Atheists don't need faith

(465 Posts)
EdithSimcox Wed 25-May-16 17:00:47

Atheists don't need faith

Lots of interesting things here including:
- nearly half of us are non-religious but less than a fifth are atheist...
- atheists need "simply more than can be proved by logic and science"

Any thoughts? A view I've often seen expressed on MN is that logic and science are the end of the subject.

contortionist Wed 25-May-16 19:15:59

I think it's a good article.

Religions typically provide both origin stories and rules for living.

Logic and science are the best way to find out how we got here. But not that much help to figure out how we should live.

VoyageOfDad Wed 25-May-16 19:22:52

I think it's probably the rejection of the main established religion but a retention of spiritual yearning.

It's become acceptable now to reject these establishments without any social backlash.

The Gnostics always taught that God was simply unexplainable, it was / is a unique experience to you so don't even attempt to explain to others.

Dozer Wed 25-May-16 19:28:44

I think there IS social "backlash" for atheists, eg I strongly dislike my DC not being eligible for admission to some local schools because I won't attend church, or religion being taught as fact to my small DC in a (non church) school. but don't see the point in challenging it directly because they will not change things and my DC would, by withdrawing from assemblies, RE etc, be singled out.

VikingVolva Wed 25-May-16 19:39:10

Atheism is however a matter of faith, because it holds that there is no god of gods. And you might need to specify further, depending on the context, what type of atheistic belief pattern you adhere to.

And if yo want atheist schools, then I suggest you need to found a movement (perhaps using the free school policy) and found schools in sufficient numbers that the State has to take on the running of them, you could then insist that atheists are admitted ahead of theists. Which of course still leaves out people of no faith.

DoctorTwo Wed 25-May-16 20:46:35

Atheism is however a matter of faith, because it holds that there is no god of gods.

Not so. Atheism is not a belief system. It is a lack of belief system. Atheists do not believe in any of the gods. Why would we? They don't exist.

FuckeryOmbudsman Wed 25-May-16 20:54:09

Agnosticism is lack of belief system of any time (or equal scepticism towards all, for neither absence nor presence can be proved.

Atheism is a belief there are no gods of any sort. Still a belief in how things are ordered, and that all others are wrong.

The conflation of these two distinct concepts is pretty recent in dissemination and fortunately is being corrected more often (though those of particular faith, whether it's one which incorporates gods or not, tend to dislike having it pointed out that they could be just as wrong as any of the other lot).

contortionist Wed 25-May-16 21:49:31

I would describe agnosticism as the belief that the question of existence of gods is an interesting an important one to which there is no clear answer. That used to be a respectable philosophical position, but I think nowadays is generally regarded as spineless fence-sitting.

An atheist takes the view that there is no evidence for the existence of any gods, that the 'god hypothesis' has no explanatory power, and that it makes sense to live as if there aren't any gods, and as if all religions are purely human constructs, with a combination of false factual claims and potentially useful spiritual and moral insights.

There may also be 'strong atheists' who take the view that there is no possibility whatsoever of the existence of any gods, but in my experience this is a minority view. Most atheists I know would ascribe a very small but non-zero probability of the existence of any given god, and could come up with some evidence which would convince them of its existence.

defunctedusername Wed 25-May-16 21:53:26

Its a lazy piece of journalism.

It doesn't address that lots of atheists dont define as such because of the historically negative connotations. It doesn't address that 'faith' is often confused with morality. It doesn't address the difference between religious Christianity and cultural Christianity. It talks about atheism being some peoples core belief and morale compass, what crap.

To claim non-believers have faith about the meaning of life...without religion, we live in a world that is devoid of all purpose, again what crap.

I have often heard it said "I am Christian", when what they mean is a cultural christian and atheist. That's christian privilege, not even touched upon in the article.

