What If Atheism Really Is Just A “Lack of Belief in God”?

Many atheists claim that the proper definition of atheism is, as Austin Cline of the Atheism channel on About.com states, “simply the absence of belief in gods.”

But if atheism is a lack of belief and not a positive affirmation of what is real, good, and true, then the atheist immediately runs into serious problems.

This post is divided into two sections:

  1. Prominent atheists do define their worldview as “lacking belief in God” and
  2. The troubling problems this definition creates for the atheist, as defined.

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Michael Shermer Calls Me A Skeptic!

In a recent article for The Huffington Post, Michael Shermer, the founder of The Skeptics Society, called me a skeptic! Admittedly, he didn’t use my name, but he did define my position. Here’s how he defines skepticism:

In principle, skeptics are neither closed-minded nor cynical. We are curious but cautious. Or, I often hear, “Oh, you’re a skeptic, so you don’t believe anything?” No, I believe lots of things, as long as there is reason and evidence to believe.

Being a skeptic just means being rational and empirical: thinking and seeing before believing.

Skepticism is the rigorous application of science and reason to test the validity of any and all claims.

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Why Care About Human Well-Being? A Response to Sam Harris

Do you want other people to be happy? If you had a choice between making the world either happier or more miserable, which would you choose? Which choice would be the moral one?

These are questions that Dr. Sam Harris, a best-selling author and neuroscientist, has been discussing for many years now. His most prominent book on the subject, The Moral Landscape, was even a New York Times bestseller. Unfortunately, this book contained a number of elementary philosophical mistakes that Dr. Harris continues to misunderstand or ignore.

So, if you want to maximize the well-being of others in an intellectually coherent manner, read on!

The most important mistake of The Moral Landscape is what Harris, in a response to critiques of his book, calls “The Value Problem.”

Here’s how Harris summarizes the critique:

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The Devil’s Delusion by David Berlinski – A Book Review

Bias. In order to undercut an unpleasant argument, just claim that prejudicial self-interest blinds another person from seeing the error of their ways.

So what to make of Dr. Berlinksi, with a Ph.D. from Princeton and time spent as a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics and molecular biology at Columbia University, who opens his critique of the New Atheists by claiming:

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Moral Clarity and the RDFRS Community

Earlier this week I posted “Moral Clarity and Richard Dawkins,”which was then reposted and discussed at the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science website. My first response to the comment thread pointed out the frequent logical fallacies (and incivility) in the comment thread.

Today I want to continue an effort to raise the bar of dialogue with the RDFRS community. My goal in this post is to address the more substantive comments at their site. Before doing so, a brief recap of the original argument is in order.

In “Moral Clarity and Richard Dawkins” I offered the metaphor of a house with a foundation, main floor, and a roof. The foundation is the meta-ethical theory, the main floor is our ethical theory, and the roof is our behavior. I then looked at Richard Dawkins’ overall ‘moral house’ to see how well his meta-ethical theory supports his ethical system and behavior.

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Logical Fallacies and the RDFRS Community

This week the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science decided to link to my post “Moral Clarity and Richard Dawkins,” which resulted in a vigorous discussion on their website. Two kinds of responses seem appropriate.

The first is to provide a robust defense of the position I staked out in the original post, which offered the metaphor of a house in order to explain the logical links between a person’s meta-ethical foundations, the ethical system, and our actual behavior. I then applied this metaphor to Richard Dawkins’ worldview to demonstrate inconsistencies within his belief system.

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Moral Clarity and Richard Dawkins

Moral confusion is a common problem. When a conversation begins about the difference between right and wrong, everyone can feel the tension, because admitting you’re wrong isn’t just about saying you have bad reasons, but can become about whether or not you are a bad person. Sometimes we argue past each other because we’re using the same words to mean radically different things. Sometimes we agree with each other, but we don’t even recognize it. This article is an attempt to offer conceptual clarity so we can have fairer, more intelligent conversations with one another about the pressing moral issues of our day.

For the sake of further clarity, I’ve divided this article on ethics into two parts. In the first part, using the metaphor of a house, I offer a brief overview of the categorical differences between behavior, ethics, and meta-ethics. The second half of the article explains the implications of this metaphor for the ‘New Atheist’ worldview, as exemplified by Richard Dawkins.

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Is God a Moral Monster? by Dr. Paul Copan – A Book Review

About a year ago while I was at Harvard, talking with one of the students I regularly mentored, it happened that two of his friends walked by and stopped to say hello. We began to talk about their perspective on life and it quickly became clear that they were staunch atheists with a strong aversion to Christianity. Out of curiosity I asked them, “So, what’s your biggest objection to Christianity?” One of them immediately responded, “Your god commanded the genocide of the Canaanites. How can you worship a god like that?”

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The Reason Rally and Generosity

The Reason Rally, hosted by “many of the country’s largest and most influential secular organizations, will feature “music, comedy, speakers, and so much more.” As “the largest secular event in world history” the goal is “to advance secularism” and focus “on all non-theists have achieved in the past several years.”

As you look at it, The Reason Rally, in its structure, actually seems to have a surprising amount in common with a megachurch service or a Christian festival. You have celebrity speakers, famous bands, comedians, poets, authors, and and activists. Overall, it looks like it will be a fun gathering.

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The Reason Rally

On March 24th, Richard Dawkins and other atheists plan to host a “Reason Rally” in Washington, D.C. As their website explains, “The Reason Rally is an event sponsored by many of the country’s largest and most influential secular organizations.” The list of speakers includes P.Z. Myers, Dan Barker, Lawrence Krauss, David Silverman, and U.S. House Representative Pete Stark.

As “the largest secular event in world history”, they hope to deliver a unique message of “good news,” namely, “We’re huge, we’re everywhere, and we’re growing.” As part of this theme, they’ve promised to keep the experience positive, celebrate secular values, and avoid trashing religion.

As the event itself unfolds, we will see how well the organizers and participants keep to these promises.

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