Is Atheism Irrational?

Is Atheism Irrational?Flickr mrccos (CC)

We know well atheistic attempts to explain religion away. Marx, for example, claims that religion is the opiate of the people. Religion, Nietzsche contends, is weakness lying itself into power. According to Freud religion is a defensive illusion created in the face of “the crushingly superior force of nature.” As influential as these ideas are, they are little more than guesses based on utter speculation.

Times have changed. From the Agency Detection Device (ADD) to Theory of Mind (ToM), the cognitive faculties involved in the production and sustenance of religious belief are now well known. ADD and ToM, when taken together, are sometimes called “the god-faculty.” The god-faculty produces belief in kin, predators, mates, and enemies, and it produces manifestly false beliefs in such things as ghosts, goblins, and even gods. According to philosopher Daniel Dennett, the god-faculty is a “fiction generating contraption.”

The new science of religious belief inclines some scientists to put on their philosopher caps and opine. Psychologist Paul Bloom contends that religious belief is “an incidental by-product of cognitive functioning gone awry.” Biologist Richard Dawkins claims that “the irrationality of religion is a by-product of a particular built-in irrationality mechanism in the brain.” The psychological impulses that drive belief in God, according to Dennett and Dawkins, reveal God to be an illusion or a delusion.

Atheism, however, has not received much attention. I suspect this is due to the following: the vast majority of those who work on these topics are atheists or agnostics who view religious belief as false and even bizarre. Given this assumption, the project of psychological explanations of religion is to explain how otherwise rational people could hold obviously false beliefs. Unlike religious belief, their own beliefs (agnosticism or atheism), so the narrative goes, are products of coolly rational reflection—the triumph of reason over superstition. The project then is to seek out the malfunction that produces religious belief; atheism gets a free pass.

But if there are primal urges, neuronal impulses, or psychological drives that influence and even cause belief in God, couldn’t there be similar causes of unbelief? Or are only theists neurotic?

While it would be nice to be able to settle the rationality or irrationality of belief in God in one fell swoop, Dawkins and Dennett have not done so. The god-faculty is not, for the most part, fiction-generating. ADD and ToM are both perfectly ordinary and truth-conducive. Every time you walk through the mall and see a person and make a judgment about them, you are using those faculties. More often than not, ADD and ToM produce true beliefs. ADD and ToM have occasionally produced false beliefs—we see, as Stewart Guthrie argues, faces in clouds and sometimes turn clouds into gods. But unless we wish to proclaim that we are all irrational for thinking there are other people, then we shouldn’t think the faculties involved are fiction generators.

If atheism, on the other hand, were the product of a fiction generating mechanism and one were made aware of this fact, one would be irrational in maintaining one’s atheism. Interestingly, recent studies suggest just such an irrationality contraption. Consider the curious case of famed neurologist, Oliver Sacks.

Sacks was once hiking alone in the mountains of Norway when he happened upon an enormous and cantankerous bull. The bull startled him, and as he fled, he fell down a steep cliff landing with his leg twisted beneath him. In excruciating pain, he fashioned a splint for his dislocated knee and began his lonely and painful descent. On the way, believing himself to be near death he began to feel increasingly desperate. His body was screaming, “Give up,” and his mind was beginning to agree. He was just about to stop when he heard “a strong, clear, commanding voice, which said, ‘You can’t rest here — you can’t rest anywhere. You’ve got to go on. Find a pace you can keep up and go on steadily.’” Yielding to the voice, he found the strength to carry on in spite of the crippling pain in his useless leg. He later wrote, “This good voice, this Life voice, braced and resolved me. I stopped trembling and did not falter again.”

Where some might have come to believe they had heard the still, small voice of God, Sacks, instead, claims the voice was an hallucination. He attributes his hallucination to perfectly ordinary and not uncommon cognitive processes.

But suppose it wasn’t an hallucination.

If there is a God, one who occasionally speaks to people, then in at least some cases of unbelief, there may be a plausible scientific explanation. Autistic individuals lack, to varying degrees, the ability to impute thoughts, feelings, and desires to personal agents. This undergirds their lack of empathy, which hinders, to varying degrees, their ability to enter into normal interpersonal relationships. The loving parent may speak to them, reach out to them, and embrace them, but the autistic child may be incapable of recognizing and responding to them.

In short, some autistic individuals may be incapable of cognizing a personal God (if there is a God): some are as constitutionally incapable of recognizing a personal God as they are of recognizing a friend.

Recent studies demonstrate a correlation between atheism and autism—one is vastly more likely to be an atheist or agnostic if one is autistic. The higher up one is on the Autism Spectrum, the more likely one is to be an atheist.

Psychologists Ara Norenzayan, Will Gervais and Kali Trzeniewski contend that “mentalizing deficits”—the inability to “see” the beliefs, feelings and desires of other persons–incline autistic individuals towards atheism. Since people with higher scores on the Autism Spectrum Quotient had a reduced ability to mentalize, they claim that mentalizing deficits mediated increased tendencies towards atheism and agnosticism. As noted, recent work in cognitive science of religion shows the centrality of mentalizing (which we called above “ToM”) to typical religious beliefs. If God is personal, then a properly functioning ToM may be necessary for belief in God; mentalizing deficits, therefore, may hinder or even prevent belief in God.

According to a culturally influential narrative, religious beliefs are irrational because they are caused by unreliable cognitive mechanisms, whereas atheism is rational because it is the product of rational reflection on true beliefs. We have debunked a portion of the narrative: atheism, at least in some cases, is correlated with and mediated by a cognitive deficit.

We should agree, I think, that if one’s atheism were indeed mediated by a mentalizing deficit, then one’s belief would be irrational (if one were apprised of the cause of one’s belief). But we simply have no idea whether or not any particular person’s belief was produced by a malfunctioning ToM; we can’t peer into another person’s mind to determine if they had been prevented from believing something true by virtue of a malfunctioning cognitive faculty. And if we can’t know if a particular person’s belief was mediated by a cognitive defect or by, for example, deep reflection on the problem of evil, we cannot know if any particular person’s atheism is rational or irrational.

Even if the atheism-autism connection were indisputably established, we simply cannot know, in any particular case involving any particular individual, the cognitive processes involved. After all, the studies would show general tendencies of groups of people, tendencies which tell us nothing at all about any particular member of the group. Here’s another way of putting it: not all men are from Mars, not all women are from Venus. And another way: not all women are bad at math and not all men are good at math.

Consider an analogy. We know that depression mediates sadness. Nonetheless, we cannot know, in any particular case, if a depressed person is perforce sad or if a sad person is perforce depressed. So, too, we can’t know if any particular atheist suffers from autism or if any particular autistic individual is an atheist (in fact, many autistic individuals claim a personal relationship with God). We simply can’t know if any particular person’s belief or unbelief is the result of a cognitive malfunction, rational reflection, or cultural influences (or a combination thereof).

With respect to the rationality of atheism and agnosticism, Norenzayan, Gervais, and Trzeniewski offer wise counsel: “We emphasize that our data do not suggest that disbelief solely arises through mentalizing deficits; multiple psychological and socio-cultural pathways likely lead to a complex and overdetermined phenomenon such as disbelief in God.”

Is atheism’s connection with autism the silver bullet that proves once and for all that atheists are irrational? Given the complexities of both the human mind and human culture, it is impossible to tell.

