#FPQ No. 163: Atheism?

I did this last week, and I wasn’t sure I’d be back to do another, but here I am:

Do you believe that atheism is a set of religious beliefs or is a religion in any sense? If so, why? If not, why not? Or, do you have no opinion on the matter or just don’t care one way or the other?

Personally, I don’t care. Believe what you want, or don’t. It’s no actual skin off my rear end.

What I will say, however, is that there are a lot of atheists who use science as a substitute for the deity/ies they claim not to believe in. They’ll proudly state “I don’t believe in God; I believe in science!” For example, Neil DeGrasse Tyson once famously said “The thing about science is that, even if you don’t believe in it, it’s still true.” Change “science” to “the Bible” in his pronouncement. How is one different from the other?

One of the more disturbing things I’ve heard in recent years is “the science is settled.” I would suggest that, if it’s settled, it isn’t science: it sounds suspiciously like religion. Want proof? Walk into a group of climate change activists and tell them that you think that climate change is complete and utter bullshit. You’ll be cursed as a denier, doxxed, lose your job, your family, your home, your life, your friends, cast out of your congregation, and, if they could find a way to do it without releasing carbon into the atmosphere, they’d burn you at the stake for your blasphemy.

Repeat after me:

SCIENCE IS NEVER SETTLED!

“Settled science” is called that because no one has found a better explanation for why things happen as they do, and all the formulae have been written assuming those things. If someone were to prove that an alternate theory could explain gravity, for example, all the books and all the formulae that use it as an assumption would have to be rethought. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Maybe, as a friend of mine once said, there is no such thing as gravity: the world sucks. Maybe Earth is the center of the solar system, maybe even the universe. Maybe I’m the center of the universe. Maybe the world is flat, we just haven’t gotten close enough to the edge to find out. And who’s to say that, if we do ever fix climate change, we won’t inadvertently knock something else out of whack?

I’m not trying to be facetious (although I’m doing a pretty good job of it, if I say so myself).

So, in answer to the original question, “Do you believe that atheism is a set of religious beliefs or is a religion in any sense?” I think we have to say that sometimes it is.

We welcome replies to our editorials.

20 thoughts on “#FPQ No. 163: Atheism?

  1. Let people believe, or not believe, in what they want. Science is always developing and I have not heard it being “settled”…that makes no sense. When Mt. St. Helens blew up, scientists stated that no life would appear for 300 yrs. I remember my dad yelling “BullSH*$!” to the TV and said they have no idea about the power of mother nature. I agreed with him. Within 5 yrs, moles and voles were burrowing, small grasses and flowers were appearing and even dear. Scientists, I find, like to be very pessimistic but Religious people, who use religion to their own ends, often condemn people for believing in something different (burning at the stake anyone?). In fact, both sides seem to have a very narrow view and look down on someone else for another viewpoint. I believe there is climate change happening and we must look at the science of this but I have faith in nature that, if we just stop doing harm to the animals and the planet(destroying all the trees), that our climate could reverse back to how it is meant to be.

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  2. A god is whatever you worship, and we humans can make gods of almost anything. People who worship science have made a god of science. Problem with science is it’s always changing — a lot of the “science” I was taught in school has since been debunked — which can cause a crisis of faith. If I’m going to worship something or someone, I prefer it to be something or someone that will never change.

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  3. Of course science is never settled. That’s the point of it– to keep testing theories. I like some religious tenets because they make sense to me, but I don’t care if you don’t. Doesn’t make you good or bad– just different from me. 🤷‍♀️

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    1. You and I both know that science is never settled, but think of the people who hear a popular actor or billionaire say that “the science is settled” and immediately think, “hey, So-n-so says the science is settled, he ought to know.”

