Criticisms of weak atheism

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Weak atheism (sometimes referred to as "negative atheism") describes a belief system and philosophical stance whereby a person lacks a belief in God/gods.

Atheism, as defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and other philosophy reference works, is the denial of the existence of God.[1] Beginning in the latter portion of the 20th century and continuing beyond, many agnostics/atheists have argued that the definition of atheism should be defined as a lack of belief in God or gods. [2][3] [4][5]

There has been a number of legitimate criticisms of the concept of weak atheism from prominent theists (see: Theistic responses to weak atheism).

William Lane Craig declared concerning atheists/agnostics endeavoring to redefine the word atheism:

There’s a history behind this. Certain atheists in the mid-twentieth century were promoting the so-called “presumption of atheism.” At face value, this would appear to be the claim that in the absence of evidence for the existence of God, we should presume that God does not exist. Atheism is a sort of default position, and the theist bears a special burden of proof with regard to his belief that God exists....

But when you look more closely at how protagonists of the presumption of atheism used the term “atheist,” you discover that they were defining the word in a non-standard way, synonymous with “non-theist." So understood the term would encompass agnostics and traditional atheists, along with those who think the question meaningless (verificationists)...

Such a re-definition of the word “atheist” trivializes the claim of the presumption of atheism, for on this definition, atheism ceases to be a view. It is merely a psychological state which is shared by people who hold various views or no view at all. On this re-definition, even babies, who hold no opinion at all on the matter, count as atheists! In fact, our cat Muff counts as an atheist on this definition, since she has (to my knowledge) no belief in God.

One would still require justification in order to know either that God exists or that He does not exist, which is the question we’re really interested in.

So why, you might wonder, would atheists be anxious to so trivialize their position? Here I agree with you that a deceptive game is being played by many atheists. If atheism is taken to be a view, namely the view that there is no God, then atheists must shoulder their share of the burden of proof to support this view.[3]

Additional problems with the concept of weak atheism

See also: Denials that atheists exist and Atheists doubting the validity of atheism

In addition to the legitimate criticisms of weak atheism offered by prominent theists, there are some additional reasons to be skeptical of the concept of weak atheism - especially the claim that weak atheists have an absolute lack of belief.

Brain research related to religiosity

See also: Atheism and the brain

Below are relevant quotes from a science magazine/journal:

“Atheism is psychologically impossible because of the way humans think... They point to studies showing, for example, that even people who claim to be committed atheists tacitly hold religious beliefs, such as the existence of an immortal soul.” - Graham Lawton in the New Scientist[6] science magazine. See also: Atheism and life after death and Atheism and death

“A slew of cognitive traits predisposes us to faith.” - Pascal Boyer, in the British science journal Nature [6]

Atheism and purpose research and notable incidents

See also: Atheism and purpose

Fall foliage at Takanoyu Onsen, Akita Prefecture, Japan. Even in atheistic Japan, researchers found that Japanese children see the world as designed.[7]

Prominent atheists/agnostics indicating that they repeatedly have thoughts that the world is designed/purposeful and research showing that many individuals in the general population of atheists/agnostics frequently have these thoughts also (See: Atheism and purpose).

While some individuals give more thoughtful deliberation on the issue of the existence of God and the purpose of life than others (see: Atheism and apathy and Apatheism), it is common for atheists/agnostics to dwell on the issue of purpose (see: Atheism and purpose).[8]

Also, notable atheists have had the characteristic of variability and instability when it came to maintaining thoughts in accordance with atheism. For example, Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the leading proponents of atheism of the 20th Century. He was one of several popularizers of the philosophy of existentialism.

Yet, Jean-Paul Sartre made this candid confession:

As for me, I don’t see myself as so much dust that has appeared in the world but as a being that was expected, prefigured, called forth. In short, as a being that could, it seems, come only from a creator; and this idea of a creating hand that created me refers me back to God. Naturally this is not a clear, exact idea that I set in motion every time I think of myself. It contradicts many of my other ideas; but it is there, floating vaguely. And when I think of myself I often think rather in this way, for wont of being able to think otherwise.[9]

Even in atheistic Japan, researchers found that Japanese children see the natural world as designed and purposeful and believe some kind of intelligent being is behind that purpose.[10]

One of the most popular arguments for God's existence is the teleological argument. Derived from the Greek word telos, which refers to purpose or end, this argument hinges on the idea that the world gives evidence of being designed, and concludes that a divine designer must be posited to account for the orderly world we encounter. See also: Evolution and Intelligent design and Creation science

evolution darwin theory
Late in Charles Darwin's life, Darwin told the Duke of Argyll that he frequently had overwhelming thoughts that the natural world was the result of design.[11] In a letter to Asa Gray, Darwin confided: "...I am quite conscious that my speculations run quite beyond the bounds of true science."[12]

