Anyone reading my mixture will no doubt be aware of my stance when it comes to religion. I detest all religions with a passion and consider human kind would be better served without the unctuous, simpering cleric, the mad frothing Imam and the sanctimonious bejewelled, Pope. Even peaceful Buddhism does not escape censure. The doctrine of reincarnation is ludicrous and based on nothing more than wishful thinking and esoteric Eastern mysticism. And yet Buddhism attracts respect and kind comment from folk who understand its doctrines, not at all- also, that Dalai Lama is a bit of a cunt and not just because he looks a bit like my uncle Reggie.
Atheism is arguably the most misunderstood of all the philosophies and is mistakenly associated with a host of negative connotations including immorality, pessimism, nihilism and downright wickedness. Although to be fair, none of these characteristics are incompatible with atheism, but neither do they necessarily follow from religious non-belief. Reactions to atheism/atheists vary, even amongst the enlightened, Western nations (read: enlightened, sub-population). North Western Europe is generally kind to atheists and the atheistic principle, as is
Australia and . The New Zealand , especially the midwest and the southern states, is the least tolerant of the Western nations. However, even in the States, atheism is on the rise, although only about 5% of the population openly state they are atheistic (?an underestimate). To place this statistic in perspective, it should be compared to the 25% of the population professing atheism/agnosticism in my adopted country of United States . If you include those of 'no religion' this percentage rises to nearly half of the population, at least according to the 2013 census. Admittedly, the 'no religion' group is a very mixed bag indeed, ranging from frank atheists, to believers in a deity but not allied to a formal religious group, all through to 'new age' types (fucking hippies) who believe in some form of guiding spirit which may, or may not, be equated with the conventional conception of god. New Zealand comes out as the most atheistic nation on earth with 46% to 85% of the population declaring atheism/agnosticism. It will come as no surprise that levels of atheism are higher in the young and the well educated; the greater the level of academic achievement, the greater the level of atheism. There are claims that over 90% of US scientists are atheists. I am not uncritical of the figures presented here, although all are garnered from respectable studies. Getting the right answer is difficult and reliant upon asking the right question. We also need to take into account the 'unreliability factor' when trying to extract data from fickle humans. Nonetheless, I think the trend, over time and overall, show an expanding percentage of atheists and agnostics in the West, even amongst the relatively 'religious and conservative’, Americans. Sweden
It has just occurred to me that I have been blithely wittering on about atheism and agnosticism without defining what these terms actually mean. Foolish Flaxen, may the gods send a thousand furies to torment your heretical soul! For if we have no formal definition and appreciation of a concept how can we even consider starting a discussion? Intelligibility is the handmaiden of epistemological rationality (Flaxen waxing lyrical and teetering on the exposition of bollocks, once again).
Theism is a belief in god or gods. Adding the prefix ‘a’ denotes a non-belief in gods. This is the most basic definition and in logic represents the proposition: ‘God exists’ as being false. Strictly speaking, atheism is not a belief, rather it is the absence of belief; a term of negation. Agnosticism, as I understand it, prevents us from asking the question: 'Does god exist?', within the framework of achievable knowledge (epistemology). Therefore, the only ‘logical’ approach is to suspend judgement and confine the concept not just to the unknown, but to the unknowable. Thus, agnosticism is often considered a valid alternative to atheism and theism, ‘a third way’. I would argue that agnosticism is not a third way but a representation of either theism or atheism, but I don’t have the space to consider my reasoning here- perhaps, another article? Before leaving ‘agnosticism’, for now, I would like to state that, in my opinion, the concept has acquired an intellectual patina which it does not deserve; nuff said.
Theists often assert that the burden of proof should lie with the atheist. That is, atheists are honour bound to provide arguments for the disproof of deitie(s). However, this is not the case. The burden of proof always lies with the believer. They should supply valid propositions and arguments for their belief. If there are no valid propositions or if the reasoning is false, then the belief, should on rational grounds, be discarded. Atheism is not a positive belief and consequently there is no obligation to provide proof. The onus of proof weighs upon the head of the believer no matter what that belief actually is. In the same way, a believer in unicorns should be able to support their contention that 'unicorns exist' with cogent, rational arguments. As a non-believer of unicorns, I am under no obligation to provide evidence for their non-existence.
As mentioned earlier, atheism is often attached to a whole raft of assumptions and atheists are automatically shoe-horned into other belief systems, by religious believers. For instance, communism is famously atheistic and therefore, to be an atheist is also to be a communist. Whilst it is true many card carrying communists are atheists, it does not follow that atheists are necessary communists. I, for instance, bestraddle the 'right wing' of the political spectrum. Atheism is compatible with all political beliefs or non-beliefs for that matter, such as anarchy. The same can be said for morality, happiness and mental health. Atheists are not necessarily, mad, bad and dangerous to know, although it helps.
The point of the above discussion is to illustrate a simple and often neglected truth: When someone tells you they are an atheist, that statement alone tells you nothing about that person's core beliefs apart from their lack of religious beliefs. Atheism is not a way of life and does not entail a set of common core values and beliefs necessarily shared by other atheists. Nor does it tell you why a person is an atheist. People become atheists for a variety of reasons. I'm a critical atheist who considers the concept of the deity irrational, philosophically unsubstantiated and absurd. Others may become atheists as a reaction against their strict fundamental religious upbringing or because a belief in god is incompatible with an insouciant, futile and insentient universe.
My stance as a critical atheist does not mean I have to be intellectually passive when confronted with arguments for the existence of god. When a theist tells me that ‘god exists’, I don't ask him or her for evidence, instead I ask them to define their god; what are its attributes? How will I know this supernatural being if I have the misfortune of bumping into one? Some theists think that this is a subsidiary issue that can be worked out at some later date or at leisure. I would argue that this 'definition' needs to be tackled even before the preliminary debate can commence. If we don't have a fundamental intellectual grasp of the topic in hand how can we talk about it in any rational sense? When someone suggests we talk about dining tables, I already have a sound grasp of the subject. I know what dining tables look like and I'm sure, if pushed, could come up with a very acceptable definition for a generic dining table. But when someone mentions an invisible supernatural god which can interact with the visible natural world I am at a loss to conceive such an entity. This is why the believer in god, or gods, need to take time and intellectual energy to define the subject matter in a rational coherent sense, otherwise we are not actually talking about anything, are we? Many believers have a problem with this approach and consider the concept of god as self-evident. Few things are self-evident in this life except axioms of mathematics and fundamental laws of logic and the concept of god is no exception.
To be continued..........