Welcome to the fourth – and LONG overdue – edition of my series Stuff Atheists Say. This is where I deconstruct some of the sillier slogans that some atheists use as conversation-stoppers with theists. (And if you haven’t checked out the first three yet, you can catch up here: part 1, part 2, part 3.) This article will focus on statements atheists make about atheism.
Bad “argument” #6: Atheism is a lack of belief in God.
Nowadays it’s cool to redefine words that have had longtime, common sense definitions. For example, nothing no longer means “not anything” or, literally, “no thing.” Thanks to Lawrence Krauss, nothing now means empty space or the quantum vacuum or something or other. So nothing is no longer nothing but instead it is something small or empty or insignificant. Tolerance used to mean to agree to disagree or that we can hold different beliefs and still be friends. Now it means that you agree with largely leftist, liberal beliefs. If you don’t, you’re intolerant.
The same has happened with the definition of atheism. It has always been clear: the belief that God does not exist. But now it has been redefined to mean “the lack of belief in God.” At a glance it doesn’t seem that significant of a change, but the difference is huge.
“Old” atheism was a statement about the world, that there is no God out there somewhere. It is an objective claim about reality that is either true or false. Such a claim requires reasons and evidence to support. The person who states God does not exist has just as much of a burden of proof as the person who says God exists.
But “new” atheism moves God into our minds. His existence is merely a belief that some people have and others don’t. “New” atheism is a subjective statement that cannot be externally tested since an atheist internally lacks a belief in God. He makes no claims about reality, only himself. Therefore, it is the theist’s responsibility to somehow cause the atheist to gain the belief in God, not the atheist’s burden to explain his lack of belief.
Now, if you think this is silly, so do I. But it’s becoming more common. So how do we respond to this redefinition of atheism? Simple. We don’t. Who cares about someone’s definition of atheism or their subjective set of beliefs? If labels and definitions prevent a meaningful conversation, avoid them.
Instead, focus on reality. Is there a God really, objectively out there or not? And if someone says he lacks belief in God, tell him you don’t care about his mental state. You care about reality. Does God exist or not?
Bad “argument” #7: Atheism is not a worldview.
Some atheists argue that atheism is not a worldview. (Maybe it’s a lack of a worldview.) Again, this focuses on the scope and definition of atheism instead of whether or not God actually exists.
But first, what is a worldview? Simply put, it is a view of the world, an explanation of reality. Everyone has a worldview whether or not he knows it or admits it. A worldview is a set of answers to the biggest questions about reality: How did we get here? How should we live? What happens when we die?
Take the existence of the universe, for example. A theist believes that God created the universe. If you don’t believe in God, then you need to provide an explanation of why the universe is here. It may be naturalistic, but it’s still an explanation. And as soon as you answer one or more basic worldview questions, you’ve committed yourself to a worldview.
If a worldview includes God, it is a theistic worldview. If your view of reality does not include God, it is an atheistic worldview. It’s that simple.
Now, if someone argues that there is no one worldview of atheism but it is a category of worldviews, fine. Then the same applies to theism. Regardless, the atheist still needs to explain the big questions like how the universe came into existence and how life began, just like the theist.
Bonus “argument”: Atheism is the default position.
Some atheists argue that atheism is the default position of humanity. Is this true? Who knows, and who cares? Again, this is just a distraction. Focus on the existence of God. Either God exists or he doesn’t. If you want to argue the “default” position of humanity, you’re wasting your time.
The “arguments” addressed above are all similar in that they focus on the definition and scope of atheism instead of making claims about reality. The purpose is to avoid having to defend anything and to put the burden of proof entirely on the theist. But the statement “God does not exist” is still an objective truth-claim and thus it must be defended.
If you find yourself in a conversation about atheism itself, stop it quickly because it won’t get anywhere. Refocus it on what’s really important: Does God exist?