Atheism as a religion
Having been an Atheist for some 25 years (from 15 to 38) I knew what I knew I didn’t know. But as I have retired and had free time, I wanted to understand the essence of atheism and, as an intellectual exercise, to be able to think again like an Atheist. Supplemented by my love of science, and my 30 years of being a computer software designer, the following analysis is the result of this interesting thought experiment.
With any debated issue, it is critical to define the key terms, so we should check the definition of religion. The following definitions are found in the eleventh edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary:
1b(1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural
If this were the only definition of religion, then I would tend to agree with Atheists on this matter. As we will see, some have argued that some Atheists view themselves as gods, that they worship their own ideas (no matter how wild and that is certainly shown by their comments on Facebook postings), but even this would not qualify as religion under the above definition.
However, look at the final definition provided by Merriam-Webster’s: 4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
This is from www.atheism.about.com -a well designed web site with some very interesting articles. Does Atheism have anything approaching “clearly defined rules or beliefs?” Not in the least-they say. There is only one “rule,” and that is the rule of the definition of “atheism”[i] – not having any belief in any gods. Other than that, a person can do and believe absolutely anything beyond gods and still fit the definition.
Science is another factor to come about in this discussion. A general concept is that “science” is the process of determining the behavior of matter (the universe) using observation, testing (controlled observation), and reason, with reason defined as the ability to observe, comprehend and accept self-evident truth.
[Reason is] “the discovery of the certainty or probability of such propositions or truths, which the mind arrives at by deduction made from such ideas, as it has got by the use of its natural faculties…” John Locke[ii]
Faith is any belief based on that, which is unobservable and un-testable. That is to say any belief beyond the discovery of observation. Which basically says any belief that is undiscoverable by science. Of course, that leads us to any belief beyond the discovery of reason.
We know from the law of conservation of energy that without outside force neither mass nor energy can create its self, nor can mass or energy be destroyed; the sum of mass and energy is always constant in any closed system including an un-created universe. Mass can be converted into energy, and visa-versa, so mass and energy are limited to interchangeability (E = MC2), but according to the law of conservation of energy, outside of supernatural power, only nothing can come from nothing.
In the absence of a supernatural power, the sum of all mass and energy in the universe must be constant at all times. Thus, in the absence of a Creator God, to be in compliance with the law of conservation of energy, the universe must have always existed. It has to have extended eternally into the past, and extended eternally into the future. No person was or could have been present to observe the beginning of a universe with no beginning, so a true atheist must take this belief on faith, because faith is any belief beyond the discovery of observation. True atheism is a belief based on faith just as religion is a belief based on faith.
Being rational individuals, we can all assume that logically the above discussion has no faults. All, who have a practical mind and can reason, except for the Atheist themselves, know it. Given that, an Atheist states emphatically the only thing they believe in is the complete lack of any god’s that would rule out their conception of all other aspects of live. One would not be able to engage in a lively, informative statement with others if you have no beliefs in anything, other than a confirmed belief in a lack of any god’s (which based upon the lengthy and redundant postings I have read on their Facebook pages might suffice). So let us assume (and we must due this carefully, that an Atheist might have some beliefs based upon something!
There is an inordinate amount of denial from the Atheists movement on the concept of belief in a “god” and rightly, so, it would run counter to what they are trying to prove so desperately to everyone who will listen to them. I do not want to deal with such illogical statements as “Atheism is a religion in exactly the same way that not riding horses is a hobby.” We should be above that nonsense. We need to take off the horse blinders.
A religion does not have to posit a “god” to worship or deify (Buddhism for one). Materialism (the view that the material world is all there is) is the lens through which atheists view the world. That is the belief that EVERYTHING, can be explained as the product of unintentional, undirected, purposeless evolution. (Evolution is a trigger-point for many Atheists, be careful how you use it). Denying what they believe, and holding it as a truth, may be an easier pill for them to swallow but they are only attempting to deceive themselves. Not believing something you have no evidence for in the first place is NOT faith.
Everybody has a worldview, many of his or hers completely different from anybody else’s. The orthodoxy of evolution appears to be the underlying belief of Atheists. “Evolution has no explanation for why our universe is orderly, predictable, and measurable.” Believing otherwise, that there is verifiable truth becomes the Atheistic orthodoxy. It may not have to be an unwavering belief in all aspects of evolution, but it is the foundation (with variations) that they react to their world with. No truth claim is acceptable if it cannot be subjected to scientific scrutiny and most of the evolutionary theory is not verifiable, it supposedly happened millions of years in the past.
Instead of worshiping the Creator who made everyone, Atheists have essentially chosen to worship the creature. An Atheist worships (holds as the most important, respects the most, gives highest priority to, or treats as the highest authority and the source of meaning and morality) himself, or money, or sex, or a movie star, or an athlete, or the government, and so on. An Atheist is an idolater just as much as someone who bows before a statue or other man-made object representing his deity.
Some individuals would say that Atheists have their own prophets. If one uses the 20th century interpretation of the English word prophet comes from the Greek word προφήτης (profétés) meaning advocate or speaker I can see how Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Feuerbach, Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx would be the advocates for the new religion of evolution. Even if most Atheists have not read or studied the writings of these and others, their everyday life is full of other individuals who live as if these individuals speak everyday truth.
Atheists have their own messiah- although they would vehemently deny it. Charles Darwin, who in their view drove the sterling silver stake into the heart of theism. He did so by providing an explanation of life that never needs a God as a cause or explanation. No amount of logical discussion will stop them from understanding exactly what he wrote and his own doubts that he included in his writings. Often they just skim over those problems and pretend those problems have been answered by others.
They have their own evangelists and are they ever vociferous. Neil De Grasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Bill Nye all use whatever pubic time they can get to “disprove” what they state they don’t believe to start with. They condemn, cajole, demonize, denigrate the belief of others. They are seeking converts and are preaching a “gospel” calling for the end of theism.
They have faith. That is right, faith. They would have you believe the opposite. Their writings ridicule faith and condemn faith. However, theirs is a faith-based enterprise. The existence of God cannot be proven or disproven. To deny it takes faith. Evolution has no explanation for why our universe is orderly, predictable, measurable. In fact (atheistic) evolutionary theory has no rational explanation for why there is such a thing as rational explanation. There is no accounting for the things they hope you won’t ask: Why do we have self-awareness? What makes us conscious? From what source is there a universal sense of right and wrong? They just take such unexplained things by … faith.
If Atheism were true, rational thought would not and could not exist, for the Atheist’s thoughts would just be the result of time and chance and the laws of nature. Therefore, our minds would just be rearranged atoms, no more rational than pond scum. Atheism is rooted in philosophical naturalism—matter is all that exists. Yet laws of logic, such as the law of identity and the law of non-contradiction, are immaterial. Atheism cannot provide the rational foundation for logic. Instead, Atheism must steal from a theistic worldview to even use logic. Only if there is a rational Creator is there a basis for the laws of logic. Thus, an atheist’s attempt to prove Atheism using logic is self-defeating.
[ii] an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the “Father of Liberalism”