So when a (philosophically reflective) atheist claims herself to be rational because she believes that the arguments for theism are bad and the arguments against theism are good, I suggest we take her at her word.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways might belief in God be similar or dissimilar to unbelief in God?
  2. Are any of these similarities or dissimilarities relevant to what might make belief/unbelief in God rational?
  3. We often make judgments about the rationality of the beliefs of others (and not so much about our own beliefs). This essay suggests that we don’t have access to what might ground another’s rationality (because we can’t peek into their minds). Do you buy this? If you do, what are some consequences of judging the rationality/irrationality of others?

Discussion Summary

I recently participated in a debate billed as a civil dialogue between a theist and an atheist. Determined to err on the side of “civil,” I conceded some of my atheist interlocutor’s points, pulled a punch or two, opined that Reality is difficult to figure out, and suggested that we hold our own views in humility and our opponent’s views with charity. In short, I was a major disappointment. People attend debates to see a battle and crown a winner, not to find out that both sides may have some good points in their favor.

In my essay, “Is Atheism Irrational?” I argued that we should accept both the theist’s and the atheist’s claims to rationality (even if we know that a belief is sometimes mediated by a cognitive defect). Once again, I was probably a major disappointment.

I went on to argue that we should resist the unjustified and unhealthy urge to psychopathologize those who disagree with us. We have, or so it seems to me, a natural but disturbing tendency to think that those who disagree with us are not just wrong, they are also irrational or immoral (if not both). The irrationality of those who disagree with us (we think to ourselves) is evidenced by their inability to see an obvious truth, one that we see so clearly (Democrat or Republican, fetuses are persons or not, God or atheism). So we think that we are perfectly within our rights to attribute their belief to a cognitive malfunction. “You just believe that because. . . .”

Speaking in the first-person, I have a natural tendency to think that I make decisions based on good (objective) reasons whereas those who disagree with me make their decisions because of personal/psychological (subjective) causes.

But without access to another person’s mind, I can’t tell what mediated their belief/unbelief. Time to stop the pop-psychologizing.

I was shocked to learn that some disagreed with my eminently sensible essay. I was especially struck by two extremes: conservative Christians (I think) who offered arguments for the existence of God (hoping to prove, I assume, that atheists are irrational) and aggressive atheists who seemed determined to misconstrue my claims. I found it difficult to have an orderly and constructive dialogue with those on the extremes.

One commentator, noting those extremes as well, alerted me to an important study on belief superiority—the conviction that one’s own viewpoints are obviously more correct than those of other people. According to the study, the more extreme one’s views, the more confident one is that one is right.

Big Question #1: How can we communicate effectively across the canyon that divides those on opposite ends of the belief spectrum?

We need more than studies, of course; we need to discipline ourselves to listen sympathetically to those with whom we disagree. Dialogue’s Golden Rule: Listen unto to others as you would have them listen unto to you.

While we need to resist the urge to psychopathologize, the cognitive science of irreligion needs a lot more study. Let me suggest one area of inquiry. The percentage of philosophers who are religious believers is considerably lower than the percentage of believers in the general population. One standard narrative: philosophers, as paradigms of rationality, have examined theism and found it wanting. But (partly a pitiful plea for self-understanding) philosophers are people, too. Philosophers aren’t immune to such influences on their beliefs as passions, feelings, desires, temperament, and common sense.

Here’s the point I want to make: the socialization of philosophers into a discipline exerts enormous pressures to abandon religious beliefs (I suspect what I say about philosophers is true of many academic disciplines). Influence is exerted in a variety of subtle and even mundane ways: in the choice of texts or topics, in ignoring the religious aspects of historically influential philosophers (Kant, for example, or Confucius), in declaring what’s “important” or who’s really “smart” (as though there were a timeless standard of importance and intelligence), in hiring decisions, in snide remarks over a beer, and in the rolling of one’s eyes in disgust. Group pressures to conformity in belief are enormous and philosophers are not immune.

Big Question #2: What is the influence of conformity on the loss of religious belief in the academy?

While the academy may aspire to be pluralistic, conformity pressures in the humanities and social sciences have biased it in the direction of secularism, liberalism, and (ironically) sexism. This is a double whammy. Not only are faculty not diverse, if they hold to the extreme, they are likely to do so with a certainty that precludes discussion and inquiry with those with whom they disagree.

New Big Questions:

1. How can we communicate effectively across the canyon that divides those on opposite ends of the belief spectrum?

2. What is the influence of conformity on the loss of religious belief in the academy?

80 Responses

  1. xtc283 says:

    I wanted to make a small point re the conflation of agnosticism with atheism.  In my view, the two are quite different:  atheism is another, even more confident leap of faith premised on the denial or absence of God; agnosticism, on the other hand, is an explicit statement of doubt or uncertainty regarding his existence.  So, atheism is irrational in the same way that belief in the existence of God is irrational:  neither position is tenable given our limited state of knowledge.  Agnosticism’s diffidence is at one and the same time an acknowledgement that some pretty smart people believe in God — who is the agnostic to say they are wrong? — while allowing the greater likelihood that we’re alone in the universe.  Hyperrelativistic?  You bet but the cultivation of doubt in today’s world amounts to a hedge against its extreme uncertainties.

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      I didn’t mean to conflate atheism and agnosticism. I was asked to write about atheism but the psychological studies that I referred to allowed people to classify themselves which some did as atheist and some did as agnostic. The claim that atheism is sometimes mediated by autism may be used by some theists to infer that atheists are psychologically defective (and, hence, irrational). I intended to show that such pop psychologizing was unwarranted. There may be many other ways in which atheism, agnosticism, and religious belief are irrational (or rational). And I think you can think of these many different ways without being a hyperrelativist.

  2. benjamin.bilgen says:

    Even if the assertion that atheists tend to be more autistic than theists is true, wouldn’t this suggest a disturbing reality about God, that he privileges non-autistic minds over autistic minds to enter into a relationship with him? What about those of us with autistic tendencies, are we just screwed to disbelief because of the way our minds were made/the way we were born? If this were the case, it might be rational to believe in a God, but he doesn’t sound like a very nice person.

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      Good question, benjamin.bilgen. One I wish I had a good answer to. This could be generalized, of course, to other sorts of pscychological tendencies to unbelief as well as to circumstantial causes of unbelief. I once had a friend who said that she simply could not believe in God the Father because her own father abused her as a child. Again, I wish I had had a good anwer for her. There are very general answers, ones concerning the problem of evil and why God might allow natural evil. But general answers are never satisfying to people in particular circumstances. The bottom line for me is the hope that God is good and loving, sufficiently good and loving so that those who are prevented from believing in this life are given the opportunity to know and love other people and God in the next life. 

  3. Roy Baumeister says:

    Your question as to whether theism and atheism are equally motivated is profound. I wish to remind readers of Freud’s observation that an individual’s relationship to God patterns itself on the relationship to the actual father. This can apply equally well to theists and atheists. When I briefly studied in Germany, many of my classes had both philosophy and theology students. After reading Freud’s theory, I started attending to their family attitudes. The theologians — obviously mostly believers — generally were close to their fathers, frequently visiting them and speaking well of them. The philosophers — more commonly atheists — had more typically young-adult attitudes of rebelling against their fathers and wanting to distance themselves from them. I think I eventually read that there were some systematic data confirming this pattern of filial love correlating with religious faith. So yes, psychological and personal reasons can underlie both theism and atheism. 

    To be sure, there can be differences. The scientific method’s rule of parsimony insists on skepticism toward unproven assertions. If there is no proof either way, then the ideal scientist would be a tentative atheist. Still, regarding God as an unproven hypothesis is quite different from some of the extreme assertions of recent popular works that atheism is a proven fact and believers are neurotic fools. A bit more gentle respect all around would seem appropriate. Thanks for your essay, which exemplifies that spirit. 

