I am always perplexed by the fact that atheists point to the Enlightenment as their intellectual heritage. The fact is most of the Enlightenment thinkers were either Christians or Deists – very few if any of them was an avowed atheist. The simple fact is atheism itself has made no significant intellectual contribution to Western culture.


6 Responses to Observations

  1. Mike D says:

    In other news, aunicornism, aZeusism, a-astrologism, aleprechaunism, and ahomeopathyism have all failed to make a significant contribution to Western culture.

  2. Justin says:

    Amoralism, on the other hand….

  3. jackhudson says:

    If atheism is equivalent to those others ‘non-beliefs’ Mike, how come there are no identifiable group representing those positions?

    Besides you, that is.

  4. Mike D says:

    Because people like leprechaunists, if there are any, don’t do certain things that theists do.

    Leprechaunists don’t try to change the laws of the land they live in to give their beliefs special power and privilege. They don’t try to oppress the rights of women and homosexuals and justify it with appeals to bronze-age sacred Leprechaun texts, nor do they try to erect giant leprechaun monuments on taxpayer property or try to force children to pray to the Great Leprechaun. They don’t attempt to alter science curricula in public classrooms or indoctrinate children. And they don’t blow each other up in great Pot O’ Gold Jihads.

    If such people did exist, and they did those things, would you not speak out? Might you say, “Hey guys, c’mon… leprechauns are just imaginary, they’re not real.” You might even have to call yourself an a-leprechaunist, and people would start telling you that your non-belief is religion!

    On a more serious note: atheism entails nothing. It’s the rejection of a particular belief because there is insufficient evidence to affirm it. There are of course many things atheists do tend to believe in – evidentialism, rationalism, secularism, humanism, naturalism. Those ideas certainly have influenced humanity greatly.

    And knowing you like I do, I’m sure you’d be eager to point out that several of the people who dreamed up those ideas were believers of one sort or another. First, the fact that several Enlightenment thinkers were deists or Christians (Or, in Spinoza’s case… well, I don’t know what you call that. Pantheism, maybe?) is incidental. They were, in all cases, standing on the shoulders of giants just like modern scientists and philosophers do today. The foundations of ideas they discussed go back many centuries and span many cultures, from Greek philosophers to Confucious.

    Secondly, ideas can be evaluated independently. Isaac Newton spent most of his life as an alchemist, but the fact that he was right about the law of universal gravitation doesn’t make his thoughts on turning lead into gold any less wrong. And while several Muslims were instrumental in the development of mathematics, we don’t have to affirm Islam to acknowledge their contribution to science. That’s why people like Spinoza and Kant came along and said that people before them, including Descartes, were wrong about a lot of things: because it’s okay to disagree with smart people on specific things (just like you and I do, my friend).

    And finally, just because certain great thinkers held theistic, deistic, pantheistic or polytheistic beliefs, it does not logically follow that their contributions to reason and science were motivated by their faith, or done out of some sense of religious duty. That would be a fallacy of cum hoc, ergo propter hoc. They could well have believed for the same reason most believers today believe: because it’s how they were raised, and/or because it was the predominant cultural religion where they lived. It doesn’t prove that theism/deism/pantheism was important to them outside of pondering certain metaphysical conundrums, or that it was a motivating factor for their contributions.

    Aaaand that ended up being way long. Congrats if you read all that!

  5. Justin says:

    Atheist groups do indeed attempt to influence and change laws, though.

  6. […] I have to say up until now my reaction to the ‘Reason Rally’ (other than, “Did it happen yet?”) is one of mild bemusement. This reaction comes in part from my years of interacting with atheists on and off the internet and being told repeatedly as one someone did recently in my combox that, “atheism entails nothing. It’s the rejection of a particular belief because there is insufficie….” […]

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