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Negative Atheism

 

God is that by definition that has sole ultimate value.  Lack of belief is absolute denial in a sense while it remains a lack of belief and is not a belief.  Weak belief is a sort of denial too. To be without belief in God is to be against it for belief in God is needed for a God to connect with you and you with him and because if God is a good belief and what we should wish for (whether he exists or not) it is not a neutral matter. If God is morality as many say, then to be without belief is to reject God's existence in a sense. To be without faith in God is to be without God.  If God does not reveal himself to me then nature reveals there is no God. Not to reveal is to let something else reveal he does not exist.  When looked at this way, the lack of belief in God is a form of atheism for it is not the same as lack of belief in anything else.  Lacking belief in the tooth fairy is not denying her existence but lacking belief in God is, in a way, denying his existence.  God's existence gets a passive hostility that that of the tooth fairy does not get which is why it is easy to simply not reject God explicitly but just not believe and still be an atheist.

NEGATIVE AND POSITIVE ATHEISM
 
Etymologically the word atheism means "not theism ie not belief in God."  But that does not mean it is the mere absence of belief in God for it could be a positive denial of God.  Professor Antony Flew defined an atheist as a person who is not a theist.  He says it is that simple.  It is not for there is such a thing as being agnostic where you are not denying there is a God so you cannot be an atheist.  However that aside Flew made contributions to our understanding of what is meant by an atheist.  He at least alerted us that there are two atheisms.


Flew wrote in his book God and Philosophy that there are two kinds of atheist. The positive atheist uses evidence to prove that there is no God. The negative atheist does not do this but refuses to believe there is a God simply because she has no evidence for God. Flew's book is a defence of negative atheism. It argues that since there is no proof or reason to believe in God that makes sense we can assume there is no God and we should. It is up to the theist to prove there is a God. There must then be positive theists who say there is evidence for God and negative theists who say that there is a God for there is no evidence against him.
 
So keep the following in mind.
 
All atheists are negative atheists. They argue that there is no reason to believe in God because there is no evidence. Many of these atheists are also positive atheists. A positive atheist agrees with the negative atheist and adds that there is evidence against the existence of God.
 
WHERE DO YOU START?
 
If you want to refute atheism, you have to start with negative atheism.
 
Why?
 
Because the biggest question in relation to God is, "Is there any evidence that he exists meaning there is a reason to believe?"
 
The next biggest question is, "If there is no reason to believe, then is there evidence against God?"
 
You always need the evidence for something's existence before you can think about the evidence against it. Why bother looking for evidence against things when there is no reason to think they exist? There is no point. Looking for evidence for something comes first because if you show there is no evidence for it then the way is open for you to examine the evidence against. If you care about evidence you cannot do the con and not the pro. Doing the pro first avoids being biased against it. It is more important for there to be no evidence for something than for there to be evidence against it.
 
IS LACK OF BELIEF A BELIEF?
 
We are discussing negative atheism only now.
 
Many say that a lack of belief is still a belief. They allege that an atheist who lacks a belief in God is adhering to a belief that no God exists. It is nonsense for a lack of belief is not a belief. You are not denying the existence of God. That would be a belief. You are saying you have no reason to believe. That is not a denial and so it is not a belief.
 
The following is nonsense: "Atheists accuse Christians of believing in God without any or without sufficient evidence. But the atheists do this themselves for they believe that there is no God despite the fact that they have no evidence or have insufficient evidence for his non-existence." But we all treat things as non-existent if we have no evidence for them. God for some reason is the exception among the religious but he shouldn't be. Christians believing while having no evidence for God is not the same thing as atheists believing there is no God while having no evidence of his non-existence. If you believe a man lives in your attic without you having any evidence then you are crazy. You are not crazy if you lack belief in the existence of the man even though you have no evidence of his non-existence.

Suppose as the argument says, both atheists and believers were equally guilty of blind faith in relation to God's purported non-existence or existence. If both are irrational then which side would be the most irrational? If there is no evidence for a ghost haunting a house, and one person says there is a ghost that person is irrational. The person who sees no reason to believe and refuses to say there is one is rational.


OTHER REFUTATIONS

 

Here is an argument "If a Catholic does not know that Hinduism exists, does that mean he believes there is no such religion as Hinduism? That makes no sense. Thus a lack of belief in God does not mean you believe no God exists. Would you suggest that as your dog lacks a belief in God that he is an atheist?"
You might say its different for humans for we have the choice to believe or not unlike the dog. But do we have a choice? You cannot really help what you think for you cannot help what evidence says to you. If you use emotion and desire to blind yourself to what you think, you are not choosing to change your mind. You are trying to hide the fact that you have not changed your mind.