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  4. The philosopher Karl Popper was against both religion and Communism because both are based on belief and will move the goal posts as and when it suits them. He also defined science, not as absolute truth, but through trying to disprove theories, as getting nearer to the truth.
    I am atheist but do not define myself as that, because that would be to define myself by what I don’t believe. What I’d believe in is Humanism – quick definition – that humans can do better – a belief I can’t prove any more than religions can prove the existence of God. And at this particular time in the world, I don’t know whose beliefs are being tested most, mine or the believers in god(s). The fact that some things are a matter of belief does not make them a religion and including the belief that science is the way to go, because what science knows now, is not fixed forever, we may discover new paradigms that make what we think now, relatively wrong…

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    1. It’s a bit unclear to me what you mean by ‘humans can do better’.
      If you mean that humans can do better than they have displayed thus far, then one certainly hopes so. They could probably start by just being nicer to each other. God doesn’t seem to have been much of a job at that so far, even by promising them eternal life.
      But what I think you mean is that humans can do better than religion, acknowledging that religion is an entirely human construct, with no reality beyond human thought. In which case I agree with you entirely. But is this not a fairly reasonable description of atheism (as apposed to theism, polytheism, deism and so on)? You could argue equally that a theist is defined by things that they don’t believe in (every other epistemological belief).
      I think Ricky Gervais defines an Atheist as ‘someone who believes in one less God than you do’.

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      1. No I didn’t mean humans can do better than religion – for some people, religion provides a sustaining framework and I would never try to take that away from them. I suppose one should distinguish between organised religion, usually run badly by men, and personal belief. What I mean by “Humans can do better”is that we should all strive to leave this wold better than we find it and this mostly involves dealing to our best ability, with other humans. The reason Putin’s war is so disappointing, is because for such flagrant disregard of the agreed norms to be perpetrated in this century, is gross – I for one had thought we had gone beyond such behaviour.
        So Humanists (with a big H) may be atheist (with a small a), but they are hopefully much more…

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        1. Oh, yes. I quite agree. Atheists can be so much more than just atheists, but the same can be said for theists, and I believe, overall, that both camps generally are much more.

          All wars are ‘disappointing’. War is, perhaps, the most obvious expression of human failing.

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  5. I agree that science is never settled. Scientists are always uncovering new things, discovering the previously undiscovered, and building on a body of knowledge. But I don’t believe that science is either another kind of religion or a substitute for religion. Science is based upon evidence and is ever expanding. Religion is based upon faith and is, to a large degree, frozen in time.

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  6. I think we ‘devout’ atheists (the ‘New Atheists’, apparently, is the label) can be as annoying as Mormon missionaries. We tend to be almost evangelical about our atheism. I will try to stay out of the pulpit.
    But ….. to try to list atheism as another religion in itself is to miss the point altogether. To compare modern science with religious faith even more so.
    The end of science is a long way in the distance, as you say. The interpretation of facts is constantly changing, but I think most would agree that the direction is consistent. Scientifically speaking, we can be fairly confident that we know more about the nature of things than we did 200 or 2000 years ago. The same cannot be said of religion. We still don’t ‘know’ anything. There are no facts to interpret – all we have to work with is myth, superstition and fear.
    I think if one is to be both scientific AND religious (certainly some people are) then one must see them as entirely different things. Science requires evidence, faith does not. There is not one crumb of evidence to support a belief in the existence of God. But there is a lot of faith about. And I think that faith is a very beautiful thing – as are many mirages.

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    1. Not to fuss because of course you’re allowed your opinion and this IS John’s blog. Two things about “Mormon” missionaries. First, it’s not “Mormon” any longer, it’s CoJCLDS (LDS for short). Second the whole missionary idea got radically changed with the ones of Covid. These days they don’t come to you, you need a referral to see them. Excuse the interruption.

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  7. Perfectly said! I was just going to say that atheists worship “Science” just like a religion. And then you hit the whole thing! Often, science is worshipped when it can be demonstrably proven wrong! (THEIR “science” of course — the scientists who disagree are heretics and demonized like any religious cult would do to nonbelievers.”) So while I don’t care what they believe, I DO care that the alternative is even more destructive than religion because there are no safe guards against it. No state run religion protected against in our constitution, but nothing to stop these atheist, nihilist, socialists from gaining power. Jordan Peterson talks a lot about this — worshipping the state and science rather than God — and totalitarianism. Great post.

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