Dozer Wed 25-May-16 22:21:53

Evidenced-based beliefs are not faith.

niminypiminy Wed 25-May-16 22:51:05

I agree with contortionist that it's a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, I think he is right to say that atheists don't have a faith in the sense that they believe in something that can't be proved - that is, the non-existence of God. On the other hand, that whole squabble about who can prove what depends on a conception of God that is simply not what Christians actually believe in. As Rupert Shortt has argued, in his book God is No Thing, to see God as an entity within the cosmos whose existence could be found to be somehow separate from the cosmos is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of God. For Christians, God is outside the cosmos, outside space and time, and the cosmos and space and time are God's creations. He is the uncreated creator, the first cause - the thing that causes everything there is to be - who is himself/herself not caused by anything. To prove the existence of God using the methods of empirical investigation - which is what you would use to look for the evidence of the existence of an entity within the cosmos - is not only fruitless, it's the wrong kind of search. It's like using a microscope to look at a giant, or trying to dissect a poem in the large hadron collider. Sensible though he is in some ways, Baggini seems to me to be stuck in this wrong conception of God - the conception that underlies Bertrand Russell's stupid flying teapot analogy.

So that's one thing. The second thing is that while imputing unprovable metaphysical beliefs to theists he seems unaware of (or perhaps unwilling to admit to) the metaphysical aspect of his own position. To say that there is no purpose to the world, that the universe is indifferent, that life has no inherent value is to make metaphysical claims - that is, claims that cannot in the end be proved by empirical means. This is one of the things that theists often mean when they say that atheism is a faith position: that the underpinning ideas which bolster atheists' convictions are essentially metaphysical not empirical. To say that there is nothing beyond the material is to make a claim about the nature of reality that cannot be proven, and to make some assumptions about what 'being' or 'existence' or 'causation' is that go beyond the reach of science.

Thus, as he says in his last paragraph, atheists need recourse to things that are beyond the reach of science. He finds this in the 'beauty and joy of life', which is essentially a form of pantheism; and in 'the empathy that makes us see value in the lives of others', which is a central tenet of modern humanism. And that is all very well, except it has nothing to say about suffering - what happens when there is no joy or beauty in life? - or about evil - what do we say, then, about our capacity to reduce others to objects for the satisfaction of our cruel impulses? You may well consider the Christian response to evil and suffering to be inadequate or obnoxious (I would disagree, but that's another conversation) but at least Christianity has one, which pantheism and humanism manifestly do not. When he says that 'the beauty and joy of life' and 'empathy with others' are not matters of faith, I part company with him. It's not that I don't think there is a lot of beauty and joy in life, or that empathy exists - but to see them as the 'ground of ethics' seems to me to be a statement of faith which forms a kind of atheist dogma, one that can only be maintained by ignoring large parts of reality.

On the other hand, I think he is trying to get beyond the crude scientism of some well known atheist crusaders and that appears so often on MN. That can only be a good thing.

EdithSimcox Wed 25-May-16 23:19:08

I suppose what I don't get is this. If atheists do need something beyond the scientific - which I know many would dispute - but that's his case, then where does he think beauty, joy and empathy come from? In the absence of God mustn't they be caused by some scientific process? Or am I just being thick?

nooka Wed 25-May-16 23:25:47

Thinking that the world is a (generally) beautiful place has nothing to do with faith, it's an observation. It also has nothing to do with pantheism, I'm not ascribing divinity to the world when I observe that the sunset is beautiful tonight. I'm just appreciating the beautiful sunset.

I'm an ex-Catholic atheist, I have no faith or belief in god or gods, and I'd like the world to be generally arranged on a secular basis, with space for everyone to believe whatever they like without it infringing on me or causing harm to others.

I find the desire for some religious people ascribe belief to non believers very strange. I have some very religious family members. Their faith is at the centre of their lives. It affects everything they say and do. It's incredibly important to them.

My lack of faith is of very little importance to me, it has no day to day impact, I don't think about my lack of belief when I make decisions, I don't attend gatherings to proclaim my lack of faith, there are no ceremonies, no initiative, no creed or shared stories and no community. It's just not comparable in any way to believing in something.

