Misunderstanding Atheism . . . Again

Many Christians and religious believers have a hard time understanding what is atheism. The most common misconceptions are that it’s a belief system in and of itself, or that it is the assertion that there are no gods.
 
Despite repeated attempts of atheists to rebut these misconceptions, they still remain.
 
Case in point: Rev. Dr. Chris Surber’s opinion piece in the Suffolk News-Herald, “Modern Atheism is Not a Thing,” makes several mistakes in regard to what is atheism.
 
Surber begins by referencing the 18th-centrury philosopher David Hume and claims Hume’s lack of belief in miracles as a root cause of his atheism. Surber paints Hume’s atheism as logic-based and rooted in skepticism. I’m not too familiar with Hume’s work, but I mention this because Surber uses Hume to make a distinction between historical atheism and modern atheism, which is his first mistake.
 
Surber goes on to say, “Hume’s atheism was skepticism rooted in logic . . .but today’s atheism is something else altogether. It is above all else an active belief in the non-existence of God. It has passed from passive skepticism to active non-belief. It has become a belief itself. It is the belief that there is no God.”
 
Well, that couldn’t be more wrong. And while I’m sure there are some atheists who make the claim that no gods exist, the overwhelming majority of the atheists I read and follow make no such claim.
 
One can be reasonably certain the character Yahweh as described in the Bible doesn’t exist, but I’d be skeptical of someone who asserts with certainty that no gods exist anywhere now or ever.
 
The error — I think — Surber is making is equating outspokenness of many atheists with “active non-belief.”
 
He goes on to add — somewhat correctly — that “ . . . today’s atheism is really just a dislike, disapproval and denunciation of religious belief. It’s not atheism. It’s anti-theism, and that is a whole other thing.”
 
Well, yes and no. Many outspoken atheists like myself are indeed anti-theists. We see the harm religious belief causes and we refuse to remain silent. We stand up for separation of church and state and aggressively promote a worldview based in science, logic, reason and secularism.
 
But this isn’t a “new atheism.” It’s the same atheism, but one that’s more vocal — and possibly more aggressive — and that is what I think rubs people like Surber the wrong way.
 
Atheism in the past and in the present has always been the lack of belief in gods based on evidence provided. Full stop, end of story.
  • Ten Bears

    There are no gods, only fairy tales.

    Fantasies to explain away the dark, justify sex with young children, and profit. You really don’t think the witch doctor really believes that tossing a virgin in a volcano will make it rain, do you? Nooo… tossing a virgin in a volcano keeps him in his cushy witch doctor gig, with the additional perk of spending a few quality end of life hours with the virgin – what…!? you thought the virgin, stoned to the bone on Ambien, Prozac, and Viagra and smiling all the way to the bottom, was still a virgin when the witch doctor tossed ‘em in? I’ve got some property to sell. Ocean-front. Cheap. Cash only, in small bills. You’ll love Idaho!

    Recalling that in all legend lay a kernel of fact, reading the fabrications koran, bible, and torah in larger, historical context with other fabrications lain down in stone it is in fact quite easy to afford “Intelligent Design” a measure of credibility. When chariots with wheels of fire flitting about, vast arks propelling the seeds of life across vast empty spaces, and fathers asking of their wives “be this my son, or that of a “giant?” are lain aside the physical record it isn’t all that far fetched to supposit that at some point in the past half-million years extra-terrestrial travelers – for whatever reason: pure science, sheer boredom, desperate survival, or profit – genetically interfered with the development of the proto-humans they found roaming the savannahs of Northern and Western Africa. Not only are we but fleas agitating the hide of a far greater organism, but some bastard’s abandoned science project, if not cattle, as well. Wrap the twelve percent of your brain you use around that.

    This notion that the bastard is going to come back and rescue us… that as the blood of our adolescent squabbles over whose imaginary dog has the bigger dick rises to the horses’ bridle will come floating down out of the sky on a white horse with a thousand angels to carry away the chosen few, the faithful… Who are these “Chosen People”, these “faithful”? The genetically purest cattle (or pigs, as it is)? More accurately: just who do they think they are? Get this straight, these “Chosen People”, these “faithful”, can destroy the world – burn the forests, chop down the mountains, turn the air we breath into toxic gas and waters we drink into vast garbage reservoirs… can

    drop their fucking bombs and burn the screaming babies

    and at the last moment, the moment the world is utterly destroyed, after the bloodbath, some spectral being with whom they’ve entered into some kind of “special” contractual obligation is going to float down out of the sky and carry them away.

    Uh-huh. To what?

    Far the more likely thousands upon thousands of cavernous spacecraft, vast slaughter-houses piloted by ravenous vaguely reptilian creatures, replete with horns and folked tail, intent not as benevolent overseers of the demise of this world and our current iteration in human evolution and our children’s evolution onto the next iteration of humanity but as ravenous reptilian creatures… you know, hungry lizards.

    We did, afterall, invite them to “Come Eat!”

  • Wussypillow

    I dunno, I don’t really see the problem with denying the existence of all gods, of any kind, anywhere, ever. If a god existed, there would be proof of it. But there isn’t. Absence of evidence is evidence of absence. It isn’t the atheist’s job to provide proof or even to ‘remain agnostic’: Someone who posits that something called a ‘god’ might perhaps exist must provide at least a little bit of evidence that that type of thing exists. And no, scriptures and feelings don’t count.

  • De Ha

    This Surber guy is a dickhead. other than the parts where he worshios Hume for some reason, it’s a single baseless accusation stretched over several paragraphs. An accusation we have been trying and failing to correct them on since forever. they’re just too stupid to get it.

  • Billy Dean

    Whoa there! “… but I’d be skeptical of someone who asserts with certainty that no gods exist anywhere now or ever.” Really? Well I’m a good bit older than you, and I wasn’t brought up in a religious household, nor did I go to a school with religious education, so I have been an atheist all my life. I have now, and have had in the past, many atheist friends and acquaintances, and I will state quite categorically that no gods exist anywhere, now or ever, and so would every atheist I have ever known. I enjoy your work, but please don’t make the mistake of redefining what people do, or should believe. Personally, I’m sceptical of people brought up as religious who become atheist on their terms. And please don’t confuse atheism with agnosticism.

    • whocares

      thank you, very well said

  • whocares

    You’re wrong. even if atheism doesn’t directly state there is no god it is implied that there is likely not one, since atheism is largely based on logic and skepticism one would probably come to the conclusion that given the facts god is not real.