The Four Cs of Atheism June 3, 2008

The Four Cs of Atheism

Below is a new essay by August Berkshire, president of Minnesota Atheists.

It’s called “The Four Cs of Atheism.”

(August is also the author of “34 Unconvincing Arguments for God.”)

Like many of you reading this, I describe myself as a flaming liberal. Yet in one area I am a conservative. I am an atheist.

Yes, atheism is a conservative position. We make no leaps of faith. We accept statements only so far as there is reason and/or evidence to back them up. Anything else is speculation.

Atheism is also consistent. We apply our skepticism equally to all supernatural claims. We do not say, “All prophets, saviors, or gods are false – except ours.” We make no exceptions or special pleadings, which makes us consistent.

Another benefit of atheism is that it is contradiction-free. We don’t have to try to reconcile an all-loving, all-seeing, all-powerful god with the existence of evil. We don’t have to define love exactly the opposite of the way we normally define it in order to make it applicable to our god. We don’t have to claim a poor supernatural designer is intelligent.

An atheist also possesses clarity in his or her thinking processes. An atheist has the courage to follow the trail of reason and evidence wherever it may lead. If there should some day be a compelling reason or piece of evidence for a god, then we would acknowledge it and change our views. This is also known as intellectual honesty.

One of the arguments of Pascal’s Wager is that a person loses nothing by believing in a god. I beg to differ. Accepting Pascal’s Wager means saying that we are willing to abandon reason and evidence as our standards of living, and instead make a leap of faith to… where?

It’s true that by converting (or deconverting) from theism to atheism a person can lose his or her cosmic specialness and meaning in life and any hope of an afterlife. But you can’t lose what you never really had.

The reality of atheism far outweighs the dream of religion. There is an excitement and beauty to perceiving the world as it really is, and not as a wishful thought.

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Mark

    It’s true that by converting (or deconverting) from theism to atheism a person can lose his or her cosmic specialness and meaning in life and any hope of an afterlife. But you can’t lose what you never really had.

    I disagree, people lose the perception that they are special and meaningful, and that the world has some sort of overseer. This is the benefit of theism, is that it provides a community framework for delusional thinking.
    Some people just want to be sheep.

  • Mark, I’m an atheist and I think that humanity is somewhat special, and that our lives are meaningful, albeit not in the way Christianity says. And I agree with the author that “you can’t lose what you never really had.” He’s saying that if Christianity/theism isn’t true, then they never really had their theistic specialness or their afterlife. They just thought they did.

    And so, if Christianity/theism is wrong, then atheism, where we affirm a naturalistic view, where we don’t need an afterlife or theistic specialness, has always been the better way to live, because there has never really been a heaven or a God who holds us up as the most important thing of all time. We need to face reality, which turns out to be not so bad after all.

  • Mark

    I agree entirely, I’m an atheist too, and I’m not going to stop arguing the logic of theism with my friends, but I just don’t think they’re going to listen to reason, if they did they’d already be Atheist. What I think is holding them back is the intense placebo effect. They think they’re happier, what we should show them is that we’re realistic AND happy.

  • Darryl

    Too much like a Baptist preacher forcing his points into a neat alliteration.

  • I don’t think atheists are contradiction-free. And about “you can’t lose what you didn’t have” … I agree except that even though god probably doesn’t exist, he is very real to many people and so unreal things manifest themselves in very real ways. Someone said the invisible and the nonexistent look very similar (I think it was Hitchens), but what I’m saying is that for someone deconverting, it can really feel like a loss (even if it is just in your heart). Like if you feel there’s something in the dark, your body really reacts to it. It might be nothing, but the reactions are real (okay, I know I beat that point over the head).

    Overall, I like you post, but I think you give atheists too much credit. And I’m an atheist. No. I’m not a self-hating atheist, but I try to give credit where credit is due.

  • Brian E

    @Mark: Some people just want to be sheep

    You nailed it right there, pun intended.

    This is an excellent article, and I love his ‘unconvincing arguments’ list. I mailed it out to several people when it was only at 21; I might have to re-visit that. This guy should consider writing a book, if he hasn’t already (as I demonstrate my laziness to actually go to Amazon and search…)

  • The final three items seem unassailable, but I disagree with the first: Berkshire describes atheism as “conservative” merely because it avoids faith in favor of empiricism. In doing so, he leaps from political conservatism (protection of the status quo and support for religious traditions regardless of the lack of evidence) in his first sentence to a very different general cautious attitude in the second. Calling this aspect of atheism “cautious” would preserve Berkshire’s alliterative list, although “freethinking liberalism” would preserve the political link. Bertrand Russell said it best:

    “The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment. This is the way in which opinions are held in science, as opposed to the way in which they are held in theology. […] Science is empirical, tentative, and undogmatic; all immutable dogma is unscientific. The scientific outlook, accordingly, is the intellectual counterpart of what is, in the practical sphere, the outlook of Liberalism.”

    (“Philosophy and Politics,” 1950)

  • matt

    I must suggest Christians and Atheist to read this book “The End of Reason” by Dr. Ravi Zacharias. This book forces the reader’s mind to do the critical thinking that is so lacking in Christianity today. It should also be considered required reading for the atheist who has never really looked at a logical argument for the existence of God, or the Christian who has never really critically analyzed his own faith. Check out more information on The End of Reason here

  • Andy Jewell

    I disagree that atheists are contradiction-free.

    To the extent that you accept both General Relativity and Quantum, you have a contradiction.

    A more correct phrasing might be that atheists accept their contradictions and don’t try to hide them.

    Contradictions are the best part of science, because you know that there are exciting new truths right behind them.

  • Brian

    I also must disagree on the first point, but for a different reason: Atheism certainly is not a position that makes no leaps of faith. To say that there is no god takes a leap of faith, as we cannot prove it. To say that you do not know or that you do not care is the only position that requires no leap of faith.

  • Brian,

    Few atheists claim certainty that there is no god. One of the most common misunderstandings about atheism is that it cannot exist side by side with agnosticism. You don’t have to have proof that there is no god to be an atheist, and in fact I’ve never encountered an atheist who claimed proof.

    Atheism is the neutral position with respect to gods, just as not believing in teapots and unicorns is also neutral. You can’t prove that there isn’t an extremely small teapot orbiting earth right now, but there is no evidence for it and no reason to believe it.

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