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Is atheism a sign of intellectual weakness?

  1. Aug 26, 2003 #1
    I recently read an argument that atheists are fools, not for disbelieving in God, but for believing too much in themselves. The writer argues that what makes theists superior to atheists is not their faith, but in fact their doubt. I can't speak for every theist, but it's certainly my case that my faith in God goes hand in hand with a lot of skepticism. My belief in God is accompanied by the dreadful suspicion that I may, after all, be deluding myself. I think the same is true of most, perhaps all theists.

    Atheism, on the contrary, seems a close-minded position. The atheist sees himself as the master of a universe in which he is the sole bearer of truth. In the atheist's mind there is no doubt, no sense of insecurity, no possibility that he might be wrong without realizing it. Unlike most people, the atheist is not bothered by the fact that his feeling of certainty is not shared by the absolute majority of people around him; in fact he often takes pride in that. The atheist believes people fool themselves too easily, but somehow believes he can't possibly be also a victim of the same weakness. When it comes to cosmic matters, both theists and atheists are ignorant, but the theist has the advantage of making his ignorance a central fact in his philosophy, while the atheist chooses to disregard it.

    These ideas are not mine, it's just something I read that makes some sense.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 26, 2003 #2
    Actually this can be applied to just about anyone who takes excessive pride in the pursuit of knowledge, even those -- or, especially those -- who seek knowledge for the sake of achieving "special status" in a reiligous hierachy. These can become some of your worst offenders as well. :wink:
  4. Aug 26, 2003 #3
    Excellent point Iacchus,

    We need to check with Dark Wing, but I think the two of us agreeing is one of the signs of the apocalypse mentioned in Revelations.

    The point of view you mentioned is seriously myopic. There are vast amounts of things I don't know. I don't know that there is no god, I simply don't see enough justification for me to accept that one does exist. This lack of belief is what makes me an atheist. There is no pride or close mindedness that is required. I discuss religion (and I do mean discuss, not argue) with many people, including Mormons, Seventh day adventists, and Jehovah's witnesses that come to the front door. Unlike many atheists, I can see value (for the believers) in their having their beliefs. That doesn't mean I accept that they are correct.

    The same argument, 'that someone is prideful enough to decide to believe in the god Jehovah, when it is obvious that Thor is the only true god' is completely analogous, just as valid, and just as flawed. It's a strawman argument flaw, assuming many sets of motivations and beliefs that may or may not exist.

    Atheists, in the west, have grown up in a theistic society. Most went thru a great deal of soul searching, research, and thinking before coming to the state they are in. Most atheists are not 'strong atheists' (i.e. believing that there is no god), they just do not have a belief in a god. Faced with strong evidence, they would likely change their minds. I don't think I've met but a couple of atheists that were as certain of their views as you mention. On the other hand, I have met hoards of theists that were dead certain that their views were correct.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2003
  5. Aug 26, 2003 #4
    Of course those ideas are not yours. And, unfortunately, the exact same thing has been posted with the roles reversed, to support atheists instead of theists.

    Let me tell you, I've never met an atheist who thought he was master of the universe...except me when I was 5 and was watching He-Man cartoons!
  6. Aug 26, 2003 #5
    But this seems to indict the theist, doesn't it? Both do not know, yet the theist say's they do. It is the atheist that says they don't.

    Isn't having ignorance as a central fact of a philosophy like constructing a building on sand?

    Many theists I've known have claimed just the opposite, that they had all the answers - very conveniently written up in the bible.
  7. Aug 26, 2003 #6
    Without reading a word of your post, I will simply answer the question poised in your title... I do not personally believe that atheism is a sign of intellectual weakness, but rather the complete opposite.

    Atheists go against society to "protest" religion in the name of science! This is something that has only been possible in recent years without the threat of imprisonment for heresy! I believe that anybody who protests what was once an axiom of life is indeed somebody intelligent enough to break the mold and state how they really feel.
  8. Aug 26, 2003 #7
    Atheism is merely the absence of belief in god. All the rest you mention may be attributes of many atheists, but it is in error to attribute them to atheists. The fact that many Buddhists and Taoists are atheist would argue against the idea the atheism 'protests' religion.
  9. Aug 26, 2003 #8
    A a theist and former agnostic atheist I don't see any connection between intelligence and atheism. I would rather say that it is a matter of personal experience and, not meaning it insultingly at all, maturity. People who believe in God and creation because that is what they have been taught all their life are no better or worse intellectually or any other way than people who have taught the same thing all their lifes and can not or have not accepted it. Who have actually thought about it and had enough conviction to say I don't believe this is true.
    I say that they have yet to experience the life changing or at least mind changing event that some of us theist have. I say that it is a lack of maturity because once young people throw away the teachings of their elders and set out on their own that cling to materialism for support, to take the place of that which they threw away in sometimes in rebellion. Later as they get older they find their own belifs that they are comfortable with and become more accepting of other ideas, beliefs and thoughts. They may in later middle age life come to experience or find their God and will be where I am now.

