by Ken Ammi
For many other articles on this topic, see Atheism, agnosticism and humanism: godless religionsQuestions and Answers
Some atheists apparently dont like this video, A Fool’s Heart, but you can view it here. It recaps some of the effects of anti-Christian atheistic/evolutionary thinking in recent times, beginning with Robespierre, a leader of the French Revolution.
There is confusion and debate about the term atheism and its definition.
The term atheism finds its etymology in the Greek combination of a and theos. What atheos means is, as with any term, subject to context (and perhaps personal interpretation). Note that if an atheist states, I do not believe in God, this is technically not a statement about Gods existence or lack thereof. Does atheos mean no God, without God, lack God belief or God does not exist?
Early Christians were referred to as atheists because they did not believe in the Greek or Roman gods. Yet, while they positively affirmed the non-existence of those gods they likely believed that those gods were deceptive demons whom they did believe existed (1 Corinthians 8:46).
Let us consider other Greek-derived a words:
Generally, as popularized by the New Atheist movement, atheists prefer the definition of atheism as lacking belief in god(s). Thus, by applying the term atheist to themselves, such atheists are not technically making a statement about Gods existence or lack thereof.
This definition has been popularized, at least, since Charles Bradlaugh (circa 1876). It appears to be preferred so as to escape the philosophic difficulty of proving a negativeGod does not existand in order to shift the burden of proof to the theist, since the theist is making the positive affirmation that God exists.
On a polemical note there are two things to consider:
In reference to the above mentioned term agnostic, note that Thomas Henry Huxley coined this term in 1869.1 He explained that he noted two extremes: one was the atheist who positively affirmed Gods non-existence (claiming to know that God did not exist) and the other was the theists who positively affirmed Gods existence (claiming to know that God exists). Huxley said that he did not possess enough evidence to affirm positively either position. Thus, he coined a term which he saw as a middle position, which was that of lacking knowledge to decide either way (whether such knowledge actually exists outside of his personal knowledge or may someday be discovered is another issue).
As we will see next, there are various sects of atheism. There is a vast difference between the friendly atheist next door and the activists. Generally, even the activist types who are typified by the New Atheist movement will define atheism as a mere lack of belief in God. However, it is important to note that their activism demonstrates that their atheism is anything but mere lack: it is an anti-religion, anti-faith and anti-God movement.
1.1 Variations of Atheism
Atheists may be categorized under various technical terms as well as sociopolitical and cultural ones, which may overlap depending on the individual atheists preferences:
Some atheists claim that atheism is a religion3 and others have attempted to establish secular/civic/atheistic religions which we will elucidate below.
Michael Shermer, editor of The Skeptic magazine, draws a distinction between the atheist who claims, there is no God and the non-theist who claims to have no belief in God.4
As to the sociopolitical and/or cultural terms, these abound and some are: Brights, Freethinkers, Humanists, Naturalists, Rationalists, Skeptics, Secular Humanists and Materialists.
Some atheists squabble about terminology. For example, American Atheists webmaster wrote, Atheists are NOT secular humanists, freethinkers, rationalists or ethical culturalists Often, people who are Atheists find it useful to masquerade behind such labels5 while the Freedom from Religion Foundation, claims that, Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.6
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By nature worship and neo-paganism I refer to the atheists tendency to replace a sense of awe of God and seeking transcendence by relating to God with seeking awe and transcendence in nature. This natural high, as it were, is not merely enjoyed but it is enjoined and said to be holier than theism.
Referring to our ability to step off the Earth and look back at ourselves, as was done in Voyager 2, Carl Sagan stated,
The very first episode of his televised series entitled Cosmos, began with Carl Sagan stating,
Presupposing a God-free reality, why atheists seek transcendent experiences remains unanswered.
