President, Libres penseurs athées – Atheist Freethinkers
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
This talk was presented at the event Atheist Days 2017 (Dni Ateizmu 2017) held in Warsaw, Poland, and organized by the Kazimierz Lyszczynski Foundation
What atheism is NOT
- Atheism is not a belief.
- Atheism is not a religion.
- Atheism does not require “faith.”
If atheism is a religion then:
- Bald is a hair colour.
- Not playing hockey is a winter sport.
- Not collecting stamps is a hobby.
- Not writing horoscopes is a form of astrology.
- etc., etc., etc., …
What atheism is
Atheism is a non-belief, that is, the absence of belief in god(s). It is the refusal to believe or accredit theism, which comes in many varieties: polytheism, monotheism, Abrahamic monotheism,etc. By the way, Christianity is one of the three Abrahamic religions, which in historical order are Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and is thus a monotheism. But is it really a monotheism? Indeed, trinitarian Christianity, which is more widespread than other variants of Christianity, is arguably a tritheism because it has three divinities: the father, the son and the “Holy Ghost.” Christian arithmetic is bizarre.
Anyway, atheism is the inevitable result of examining and questioning theism – that is, the result of applying systematic doubt to theism. The denial of the existence of god(s) is the consequence of this process of systematic doubt, not the starting point. When faced with the “god” hypothesis, we find it both lacking in evidence and self-contradictory, so we therefore reject that hypothesis. So-called “agnosticism” is not an alternative to atheism. Rather agnosticism is precisely that technique of doubt which, when applied to theism, leads inexorably to atheism (as explained by David Eller).
Rejection of the Supernatural
The gods of the various monotheisms are the most important and most egregious examples of supernatural beliefs. There are many other supernatural beliefs: devils, demons, angels, ghosts, afterlife, reincarnation, etc. To be consistent, an atheist will reject all supernatural beliefs, as all are unsubstantiated.
“…the so-called supernatural is a non-sensical concept, because if a ‘supernatural’ phenomenon were in fact observed, it would thus be natural, i.e. part of the natural world and subject to scientific inquiry.”
Atheism is Negative
The essentially negative nature of atheism is not a weakness. Rather it is a strength. Although atheism is essentially negative, its implications are profound and very positive. Having rejected unsubstantiated supernatural beliefs, the atheist:
- is intellectually free of supernaturalism;
- can concentrate on real-world concerns;
- can base his or her personal morality on their humanity, consistent with scientific knowledge.
Nevertheless there remains an infinite number of other ways of being wrong. But at least the atheist has eliminated a major source of error.
Theistic Morality: Euthyphro
Theistic morality is based on Divine Command Theory, the idea that moral acts are those which “God” commands. But this theory has a fatal flaw. In Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro, Socrates asks:
- Is the good good because the gods command it, or
- is it good in and of itself ?
(1) implies that morality is arbitrary, capricious (e.g.: kill your son, as Jehovah commanded Abraham) (2) implies that morality precedes divine command, so god’s commands are irrelevant. Thus, theistic morality is either pernicious or unnecessary.
Theistic Morality: The Will of “God”
To base morality on the will of “God” requires three huge steps, each one insurmountable:
- Show that “God” exists…
- Show that “God” has a will…
- Show that we can obtain knowledge of that will…
However there is no evidence to support (1). The only argument for the existence of “God” which had any semblance of plausibility was the design argument: that is, the argument that we need a designer to explain complexity. However that was challenged even before Darwin and is now utterly discredited. We now know that evolution explains the complexity of biological diversity. No designer is required.
Secondly, the very idea of a perfect (omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, eternal) “God” having any desires, and wants, any will, is a contradiction. The world created by such a “God” would already be in perfect conformity with his/her/its commands, so there would be nothing to change, no will to be obeyed. Thus (2) is apparently impossible.
Finally, even if we assume that “God” exists and has a will, then we have no reliable way of knowing what that will is. Where is the line of communication, the source of information? Thus (3) is a serious impediment.
We therefore conclude that the will of “God” cannot be the basis of morality.
See the following articles:
Atheism & Secularism
Atheism and secularism are of course not synonyms, but they are nevertheless closely related. They are not completely unrelated as some people – including many secular activists – would have you believe. They have one major common feature: They are both based on non-recognition of divine authority.
Real-world, human considerations, independent of any supernatural criteria, are the basis of both:
- the atheist’s personal morality and
- the secular state’s legislation and institutions.
Atheophobia is the old, widespread prejudice which associates atheism with moral degradation. Plato codified atheophobia in his Tenth Book of the Dialogue on Laws or Against the Atheists. He advocates draconian measures against atheists, the impious and several other categories of individual (magicians, sorcerers) which he tends to lump together with atheists. According to the historian Georges Minois (Histoire de l’athéisme, Fayard, 1998), Plato thus invented religious intolerance, the inquisition and concentration camps.
Secularists must denounce atheophobia because:
- It is baseless.
- It infantilizes religious believers.
- It reduces morality to parental or police enforcement.
- It threatens freedom of conscience.
- In particular, the enemies of secularism promote atheophobia out of self-interest.
That last point explains why it is so important not to claim that secularism has nothing to do with atheism. We must recognize their commonality – i.e. their common rejection of divine authority – so that we can effectively refute the atheophobic claim that secularism is bad because religion is necessary for morality or for governance.
The neologism théonormatisme was invented by Quebec philosopher François Doyon to indicate:
- The attitude which considers belief in “God” or in transcendence to be the norm.
- The marginalization and denigration of atheism by considering it a form of religion, thus denying the sincerity of atheists.
Theonormatism is based on the prejudice that humans cannot live without religious beliefs. It is closely related to atheophobia. Indeed, I would say that the two attitudes are simply two perspectives on, two approaches to, the same dirty old prejudice.
- “The Will of ‘God’”, David Rand
- “The Will of ‘God’ Revisited”, David Rand
- “The Will of God: Pure Fiction”, David Rand
- “The Relationship Between Atheism and Secularism”, David Rand
- “Atheophobia, An Ancient Prejudice, and Yet So Prevalent Today”, David Rand
- “Pour en finir avec le théonormatisme”, François Doyon
- Dialogue of Euthyphro, Plato
- Tenth Book of the Dialogue on Laws or Against the Atheists, Plato
- Les Philosophes québécois et leur défense des religions, François Doyon
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