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Atheism Is Not A Worldview

11/30/2015 02:40 EST | Updated 11/30/2016 05:12 EST
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I assume you don't believe in Santa. How does the Tooth Fairy fare in your epistemic framework? Perhaps you have a slight predilection for the Easter Bunny? How about wood gnomes and river trolls?

Tempting diversions, no doubt, if you have kids to entertain, but probably not the sort of thing you otherwise spend a lot of time pondering.

Be that as it may, what would you think if someone asked you, "How does not believing in these various features of imagination define your wider, worldview?" Or, "How are all your other beliefs affected by not believing in these fables?"

Sound strange? It should. Yet these are exactly the questions demanded by other communities of imagination, namely the religious.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. To make sure we are all following the same argument, I beg your indulgence to first pursue our above examples a bit further.

Keeping in the Christmas spirit, consider more closely, non-belief in Santa.

For the Santa-incredulous (largely for those above the age of ten), how would lack of belief in Saint Nick dictate, define and determine your much wider beliefs about politics, social issues, economics -- and basically every other topic you have some sort of thought about?

Once more, the answer is easy: It wouldn't. Not believing in Santa, I think it's quite clear, would have no influence on your wider, worldview (whatever that might be).

Just as significantly, because non-belief in Santa won't determine all your other beliefs, if you were able to group in a huge room all those not believing in Santa, the only shared quality you'd see is that they don't believe in Santa. Aside from that, anything else goes in terms of what they'd believe -- or how they'd behave.

Anti-Clausism wouldn't be a unifying foundation.

How is this example of non-belief with Santa any different with religious belief? Or, more precisely, that lack of religious belief should dictate your worldview as "Secularist"; "Anti-God"; "Anti-religious"; or, "Atheistic"?

Despite how weak this line of reasoning goes, it's one that religious believers make all the time about those without religious belief. Despite how the latter have often willingly accepted those appellations, it's a meme we should now slough-off.

In short, if you don't have religious belief, don't fall into the snare of then, holus-bolus, describing yourself, or letting yourself be described, by that lack of belief.

Of course the main objection to the analogy will be that belief in Santa, and belief in the God of monotheism, aren't comparable. It'd be argued there is much more evidence for religious belief than belief in Santa or other fairy tales, and so religious belief has to be taken much more seriously.

With some conditions, I'd happily grant the religiously faithful their points. Religion certainly has provided a powerful account of understanding the world. It's one that most probably goes back to the beginning of our emerging consciousness as a species. And therein lies the first difficulty.

In our primordial state, our brains were evolved enough to be in awe of the natural world. The corresponding down-side, was that we were woefully uninformed as to our world's actual workings. As Christopher Hitchens so aptly put the contrast:

"Religion was our first - and so our worst - attempt at literature, the texts, our first attempt at cosmology, making sense of where we are in the universe, our first attempt at health care, believing in faith healing, our first attempt at philosophy."

Because religion was the only game in town, so to speak, it would've indeed been quite difficult to have had any sort of a worldview not dominated by theological content. This is largely how it went for thousands of years:

"Q: How did the world begin?" "A: Easy. There's a God who created it." "Q: Why is there death and misery in this world?" "A: Easy. Humans made God mad." "Q: Why are there terrible storms, droughts, and deluges?" "A: Easy. Humans make God mad."

For the incredulous, there wasn't much available that could be garnered to suggest an alternative account to the big questions. Simply put, the science wasn't there yet.

So the religious worldview went, largely unchallenged, up until Copernicus and the scientific revolution. The floodgate of scientific understanding has since opened, with the abundance of knowledge practically overwhelming our capacity for comprehension.

The discoveries continue to amaze, from the tiniest in quantum theories, to our evolution, to the largest in cosmology. The discoveries replace religious awe with the awe of a slowly unveiling universe, all that peals away the explanatory force once commanded by religion.

Unlike any other time in our human history, we now can have a worldview completely independent of religious belief. And given the rich variety of other beliefs we can now hold, there's nothing more in common non-believers may have with each other.

That's exactly why not believing in God isn't a worldview. Atheism is now really about nothing. So instead of calling ourselves atheists (an appellation that's guilty of still taking religious belief too seriously), just being an ordinary person -- standing in awe of the science -- says enough.

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