Do Atheists “Simply Lack belief in God”?

A Theist is someone who believes in God or a god, an atheist is someone who lacks such belief. Is it that simple? Is Atheism simply a lack of belief? Obviously there must be more to it then that, since that would mean that dogs are atheists, and babies may or may not be atheists, but generally we those we call atheists are expected to at least consider the possibility of a Deity. So how about defining an atheist as someone who might otherwise believe in God, or a god, but lacks such belief for whatever reason, and nothing else.

The problem with such a definition is the nature of what God is and what reasons for God might be. Let’s say I simply lack a belief in—to use Bertrand Russell’s example—a teapot in orbit around the earth; that believe has almost no effect on other beliefs I may hold. Let’s say I believe a teapot is in orbit around the earth, and I find out later that this is not true, what have I lost? Nothing really. The fact or not of a teapot being in orbit around the earth doesn’t affect my moral worldview, doesn’t affect my cosmology, my ontology, my epistemology, my view of history or really anything. So I can say I simply lack a belief in a teapot in orbit around the earth and leave it at that, lacking belief doesn’t hold me to much of anything else.

There are beliefs that aren’t like this at all; so for example, let’s say I simply lack belief that Japan exists, I suddenly have a lot of things I have to explain. Why is it that Japan appears on all the maps? Where to Japanese people come from? What about people who claim to have visited Japan and so on and so forth.

Lacking belief in God, as opposed to simply “a god” is much more like the latter. The question of whether or not any small g “god” exists generally is just a question of whether a super powerful being happens to exist somewhere in the universe; however the question of whether “God” exists, i.e. the creator of all things, the ground of all being, and the source of all moral truth has much more at stake.

If you declare that there is no capital G “God,” immediately more questions arise. For example; what is the source of being? What is the cause of the universe? Is there such a thing as moral truth, or even truth at all? How could there be without a transcendent ground for moral truth or even truth itself?

Of course I’m not claiming the atheist must answer all of these questions necessarily, just as the guy who denies that Japan exists may not necessarily have to answer all the questions that come after he denies the existence of Japan. But what I am saying is that the atheist is making a claim that those questions are either meaningless, or they have plausible answers outside of theism.

For example, let’s talk the question of moral truth. The Atheist—in denying that he believes in God—is either tacitly claiming that there is no such thing as moral truth, or that there is such a thing as moral truth and it can plausibly be accounted for outside of theism, even if he himself doesn’t know how to account for it. If he is claiming the latter, he should be able to give what a possible accounting could be.

Shrugging your shoulders and saying “I don’t know” isn’t good enough, at least if you want to be considered rational. The Atheist would either have to give a possibility (true or not), or show why other problems with God’s existence outweigh this specific issue. If there is no, even possible, naturalistic explanation for moral truth, and yet the atheist doesn’t want to deny its reality; then the atheist is simply asserting his own refusal to think.

Nobody who is an atheist “simply lacks belief in God,” with that lack of belief comes the assertion, either explicitly or implicitly—of many other claims. For example: There is no moral truth or moral truth can be accounted for naturalistically, the universe has no transcendental source, being has no transcendental ground, that truth either does not exist or can be accounted for naturalistically. Or that there can be a transcendent ground and source for these things that would could not be, and differs significantly from, what theists mean when they say “God.”

These claims are being made whether atheists want to be held accountable for them or not. Don’t let an Atheist get away with the lazy and dishonest statement “I simply lack belief in God or gods, that’s it.”

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Do Atheists “Simply Lack belief in God”?

37 thoughts on “Do Atheists “Simply Lack belief in God”?

  1. Morality is determined by conformity to the objective laws of the universe, not by your particular religion’s mythology. Consider: if your metric for what determines morality is the tenets of religious mythology, then you have to take into consideration all the other religions’ mythologies – many of them are contrary to your religion’s. Infact, like your own, many of them say that all other religions’ are false. By that reasoning, you would invalidate your own stance.

    Perhaps the most productive question you can ask yourself is: “Why would I lie to myself, and how could I believe it?”

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    1. “Objective Laws of the Universe”? What are those? Why are they normative? Where do they come from? What are their grounds?

      What does “objective laws of the universe” even mean in reference to morality?

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      1. 1] The natural phenomenon that are completely uninfluenced by people’s beliefs.

        2] Because they determine and define how everything occurs.

        3] Who knows. And, to skip the next step of your argument: If your deity can merely exist without precursor, then so can those laws.