The evolutionist Charles Darwin wrote in his private notebooks that he was a materialist, which is a type of atheist. In his autobiography Charles Darwin wrote about the diminishment of his religious faith and Darwin stated that he was an agnostic.[13] Darwin's worldview is best described as agnosticism/weak atheism (see: religious views of Charles Darwin) [14][15]

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states:

In 1885, the Duke of Argyll recounted a conversation he had had with Charles Darwin the year before Darwin's death:

In the course of that conversation I said to Mr. Darwin, with reference to some of his own remarkable works on the Fertilization of Orchids, and upon The Earthworms, and various other observations he made of the wonderful contrivances for certain purposes in nature — I said it was impossible to look at these without seeing that they were the effect and the expression of Mind. I shall never forget Mr. Darwin's answer. He looked at me very hard and said, “Well, that often comes over me with overwhelming force; but at other times,” and he shook his head vaguely, adding, “it seems to go away. ”(Argyll 1885, 244)[16]

The conversion of Paul by the painter Nicolas-Bernard Lepicie

The Apostle Paul wrote:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. - Romans 1: 18-20 [17]

On October 17, 2014, the New York Times published an article entitled Does everything happen for a reason? which declared:

But research from the Yale Mind and Development Lab, where we work, suggests that this can’t be the whole story. In one series of studies, recently published in the journal Cognition, we asked people to reflect on significant events from their own lives, such as graduations, the births of children, falling in love, the deaths of loved ones and serious illnesses. Unsurprisingly, a majority of religious believers said they thought that these events happened for a reason and that they had been purposefully designed (presumably by God). But many atheists did so as well, and a majority of atheists in a related study also said that they believed in fate — defined as the view that life events happen for a reason and that there is an underlying order to life that determines how events turn out.

These atheists’ responses weren’t just the product of living in America’s highly religious society. Research done at Queen’s University in Belfast by the psychologists Bethany Heywood and Jesse Bering found that British atheists were just as likely as American atheists to believe that their life events had underlying purposes, even though Britain is far less religious than America.

In other studies, scheduled to be published online next week in the journal Child Development, we found that even young children show a bias to believe that life events happen for a reason — to “send a sign” or “to teach a lesson.” This belief exists regardless of how much exposure the children have had to religion at home, and even if they’ve had none at all.[8]

Retention rate of atheists low in various populations

Despite China's atheist government advocating atheism and engaging in religious persecution, Christianity is rapidly growing in China. See: Growth of Christianity in China

In 2012, a Georgetown University study was published indicating that in the United States only about 30 percent of those who grow up in an atheist household remain atheists as adults.[18] According to Dr. Mark Gray, "of those raised as atheists, 30% are now affiliated with a Protestant denomination, 10% are Catholic, 2% are Jewish, 1% are Mormon, and 1% are Pagan."[18]

Furthermore, a tremendous amount of people in atheistic communist countries or former communist countries have become Christians and this is still occurring.

See:

Belief in God rises as people age

A 2012 study by the General Social Survey of the social science research organization NORC at the University of Chicago found that belief in God rises with age, even in atheistic nations[19] Pew Forum reports about American atheists: "Among self-identified atheists and agnostics, the median age is 34, and roughly four-in-ten adults in these categories are between the ages of 18 and 29."[20] See also: Atheism and immaturity.

Developments within the field of Christian apologetics

Christian apologetics is the defense of the Christian faith through logic/evidence based arguments. . In recent years there has been a renaissance and proliferation of compelling material supporting Christianity and offering rebuttals to the worldview of atheism (see: Rebuttals to atheist arguments).

In June 2012, the UK based Dorset Humanists wrote:

There’s been a forceful backlash against the ‘new atheism’ of writers like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, inspiring a new wave of Christian apologists. This group includes: Alister McGrath, Professor of Theology at King’s College London, Keith Ward, former Professor of Divinity at Oxford, and John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford.

Many atheists make the mistake of assuming religion is wholly irrational, relying on faith alone but, in a series of interviews recorded for DVD, the apologetics heavyweights from the list above demonstrate their ability to challenge us with reasoned arguments.[21]

Hector Hugh Munro (better known by the pen name Saki) wrote: "'[N]o one can be an unbeliever nowadays. The Christian Apologists have left one nothing to disbelieve.'" - [22]

In recent times, there has been a number of notable cases where atheists/agnostics have dodged debate offers (see: Atheism and cowardice).

