Atheist Schools of Thought
Writing this blog has been a huge learning experience for me. I’ve had a large amount of comments, on some threads particularly, which have ranged from enlightened thought through to downright insanity, but each has helped me formulate just where I stand in relation to religion, humanity and the universe. One thing has become clear to me when discussing issues with atheists and theist alike. While I was already aware that there are many distinct sects and belief systems within Christianity and Islam as there are in all religions, there are also divisions in approach and understanding among atheists as well.
This shouldn’t strike me as odd really, each person brings to the table what it is that they have learned, lied experiences, their studies and musings, and none of us have had the same journey to bring us here where we are now. It would go against the law of averages if we were all to agree entirely about topics of philosophy, and to tell you the truth it would probably be pretty boring.
While a lot of atheists agree about topics like religion and the patriarchical power system, the destructive power of religious fervour, the sciences and the importance of secular learning, I was surprised to find that one of the biggest points of contention among atheists is semantic in nature.
We often like to group ourselves under banners of positive atheism like “No God? No problem” or “Don’t pray in our schools and I won’t think in your church”, which are nice little phrases that look good on billboards. When we cut past the book titles and the sense of “moral outrage” that these slogans seem to inspire in believers of god, past the apparent militant stance of the “New Atheism”, one question remains, and is often left unanswered; “Is there a God?”
It seems like a contradiction that people who fight fervently against god worship etc would be the ones to argue over this point. But when it comes down to it this is the very essence of the whole debate. And even atheists can’t all agree on the answer. There are two main schools of thought in the debate; I’ll call them the “light accommodationists” and the “absentists”.
Let’s start with the “absentists”. This is the deduction that no matter what, all thing considered, that there is no God, no higher power, no omniscient omnipotent omnipresent being. Nothing was “created” by anyone or anything. The universe is here, we are here and that is the end of the question, that the laws of physics and chemistry do not allow for the existence of a god.
The other school of thought which includes Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris among them, are the “light accommodationists”. This group says that however unlikely it is that there is a God that created matter and the universe, there is still no way of knowing whether or not this God exists. The chances of there being a God is often cited as a number like 0.000000000000001%, which is a very low likelihood indeed. But given the numbers we use in cosmology and particle physics, this percentage chance is probably larger than it need be. What this standpoint is saying is that no matter what we learn about the universe, we will always have more to learn, and to be completely honest and using the scientific method, the simple ruling-out of the existence of god is foolish, for the possibility still remains. This is not to say that this school of thought is agreeing with a theistic ideals at all, but is simply saying that we actually do not know the answer. This is why I call them “light accommodationists” as the accommodation of the possibility of a god is very small indeed.
While I like to place myself in the former category due to my hard-headedness, me being a rational thinker I cannot entirely discount the latter. When listening to the words of Sam Harris I am convinced he is right in his thinking. So I therefore fall somewhere in between the two camps; I don’t allow for the existence of a god in my everyday life and learnings and will never assert that there is a god unless absolute proof is given to me. Call me in the spectrum of theistic possibility a strong 6.9.
While this difference is a matter for semantics, the distinction is actually quite important. The implications that there is a possibility of a god however slim it may be, is the only true rational outcome from this question or we are implying that we know everything, which we don’t. This is problematic because theists will always pick at this standpoint as a weakness in the atheist armour, something that if they pick at long enough will begin to bleed, and they will be proven right. But just because something is not 100% uncertain does not mean to say that we can count it as true.
On a side note, also problematic is where atheists will debate this to the point of insults, which while it is only natural to get emotional on issues we feel passionately about, is actually counterproductive. Like I say in my “Mission Statement“, “If the writing has nowhere to go but into the realm of ridicule, then it has already run its course and should be abandoned there.” I still feel this is true.
What are your opinions of this?