everything in moderation…

Atheism should not become bizarro theism, even though it's human nature for it to lean in that direction.

god fossil
Illustration by Koren Shadmi

There’s a bizarre symmetry when believers and unbelievers debate the existence and influence of the supernatural on our temporal world. Both sides offer an answer, one side using an ancient book and the other deferring to science. But as flawed as a book of uncertain origins and a tumultuous history may be as a guide, using the word of a PhD to confirm that science knows something for sure isn’t always the right way to go either. In some cases, ardent atheists seemed to have decided that rather than providing logical views on nature, science holds absolute answers to well… everything.

Somewhere along the line, they’ve forgotten that atheism and agnosticism don’t offer a new set of answers to existential questions. Instead, they offer the chance to cast aside old dogmas and discover the universe for what it is, taking in all the surprises it has to offer. When you refuse to use a supernatural placeholder for the unknown, you don’t get to treat science as a new set of answers to anything and everything. You get to use it as a tool for exploration and when you’re debating something with a theist, you need to focus on conveying that deferring to a deity is a way of saying that you don’t know without admitting it. Theism offers absolute certainty on any subject matter. Atheism and agnosticism offer the prospect of unrestricted exploration. There is a very different focus here and this gets lost when you only care about debunking.

Unlike televangelists say with their simple catchphrases, atheism isn’t the belief that everything came from nothing. It’s also not a belief that nothing “made” everything since the word “made” is misleading. Atheism is the idea that somehow, our universe came to be the way it is and by using an ancient book or an indefinite being that’s somehow omnipotent and omniscient, we’re cheating ourselves, resorting to magics when everything has a logical explanation and we just need to find it. It’s hardly an extreme position but sometimes, like all people, atheists can get a little out of hand when emotions run high.

I’ve often seen passionate atheists talk about how people should be “saved from religion.” How exactly is this different than saving people from hellfire by converting them to your faith in the supernatural? Same goes for tales of overcoming the pull of religion and peer pressure from a theist circle of family and friends to “embrace science and reason.” They seem to have a vague similarity to tales of overcoming aimless lives to find a purpose in God and faith. This doesn’t mean that atheism is a religion itself and that atheists are just substituting faith with science as their placeholder for the unknown. It just means that human minds work in a certain way and passionate atheists can act in the same way as passionate theists since their neural wiring is going to be very similar. A human brain is still a human brain and if we really want to be open- minded skeptics, we need to be able to account for its limitations and its patterns.

So here’s something important to think about if you identify yourself as an atheist or like me, a skeptical agnostic. You decided to look at the universe in a profoundly different way from your theist counterparts. Instead of having answers handed down to you, you decided to explore the universe through research and investigation. Why act like zealous theists when your mindset is supposed to be fundamentally different?

# oddities // agnosticism / atheism / atheist / religion / theism


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