Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Atheism is the absence of belief

reposted from here.

OFTEN WHEN I hear atheism mentioned it's followed by the bewildered statement, "How can you be sure God doesn't exist?" I would like to attempt to clear up a few common misconceptions about atheism. Namely that atheism requires faith, that outspoken atheists are "fundamentalists," and that agnostics are weak or non-committal while self-professed atheists are arrogant.

Theism is an active belief in a god(s), so the lack of this belief is "a-theism." It requires no active belief, neither affirmative nor negative. It is simply the absence of a belief. In the same way Christians lack a belief in Zeus or Hindus lack a belief in Jehovah, the atheist simply lacks a god-belief in general. It is no active affirmation that a god(s) does not exist.

To quote Dr. Richard Dawkins, "We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further." I would add that we reject belief in your god(s), whichever it happens to be, for essentially the same reasons you reject all those others: because the onus is on the believer to provide proof for their assertion.

Atheism, being the complete lack of any document or dogma, can never be fundamental. It has no core belief to be fundamental to.

What an atheist can be however, is passionate. Passionate about the horrible wastefulness of religion, the retarding of scientific inquiry fundamentalism inevitably demands and the dangerous tribalism it always foments.

When one stands up and says that faith is a dangerous thing that mankind would be better off without, he may be speaking passionately and you may find his words offensive, but this doesn't place him in the same category as the radical Muslim and Christian fundamentalists who actively try to force their beliefs on society.

Atheists and religious fundamentalists are not simply opposite ends of the same spectrum with agnostics falling somewhere in the middle. Agnostic/gnostic deals with a different question altogether. It asks, "Can the existence of a god(s) ever be truly known?" While fundamentalists are by definition gnostic on this question, there are many theists who are agnostic yet still believers. The atheist is not making a definitive declaration about the existence of god(s) at all, but merely stating he or she lacks a belief in one, so most would be agnostic-atheists.

Does the fact that the atheist admits we can never prove god(s) doesn't exist weaken our position? Hardly. I can't be certain that a meteor isn't going to fall from the sky and kill me when I walk out of my house.

But without some proof that there is a significant chance this will happen, I don't allow this lack of proof to affect my daily life. I may be technically agnostic, but practically atheist about getting brained by a meteor.

Atheism is not only a viable alternative to faith, it is, I believe, the most probable, most promising, and most positive view of life.

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