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      Thanks for your kind concluding remarks! I think there’s a natural human tendency to think that those who disagree with us on deeply important matters are either irrational or immoral (or both). I try hard to resist that impulse and to encourage others to do so as well. Your observation in the first paragraph would be very interesting to test empirically. Again, to speak in the first-person but for everyone, I think I have a natural tendency to think that I make decisions based on good (objective) reasons whereas others (especially those who disagree with me) make their decisions based on personal or psychological (subjective) causes. It’s simply not fair to epistemically elevate myself and epistemically denigrate others.

  4. Ruben Azevedo says:

    Psycologists and evolutionists should question them-selves why evolution would introduce such a “irrational tendency” in our brains, if at the same time he same evolution brought us to a very developed stage of rationality and conscience. My view is that god is an “anomaly” against which pseudo-scientist like Dawkins and other can´t cope with. So, the easiest way to “solve” god´s problem is to state that religious belief is nothing but a “mistake” or a “defect” in the brain structure. It´s easier tho see things that way than to admite that the mistake lies, in the first place, in our paradigm or “scientific view”. It´s only another form of prejudice. 

  5. jim.foley.7121 says:

     To say that atheism = autism = irrationality is a quasi-syllogism that breaks down at each leap.  Ironic that an article touting rationality should have such flaws in logic, and problems with terminology.  The core flaws are in the assumptions that don’t fit what we observe about the human mind with and without autism: 

    1) This essay rests on the assumption that being neurotypical (without autism) is the height of rationality, and to have the cognitive “deficit” of autism makes one less rational.  This is an error.  Science wouldn’t be such a discipline of our minds were typically rational.  

    2) What is missing or different in autism may be problematic, because picturing the points of views of other (ToM) and religion both serve to link people together socially (and also divide them…), but in most cases people with autism are ultra-rational, not moved by emotional decisionmaking in such exercises as the Trolley Problem. 

    It’s fine to see religion as a good thing, and it’s interesting to link theism to theory of mind — I do agree with that link — but  the rest of the extensions in this article fall apart under exposure to logic and information about the mind.

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      Thanks for your comments, Jim. I don’t think I either state or imply “that atheism = autism = irrationality.” What I do say is this (twice):

      “If atheism were the product of a fiction generating mechanism and one were made aware of this fact, one would be irrational in maintaining one’s atheism.” 

      “if one’s atheism were indeed mediated by a mentalizing deficit, then one’s belief would be irrational (if one were apprised of the cause of one’s belief).” 

      You leave out the key step–the atheist/autistic would have be be made aware of the cause of their belief. If so, I think their belief would be irrational.  

    • Mark.Eldon.Stuber says:

      Re: “To say that atheism = autism = irrationality is a quasi-syllogism that breaks down at each leap. ”  I’m going to respond less tactfully than the author. This was as complete straw man.

  6. George Gantz says:

    As someone who has spent some time trying to bridge the scientific / religious divide (see:, I found your essay very interesting and provocative.  I was particularly amused to see a key atheist ratiocination (religious belief is a mental deficit) turned on itself.

    However, judging atheism on psychological grounds would seem no more valid that judging religious beliefs on the same grounds.  Doesn’t this all beg the question – which belief is true?   Unfortunately, neither theism nor atheism can be proven.  Both rest on certain articles of faith.  As C.S. Lewis noted in his wonderful little book Miracles (1947), one approaches the question of whether miracles are real as a believer in Nature or Supernature.  The believer in Nature rejects the evidence (an implicit and miraculous design in nature, for example) that the believer in Supernature finds compelling.  So this brings us back to a psychological question, but from a different perspective – how and why do we arrive at our faith, and how do we make judgments about which faith positions are better than others?   

    I’m also struck by a consistent theme I have been seeing on how humans makes choices – the truth seems to be that we make judgments based on our weighing of values and morals, and then recruit our rational faculties to support the judgments we have made.  Hence the problem of cognitive bias, or even more alarming, that of implicit bias. (see:    

    The bridge between science and religion, or theism and atheism, has to be built on a foundation of humility – something sorely lacking on both sides.

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      Thanks George, for your comments. I concur enthusiastically with your clarion call for humility. That was the main takeaway, I hope, from my essay. “However, judging atheism on psychological grounds would seem no more valid that judging religious beliefs on the same grounds.” Agreed, 100%. Time to stop the pop-psychologizing. If I had wanted to play the Dawkins-Dennett game, I would have concluded (but clearly fallaciously) that atheists were irrational because of the atheism-autism connection. No such judgment follows from the evidence. Same for belief in God.

  7. blindboy says:

    I’m sorry but this is a feeble argument on an illogical premise.  You cannot equate the existence and non-existence of speculative entities as equally likely in the absence of evidence. Further, to claim that certain mental faculties throw any light on the possible existence of god is the kind of unwarranted speculation that would weaken any argument.  There is quite reasonable, if not definitive, evidence that the faculties described are useful enough to have been favoured by natural selection, other explanations may be possible but they have to have evidence. None is presented here.

    I hesitate to mention the Flying Spaghetti Monster but the argument here is precisely the argument it was invented to disprove.  Disbelief in the existence of any entity for which there is no evidence is the only rational position.  If you wish to claim pure faith, I have respect for that, but none for this type of ill considered and illogical attempt to rationalise a pre-determined position.  Surely if the word existence is to have any meaning it has to be reserved for that which leaves an observable trace on reality. 

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      Thanks blindboy for your comment. I think my discussion of what is rational/irrational may have left an impression that needs to be corrected. I’m not arguing for or against the truth of either atheism or theism in this essay.  While rationality aims at the truth, it doesn’t always hit it. We can have, I think, rational but false beliefs and irrational but true beliefs. An example of the former: people reasonably believed that the earth was flat for millennia. So I’m not “equat[ing] the existence and non-existence of speculative entities as equally likely in the absence of evidence” and I’m not “claim[ing] that certain mental faculties throw any light on the possible existence of god”. I’m not making any claims whatsoever about the truth of the beliefs in questions.

      • blindboy says:

        Your response is disingenuous.  You clearly attempted to apply the same logic to both belief and atheism and to use a brain mechanism previously suggested to account for religious belief to account for atheism. Double talk!

        • Kelly J. Clark says:

          I think you’d have to have access to the innner workings of my mind to know if I was being disengenuous. Since you don’t, I don’t know how you could know. That’s the same point I want to make re: autism and atheism. Without access to a person’s mind, you can’t tell what mediated their belief/unbelief. Lacking that information, you can’t know if they are irrational or rational. So, and I say this in all sincerity, we should accept the atheist’s claim to being rational. 

          • blindboy says:

            the discrepancy between the essay and your answer was the basis for my claim.  Your suggestion that I need to read your mind is another example of word play to avoid the issue.  The fundamental flaw in your position is to believe that atheism is an active mental state that requires explanation in the same way as religious belief.  This is absurd.  Atheism is simply the absence of the mental state of belief.  It is like you are looking for a virus to explain why you DON’T have the flu. Belief requires a psychological explanation, disbelief requires none.

          • Kelly J. Clark says:

            Thanks for clarifying. But I still don’t see how I’m being disingenuous or avoiding “the issue.” Frankly, I’m not entirely sure what “the issue” is.

