Saturday, September 12, 2009

Conversation Topic 15: The Unreflective Atheist

I am away from my blog for a couple of weeks. This is an experiment in posting some conversation topics while I am gone.

The two questions to answer relevant to the statement below is are:

• Is it true?

• Is it important?

(15) In a society where a substantial majority of the population are atheists, a vast majority of the people would be atheists in that society for the same reason that people adopt a particular religion today. They will tend to adopt the views of the society in which they live, without much reflection on what makes those views true or false.


Kenton said...

Clearly one can reflect on life, meaning, and purpose without delving into fantasy.

Yet when you say, "They will tend to adopt the views of the society in which they live, without much reflection on what makes those views true or false."

I believe you are comparing apples and oranges. If one defines Truth as "that which is factual". Then the truth points to itself. When "A" is indeed discovered to actually be "A" it will not matter how often one reflects upon it. "A" will remain "A". If you are suggesting that people will begin to take "A" being "A" for granted and never bother to look at it again then they probably will, but humans often revisit past learning and when that occurs "A" will still be "A". The willingness to be wrong, however, is obviously essential to the process of discovery. We should be encouraging an evidence based world view.

Luke said...

I suspect it would depend on education. Our agency detection tendencies would go wild, and religion would return without education and constant training in critical thinking. There would also be a tendency for those in power to assert that they are favored by invisible spirits.

Eneasz said...

I believe this is already the case in England and Japan, possibly other western states as well. I'm not sure how important it is though... it's just people being people and getting on with life, aside from the few that are so wrapped up in their heads that they go for Liberal Arts degrees and spend way too much time reading blogs. :)

Voss said...

This is great. I enjoy your statement because it obliquely illustrates a situation in which many atheists find themselves. The statement assumes that atheism is a point of view.

We as atheists might find ourselves in many confrontational situations with religionists, such as church/state, science/creationism, morality, etc. These confrontations might give us the impression that atheists have one view and christians have another view.

If, however, we are talking not about specific issues, but the main view of god/no god, then the frame of reference changes.

I am an ex-christian, an atheist. As a child, I started out adopting the view ( as you neatly phase it ) of a religion. Decades later, I abandoned that religious view. I did not adopt a no god view, I simply could no longer justify holding a god view.

Many religionists are unable to envision life without faith, so they are forced by their faith to believe that atheism is just another form of religion, a set of beliefs, a faith. Atheism is not a different faith, it is no faith. Even the word “atheism” is slightly misleading because it does not describe something, it describes nothing; just as the word “vacuum” does not describe the presence of something, it describes the absence of something.

You posit a society with a minority of religious people. I believe that in such a society, the non-religious people would have little need to defend something that they probably give little or no thought to. I our society, those atheists who come out of the closet are often put on the defensive. This means that we are sometimes asked to explain our atheism. From my point of view, I am being asked to explain what I am not. I am not defined by what I am not. I am defined by what I am, and what I am has nothing to do with religion.

That being said, I still can’t resist a good argument. I will occasionally get into a discussion with a theist. In those instances, all I can do is explain why I abandoned my religious views. This may qualify as the “reflection” you mentioned, but I prefer to see it as a situation that would only arise because we live in a society where atheists are a minority.

Doug S. said...

Well, most people believe that gold atoms have 79 protons, without caring much about the details of the relevant evidence. Adopting the views of the society in which you live is usually a pretty good way to decide what to believe.

Anonymous said...

There's not really enough information to answer the first question. How did they become a nation of atheists in the first place? Was it through the advancement of critical thinking and the general acceptance of the process of science as the best way to evaluate testable claims, or was it through anti-religious dogma?

Is it important? Very important to me. My thoughts are drawn to the selection of Bill Maher as the recipient of the Richard Dawkins awards. He may be anti-religious, but is profoundly ideological when it comes to matters of medical science. Atheism is nowhere near as important as critical thinking and an understanding of science.

KN said...

Why people no more believe in God? Is it because of the suffering in some part of the world or some of them are in very good condition? Do they don't need god anymore!!

Dan Doel said...

I've seen at least one article proposing a connection between prevalence of religious belief and the effectiveness of governmental safety nets, so to speak. The idea is that nations that provide universal health care and the like give their citizens a better sense of security about the future, so there's less general need to seek that sort of thing via benevolent gods looking out for you. And, of course, that correlates nicely with most developed western countries being fairly low on the religiosity scale, while the US is an outlier in both areas, being very religious, and not providing much insurance against its citizens' random misfortunes.

Of course, I've only seen the hypothesis, not a whole lot (beyond the above correlation, which is weak evidence) that backs it up. It does, though, suggest that you can have a relatively atheistic society through neither authoritarian dogma, nor widespread critical thinking. All it may take is making people feel secure enough in their lives to not bother thinking about god.