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The truth about 'serious atheism'

By Graham Preston - posted Monday, 27 November 2017


Recently OLO published an article by Peter Sellick entitled, "Portrait of a serious atheist".

Sellick is a Christian, so presumably he believes that atheists are fundamentally wrong. However, in setting out his perception of a "serious atheist" I think that Sellick does not correctly identify what the actual situation for the atheist, serious or otherwise, is.

Clearly atheists believe many different things but by definition they all must have at least one thing in common: "Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods" (Oxford Dictionary).

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Now, if it is correct that there is no God, then certain things logically follow: these things are so regardless of whether any particular atheist believes them or not.

Sellick asks us to reflect on the achievements of atheism. Firstly he says that the serious atheist "sees that humanity has come of age and that once our civilization has been set on its foundations there is no more need to bother with its origins. We . . . can be trusted to take it from here."

The inference here is that there is some desirable place for humanity to reach and that serious atheists believe that that place has been reached. Of course, it is true that any individual atheist, or group of atheists, can decide that a particular state of the world is a desirable one to aim for and some may think that we have arrived at that point.

The reality though is that such a point is entirely subjective and therefore it can be anything that one chooses. It doesn't matter how "serious" an atheist may be or how many serious atheists happen to adopt the same goal, the goal is, and always will remain, entirely subjective. Therefore one person's goal is just as "valid" or "good" as another, be it Mao's or Mandela's.

If the atheist is right that there is no God who created everything then the only alternative explanation for the existence of the universe is that the nature of matter is such that everything simply happened, without the intention of anyone, to come into being. Thus, since the universe was not brought about deliberately or with intent, it has no objective purpose or ultimate goal. The fact that some atheists may have chosen a goal does not change that fact nor does it give their goal any weight beyond it being simply a reflection of their own personal preferences or desires.

There is no particular state that the world/universe "ought" to be in. One state of things is not "better" or more "right" than another; it just is what it is.

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Surely a serious atheist will recognise this: we have not arrived somewhere that has any objective meaning or significance and we are not heading toward somewhere that has any objective meaning or significance. It makes no sense to say "We . . . can be trusted to take it from here" because there is nowhere objectively meaningful that we should go to.

Sellick goes on to say, "If one were to look for a particular moral characteristic [of serious atheists] then it would be that they are responsible. . . My serious atheist will keep his or her own counsel and live a moral life".

Yes, it is true that just as serious atheists can invent their own goals, they can also invent the criteria for their notion of "a moral life". Some may choose to include the golden rule and faithfulness to husbands and wives in their morality but in an atheistic universe they would not be doing anything wrong if they made up a morality that espoused greed and adultery instead.

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About the Author

Graham Preston is an illustrator and a student of life.

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