Self-professed atheists think they have come to the conclusion that there is no god through a process of critical thinking and logical reasoning. They either make the positive intellectually-certain claim “there is no god” or what many believe to be the more “balanced”, “less radical” position of “I have absolutely no reason to believe in god but cannot rule his existence out altogether”. The problem with many atheists is that once they reach this position of god-denial, they think their reasoning is done, and become just as assured of their other positions as the theists they dislike so much, thinking of themselves as “rationalists”.
There is a difference between being an atheist and having a rational worldview though. Being an atheist just means you have taken a position on one particular matter of belief. Atheism is not a worldview or a belief system. It offers absolutely no other descriptive or prescriptive content apart from ‘this person doesn’t believe in god’. The problem with some atheists is that they do indeed think atheism is a worldview.
Atheism belongs only to the question of “god” – which is only one in the myriad field of questions, under the heading of belief. The problem with modern atheists is the same “problem” that plagues the worlds of philosophy and science. They tacitly or openly accept the notion that omniscience is necessary for absolute certainty. Philosophical scepticism permeates their worldview like a disease: we can never be sure of anything; our senses aren’t reliable; certainty is impossible; objectivity is naive; definite statements can’t be made in science; total knowledge is necessary for accurate claims. There is no greater exponent of this scepticism than the postmodern subjectivist with his diabolical multiculturalism. But the scientific community as well as the philosophical one as a rule accept this nihilism as the given.
As an example, how many times have you heard a theist say “you can’t call yourself an atheist – have you examined every part of the universe to see if god exists??” To which the atheist might respond: “I don’t need to examine the entire universe; there might be a god, but I see no reason to believe in one – and the burden of proof is on you.” The atheist is right that the burden of proof is on the theist – but he still cannot be 100% sure of his position, and he unwittingly accepts the philosophical scepticism that the theist smuggles into the question. In the same way that philosophical scepticism says that just because the sun rose yesterday doesn’t mean we can be sure it will rise tomorrow, the atheist who “is committed to reason and logic” refuses to rule out the supernatural, god, ghosts, vampires, goblins, elves, chi, astrology entirely – because he still accepts the nonsensical proposition that definite knowledge is impossible; that omniscience is necessary for certainty; that our senses can be fooling us one from minute to the next. So no matter how “rational” the atheist is, he still has to allow a modicum of irrationality in his worldview: that all the things he rejects might actually exist. But omniscience is not necessary to know that god is impossible and that the supernatural and paranormal are irrelevant anti-concepts that can be dismissed with 100% confidence.
Atheism is not a replacement for religion. That is why many deconvertees feel despondent and nihilistic when their worldview is shattered, as I once did. Religion is a complete worldview – it is an attempt to provide a complete philosophy, in that it attempts to account for knowledge, metaphysics, morality, politics, and aesthetics. It fails – but I think many atheists don’t realise how powerful religion is – it is powerful because it is important, and it is important because it represents a true human need: a philosophy for living. Religion doesn’t answer that need, because it is intellectually void and rejects reality – and places the primacy on consciousness and not existence itself. Atheism is not a worldview, and it is most certainly not a philosophy. The other “worldviews” that atheists turn to are not valid philosophies either. One example might be Humanism, a position that claims the universal value and worth of all people. However, Humanism does not give a definite objective definition of morality and it has no political agenda. Peter Singer as one example, a self-professioned Humanist, disagrees with many tenets of Humanism, such as the preferential treatment of human beings. Unfortunately, there is no way for Humanists to decide who is right on this issue. Secular Humanism has come to mean the rejection of religion in a political and moral setting, but it prescribes nothing objective in its place. For this, Humanists are free to discover any code of morality they choose, and are left to argue over what is right, morally and politically. Humanism has no objective definite positions on morality or politics, and what positions are generally accepted by humanists are usually based on some subjective collectivist notion of morality, such as utilitarianism – the idea that the whole is more important than any of its parts, and humans are cells in a superorganism that can and should be sacrificed for the good of the whole. In this respect, utilitarians merely substitute “god” for “society”. Atheists want religion gone, but offer nothing in its place that even resembles a proper philosophy and worldview.
