I’m not the loudest, most abrasive atheist in the world. I’d be willing to bet that a lot of people who know me in person have no idea that I am an atheist at all. It simply isn’t something I go out of my way to talk about. Mostly because I don’t like arguing and, from what experiences I have had, religion is something best left out of most polite discourse.
Still, if the subject comes up naturally, or I am asked, sure, I will talk about atheism. If someone wants to know what my beliefs are, or what I don’t believe in, I’m happy to explain. But in this case, I feel compelled to write something because I am tired of hearing educated people misrepresent what atheism is so they can score a quick point with their social circle.
My friend Thad is a Mormon, and he recently posted a link to his Google+ page of a Mormon testimony as written by geophysicist Jeff Wynn. Thad and I have had great conversations about Mormonism, his beliefs, and how they have been misconstrued by the public. We have had disagreements over matters of faith, certainly, but it has always been respectful, and that is why I’ve appreciated the dialogue so much. But Wynn’s comments disappointed me because they are so clearly uneducated:
In my junior year as a physics major at Berkeley, I realized that the belief system of an atheist had at least as many unproven assumptions as—and fewer explanations than—the belief system of any adherent of faith. Explain the Anthropic Principle, or what preceded the Big Bang. The unprovable idea of a Multiverse? That won’t even pass for a theory, much less a scientific hypothesis—it’s untestable, so by definition is not science.
So which is the more assumptive, i.e., non-scientific belief system?
Jeff Wynn is a fine scientist, I’m sure. But what he exhibits here is lazy intellectualism. Atheism is the rejection of belief in Gods. Atheism is not itself a belief system, nor does it have a set of worldviews one must adhere to or assume. It is, in fact, the null hypothesis.
I am an atheist for the same reason most any other atheist is – I’ve examined the arguments for the existence of God and find them unconvincing and, often, logically invalid. Show me evidence that God exists, and I’ll change my mind. Can the same be said of a believer? Science has been explaining the things God was said to be responsible for for years, and yet their belief persists. I have many Christian friends, for instance, who say that their beliefs are a matter of faith and, as such, they will not change their mind no matter what the evidence says. Isn’t this the very definition of being close-minded?
It is certainly true that I don’t know what happened before the Big Bang. Neither does Mr. Wynn. I can say that scientists are working on it, and may eventually have an answer. But for him to therefore insert a God without evidence is lazy, and yes, exactly the type of unproven assumption he appears to dislike. It is the same, tired “God of the Gaps” argument that theists have been clinging to for years.
As far as the Anthropic principle and ideas about a Multiverse go, I don’t know enough to comment much on them. I know the Anthropic principle is more of a philosophical argument, and that the Multiverse idea is one that is being highly contested and debated in scientific circles. Wynn makes the mistake of assuming these scientific ideas are presented as tenets of atheism and then railing against them to make his case. Not true. But then, it’s much easier to knock a Straw Man down, isn’t it?
Wynn, of course, is not alone in misconstruing atheism to hold themselves up. Many Christians I have known say such silly things as, “If you’re an atheist then you can’t have morality” Or “Oh, you’re an atheist, so you must believe in nothing.” It’s all very weak, but a testament to their lack of understanding of what atheism is.
Lately I have been a little more open about my thoughts on God and religion. I’m certainly no expert, but I’ve at least taken the time to educate myself and can defend my position of non-belief. If we’re going to discuss these matters, each of us should have an understanding of the other’s point of view, wouldn’t you agree? So all I ask of people like Jeff Wynn is that they find out what atheism is before they open their mouth and remove all doubt of their ignorance on the subject. If you don’t want to read informed articles or books on the topic and would prefer asking someone who considers themselves to be an atheist, I’d be happy to help. Just drop me a line. I’m not going to argue with you or go out of my way to convince you that you’re wrong. I’m much too easygoing for that.
Okay, that’s enough out of me. Good seeing you.