The Reconquista Initiative
Lack-of-Belief Atheism is Bullshit
In his famous essay “On Bullshit”, philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt defined the so-called ‘bullshitter’ as a person whose main aim is not to communicate truth, nor even to consciously lie, but rather to make statements that further the bullshitter’s own ends and suit his agenda irrespective of the truth or falsity of those statements. And having followed the ‘New Atheism’ movement since 2007, and having actually been converted back to Christianity by Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, it needs to be said that numerous years of experience have shown me that in terms of how they initially present their atheism to others, many modern atheists can indeed be reasonably seen as intellectual bullshitters.
Now, the aforementioned assertion is a serious one, but to understand the rationale behind it, we need to reflect on the fact that in recent years, there has been a great push to define atheism in a mainly negative sense, where atheism is understood as simply a lack of belief in the existence of a God or gods (hereafter just God, unless otherwise noted). Indeed, rather than being a positive belief which explicitly asserts that God does not exist, atheism is now primarily perceived as a mere negative lack-of-belief concerning God’s existence. And not a day goes by without some atheist on the internet or in print proclaiming this alleged truism, so this is not a fringe point-of-view. But viewing atheism in this type of negative manner leads to a situation where, in any debate between a theist and an atheist, the burden of proof is almost always placed on the shoulders of the theistic God-believer. And indeed, consider, for example, what Austin Cline, an ‘Agnosticism & Atheism Expert’ at the popular website ‘atheism.about.com’, says in his online article “Who has the Burden of Proof?”, which was accessed on the 8th of August 2016. Cline says that:
[QUOTE] …some burden of proof always lies with the person who is making a claim, not the person who is hearing the claim and who may not initially believe it. In practice, then, this means that the initial burden of proof lies with those on the side of theism, not with those on the side of atheism. (http://atheism.about.com/od/doesgodexist/a/burdenofproof.htm) [UNQUOTE]
And in his online article “Is Defining Atheism as a ‘Lack of Belief in God’ a Cop Out?”, also accessed on the same day and on the same website, Cline, in the context of arguing that it is a myth that atheists seek to avoid the burden of proof by defining atheism negatively, nevertheless admits that atheists can indeed avoid the burden of proof by doing so. He says:
[QUOTE] …if atheism is just the absence of belief in gods, then it’s not making any claims that all atheists must defend, and therefore the only burden of proof lies with religious theists themselves. (http://atheism.about.com/od/definitionofatheism/a/LackBelief God.htm) [UNQUOTE]
Now, with these points in mind, one of the reasons that it can be reasonably believed that a solid number of modern atheists are intellectual bullshitters is precisely because, in contrast to Cline’s claim that it is a myth that atheists use negative-atheism to avoid the burden of proof, many atheists truly do appear to employ the ‘atheism as a lack of belief’ shtick as a means of skirting the burden of proof when in a debate with a theist. And they do so even though they don’t actually lack a belief in God, but rather, they positively believe, at least to some degree, that God does not exist. And please note that you do not have to take my word for this. Consider, instead, the words of atheist Luke Muehlhauser, the author of the website ‘commonsenseatheism.com’, which was very popular during New Atheism’s heyday. In his 23rd of February 2009 article “Atheism and the Burden of Proof”, which was accessed on the 8th of August 2016, Muehlhauser states the following:
[QUOTE] But most intellectually-inclined atheists I know do not merely “lack” a belief in God – as, say, my dog lacks a belief in God. Atheists like to avoid the burden of proof during debates, so they say they merely “lack” a belief in God. But this is not what their writings usually suggest. No, most intellectual atheists positively believe that God does not exist. In fact, most of them will say – at least to other atheists – that it’s “obvious” there is no God, or that they “know” – as well as we can “know” anything – that God does not exist. Thus, if the atheist wants to defend what he really believes, then he, too, has a burden of proof. He should give reasons for why he thinks that God almost certainly doesn’t exist. (http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=597, bold emphasis added) [UNQUOTE]
Note how Muehlhauser—who did indeed run a very popular atheist blog with numerous commentators and who interviewed dozens of atheists and theists alike—states that 1) most of the intellectually-inclined atheists that he knows do not merely lack a belief in God, and that 2) atheists will admit to other atheists that they know that there is no God, and also that 3) atheists like to avoid the burden of proof in debates. So here we have an atheist with a solid number of connections in the atheist community, tacitly admitting that lack-of-belief atheism is often just a shell-game meant to help atheists avoid the burden of proof.
But Muelhauser is not the only individual to notice these points about atheists. For example, the author of the ‘Shadow to Light’ blog—which is a blog that has been keeping a critical eye on the New Atheist movement since 2012—has offered the following observation in a blog post titled ‘“There is no God!” – A Common Atheist Belief’, which was written on the 4th of January 2017 and accessed on the 11th of January 2017:
[QUOTE] In the previous posting, I showed that atheist activist leaders subscribe to the belief that “there are no gods.” That is, their atheism is not a lack of god belief. Their atheism is a belief that God does not exist. But just how common is this? There is actually quite a bit of evidence to support the contention that atheism as a belief – a belief there is no God – is actually very common. And I base this is on my own experience interacting with many, many atheists over the years. If you yourself have similar experience, consider how well this evidence resonates. (https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2017/01/04/there-is-no-god-a-common-atheist-belief/#more-4618, bold emphasis added) [UNQUOTE]
And after providing a number of arguments to support his contention, the author of that blog post concludes with the following:
[QUOTE] Add it all up. Atheist activists proudly proclaim “there are no gods” and give each other awards for doing this. Their atheist followers cheer all of this. Those who follow the atheist activists likewise preach that religion is delusion, score themselves as a 6.9-7 on Dawkins scale, and have trouble articulating what evidence for God would even look like. The evidence clearly indicates the atheist activist community is a community of believers – people who believe “there is no God.” It’s time for this community to be honest with itself and with others. (https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2017/01/04/there-is-no-god-a-common-atheist-belief/#more-4618, bold emphasis added) [UNQUOTE]
Furthermore, and as mentioned at the start of this essay, I myself have been following the New Atheist movement in earnest for approximately a decade of time, and during this time I have read and/or interacted with dozens if not hundreds of atheists. And what this experience has shown me is that atheism, when defined as a lack-of-belief, all too often is little more than a debate tactic used by atheists to deny that they positively believe anything about the God question, thereby allowing atheists to appear intellectually legitimate when they avoid the burden of proof for their position (however, in fairness, it should be noted that most of my interactions with atheists was through the internet, and so a self-selection effect may have been in play in my particular case).
And so, the long and short of it is this: quotes such as the ones provided above, alongside the experience of numerous individuals who have been immersed in the atheism / theism debate for many years, do indeed provide some evidence that the atheist’s embrace of lack-of-belief atheism is often not a reflection of what the atheist truly believes, but rather, it is just a disingenuous move to help the atheist achieve a rhetorical advantage in his intellectual fight with the theist. And it is precisely such evidence, when combined with further points, which provides us with the grounds to reasonably believe that when it comes to lack-of-belief atheism, many atheists are, quite simply, intellectual bullshitters.
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Anno Domini 2017 01 11
Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam