Short. Sweet. Persuasive. There's a lot to like about a piece in the Milwaukee Magazine, "Faith No More," by Mario Quadracci.
Download Faith No More PDF (in case the piece ever disappears from the magazine's web site)
Quadracci nails a theme that I like to harp on also. It isn't up to atheists to prove that god and supernaturalism don't exist; it is up to theists to prove that god and supernaturalism do exist. He writes:
I could try to convince you that we reside in a purely naturalistic universe. I could attempt to demonstrate the human authorship of all of history’s gods and the holy books ascribed to them. I could labor to show the historical, scientific and logical fallacies of many of religion’s claims. All of this could be done.
But these aren’t the reasons I abandoned my belief in God. The reason has nothing to do with the substantial evidence for the nonexistence of a deity. They have only solidified my position. The reason I’m an atheist has everything to do with the entire lack of evidence for a god.
Theism makes a positive claim about the nature of reality: “God exists.” Atheism is simply the lack of that belief. Atheism makes no claims. Therefore, the burden of proof falls exclusively on the theist. Yet, the fact that we continue to debate the topic of God’s existence proves theism has thus far failed its probative responsibility.
Certainly, if God manifests himself in reality, we should be able to detect him in some way. If he doesn’t, then he would be indistinguishable from nonexistent and should be treated accordingly. Yet, no one, ever, not even once, has been able to demonstrate anything supernatural. And so we are told to take it on “faith.”
Read the entire short essay. It's excellent.
As are many of the comments on the piece. Here's selected parts of an interchange between several commenters, including Quadracci, that I particularly enjoyed. I've corrected a few spelling errors.
I liked the first half of this story. In particular, I liked that Quadracci wrote, "Atheism is simply the lack of...belief [in God]. Atheism makes no claims."
Pity that he then goes on to make a whole host of claims—starting with the assertion that faith is "intellectually dishonest" and going on to indict the religious as being responsible for most of the world's problems. And most ironic of all, he proselytizes for the atheism he'd said makes no claims, stating that he wants to "plant the seed of doubt in someone's mind...[and] move another person away from superstition."
I'm not sure how that's any different from someone with a tie and a Bible showing up telling me how to think. As an atheist myself, I strongly dislike the arrogance of many publicly outspoken atheists, who seem to have made a new religion of their beliefs. I wish Quadracci had acted in accordance with the idea that "atheism makes no claims": it's a description, not a position. It's entirely possible to reject the claim of divine reality without insulting those who still accept it.
I'm an atheist, I make no claims. But I do desire evidence. Why is that a contradiction? Why cannot I not, when told of the "beauty of god", ask for someone to provide evidence? Should I keep silent, allowing the claim to be interpreted as fact, then taught as dogma? Would you apply the same argument to any other claim, such as politics, where a conservative position should never be challenged by a progressive because it might insult the conservative? When my kid's school district wants to celebrate a god, should I be silent unless I offend someone?
Jeff Norman: "Pity that he then goes on to make a whole host of claims—starting with the assertion that faith is 'intellectually dishonest' and going on to indict the religious as being responsible for most of the world's problems."
You are confused. Theism and theists make claims, claims that go on for all eternity it seems. There are libraries full of them, people spend their lives making these claims and even interrupt you on the street and knock on your door to make them.
And there isn't even a wisp of evidence for any of this. If you'll accept claims without evidence, then why not accept this:
Xenu (/ˈziːnuː/), also called Xemu, was, according to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, the dictator of the "Galactic Confederacy" who 75 million years ago brought billions of his people to Earth (then known as "Teegeeack") in a DC-8-like spacecraft, stacked them around volcanoes, and killed them with hydrogen bombs. Official Scientology scriptures hold that the thetans (immortal spirits) of these aliens adhere to humans, causing spiritual harm.
Might as well. Because evidence is how we decide what is really something to believe. You reject all other claims because of the lack of evidence. We reject yours for the same reasons.
Voice Sanity -- Pretty sure I never said that theism doesn't make claims. Of course it does. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the way Quadracci moves from *rejecting* those claims (perfectly fine - and I'm in agreement with him there) to making claims of his own *on behalf of atheism*, as if it, too, is just another belief system. It's not: It's not about "belief" at all, but about (as you note) what there is and is not evidence for. But see, just as I don't come knocking on your door arguing my beliefs that (say) Roger Daltrey's singing on The Who's 'Quadrophenia' is the best male rock vocal performance ever...same thing: it's when Quadracci gets on the case of people who are just living their lives that he bugs me.
Mr Norman, beliefs and the processes we use to ascertain and hold them inform our actions and dispositions. Therefore I have a huge problem with people's claims about "knowledge" gained through simple assertions based on books written by people for whom the hammer was emerging technology. I just don't think it's a valid method to explain the beginning of the cosmos by appealing to a story that must be true in order to validate the feeling of Jesus in someone's heart. That is not an honest exploration of reality.
Also, I am not synonomous with atheism so the claims I make (faith is intellectually dishonest etc.) are not being made by atheism they are being made by me who counts atheist amongst a wide array of descriptive language about myself. You are right in that I could have ended the story at "Atheism makes no claims," and in a way I adopted some burden of proof when I expressed my views on faith. But that's a whole lot different than writting "atheism is the belief no gods exist." As for my burden of proof here, I don't think it's an immense challenge to defend the proposition that faith is dishonest etc. I welcome any debate on this.
Jeff Norman -- the problem is that people of faith do claim to know things they cannot possibly know, like how the universe was created. We don't need to put on velvet gloves just because there is a perception of atheists as being annoying or constantly picking fights. No matter what we do we will be perceived negatively. If we are too nice we will be accused of trying to be manipulative. I don't think this is a fight we can win.
As for Dawkins, I have to come to his defense despite his many mistakes. If someone didn't come out and say it boldly like The God Delusion did, nobody would be questioning their strongly held beliefs. Yes we have a voice, but if we are too quiet nobody will listen. Not everybody needs to rock the boat, but I think you owe some empathy to those who do. Understand their goal of starting the conversation without just being ignored.