One might think the problem with negative atheism is that its reasoning would justify one believing that one’s long gone wife is dead because there is no evidence that she is alive. Or that your employee is a thief for there is no evidence that he is not. But the difference is that if there is a God he will tell us he exists but the wife cannot for she does not know what one thinks or if one wants to know. She’s not all-powerful and all-knowing like God and it is the same with the employee.
 
Also, the problem does not exist. Negative atheism does not justify thinking the wife is dead because of the absence of evidence that she is alive. It is not about whether she is alive or not but about the fact that you have no reason to think that she is. You are not believing anything. Saying there is no wife if there is no evidence or her existence is sensible but saying she must be dead as there is no evidence she is still alive is not the same thing. Not hearing from her may not mean she is dead.
 
The principle behind negative atheism is useful when you are on about whether an entity exists or not. If we are sure she did exist (past), evidence of her absence COULD BE evidence of her non-existence (current).  But it IS NOT evidence for absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. However, if she does not exist and never did, evidence of her absence is evidence of her non-existence.
 
NEGATIVE THEISM
 
If lack of belief is a belief, then negative atheism is believing there is no God.
 
Then what if you think there is a God because you suppose there is no evidence that he does not exist? You might call your view negative theism.
 
Negative theism in this form faces the problem of Santa Claus or the seventh wife of Henry VIII. It would have to say they exist simply because there is no evidence against them. This makes no sense. Something doesn't exist just because there is no evidence for it.
 
So if you have a choice between negative theism and negative atheism choose the latter. It is the most rational. It is the most rational even if both are irrational. Why is negative atheism the wise choice? Because it is stupid to believe in entities when you don't need to.
 
IS NEGATIVE ATHEISM A RELIGIOUS VIEW?
 
The reason believers in God accuse atheists who lack a belief in God of believing in atheism is because they want to argue, "Atheism just like belief in God is a belief or a faith position." They want to make the world suspect that atheism is a religion. They want atheists to suffer the same disadvantages any religion will suffer in a state that ignores religion and refuses to implement religious doctrine or principles. It does not bother them that if atheism is a religion then everything is a religion so if the state and religion should be separate then secularism is unworkable. They want the state to reason that atheism is a religion and thus a violation of the separation that should exist between Church and state. But what do they want to take its place? Christianity? Do they want to destroy secularism and leave us with nothing but totalitarianism? They are certainly willing to stop the state acting neutral on the issues of God and religion - they oppose this atheism which is atheism in practice.
 
Religion likes to argue that atheism is religious for atheism has a worldview. The atheists do have a worldview but few share the exact same worldview. There is freethinking among atheists. Atheism does not involve the supernatural or magic so it is not religious. No two members of the same religion will have exactly the same world view though there is in general higher agreement on the worldview among members of a religion than disagreement. Does it follow then that they are two religions pretending to be one religion?  Maybe for two separate religions can have nearly everything in common and still be different and distinct.
 
Atheists believe that they must be open in everything to changing their minds should the evidence be sufficient to justify a change of view. There is no trace of the religious attitude, "You must believe this and never deny it. It is the revealed truth from on high." Religion is a threat to truth and transparency in principle.
 
IS NEGATIVE ATHEISM A MORAL VIEW?
 
If atheism is primarily or essentially an absence of belief in God or Gods, then explaining ethics, morality and altruism is not its job.  If God is somehow morality then atheism is not about morality.  If God is not morality then atheism is still not about morality. Atheism does not explain why we approve of some actions and not others.  But atheism is a moral view in one sense: it sees that rights emerge from needs.  God by definition can have no needs so he has no right or need to give us moral commands.  Atheism may be a lack of belief in God who commands.  Not believing in God implies opposition to God.  It is indirect opposition.  Rejecting God is direct opposition.  Negative atheism indirectly rejects but is not inherently anti-God.  Positive atheism directly rejects and is inherently anti-God.
 
AGNOSTICISM?
 
It is easier to prove that you do not know a thing than that you do know it. This view indicates that there is a third option after theism or atheism which is agnosticism. Agnosticism is what you have when you are not deciding between negative theism or negative atheism. You consider the evidence that there is no God to be as convincing that there is so you do not know.
 
Anthony Kenny wrote that it is better to presume that you don’t know something than that you do for it is easier to prove you don’t know a thing than that you know it (page 58, What is Faith?). He says this means that it is better to presume agnosticism. Kenny argues that it is easier and more reasonable to assume God exists in the way negative theism does it than to assume that he does not like Flew wants us to. Both Flew and Kenny agree that there is no evidence for God.

