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Atheist TV: atheism is more than simply non-belief

May 8, 2014

I heard the announcement today of the plans by American Atheists to launch a television channel. It will be a fascinating concept with all sorts of interesting shows.

Yet, this planned launch seems to demonstrate that atheism entails more than simply ‘not believing in gods’ (as a number of atheists claim). It demonstrates that not believing in gods also has real world implications. Atheism also provides a perspective from which to view the world (a worldview). It is from this perspective that content for the Atheist TV channel will be provided.

Hence the arrival of Atheist TV demonstrates that ‘non-belief’ does have implications.


From → Comment, News

  1. This is a weird little post, Rob!
    You make it sound like there is some kind of atheist conspiracy building up…!
    What type of ‘implications’ are you concerned about here? Do you think an atheist TV show is going to become some kind of rallying point for atheists to rise up and take over the world…??

    • Hey Paul, Welcome back! Sorry I’ve been a little quiet in the last couple of days. But it’s great that you’re contributing again to this blog.

      This wasn’t meant to be such a weird little post – I was responding to the claim of some atheists that atheism is ‘simply’ non-belief in gods and that’s all. I am not really concerned for the nature of the implications, but I’m suggesting that very fact that there are implications (and enough content for an atheist TV channel) indicates that an atheism is a form of belief.

      • Well then, we do have an argument here, Rob. Atheism is definitely not a form of belief. It is specifically a non-belief.
        I think what you’re getting at is that by virtue of being ‘organised’ and united, apparently in their atheism, this particular group is demonstrating something active and proactive inherent in atheism, as opposed to the expected passive position about belief/non-belief that atheists tend to claim.
        Well, if this is a correct understanding of what you’re saying, then you’re over-reading and misunderstanding things. There are no atheists I know that accept that the term ‘atheism’ means anything more than a lack of belief (in God).

        But, that does not mean that atheists don’t tend to have a common perspective on things, like freedom, education and equality in particular, occasionally activism against religious interference in public institutions, and even various other, if you will, ‘philosophical’, outlooks.

        It’s worth putting this atheist tv channel thing into perspective. In the US, there is an alarming proportion of the population that believes in the religiously-aligned teachings of young-earth creationism. Fundamentalist Christian beliefs occupy a high profile in educational and other public institutions, despite the US constitution describing that this shouldn’t be the case. It ought to be expected then that folks united in their view against these beliefs and activities would rally to tackle these views and promote a counter-belief viewpoint.

        To repeat, atheism just means non-belief (in God). Atheism per se is not any kind of movement. Atheism has no doctrines. It isn’t atheism that is motivating these actions. It is a conviction that superstitious thought should be countered in public discourse.

      • Paul, sorry for the delay in responding. I take your point to an extent and I agree with many things you suggest. Although I still want to push it to suggest that it is atheism motivating the ‘counter to superstition’. Sure, I agree that at it’s fundamental atheism is a rejection of belief of god (similarly as theism is the acceptance of the existence of a god) – but this position has certain assumptions and implications – hence you have the motivation to counter superstition and hence you have atheist TV!

        I’m just wondering, why are atheists so concerned to not have “atheism” characterised as a form of ‘belief’? Thanks for the interaction and I hope you’re going well.

      • No worries, Rob.
        But look, by describing atheism in this way, don’t you see that you are generalising and even stereotyping what is in fact a diverse, heterogeneous group of people? In fact, ‘group of people’ isn’t even correct. There is no group or organisation or collection of principles that represents all, or even most, atheists.
        The only one thing that all atheists have in common is a lack of belief in god(s).
        Sure, you can point to “atheist” organisations, but no spokesperson for such a group will claim that they represent the views of atheists in general. You will find that such collectives have formed as activist (eg., American Atheists) or special interest groups, or are just loose associations of people with common interests. Casting all atheists according to a stereotype is arguably a form of bigotry.
        This might seem pedantic – that perhaps I’m being precious or overly ‘politically correct’ about atheism. But the point I’m trying to make here is just about being plainly correct. If we can’t agree on the terminology – the meanings of the words we use – then the path to getting some kind of common understanding is just going to be that much longer.

        Again, I don’t accept that it is atheism that is motivating unity (eg., to counter superstition in a given culture). The motivation is a common drive to confront the power or influence of other groups whose views they don’t agree with. To suggest it is atheism that is the motivator is like saying that my lack of interest in chess motivates me to play Bridge. It’s just not logically correct.