    Either way the beginning statement of this thread is just as insulting and invalid as any other such proclamation regardless of which side it came from. It is nonsence.
  10. Aug 26, 2003 #9
    Wow, it is nice to see that we all agree on something for a change!
  11. Aug 26, 2003 #10
    Since when a sentence which ends in a question mark is a statement? I just read something on a book and thought of asking what people thought of it. I have not given my own opinion other than saying it makes some sense. Stress on "some"!

    Besides, even if it were an attack on atheism, why is it more insulting than the constant attacks on theists by atheists? Why is it OK to argue that theism comes from ignorance but not the other way around? Isn't there some kind of double standard here?
  12. Aug 26, 2003 #11
    If I posted "Amadeus, are you a moron?", that would be widely accepted as an insult. This is exactly how the atheist and some of the theists here read your title, so don't come off as some innocent saying it was only a question.
  13. Aug 26, 2003 #12
    Ahh, it's good to know that two wrongs still make a right.
  14. Aug 26, 2003 #13
    So how many wrongs are allowed? Just one?
  15. Aug 26, 2003 #14
    And the gargutuan battle continues. That initial post and title are simply a one sided view to a 2 pronged issue. And both sides are equally guilty of the same offense. I agree that atheism is simply the lack of belief in a god without undeniable proof. To say we are blind for not accepting that which cannot be put into physical terms is no better than saying that theists are fools for believing in something without proof. This isn't a valid argument, simply a speech to support theism which doesn't present all the facts, just a one sided view. Personally my stance is not one of disbelief and confidence in the lack of a god, it's skepticism from lack of acceptable evidence(acceptable of course being a subjective term).
  16. Aug 26, 2003 #15


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    Superior in what aspect? The fact that they believe? What exactly is a theist better at, then an atheist? I work with a bunch of theists, and I'm one of the best, smartest one here, rivaled only by a fellow atheist. Of course I believe in myself. My life is centered around me. When all else fails, everything is in the gutter, the only person I know I can always rely on, is me. I don't wait for some imaginary being to rescue me. I get it done.

    And also, since when have theists been full of doubts? If this is true, what exactly is "Creation science"? Ya, thats good, a theist is so full of doubt, yet believes he knows who created the universe and how.

    Has nobody been able to answer the "How do you tell which religion is the right one?" for you either? Seems like that kind of doubt is not good for a believer.

    Haha, you read this somewhere? Links?? Anyhow, where do you get off thinking atheism is a closed minded position? Take this example for instance.

    Zeus returns to earth after being on vacation on yeranus. He reveals himself to the world and informs us that he is back in charge. I, being an atheist who lacked any thourough evidence supporting a god, now possesses such and I do as Zeus asks. The average believer will deny it tooth and nail. Even if he could hurl lighting bolts and such.

    You see what I mean? People who have such strong beliefs are so shutdown to any other possibility, that even if there beliefs were proven beyond doubt to be completely wrong, they would still hold them.

    No, I don't think that is a valid stance on atheism. You must remember that the difference between a true atheist, and the ones your preacher warns you about are quite different.

    Feeling of certainty??? What the hell is that? The only thing I'm certain about, is I'm going to work tommorow. And thats if nothing crazy happens. I hold nothing as certain, except that which is validated consistantly. Again, wrong.

    I agree up to the first comma, after that its pure rubbish. Your telling me it is an advantage you base your entire belief system, on ignorance? Especially when that belief system offers an explanation of everything. I said it somewhere else; any decision made, based on ignorance, is usually wrong.

    Of course, you can try to prove it right. Good luck.
  17. Aug 26, 2003 #16


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    Which attacks on theist by atheists? Read through them again, and let not the clouds of factionalism cloud your way. The attacks on theism by atheists are targetted specifically at:

    (1) Theist claims of absolute truth. This hence does not apply at all to skeptical belief.
    (2) Theist claims of absolute morality. This also does not apply to pragmatic theists, but still to the closed minded ones.
    (3) Specific theist claims by specific religions eg. Noah's ark etc. These represent when spiritualism attempts to be materialist reality, and thus can be rebutted by known facts and experimentation.
    (4) Theist claims of exclusivity, which is hypocrisy and can be rebutted.

