Is Atheism just a Lack of Belief in God?
Dialoguing with Atheists
By: Rev. Joe Kramer
This is the tip of the iceberg on this question. Here are some thoughts about this from dialoging with some atheists. I hope this gets everyone (atheist and theist) to think and change the way they relate to each other.
Depending on whom you ask (about the question, “Is atheism just a lack of belief in god”) you may get differing answers; most of the time when talking with atheists they will tell me they just don’t have belief in God, not that they know by scientific fact that there is no God or discuss their reasons why they have no belief. Usually they make this statement and then try to get me to prove them wrong.
I have found (this doesn’t apply to all atheists but the ones I have been talking with, and even not all of them) that when dialoging with an atheist about what they believe they usually tell me that they have absolutely no belief in God. Now this means that they don’t have to prove their position; because they have moved from reasons/evidence to stating an opinion. The net effect of this puts the entire burden, at least in both parties’ minds, on the other person (the theist) as to making a case for God. This is actually ingenious because it shifts the weight of proof off of them and onto the other person. So if a person can’t make their case (which no matter how good the case is the staunch atheist won’t believe it anyway), then they can’t make their case. The person making the case feels like a failure and the atheist goes away with a sense of beating the believer.
Notice here I have not used the word Christianity once. Why? Because many faiths dialogue with atheists and, from my experience they use the same tactic with all of them. They make it up to the person of faith to prove their case.
Keep in mind that atheism means a lack of theism. Theism is NOT a belief in the Christian God. All theism says is that some god exists.
The problem with saying that a person just lacks a god belief, in the scenario above, is as following. We have put these two opposing camps against each other, theism vs. atheism. This is how we view this in western society. But let us just suppose a god does exist, and then both an atheist (a person who doesn’t believe in a god) and a theist (a person who believe in a god) are both right. Why? Because at this point we are not exploring whether or not there is a God. We are exploring each individual’s beliefs, their psychology and so we have taken the exploration into opinion rather than logic and evidence.
What needs to be done in dialoguing (on both sides) is an exploration of each other’s viewpoints claims on the origin of everything (and other issues). An atheist must have answers to the basic questions of life as well. If individuals leave theism because of not having enough evidence, then the person must find sufficient evidence in atheism otherwise they are not atheist and are in actuality agnostics. You see if neither of them have enough evidence then perhaps the person is an agnostic (agnosticism to mean that one does not know everything so they do not know whether a god exists or not). May I submit that if you are not all-knowing then you can’t know for sure there is no god, so you are in essence an agnostic. Richard Dawkins even stated that he is not all-knowing and doesn’t believe there is a god, but he can’t be sure. Under my definition he would not be an atheist but an agnostic (under the technical definitions of each as well).
So I have found that a conversation degrades quickly when someone says that atheism means they don’t believe in God, because that usually means we are now leaving truth claims and going into personal opinion and the believer is always on the losing side of that one because you are no longer seeking truth but trying to change someone’s mind. Rather than go down this path, have both parties (theists and atheists) sit down and discuss why they think their position is true. Don’t go down into psychology and place the burden of changing someone’s mind on you (speaking as a theist here). Let us explore truth claims, not opinions.
I hope this is clearer than mud, because right now I don’t think I am communicating as clear as I would like to be. This is a kind of hard thing to write about in a small place but I hope it spurs you on to more study and truth seeking.