Common misconceptions about atheism


#1

“There are no atheists in foxholes.”

This one simply is not true; and furthermore it is fairly easy to show it to be so. And the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers is rather good such evidence.

maaf.info/index.html

This link also has a rather nice discussion of this particular bromide:

atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/ath/blathm_urb_foxholes.htm

And obviously, even if it were true, would it be worthwhile mentioning in debates with atheists? People often do not act rationally in exceedingly stressful circumstances (such as foxholes). If it turned out that theists recanted their beliefs when under extreme pressure, that would hardly constitute evidence in favor of atheism. It is better to discuss things which are believed after reasoned contemplation and discussion than those which are accepted under duress.

A closely related misconception:

“Atheists are just angry at God.” In other words, atheism is a wilful denial of something which atheists know to be true, but which they cannot accept for various reasons, such as: atheism allows them to justify a sinful lifestyle, or that they are too proud to admit a power than themselves, or something along those lines.

Now, this one is slightly more difficult to disprove. Attestations from atheists probably won’t work - since they’re exactly what an angry-at-God atheist would say. On the other hand - if atheists denied God so that they could live sinfully guilt-free, wouldn’t we expect that most atheists would, in fact, live sinful lives? But this doesn’t seem to be the case. And if most atheists denied God due to pride, wouldn’t we expect that they would also deny ther duties to humanity (a cause larger than themselves)? But it seems that the moral philosophy most associated with atheism is humanism, which calls for care and compassion for other humans - the acceptance of humanity as a cause larger than oneself.

Furthermore, this sort of claim is rather difficult to substantiate, for the same reasons that it is somewhat difficult to disprove. It seems that we’d need perform a rather thorough psychoanalytic examination of a large number of atheists, to determine whether they are in fact angry at God.

It also seems somewhat unlikely for a person to be able to be angry at something which they do not believe to exist. It might indeed be possible, for humans are strange creatures, but it seems unlikely that all atheists would suffer from this incoherency.

Lastly, it remains a bad argument, if one intends to debate the relative merits of theism and atheism. If, for some unknown reason, Newton believed that his theory of gravitation was true not because of empirical evidence, but instead because a faiiry told him, would that be good reason to disbelieve in his formulation of gravity? As another example, it is not enough to respond to a devil’s advocate by telling them that they don’t really believe what they’re saying - you’ve got to rebut the content of their arguments.


#2

And obviously, even if it were true, would it be worthwhile mentioning in debates with atheists? People often do not act rationally in exceedingly stressful circumstances (such as foxholes). If it turned out that theists recanted their beliefs when under extreme pressure, that would hardly constitute evidence in favor of atheism. It is better to discuss things which are believed after reasoned contemplation and discussion than those which are accepted under duress.

The foxhole analogy is an unusual circumstance because a young man needs to contemplate his mortality. Usually the young, due to youthful vigor, feels indestructible. This feeling is the unusual circumstance.

There is nothing unusual about a person facing their own mortality. Everyone has to do it.


#3

What i don’t understand, EntertheBowser, is how the atheist can be certain.

I am a Christian, yet I do not profess, beyond the shadow of a doubt, I am correct in my beliefs. In my humble opinion, I believe there is enough evidence to support the divine Jesus of which I believe. Yet I am not a person without doubt.

I suppose it comes down to a matter of degree. Also one must define belief. I think there are people who frequent these forums who believe beyond a shodow of a doubt. Yet I suspect they are in the minority. Even some of the most beloved saints doubt. I’ve been comforted in the confessional by priests that doubts are not in themselves sinful.

Yet, the definition of athiest(as opposed to agnostic and please feel free to correct me if I am mistaken), is that they do not believe. They hold no hope, no desire and no faith that there exists a God at all.

This, I find difficult to understand. I have trouble seeing how this stance is either intellectual or logical. I can understand one sugggesting there is not enough evidence. Yet I cannot understand one saying all the evidence is in and the verdict is, without doubt, – no God.


#4

[quote=EnterTheBowser]“There are no atheists in foxholes.”

This one simply is not true; and furthermore it is fairly easy to show it to be so…
[/quote]

Agree. My own father used himself as the counter example to this argument. BTW, he later came to faith–but in a suburb, not a foxhole.

