The Great Courses

Isn't Atheism Just Another "Belief System"?

Jan 28, 2011 at 1:53 PM
6 years ago

I address a common debate tactic used by the religious. Your comments welcome.

This is a question that came up several times this week, including one Facebook message from a religious acquaintance (I'll call him Steve) who asserted that science had no more definitive answers than faith. Steve then charged me to give an example of anything that I believe, but cannot prove.

Of course, he was making the classic argument that non-belief is actually a belief system in itself. Baiting me to demonstrate an unprovable belief of my own was his attempt to lump The Scientific Method into the same category as The Spiritual Method. If I believe something but cannot prove it outright, I'm no different than the religious who believe in a god that they cannot prove.

I know many of you are accosted with this tactic. Perhaps you can benefit from my response to Steve, and even expound upon this subject to make it better with your own comments.

Do I Believe Something That I Cannot Prove?


Believe but not prove. Like…outright? Cool.

I believe consciousness exists in the brain and is a product of brain chemistry.

That work?

But yours is a loaded question. (James Randi has a great quote that says, “No amount of belief makes something a fact.”)

So a better question is, “Do you have a belief in something you cannot prove, but for which there is very strong evidence to support?”

People believe in horoscopes, fairies, little green men, a living Elvis and all manner of things in this world. But belief should come after scientific method, interpretation, logic, reason and common sense…not before.

If you assert a belief, the burden of proof is on you to support that assertion. It’s not upon me to accept everything you toss out just because you say it with conviction.

Ask someone if they believe in god, and you don’t get a fact. You get a belief. (Of course, the next obvious question should be which god they choose. So many out there. Yahweh, Allah, Thor, Ra, Wotan, Isis, Apollo, Zeus, George Burns…)

Add up the evidence, see our world outside of the indoctrination of our youth, and ask yourself legitimate questions:

Did penguins really walk 8,000 miles into the desert to board a floating zoo built by a 600-year-old man in a global flood for which there is no geological evidence for (the Noah story)? Was the earth created, not 13.7 billion years ago in a singularity measurable by science, but instead by a lonely deity in a scenario involving six days, 2 naked people, a rib, a garden, a forbidden tree and a talking snake (Genesis 1)? Do you believe in unicorns (Job 39:10)?

Brandishing belief without supporting evidence to back it up shouldn’t merit respect, or praise, or even tolerance. As Carl Sagan once said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” ( “I just know in my heart” is a cop-out.)

Believe all you want. But the facts, the science, the evidence and logic are against you.


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