I’ve recently convinced myself that there are no legitimate arguments for atheism, but only counter-arguments against arguments for the existence of gods (TANLAFABOCAAAFTEOG, which actually isn’t too hard to pronounce – a secular miracle indeed!). That is, atheism is the default position, the null hypothesis, that remains standing amidst the dust and rubble after the reasons put forward for belief in the divine have been shattered seriatim by the brutal sledgehammer of logic. Or better yet, atheism is simply the perfect, contemplative silence and emptiness that hold sway after the dust has settled. Becoming an atheist boils down to perceiving that there is no good reason to believe in gods, and accepting the philosophical proposition that one shouldn’t believe in things without good reason.
I said “becoming an atheist” rather than “being an atheist” as a way of setting aside infants and other people who have never even considered the possibility that there might be gods. I don’t think the question of whether people in that category should be called atheists is very interesting, because it just boils down to definitions. An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in gods, but what exactly do we mean by “believe”? Do you “not believe” in something if the idea of believing in it has never occurred to you? I would say yes, but I can also see the value of distinguishing between “naïve atheists” like small children and, shall we say, “cognizant atheists”. Naïve atheists must account for a significant proportion of the total number of atheists in Canada, though I doubt they make up a preponderance. Considering how many of the little darlings take to religion as they get a bit older, it’s probably just as well that the Most Hallowed Church of Atheism has no particularly harsh penalities for apostasy. Even Leah Libresco only had to put up with a mighty chorus of hemming, hawing and tut-tutting.
The TANLAFABOCAAAFTEOG perspective implies that the best arguments in an atheist’s quiver are the ones that do the most effective job of refuting the most convincing case for believing in gods. In the grand sweep of intellectual history, the notion that there could be anything approaching a convincing case appears to be pretty well dead in the water anyway, but the winds and currents of any individual human mind are more uncertain. Many people do retain a belief in the divine, and they must – unless they are in a sense “naïve theists” who have never seriously entertained the possibility of atheism in their adult lives – have their reasons for doing so. For many people those reasons are probably more emotional than intellectual, and in some cases they’re likely as odd as Heather Mallick’s notion that one should be an atheist because a man in New York City was hit by a falling piece of furniture. Be that as it may, atheists hoping to convince others of their position have an obvious interest in finding out what actually makes believers believe.
I’ll start by asking you, gentle reader. If you’re a theist, which arguments for the existence of the divine underpin your beliefs most strongly? If you’re an ex-theist, which arguments did you find hardest to let go of (for me, it was basically the argument from design)? If you’ve never been a theist, are there any arguments that sometimes make you think the grass might be greener on the goddy side of the fence?