About a week ago, I got an email from a man named Craig. He's a lutheran going to seminary for a masters of divinity. He asked me if I would like to open a dialogue with him about religion. After getting his permission to publish our conversations, I agreed. I'm not good at debating or arguing, but I am always open to learning new things and maybe sharing what I know as well. So here we go. Conversations with Craig the Christian, number 1.
One of our first points of discussion was what exactly is atheism? Craig admitted some probable bias in his definition which he didn't give. He gave me Dictionary.com's definition instead, which surprised me:
1. the doctrine or belief that there is no god.
2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.
If you notice that definition says that atheism is a belief or doctrine. See below for an atheist's (that would be me!) definition.
So what is religion? Well, that one was more accurate:
1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
And one more. We need to know what a belief is. This one is really important:
1. something believed; an opinion or conviction
2. confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof
3. confidence; faith; trust
4. a religious tenet or tenets; religious creed or faith
So after these definitions, Craig said:
"Both Atheism and Christianity imply a belief system. Science and Math don't have that. For the most part, education relies on the imparting of facts.
I've been an atheist for 9 years and one thing I'm crystal clear on. Atheism is NOT a belief or a doctrine that there is no god. Luckily Wikipedia does much better:
Atheism is the philosophical position that deities do not exist, or that rejects theism. In the broadest sense, it is the absence of belief in the existence of deities.
Exactly. Now, there are many types of atheists of all stripes and colors. We all come to atheism in our own way. I want to make it clear that there is NO set doctrine, NO belief system, NO book to follow, NO guru, NO ideology, NO set rules. This is my personal view, as an atheist. It comes down to this:
There are no gods.
That's it. Plain and simple. Nothing fancy. We just accept that gods don't exist. How do we get to this? Well, science, evidence, reason and logic. There is zero evidence for gods or the supernatural of any sort. Therefore as far as we know, gods don't exist.
I do want to be clear though. There are people who have made atheism a doctrine, with Dawkins or another of the Four Horsemen their guru. For them perhaps it's just cool to be "rebellious" against god and society. I have no idea. I just wanted to say I know there are people out there who fall into that group. My personal experience though is very simple, as is my husband's, as well as the other atheists I call my friends. There are no gods.
Now, if you want to really get nitpicky, go to Wikipedia and you'll find in the right column all the different types of atheist there are. Feel free to comment below about what atheism means for you. I can only speak for myself.
So, I had to disagree with Craig. Atheism has no belief system, same as science and math. If you read the definition for a belief system, it's the opposite to what an atheist comes to understand. A belief is an opinion without proof. It's faith. It is the antithesis of logic and evidence.
Gravity exists. There is ample evidence and proof of it. Right? It's an accepted reality. You could say you believe in gravity, in the sense that you trust in its existence. But by the definition given for a belief, you really can't call it that because there is a preponderance of evidence and proof saying that gravity exists. What is the term for this, something that means that you are accepting the facts of reality, the science done by other people.
I think we can agree that the Easter Bunny doesn't exist and never has. Would you call that a belief? Do you need to believe the Easter Bunny doesn't exist? There is zero evidence of a giant white rabbit that delivers eggs to people in April. In some vague way you could say your lack of acceptance of the reality of the Easter Bunny is a belief, because you are accepting that fact as truth without thoroughly testing it for yourself. But if you look at it another way, beliefs are in things or ideas that you accept as true without positive knowledge or proof.
So in that sense, sure, we all believe that the Earth is round even though we can't prove it individually. We accept the preponderance of evidence from others. So if there's evidence, then it's not a belief anymore.
Do you believe that leprechauns don't exist? Is that a belief? From what I'm reading about beliefs, they are about accepting a positive of something, not the absence of something. Then again, if you go down the whole page about beliefs, the definition can get pretty darn vague, encompassing huge concepts, where you'd then have to say, sure just about anything you think is some kind of belief (that's a bit of an exaggeration, not a definite point I would hang my hat on).
The opposite of belief is disbelief.
Disbelief: the inability or refusal to believe or to accept something as true.
This is also not what atheism is because we don't refuse to accept a truth as true. We look for evidence of gods and find none. Big difference.
Unbelief: the state or quality of not believing; incredulity or skepticism, esp. in matters of doctrine or religious faith. Also: Lack of belief or faith, especially in religious matters.
Here. That's what I'm getting at. We are Unbelievers. We simply LACK belief in gods. It's the opposite of being religious. So I disagree that atheism and christianity have anything in common. We have zero belief system, no creed, no ideology, no bible or holy book, no prayers or worship of a god, zero faith, no devotion to a god, there are no superhuman agencies of any sort, and we follow no rituals.
Atheism is simply looking at all the evidence from history and all the evidence from what we know so far about science and finding nothing that even hints at anything like a god. It just doesn't exist.
In my opinion, being an atheist requires much thought, contemplation and study. While I have met people who say they've always been atheist, I think for most atheists, it's a process of shedding dogma and indoctrination and embracing critical thinking, scientific evidence, reason and logic to some degree.
Craig also said:
I also wonder, at what point would Science become a "religion"?
I've heard other christians say the same thing. I think if you read over all the definitions, it could never be a religion. They are mutually exclusive.
a. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.
b. Such activities restricted to a class of natural phenomena.
c. Such activities applied to an object of inquiry or study.
Nowhere in the definition of science will you find dogma, belief without proof, praying, devotion to a superhuman entity, ritual, etc. So where would you get the idea that science could ever be a religion? That baffles me. Again, they are mutually exclusive.
Words are so important. They let us communicate and share information, ideas, knowledge, thoughts and feelings. So if we have different interpretations for words, we can never understand each other. That's why I take the time to define so many words for you. I hope you muddled through all of that somehow. :P
So, it all comes down to zero evidence of gods. Are you an atheist? What does atheism mean for you? How did you shed religion? If you would like to share your story and it's lengthy, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can make it into a post instead of getting lost in the comments. I think it's helpful to tell others how we got where we are, because they might be struggling or questioning the same things we had trouble with. So feel free to comment or email with your thoughts and stories.
Thanks, Craig. So far I'm enjoying this dialogue. :)