The religious bad-argument-purveyors are out in force. Lloyd Eby at World Peace Herald for instance. He says an earlier article of his got a lot of ‘responses and comments from atheists who claim that this article misrepresents what atheism is and what atheists actually believe.’ Now there’s a surprise – religious people generally do such a good job of representing what atheism is and what atheists actually believe. No strawmen there! Hardly ever.
So Eby answers the answers.
If we accept the usual or most prevalent definition of religion, a definition in which religion is explicitly tied to belief in and/or service of a supernatural god or supreme being, then atheism could not be a religion because active atheism can be defined or described as the positive rejection of the existence of any supernatural god or supreme being. Atheism is the active belief that there is no god. As one atheist put it, “Atheism is the rejection of supernatural belief. As an atheist, I do not believe in the reality of any supernatural being, and as a result of this, reject religion.”
Well there’s a bad start. That’s his first paragraph, apart from the exposition, and already he’s done exactly what he’s accused of doing. Furthermore he’s done it in the space of one sentence, in full view of the readers, and apparently without awareness that he’s done it. That’s what I call sloppy. Behold the translation – the atheist he quotes says ‘I do not believe in the reality of any supernatural being’ but Eby cites that as illustration of his version, ‘Atheism is the active belief that there is no god’ – and he apparently doesn’t see (or else he’s being tricksy) that the two are different – that he’s translated. Theists are always doing this! It’s highly irritating, and it’s dirty pool. Not believing something is not identical to believing that something not. Some atheists of course do ‘actively’ believe there is no god, but a great many don’t. A great many atheists are just, what the word implies, not theists. That’s all. Theists don’t get to redefine the word to make their case – except they do, because they do it all the time, and get away with it.
Oddly, farther down in the article, he makes that very distinction himself, and then says that the mere non-theists are not the atheists he’s talking about. Well that’s fair enough, but then he should have worded the opening gambit differently. More people will read the first two paragraphs than read the whole article (few people, I would guess, read a middle paragraph and nothing else, but lots read beginnings and nothing else).
I do indeed hold that theism and atheism are both religious. The atheist who thinks otherwise is mistaken because he is using a tendentious or incorrect definition of religion, a definition that attempts to privilege atheism and give it a logical, legal, and evidential status over the usual notions of religion. But that is unwarranted. The theist cannot prove that his belief is true; his belief is metaphysical and a statement of faith that goes beyond the observable evidence for it. And the atheist cannot prove that his view is true either; his belief is also metaphysical and a statement of unbelief that goes beyond the observable evidence for it.
Wait – stop right there. More dirty pool. How did ‘prove’ get in there? More tricksiness? This guy is a philosopher! He knows beliefs can be warranted without being provable. So he’s playing games. It’s a very familiar game, to pretend there is nothing between proof and belief in the sense of faith. Of course atheists can’t prove that atheism is true, but there is plenty of evidence that makes a deity seem pretty improbable. It’s reasonable to point out that there are some metaphysical beliefs or assumptions underlying the belief that evidence is evidential – that the world is orderly, and so on – but that’s not the same thing as the claim that atheism and theism are on exactly equal footing with regard to logical and evidential status.