Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Case for Strong Atheism

For those of you that don't know, atheism is the lack of belief in gods. I am an atheist. This position is sometimes clarified as "weak atheism" to differentiate it from "strong atheism". "Strong atheism" is the belief that there are no gods. Take a moment if you need it to see the difference between those two statements.

Now take a journey with me on a different (but converging) train of thought. I believe in the existence of tables (a flat surface, held off the floor often by means of four vertical legs). I really do. When I see a table, I include its existence in my set of relevant sensory data. When I need to set something down, I often choose to use a table, and they never let me down by not existing. You might say I am a "tableist".

Santa Claus, on the other hand, is something in which I do not believe. I even take it a step further. I actively disbelieve in Santa. Because not only do I have no evidence of his existence, his existence actually contradicts many things that I know about the world in which I live. In order for Santa to exist, many of the laws of physics need to be able to take temporary vacations on Christmas. Additionally, there needs to be a huge conspiracy. If you're a parent (like me), you know where the presents come from. So in order for Santa to be real, you have to be willing to believe that your memory has been altered every year, with false memories planted by Santa's elves. This is all ludicrous, and so I would describe myself as a "strong aSantaist"*. Note: That's aSantaist, not Satanist.

Here is where the trains converge. When it comes to Christianity, the god that it claims exists is similarly problematic. In order for it exist, many of the laws of physics are just guidelines. Additionally, there is a huge conspiracy in which prayers are being answered all the time, but always in such a way that they can never be detected using science and statistics. This god is either intensely camera-shy or nonexistent. When speaking of the god of Christianity, I am a "strong atheist".

Humorously enough, I am a "strong atheist" for most of the gods that people posit. There are too many logical problems with any sort of omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, yet-somehow-still-personal god that most people believe in.

This leaves only a couple of leftover possibilities. One is the deist's god. The deist's god is usually described in such a way as to be virtually indetectible. He exists outside the universe and doesn't interfere in it. He also is not a person in any way that we would recognize. I can't be a "strong atheist" on this one, because it doesn't contradict any observations about the world in which I live. I am willing to posit that something like that might exist. But since I don't have (and never could have) any evidence for it, my position is "weak atheism". If it turned out it did exist, so what? In what way would the universe where such a god does exist differ from one in which he does not.

The other possibility is the pantheist's god. The pantheist's god is the universe. Everything that exists somehow makes up a being that created itself. Like the deist's god, it is not a person. And once again, no evidence for this idea, so "weak atheism" is my response. And once again, so what if it were true? What would (or could) you do differently if you were one of the miniscule unknowing components of a universe-god-being? In fact, it seems like a silly way to change the name of the universe from "universe" to "god".

So I guess what I'm saying is that generally, I'd have to admit to being a "weak atheist". I've seen no evidence for any supernatural beings, but there are some that wouldn't leave any evidence, so I just don't believe in those. As for those that contradict the evidence, I'm a "strong atheist" all the way.

* Please keep in mind that "strong aSantaist" does not mean dogmatic aSantaist. I'd be perfectly willing to start believing in Santa once I get that evidence. Only sadly, since Santa contradicts what we know of physics as well as our own personal observations, it's going to take a load of evidence to be convincing. Seeing Santa in a dream, not good enough. Speaking to Santa in person, I've probably gone crazy. Having Santa appear to everyone in the world at once (displaying his awesome powers), now we're talking. At that point, I for one would be welcoming our new elvish overlords.


  1. Very deep thought my friend. I will have to come back to this. I tangled array of words and logic. It will take few moments to think through what ou are saying here.
    You are a strong atheist when it comes to Christianity. The God of the Bible contradicts many well know laws of physics.
    God can not be seen. We can not prove with out a shadow of doubt that eh answers prayers.

    So you just have not seen any evidence to conclude that God exist. You have seen the contrary. So the possibility to believe in Him is still there.
    This is good. Maybe you He will reveal Himself to you some day. Maybe when He does you will discount it because you spent so much time and energy trying not see Him.

    Just some thoughts to add. Toss them around and throw them away. I cant change a mind made up but I know God can.

  2. "We can not prove with out a shadow of doubt that eh answers prayers."

    No, there is NO evidence that prayers (to any gods) are ever answered. When people pray for things that can't get better on their own (like amputess), nothing happens. When people pray for things that sometimes get better (like cancer), prayer doesn't increase the chances of it getting better. Prayers from one religion are no more likely to help than any other. They are all completely 100% ineffective.

    "So the possibility to believe in Him is still there. This is good. Maybe you He will reveal Himself to you some day."

    Keller, yes it is possible, but it is not likely. Take the reverse situation. What sort of evidence would it take to make you believe that Allah was really in charge?

    If you had a dream about Allah, you wouldn't convert. If you heard the voice of Allah telling you to slay the infidels, you wouldn't convert. "You would be spending so much time and energy trying not to see him." Honestly, which is more likely, that Allah is talking to you, or that you are being tricked or have gone crazy?

    If Jesus showed up on earth tomorrow doing powerful unfakable miracles (like appearing to everyone in the world at once, raising all the dead, and rearranging the continents, then I would believe. In that situation, there are still other possibilities (aliens, a trickster god, the matrix, a complete psychotic break). But in all those other scenarios, I have no way of telling truth from falsehood anyway. When you can't trust any of the evidence presented by your senses, it doesn't matter what you do. You're most likely wrong.

  3. I shouted HEY! at the computer when I saw you saying those things about Santa. If you have to use examples, couldn't you go with the tooth fairy? Santa is dera to my heart. Although the part about the Elvish Overlords was very amusing.

  4. Yeah we can not prove prayer works or it does not work. It is a matter of faith. Pray does not fall into an observable science method.

    If I had a dream about Allah. Dreams are not the hinge of belief. I have many crazy dreams. I do not act on them. They are dreams. For me to believe or follow a dream it would have to be line with scripture. If Allah showed up telling me to do something. I know from the scripture that this is not right.

    Jesus did show up. I know it was 2,000 plus years ago. I guess he needs to come again to clarify that God had come to save his people.
    Jesus has showed up in my life and many others. But does this make it true. Is this good evidence. NO. It is not. Why do I believe it. Yes this faith. How is this not different then other god and beliefs?
    Faith and evidence is my answer.
    Maybe it sounds like foolishness. Perhaps it does.

    We see the evidence in different ways.

  5. Yeah Tia. Santa was dear to me. Aaron has ruined it for me.