            Let’s take this as the issue: Does atheism require an explanation? Seems to me that it would require an explanation in at least two circumstances. First, if someone were once a religious believer and then stopped believing, we could reasonably ask for an explanation. Second, if there is indeed a natural tendency to believe in God, then unbelief might need some sort of explanation.

            Let me give an example. Suppose someone told me they were a nihilist–they denied the existence of any moral value. I’d probably ask them why if (a) they at one time believed there were moral values or (b) there is a natural tendency to believe in values. If there’s no natural tendency to believe in values (or God) or if that person has never believed in values (or God), then I might think that person’s unbelief required no explanation. 

          • blindboy says:

            You propose that there exists a mechanism for belief in the supernatural.  You describe this as a tendency. The only explanation required for atheism is that this tendency was not followed and the mechanism for belief was not engaged.  To suggest that the belief mechanism needed to be engaged to disbelieve, which seemed to me one of the main points in your initial argument, makes no sense.  I do not have to engage any mental mechanism to disbelieve in flying saucers nor even in Merapu, a local Indonesian god.  It simply never occurred to me that I should believe in these things and the same can be said for all other varieties of supernatural entities and processes.  Those who on believed, but no longer do, simply disengaged your mechanism.  If you haven’t seen the paper below you might find it interesting. 


          • Kelly J. Clark says:

            Thanks for thinking out loud with me on this. I’m afraid you are attributing some claims to me that I have not asserted. “To suggest that the belief mechanism needed to be engaged to disbelieve, which seemed to me one of the main points in your initial argument, makes no sense.” I don’t say in the original essay or in my response to you that a belief mechanism needed to be engaged to disbelieve. I only claim that in some cases of atheism a fairly typical cognitive mechanism is DISengaged. I suppose you could infer that I also hold that some atheists, those who say they are atheists because of lack of evidence or the problem of evil, have engaged a belief mechanism–in their case, some sort of reasoning mechanism. In response to you, I also claimed that if someone were a theist who changed their belief, we’d expect an explanation and if there were a natural tendency to believe in gods, we’d expect an explanation of unbelief. It doesn’t follow from either of these claims that I hold that a belief mechanism needs to be engaged in for all atheists not to believe in God. Of course, you don’t need a mechanism not to believe in Merapu, but if you once did but now don’t, I might reasonably wonder why. And if humans had a natural tendency to believe in Merapu (which they don’t), I might wonder why some people don’t believe in Merapu. 

    • Mark.Eldon.Stuber says:

      Re: “You cannot equate the existence and non-existence of speculative entities as equally likely in the absence of evidence.”   To be flippant.  Sure I  can.

      Also, there is evidence.  People just disagree on what the evidence idnicates and people even disagree over what is and is not evidence.

      For example: some people see the Universe as Creation.  Creation certainly is evidence of a Creator.

      If one is familar with quantame physics, The Big Bang is evidence.  There had to be some sonscienceness to “see” the Big Bang for it to happen.  *

      *What Michio Kaku  says about cosmic consciousness at around 30:30 of the video below.

      Check out 30:30. Or you can skip to 32:30.

      • blindboy says:

        Sorry Mark none of that is evidence.  It is all pure speculation.

        • Kelly J. Clark says:

          Many people have claimed that atheism is not a belief and so my article has missed its mark. I have tried to clarify why I think atheism is, at least for some people in certain circumstances, a belief. In some cases, I argued, denying the existence of something constitutes a belief. 

          One of my interlocutors claimed two things: “Of course atheism is rational. A straw argument. There are no atheist beliefs.”

          But this is problematic. If atheism is not a belief, then it’s not rational (or, better, a person is not rational for holding it). If it is a belief, then it is a candidate to be rational/irrational. 

          Can someone who denies that atheism is a belief help me here?

          Bottom line: I don’t see how it can be claimed that atheism is not a belief and that it is rational. 

          • xpst says:

            Atheism as passive ignorance is not a belief.  In this sense, a tomato is an atheist, and a tomato is not rational.

            By your own definition, “ person is (prima facie) rational if she accepts the deliverances of her cognitive faculties (memory, perception, hearing, belief in the past, theory of mind, etc, etc), and what follows from them, unless or until she has adequate reason to cease believing them.”  By your definition, theophobia, the active form of atheism, is not rational, because it requires abilities to constrain what is *possible*, not just what follows from the exercise of one’s faculties.

            One can rationally argue that theistic models are not scientifically useful for the prediction and control of the natural world, but that is a value judgment regarding utility.  It has no necessary bearing on the true nature of the universe.

          • Kelly J. Clark says:

            Right, atheism as passive ignorance is not a belief. Agreed. 

            You write: “By your definition, theophobia, the active form of atheism, is not rational, because it requires abilities to constrain what is *possible*, not just what follows from the exercise of one’s faculties.”

             I don’t see how anything at all follows from my definition of rationality about the rationality or irrationality of atheism (and I don’t see how my definition “requires abilities to constrain what is *possible*). I have not said enough about the deliverances of our cognitive faculties to give my definition much content.

            My definition of rationality is not peculiar to me or to theists or to atheists. It is a version of reliabilism. If one is interested in looking into reliabilism, see

            Finally, I argued in my paper that we should accept at least two of the atheist’s reasons for unbelief. At least one of them would fall under the “adequate reason to cease believing them” category. 

            There seems a conspiracy abrewin–one to ascribe to me claims I don’t make. 


          • xpst says:

            I respectfully suggest that bounds on rationality do follow from your definition of rationality, specifically with application to atheism.  I loosely paraphrase your definition as, “using your cognitive and perceptual abilities to draw conclusions about what you observe”.  If you draw conclusions about things outside yourself, and those conclusions require you to have abilities that you don’t have, aren’t those conclusions irrational?

            However, I could say that I do not have any theistic models that I see are useful for prediction and control of the natural world, so I don’t rely on them.  That assertion seems to be consistent with your definition of rationality.  Also, I don’t see any ‘belief’ or ‘unbelief’ there.

            That brings us to ‘willful ignorance’.  Suppose I then say that, given my knowledge and cognitive abilities, I do not know of any religious tradition that has the slightest whiff of scientific utility, so if I were to pursue religious truth, I have no reason to start anywhere in particular.  Any ‘belief’ there?

            Suppose that I then say, “I don’t see a place to start, therefore I won’t try”.  Is that belief?

          • Kelly J. Clark says:

            Of course there are bounds on rationality in my definition. I take it that any definition of “rationality” would, by defition, include bounds. But in your original criticism you claimed that my definition “requires abilities to constrain what is *possible.”” I was responding to that claim. I don’t see how my definition constrains what is possible at all.

            Since you’ve shifted your argument, let me reply to the new one: the claim that my def would preclude rational atheism.

            I don’t really understand your argument. Your argument seems to be a rhetorical question: “If you draw conclusions about things outside yourself, and those conclusions require you to have abilities that you don’t have, aren’t those conclusions irrational?”

            Where, in my definition of rationality, does it state all of the abilitities that we have (I wrote, etc, etc when describing our cognitive faculties)? And why would you think that whatever list I came up with would by its very nature preclude rational atheism? 

            Moreover, since I argued that atheists are rational in my essay, why would you think I thought rational atheism was precluded by my definition of rationality?

          • Chromehawk says:

            This part of the discussion is important to the Atheistic point of view Steve.  I am not going to get in to why since it may take this discussion in to a negative turn.

            But it basically follows what I mentioned before about people not having the background in philosophical discussions and thoughts.  These questions have already been answered in the 1920s through epistimology.

            Knowledge is justified belief.