Michael Shermer stated that his study of evolution was, far more enlightening and transcendent, spiritual, than anything I had experienced in seven years of being a born again Christian.8
Michael Shermer made reference to the spiritual side of science, which he referred to as sciensuality:
Michael Ruse; philosophy professor (University of Guelph), ardent evolutionist and professedly an ex-Christian who has argued for the ACLU against the balanced treatment (of creation and evolution in schools) bill in the USA, wrote:
Evolution is promoted by its practitioners as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religiona full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today
“As a social reformer therefore, Huxley, known in the papers as Pope Huxley, was determined to find a substitute for Christianity. Evolution, with its stress on unbroken lawwhich could be used to reflect messages of social progresswas the perfect candidate. Life is on an upwardly moving escalator
Indeed, recognizing that a good religion needs a moral message as well as a history and promise of future reward, Huxley increasingly turned from Darwin (who was not very good at providing these things) toward another English evolutionist. Herbert Spencerprolific writer and immensely popular philosopher to the massesshared Huxleys vision of evolution as a kind of metaphysics rather than a straight science
Evolution now has its mystical visionary, its Saint John of the Cross. Harvard entomologist and sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson tells us that we now have an alternative mythology to defeat traditional religion If people want to make a religion of evolution, that is their business The important point is that we should recognize when people are going beyond the strict science, moving into moral and social claims, thinking of their theory as an all-embracing world picture.10
Addressing fellow atheist Jonathan Miller, Richard Dawkins stated:
you and I probably do have feelings that may very well be akin to a kind of mystical wonder when we contemplate the stars, when we contemplate the galaxies, when we contemplate life, the sheer expanse of geological time. I experience, and I expect you experience, internal feelings which sound pretty much like um, what mystics feel, and they call it God. Ifand Ive been called a very religious person for that reasonif I am called a religious person, then my retort to that is, Well, youre playing with words, because what the vast majority of people mean by religious is something utterly different from this sort of transcendent, mystical experience [ ]
The transcendent sense the transcendent, mystic sense, that people who are both religious and non-religious in my usage of the term, is something very very different. In that sense, I probably am a religious person. You probably are a religious person. But that doesnt mean we think that there is a supernatural being that interferes with the world, that does anything, that manipulates anything, or by the way, that its worth praying to or asking forgiveness of sins from, etc. [ ]
I prefer to use words like religion, like God, in the way that the vast majority of people in the world would understand them, and to reserve a different kind of language for the feeling that we share with possibly your clergyman [ ] the sense of wonder that one gets as a scientist contemplating the cosmos, or contemplating mitochondria is actually much grander than anything that you will get by contemplating the traditional objects of religious mysticism.11 [the un-bracketed ellipses appear in the original transcript denoting Richard Dawkins halting way of speaking, the bracketed ones were added]
Richard Dawkins, in Is Science a Religion? said,
science does have some of religions virtues All the great religions have a place for awe, for ecstatic transport at the wonder and beauty of creation. And its exactly this feeling of spine-shivering, breath-catching awealmost worshipthis flooding of the chest with ecstatic wonder, that modern science can provide. And it does so beyond the wildest dreams of saints and mystics
Science can offer a vision of life and the universe which, as Ive already remarked, for humbling poetic inspiration far outclasses any of the mutually contradictory faiths and disappointingly recent traditions of the worlds religions
The universe at large couldnt possibly be anything other than indifferent to Christ, his birth, his passion, and his death I want to return now to the charge that science is just a faith. The more extreme version of that chargeand one that I often encounter as both a scientist and a rationalistis an accusation of zealotry and bigotry in scientists themselves as great as that found in religious people. Sometimes there may be a little bit of justice in this accusation; but as zealous bigots, we scientists are mere amateurs at the game. Were content to argue with those who disagree with us. We dont kill them.
Stephen S. Hall, in Darwins Rottweiler Sir Richard Dawkins: Evolutions Fiercest Champion, Far Too Fierce, said:
Einsteinian religion is a kind of spirituality which is nonsupernatural And that doesnt mean that its somehow less than supernatural religion. Quite the contrary .Einstein was adamant in rejecting all ideas of a personal god. It is something bigger, something grander, something that I believe any scientist can subscribe to, including those scientists whom I would call atheists. Einstein, in my terms, was an atheist, although Einstein of course was very fond of using the word God. When Einstein would use the word God, he was using it as a kind of figure of speech. When he said things like God is subtle but hes not malicious, or He does not play dice, or Did God have a choice in creating the universe? what he meant was things like randomness do not lie at the heart of all things. Could the universe have been any other way than the way it is? Einstein chose to use the word God to phrase such profound, deep questions. That, it seems to me, is the good part of religion which we can all subscribe to
What I cant understand is why we are expected to show respect for good scientists, even great scientists, who at the same time believe in a god who does things like listen to our prayers, forgive our sins, perform cheap miracles which go against, presumably, everything that the god of the physicist, the divine cosmologist, set up when he set up his great laws of nature. So I dont understand a scientist who says, I am a Roman Catholic or I am a Baptist
I suppose my hope would be that sciencethe best kind of science, the sort of science which approaches the best sort of religion, the Einsteinian spirituality that I was talking aboutis so inspiring, so exciting that it should be sellable to everybody
Such sentiments appear to be fulfillments of the Apostle Pauls reference to:
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2.1 Atheist religion
Let us consider the atheists from the 18th to the 21st centuries who express desires to establish an atheistic religion. Perhaps we should begin with Jean-Jacques Rousseau (17121778), who conceived of a civil religion:
Two other notable 18th century attempts are Claude Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon (17601825) who conceived of a new Christianity which would be founded upon Humanism and scientific socialism. The secular priesthood would consist of scientists, philosophers and engineers. Lastly, Auguste Comte (17981857) conceived of a religion of humanity.
