Atheism is a worldview II

by Brian 2. May 2012 17:28

Atheists generally reject the claim that atheism is a worldview[i]. Some say atheism is merely the belief in a single proposition, whereas a worldview is a set of propositions comprising a philosophy of life or a conception of the world. Others say atheism is nothing more than the rejection of all gods and any system of belief one might wrap around this view is diverse and independent. But are these claims reasonable, and if not, why all of the denial? And suppose atheism is a worldview, why does it matter? These questions I will attempt to answer in this post. 



Is it or is it not?

A single proposition is not a worldview. The proposition “God exists” is no more a worldview than its negation “God does not exist.” It is one’s view of God and the corollaries associated with that view which contribute significantly to worldview. When someone says “an atheist only believes no gods exist” their statement is somewhat misleading. They are using the textbook definition of the word instead of the de facto description of the typical atheist. There may be a rare few out there who do not know or care about anything beyond the belief “there are no gods” (P) but most atheists have a fairly consistent set of corollary belief derived or dependent upon P. Consider the following questions:

  • Do most atheists believe matter ultimately precedes mind?
  • Do most atheists believe in abiogenesis over biogenesis (that life arose through material processes on earth or on some other world and transported here?)
  • Do most atheists believe the world has apparent design produced by material processes instead of actual design by an intelligent agent?
  • Do most atheists believe all self-regarding acts are amoral?
  • Do most atheists believe the essence of a man ceases to exist at death? 
  • Do most atheists believe the only purpose for existence is that which one self-determines?
  • Do most atheists value reason over faith and in significant numbers devalue faith altogether?
  • Do most atheists believe man is the primary determinant of man’s future?

Of course the answer is yes to most of these questions for most atheists.[ii] And these questions of origin, purpose, morality and destiny are the kinds of questions comprising worldview. One may find some variation in response to the above just as Christians for example do not agree on every issue, but that is not grounds to dismiss the correlation that generally exists.  Let’s be candid, atheists do not rally, come together for coffee, write books, debate, argue, criticize, litigate, and devote scores of hours to atheist-causes merely because they hold to a single contrary proposition to theists. No, many atheists have a substantive and comprehensive worldview, one that is derived and dependent upon their view of God, and one that motivates their behavior.[iii] Given who atheists generally are in terms of common core belief comprising worldview, it is obvious atheism is a richer description than just one who holds to a single proposition regarding nonexistence. This richer description is a worldview. 

Why deny it?

So what’s the big deal? Why would not atheists simply respond: “Yeah, atheism is a worldview, so what?” There are at least two answers; one clear-cut and the other a little more difficult to prove. I’ll just mention the later and then move right on to the former. The more atheism is acknowledged as a worldview, the more it will be recognized as a religion, and I don’t need to explain why this is an anathema to the atheist[iv]. But let’s skip this one and move on to a more tenable explanation as to why there is denial. Recognizing atheism as a worldview puts a new epistemic burden on the atheist. To start with:

If a core proposition (P) in one’s worldview is without warrant, then any corollary propositions (P1, P2 … Pn) of P are also unwarranted unless they have independent warrant.

Say because I believe that P (there are no gods), I also believe that P1, P2, and P3 given they are corollaries of P. I may very well have done my epistemic duty accepting corollaries P1, P2 and P3 given I have warrant (good reason) to believe that P. But what if I do not have good reason for that P? What if I assume there are no gods merely because I have no good reason for believing there are? In the absence of independent warrant for that P1, P2 and P3, I am slacking off my epistemic duty if I accept them. When the new atheist says: “you have not given me any good reason for believing Q” that does not mean therefore Q is false. One should be agnostic to Q merely on this basis. Building a worldview on a proposition you ought to be agnostic on is epistemic negligence.  I won’t rehash what I’ve gone into at length in my previous post. But suffice it to say the atheist does not want this additional epistemic burden.

If my point is still unclear, consider the following example. If I believe there are no gods (P) then I may very well believe design in nature is apparent and not actual (P1). P1 is a corollary belief on P because it is highly implausible, given that P; design in nature is actually due to the action of an intelligent agent[v]. Therefore, given that P1, my perspective on intelligent design (ID) is likely to be clouded. My skepticism of ID will most likely be exceedingly higher than my skepticism of abiogenesis. But without independent warrant for that P1, this bias is based solely on that P. But if the proper epistemic position for that P is agnosticism, then such bias is unwarranted.