As you point out, this is more difficult to prove or disprove. One thing I can say, though, from listening to broadcasts of the American Atheists’ Hour, I believe it’s called. It’s this: atheists do tend to be angry. :mad: I’m not sure what they’re angry at, though.

May I ask, what are your frustrations and anger as an atheist?

Peace,
JohnPaul


#5

[quote=Mijoy2]What i don’t understand, EntertheBowser, is how the atheist can be certain.

I am a Christian, yet I do not profess, beyond the shadow of a doubt, I am correct in my beliefs. In my humble opinion, I believe there is enough evidence to support the divine Jesus of which I believe. Yet I am not a person without doubt.

I suppose it comes down to a matter of degree. Also one must define belief. I think there are people who frequent these forums who believe beyond a shodow of a doubt. Yet I suspect they are in the minority. Even some of the most beloved saints doubt. I’ve been comforted in the confessional by priests that doubts are not in themselves sinful.

Yet, the definition of athiest(as opposed to agnostic and please feel free to correct me if I am mistaken), is that they do not believe. They hold no hope, no desire and no faith that there exists a God at all.

This, I find difficult to understand. I have trouble seeing how this stance is either intellectual or logical. I can understand one sugggesting there is not enough evidence. Yet I cannot understand one saying all the evidence is in and the verdict is, without doubt, – no God.
[/quote]

Well, I think, to address your post, we might want to talk about what exactly atheism is… and it’s not exact when we get into details. To begin, I’d state my own position as: it is reasonable to believe that there is no such thing that deserves the title “God.” That aside…

Atheists are, at the very least, not theists or deists. More or less, a theistic God is an active, intervening God, while a deistic God is a passive God - a watchmaker. Whether an agnostic is an atheist is another question. What exactly the agnostic claims differs from agnostic to agnostic, but it generally goes along the lines of it being impossible to know (for certain?) that God does or does not exist. Anyways…

Weak atheism is the lack of belief that God exists. Strong atheism is the belief that God does not exist. The difference is slight. One would argue that belief in God is not justified; another would argue that in addition to that disbelief in God is justified. It can sometimes be hard to differentiate between weak atheists and agnostics.

I’m rambling but what is important is that when it comes to precisely what atheism is, it’s best to ask the atheist you’re talking to; and in any case you can know that they are not a theist or a deist.

That being said, I would not argue that there is a definitive proof that God does not exist. I am not absolutely certain of atheism in the way I am absolutely certain of noncontradiction - proofs are hard to find outside of mathematics and liquor stores (I do so dislike it when people talk about proofs of philosophical issues). But I do think that disbelief in God is a rational belief.

I hope all that went some way towards answering your question. And incidentally - most atheists do not desire, hope, nor have faith that God exists, and it would probably puzzle them why you think it strange that they do not. But this does not mean that they are absolutely certain of their atheism.


#6

[quote=JohnPaul0]…

May I ask, what are your frustrations and anger as an atheist?

Peace,
JohnPaul
[/quote]

My angers as an atheist qua atheist? Nothing comes to mind. I sometimes get frustrated in arguments when my opponent will not acknowledge true, factual statements. (A certain disagreement with a Rabbi over basic statistical principles comes to mind). But I think that anyone, atheist or not, would be frustrated by such a thing.

But my frustrations and anger in general? The same as most other people, I imagine.


#7

No, I don’t think that atheists are “angry with God”. Atheists tend to be people who are angry with their father. There are some exceptions, of course, but by and large absent or rotten fathers are a noticeable factor in atheists.


#8

[quote=Sherlock]No, I don’t think that atheists are “angry with God”. Atheists tend to be people who are angry with their father. There are some exceptions, of course, but by and large absent or rotten fathers are a noticeable factor in atheists.
[/quote]

Do you have any substantiation for this? As it happens I know many atheists, and none of them had any problem with their father. My father was the most wonderful person I met, full of love, caring and compassion.


#9

Just like Benedict said…there is a Dictatorship of Moral Relitivism in the world today. Freethinkers and Atheist top the charts. I don’t believe atheist are angry with God…I feel they are narcisistic people who believe they are above God or do not need God…they are their own God…crowned with their own Diadem if you will.

[quote=EnterTheBowser]“There are no atheists in foxholes.”

