Monday, August 6, 2007

Born Atheist

I actually did get to the NYC Atheists table on Saturday but I don't think I have enough material for a full report. Instead I will just write the little story I tell to define atheism. I'm often using it because I am arguing with these "militant" agnostics over semantics.

Everyone is born an atheist. How could we not be? We know nothing about any kind of gods or supernatural deities. These atheist babies grow up, learn to talk and start communicating with other people. At some point young people hear a story about a god. If these baby atheists believe the story, they are now theists. If they don't believe the story, they remain atheists. In other words, atheism is the default position.

So many people disagree with this definition. They think atheism is the "faith" that no gods exists. They claim I (and most other self described atheists) are changing the definition. I don't know if we are or not, but it doesn't matter. This basic definition of equating atheism to non-theism is more useful. Making atheism equal so called "strong atheism" makes the word useless.

Anyway, it all depends on the definition of "god" under discussion. First I'm an ignostic. For the purpose of argument over vague descriptions of gods I am an agnostic. For definite god models based on ancient myths I am an atheist.


J. K. Jones said...

These types of arguments are not demonstrative. We can both say all are born in a particular way and are educated out of it or suppress it.

Time would be better served with other lines of thought.

that atheist guy said...

I wasn't sure what you meant by "demonstrative" (besides "able to be demonstrated") so I looked it up on

2. serving to demonstrate; explanatory or illustrative.
3. serving to prove the truth of anything; indubitably conclusive.

I think this post would fall under #2. I'm not sure if any arguments about theistic claims would fall under #3. (I think "proof" only happens in mathematics...)

Anyway, I don't think it is far out to say babies are born implicit atheists. I could also say babies are born implicitly apolitical. You aren't born a democrat or a republican for example. (Analogous to not being born a Christian, Muslim or Hindu.)

I don't think it is a waste of time getting definitions straight before a discussion. I've seen too many religious discussion run aground from improper definitions, leading to things like the fallacy of equivocation. That was the purpose of this post, to be "explanatory or illustrative" about what atheism means, a theme that continued in the following post.

J. K. Jones said...

Okay, I’ll buy "explanatory or illustrative.”

But I believe that many Christians have put forth arguments that serve “to prove the truth of” Christianity in an “indubitably conclusive” way.

blueshifter said...

I disagree - supernatural belief is found in every human culture we have ever found, so this would seem to indicate some genetic predisposition to supernatural thinking. Let's ask ourselves, what would a group of pure 'born atheists',somehow isolated and raised as a pristine group with no cultural background, do the first time one of their group died? would they invent a spirit? It seems the answer is yes...

that atheist guy said...

Which part do you disagree with? Even if this new culture does develop supernatural beliefs on its own, it doesn't take away from my original example of babies being born with no specific belief built in. Ie. they lack belief. (But not the potential for it, as your hypothesis about genetic predisposition suggests.) Also, I guess your thought experiment is actually how things happened in the ancient past of humanity. At some point there must have been either an ape-like proto-human with no beliefs, or a truly human culture with no beliefs. (Assuming you aren't a YEC.)

A whole lot depends on the details of this pristine raising you suggest, and I'm not convinced 100% such a predisposition to believe supernatural things in particular exists. Kids are raised today with and without belief in supernatural entities. I could also make the claim that humans have a genetic predisposition to doubt and question. Writing in depth about the intersection of culture and genetics is beyond my limited knowledge.

Anyway, my main point was to illustrate the useful definition of atheism as the "lack of belief".