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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton

"You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." G.K.Chesterton

"As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that."C. S. Lewis

"I blog, therefore I am." Anon

Thursday, July 03, 2003

What's so weak about "weak" atheism?

It is this: “weak” atheism is a meaningless concept. If one is uses the word “atheism”, and thinks that the inclusion off the word “weak” in front of it gives it some special immunity from normal and sane language use, one is subscribing to the Humpty Dumpty principle [see several previous blogs for details.] One either really means “strong” atheism - i.e. atheism as historically understood as the denial of God - or one is proposing agnosticism about God.

This tactic by contemporary Internet infidels to redefine the traditional meaning of the word “atheism” is a classic example of postmodernist subjectivism in action. This amounts to a naked revisionist effort by atheists to avoid the burden of proof that rightly falls on any one who urges a particular proposition (i.e. There is No God” equally with "There is a God"), and to shift that burden onto one’s opponents who in this case represent the normative historical default position. There are no “natural” atheistic cultures in human history. Religion is as natural to man as is breathing.

As one can see examples of self-professed “weak” atheists on numerous Internet forums aggressively attacking both God and Christianity, one is thus fairly entitled to dismiss their claims of “lack” as being a semantic smokescreen for a very real antipathy towards God, the Bible and Christianity… as well as confirming the essential disingenuity of “weak atheism”.

I do not dispute for one moment that there are many people who DO live their lives apathetically with regard to God. Jonathan Rauch, an atheist, has coined the term “apatheism” to describe the modern phenomenon of lack of interest in religious questions, the “disinclination to care all that much about one's own religion, and an even stronger disinclination to care about other people's.” This phenomenon is more usually described as practical atheism, to distinguish it from philosophical atheism. It does not represent a considered worldview, but refers to a situation of living as if there is no God because one has simply never given it much thought. It is truly a modern western phenomenon. Anesthetised by consumer goods, TV, mass media and pop culture, apathy about religion and the spirit is indeed the most widespread practical lifestyle manifestation of the age.

But apatheism is not a belief, a doctrine or a theology; it is truly a “lack of belief” a pragmatic day to day stance rather than a metaphysical or philosophical or religious position. What atheists like to describe using the unfortunate designation of weak atheism (one wonders if it is it anything like having weak eyesight, or a weak bladder or being a 90 pound weakling? Which bright spark is responsible for this gem?) is perhaps more correctly designated as apatheism.” I don’t care”, “I don’t think about it”, “It doesn’t impact on my life” [shrug] etc.

Apatheism is of course self-defeating if one is going to come to Christian websites and argue against Christianity and theism, for then one is truly not apathetic about these matters. No self-respecting philosophical atheist is an apatheist, nor would such a person describe himself as apathetic and yet this is precisely the stance taken all over the Net by atheists who are most definitely not apathetic about their opposition to God .Again it is an incoherent, illogical and irrational stance to take. Yet this is what weak atheists are claiming for themselves.

One wonders if self- designated “weak” atheists have really thought through their position. Why are they are so dissembling, so apathetic, so weak, so bereft of a positive worldview that all they claim to do is argue for the lack of or absence of something. Is that an intelligent, reflective position? Exactly how is weak atheism different from agnosticism? And how does one logically argue for the “lack” of something? If you never have to present evidence for your own position, that makes for a pretty handy argumentative weapon to batter one’s opponents with. Opponents, it must be noted who actually stand for something, and don’t make a virtue out of empty rhetoric espousing the dubious philosophical validity of “absence” as a serious intellectual position.

Isn’t the weak atheist position really a kind of non-sequitur in that it seeks to present a reasoned logical case for not having no reasonable , logical case to defend? Does the weak atheist acknowledge that God, by which I mean the unique transcendent God, exists or not? If one “doesn’t know” how is that position different from agnosticism?

I suggest that “apatheism” may be a better term than the “weak atheism” that so many Internet infidels now claim to be espousing and defending in forums throughout cyberspace.

But this itself throws up further problems for the “weak” atheist. If one is an atheist appearing on a Christian forum then you are not one of these people who are merely lazy and apathetic; the fact is that you are a committed, dogmatic, militant atheist with a very real axe to grind with God. This truth has been well captured by another atheist:

"Atheism is not at all like apatheism; the hot-blooded atheist cares as much about religion as does the evangelical Christian, but in the opposite direction..."

Now most atheists are not stupid. They recognise the inherent difficulty in “strong” i.e. “true” atheism. The postulation of “weak” atheism is an ingenious attempt to avoid invoking the fallacy of negative proof. This occurs whenever someone declares:

that "there is no evidence that X is the case”, and then proceeds to affirm or assume that not-X is the case. He may have spent all the years of his youth in the Antiquarian society, feverishly seeking the holy X and never finding it. He may have examined every relevant scrap of evidence in every remote repository, without reward. He and every other reasoning being on this planet may know that not-X is the case. But a simple statement that "there is no evidence of X" means precisely what it says - no evidence. The only correct empirical procedure is to find affirmative evidence of not-X - which is often difficult, but never in my experience impossible.
David Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. New York and Evanston: Harper and Row,1970, 47

The fallacy of negative proof is thus invoked when someone declares that there is no evidence that God exists and then proceeds to affirm or assume that no God is the case. Fischer says it can only be that no evidence has been found, and it is wrong to state otherwise. The danger of falling into this trap results in the smoke and mirrors of the Invisible Pink Unicorn, the giant blue blancmange or Mork from Ork, etc. Of course “weak” atheists, like their “strong” cousins, really and truly don’t believe in the one unique transcendent God, but they often don’t have the guts to say it for fear of having to shoulder the burden of proof. Thus the recourse to weak atheism is merely a cynical polemical ploy.

9:09:00 pm