Is Atheism a Religion?
by Witty Ludwig
This is a question that is often posed. I found a post from ‘Atheist Dave’ on the matter and saw some very interesting responses in the comments section. The main source of interest was the division it caused not only amongst the religious and the non-religious, but even between the latter themselves. I find myself up and typing in the early hours of the morning at the moment and so I’m simply going to type my rambling thoughts as they strike me, throwing structure to the wind.
I appreciate my views are slightly off pieste regarding typical atheist reasoning; however, I thought I would chip in my two cents on the matter, even at risk of sounding like a broken record, but I always worry I’m not expressing myself clearly.
In my concept of atheism, I don’t see how it possibly could be seen as a religion. I mean this in the sense that I imagine the person who is born and grows up having no exposure to religion, to the concept of ‘God’, and how they live their life and view the world. Conceivable? It is difficult to imagine. Hypothetically, though, I can see this person marvelling at things such as space, causation, beauty, etc., and not attributing them to what we call ‘god’; and by that I mean the concept of ‘god’ that imagines an omnipotent, omniscient– or perhaps only cognitive– supernatural entity. This is how I would have the atheist view things; without the social, cultural, and linguistic baggage that accompanies the word/concept.
I want, as stated in my essay, to imagine someone approaching my hypothetical person (although, in reality, this means: approaching me) and to say: ‘So, do you believe in god?’ or ‘Are you an atheist or a theist?’; and for the puzzled response to be: ‘Excuse me? What are you talking about?’; ‘I’m sorry, I don’t quite follow you.’
They then proceed to say: ‘You know… GOD. Our creator, the creator of this world, the being responsible for […]’ etc. etc.. I would imagine or hope the response to be: ‘What wild speculation! That’s a very imaginative idea, though. Whatever led you to make such a bizarre supposition? And what led you to choose one over many?’ etc..
What could lead us to see this ‘god’ concept as credible as opposed to just one type of speculation amongst countless others? Why couldn’t ‘glorb’ be an equally viable alternative?
The argument I noticed most commonly being reiterated by those claiming that atheism certainly is a religion went along these lines:
“You are denying the existence of God; you believe he doesn’t exist or, as some say, know he doesn’t exist and therefore, without evidence, yours is a position of great faith.”
Hopefully, by now, my response will be predictable (and I apologise for being a broken record): I can’t deny something that I have no idea about. What is this ‘god’ you speak of? You might as well say that I’m denying the existence of ‘glorb’, ‘molarb’, ‘trialanksipoke’, etc.. Whatever you’re speaking about doesn’t feature in my world. You say, for instance, that everything has to have a cause and that ‘god’ is the origin of the chain of causation, but why couldn’t that cause have been a small bubble popping, from which everything followed? Or, given we’re talking about a state of physics about which no-one has anything to go on aside from speculation, why does a chain of causation need to be finite? That there needs to be a first cause?
Hume on causation: a human belief; one that is based on repetition; inductive knowledge. A rubber ball bounces where a lead one doesn’t because, having dropped both once, to check that the results are consistent, we drop them both several times further to see whether a rule can be formed. Did the rubber one bounce as a freakish one-off event? Or should the lead one have bounced but, for some reason, on this occasion, it did not? All of our rules about physical properties are governed in this way. How could we possibly apply them to something so grand and, as yet, unverifiable as the origin of the Universe? There is no reason it could not be an exception to the rule.
“It would be inconsistent with what we know.”
— What we ‘know’ is based on our every day experiments with / uses of the properties to be found in and around our planet; nothing else.
A.C. Grayling’s example, that I noticed Atheist Dave borrowed in his opening post on the subject matter, is right on the point: If atheism is a religion, then ‘not-collecting-stamps’ is a hobby.
My own spin on this, I suppose, would have to be: If atheism is a religion, then not-collecting-glibabs must be a hobby. Or something.