I ran across a blog post by Inverted Logic yesterday and I started to respond to the points they made. It grew and grew and became longer than the original post. I feel it really deserves a post of its own at this point, so I’m putting my response in my own blog for the author to review, respond, ignore or mock at their leisure. My intent is to address my (gentle) rebuttal directly to the author and the use of ‘you’ and ‘your’ below reflects this.
First, my compliments. Your ideas are expressed clearly and concisely while avoiding the invective, spin and distortions common to both sides of the god/no god debate. I admire a skillfully expressed argument even when I disagree with the conclusions. Thank you for sharing!
My primary concern is that your arguments seem to paint atheists with an overly broad brush. Making generalities about any group is often deliberate spin and at best a mistake. Current examples include descriptions of protesters as looters and rioter, cops as heartless murderers and Republicans and Democrats as fascists and communists respectively. You have certainly avoided such extremes in this piece, (which I would praise you for) but your statements are perhaps still more broad than are really applicable. In any case, we agree on the venomous repercussions of in-group conformity.
To your main points, (collective association, a tendency to proselytize, and fixed views on belief) these certainly apply to some atheists, but probably not more than they apply to any other group of people. I can certainly see how the kind of people we encounter while arguing on the internet could lead to a somewhat distorted view of the non-religious. I would counter that people are just people, no matter what views they hold on gods. Some will seek the company of like-minded groups to associate with while others will avoid such groups. Some will seek to enlighten others with their philosophy, while others are content to move on to other studies, subjects and pursuits. Some have rigid views while others – perhaps even a majority – simply find the claims regarding gods to be highly unlikely without making the claim that there are none, or they cannot exist.
Even a claim that ‘no gods exist’ is not always an unbending commitment to a set of beliefs. People’s views, particularly the science-logic-reason minded, tend to change and waver between options as new information is presented. A person may at one time feel confident in a ‘hard atheistic’ position and later drift to a more pragmatic or less certain ‘soft atheistic’ stance. However, a God putting on a public appearance or other such convincing evidence would change the same person’s mind pretty quickly no matter which view they currently espouse.
The rejection of a belief system is not equivalent to the acceptance of an alternate belief system. Atheism is not a religious belief, it’s the opposite of a religious belief.
It is perfectly rational to state, “I don’t believe your god exists” (i.e. the evidence and arguments for your claim are unconvincing) without having to claim “Your god does not exist” (i.e. I can disprove your claim). This is not just splitting hairs. Belief is far more of a spectrum than a dichotomy. If positive certainty is on the right end of a horseshoe, zero belief is in the center and negative certainty is on the left end. Atheism occupies the entire left side including the center point. Atheism is not a leap of faith, it’s the zero-belief default state. (Incidentally, I think extending the Horseshoe Theory of Politics to other belief systems is astute and likely correct, strengthening your arguments for the most extreme adherents.)
The sense of community provided by a religious congregation is one of the things I miss the most about the religion of my youth. However, this has not led me to seek out a community of like-minded people to try and replace the one I lost. I could. I’ve considered it, but it obviously hasn’t been a priority for me. I don’t think that this community-joining impulse is any more or less inherent to nonbelievers than it is for believers. Plenty of folks on the religious side don’t attend services and I imagine it’s for similar reasons to mine.
As I noted in my blog post on leaving the LDS church, I’ve at various times in my life promoted my ideas about gods’ existence, actively avoided the subject and everywhere in between – and I’m just one person. There’s no reason to assume that a nonbeliever necessarily proselytizes or does so unceasingly.
A final observation: The odds of god(s) existing is not a coin-flip. Something that can only be true or false does not necessarily make the odds of each 50%. Will the sun come up tomorrow? Maybe not, but the odds are a long way from 50:50.
If you waded through this excessively verbose response, I congratulate you again. Thanks for taking the time. You have my sincere respect.