 

In reply, if there is no evidence for the existence or non-existence of the ghost upstairs then it is clearly more reasonable to believe the ghost doesn't exist. If Kenny thinks it is more reasonable and easier to believe in God for God explains things then that is a denial that there is no evidence for God. Kenny must think that it is better to presume God exists in case he does. But we can't go about honouring nature spirits we don't believe in just because they might exist.
 
And as for agnosticism, when it says there could be a God and there is no need to believe in God it makes sense to make things simpler and just be an atheist. Reason bids us to go for simplicity. Agnosticism falls with theism for it is half-theism.
 
DOES IT TAKE FAITH FOR YOU TO BE AN ATHEIST?

 

Uh, no!

 

Atheism is at its core, the absence of belief in God just as sickness is the absence of health or black is the absence of white

 

So the atheist may not say there is no God but will have no belief that there is.

 

Atheists do not wonder what created the universe or where the universe came from.  They admit ignorance instead of pretending that God is the answer.  Even if God could make sense as an explanation it does not mean that it is reasonable to believe in God.

 
CONCLUSION

 

"There is a God."

 

There are four  different responses to that statement.

 

"There is a God".

 

"There is no God."  (Unbelief).

 

"There is no God as far as I see."  (Not a rejection as such.  It is non-belief rather than unbelief.)

 

"I do not know."  (Withholding judgement).

 

It is up to the person who says there is a God or that their cat is God incarnate to provide the case for that being true.  It is not up to the person who does not believe to disprove it.

 

A lack of belief is not a true or false matter. It is not a belief or propositional stance.

 

Atheism is a belief that you should lack belief in God.  It is a belief about belief not just a belief about God.

 

A positive atheist rejects the existence of God because the evidence says there is no God.

 

A negative atheist is a person who does not reject the existence of God but who acts as if there is none.  That is rejection in another way.

 

Lack of belief in God is not in itself denial of God but it inevitably forces you to deny God other ways.  That is why it is not to be confused with the notion that you simply neither believe or reject belief.
 
We see that if we are forced to presume and there is no positive evidence for atheism or agnosticism or theism then theism is the last thing we should presume.

 

Atheism when understood as a lack of belief or the absence of belief in God is not being confused with agnosticism.  The difference is the atheist believes what a God would be and the agnostic claims not to know what a God would be.  Atheism then is the belief what a God means and the absence of belief in that God.  Atheism for some atheists is just a lack of acceptance of the existence of God but for most it is that and also a belief that there is no God.
 
Theism is an insult to the intelligence. Agnosticism is half-theism and is an insult too. Only atheism isn't ...
 
BOOKS CONSULTED

A Catechism of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Truth Society, London, 1985
A Common Faith, John Dewey, Yale University Press, Connecticut, 1968
AGNOSTICISM A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION Robin Le Poidevin, Oxford, 2010
A Primer of Necessary Belief, Dawson Jackson ,Victor Gollancz Ltd, London, 1957
Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, M H Gill and Son Ltd, Dublin, 1954
Faith and Ambiguity, Stewart R Sutherland, SCM Press, London, 1984
God and Philosophy, Antony Flew, Hutchinson, London, 1966
In Defence of the Faith, Dave Hunt, Harvest House, Eugene Oregon, 1996  
On Being a Christian, Hans Kung, Collins/Fount Paperbacks, Glasgow, 1978
Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Simon Blackburn, Oxford University Press, 1996
Reason and Belief, Bland Blanschard, London, George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1974
Reason and Religion, Anthony Kenny, Basil Blackwell Ltd, Oxford, 1987
The Balance of Truth, EI Watkin, Hollis & Carter, London, 1943
The Case Against Christ, John Young, Falcon Books, London, 1971
The Faith of a Subaltern, Alec de Candole, Cambridge University Press, 1919
The Fundamental Questions of Philosophy, A.C. Ewing, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1985
The Future of Belief Debate, Ed Gregory Baum, Herder and Herder, New York, 1967
The Student’s Catholic Doctrine, Rev Charles Hart BA, Burns & Oates, London, 1961
Unblind Faith, Michael J Langford, SCM, London, 1982
What Do Existentialists Believe? Richard Appignanesi, Granta Books, London, 2006
What is Christianity? Very Rev W Moran DD, Catholic Truth Society of Ireland, Dublin, 1940
What is Faith? Anthony Kenny, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992

THE WEB

THE PROBLEMS WITH BELIEFS www.nobeliefs.com/beliefs.htm