            You can not act or make a judgement ( say to not act ) without a belief.  This is due to a non-existent ( nonbelief as a non-existent ) not being able to have any casual effect whatsoever.

            There are two types of non-belief.  Active and passive, or actionable and non-actionable.

            (All actions have been concluded to stem from either instinct or intent.  Intent is based upon a judgement or a belief.  Think of blinking your eyes.  No long explanation needs to be made to differentiate between intentional and instinctive eye blinks ).

            If one does not believe there is a tiger in the living room, because one never saw it so one never thought about it.  You have passive non-belief.  This is what the people arguing against you try to place themselves.

            If one is told there is a tiger in the living room, looks around, sees no tiger and decides not to believe the person talking about the tiger.  They made a judgement ( justifiable ).  A judgement is an action.  This becomes actionable or active non-belief.  Actionable non-belief IS a belief, since you can not act on a non-belief.  Since the atheist point of view is that they do not beleive in God because it is incumbent on the believer to show proof, their non-belief falls into this catagory.

            To move atheism into passive non-belief, an atheist would have to make no judgements.  They would not be able to talk about castles in the clouds, sky gods, or come up with any explanations as to why their correct to not believe.  Which would have them end up behaving much like you suggest.

            Again — the position that atheism is non-belief and cannot be equated to belief, means it does not exist.  If it does not exist it can not have a casual effect.  Which means atheism as non-belief does not exist.

          • blindboy says:

            The same argument could be applied to disbelief in alien abduction… that irrational?

          • john q says:

            Hello Kelly. Reduced to root words, it simply means ‘no-god’. Look around the room you’re in. Is there a tiger present? Would you report that you ‘believe’ no tiger is present, or would you treat it as a dry observation/declaration? ‘There is no tiger in my room’.

            If anyone says ‘there is a god ‘ (or any supernatural thing), that would be a positive claim. The burden of proof is on the claimant, not the listener.

            You wrote: “denying the existence of something constitutes a belief.” No, it does not. I need not prove a negative, especially one which has no objective evidence to support it. I need not explain why subjective validation does not qualify as evidence. There is no tiger in my room. Not a belief.

            You wrote: “If atheism is not a belief, then it’s not rational” These bald assertions are neither connected nor supported. Please clarify.

          • Kelly J. Clark says:

            My words keep getting twisted/omitted. Here is what you say I said:

            You wrote: “denying the existence of something constitutes a belief.”

            So let me repeat exactly what I said:

            “I have tried to clarify why I think atheism is, at least for some people in certain circumstances, a belief. In some cases, I argued, denying the existence of something constitutes a belief.”

            You have taken out all of my qualifiers and ignored all of my examples. I could repeat them again, reassert my claim with the qualifiers, but I sense I’m just going to be misinterpretet again.

            If there’s no tiger in my room and someone asks me, “Is there a tiger in your room?”, then assuming I understand the terms involved, when I reply, “No, there’s no tiger in the room,” then at that time I have acquired the belief that there’s no tiger in the room. 

            If it’s OK with everyone, I think we’ve beat this horse to death. Can we leave it at the side of the road and move on to other topics? Unless, of course, someone wants to defend my view (smiley face).

  8. ianful says:

    Belief in God and atheism are both irrational in this age of evidence and supremacy of the self.

    The self forms in the child from an early age through the agency of necessary interactions with parents. The self is necessary for living in this world and for communication with parents and others. The self is a communication necessity, and rationality is its yardstick. The better the communication, then the better is the rationality. If the parents or instructors have beliefs in God, then that is what is incorporated at an early stage.  This can present various problems for the individual, as the self has establishes itself separately from God – with rationality, thinking and desires underpinning it. However, self-formation is error prone, as a result of cultural pressures, ancestral pressures, personal learning and superstition, so we rarely achieve true rationality – at best ending up a little off the rational mark with an irrational component. God does not figure in such a world, as there is no evidence to satisfy the mature individual. We live in the age of evidence, and there is not much apparent evidence for God in the ‘rational’ world. An individual may choose to irrationally believe in God, so hedging their bets in case there is a God.

    So God was left behind in the realm of the soul that is outside the rational world and in the abstract spiritual world. Our thinking, desires will and baggage all obstruct us entering that world. Theology is definitely an obstruction as it is learning and thought based. Theology is an attempt to rationalise what little we know about this abstract world. But if we are able to suspend all obstructions, we can re-enter the abstract world that we were in as a baby.

    The odd thing is that we can see the abstract world from the point of 100% rationality, but we need extreme discipline and the assistance of God to suspend obstructions to enter that world. That is why some people get away from the pressures of the rational world to reach God, and those with discipline may make it.

    So in conclusion, belief in God and atheism are both irrational to most in this age of evidence.

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      Wow, ianful, there’s a lot there to digest! Let me take just one piece and chew on it a bit. I think you’ve made many insightful claims about human development. One of my favorite books is Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death and I learned a lot of important developmental psychology from Becker. I think you’re mostly right about how a healthy sense of self develops through proper parenting. I wonder, though, if your claim–“self-formation is error prone, as a result of cultural pressures, ancestral pressures, personal learning and superstition, so we rarely achieve true rationality”–may unintentionally issue in a kind of general skepticism (not just skepticism about gods). I don’t think it needs to but the only way to avoid skepticism, I think, is to trust that our cognitive faculties are basically effective in putting us in touch with reality. I don’t think we can argue our way out of skepticism. I write about this in my book, Return to Reason. In the twenty years since I wrote that book, through my studies in cognitive science, I’ve become much more convinced that we have to trust our cognitive faculties. Rationality is not a simple matter of totting up the evidence for and agin’ various propositions.

  9. Meyer1953 says:

    The discussion of faith vs unfaith is very interesting, and your assertion of using the dread tools of atheism against the fortress of atheism is encouraging, even amusing. This sort of discussion is much needed.

    The point of discussing faith is, that somehow one life would speak to another. From this beginning all that we know and hope for as life proceeds. So, it is not at all necessary that faith be rational nor that unfaith be rational. Ideally, we would ascend to a fair discussion in which one life talked to another life. I like the beginning of, leveling the ground, so that mere bullying would not define the day. You protested unlevelness in saying, ” … atheism gets a free pass.”

    Building a skyscraper on a lily pad is a notoriously unsteady proposition. Just so with discussion of faith, whether for or against. So the test has to be, is this life spoken from a life to life? If so, then the discussion is in fact joined and life is indeed being lived. Silly people measure life by life’s conclusions, silly people measure life at all. Life is to be joined, engaged, and is also suffered. The whole point is, that the life of so living is the real life there is, and thus is the very worth of while. To drive home this point people often portray the last moments of a life, which invariably recommend attention to family, faith (consonance with one’s convictions), community, and friends.

    It is not the terms of faith that form the core of faith, but rather the content of life that faith merely (and, to some, spectacularly) points to in the only possible response, celebration. If some dude comes along attempting to take that away by rhetoric, there is always Jesus who said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Home is coming.

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      Very eloquent, Meyer1953. I was trying to level the playing ground and to encourage epistemological humility on both sides of this discussion. We throw a lot of intellectual stones at one another, calling each other irrational or neurotic. The world is really complex and hard to figure out. We’ve all been deeply influenced by the ways we’ve been brought up in our unique socio-historical circumstances. Yet we all want to believe and order our lives around the truth. I guess I’d call myself a skeptical realist. I think the world is hard to figure out but there is a Reality independent of human beliefs and practices. 


    This is the silliest article I have ever read on BQO. Has the author ever heard of “attribution error?” How about “post hoc ergo propter hoc?”

