“Atheism” Is Like the New “Literally”
by Nate Sala
This post should be considered an addendum to a previous one entitled “Why Atheism Is Not a Lack of Belief”. In it I provided a rationale for why atheism is not simply a psychological disposition but, rather, an intellectual proposition that must be justified (just like Christians in their theistic proposition). After the post went up it created some consternation (to put it mildly) in certain atheists for a number of reasons. These days I need to be judicious with my free time so I figured I would respond to some of the more frequent challenges from atheists here:
You’ve Given a Straw Man Argument!
A Straw Man Argument is when someone distorts another’s view in order to, more easily, knock it down intellectually. For example, when an atheist claims that Christians believe in a magic man in the sky and then go on to poke holes through that paper tiger, Christians simply shrug and say, “We don’t believe in a man in the sky either.” Likewise, if I were to claim that atheists believe that the universe is made entirely of cheese and then refute that, atheists should shrug their shoulders and say, “We don’t believe in a cheese universe either.”
But this is not what I did in the previous post. I quoted a claim (that came specifically from atheists) that atheism, as an enterprise, is a “lack of belief” and provided reasons why that cannot be the case. In some places I simply gave those reasons, in others I followed the claim to its absurd conclusion (which is otherwise known as a reductio ad absurdum). Providing a rationale for why a claim is not true is not a Straw Man Argument. It’s just a principled disagreement. You can reject the reasons I gave (although I’m going to ask you to provide your own reasons why mine were wrong) but claiming I made a fallacy is simply mistaken.
How Dare You Tell Me What I Believe?
I’m not telling you what you believe. I’m accepting your belief for the sake of argument. That is, if you are an atheist that believes you simply “lack a belief” that God exists, I’m accepting that as a premise. What I’m saying is: something more is happening than simply lacking a belief. You’re holding to a particular metaphysical view in which God does not exist. And if you’re holding the view then it needs some kind of support with good reasoning, just like the theist needs the same with his particular metaphysical view. It seems to me that this “lack of belief” notion stands on the shoulders of another notion, the presumption of atheism, which suggests that we should all begin as atheists until we see evidence to the contrary.
But the presumption of atheism is mistaken because atheists are looking at the same evidence that Christians are (i.e. the universe and its particular features) and proposing an alternative explanation for that evidence (i.e. materialism). In other words, many atheists assume there is no evidence for God when there actually is…
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