A Conflation of Atheisms

In all the discussions of atheism, I have not yet seen any one make what I take to be a rather simple point: atheism is always relative to a specific conception of God. For this reason, one can be an atheist in one sense and a theist in another. This in turn raises the question whether an atheist is intellectually compelled to investigate every conception of God and refute each of them in order to be entitled to his or her atheism. I want to make a preliminary, crude, and rather obvious distinction between two ways of conceiving of God in order to clarify two distinct kinds of atheism: the mythological conception and the metaphysical conception.

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56 thoughts on “A Conflation of Atheisms

  1. phoodoo: People’s belief in a God is almost certainly primarily based on their observation of the world

    If you mean by that, that children observe their parents before the age of reason, then sure. People’s belief in God is primarily caused by upbringing. Religious parents raise their children to share their religion. They take them to church, or mosque, or synagogue, they read scriptures to them, they include them in ritualistic religious traditions, pray with them, and so on. Hence, the children grow up having religion installed. There is an endless number of studies that show this. The most overwhelming, consistent, and reliable predictor of religiosity is religious parenting.

    Children who instead grow up being taught the principles of good critical thinking and rational skepticism, generally stay irreligious instead.

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  2. This in turn raises the question whether an atheist is intellectually compelled to investigate every conception of God and refute each of them in order to be entitled to his or her atheism.
    This is a misunderstanding…
    Everyone is intellectually compelled to investigate nature whether it can be explained purely by random processes. Once in doubt, the nature of God can be investigated.

    When my kids asked what is the nature of God, I asked them why Moses couldn’t see God’s face and needed a rocky cave and “Gods hand” as a shield just to see the back of God’s glory…

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  3. J-Mac: Everyone is intellectually compelled to investigate nature whether it can be explained purely by random processes. Once in doubt, the nature of God can be investigated.

    How?

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  4. Rumraket: If you mean by that, that children observe their parents before the age of reason, then sure. People’s belief in God is primarily caused by upbringing.

    This is a bit too narrow. Children observe their parents’ beliefs and tend to get them baked in early, regardless of the nature of those beliefs. So peoples’ belief in any of several monotheistic gods, or in pantheons of gods, or hierarchies of gods, or mystical great spirits, or manifestation of long-dead ancestors, or whatever religious approach is embodied in their culture, gets instilled. I think one of the primary causes of heterogeneity (as opposed to the melting pot) is the desire to circle the wagons around a particular belief system — whether this be Muslims in Germany, Amish in Pennsylvania, Somalians in Minnesota, or Jews in Brooklyn.

    (There was a German immigrant population in Texas that my wife visited. She’d lived in modern Germany and spoke fluent German, and she was amused that these people had frozen their German culture somewhere around 60-80 years ago, and everything from the clothes to the food to music to the language was WAY out of style. Might be good for a monograph sometime.)

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  5. newton: How?

    In quantum mechanics, for example, cause and effect are blurred, or not really important. If God is quantum, or beyond that level, the effect before the cause that QM allows could explain the existance of the First Cause of energy, leading to matter and the material universe, that didn’t require a cause…

    Yeah, it’s speculative but it’s a hint into the nature of God not everyone would like…

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  6. Flint: Children observe their parents’ beliefs and tend to get them baked in early, regardless of the nature of those beliefs

    My son was an atheist up until he was 12…

    ETA: when I asked him why, he told me that the school environment, teachers, schoolmates, evolutionary theory, had more influence on him than our upbringing…

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