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      I do know what both are but I’m not sure how I’m supposed to have violated them. Can you help here?

  11. harry says:

    Roger Penrose, a famous British mathematician and friend of Stephen Hawking (they co-authored the book, The Nature of Space and Time), calculated the odds of the “Big Bang” producing by chance a universe so low in entropy (disorder) that the emergence and development of life was even a possibility to be 1 in 10^10^123. How big is that number? To write it out without using exponential notation would require writing so many zeros after the “1” that even if you wrote a zero for each proton, neutron and electron in the observable universe, and a zero for all the other elementary particles in it as well, you would still fall far short of writing down the figure needed.

    That we miraculously ended up with a universe in which life was a possibility was only the beginning our our “luck.” The availability of the matter of which carbon-based life consists didn’t make the accidental assembly of a living thing likely. The substances from which computers are derived occur naturally too, but it remains very unlikely one will get constructed mindlessly and accidentally. So it was with life. We now know  life consists of digitial information based nanotechnology the functional complexity of which is light years beyond anything modern science is able to build from scratch. Technology, especially nanotechnology beyond our own, does not come about mindlessly.

    That there is an intelligence responsible for the Universe and the life within it is an entirely rational and reasonable conclusion to draw. To decide that isn’t even a possibility is simply irrational.

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      Harry, this is a remarkably fascinating and difficult topic. I’m afraid I can’t discuss it with the merit it deserves without writing another long essay. Let me just say that opinion, even among theists, is divided on this. Alvin Plantinga, in Where the Conflict Really Lies, thinks this is not a very good argument for God’s existence whereas Robin Collins, a very smart Christian philosopher, contends that it is (interestingly, Collins was Plantinga’s PhD student). I could do no better than to encourage the interested reader to read at least those two.

      • harry says:

        Thanks for your response to my remarks and for recommending some material to read on the subject.

        Please allow me to post a few facts regarding the nanotechnology of life.

        The coding regions of DNA contain massive quantities of functionally complex, digitally stored, symbolically represented, precise information:

        – Functional information in that it is essentially the assembly instructions for intricate protein machines used by the cell for metabolism and reproduction.

        – Digitally stored information as in computer memory, only in DNA memory base four is used instead of binary. One of four nucleotide bases (abbreviated A, C, G and T) is contained in each unit of memory, as opposed to a “zero” or “one” in computer memory. Base four allows for very densely packed information. For example, in binary, 16 units of memory can contain 65,536 possible values. In base four, 16 units of memory can contain 4,294,967,296 possible values.

        – Symbolically represented information in that just as in computer memory where each letter of the English alphabet is represented by a unique series of seven 0 and 1 memory unit values, DNA uses a twenty character amino acid alphabet where each “letter” is represented by a series of three A,C,G and T values (a codon). Of course, there is also punctuation; there are codons for “stop.” 

        – Precise information in that just as with the English alphabet, there are a virtually infinite number of ways to arrange the “letters” of the amino acid alphabet that will be meaningless gibberish, and relative to that an infinitesimally small number of ways to arrange those “letters” such that they are the instructions to construct functional protein machines.

        Why is it entirely reasonable to conclude that massive quantities of digital information in the coding regions of DNA, consisting of extremely precise assembly instructions for nanotechnology the functional complexity of which is light years beyond that which the best minds of modern science know how to build from scratch, did not come about mindlessly and accidentally, but was the fruit of an intellect? For the same reason it was entirely reasonable to conclude that a mind was the source of the information inscribed on the Rosetta Stone, which, by the way, is much less information and far less complex. If it would be silly to assume the inscription on the Rosetta Stone was the mindless, accidental product of erosion, it is absolutely ridiculous to refuse to admit even the possibility that the source of the information in the coding regions of DNA was a mind. A mind is the only known source of functional, symbolically represented, precise information.
        And how did mindlessness overcome a difficulty Karl Popper feared was insurmountable? Consider his remarks on the information in DNA:
        “What makes the origin of life and of the genetic code a disturbing riddle is this: the genetic code is without any biological function unless it is translated; that is, unless it leads to the synthesis of the proteins whose structure is laid down by the code. But … the machinery by which the cell (at least the non-primitive cell, which is the only one we know) translates the code consists of at least fifty macromolecular components which are themselves coded in the DNA. Thus the code cannot be translated except by using certain products of its translation. This constitutes a baffling circle; a really vicious circle, it seems, for any attempt to form a model or theory of the genesis of the genetic code. Thus we may be faced with the possibility that the origin of life (like the origin of physics) becomes an impenetrable barrier to science, and a residue to all attempts to reduce biology to chemistry and physics.”
        There is a “disturbing riddle” only when an a priori assumption is made that intelligence cannot have been a causal factor in the emergence of the information in DNA.  Without such an assumption it becomes obvious that a mind knew how to construct the machinery by which the cell translates the code outside the DNA molecule, and how to code the construction of that machinery within the DNA. Intelligence is a known reality and therefore it is entirely legitimate for science to consider it among the possible causal factors in a given phenomenon coming about.
        Atheism may indeed be the result of a physical defect in the brain. If that is the case then it at least becomes more understandable, but no less irrational.

  12. ntadepalli says:

    Theism refers to a belief state of mind,accepting God`s existence.Theists further claim that their reason ( operating on the evidence within their experience) is adequate to support that belief.

    Atheism is a knowledge state that finds reason is not adequate enough to support God`s existence.Irrational atheists find their reason is adequate enough; but refuse to accept God`s existence.

    This position appears abnormal to theists as well as rational atheists .

  13. barbara.piper.37 says:

    First, Marx’s characterization of religion as an opiate was not a criticism of religion or of religious belief; Marx was describing the power of religious belief, a power that he admired and wanted to understand. For Marx, it was the wealthy owners of the means of production who could afford to be without religious belief, or for whom religious belief was an empty show. For the “masses” religious belief was a comfort. Opiates got their bad rep later.

    Second, your column here ignores the very important role of culture, and moves too easily between psychology and ontology. Your strange statement that depression is mediated by “sadness” may be an example. Any relationship between depression and sadness is a Western construct that is not found in other cultures, and was not even prominent in the West until the 19th century, when “depression” began to replace neuresthenia as a clinical syndrome (see Kleinman’s work on China, for example).

    A bonus point. Atheists try to “explain relgion away”, but at least they try to explain two things: (1) reailty, life, the universe, etc without supernatural beings, and (2) why religious people seem to need supernatural causes for those Big Things. Religious people don’t seem to ask anything like the second question: even if there are supernatural beings or forces out there, why do we believe in them? We have a tough enough time getting many of those people to believe in climate change, the evidence for which seems pretty clear, even if the causes are less obvious. But they have no problem believing in gods, devils, miracles, virgin births, flying serpent demons, Kali, etc.

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      I suspect Marx didn’t believe in God because he thought it untenable (either unnecessary given science or lacking sufficient evidence). However, the effects of Marx’s, Nietzsche’s and Freud’s “arguments” have been as debunkers of religious belief (or rational religious belief). 

      In the 1500 words I was given, hard to discuss every contributing factor involved in religious belief and unbelief! So just to be clear–I think culture plays a huge role in our understanding of virtually every major concept I discussed in my essay. If my (culturally laden) point about depression and sadness detracts from my point, think of a better example, one where you can’t infer someone’s mental state from their behavior (and vice versa).

      Your last paragaph raises lots of issues. There are plenty of religious believers who reflect on the hows and whys of people’s religious beliefs. Moreover, your last question seems curiously innocent of the influence of culture on all of those beliefs.