This one simply is not true; and furthermore it is fairly easy to show it to be so. And the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers is rather good such evidence.

maaf.info/index.html

This link also has a rather nice discussion of this particular bromide:

atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/ath/blathm_urb_foxholes.htm

And obviously, even if it were true, would it be worthwhile mentioning in debates with atheists? People often do not act rationally in exceedingly stressful circumstances (such as foxholes). If it turned out that theists recanted their beliefs when under extreme pressure, that would hardly constitute evidence in favor of atheism. It is better to discuss things which are believed after reasoned contemplation and discussion than those which are accepted under duress.

A closely related misconception:

“Atheists are just angry at God.” In other words, atheism is a wilful denial of something which atheists know to be true, but which they cannot accept for various reasons, such as: atheism allows them to justify a sinful lifestyle, or that they are too proud to admit a power than themselves, or something along those lines.

Now, this one is slightly more difficult to disprove. Attestations from atheists probably won’t work - since they’re exactly what an angry-at-God atheist would say. On the other hand - if atheists denied God so that they could live sinfully guilt-free, wouldn’t we expect that most atheists would, in fact, live sinful lives? But this doesn’t seem to be the case. And if most atheists denied God due to pride, wouldn’t we expect that they would also deny ther duties to humanity (a cause larger than themselves)? But it seems that the moral philosophy most associated with atheism is humanism, which calls for care and compassion for other humans - the acceptance of humanity as a cause larger than oneself.

Furthermore, this sort of claim is rather difficult to substantiate, for the same reasons that it is somewhat difficult to disprove. It seems that we’d need perform a rather thorough psychoanalytic examination of a large number of atheists, to determine whether they are in fact angry at God.

It also seems somewhat unlikely for a person to be able to be angry at something which they do not believe to exist. It might indeed be possible, for humans are strange creatures, but it seems unlikely that all atheists would suffer from this incoherency.

Lastly, it remains a bad argument, if one intends to debate the relative merits of theism and atheism. If, for some unknown reason, Newton believed that his theory of gravitation was true not because of empirical evidence, but instead because a faiiry told him, would that be good reason to disbelieve in his formulation of gravity? As another example, it is not enough to respond to a devil’s advocate by telling them that they don’t really believe what they’re saying - you’ve got to rebut the content of their arguments.
[/quote]


#10

[quote=EnterTheBowser]My angers as an atheist qua atheist? Nothing comes to mind. I sometimes get frustrated in arguments when my opponent will not acknowledge true, factual statements. (A certain disagreement with a Rabbi over basic statistical principles comes to mind). But I think that anyone, atheist or not, would be frustrated by such a thing.

But my frustrations and anger in general? The same as most other people, I imagine.
[/quote]

Thanks. From the measured tone of your posts, I suspected as much.

So, it would seem that we’ve confirmed the truth of the counterarguments to your two original statements of misconceptions about all atheists.

Anything else to add, or are you content to make your point?

-JohnPaul


#11

[quote=EnterTheBowser]“There are no atheists in foxholes.”

It is better to discuss things which are believed after reasoned contemplation and discussion than those which are accepted under duress.
[/quote]

I do not think it is appropriate to consider the foxhole situation as being under duress. Rather it is a situation of high stress. There is a big difference between stress and duress.

In a high-stress situation, we may discover what was less obvious about the character of a person. But actions taken under duress do not reflect the free choice of the individual (or do so to a diminshed degree), and therefore provide less rather than more insight into the person.


#12

[quote=Hitetlen]Do you have any substantiation for this? As it happens I know many atheists, and none of them had any problem with their father. My father was the most wonderful person I met, full of love, caring and compassion.
[/quote]

Read former atheist Paul C. Vitz’s book, “Faith of the Fatherless: the Psychology of Atheism”.

Please note that I didn’t say ALL atheists. Of course there are exceptions. It certainly fits the majority of the atheists that I know (and having been an atheist myself, I know quite a few). It certainly fit me.


#13

In case anybody’s curious, I have an excellent relationship with my father; we love each other very much. I can’t speak for other atheists, however.


#14

I’ll make a trade with atheists. I promise to never use the “angry-at-God/angry-at-father” angle with atheists if atheists will stop using the “crutch” angle with believers. (In other words, everyone drop the dubious psychological stuff and stick to the argument)

I think that is a fair deal. Especially if one does not use the crutch angle in the first place.