        4] Non Sequitor.

        5] Morality is determined by the environment inwhich an action is taken, in combination with the needs of the sentient beings interacting: if the laws of the universe were rearranged, and being murdered immediately granted the “victim” a boon, then murder would not be immoral; infact, murder would be considered very moral.

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      2. 1. What natural phenomenon are those and how are they relevant to moral truth? Are they platonic forms? Are they physical?

        2. You mean laws of nature like gravity? What do these moral laws determine? What do they define? And why should anyone feel compelled to follow them?

        3. Are these laws a series? Are they non personal? How do they entail and ought?

        4. God exists as necessary and timeless. These laws (whatever they are), do they have a cause? If not in what sense are they necessary?

        4. How is it a non sequitur?

        5. You’re saying things are moral or immoral because they benefit or hurt certain sentient beings; which is like saying things are moral because they are moral. You’re just giving me a tautology.

        So these laws of the universe; are they self selected? Do they exist? Why are people bound by them?

        I’m not really getting your position.

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      3. Ok, I’m try another angle here.

        Can people lie to themselves? Why would they lie to themselves? How could they believe it? What would consistently self-deceiving do to the mind over the longterm?

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      4. I suppose they could. They may lie to themselves because they want to avoid consequences, or they want to believe something. Belief is an interesting thing, so to what degree and how do they believe something might vary, I think it’s wrong to thing of belief as binary.

        As for the last question, I don’t know.

        Anyway, what’s the point?

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      5. One of us is wrong. Our perspectives are so drastically different, yet our reasoning is so complex, that one of us has to not only be wrong, but deeply delusional – they are also too complex to be formed by an imbecile, whom believes without inspection. Therefore, one of us is wrong, and self-deluded.

        To see who’s right, the best avenue of inspection is likely to determine the processes involved with self-deception: if one of us is right, and presenting valid evidence, the other is wrong, and willfully [even if through confabulation] self-deceiving. Therefore, if we both understand what self-deception is, and why is it self-destructive, the deluded among us will choose reason over delusion.

        Simple. The questions stand.

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      6. Those aren’t the only two options, one of us could be simply mistaken. There are tons of issues in which intelligent people, who have the same data, disagree, and both people are honest with themselves.

        So, but I don’t understand how this is relevant to my blog post, or the original question of morality …

        Do you agree with the premis of the post? That denying the existence of a capital G God ties one to certain other positions?

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      7. That is a possibility, but an improbable one.

        The relevancy is this: your stance rests on the assume that your deity exists, it determines what morality is, etc. If your deity doesn’t exist, you’re entire line of questioning is irrelevant.

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      8. Why is it improbably that one of us just hasn’t thought hard enough about the issue, have different instincts or are ignoring some line of thought, or our minds just work differently? I find that highly plausible.

        What line of questioning? If a deity does not exist, then these questions (of moral truth, of being and so on) still are questions.

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      9. Ah, well. Empirical reasoning requires I analyze and understand every component of any given system, understand how those components are linked together within that system, then link that system to all other systems. So, I have to look at the laws of the universe as a singular, self-consistent, non-contradicting whole – the entire process requires an absurd amount of work.

        On the other hand, the religious will tell me that their deity/deities determine those laws, and that’s essentially where the explanation ends – no real analysis, no confirmation, just assumption that those are the laws.

        Certainly, they still are questions, but you seem to start with the assumption that your deity is the only source of morality, whereas I say that morality has nothing to do with what anyone’s mythology states – aside from coincidences wherein their mythology happens to align with logic.

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      10. If you want to accomplish anything, you have to analyze the circumstances. To be moral, you must understand the circumstances. Those circumstances are the objective laws defining reality, defining the universe, inwhich we live and are composed. On the other hand, your mythology tells you a random series of behaviors leads to various outcomes. Through my method, everything is carefully analyzed and understood. Through yours, followers merely obey rules that they don’t understand.

        Now, consider that, we simply don’t know how reality works. We have millenia of perfectly correlating, recorded research, but we still don’t know absolutely. Given that, how can a person be moral, without, at the very least, rigorously attempting to understand reality, so as to most understand the circumstances involved with morality?

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      11. Agreed; and that is a very interesting perspective on the situation which I will think more on in the future.

        And while I would certainly agree that many people need to be instructed on what should and should not be done, on what is moral, what would stop humanity from understanding morality?