Creation apologetics

One of the subdisciplines of Christian apologetics is creation apologetics and there has been a corresponding proliferation/dissemination of creation apologetics which has had an significant effect on Christendom (see: Global creationism and History of the growth of creationism and its effect on Christendom).

Global resurgence of religion and the endurance of religion

See also: Desecularization and secularization thesis and Atheists and the endurance of religion

On July 24, 2013, CNS News reported about global atheism:

Atheism is in decline worldwide, with the number of atheists falling from 4.5% of the world’s population in 1970 to 2.0% in 2010 and projected to drop to 1.8% by 2020, according to a new report by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass."[23]

Douglas S. Winnail wrote:

Secular leaders and scholars have been surprised by the resurgence of religion, because they put their faith in the assumption that modernization would lead to secularization and to the decline of religion. This idea—the so-called "secularization theory"—is widely accepted in academic and political circles. It assumes that as societies modernize and become more secular, religion will wither away as an archaic and useless branch of knowledge. Their assumption was that if religion became irrelevant, and human beings became more reasonable, they would dwell together in peace and happiness in a modernized world.

However, human history did not follow this "reasonable" path to a secular utopia. The closing decades of the 20th century "provide a massive falsification of the idea" that modernization and secularization will lead to a decline in religion. Instead, we are witnessing a massive upsurge in religion around the world (The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics, Berger, p. 6). This resurgence of religion has also played a part in an increasing number of violent conflicts around the world. Secular intellectuals and elites have been shocked by this development, because it is proving that their fundamental assumptions about human beings and human society are absolutely wrong! The modern secular notion that religion is archaic and irrelevant has caused many to overlook the importance of religion in human affairs. As a result, they have been taken by surprise by the return of religion. As Peter Berger, one of the world's leading sociologists of religion, wrote: "Those who neglect religion in their analysis of contemporary affairs do so at great peril" (Berger, p. 18). But what has spawned the modern revival of religion, and the spreading rejection of secular society?[24]

Endurance of religion in countries despite the best efforts of militant atheists to distinguish it

See also: Soviet atheism

Not only are religious thoughts often persistent in prominent atheists and the atheists population, but religion is often shown to be persistent in societies as well (see: Atheists and the endurance of religion).

Despite the efforts of militant atheists in the former Soviet Union and China to distinguish religion in their countries, religion is impossible to extinguish in a country.[25][26]

Multiple causes of atheism. Not just doubt

Social science data and other data indicate that there is not just one cause of atheism - namely doubt (see: Causes of atheism).

There is no evidence that atheism is true

See also: Attempts to dilute the definition of atheism

Logo for the Shockofgod YouTube channel. The Christian YouTube video creator Shockofgod repeatedly posed the question "What proof and evidence do have that proves that atheism is accurate and correct?" to atheists which was very upsetting to many YouTube atheists.[27]

The atheist Francois Tremblay wrote in his essay Herding Cats: Why atheism will lose:

Another problem of atheism qua atheism is that it does not contain its own basis. What I mean by this is that atheism is a punctual, ontological belief, which is itself the implicit or explicit result of metaphysical and epistemological deductions. Any reply to an attack on this basis cannot come directly from atheism. Concentrating oneself only on being an atheist is like trying to build a house from the second floor up. It may look less costly on paper, and for people who only build houses in their imagination this may be a good way of seeing it, but it's not good enough for a serious endeavour. And most importantly, it's too fragile. I see too many religionists attacking atheism from the bottom and atheists being unable to adequately reply to the arguments. If the atheist cannot answer to his most fundamental beliefs on the nature of reality and cognition, then his atheism is worthless in terms of validation. It is nothing more than a big paper tiger, made from the finest cardboard.

One last problem that undermines any propagation of atheism is inspiration. Let's be honest here, "there is no god!" is not a very motivating call for most people.[28]

A Christian who has doubts can rely on the experiential knowledge of God that he has experienced and evidence for the Christian worldview, but an atheist has nothing that would support a lack of belief in God. The Christian YouTube video creator Shockofgod repeatedly posed the question "What proof and evidence do have that proves that atheism is accurate and correct?" to atheists which was very upsetting to many YouTube atheists.[27]

Studies indicating that individuals who reject Christianity have lower self-esteem

There are preliminary studies indicating that individuals who reject Christianity in Western cultures have lower self-esteem than the Christian population.[29][30]

People with low self-esteem often lack confidence. The preliminary data indicates that atheist ex-Christians are less confident and not more. This suggests a lack of confidence in their decision in some cases and not an absolute lack of belief.