      Autobiographically: I have reflected a lot on the causes of religious belief, and I believe in human-caused climate warming.



      • barbara.piper.37 says:

        Well, I don’t think Marx was trying explain religion away, any more than the critique of capitalism was a denial that capitalism exists. There is a difference between explaining the role of a belief, and addressing the question of the truth or validity of the belief. Marx wasn’t especially interested in the truth of religion’s claims, but he was very interested in the roles that religious beliefs played.

        “your last question seems curiously innocent of the influence of culture on all of those beliefs.”

        Not at all — it was a rhetorical point about the need for a cultural perspective. Religious beliefs seem to be treated as problems of cognitive psychology, rationality, belief, etc., without considering how cultures imbue their members with complex sets of beliefs, attitudes, dispositions, etc, few of which the normal member subjects to special scrutiny, even when those beliefs, etc, appear inconsistent, unpopular, irrational, dissonant, and so on. I’m sure that there are plenty of religious believers who reflect on the hows and whys of religious belief, and did not mean to suggest otherwise. My quick comment was an awkwardly expressed allusion to the fact that religion is so often the taken-for-granted position that atheism is called up to explain itself, when the reverse should be the case, as many atheists point out when they refer to — was is Carl Sagan’s — comment that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

        Don’t let me end without thanks for an interesting column here, though — you’ve offered a lot to think about, and I apologize for commenting more impulsively than I was thinking!

  14. rocky.chambers says:

    The fact that you would either have to be God or know god to know the truth….means that faith that there is no God requires the irrational acceptance that you can never know the truth! 

  15. brucechap says:

    There is nothing irrational about atheism.  However, few people who claim to be atheists are willing to bite the philosophical bullet that comes with it.  Sarte did – philosophically, at least, if not in day-to-day life.  “Without God, all things are lawful.”  Dostoevsky said the same, and saw the terror in those words; it’s what drove him back to faith.  Sarte took atheism to its ultimate conclusion: there are no moral absolutes; no inherent right and wrong.  Someone having an affair with your wife and perhaps even killing you?  Hey – survival of the fittest.  Killing your step-children – happens in lion prides all the time.

      Again, there is nothing irrational about atheism.  It is fundamentally irrational to adhere to atheism and, at the same time, expect or hope that people will adhere to a concept of morality that is based on millennia of profound theistic philosophical reflection.

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      I think objective moral value comports better with a theistic worldview, and I find purely naturalistic justification of moral values unconvincing, Nonetheless, if I were an atheist or agnostic I might continue believing in objective moral value but think them not well grounded (just as a theist might believe in God without having a very good reason for understanding why there is so much evil). 

  16. George Gantz says:

    This discussion has provided a fascinating romp through the rational arguments and psychological factors tending to belief in atheism or religion.  Two findings continue to resonate with me – your comment linking empathic ability with belief, and Roy Baumeister’s related reference connecting human filial relationships with belief.  There is another dimension to this discussion that I have not seen yet – the extent to which belief in atheism or theism changes the way people think, behave, or feel.  Is there an instrumental value to one’s belief system?

    There seems to be evidence of positive values associated with belief in religion.  Notably, in Baumeister and Tierney’s book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (2011), a wealth of benefits are attributed to religion:  “a religiously active person was 25 percent more likely than a nonreligious person to remain alive… religious people are less likely than others to develop unhealthy habits… they are more likely to wear seat belts, visit a dentist, and take vitamins… they have better social support… they have better self-control… religion promotes family values and social harmony… religion reduces peoples inner conflicts among different goals and values… students who spent more time in Sunday School scored higher on laboratory tests of self-discipline…”  The authors note: “Although many scientists are skeptical of institutions that promote spirituality – and psychologists, for some reason, have been particularly skeptical of religion – self-control researchers have developed a grudging respect for the practical results.”

    If the tangible benefits of religious belief to civic and family life, morality and human happiness and fulfillment are so manifest, would that suggest that it would be irrational to believe otherwise?

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      Good comments, George. There are a couple of books relevant to this topic–Arthur Brooks, Who Really Cares and David Myers, The Pursuit of Happiness. There seem to be clear and tangible benefits to religious belief. You have listed many of them. There is a great deal of work to be done in this area. Are there any good secular substitutes for religious belief or religious community? Is the power of religion anything more than the power of the community? Etc. There is also, it must be conceded a dark side to religion. Just as religion has made us more cooperative, its in-group instincts find expression in various out-group behaviors (exclusion and even violence).

      • George Gantz says:

        Thanks for the references!

        One benefit of religious belief that will be hard to replicate in secular institutions is to know that an omniscient presence is always aware of your deepest thoughts and motivations.  Strong group social norms could substitute – but there will always be a temptation for cheating if the behavior will not be detected.

        Also – is the in-group darkside of religion any different than that for clan, tribe, nation or sports team?  We humans are a clubby bunch.  But it does seem that in economic and territorial disputes, religion has often been the heavy artillery in the human arsenal of arguments of justification.

  17. xtra says:

    I was raised an atheist. As an adult, i studied Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and the historical records of ancient religions. Religion is a relationship with objective reality, for me. Carl Jung said “Man is a religious animal.” A study found that Dutch Calvinists recognize patterns in random more quickly than other people. I chose Christianity because Christians do not belief in”magic, ghosts, astrology etc. Christianity is clean and simple.To me, God is and I am. Religion is a relationship between us. I prefer my religion to atheism because atheism was so flat. Religion operns worlds and wonder, for me.

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      I must admit, I’m getting a kick out of people’s screen names! xtc, blindboy, xtra. Roy, I’m afraid yours is a bit pedestrian. 

      While I did not address belief in God (or faith in any particular religion), one might have inferred that I’m a religious believer. Your comment suggests a theistic way of looking at things–if ultimate Reality is personal, then its pushes and pulls might move one in the direction of belief.

      I don’t think Reality’s pushes and pulls are so unambiguously clear that atheists or agnostics are irrational for ignoring them. Lots of theists do, though. 

  18. AttyFAM says:

    While the author may be dissatisfied with Dawkins and Dennett, I should like to recommend Robert Wright, The Evolution of God, (Little Brown 2009).  Wright argues for an evolutionary psychology approach, which has its roots in anthropology.  He concludes that the common belief in a divinity arises out an attempt of the primitive mind to explain the world around it.  Antecedent to that is the development of fear reactions and other such reactions that thrived in genes because the fearless ones did not survive.   So, if you do not understand electrical charges, the best you can do to explain thunder and lightning is to say that Thor is angry or the gods are at war, thereby attributing to divinity just the kinds of human qualities that would accompany such noises in a house, for instance. 

    Atheism (and agnosticism) have two roots.  First, there is the unacceptability of rational implications of religious beliefs, e.g., that God existed forever and will exist forever is a concept that boggles the rational mind.  Second, there is the acquisition of scientific understanding of the factual nature of the world.  This latter knowledge requires a repostulating of the role of humans.  In a very small world view, where the divinity is tribal, it is easy to think that the divinity keeps track of the dozens or hundreds of members of the tribe.  But, if the earth is not the center of the universe, nor is the sun, nor is our galaxy, nor is our galaxy cluster, and there are billions upon billions of galaxies, this very large world view reduces our role to that of a drop in the whole sea, which is itself only a drop in a bigger sea, and so on and so on.  Such a world view is not conducive to the comforting thought of a personal god. 

