by N.P. Sala
“Atheism is a proposition or a truth claim about the world…”
About six months ago I had the opportunity to interact with an atheist on Twitter; our topics of discussion: Christianity, atheism, and belief, particularly the definition of atheism and its effects on the atheist-Christian dialogue. Our conversation began with a discussion on the definition of the term “Christian”; that is, to be a Christian, one must affirm certain things to be true.
As a quick aside, Max Andrews of sententias.org affirms the proposition that, to be a Christian, one must not only believe certain things to be true, but must be saved by God as well. In other words, in order to be a Christian, then P (one must affirm Christian truth propositions) and Q (one must be saved by God). Many times non-Christians (and some Christians) speak of being a Christian as only entailing P; but that is an incomplete definition unless Q as well. This might seem elementary but it is a fair point to make when atheists (or others) sometimes refer to themselves as ex-Christians (which is logically problematic).
Andrews’ particular definition of a Christian (as entailing P and Q) was the initial subject of our conversation. Once the atheist and I agreed upon that definition, my interlocutor then proposed that atheism is a “lack of belief”:
This seems to be a popular strategy lately among internet atheists as it allows them to deflect any responsibility to make a case for their view; and that is exactly what happened next:
In other words, the atheist says that, when compared to Christians, his group is “neutral,” i.e. believes nothing, whereas the Christian group believes something. Therefore, according to this characterization, the need to provide evidence(s) for a belief rests solely on the ones having the belief: Christians, not atheists.
Let’s just call this for what it is: A sneaky, underhanded trick of semantics for some atheists to weasel their way out of the difficult task of supporting their claim. Make no doubt about it, folks, atheists are doing the exact same thing that Christians are doing when it comes to belief. We believe God exists and they believe God does not exist. Both groups believe something. Any atheist that says otherwise is being an intellectually dishonest broker. Think of it this way:
- If the term “atheism” simply describes a missing mental property (i.e. a lack of belief), then the definition is too broad to be meaningful. Given this new definition there would be no difference between an atheist and the armchair he’s sitting on; that is, an armchair also lacks a belief in God just like the atheist.
- If the term “atheism” simply describes a lack of belief, then there can be no argument to support what is lacking. It is merely describing an absence of an opinion. Atheists, therefore, cannot support absence with any good reasons; for, in absence, there is nothing to support. This relegates their view to the same level of seriousness as an aversion to lima beans or boiled cauliflower.
- If the term “atheism” simply describes a lack of belief, then atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens went to an awful lot of trouble writing books describing their missing mental property. As a matter of fact, I’m curious how the internet atheist should interpret Dawkins’ chapter title in The God Delusion: “Why There Almost Certainly is No God”. Perhaps he should read it as: “How My Lack of Belief Explains Why There is No God”.
The point is: atheism is not a mental property nor does it describe someone’s psychology. Atheism is a proposition or a truth claim about the world; and that proposition is: God does not exist. The only way Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and others can make arguments for their view is if they actually have a view to begin with…
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