        We’ve developed so far technologically that we’ve overcome a very wide variety of dangers which the environment offers, from animals, to viruses and diseases; there are no animals on Earth which can kill us when utilizing our tools; we can access the internet, which contains nearly all of humanity’s collected millenia of research, on a handheld device.

        All of that results from empirical reasoning. Belief, on the other hand, has historically hindered the progress in those fields: the greatest minds throughout human history have been, consistently, harassed by those whom promote belief over understanding – not to mention the everyday work.

        To be perfectly honest with you, it is belief that hinders morality being understood by humanity: to know what is right and wrong, we must understand ourselves and our environment. We, and the universe, are far, far more complex than any mythology even begins to explain – thoroughly insufficient for the requirements of understanding morality.

        Worst of all: to maintain a belief, without any proof, a specific mental state is required – one which is very unhealthy. I don’t mean to be demeaning in saying that: I’ve, personally, had a great deal of familiarity with a wide variety of mental issues; I recovered, and became stronger for it, so I do not hold it against others: true mental strength comes from overcoming the weaknesses which are inherent in our biology.

        You can find a highly simplified explanation of that mental state on the frontpage of my blog, immediately following the introduction, in the second section.

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      12. The problem is you’re assuming there is such a thing as “right and wrong” and it’s just up to us to figure it out. If there is no God, what basis can one have for saying that “right and wrong” (using in their moral senses) are even relevant or objective categories?

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    2. I liked the first half of your comment, even though it strikes me as fundamentally confused. Metaphysics/theology and mythological narratives are quite distinct, and confusing them only solidifies the very positivism that burdens us.

      Also, it’s not clear about how one can get any kind of morality from the laws of the universe. Ethics concerns ends, ought, subjunctives that are not simply read off of the regularity essay of the world.

      The final paragraph is, perhaps, friendly belligerence, at best, and, though entertaining in its humorousness, offers no light.

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  2. Well, Yeah, but those circumstances taken from the laws of nature tell you absolutely nothing about what you ought to do, it doesn’t give you a telos, a goal, all it gives you is information which makes you more able to fulfill Your goal.

    you’re completely ignoring the question. Nothing in the laws of nature gives you anything like a moral truth.

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  3. Ah, well, I didn’t highlight the central point. I agree that we do not understand morality completely. Infact, I would happily state that we understand absolutely nothing completely [also found in the aforementioned section]. What I didn’t specify was this: that’s normal.

    I understand that it is a paralyzing perspective: I spent.. maybe 6 years doing little more than wasting time and thinking [not counting years after that, wherein my freetime was spent doing much the same], just so I could overcome the terror of it [you can also find that on my blog, which is in the “Autobiography” section]. But, denying our ignorance, also denies us the chance of learning.

    But still, morality is really not that hard to figure out. Don’t hurt each other. That’s it. Now, the real question, is what constitutes hurt. I, for example, think that religion is immoral because it is hurtful to people. Not because it -intentionally- harms people [even suicide bombers believe they are moral], but because it fosters irrationality, which renders people incapable of dealing with their lives; it, very simply, teaches people to look away.

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    1. I’m not saying we can’t understand morality without God, I’m saying it’s not even a valid category. This is no “ought” without God.

      You can say “don’t hurt each other” but there’s no reason anyone should feel compelled to follow that if the Universe is purposeless and we are just atoms arranged in an interesting way. The fact that individuals feel like they don’t want to hurt people tells us nothing about what people “ought” to do any more that the fact that many people like ice cream tells us what people “ought” to do.

      Unless there is God morality isn’t even a valid category, “don’t hurt each other” is nothing more than your personal sentiment.

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      1. That’s just where morality gets extremely complicated. Morality and justice are the same thing, as are justice and fairness. The purpose of morality, of fair treatment, is to reduce the pain we cause each other. But, the problem therein, is the many different views on what causes pain, what is pain, and how to deal with it.

        For example: a parent knows that a child must be carefully raised; they must be denied indulgences and punished for bad behavior; the parent knows this will strengthen the child, and will thus make them happier and healthier later in life; but the child only sees the momentary pain of punishment and denial of their wants.

        So, the parent hurts the child, but less than spoiling them would – the parent thus sees that disciplining as reducing the child’s pain in the long run, by preparing them for life. The child, on the other hand, sees only the pain, sees only the moment, and thus can’t imagine how future pains are being prevented. Therefore, the parent and the child are in disagreement about how to fairly treat each other.