It should be clear at this point the core proposition of the atheistic worldview “there are no gods” (P) must be warranted and accepted because there is good reason to accept it. Otherwise, without warrant, atheism as a worldview is a house of cards. One must have good reason for that P and not merely accept it as a default or hold the view as an agnostic. Otherwise, such a person cannot honestly claim their worldview, which depends significantly on that P, has epistemic integrity. But given the popularity of the sort of weak/default atheism displayed by the most prominent new atheists today, a house of cards it often appears to be.

Why does it matter?

In some ways it doesn’t. It is not illegal to deny what atheism is any more than it is to have a straw worldview. But atheist activism is on the rise. Skepticism and unbelief are on the rise[vi]. Prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins at the recent Reason Rally are as blatant as ever in their attacks. Their strategy is to “ridicule and show contempt” for what religious people hold dear while allegedly taking the high road of reason. Ironically it may be their high-calling of rationalism that is their unraveling. In the meantime, I hope others will stand up for those being deceived into thinking one has to check their brains out at the church door except when entering the church of atheism.



[i] For example, Luke Muehlhauser at http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=1270...here denies atheism is a worldview using the dictionary definition instead of the de facto description. He tries to show not all atheists agree on the eternality of matter, the multiverse and objective morality, while conveniently ignoring all of the things there is general agreement on. At http://evaluatingchristianity.wordpress.com/the-summary-case-for-atheism/arg4long/ you will see a similar rationale where the writer says atheists don’t all agree on fundamental questions. Yet only a select few examples are given and he seems to ignore the fact all major worldviews are made up of people who do not agree on every fundamental question. That hardly means their worldview is not substantially derived from their fundamental view of God. On ethics, one atheist may choose nihilism while another objectivism. But the fact there are two options available does not deny their atheism as a prior and essential element of their ethical view.

[ii] We are talking about western atheism, not any variant of Buddhism or other eastern worldview that is nontheistic.

 

[iii] There is likely a strong political correlation to atheism as well, though I will not attempt to argue that here.

 

[iv] A letter from an atheist (parody): Atheism is not a religion! We do not make claims about ultimate reality, because reality is ultimately absurd. We are not rude like those smug, pathetic Christians with their ludicrous faith in a nonexistent creator. We do not try to convince others of our perspective. So listen carefully: We do not pray or raise our hands, or sing ancient hymns. Yes, it’s true, we may sing each other’s praises at rallies, on blogs and on Facebook. And we do get together for fellowship over a meal or coffee from time to time. And yes, we gather for friendly neighborhood projects while helping to lead others away from the infestation of religion. But that’s different; we do not force our views upon others regarding religious things like origins, meaning, purpose or destiny. Okay, it is true; we believe the universe is the ultimate brute fact, the first-cause, the alpha of reality. And it is fair to say; we believe there is no meaning or purpose to life other than what we choose individually – and you are free to choose of course, as long as it doesn’t contradict a long list of axioms we hold. And yes, we believe there is no ultimate destiny other than certain nonexistence at death. But at least we do not worship anything, not even science. We merely look upon science with delight in its magisterial pronouncements and revelations on the way things really are – even those things metaphysical and beyond its reach. Yes, sometimes science is at odds with our worldview. But we have the patience to wait for its inevitable correction. We may have been wrong for centuries on the static universe model whereas theologians had it right. But who cares? At least we are not dogmatic and rigid when it contradicts our foundational beliefs. We simply understand it’s not real science. We take the time to understand logic and rational thought. We know the supernatural is a nonexistent reality because we know naturalism is the only reality. Therefore we are free from circular reasoning, free from non sequiturs, and are free to go where the evidence leads. And when we put on our “new atheism” face, we confidently proclaim: We don’t know; we just know you don’t know. So now it should be clear to you, atheism is not a religion!

 

[v] I’m discounting for the sake of brevity those who may believe some fantastical notion of intelligent aliens seeding the planet billions of years ago.

 

[vi] http://www.alternet.org/belief/151947/goodbye_religion_how_godlessness_is_increasing_with_each_new_generation

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I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, an owner of ISC, lead architect of MapDotNet, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs, hot air baloons, lawn furniture)

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