Many Christians and religious believers have a hard time understanding what is atheism. The most common misconceptions are that it’s a belief system in and of itself, or that it is the assertion that there are no gods.
Despite repeated attempts of atheists to rebut these misconceptions, they still remain.
Case in point: Rev. Dr. Chris Surber’s opinion piece in the Suffolk News-Herald, “Modern Atheism is Not a Thing,” makes several mistakes in regard to what is atheism.
Surber begins by referencing the 18th-centrury philosopher David Hume and claims Hume’s lack of belief in miracles as a root cause of his atheism. Surber paints Hume’s atheism as logic-based and rooted in skepticism. I’m not too familiar with Hume’s work, but I mention this because Surber uses Hume to make a distinction between historical atheism and modern atheism, which is his first mistake.
Surber goes on to say, “Hume’s atheism was skepticism rooted in logic …but today’s atheism is something else altogether. It is above all else an active belief in the non-existence of God. It has passed from passive skepticism to active non-belief. It has become a belief itself. It is the belief that there is no God.”
Well, that couldn’t be more wrong. And while I’m sure there are some atheists who make the claim that no gods exist, the overwhelming majority of the atheists I read and follow make no such claim.
One can be reasonably certain the character Yahweh as described in the Bible doesn’t exist, but I’d be skeptical of someone who asserts with certainty that no gods exist anywhere now or ever.
The error — I think — Surber is making is equating outspokenness of many atheists with “active non-belief.”
He goes on to add — somewhat correctly — that “ … today’s atheism is really just a dislike, disapproval and denunciation of religious belief. It’s not atheism. It’s anti-theism, and that is a whole other thing.”
Well, yes and no. Many outspoken atheists like myself are indeed anti-theists. We see the harm religious belief causes and we refuse to remain silent. We stand up for separation of church and state and aggressively promote a worldview based in science, logic, reason and secularism.
But this isn’t a “new atheism.” It’s the same atheism, but one that’s more vocal — and possibly more aggressive — and that is what I think rubs people like Surber the wrong way.
Atheism in the past and in the present has always been the lack of belief in gods based on evidence provided. Full stop, end of story.