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?
Yes, Madhukar. I agree with everything you just said. I guess that is one important reason we have all come here to learn, encourage each other, and debate ideas. Thanks!
I forgot to add something that I wanted to:
I find Madhukar's posts extremely interesting, thought provoking, and intelligent.
Wow, Dogly's meowing is sweert!! Thanks, I rarely get good compliments!
Agree on that - of course we all have our own backgrounds with strengths and non-strengths, and often they are opposite manifestations of the same phenomenon. I was born strongly literal and take things at their face value, but that can also make me pretty stubborn because I miss some of the subtleties...and we all have aspects like that. So some of us may approach atheism as you do, simply as the absence of a god, but others may think that theism, and especially at its most destructive, is best countered by organized atheism. And that'd be worth discussing too, I think...how can we, for example, keep America from becoming a theocracy as Rick Santorum wants (I'm not being political here - but he literally thinks that and has recently restated the point).
All discussion on this subject is interesting and welcome. Each of us expresses his opinion as his very own. It is just that Madhukar seems to be trying to find a common set of beliefs or opinions among us all. I'm trying to convince him that that is impossible. I find Madhukar's posts extremely interesting, thought provoking, and intelligent. It may be a simple matter of his manner of expressing his ideas, but there are never only 2 opinions on any subject when it is discussed by atheists ;-) Madhukar, have you ever heard the saying about 'herding cats'? When referring to a difficult group to organize, we say it's like trying to herd cats. From WiCTIONARY: "An idiomatic saying that refers to an attempt to control or organize a class of entities which are uncontrollable or chaotic. Implies a task that is extremely difficult or impossible to do, primarily due to chaotic factors. " MEEOOOWW!
Dogly, Kind of like the Democratic Party?
One more question comes to my mind in this context. When asked, all atheists here will tell you how he/she became an atheist, no body says "I was born that way!"
Two different opinions about what constitutes atheism.
1. All humans are born atheists and they may later become religionists or confirm themselves as atheists, as they grow up.
David Eller writes a compelling argument that a child is born without knowledge of god/s and grows into the culture into which he/she is born. Atheism is an “affair of the mind” in which humans are not solely rational creatures, but also emotional and social. Atheists are not just debaters or thinkers, or reasoners, they may be creative, affirmative, with a sense of wonder and awe of nature. They are disenchanted with myths and fairy tales. David Eller, “Natural Atheism".
2. Atheism must be a conscious decision.
An atheist must be able to proclaim that he/she:
Does not believe in god,
No such thing as god exists,
God is a human creation, a fiction.
Madhukar: "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 atheism."
Madhukar: “These are basically the arguments of the two sides. Which opinion is more correct? Which one would you support and why?”
An atheist is someone who simply is not a theist.
a= "absence of."
A + theist
A + moral
A + typical
A + symmetry
A child is not born with a belief or disbelief in god/s.
He/she has an absence of belief in god.
The child learns theism from parents and community.
Life’s challenges may cause a growing child or adult to doubt and question if theism is true or false.
An individual may:
Believe God does not exist.
Disbelieve a theistic God exists
This is a cognitive process in which one make a decision that may be contrary to cultural and social norms.
Most people are not aware of being a theist or atheist ... it is a decision that comes from emotional and cognitive dissonance followed by cognitive processes of searching for the answer of god or no-god.
Your reply is elaborate and educative. You may probably remember that we had a small dialogue on the very same topic and I too had held that atheism is based on knowledge that makes one decide that god does not exist. More than once my this opinion was contested and I was advised that even a child that does not know god is an atheist and hence atheism is a default position of humans. I could not agree with this position and so I decided to see what most atheists here think. I am glad to know that most appear to agree with me. Thanks for your elaborate reply.
Mahukar, you stated, "More than once my this opinion was contested ..."
Isn't it great?! We can make a statement, it goes all over the world into other peoples' minds, gets punched and jostled around a bit, returns to us with a different frame and we can add it to our tool kit of knowledge or cast it off into the great unknown of space. I love it!
Gettinge punched and jostled " a bit" would be alright, but most of us who contested my opinion are not here to debate. They simply have decided to overlook this discussion so that they can retain their definition without question. One person even asked me " Madhukar, why do you want to change the definition of atheism?" As time passes, who will remember this discussion?