    If there are any that do not follow these, then I agree, they are foolish. No one has said all theists are stupid, I believe.
  18. Aug 26, 2003 #17
    This thread has turned into Theist versus atheists and that's not only a waste of time but a shame. A few people here were on the right track earlier I think by suggesting that the original post paints too broad a brush. While I think it has some truth to it, it is too broad and is probably using inaccurate terms. i.e. I don't think "atheist" is the right word(maybe anti-theist is better?). The target of this quote was obviously people who claim to know that there is no god. So I would say that all atheists who claim to know nothing for certain can just settle down because it isn't directed at you :smile:.

    At the same time though I see the same big paint brush being used on the other side. I must disagree with some of the people who have posted. There definitely have been people who posts in these forums who have lumped all theists into a big bucket that they consider to be foolish and self delusional. There's no denying that this has happened. But just like the original post, there is some truth in it but it just doesn't apply to everyone. For example, there definitely are people who may lean toward a theistic view who would also change their mind quickly if Zeus returned and took over. But these aren't the people the opponents like to talk about. Generally they only talk about uneducated bible thumpers.

    All of this is the reason I hate taking on labels like atheist and theist. Because eventually you end up getting categorized and having to defend a label and everyone else in it and you too easily forget that everyone has a unique opinion.
  19. Aug 26, 2003 #18


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    Just to help put things in perspective...

    Definitions from dictionary.com:

    1. To accept as true or real: Do you believe the news stories?
    2. To credit with veracity: I believe you.

    One who believes in the existence of a God; especially, one who believes in a personal God.

    One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods.

    1. a. One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.
    b. One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.

    If you believe that God exists, you are a theist. If you believe there is no God, you are an atheist. If you believe that we cannot be certain about the existence of God, or if you are skeptical to some degree about the existence of God, you are an agnostic.

    It sounds to me that a lot of people have been describing themselves as atheists in this thread, while agnosticism better characterizes their ensuing descriptions and explanations of their beliefs. So they are ultimately arguing the case for agnosticism vs. the case for theism. Similarly, the opening post of this thread seemed to be arguing the case for agnosticism vs. the case for atheism.

    Agnosticism can have varying degrees of skepticism (hence terms like agnostic theist and agnostic atheist), but the central component behind agnosticism is skepticism of some kind. You can only properly call yourself a theist or an atheist if you are sure that God does or does not exist.

    Personally, I believe the opening post was to some extent justified as to its attack on atheists, just as I believe the ensuing attacks on theists were justified. I think it is plainly evident that we cannot be sure whether a God exists or does not exist, so anyone who professes to have the answer is fooling themselves. The misunderstanding in this thread is that any given person is characterizing their position as agnostic while characterizing the position of the opposite party as either theistic or atheistic. If we are all ultimately skeptical to some degree, what is there to argue about?
  20. Aug 26, 2003 #19
    One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods."

    The key here is the "disbelieves or denies" part of the definition, which while taken from dictionary dot com, is a little innacurate. The people that write the dictionary just don't have the time to research every word completely and entirely. A true athiest simply lacks belief in God/gods. They don't "deny" God/gods and the word "disbelieves" has a more negative connotation than "lack's belief".

    1. a. One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.
    b. One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism."

    Most of the people calling themselves athiest here are doing so because they don't necessarily agree about the "impossible to know" part of the definition. Afterall, if I died and saw God, which I won't deny is possible, I would have been wrong to call myself agnostic. Also, it's important to remember that agnostic is not necessarily solo. You can be an agnostic theist or an agnostic athiest. I simply call myself athiest because I don't believe in God, but haven't decided for myself it's impossible to prove. I think it's foolish to say that about anything you aren't completey positive of.
  21. Aug 26, 2003 #20


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    But it does accurately reflect the common usage of the term atheist, whether or not it's the "right" meaning.

    IMHO it's somewhat silly to insist the meaning of "atheist" be expanded to one skeptical of gods, since "agnostic" is already commonly used to mean one skeptical of gods, and every definition of agnostic I have seen has included the skeptical entry (often this is the only entry)... pretty much the only people who use "atheist" to refer to someone lacking belief in gods without actually denying their existance are people lacking belief in gods without actually denying their existance that want to call themselves "atheists" instead of "agnostics".
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