        Nearly everyone will agree that children need to be disciplined, but there are many views on how best to raise a child. Now, consider what the main difference is between a child and adult: their ability to rationally and thoroughly understand the world around them and themselves.

        Unfortunately, just because adults are regularly far more aware than children, doesn’t mean adults are equally aware. So, adults regularly disagree on what’s fair – children, of course, are almost completely bias in their own favor. Yet, across the world, the methods of addressing crime very often align.

        The reason for that alignment is simple: the objective laws of the universe, which define how the world works, and how we work, can be understood. Once we understand them, we can determine what we are, and how best to interact.

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      2. No no no, you’re missing the point. Morality in atheism CANNOT exist, neither can Justice (beyond using the term as simply a term for what the state deems as just). Morality, by definition, is what someone “ought” or “ought not” to do, it’s teleological by nature; if there is no God, however, there is no telos, and thus no morality possible.

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      3. I’m afraid you may have missed the point: it is perfectly fine that we do not know the absolute laws of morality, for we do not understand the absolute laws of the universe. It’s ok.

        Yes, it would be comforting to imagine an omnipotent figure protecting us, but a cursory examination of current times, and any given history book, will immediately reveal people, in the millions, suffering for absolutely no reason. That examination will, also, show you how reasoning allows us to dominate the harmful universe.

        It is through that domination, powered by understanding, fueled by human effort, that we can eventually grow to understand all the laws of the universe, and then morality – by putting in the work. And, as I said before, a person cannot be moral whom does not at least legitimately try to understand the universe – which demands empirical reasoning.

        Yes, my version of reality may seem uglier, and it’s certainly harder. But it’s also far more beautiful: the meaningless, insentient, disgusting chaos that constantly threatens to harm us, both from within and without, makes the sentient, sane, mature, wise, and intelligent, that much more scintillating.

        However. Few people, these days, fulfill that great potential of humanity. Instead, most people are various degrees of insentient, insane, and immature – and will seek to destroy everything which shows them their faults. Perhaps, for some, it is best to close their eyes: understanding the depth of humanity’s depravity and savagery is not a pleasant thing.

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      4. It’s not that we don’t understand morality, or we don’t know the laws of morality; its that without God, there can be no Category of morality at all, there is no grounds for even one law of morality!

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      5. Who/what defines what “fair” is? And why should anyone feel compelled to treat anyone fairly? What makes treating someone fair good, or unfair bad?

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      6. Because, we can decide to harm each other at any moment – if we do not do so, there is less reason to do so. And, what determines whether or not harming each other is bad, is our psychological and biological responses to pain and trauma – from that, morality is measured.

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      7. You’re assuming that other peoples psychological and biological responses to pain and trauma should concern people, why should it?

        You’re explaining morality by assuming morality; thus side-stepping the entire question. If there is no God that grounds morality then there is no ground for morality.

        That people feel pain is no more relevant than the fact that some people enjoy ice-cream … Who cares? You don’t get an “ought” from an “is.”

        You can decide yourself you don’t want to hurt people because you don’t like the response, but that’s not morality, that’s personal fancy; morality is something which ought to compel someone, your subjective feelings have no normative status for anyone. Thus no morality.

        You can’t explain morality by assuming morality.

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      8. What evidence? You’ve shown that there are things that harm people and things that cause pain, but you haven’t given any reason why that could translate into a moral law of any kind without God.

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  4. I’m sad that I missed all of this, and regret that I commented before reading the thread.

    Might I suggest that ethics comes from recognizing the form of something, and what would perfect the form of a thing or a situation? This assumes the reality of form, and so value: we struggle for the best of all possible values to be actualized in the world. There is plenty of room for error and immature judgment in this, but there seems to be no room for ethics without the reality of form as real and holding sway. Thoughts, both of you?

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    1. You’re taking a Thomist line it sounds like. To be honest, I’m not sure I can go directly to a Thomist line for the basic reason that I don’t want to be held to an Aristotelian metaphysics. I’m also not sure how you go from “form” to “value” directly, whats the steps you’re taking to get there ?

      Also, the form of a cancer cell, has a telos which includes the killing of human beings, I don’t want that for actualized, so then we have to make judgements between forms and their Telos’; which means we need a higher argument for morality, which means form isn’t really a good ground for morality. (Since forms can have contrary telos’)

      For me I’m pretty basic here, Gods will is the Good.

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