In the recent past, in AN discussions, I have noticed two different opinions about what constitutes atheism.

One opinion holds that all humans are born atheists and they may later become religionists or confirm themselves as atheists, as they grow up. This seems like a transient atheism. This supposes that not knowing about the existence or otherwise of god or gods is also enough to qualify as an atheist. To be called an atheist, it is not necessary to thoughtfully, firmly, state that no supernatural exists. It is not necessary posses a firm belief or knowledge to qualify to be an atheist. Knowledge, therefore, is not an essential constituent of atheism.

What is then the status of a less-than-year-old child that is made to fold its hand in worship by the suggestion of an elder? Does this child remain an atheist? If lack of knowledge of a god can be atheism, then, conversely, can lack of knowledge of atheism make a child a religionist? Can a mentally retarded person whose mental status is the same as an infant, be counted as an atheist? This opinion would prohibit a person from being an agnostic till he acquires knowledge but allow him to be an atheist till then! A transcendent atheist will feel no importance of science, the greatest support of atheism today.

This opinion is extremely helpful for winning an argument about natural status of atheism.

The second opinion about what constitutes atheism states that atheism must be a conscious decision. An atheist must be able to proclaim that he does not believe in god, no such thing as god exists, that god is a man’s creation, a fiction. Therefore, atheism is a knowledge-based argument. This opinion will not support “natural atheism” theory but will lend atheism tremendous weight of firmness arising out of knowledge. Atheism thus defined will not be a transient atheism but will be a potentially firm belief, reversible only in the most unlikely event of knowledge supporting belief in god.  This definition of atheism will permit secularism, agnosticism as precursors to atheism, as it’s natural steps. Science can be a strong part of the support structure of such an atheism.

These are basically the arguments of the two sides. Which opinion is more correct? Which one would you support and why?

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Replies to This Discussion

I like the first one, although I am puzzling over whether you are calling it transient or transcendent - these are quite different things. In other words, do you think atheism without study (which I think is what you are saying) is transient (a passing phase) or transcendent (above the fray)?

Either way, I think it is giving religion a free kick to say that people cannot be atheists without some sort of knowledge. How do I know whether gods exist? I don't know whether there are goblins in the woods, but I have no reason to believe so, and some guys in suits knocking on my door on Sunday with badly drawn pamphlets will not shake that conviction. I don't need to study goblins or distinguish between the Tolkien and Rowling types of goblins to make that decision. If there is no evidence, then the case rests. Bring me something more convincing than "faith" and we'll talk. I can choose to study molecular biology or physics or existentialism, but I don't need to in order to dismiss a belief in something I can neither see nor hear nor see any evidence for.

Des Bellamy

Either way, I think it is giving religion a free kick to say that people cannot be atheists without some sort of knowledge.

I wanted to use the word 'transient' and it correctly states my thought.

I fail to understand to your above sentence. How does religion get a 'free kick?' To say that I am an atheist because I know does not seem to afford any opportunity to religion. You will have to explain some more. Also, how does it help to say that I am an atheist but I do not know? I always have believed that knowledge can never be of any disadvantage. Reading further, you actually seem to have made a case against your own argument, by using the word reason. You have no reason to believe also means you have reason to disbelieve.

The pleasure of seeing religionists at disadvantage can not define atheism.

 

 

Hi Madhukar,

How are things?

Sometimes I also have similar thoughts about this. 

 

If somebody has never heard of God or Gods, can that somebody be an atheist?

If an Atheist is somebody who does not believe in god etc, there is an assumption that that atheist has been told about god. And after being told about god, chooses not to believe. 

If somebody has never heard of god, how can that somebody choose not to believe in god? Therefore how can that person be an atheist. That person has neither chosen to believe nor has that person chosen to not believe. I personally cal this state of mind "   "ism. And I was a "   "ist until I heard about god and then I became an atheist. 

 

Yes leveni.

Moreover, the word atheist was not devised by atheists. 

Much of the problem is that it was some theist a few centuries ago who invented the word atheist---effectively launching it as a hate word for the wide wide world of believers. 

What is more, the unknowing brain of a baby is neither theist nor atheist, as also with the brains of the entire animal kingdom.  

Dr. Terence Meaden

Sir! You have hit the nail hard on its head! That seals it!!

Yes, I agree with Dr. Meaden on this.

Can atheism be a "child's opinion?"

No, atheism isn't an "opinion" at all, it is a dichotomic default.

"Much of the problem is that it was some theist a few centuries ago who invented the word atheist---effectively launching it as a hate word for the wide wide world of believers."