Forwarding to the 21st century we will consider Gary Wolfs interview with Sam Harris:
Gary Wolfs interview with Daniel Dennett:
Sam Harris, Selfless Consciousness without Faith:
Sam Harris, A Contemplative Science:
ABC Radio National, Stephen Crittenden interviews Sam Harris:
Sam Harris, Science Must Destroy Religion:
Sam Harris, Rational Mysticism:
Humanist Manifesto I (1933) states,
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There may be as many reasons that people choose atheism as there are individuals who make that choice. These range from philosophy or science to emotion or rebellion and various combinations of such factors.
Prominent Argentinean hyperrealism artist, Helmut Ditsch, retells part of his upbringing:
Joe Orso, writing on the origin of beliefs, interviewed atheist Ira Glass, who said:
I find that I dont seem to have a choice over whether or not I believe in God, I simply find that I do not. Either you have faith or you dont. Either you believe or you dont.
Orso: I was once talking with a Chinese friend. She asked whether I believed in God. I told her I did. I returned the question. She said no, and I asked her why not. Her father, she explained, had told her there was no God when she was a child. She hadnt really thought about it much since then.16 [emphasis added]
Note carefully the words of Thomas Nagel (B.Phil., Oxford; Ph.D., Harvard), Professor of Philosophy and Law, University Professor, and Fiorello La Guardia Professor of Law. He specializes in Political Philosophy, Ethics, Epistemology, and Philosophy of Mind. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Fellow of the British Academy, and has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities:
Consider the following words of Isaac Asimov, one of the most prolific scientific writers of the last century:
Gary Wolf , contributing editor to Wired magazine, includes himself in the following description: we lax agnostics, we noncommittal nonbelievers, we vague deists who would be embarrassed to defend antique absurdities like the Virgin Birth or the notion that Mary rose into heaven without dying, or any other blatant myth. He wrote:
At dinner parties or over drinks, I ask people to declare themselves. Who here is an atheist? I ask. Usually, the first response is silence, accompanied by glances all around in the hope that somebody else will speak first. Then, after a moment, somebody does, almost always a man, almost always with a defiant smile and a tone of enthusiasm. He says happily, I am!
But it is the next comment that is telling. Somebody turns to him and says: You would be.
Why? Because you enjoy [irritating] people . Well, thats true.
This type of conversation takes place not in central Ohio, where I was born, or in Utah, where I was a teenager, but on the West Coast, among technical and scientific people, possibly the social group that is least likely among all Americans to be religious.13
Thus, we find various motivating factors which lead to atheism and have absolutely nothing to do with science or intellect.
Paul Vitz, Professor of Psychology at New York University, made a fascinating study of the lives of some of the most influential atheists. In his book Faith of the Fatherless: the Psychology of Atheism he concluded that these persons rejected God because they rejected their own fathers. This was due to their poor relationships with their fathers, or due to their fathers absence, or due to their rebellion against their fathers.20 Along this line of research, it would be interesting to consider the effect that the death of friends and family has had on the rejection of God. From Charles Darwin to Ted Turner the death of friends and family has played a part.
Gary Wolf noted,
The Associated Press reported on an interview with Ted Turner published in The New Yorker: 22
CNN founder Ted Turner was suicidal after the breakup of his marriage to Jane Fonda and his loss of control of Turner Broadcasting his marriage to Fonda broke up partly because of her decision to become a practicing Christian 22
Turner is a strident non-believer, having lost his faith after his sister, Mary Jane, died of a painful disease called systemic lupus erythematosus. I was taught that God was love and God was powerful, Turner said. And I couldnt understand how someone so innocent should be made or allowed to suffer so.
