On Wednesday’s post, Chris commented why someone might take the position that atheism was a belief that god did not exist:
I think this is more apparent to people who have always been an atheist, but it’s hard to look at it that way for people who have de-converted.
For many people who de-converted, I think atheism “feels” like it’s a belief that God doesn’t exist. And the reason why is because someone had belief at one time, and now they don’t. At some point, the person must’ve come to the conclusion that God doesn’t exist.
This seems like an important distinction from one who never believed in the first place.
I do not think simply being a former believer is really the issue. I am a former believer, and I grasped this concept without a problem. In fact, I actually held this point of view AS a believer. Even then, I would never have argued atheism is a belief system.
The idea of atheism as a belief starts deeper than simply having been religious. It is tied to into your worldview about everything. I have a reality-based worldview, where I constantly look for evidence and science to form conclusions about the world. I try to eliminate beliefs at every opportunity. This is the mindset of a skeptic.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the belief-based worldview. Things are valued for not rational, scientific reasons, of which tradition is the probably the strongest. Beyond belief in god, there is belief in horoscopes, the supernatural, homeopathy. There is also belief in democracy, capitalism, and medicine. These beliefs are not inherently wrong, they just aren’t supported by logic or evidence. People who believe in their doctors simply because of tradition are no less believers than a theist is.
If you have the mindset of a believer, it is easy to hold that belief without evidence or even in contrast to evidence. It is also possible to quickly shift to a belief in something else because there is no foundation of evidence holding a believer back. This why you see people who very quickly jump from science-based medicine to alternative medicine with pause. They are simply becoming a different kind of believer, completely independent of evidence.
This is why it is often very hard to have a discussion with someone who has a belief-based worldview. They are rarely swayed by evidence or logic, especially for deeply held beliefs. One approach is to focus your effort on tangental beliefs. This might help reduce the emotional response. Another is to teach a new subject with a foundation of evidence. You can get someone in the habit of using logic to reach conclusions, which can lead to them self-applying those to their beliefs. At worse, you’ll teach them something new. So win?
-That is all.