Thursday, November 30, 2006

Why atheism is not a religion

I've mentioned before that I'm an agnostic, for the usual reasons: I don't believe the existence of God can be definitively proven or disproven, so why waste time trying? Life's too short. And while I certainly hope there is an afterlife, I think that any God worth worshiping wouldn't base the entrance requirement on successfully picking the One True Faith out from the thousands of imposters.

I say that by way of explanation for linking to this thread over at one of my other homes, It's the best explanation of why atheism isn't a religion I've ever read. And the comments discussion is outstanding.

I'm agnostic, not atheist, but since agnostics often get lumped in with their more-certain cousins I'm always glad to see a reasoned argument like this one.

My favorite paragraph:

One of the biggest selling points for the "atheism is a religion" trope is the common misperception that atheists know that there is no god. Certainly there are some who would say so, just as there are Christians who have no religious doubt whatsoever, but these are not (I hope) majority views. Insistence on the absolute correctness of your position is not a sign of either faith or rationalist purity; it's a sign of hubris and epistemological immodesty.

It echoes what I've said before: In matters of religion, it's always a good idea (and good for social harmony) to always consider the possibility that you are the one who is wrong.

Go give it a read. It's excellent.

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Blogger Dennis Sanders said...

I just want to let you know there is another Centrist blogger from Minnesota. My name is Dennis and I run the NeoMugwump blog at

12/01/2006 11:28 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Cool! Welcome aboard! I'll take a look at your site later today and get you added to my blogroll.

12/01/2006 11:42 AM  
Blogger Tully said...

Ego! (No, not Dennis, but religionists...)

Many atheists go for the "weak atheism" definition (lack of theism) which is really just a crossover position with non-doctrinal agnosticism (an admitted lack of knowledge). "Hard definition" doctrinal atheism is anti-theism. (Doctrinal agnosticism is the contention that the existence of the Divine is by nature unknowable.)

An agnostic can be theistic or non-theistic in beliefs, they're just aware that they don't know as a matter of knowledge, but only of belief. Both doctrinal atheists and theists insist they have knowledge of the existence or non-existence of the Divine, but their claims are generally based either entirely on faith (that is, ego) or on faulty negative-evidence logic. At least, I haven't seen any exceptions to that general rule.

12/01/2006 11:50 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Agreed, Tully. But the question being addressed by the link is whether atheism -- even "hard definition" atheism -- qualifies as a religion. A strong belief without evidence does not by itself make a religion, does it?

And while I appreciate that the "negative evidence" logic is not definitive, it makes more sense to disbelieve something for which there is no evidence than to believe in something for which there is no evidence. Otherwise, as the classic examples go, it would be just as logical to believe in unicorns as it is to think they don't exist.

I'd accept, though, that atheists who claim to be possessed of perfect knowledge of God's nonexistence are creeping up on a religion of nonbelief. But the same could probably be said of fanatics of any stripe.

12/01/2006 1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm an agnostic too, for exactly the reasons you described. I get tired of people lumping me in with athiests. Since I grew up in a remarkably conservative part of the Midwest, it happened a lot.

This was a great article. Thanks for posting it! This blog has quickly become one of my favorite things to read every day. Keep up the good work!

12/03/2006 12:59 AM  
Anonymous A Select Arrow said...

Excuse me for saying so, but I find that logic rather dubious.

Claiming the difficulty of finding "one true faith" out of "thousands of imposters" as an argument for agnosticism is to me much like saying the following:

Out of 6 billion persons in the world, how can you ever know if "the one" you are with is the best or right choice for you... as an argument against marriage.

It is true. Why get married to one person when it is impossible to know if there is somebody better out there for you? You can’t prove or disprove it, so why waste time settling down with one “special” person? An individual's answer to that question, applied to religion, would probably make for a better stance.

Furthermore, if there is a true path or a real god, what we think or feel is irrelevant. Thinking a god is not worth worshipping, or setting prerequisites for belief in a theoretical god, could not matter less in the face of whatever reality exists. If there is an unfathomably powerful deity out there, it probably isn’t going to amend its rules or laws based on the snarkiness of mere mortals, and it could probably care less to entertain our presumptuous distorted views of it.

12/03/2006 3:44 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

KC: Yeah, it's amazing how many people don't distinguish between the two.

And (having taken a peek at your blog) good luck with the Kossacks.... :)

Arrow: There's a difference between wondering if I've met my "perfect" person and wondering if my faith is the "real" one that will get me into Heaven.

There are plenty of "good enough" potential mates. According to most faiths, however, there is only one True Religion.

Further, that wasn't so much an argument for agnosticism as an argument against worshipping any sort of God that would play such a shell game.

I agree (and, in my first linked article, flatly state) that my opinion of God is irrevelant; if God exists, He exists, whatever I may think. My point is that, while I cannot control what God may be, I can certainly decide whether that God is worth worshipping. I'm not going to worship SkullCrusher the Death God, who demands daily sacrifices of newborn infants, simply because he happens to exist. I don't expect God to change His ways to satisfy me; but he cannot expect me to worship Him if I do not consider Him worthy of such flattery.

12/03/2006 10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha! Thanks for the wishes. I haven't received any takers on my invitation for a civilized debate thus far(I figured such would be the outcome). The invite was a standing one. We'll see what happens...

I think Arrow's reasoning is a good argument, but I'm still with you-if God exists, then He exists. However, I'm not going to subscribe to one moral code and derive all of my actions accordingly. I'm going to listen to my inner sense of ethical conduct, which may require ascribing to moral notions that are not automatically contained within the pages of one religious text.

For me, it's not a question of (if he exists) if God is worth my flattery, it is that I'm required to do something besides attempt to live my life as a good person to get into a "Heaven" as opposed to a "Hell." Also, the idea of repenting to an outside source for mistakes I've made doesn't sit well with me. I don't think that I'm required to ask any superior being for forgiveness; mistakes aren't so you can repent, they're so you can learn about life and do better the next time. Forgiveness from myself and the person I've wronged (which may be one and the same) are more important to me than making sure I'm asking God to "save me" from my mistakes, and that my spot in some "Heaven" is still securely reserved.

Besides, if there ends up being a Heaven and a Hell, as Mark Twain said, "Go to Heaven for the climate, go to Hell for the company." I think I'll be in the company of some pretty great people if I end up in the latter. :)

12/04/2006 8:19 PM  

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