Scott


#15

[quote=EnterTheBowser]“Atheists are just angry at God.”
…snip…
And if most atheists denied God due to pride, wouldn’t we expect that they would also deny ther duties to humanity (a cause larger than themselves)?
…snip…
Lastly, it remains a bad argument
[/quote]

Any argument that begins “Atheists are just…” seems unlikely to persuade an atheist of anything. Just a comment. I know you are not advocating the position.

Denying God due to pride does not imply that one will deny duties to humanity. Prideful people are often very dutiful. Not being dutiful could be a blow to pride.

Hmm. I suppose it depends. Say all one cares about is convincing the individual atheist to give up his position. Then on your analogy if you wanted to get Newton to give up his fairy theory, you could attack the fairy, and ignore the evidence, so long as that were enough to win Newton over.


#16

[quote=EnterTheBowser]you’ve got to rebut the content of their arguments.
[/quote]

Just out of curiosity, do athiests believe the burden of proof is on the theists? If so, why?

Second, to what end do you posit your beliefs here? Please don’t take that in an uncharitable way. You’re certainly welcomed here. You seem pretty convinced in your beliefs and I doubt someone is going to say anything that will give you an epiphany. If you are to be converted, it will be done by this God you don’t believe in, which would be the ultimate irony.

I’m more interested in your motives? Why are you here?


#17

[quote=Scott Waddell]I’ll make a trade with atheists. I promise to never use the “angry-at-God/angry-at-father” angle with atheists if atheists will stop using the “crutch” angle with believers. (In other words, everyone drop the dubious psychological stuff and stick to the argument)

I think that is a fair deal. Especially if one does not use the crutch angle in the first place.

Scott
[/quote]

Well, I can’t make any promises about the conduct of other athests, but it certainly sounds like a good deal to me.


#18

[quote=StCsDavid]Just out of curiosity, do athiests believe the burden of proof is on the theists? If so, why?
[/quote]

I would argue that in the absence of positive arguments for a belief it is reasonable to not accept it. In that sense, yes, I feel theists have the burden of proof. For example, it’s reasonable to not believe that there is no purple elephant on Ganymede in the absence of evidence for such an elephant.

Second, to what end do you posit your beliefs here? Please don’t take that in an uncharitable way. You’re certainly welcomed here. You seem pretty convinced in your beliefs and I doubt someone is going to say anything that will give you an epiphany. If you are to be converted, it will be done by this God you don’t believe in, which would be the ultimate irony.

I’m more interested in your motives? Why are you here?

I’m here for a few reasons. I want to make sure that my beliefs are correct, or at least reasonable - especially since this is a mildly important question. I also enjoy debate in general and these sorts of debates in particular.


#19

[quote=Pug]Any argument that begins “Atheists are just…” seems unlikely to persuade an atheist of anything. Just a comment. I know you are not advocating the position.

Denying God due to pride does not imply that one will deny duties to humanity. Prideful people are often very dutiful. Not being dutiful could be a blow to pride.
[/quote]

I guess the idea was that if an atheist knowingly denied God because they didn’t like the thought of something larger than themselves they would probably not accept the idea of humanity as larger and more important than themselves.

Hmm. I suppose it depends. Say all one cares about is convincing the individual atheist to give up his position. Then on your analogy if you wanted to get Newton to give up his fairy theory, you could attack the fairy, and ignore the evidence, so long as that were enough to win Newton over.

Just as a note - I am an atheist. Something about your post seemed to suggest that you thought otherwise, so I figured I’d let you know.


#20

[quote=EnterTheBowser]I would argue that in the absence of positive arguments for a belief it is reasonable to not accept it. In that sense, yes, I feel theists have the burden of proof. For example, it’s reasonable to not believe that there is no purple elephant on Ganymede in the absence of evidence for such an elephant.
[/quote]

Fair 'nuff.
Consider this parable. A horrible disease breaks out upon the world that kills people in a matter of days. Millons of people die. Fear and panic set in. Then one day, a doctor discovers a cure for the disease. He shares how to make this with CDC and WHO and every other health organization. Eventually, the vaccine is distributed world wide and people begin to get innoculated. Despite this apparent cure, about 10% of the population refuses to get the shot that will keep them healthy. They believe either they won’t get sick, or that if they do, they can cure themselves. I’m fascinated by the source of this distrust. What causes this inability or lack of desire to see beyond one’s own logic?


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