Are All Atheists The Same?

I was browsing through the excellent posts on “The Atheist Jew” website recently and I came across one entitled “Atheism as a theory,” which is very interesting but posts some points I really do not agree with. The crux of them come from the Top 10 Atheist Myths website, so it is there I turn the rest of my attention.

, in my mind, is nothing more (or less) than the absence of any belief in any supernatural entity. You can call the entity Thor, Odin, Bahommet, Azura Madhra, Pluto, Set, Bast, Hermes, God, Allah, Vishnu or whatever. I still dont believe in it.

That pretty much sums up everything have in common. Other than that, they are “normal” people just like a theist. There are Atheists who do bad things, there are Atheists who do good things. There are Atheists who are irrational, just as there are ones who are rational. Atheism is an opinion about one aspect of your interaction with reality and, as such, cant really be used to determine any other aspects.

Ok, so there is “my” take on atheism. On the “Top 10 Myths” site, there are a list of the top ten (oddly enough…) so I will repeat them here:

  • Myth 1 : “Atheists are all the same”
  • Myth 2 : “Atheists have no morals, since they don’t believe in God”
  • Myth 3 : “Atheists believe in evolution, but that doesn’t answer as many questions as creationism”
  • Myth 4 : “Atheists cannot know there is no God, since you cannot prove he doesn’t exist”
  • Myth 5 : “Atheists seek to remove religion from society, and to force all people to be atheists”
  • Myth 6 : “Atheists are so closed-minded, they can’t see that miracles happen every day!”
  • Myth 7 : “Atheists are pushing a negative sentiment, and have a dreary life”
  • Myth 8 : ” If atheists are right, then religious people are wasting their time, but at least they’re happy. No harm in that! If religious people are right, then atheists are going to hell. It seems logical that atheists should become religious just to be safe.”
  • Myth 9 : “There are no such things as atheists” a.k.a. “There are no atheists in foxholes”
  • Myth 10 : “This country was founded by Christians, on Christian values, and should therefore be a Christian country”.

Now, it doesn’t take the most imagination in the world to see how these myths are, in fact, all flawed and Dave Silverman’s website does a good job of dismissing them (myth 10 is obviously very specific for the US so I will ignore it for now).

There is a common thread which runs through all the myths, and it is the theistic assumption that all Atheists think the same. This is the same lack of logical thought which leads people to assume is the “pope” of Atheism. As logical thought goes, it is more than wrong.

Sadly, despite Dave Silverman’s otherwise excellent commentary, he makes the same mistake himself a few times. For example, in response to Myth 2 he writes: (emphasis in original, underlining mine)

Humans have the idea of right and wrong imbedded in them by their own brains, as well as their upbringing and society. Atheists do good, not out of fear of reprisal, but because it’s the right thing to do. We value family, society, culture, and, of course, freedom. Many of us will – and have – defend these values with our lives.

While personally, I do think I value family, society, culture and freedom, I also think it is a stretch of reality to imply all Atheists do. There are atheists who are simply nasty people. Being an atheist does not mean you hold yourself to a higher standard and there is no Holy Book Of Atheism to tell people how to live their lives. Just like theists, atheists are a mixture of people. The main difference (in my opinion) is that Atheists are a LOT less hypocritical.

I may be out of order, but I get the suspicion that Dave Silverman is an ex-Christian/Jewish Atheist, which seems to come through in his comments. For example, in response to myth 8, he writes:

I like getting this question. I sense another list coming :

1) Drug addicts go through life happy, so would theists suggest we all use drugs and stay home? We would be happy, and not hurting anybody, so where’s the harm?
The harm is the same for believers. They go through life happy, but it’s a false, wasteful happiness. Atheists get happiness from family, contribution to society, charity, and truth.

2) Religious people should not be lumped into one category for this question. Remember, religions are also biased against each other (Jews vs. Catholics Vs. Protestants, etc), so no matter what religion the speaker follows, most of the world thinks they’re going to hell (or other punishment), just like atheists. Ask them which religion has the worst punishment, and whether they would convert to that religion on that one factor, just in case they’re right. When they tell you how absurd that question is, remind them that they asked it first.

3) To convert and practice a specific religion just to ingratiate yourself with God and avoid going to hell is pure, self-serving greed, which is one of the seven deadly
sins. Therefore, by their own thinking, even if they are right and I do convert, I’d go to hell anyway, along with everyone else in the flock whose actions are so motivated (possibly including the speaker).

All very much along the Abrahamic religions lines. In reality, this myth is a variation on Pascals Wager and can generally be dismissed in much simpler terms (and was mentioned here previously).

All in all, both sites are interesting and worth visiting, they just have a different view on Atheism to myself – which goes to show, all atheists are different!

6 thoughts on “Are All Atheists The Same?

  1. All very good points, of course.

    There seems to be a general idea among religious believers and non-believers that atheism must be a belief system, with a set of credos like “evolution is true” “Dawkins is infallible” and so on. Disturbing human tendency to find an authority and follow it. Anything but think. For unthinking believers, it must be particularly hard to conceive of thinking for yourself so they assume nobody else would want to do it.

    I suspect it never occurred to most non-believers that Dawkins was setting out a belief system they had to follow.

    (For myself, I have big problems with Dawkins’s views in general, as one of the sociobiology adherents from the 1980s. I agree with lots of what he says about religion but I’m buggered if I’ll take him seriously as a social scientist. In the argument between Dawkins and Terry Eagleton, I think Eagleton makes some good points aginst Dawkins’ views – though I also think that expecting a biologist to be a social scientist is mad – as if Terry Eagleton could do biology research, plus – ad hominem – I think Eagleton is something of a prat. )

  2. Personally I dont know of any non-believers who think Dawkins set out a belief system. The sheer lack of logic theists show on this matter is mind boggling.

  3. My bad there for not making myself clear. I don’t think many unbelievers think dawkins is the pope of atheism. I meant, that there is a fair bit of web interaction which is pro- or anti-Dawkins, as if atheists believ Dawkins and religious people don’t.

    At the most, i meant that I think the religious extremists find it hard to argue with people who don’t have a mouthpiece, so some people arguing against them fall into the trap of speaking as if Dawkins is always the voice of atheism.

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