In September of 2006, Baylor University published a survey on religious beliefs, entitled American Piety in the 21st Century: New Insights to the Depth and Complexity of Religion in the US. It is an interesting read and I encourage you to follow the link and “thumb” through it. However, I feel compelled to address the University’s fallacious definition, as presented in the survey, of atheists, for in this they have erred (perhaps intentionally). According to the survey, “Atheists are certain that God or gods do not exist” [emphasis mine]. Certain, you say? As I have already addressed the topic of atheism at length in chapter one of my book, Why I Reject the Faith of My Father, I shall respond below with several short excerpts from said chapter.
Atheism is the absence of a belief in god(s). That’s it! Show’s over! Nothing more to see here! And yet there are so many who would seek to set atheism up as akin to a faith-based viewpoint. I’m sorry, but that just won’t wash. It takes faith to believe in something without evidence, in fact, this is the very definition of the word. Without evidence, there is simply no logically sound reason to believe that extraordinary claims are true. Surely this concept is not so very difficult to comprehend as some make it out to be.
Atheism is not a “phase” brought on by the rebelliousness of an angered individual against the authority of his parents, or religious upbringing; it is not an arrogant, science-based conspiracy rooted in an egotistical conception of intellectual superiority; and it is most certainly not an excuse for a non-believer to commit a crime sans the guilt or to trip the life immoral. To say that you are an atheist does not even begin to imply that you have made, or are making, the claim that no god exists. Atheism is naught but an honest answer to a rather specific question – Do you believe in a god? – by an individual who has come to discover that there is simply not enough evidence to merit the fostering of a belief in a deity. A non-believer cannot entirely disprove the notion of a god, as it is impossible to prove a negative, but the onus to produce evidence burdens not the skeptic; the onus to produce evidence, and this is something the faithful quite often forget, or, rather, ignore, must fall to the believer (i.e. the claimant).
It is impossible to prove that a god – Yahweh, Thor, Zeus, etc. – does not exist, just as it is impossible to prove that fairies, and spaghetti monsters, and an invisible, intangible, and inaudible clan of unicorns, do not exist. These examples should strike the reader as obvious inventions of the human mind, yet each is hardly disprovable in its turn, at least to any degree of certainty, and especially when the defining attributes are kept vague or are frequently altered. It is, perhaps, the greatest con to ever have been perpetrated upon a thinking person, that he should be shamed into silence for calling the ludicrous into question, or shut up by social pressures from asking that detailed explanations be given, let alone tested.
And not only have believers burdened themselves with the unnecessary weight of having to prove the existence of their god(s), but they would that we share with them in this self-abuse. Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve never been the sort to tenaciously, or rather, faithfully, defend a falsehood: that being the highly improper assertion that we can know, with absolute certainty, that which is unknowable. By this line of reasoning one could profess their belief in a herd of invisible pink elephants to exist just beneath the swirling clouds of Jupiter as uncontestable due entirely to the fact that we have yet to find any evidence to the contrary, nor shall we. However, though we cannot rule out the existence of an invisible herd of pink elephants with one hundred percent certainty, its members are so unlikely to exist that we really ought not waste what little time we have in concerning ourselves with them.
Atheism is no more than the realization that our imaginary friends from childhood never actually existed, and that a world devoid of magical happenings truly is the one in which we live. As Richard Dawkins reminds us in The God Delusion, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” I am quite certain that you know precisely what it means to not believe in the god of another, and, in this way, I would argue that you must also know what it is to be an atheist.
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