Philosophy - Is Atheism a default Belief
Online Opinion has an interesting book review today. Ben-Peter Terpstra reviews the book "Faith of the Fatherless" by former atheist Paul C. Vitz. Paul's whose main thesis is that negative or non-existent relationships with their fathers has led many down the path of zealous atheism. (Some Examples given are Stalin, Nietzsche, Camus, Satre, Hume) Whilst it does not necessarily show causation, it does show the hollowness of the often heard cry that 'Faith in God is a crutch for the weak' or 'religion is a projection of our own needs'.
This really highlights the issue of worldviews. If you start with the presuppostion that God and the supernatural does not exist (Part of the atheist worldview), then obviously you must conclude that religion must be something man made up. There is no other alternative explanation due to that presupposition. But since the real question is 'does God and the supernatural exist', then the 'religion is just a projection' meme can not be used as evidence for the belief that God does not exist. If it was used, then they person would be guilty of begging the question.
It should be noted that this applies equally to the thesis that 'because Atheists fathers were essentially non-existent, atheism is false'. Instead, these claims should be viewed as an attempt to explain observations within the framework of their preexisting beliefs. (As the set of our set of presuppositional beliefs or 'worldview' needs to be able to explain every observation otherwise it would be considered evidence that part our worldview was incorrect)
The comments in response to this book review are quite informative and revealing. A small sample
Enaj - I am a third generation secular humanist with a strong and very much present and loving father and grandfather (and mother and grandmother, for that matter). I am, in the main a happy and productive member of society, with my own ideas about truth and morality, but I do not expect others to believe what I believe. My truth is my truth, not The Truth.
Xena - Ben-Peter Terpstra [should] be more concerned about the good you can do in this current life and leave others to follow their own consciences....BTW my father is alive and well and we have a very good relationship.
Maracas - I embraced atheism after I participated in and rejected the alternatives.
Greg_m - “the psychological concepts…can also…be used to explain their unbelief.” This is a bit like explaining an unbirthday, in true Mad Hatter style. The onus of proof lies on those who want to believe in something, not in those who don’t. If I started trying to explain someone's unbelief in unicorns as a means of justifying my belief in them I would rightly be laughed at....The ideas of this book go some way to confirm the belief that religion is best viewed as virus of the mind (like Dawkins’ meme theory). It is a form of mental ‘programming’ which spreads through minds via culture and language.
Deuc - Even if one assumes that Vitz is correct and atheism is (often) a projection of psychological needs & issues, no argument would be made out against the atheistic position. A psychological explanation for belief in gods is a valid argument against theism because it provides a reason for religious belief that is not supernatural. But the counter claim is merely an attack against atheists themselves, because it would never suggest a supernatural cause and instead the argument must rely on the ad hominem fallacy.
It is interesting to see that many Atheists are quite indignant when the accusation that their faith in their beliefs are not based on rational decisions. Perhaps they will learn from this and no longer accuse theists of the same.
Many of these comments assume that their belief is the default belief. As Greg_m says “The onus of proof lies on those who want to believe in something, not in those who don’t” This is the biggest lie that atheists have gotten accepted by repetition. For a long time Christian's have accepted it as true. It wasn't until Alvin Plantinga argued that the statements 'God Exists' and 'God does not exist' should require equal burdens of proof, that the lie of a 'default belief' was properly investigated.
The claim to be a 'default belief' is at worst an unfounded attempt to change the rules of discussion, and at best it is basing the claim on other assumptions in the atheistic worldview. The Atheist believes the claim that the natural world exists is a default position? But why? Certainly Christians would agree the natural world exists, but pantheists such as Buddhists would not. Obviously then, claiming the natural world exists is a positive claim. But what basis does the atheist have for claiming they can know the natural world exists? The Christian certainly has a logical reason, based on their concept that special revelation is a valid source of knowledge. The Atheist however, must rely on another assumption, and that is that their brain is wired to accurately interpret their environment. Once again, the Christian here is at an advantage, as they believe they were designed to do so. The atheist however must merely assume this is the case.
Clearly, the Atheist makes several positive claims, that the natural world exists and that their brains can accurately interpret their environment through their experiences. Whilst Christians may agree with these claims, it is important for the Atheist to be able to defend these claims according to their own worldview, and not merely be allowed to borrow their validation from a competing worldview.