Tony Snow, who was the White House Press Secretary in 2006/2007, and was a Christian, died of cancer in July 2008. He wrote an essay entitled, Cancers Unexpected Blessings.23 Consider, in contrast, how a God-centered person dealt with his own impending death:
In contrast, consider the words of atheist William Provine, professor of the history of science at Cornell University:
With regards to his own cancer, a brain tumor, Provine has stated that he would shoot himself in the head if his brain tumor returned.25 Apparently, one less bio-organism is irrelevant in an absolutely materialistic world.
3.1 Natural born Atheist
Another reason for rejecting God (choosing atheism), is a willing acceptance of satanic deception.
The angel Lucifer (luminous one) fell and became Satan (adversary) due to his desire to supplant God. This was Lucifers single-minded obsession.
He not only rejected God by attempting to supplant Him, but he urged humans to do likewise. Satan urged Eve to choose against God for her own self-fulfilment:
He said to the woman, Did God actually say, You shall not eat of any tree in the garden? And the woman said to the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die. But the serpent said to the woman, You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:1-5 ESV).
The tactic is clear: firstly, question Gods statements, then, contradict Gods statements and, finally, urge rebellion in seeking equality with God.
This manifests in atheists as
This satanic deception appeals strongly to atheists as it bolsters two of their desired delusions: 1) absolute autonomybeing free to do as they please, and 2) the lack of ultimate accountabilitythere are no eternal consequences for doing as they please.
A subset of the question of why some people choose atheism is the atheist claim that we are all natural born atheists. In part this is incumbent upon which definition of atheism we are employing. Obviously, we are not born positively asserting Gods non-existence. Thus, the claim is that we are all born lacking a belief in God. Logically, this claim is accurate only at this point and is actually not successfully applicable beyond this point.
Atheists who make this argument claim that this argument demonstrates that man is not God-made but that God is man-made. In other words, they claim that we only believe in God because someone taught us to believe in God, often during childhood before we were able to consider the claim rationally. Yet, this claim is faulty on many levels, for example:
We are born knowing nothing at all and must be taught, and later take it upon ourselves to learn, anything and everything that we will ever know or believe, including atheism.
We are natural-born bed wetters but that does not mean that we should remain that way.
This is ultimately a form of the logically fallacious ad hominem (to the man). This fallacy occurs when what is supposed to be a counterargument attacks the person, the source of the original argument, while leaving the argument unanswered. Thus, just because belief in God is something that is taught does not discredit belief in God. It would be fallacious to claim that God does not exist because human beings invented the idea of Gods existenceGod wants us to discover His existence: you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13).
Furthermore, this claim does not consider that many people came to believe in God in adulthood and having come from a completely secular (atheistic) upbringing.
Although, perhaps we could grant the claim: if atheists want to argue that atheism requires no more intellect than that which an infant can muster, why should we argue?
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Here is a video debate between an atheist and the author of this article: Morality: natural or supernatural?
Technically, ethics refers to what should be and morals to what is or; prescription and description. Atheists differ on the issue of ethics and morality; some claim that there are absolutes and some do not. As to the question of whether atheists can make absolute moral statements, this is tantamount to the first year theology student who, when asked, Do you believe in infant baptism? responded, Sure I do; Ive seen it done. Yes, atheists can make any statements about anything at allthe question is: are the statements viable?
Atheists make epistemic statements about morality but do not provide an ontological premise for ethics.26 That is to say that they can muse upon issues of morality and come to any conclusion that they please. However, these turn out to be arbitrary personal preferences that are expressed as dogmatic assertions.
Some atheists do make attempts at providing an ontological basis for ethics. These range quite widelyfrom considering the behavior of apes to Game Theory.
In the first case, it is, of course, being presupposed that we share a common evolutionary lineage with apes and that their behavior tells us something about ours. Even when such observations successfully correlate their behaviors to ours, it is merely a description. Moreover, from such correlations it is inferred that morality is part of our overall evolution. This amounts to intuition or urges which we are free to act upon or disregard.
In the second case investigators concoct games that they claim dissect human behavior. With regards to Game Theory, Benjamin Wiker notes,