Monday, June 24, 2013

Atheism Defined

     Okay, so for my first real "blog" I thought I'd share what it means to be an atheist.  Atheism is simply this; the rejection of all theistic beliefs.  Nothing more. If you're not a theist you are an atheist.  Matt Dillahunty who hosts a public access show in Austin, TX called "The Atheist Experience" had what I found to be a very simple way of explaining this.  Everyone is probably familiar with the game where a jar is filled with M & M's or some other candies or small items and you have to guess how many are in the jar.  Okay, so while we don't know for sure how many M & M's are in the jar we can very simply deduce that the amount of candy is either an even or an odd number.  Now for the sake of this example we will say that theists believe that the amount of candy is an odd number.  An atheist simply rejects that belief.  They do not assert that the amount of candy is an even number.  They just simply reject that there is, in fact, an odd number of candies.  Atheism is nothing more than a rejection of the belief systems of all theistic principles.  Atheism does not take the stance that there is no god.  If it did it would be called Antitheism.  Now according to some, specifically, Richard Dawkins,  there are varying degrees of atheism which I will go over shortly.  But the bottom line is an atheist does not assert that there is no god.  He/she only rejects the idea of a god from a theistic stand point (i.e. the Abrahamic god).  So when I, as an atheist, say I don't believe in god what I'm simply saying is I don' believe in your god.  Now, that's not to say that I believe there is a god either (that would make me a deist), but when I say I'm an atheist that's what I mean.  I personally don't believe there is some "higher power" or some "great creator".  There simply is no scientific evidence to support that hypothesis. No proof.
   Now Richard Dawkins has what he calls the "Spectrum of Theistic Probability". It is broken down like this (taken from Wikipedia):
  1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: "I do not believe, I know."
  2. De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. "I don't know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there."
  3. Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. "I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God."
  4. Completely impartial. Exactly 50 per cent. "God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable."
  5. Leaning towards Agnosticism. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. "I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be skeptical."
  6. De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. "I don't know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there."
  7. Strong atheist. "I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one."
I really like this and mostly for one specific reason: it helps to further define my stance as an atheist.   I once got into a argument with a person because I asserted that I was an atheist, however, I could not say for sure that there was no god (at this time I didn't quite understand the definition of an atheist myself although I claimed to be one).  I was then accused of being naive because I wasn't an atheist but, in fact, an agnostic.  I had no way to argue this point even though I still believed this person was wrong.  It wasn't until I read about this spectrum in Dawkins' book, "The God Delusion", that I finally realized where I really stood on the matter.  I take the position of the De Facto atheist.  Until demonstrable evidence can be presented to me on either side of the argument I believe this is the most rational position to take.
   I would like to touch briefly on Gnosticism as well. Gnostic, as defined by, is 1. pertaining to knowledge or 2. possessing knowledge, especially esoteric knowledge of spiritual matters.  So basically what we're talking about here is knowledge, not belief.  I would also like to point out that knowledge is a subset of belief, however that's irrelevant to my point.  My point is a gnostic theist is someone who not only believes there is a god, but knows there is. A gnostic atheist would be someone who knows there is no god (or a strong atheist on the spectrum of probability outlined above).  Most rational, logical thinking people will lean towards taking an agnostic approach to the question of theism.  I've often heard theists argue to me that they don't need proof of gods existence to believe in him, they simply have to have faith.  This in a way is them admitting that there is no proof and therefore they don't know for certain that he exists.  So it is possible for someone to believe in god and still be agnostic.
     I'd like to wrap this up by stating that in all honestly I hate labels  regardless of what it is you are trying to define.  I take them with a grain of salt.  I believe you should too.  Think of it merely as a quick and simple definition to a much larger, more complicated principle.  Your idea of what defines an atheist might be slightly different than mine.  But if someone asks you if you are an atheist are you going to say no and then proceed to describe what it is you actually believe?  It's just an easier way to sum up your beliefs.  Whenever I get into a discussion with someone of religious faith I first take the time to find out what it is they actually believe.  It's important to know where they stand on certain things.  I can't simply just say to someone "Oh, you believe in god. So how silly you are to believe the earth is only 6,000 years old."  Well, the fact of the matter is they might not actually believe that.  In conclusion, do not be so quick to judge someone simply because of their beliefs or lack thereof.  Especially take the time to find out what it is a person believes and why it is they believe that.  You will be surprised at what you learn and if you keep an open mind you just might change yours.

No comments:

Post a Comment