PlymouthMaid1 Wed 25-May-16 23:30:48

Why do beauty, joy and empathy need to come from anywhere. They are just constructs in the brain of humans and probably other creatures just as selfishness, sadism or ugliness are. I am probably thick too but your question made me wonder. I write from the perspective of a lifelong atheist.

niminypiminy Wed 25-May-16 23:31:32

No, you're right Edith. Beauty, joy and empathy have to be simply essential qualities of reality - 'the literal ground on which we live' as he puts it. They are because they are. That's a form of pantheism - a theistic position masquerading as a non-theistic one. A classic example of this, which I have seen posted several times on MN as well as elsewhere is "you want a physicist to speak at your funeral", which is an excellent example of contemporary pantheism.

Theydontknowweknowtheyknow Wed 25-May-16 23:38:36

"I find the desire for some religious people ascribe belief to non believers very strange"

Me too. I think it's because if they put atheism on a par with religious faith it will be of equal value.

But to be believe in something that one cannot feel, see or prove requires a leap of faith. To not believe in something that one cannot feel, see or prove is just common sense.

niminypiminy Wed 25-May-16 23:51:52

If you accept that abstract qualities such as beauty and empathy are fundamental aspects of reality then you have no grounds to argue that God doesn't exist.

VoyageOfDad Thu 26-May-16 06:55:15

I just accept there is beauty in the world. It doesn't drive me to a belief in God/s.

No but to talk about beauty requires you to go beyond the naturalistic, all there is is what you can touch and test, world view of some atheists.

niminypiminy Thu 26-May-16 08:43:35

Pantheism = nature worship.

As greenheart says, beauty is not something that you can empirically test for - it's an abstract quality, and usually carries with it ideas about order, meaning, truth, goodness and purpose that are unverifiable beliefs.

If you really believe the world is without meaning or purpose then it would be hard also to argue that it is fundamentally beautiful.

ApricotSorbet99 Thu 26-May-16 12:23:00

For Christians, God is outside the Cosmos...... etc

I do love this. Define "god" in such a way that it's existence is entirely unfalsifiable & unprovable then pretend that this answers a question!

If God is outside the Cosmos, how do you know it exists? Was it outside the Cosmos when it decided to incarnate as it's own son so we could kill it? Is it outside the Cosmos when it listens to prayers and responds when it feels like it?

The God of Christianity somehow involves itself with the universe and us enough to convince believers that it's really there....and then is outside of it when anyone tries to verify it's existence! How very convenient.

And you most certainly do not need to believe in any god to explain beauty, love and all that stuff. Since these things are clearly subjective how on earth can you claim that they are explained by a single source that exists outside of our own brains?

Atheists ask questions and don't just buy into nonsensical sidesteps like "God exists outside the Cosmos". That's not an answer, it's a fudge. And for taking this rational approach - the exact same approach every Christian takes when asked to evaluate the existence of anything other than their version of "God" - we are subtly made to feel like we "just don't get it".

We get it. We just don't accept it. And our reasons for this are considerably more sensible and rational than any "explanation" offered by theists.

ApricotSorbet99 Thu 26-May-16 12:28:14

Who says the world is fundamentally beautiful? It's not. It's a place of death, decay and violence largely....something that doesn't really fit with your "God is beauty & love" philosophy. Any God responsible for creating life in the way that it apparently has is psychopathic and monstrous. Not something I could ever worship.

And what an odd leap.....beauty can only exist if there's a purpose or meaning to it!

Scaredycat3000 Thu 26-May-16 12:48:19

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

Scaredycat3000 Thu 26-May-16 12:57:09

God seems to move further and further away as we can travel further and further. Michaelangelo had him in the clouds, now he's out of the cosmos! Anyone would think things were being made up/re-interpreted as they go along.

SpinnakerInTheEther Thu 26-May-16 13:21:24

Scaredy God is not necessarily very far away at all. God exists within the people that believe in Him. He is part of them, their thought processes and ultimately physically, in their physiology, as patterns in thought processes have the capacity to alter the ever developing brain.

Scaredy, Apricot so are you saying you have faith in nothing? What about this statement,

We get it. We just don't accept it. And our reasons for this are considerably more sensible and rational than any "explanation" offered by theists.

To me, this suggestion is suggestive of a certain amount of faith, it assumes that 1) atheists reasons for being atheist are so similar theycan be grouped into one homogenous group 2) reasons for being an atheist are more rational and sensible than reasons for being a theist.

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