This week’s question: Isn’t atheism technically a religion too? Both require faith/belief, so what’s the difference?
Many atheists say that they are sure gods do not exist. The theist objection to this surety is, sometimes, non-belief is as much an exhibition of faith as belief. After all, some say there is no evidence for or against the existence of gods. To define terms, I will use “faith” to mean “certainty for which there is no evidence.” This is an important point, because many use the word “faith” interchangeably with the word “belief,” which will here be used to mean “certainty for which there is no proof or for which there is insufficient evidence.”
The root issue behind this claim is the certainty of many atheists that gods do not exist. When I must decide whether I know or believe something, I apply to it a scale of the evidence combined with the likelihood of an occurrence. This scale is tiered: below the highest threshold, knowledge, there is belief, and below that there is knowledge of the negative. As an example, consider the possible existence of a teapot orbiting Jupiter. Despite the fact that the molecules that comprise a teapot could conceivably have coalesced into teapot form around the gas giant, having absolutely no evidence for this occurrence combined with the colossal unlikelihood of this occurring allows me to place it below the threshold for “knowledge of the negative” and say that I “know” that it does not exist. The same goes for gods, unicorns, leprechauns, yeti and Hogwarts. No faith required, only evaluation of evidence.
Connor Oakes is a third-year political science major.
Atheism is no more and no less than a position or a state of mind; it is either the failure to be convinced by claims that a god(s) exists, or a state of mind where one lacks belief in a god(s). A religion, on the other hand, brings up several contexts and infers particular attributes and characteristics that are often seen in most of the world’s religions. For example, we often find symbols, rituals, holy sites, sacred items, holy days and sacred texts in a variety of old religions; atheism has none of these attributes. Religions will often have creation stories — that is, short narratives that attempt to explain how the world around us came to be. Whether it be the Garden of Eden, Lord Xenu or Quetzalcoatl, every major religion has a story that tells us how we got here.
Atheism, on the other hand, relies on science for the best answers. A religion will often derive moral, ethical or religious laws from their tradition, their creation story or their scriptures and they will often preach a preferred lifestyle based on those teachings. Atheism is simply a rejection of the authority of religious claims. Often, the beliefs and ideas that atheists hold are a result of ideas and beliefs that where present prior to “deconversion.” That is, if there is an illusion that atheists think alike or hold similar values or beliefs, it might be because the beliefs and ideas needed to reject religious claims also lead them to adopt science, humanism and philosophy as the paradigm from which to view the world. The best way to describe atheism is as a movement.
David Urzua is a fifth-year philosophy major.
There seems to be a sort of social misrepresentation of the nature of belief. One could easily go into the semantics of the definition of the word, but there are more practical and obvious representations of the difference we can see in everyday life.
The fact of the matter is that truth does not demand belief. There is no social obligation to represent a belief or any degree of faith in the random, complex nature of the world. Scientists do not get together once a week to join hands to praise science and sing “Yes, gravity is real! We will believe, and we will be strong! Amen!” There would be good reason to think we were pretty insecure if this were the case.
Our knowledge of science is challenged and rewritten daily. The highest accolades in the scientific community are given to those who prove scientific beliefs we hold true to, in fact, be false. This social standard among the faithless is perhaps the best indication of the lack of a need for belief. We strive to redefine truth and discard beliefs, as opposed to adhering to tradition in spite of evidence. There exists a complete absence of faith in the mind that understands it has no purpose and no place made for it.
Cameron Moody is a second-year computational biology major.