Liberals are charitable because they advocate government redistribution of money in the name of social justice; conservatives are uncharitable because they oppose these policies. But note the sleight of hand: Government spending, according to this logic, is a form of charity.
Let us be clear: Government spending is not charity. It is not a voluntary sacrifice by individuals.[15]

External Links

References

  1. Oxford online dictionary
  2. [1], [2]
  3. http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_225_report_en.pdf
  4. Lanier, Jaron and Dawkins, Richard, "Evolution: The dissent of Darwin", Psychology Today 30(1):62, Jan-Feb 1997, link to article.
  5. The Humanist Manifesto
  6. An Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, by Ayn Rand (1979)
  7. Swan, Norman (host), Black Dog Days - The Experience and Treatment of Depression, ABC Radio (Australia), 4 May 2000
  8. Dahmer, Jeffrey, in an interview with Stone Phillips, Dateline NBC, Nov. 29, 1994.
  9. http://www-personal.umich.edu/~eandersn/
  10. Anderson, Elizabeth S. "If God is Dead, is Everything Permitted?," in Louise Antony, ed., Philosophers without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life (Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 215-230. Reprinted in Christopher Hitchens, ed., The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever (Philadelphia: DaCapo Press/Perseus Books, 2007), pp. 333-348.
  11. Tracey Rowland, Intelligence Squared Debate: Atheists Are Fundamentally Wrong About The Human, Big Ideas, ABC Radio, 12 September 2011.
  12. Sarfati, Jonathan, Why does science work at all?, Creation 31(3):12–14, June 2009.
  13. Bergman, Jerry, Why the epidemic of fraud exists in science today, Journal of Creation 18(3):104–109, December 2004.
  14. Brooks, Arthur C., Who Really Cares, 2007, Basic Books (Quote actually from "Eye Opening Statistics" section of web-site about the book.).
  15. Brooks, Arthur C., Who Really Cares, 2007, Basic Books.
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