Thursday, July 03, 2008

Atheists who believe in God? Uh, hold on a second....

I found this at the Washington Post “On Faith” website.

According to a new Pew survey, 21% of American atheists believe in God or a universal spirit, 12% believe in heaven and 10% pray at least once a week. What do you make of this?

What do I make of it? I have not one flippin’ clue.

This is from Wiki:

Atheism, as an explicit position, can be either the affirmation of the nonexistence of gods,[1] or the rejection of theism.[2] It is also[3] defined more broadly as synonymous with any form of nontheism, including the simple absence of belief in deities.[4][5][6][7] Although atheism is often equated with irreligion, some religions, such as Jainism and Theravada Buddhism, do not require belief in a personal god.

Many self-described atheists are skeptical of all supernatural beings and cite a lack of empirical evidence for the existence of deities. Others argue for atheism on philosophical, social or historical grounds. Although many self-described atheists tend toward secular philosophies such as humanism[8] and naturalism,[9] there is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which all atheists adhere.[10]

The term atheism originated as a pejorative epithet applied to any person or belief in conflict with established religion.[11] With the spread of freethought, scientific skepticism, and criticism of religion, the term began to gather a more specific meaning and has been increasingly used as a self-description by atheists.

Yes… I suppose I agree with most of that. So, when you tell me that “21% of American atheists believe in God or a universal spirit”, my first question is this. What the heck definition are you using for atheism? Your labels seem to be, pardon the expression, rather whacked out. This is doublespeak, an oxymoron to the first degree. The definition of atheism, by my way of understanding (which is not diminished by the Wiki definition above), is someone who doesn’t believe in the existence of God. So, to then turn that around and assert, “21% of the people that don’t believe in God really believe in God”, that makes no sense to me.

I, personally, do not believe in God. But this particular argument does not seem to have much to do with religion or spiritual matters. It seems to me to be screwing around with the English language in order to convince someone of something, I don’t know exactly who or what. This kind of argument seems to me to have as much credibility as if someone were to advance this something like this. If a bunch of automotive parts have been assembled in a way to make that assemblage into something that can be identified as “a Honda Civic”, then calling it “a Ford” is more than just a little nonsensical. “21% of all Honda Civics are really Fords”. It makes no logical sense.

Look at the question this way. Turn it around. If you saw a headline that said “21% of devout Catholics do not believe in God”, and you saw that headline on a website that was dedicated to skeptical opinions regarding organized religion, what reaction would you have?

On the same web page (for July 3, 2008, I don’t know if these are archived), there was also a post from someone asserting the he had “never met an atheist”. Well, again, my first thought is, you may not have been trying very hard. How many people have you actually talked to about this? Did you go out of your way to find any, and not just ask your religious friends? What criteria are you using to define “atheist”? Another blog post title is “Atheists have the will to believe.” To me, that is just a very bizarre thing to say. Sure, I suppose that’s true. And fundamentalist Christians have the will to become disbelievers. I guess we can now argue about what the word “will” means. “Free will”, as in, someone has the ability to actually make a decision for himself or herself? That’s what I would say. So, yes, each person has the mental capacity to make a decision about this for himself or herself. We are not programmed robots who have no say in what we think or say. We do have the conscious ability to make decisions for ourselves. If that was the point of this, then it seems to be a rather trivial point. I am thinking, however, that was not the purpose of this post.

There seems to be quite an inordinate amount of effort expended here on this WaPo website about “what atheists believe”. Why is that so important to believers? Why does what we think matter to them at all? They believe what they believe; they know they are Right, with a capital “R”. So, why does it concern them at all what non-believers think?

Personally, I can’t help believe this is some sort of internal pep talk meant to reassure themselves. “Oh, even atheists REALLY believe in God when you push them. We are right, they are wrong, and even they admit it.” It’s more of the “there are no atheists in foxholes” kind of pap. Who is it that you are really trying to convince with this argument? What really is the point being made here?

(As an aside, I wonder if 21% of NON-American atheists believe in God, or is that just us here in the U.S. of A.)

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