The problem with some atheists is that, in their rush to displace religion and espouse all that religion traditionally rejects, they turn their lives into a quest to “make the world a better place” – and just like the religious, only their definition of better is allowed, and, just like the religious, they want their notions enforced politically. To take just one example: the fundamentalist wants a global theocracy. The modern-day atheist wants a global democracy. Most atheists idealise democracy almost religiously – an absolute to be unquestioned, “the best government we have or can have”; a “necessary evil”, they might say. It never even occurs to many to even question the idea of “universal good”, “making the world a better place (even by force)”, “democracy”. And this is because, just like the theist, many atheists steal the concepts of “good”, “better”, “freedom” from their necessary antecedents and apply them out of context, not realising they are contradicting themselves.
Want some examples?
Animal rights. “Rights” are a moral principle that define freedom of thought and action. Animals are not moral beings and have no conscious freedom of thought and action. They cannot therefore have rights.
Free Democracy. Democracy is unlimited majority rule. It is the enforced demand of a majority that is necessarily at the expense of the minority. It holds the collective as the standard and purpose, and individuals as means to that end. As such, it cannot respect freedom, since freedom only applies to thought and action, and only an individual can think and act. “Free democracy” is an oxymoron.
Making the world a better place. This idealist notion holds other peoples’ lives and happiness as the purpose of one’s own. By this thinking, the only goal in your life should be to make other people happy or maximise happiness in general, even if at your own expense. If there is no one around to please or help, your life has no meanin therefore. What about those who don’t want your help? What about those you don’t subscribe to your collectivist mentality, an example of which is the redistribution of wealth? Do you take their property from them? Do you threaten to arrest them if they don’t share their wealth? “Well”, you rationalise to yourself, it’s for the “greater good”. Wrong. Again, more concept-stealing – how can you enforce a moral action?? It’s a contradiction in terms.
A perfect example of this Modern Atheist is the excellent Christopher Hitchens. I like Hitchens, and I love watching him speak and debate – but his idea of morality is evolved social behaviour. His political ideal is democracy (I believe he is still a socialist). His support of the invasion of Iraq is not grounded primarily on acting in American’s rational self-interest, viz, to remove a very real threat – but as an act of altruism to “save” the Iraqi people and make their lives better, even at the expense of thousands of American soldiers. When it came to justifying an objective epistemology and metaphysics based on atheism, Hitchens was put in the shade by the Dinesh D’Souza.
In a recent debate, I encountered several of these “New Atheists” who’d read a little Dawkins and Hitchens and considered themselves rational just because they rejected god. Being an atheist means NOTHING about having a rational worldview – it is only one possible corollary of having such a worldview. As theists love to point out, many atheists committed atrocities just like theists did. Many atheists like to fight on this issue, especially Hitchens and Dawkins, protesting “but they didn’t commit their crimes in the name of atheism!” Who cares? Some of them actually did – the point is that it doesn’t matter: they were atheists, so in and of itself atheism says nothing about a person’s rationality. The war to fight is not theism vs atheism, it is irrationalism vs rationalism, subjectivity vs objectivity. And then, the war is there to fight only if it is of value to YOU. It is not a purpose in itself; not a campaign to spend your life selflessly pursuing.
There is one philosophy that I accept to the best of my knowledge. One that rejects philosophical scepticism; one that refuses to fight on the nihilistic grounds of the irrationalist; one that knows what its foundations are; one that has an objective account of reality and knowledge; one that has an objective morality; objective politics; and defines the proper values and virtues of human life. One that states that “the highest moral purpose man can pursue is his own happiness”; that life is an end in itself; that our lives are not sacrificial objects for the sakes of others – they our lives are our own and belong to us and no one else. A philosophy that states that reason is our primary means for survival – and every else flows from this. This is of course Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.
It’s not my purpose in life to “convert” people, and I don’t live to win people over to Objectivism or do their thinking for them; I don’t live to “make the world a better place” – each of us must make our lives as good as possible, and that includes caring for those we value. All I would like to point out is that many atheists these days are confused about their philosophical premises, even the “experts” like Dawkins and Hitchens. A person who honestly seeks a rational worldview would do well to study Objectivism, especially those “rational” atheists out there who despise religion so much yet cannot justify many of their own subjective notions.