Relying of the testimony of atheists that they lack belief

Those that claim they are weak atheists assert they lack a belief in God/gods. In this matter, the testimonial evidence is only as reliable as the character of weak atheists. Historically speaking, there has been significant problems with individuals having poor character within the atheist population (See: Atheist population and immorality).

The absoluteness of the lack of belief asserted

See also: Atheists doubting the validity of atheism and Ex-atheists

The atheist Elizabeth King wrote in the Washington Post:

The idea of God pesters me and makes me think that maybe I’m not as devoted to my beliefs as I’d like to think I am and would like to be. Maybe I’m still subconsciously afraid of hell and want to go to heaven when I die. It’s confusing and frustrating to feel the presence of something you don’t believe in. This is compounded by the fact that the God character most often shows up when I’m already frustrated.

“Why, God, why?” I ask myself when I’ve procrastinated before a deadline and am scrambling.[31]

Sir Francis Bacon declared:

The Scripture saith, The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God; it is not said, The fool hath thought in his heart; so as he rather saith it, by rote to himself, as that he would have, than that he can thoroughly believe it, or be persuaded of it....It appeareth in nothing more, that atheism is rather in the lip, than in the heart of man." - , his essay Of Atheism[32]

It is common for people to doubt that atheists lack a belief in God (see: Denials that atheists exist).

The Bible talks about strong faith and weak faith. The Bible also declares that Jesus was God and He had tremendous faith and that He was perfect and did not sin.

On the other hand, given the information above supporting the skepticism of the concept of weak atheism and the lack of proof that atheist doubt is absolute and is not somewhere between zero doubt and total doubt, skepticism of the concept of weak atheism is justifiable.

There is also no proof that there alleged absolute doubt that weak atheists claim is constant and does not vary.

See also

Notes

  1. Multiple references:
  2. Day, Donn R. (2007). "Atheism - etymology".
  3. 3.0 3.1 Definition of atheism by William Lane Craig
  4. Putting the Atheist on the Defensive by Kenneth R. Samples, Christian Research Institute Journal, Fall 1991, and Winter 1992, page 7.
  5. Britain is a less religious country than the United States and the online Oxford Dictionaries offers both the narrow/broad definitions of atheism (As noted in a previous footnote the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which is a traditional American dictionary, offers a more narrow definition of atheism similar to the definition that major encyclopedias of philosophy use). Oxford Dictionaries: Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.[4]
  6. 6.0 6.1 Unruh, Bob (July 19, 2014). "Scientists: atheists might not exist". WorldNetDaily. Retrieved on February 21, 2015.
  7. Children see the world as designed
  8. 8.0 8.1 Does everything happen for a reason?
  9. Escape from God: The Use of Religion and Philosophy to Evade Responsibility By Dean Turner, page 109
  10. Children see the world as designed.
  11. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/teleological-arguments/notes.html
  12. http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-2109
  13. http://www.update.uu.se/~fbendz/library/cd_relig.htm
  14. Darwin’s real message: have you missed it?
  15. American Scientist May 1977:323
  16. Notes to Teleological Arguments for God's Existence
  17. Romans 1: 18-20 English Standard Version translation
  18. 18.0 18.1 Study: Atheists Have Lowest 'Retention Rate' Compared to Religious Groups
  19. Harms, William (April 18, 2012). "Belief in God rises with age, even in atheist nations". UChicagoNews.
  20. Chapter 3: Demographic Profiles of Religious Groups, Pew Forum
  21. Philosophy, Science and the God Debate
  22. Saki (1913). The Unbearable Bassington (London: John Lane), 6th ed., ch. 13.
  23. Global Study: Atheists in Decline, Only 1.8% of World Population by 2020
  24. The Return of Religion
  25. Forced Secularization in Soviet Russia: Why an Atheistic Monopoly Failed
  26. Cracks in the atheist edifice, The Economist, November 1, 2014
  27. 27.0 27.1 The question that is causing atheists to abandon atheism
  28. Herding Cats: Why atheism will lose by Francois Tremblay
  29. http://atheistwatch.blogspot.com/2010/10/rejection-of-christianity-and-self.html
  30. http://atheistwatch.blogspot.com/2010/10/atheists-and-self-esteem-part-2.html
  31. I’m an atheist. So why can’t I shake God?
  32. Ibid, p. 107.