Thursday, February 17, 2011

Atheism Defined

First Thought    

  Many atheists choose to define atheism as a “lack of belief”, but is this really a proper way of defining atheism? According to the New Oxford English Dictionary, atheism is “the theory or belief that God does not exist.” Clearly these two definitions conflict with one another as one defines atheism as lacking belief and the other as a belief. The statement “lack of belief” the individual came to this conclusion without choice. For instance, if someone is unaware of, let us say, the Christian God then he very well cannot believe in the Christian God and therefore would lack belief because he is unaware. With the majority of today's atheists, they are well aware of, not only the Christian God but many other religions as well. How is it that they can lack belief in something they are aware of? The statement, lack of belief, makes it seem as if they have made no conscience decision to believe or not to believe. 

As humans we are distinctly different from animals in that we have free will. So while atheists do lack belief in God, they are aware of Him and His religion. When an individual is aware of something, they can then actively decide whether or not to believe. So for an atheist, who is aware of God, who says they lack belief in God, they are not giving the complete definition. Nobody defines themselves by what they do not believe in and nobody would define themselves by things they do not believe in and that they are not aware of. To be an atheist, in its true form, a conscience decision is made and therefore when this is done the person “believes that God does not exist.”

What of those who are unaware of God? While they would fit into the definition of atheism by atheists, a lack of belief, and technically would classify them as atheists, I see fit to distinguish them from those who made a conscience rejection of God. Let us say that a group of individuals who live on a secluded island and have no religion and no knowledge of God. By atheists definition this would mean that these people are atheists, however I disagree. These people have not been made aware of God and therefore do not have the capacity in which to choose to believe or choose to reject Him. According to St. Paul this would not matter “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” Rm. 2:14-15 Here St. Paul makes it very clear that even those who were unaware of God and His commandments, are still subconsciously aware of what is right and wrong, His law. Therefore since they have not actively rejected that, they cannot be equivalent to those who have knowingly rejected God. 

What of children? I have heard the argument made by atheists that infants and children are atheists, based on their lack of belief definition. This is a little bit different in that children lack not belief but the capacity to understand belief. Infants also cannot be considered atheists because they lack belief, in this circumstance the infant in not unaware of God, but lacks the ability to make a choice because the infant has not developed enough. Over time the infant becomes a child and begins to develop the capacity with which to understand and to choose. The simple fact is that to be an atheist one must choose to believe their is no God. Simply because someone lacks belief does not make them an atheist, the two are separate states of being.

Second Thought

Atheists reject God, yet they accept the idea of God. How can you lack belief, as they claim, if you believe in the idea of God just not His existence? So while they are atheist in the sense the do not believe in the existence of God, they still believe in the idea of God and therefore cannot “lack belief” completely in God. If we take the argument set forth by Richard Dawkins of a teapot that orbits the earth, would I lack belief in that? No. Mr. Dawkins has put forth this idea, let us assume he truly believes this, I do not have the capacity to disprove his theory but for all I know he could be right. Therefore I cannot “lack belief” in his theory no matter how absurd it may seem to me, so I have to take a position and say, I believe the teapot is not there, I believe your belief is wrong. So while you lack belief in the teapot orbiting our planet, you still have to believe it is not there on the basis that you cannot disprove it. 
      Religion has much more credibility than it is given, simply because it has been with us our whole recorded history. Because of this it must be taken seriously. Our ancestors should not be looked down upon for their religious beliefs, and should not be considered superstitious. After all some of them have created marvels to the likes we cannot even conceive of doing today with our advanced technology. The Egyptians built the great pyramids, and many other fantastic works of art. The Mayans also built spectacular monuments and were able to calculate precise astronomical events well into the distant future. The list is quite lengthy actually. So it is very unfair to perceive our ancestors as living in the dark ages or being primitive in any way, at least until we can accomplish what they have done. It is only fair to take the idea of religion seriously, even if only in a historical sense, we must acknowledge the possibility of a God or gods. Since the majority, without question, acknowledge the historical existence of religion and the role it has played in our history, there is belief, not lack of belief, even if only belief in the idea or history of religion.

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