        I’m just wondering, why are atheists so concerned to not have “atheism” characterised as a form of ‘belief’? So in a way, I’m glad you asked this, but the question itself demonstrates the type of incorrect assumptions (soft bigotry, if you will), that I’ve been referring to.
        Many – perhaps even most (I don’t know) – atheists couldn’t give a pinch of shit about how you define or characterise atheism or their set of ‘beliefs’! And that’s how they’ll speak about it if you challenge them on the subject. They won’t care if you call it a belief, and some will even agree with you. And that will be close to the full extent of engagement you’ll ever get from them.
        But those that are thoughtful about their position and want to propagate understanding about their views will often respond to this with a mocking tone, because it smacks of ignorance and jumping to unjustified conclusions. It sounds like the ridiculous meme that goes “Atheism is just another religion”!
        Those atheists that engage on the subject (that I’m aware of, anyway), just don’t talk about, or think about, their views in terms of ‘belief’. Again, it is logically incorrect to describe a lack-of-belief as a form-of-belief. “Belief” is a loaded term, with connotations of faith and religion, and I have to assert in the strongest terms possible, that the thought processes behind atheism (for the most part) and skepticism, are thoroughly unlike those of faith and religion.
        There are far more interesting discussions to be had once we agree that atheism just means lack-of-belief. Ask something challenging, eg., in the form, “If you are an atheist, how do reconcile xyz, given abc…?”

      • Thanks for the comment Paul. I agree and disagree with you at the same time. I am certainly not trying to be bigoted at all – and do apologise if I ever appear that way. Thanks for clarifying and I certainly don’t believe that atheism is a religion (did you see my earlier post on that subject:

        However I do disagree with your comment ‘There is no group or organisation or collection of principles that represents all, or even most, atheists.’ I think there are a collection of principles and assumptions that undergird any form of atheism. I think this is an important point and I might even turn it into a blog post of its own. Atheists hold more things in common than simply ‘lack of belief in god(s). For example I’ll outline a few:

        1. The universe (or the multiverse that preceded it) came into existence by no external cause (or is eternal).
        2. The universe self-organised to form galaxies, stars, solar systems and planets.
        3. Inorganic material became organic material when life on earth began and this event occurred by natural processes.
        4. The diversity and complexity of life on earth came about by random mutation and natural selection.
        5. Morality is socially constructed and there is no ultimate right or wrong.
        6. There is no ultimate justice in the universe.
        7. A human being is of equal intrinsic value to a tree or rock.
        8. In time the Earth will be consumed by the Sun and all remnants of Earth and human civilization will be obliterated (unless humans manage to escape the Earth and live somewhere else).
        8. Jesus was not resurrected from the dead.
        9. Jesus did not perform miracles.
        10. Jesus was wrong when he made claims to be God.

        These all flow directly from atheism. Would you say that it’s fair to believe that all atheists must believe these facts? I’m not trying to mount an argument for the existence of God or anything from this or argue the validity of these points, all I’m trying to say is that all atheists must believe these points. You might want to add to this list? This was just something that I came up with quickly here now. Maybe the way I’ve phrased this is a way of expanding on xyz given abc (which all flow from an atheist assumption).

        Hope that makes sense and I certainly don’t want to be a bigot. Thanks for another interesting discussion.

  2. OK, Rob, and it’s worth clarifying that I did hesitate before I used the word ‘bigot’! I don’t mean it with the same strength as an accusation of racism or anything like that. Again, my point is that by attaching all of your so-called implications to the term ‘atheist’, you perpetuate an inaccurate stereotype. This might not be social problem today in the same way that, say, racism is, but inaccurate stereotyping usually doesn’t progress rational discussion.

    I’d like to address your ‘points in common to all atheists’, but I’d prefer to do that in a separate comment.
    The main point in summary is that there are plenty of atheists that either a) do not agree with one or more of these points-in-common, or b) don’t care. The remaining points are either irrelevant to the ‘implications’ of atheism, or simply reiterate it (point 10 is just an insignificant re-statement of what atheism is in the context of Christian debate).
    “… all I’m trying to say is that all atheists must believe these points…”
    Hence, no – this isn’t correct. All atheists do not accept all these points.

    I’ll agree that some of the deeper, philosophically-thinking atheists will work through the implications of their non-belief (some of which might have some overlap with your points). Some might even struggle them. But by-and-large, your typical contemporary atheist doesn’t care a great deal about most of these points, even if they agree with them.
    As a result, your implications of atheism actually have more significance to believers than they do to atheists themselves.

    • No offense taken about the ‘bigot’ comment. Although I’m not trying to perpetuate any sterotypes, I’m trying to suggest that a certain claim like ‘the non belief in God’ must entail further secondary claims. As I mentioned in another comment, these things revolve around things which are claimed by theists to be the ‘agency of God’, i.e. origins, destiny, morals, historical Jesus etc.

      In terms of atheists not agreeing with these statements, I’d be intrigued to find out which ones – for I’d be happy to change my points (I think this is raised more in the other thread and will respond in more detail there). But the point about ‘not caring’ is actually a little irrelevant. Even if an atheist doesn’t care about the implications of their non-belief in god(s) doesn’t mean that the implications aren’t real.

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