Dr. Terence Meaden

 

I disagree with this, for a few reasons. While the word has been and continues to be co-opted by theists to mean things other than it's literal and fundamental meaning, as both a word and concept it was also used almost 2000 years ago by Romans to describe Christians. But its origins go even further back, probably even predating the story of Socrates' unfortunate hemlock encounter.

 

 

In the literal sense, without any other modifier, "atheism/atheist" is neither an opinion nor a belief - it is a single and specific data point - it is a non-belief and so does not require "faith" or "knowledge".

 

This is important, as when it is viewed under a literal lens, it is the default of a specific existential claim of belief without proof. Thus, it isn't where the burden of proof lies, nor does it violate the law of parsimony.

 

Atheism is not a religion, nor is it semantically consistent with "irreligion". Theism is not a religion either, nor is theism necessarily inconsistent with "irreligion".

After all, most theists are irreligious in regards to all othertheist belief systems not their own.

As well, there do exist religions that don't include belief in creator deity/supernatural moral agents (gods) that can be described as being consistent with atheism in the sense that they do not include any kind of prime cause natural/supernatural being/deity, whatsoever. Moreover, the specific kind of "belief in"/"non-belief in" is existential, not commendatory -> which makes what "god" means, explicit by context. i.e. "Clapton is God" is not a concept addressed by the dichotomy; theist/atheist.

What is more, the unknowing brain of a baby is neither theist nor atheist...

Knowing/Unknowing isn't addressed by the concepts theist/atheist, this is where Thom Huxley's word "agnostic" comes into play as it addresses "unknowing", specifically.

Sadly, "agnostic" is another word, with a perfectly good meaning, …that's also often co-opted. It isn't the middle-ground between theism - atheism.

By default, re: burden of proof and the law of parsimony, the middle ground between theism-atheism, …is atheism.

as also with the brains of the entire animal kingdom.

Red herring, we aren't talking about the entire animal kingdom, or the vegetable one either.

All are born atheist, as it is a default negation of belief, not a contrapositive assertion of belief.

Richard Ewald

Your reply is welcome because it widens the discussion, enabling all of us here to know and analyse different viewpoints.

What is more, the unknowing brain of a baby is neither theist nor atheist...

as also with the brains of the entire animal kingdom.

You have quoted the above two sentences by Dr. Meaden and I suggest that you may deliberate a little more on them.

The first of the above two suggests that atheism is not an unconscious decision. Not knowing that gods do not exist is not the same as knowing that they do not exist. Atheism is a decisive state of mind, agnosticism is an indecisive state of mind and not knowing is an underdeveloped state of mind.

A person calling himself an agnostic says that he is so because he has not enough data to decide firmly one way or other. Bertrand Russel also described himself as an agnostic precisely for this reason. When such a person develops further on these lines and later calls himself an atheist, obviously he has acquired some more 'data' to go a step further.

Similarly in the second sentence Dr. Meaden merely indicates to an undeveloped state mind, he is not discussing the entire animal kingdom.

I suggest that you may deliberate a little more on them.

No need to, the flawed analogy cannot be deliberated away. 

A person calling himself an agnostic says that he is so because he has not enough data to decide firmly one way or other.

Not exactly what it means, it has less to do with data and more to do with the nature of certainty.

Show me a gnostic atheist?

The first thing I'll ask him for is his proof.

I respectfully suggest you do a little reading about formal and informal logic and how it relates to epistemology.

leveni

Hi,

The two opinions or rather definitions of atheism can appear to be tricky. Ceepting the first one can sometimes leave one prone to weakness, the secondone will always be a source of strength. If we accept the first one, we will also have to answer my question

"If lack of knowledge of a god can be atheism, then, conversely, can lack of knowledge of atheism make a child a religionist?"

Not having a satisfactory answer to this one can leave the first definition incomplete.

 

"If lack of knowledge of a god can be atheism, then, conversely, can lack of knowledge of atheism make a child a religionist?"  To be a religionist, one must actively believe, and have faith in the existence of  at least one god, for which there is no evidence.  Not believing requires no such test. Also, one can have NO actual knowledge of something unproveable. The study of mythology does not make myths into facts. Lack of knowledge about unicorns does not make one a Hindu.

Dogly,

Not believing requires no such test.

I think you are making an unconscience error. Not believing is not the same as not knowing. Not believing takes knowledge. Not knowing is simply ignorance, which can be said to be unpardonable to a person possessing some intelligence.

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