I think atheism is a mystery. The more I read about it, think about it and talk with others about it, it puzzles me. What drives people to become atheists? Would they want there to be no God, no afterlife and no cosmic purpose? If not, why are so many of them dismissive of religion and, frankly, angry with the God they don’t believe exist?
One of the most weird thing one discovers when one studies atheism is that so many atheists are unwilling to call it a belief or even admit that atheism makes a positive claim about reality (the non-existence of gods). Rather, they like to define atheism as merely a lack of belief in gods. This psychological definition has made it into Wikipedia and some dictionaries, but obviously if that’s the only thing an atheist is defending they have no reason whatsoever to criticize other people’s conviction that God exist, or the validity of religion. When an atheist criticizes religion, they do it because they indeed have a positive belief in the falsehood of religion and non-existence of gods.
When atheists deny that atheism is a claim, they do it because they don’t want to present evidences for the claim that gods don’t exist. In fact, many of them will say that no such evidences exists – that you can’t prove a negative. This puts them in the same position as Andy Bannister’s hypothetical friend who denied Sweden’s existence:
“What do you mean, ‘You don’t believe in Sweden’?” I finally replied. “That’s insane. If Sweden doesn’t exist, how do you explain IKEA furniture, or the Swedish chef on The Muppet Show, or what glues Norway to Finland? That’s a staggering claim! What’s your evidence?”
“What do you mean ‘evidence’?” he asked.
“Evidence,” I said. “You must have more than just a hunch but some pretty impressive evidence for your belief. I know Sweden only has 9.5 million inhabitants, but you can’t simply deny outright that it exists!”
“Aha,” said my friend sagely, “I see your confusion. You think that my denial of Sweden is a belief. But it’s simply a non-belief and so I don’t need to give evidence for it.”
This is not the only strange thing with atheism. In the video above, I also talk about why on earth some would find atheism’s promise of mass extinction without resurrection appealing, and I discuss what I believe is the core difference between atheists and theists. Please have a watch and tell me what you think!