onsdag 2 mars 2016

The absence of religion is not a religion

From time to time religious people claim that atheism is a religion too [1]. This is strange for - at least - two reasons. First of all; how can the absence of something be this very thing? How can the absence of religion be a religion? And, secondly, how come religious people take the right to define atheism from their world-view, i.e., that everybody has to have a belief?

The latter actually reflects the problem we are facing here rather well. Since a large majority of the worlds population is religious of some sort, religious people simply take the right to define the reference frame from which to judge everyone's views on their own religious believes.

This reference frame, sort of, sits in the word "atheism" itself. Atheism is defined relative to theism. Actually it should be the other way round. Let's illustrate this by trying to replace the word "atheism" with a different word, e.g., "freethinker" [2]. If we call all people that are free from religion freethinkers, than Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hinduists, Jews, Shintoists, etc etc etc, are afreethinkers or non-freethinkers.

Get the point? Hope so. But let's take a one more example. Ghosts. I know that many people believe in ghosts but the large majority does not [3]. Hence you would assume that someone you just met somewhere in the street does not believe in ghosts. You might, however, eventually find that this person actually does believe in ghost [4]. Now, the question is: how many people would have to believe in ghosts to swing the balance so that is you that has to come out as an "aghostic"?  

Since repetition seems to be a fruitful concept in pedagogics, lets add yet another example. Science. If I am supposed to "believe" in the Higgs particle (yes, pun intended), I reasonably ask for the evidence (see, e.g., here for the current status). Similar with so fantastic a thing as gravitational waves [5]. Now, if I tell you there is a teapot in some orbit around the sun and you do not believe me, how would you feel if I tried to define your non-believing in the existence of this teapot by calling you an ateapotist and claim that your non-belief in the teapot is as good as mine, i.e., it too is "a belief"?

Well, this is the classical burden of proof problem. In the the case of the teapot or the ghost most people will see the point. But when it comes to religion the claim that atheism is a religion too remains widespread.

But it is nevertheless false.


[1] Religious people do, of course, their best to spread this claim which I see as nothing but cheap propaganda. Guess it helps them to reduce their cognitive dissonances and makes them feel better. A recent example from Sweden is found here. A good comment and some background on this article by Jonna Bornemark is given by Patrik Lindenfors
[2] I don't think this is a good word in this context and in a way the word "freethinker" contains the same problem as "atheist", but, for the sake of the argument, let's use it here.
[3] Though I might be wrong with my "large majority" believe here.
[4] And you might be fine with it as long as the person does not try to convince you and does not do you any harm based on this ghost-believing thing.  
[5] Wow, look at the list of authors at the end of this paper and compare it with the author list of some "holy" scripture ...

3 kommentarer:

  1. I have debated the subject more often than I can remember. But if someone thinks atheism is religion, it is impossible to remove that idea from their heads, so it seems to be useless to argue with them.

  2. Not my biggest interest in life, but I could not resist a comment here ;-)

    "Absence of religion is not a religion"

    Well, for atheism in this case, in my view it's as good a Religion as any. But This is pure semantics. What is 'religion', and who owns the definition of the Word 'religion'?

    Is religion the belief in a creator, a God? Well, there are faiths without gods, but still is considered a religion. Is a religion the belief in afterlife? Well, there are faiths that don't believe in afterlife, but still is considered a religion.

    As proven in Several Examples found here:

    Now then: atheism as I understand it denies the existence of Gods AND afterlife.

    So does a double negative belief mean it can not be a religion? No. It still represent a belief system. And atheism have many similarities of religions:
    - atheism has its own worldview: Materialism & interpreting all data Only within the very narrow worldview of materialism. It's a boring black & white worldview. While more open minded people see the world full of colours.
    - atheism has its own orthodoxy. Accepted inside atheism is only that EVERYTHING can be explained without Need for gods or a spiritual world. No truth claim is acceptable if it cannot be subjected to scientific scrutiny.
    - atheism has its own messias, evangelists and prophets: several could probably fit this category, like Richard dawkins, Darwin, Nietzsche, Russell, Feuerbach, Lenin, Marx, Daniel Dennet, Harris, Hitchens
    - Atheism have faith. Atheists BELIEVE there are no afterlife and BELIEVE there are no God, since there is no proof that is
    - Atheists are as much or as litle tolerant towards other belief systems as any religions. Atheist writings typically ridicule faith or condemn faith.

    Atheists think they build everything on facts known, but they don't. They still have to trust, or believe that the "facts" are representing the truth.

    On this subject I would rather say the "absence of belief is non-existing" in this world of ours.

    An atheist lives in a boring black and white world, and must yet rely on belief to some extent. A non-physisist atheist must trust and believe the physists of CERN that says the existence of the HIGGS Boson has been proven.

    And if other physisist say they doubt the proof If strong enough, the non-physist -atheist must choose who to believe.

    And what atheists where sure as proven facts 100 years ago may no longer be true. So some facts change over time (actually, may be all If you wait long enough!)

    And while some physisists claims Cold Fusion is a proven fact, other physists claim It is pseudoscience. And all other people (inclding atheists) outside the field of CF must choose sides and who to believe.


    Many find life much more interesting and colorful when they choose to believe in testimonies of mysterious Events and possibly more dimensions than our own. Just like cold fusion, haha ;-)

    But the point that was ment by saying "atheism is also a religion" is still true, that
    Atheists shares many of the same traits as religous ones, and are as much believers as religious people, they just believe in different ideas.

  3. Seems you always have to disagree with me, Øystein :-)

    Just a brief comment (to avoid repeating what I have written in an attempt to explain): if you define religion in a very broad sense as a belief system, then any belief is a religion. That would include political views, any philosophy, etc.

    But that, it should be obvious, is not what is meant here. Some people believe in the supernatural. Gods, ghost, the tea pot (or H- atoms that suddenly decide to act as electrons and hop into an orbit of Ni so that they can make cold fusion happen ;-) ). Now, if I do not believe this supernatural stuff, how can this be "the same" as believing? It really goes beyond me in all ways.