Over on the “God Is Incredible” blogs, Kevin Childs has posted an old and moldy claim that atheism is a religion. He offers a list of reasons why he thinks this is so:
Atheists have their own worldview. Materialism (the view that the material world is all there is) is the lens through which atheists view the world. Far from being the open-minded, follow-the-evidence-wherever thinkers many claim to be, they interpret all data ONLY within the very narrow worldview of materialism. They are like a guy wearing dark sunglasses who chides all others who think the sun is out.
This point is based on a misunderstanding of the materialist idea. Putting aside the fact that not all atheists are materialists, science-minded atheists do actually hold a materialist world-view.
The non-material/supernatural can not be addressed – at least not directly. So, we can not say anything about the supernatural. This is not an a-priori rejection of the supernatural, however, rather the proper use of the null hypothesis. If we can not measure the supernatural, even indirectly, and there is no need for the supernatural to explain phenomenon we can measure, then what’s the point of making claims about the supernatural? The supernatural remains null, until and unless evidence can be presented for it – a difficult task to say the least if you can not measure it in some way.
So, while an empirical materialist view is clearly common among skeptical/science minded atheists, it is also clearly not an orthodoxy or religious tenant. It’s simply the best epistemology we have.
Atheists have their own orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is a set of beliefs acceptable to a faith community. Just as there are orthodox Christian beliefs, there is an atheist orthodoxy as well. In brief, it is that EVERYTHING can be explained as the product of unintentional, undirected, purposeless evolution. No truth claim is acceptable if it cannot be subjected to scientific scrutiny.
It has never been necessary to accept any scientific theory to be an atheist. Finding atheists who do not accept the theory of evolution isn’t difficult. However, science-minded atheists do very much tend to accept evolution and the “standard model” of cosmology as the best explanations for speciation and the existence of the universe currently available.
This stems from the use of the empirical materialist epistemology above. Thus, rather than an orthodoxy, it’s simply the current standing theories which are all malleable by the introduction of new evidence.
Atheists have their own brand of apostasy. Apostasy is to abandon one’s former religious faith. Antony Flew was for many years one of the world’s most prominent atheists. And then he did the unthinkable: he changed his mind. Flew was vilified. Richard Dawkins accused Flew of “tergiversation.” It’s a fancy word for apostasy. By Dawkins’ own admission, then, Flew abandoned the “faith.”
Since there is no orthodoxy, there can not be apostasy.
Childs makes great use of rhetoric here. It makes the situation seem far more interesting than it was. Atheists becoming deists or theists is hardly a rarity, so even a “prominent” atheist wouldn’t be immune to such a change of idea. Yes, it means he’s not an atheist anymore, but that’s a definitional issue rather than an orthodox one.
I do find the claim that “tergiversation” is a “fancy word for apostasy” to be dishonest at best. The word means to repeatedly change one’s views on a subject – it’s really more of a fancy word for “equivocate”.
Atheists have their own prophets: Nietzsche, Russell, Feuerbach, Lenin, Marx.
This is just silly. What did these people foretell? Why are Lenin and Marx on the list? I think Childs is conflating here, more rhetoric.
Atheists have their own messiah: He is, of course, Charles Darwin. Darwin – at least according to the New Atheist writers – drove the definitive stake through the heart of theism by providing a comprehensive explanation of life that never needs God as a cause or explanation. Daniel Dennett has even written a book seeking to define religious faith itself as merely an evolutionary development.
More silliness. What did Darwin save us from?
What Darwin’s theory did was eliminate the an idea that was using a supernatural explanation by discovering a natural process that explains speciation. No longer needing a supernatural entity for its explanatory power merely moves it back to the null hypothesis – it hasn’t been disproven, it’s just no longer necessary.
Atheists have their own preachers and evangelists. And boy, are they “evangelistic.” Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens are NOT out to ask that atheism be given respect. They are seeking converts. They are preaching a “gospel” calling for the end of theism.
Evangelism and preaching have never been limited to religion. Apple Computer had a position in their marketing department called the Apple Evangelist. I don’t think anyone would mistake Apple for a religious organization.
Atheists have faith. That’s right, faith. Although my atheist friends would have us believe the opposite. Their writings ridicule faith, condemn faith. Harris’s book is called The End of Faith. But atheism is a faith-based enterprise. The existence of God cannot be proven or disproven. To deny it takes faith. Materialistic evolution theory has no cohesive explanation for why our universe is orderly, predictable, measurable. In fact (atheistic) evolutionary theory has no rational explanation for why there is such a thing as rational explanation. There is no accounting for the things my atheist friends hope I won’t ask: Why do we have self-awareness? What makes us conscious? From what source is there a universal sense of right and wrong? They just take such unexplained things by … faith.
This is the typical excluded middle necessary to pretend that atheism is anything other than the rejection of a claim.
Rejection of a claim because of lack of evidence for the claim is hardly “faith”. It’s simply the null hypothesis again.
As for the questions you think atheists hope you won’t ask; balderdash. We know we don’t understand everything yet. We know that we only have some good ideas about consciousness and natural order (assuming there is any) and human morality (which is far less universal than Childs presumes).
It is not a valid conclusion, however, when an atheist says “I don’t know” to then say “thus god”. There isn’t a shred of evidence for the supernatural, so there is no justification for using it as an explanation for things we don’t yet understand.
So, what is atheism? Nothing more than the rejection of an unsubstantiated claim. It is perfectly valid to reject an idea that can not be verified. Childs knows this… unless he believes in the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Invisible Pink Unicorn and fairies at the bottom of his garden and leprechauns and wood nymphs, etc. etc. etc.
To use a well-worn phrase: If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.