    As to Sack’s experience, I think Jung would have no problem explaining it as the unconscious breaking through to issue a life-saving command to the conscious.  The unconscious can break through in more than one way.  Dreams, of course, are the most common, and often provide a person who pays attention necessary advice in critical situations.  But Sack’s situation did not admit of lying down to dream.  So the unconscious did not have such a mechanism to convey its urgent message.  More radical means were required. 

  19. johnwerneken says:

    A little bit interesting but not very.

    Since beliefs including atheist ones exist, they come from somewhere. From evolution – there are some survival assists on the biological side as to the bodily and mental processes, and some survival assists on the cultural and “rational” sides as well. That’s all.

    The term Belief in genaral applies to things which can not be proven. Therefore as far as being rationally demonstrable or the reverse, forget it.

    The ones that stick around are the ones confering some advantage in the specific environment. As the basic choices are individual success, society success, and species success, there is some conflict in what pays off when for which. Perhaps THAT can be rationally studied. Also there seems to be a basic choice, go with the flow or do otherwise, which seems to reflect the advantages of both: maintain wjat has worked before, and experiment.

    Whether there is a God or not is like Coke vs. Pepsi; which one is like Coke vs. Diet vs. mixed flavors. A choice thing. Not a truth or untruth.

  20. xpst says:

    Thank you, Dr Clark for your willingness to foster debate.

    Atheism can be passive ignorance; i.e., a lack of knowledge of the existence or nature of dieties.  It can also be willful ignorance; i.e., disinterest and unwillingness to pursue religious truth.

    Theophobia is an active form of atheism; e.g., declaring that “Zeus does not exist”, in the absence of proof.  Theophobia can also be militant, when religion is actively thwarted.  Theophobia is clearly irrational, given, for example, that the universe is unboundable in time and space, regardless of whether Zeus really actually exists.  The natural world may be only a tiny sliver of reality.

    Religious faith can, in theory, be fundamentally different from theophobia in that it may involve magical, transcendent abilities.  Unfortunately, you must have such faith to judge it.

    Religious faith has no necessary obligation to provide useful scientific models for prediction and control of the natural world.  Nor is it necessarily obligated to be modellable using conventional scientific techniques.

    For example, the vast majority of religious expression may be visceral, with no special link to the supernatural, and only a few individuals actually have such a link. 

    I don’t see how the discussion regarding autism adds value here.  Passive ignorance can indeed be a consequence of a lack of enabling mental faculties.  Theophobia is irrational regardless.

  21. noel.carrascal says:

    Correlation is not causation. Someone please explain how a god fearing, faithful catholic like me turned skeptical of god at around 14. I did not have a brain injury, signs of authism or a life changing experience. I just got critical and scientific about my beilieves, and they fell like a house of cards.. Science did not explain all my doubts, but it did explain more, and better, than religion ever had. I remember that in a moment of fear I asked myself: why am I afraid of a God if I am a good person? who and where is God? Nonsense, I thought of God from that day on. If there is some sort of damage, or disconect, it is in the mind of believers who seem to not have the mechanism to question the arbitrary set of believes that were passed on to them. Or perhaps they just don’t have the courage.

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      Thanks for your remarks, Noel (if I may). While correlation is indeed not causation, the psychologists I cited have claimed that at least in some cases they were able to eliminate other possible causes of unbelief and show that the only viable explanation of unbelief (amone some of those people studied) was a malfunctioning theory of mind. They have also written of at least four other paths to atheism. I’d commend a careful analysis of all of their studies (I think one of their studies is deeply flawed). Your own story would fit well with one of the other four paths that they discuss. 

      Just to clarify: my whole point was to argue against those who think an atheism is due to “some sort of damage, or disconect” (even though it is in some cases). I, likewise, think atheists should refrain from making such judgments about religious believers (even though it is in some cases).

  22. mitch.randall.94 says:

    The author doesn’t seem to realize that any believer is an athiest regarding countless other religious other than his/her own.

    I found both the premise and the supporting arguments in this article to be severely lacking.

    Athiesm is not a belief! It is a rejection of all the countless theist beliefs. The count just happens to be one more than that of a “believer”, who rejects all but one of the countless theist beliefs humans attempt to pass to future generations.

    The author is attempting to make the case that rejecting 10,001 religions is irrational, but rejecting 10,000 religions, and accepting one of them, is rational?


    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      A number of you have claimed that atheism is not a belief. I suppose, with respect to many things whose existence I’ve never considered, my unbelief is not a belief. But I have lots and lots of beliefs about things that don’t exist. I don’t believe there is human-like life on other planets. I don’t believe that Santa Claus exists. I believe there is no human-like life on other planets and I believe that Santa does not exist. Why aren’t those beliefs? And if those are beliefs, why is the belief that God does not exist not a belief? 

      I don’t have beliefs about lots of things whose existence I deny–ghosts and goblins whose names I’ve never heard of or gods I’m not aware of. I have no beliefs about those. 

      So, or at least it seems to me, it’s possible to have a beliefs about something whose existence one denies. And it’s possible that one does not.

  23. Jpipersson says:

    Your essay was not what I expected. I am drawn to arguments between atheists and believers. I come from science and engineering and I don’t have any particular belief in god, but find myself more and more certain that theists see something important about reality that atheists miss. I have been trying to put this into words for myself.

    I admit, when I saw the headline I thought this would be another one of those smug, sarcastic polemics that characterizes most writing on this subject. I enjoy those because I get to feel intellectually superior. Instead I find, as an earlier poster said, something profound. Every once in a while I get caught by surprise when someone reminds me that the best philosophy is about clarity.

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      This is about the nicest thing anyone has every said about me. I’m truly grateful. I think we both know the typical arguments for and agin. But belief is not always or even most importantly about arguments. My favorite philosopher is William James and he contends that underneath the premises in an argument, one finds one’s temperamental sense that Reality is more like this than like that. One never meets a mere argument, he claimed, one always meets a person (with all their fears, passions, commitments). 

      I, too, have tired of the smug, sarcastic polemics from the so-called New Atheists to cocksure Christian apologists. A lot more heat than light has been created in the past twenty years. 

      Anyway, I think all of need to be a lot more careful in not overstating what the evidence shows and in treating the person with meet through argument with the dignity and respect they deserve.

      Again, thanks for your kind words.


  24. sitme.gonzalez says:

    Bad people are rich and powerful while good people die everyday. In the name of religions we have fought most wars and for the same reason we’ll fight the last one. Look around and you find evidence that there is no god, at least the religious one predicated in this article. Intelligent design? I doubt it… Then yet we are the irrational bunch…

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      I think, at first glance, one might think religion is implicated in many wars. Of course, it’s hard to know what really motivates various rulers. And, while religion is an easy monicker fo identifying various sides in conflicts, the monickers often tell us little about the real animus that divides the two sides. I doubt very much that the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland were fighting over the nature of the Lord’s presence in the wafer. Numerically, wars and pogroms instigated by atheists in the twentieth century alone have vastly more casualties than all of the casualties of so-called religious wars. This is a dubious contest to win, and not one I’d put much stock in for settling the rationality or irrational of either belief system.

  25. sitme.gonzalez says:

    Bad people are rich and powerful while good people die everyday. In the name of religions we have fought most wars and for the same reason we’ll fight the last one. Look around and you find evidence that there is no god, at least the religious one predicated in this article. Intelligent design? I doubt it… Then yet we are the irrational bunch…

  26. pinecone says:

    religion for me is a tool that allowed us to procreate in the face of abject chaos. it promises a stream of event exterior to the physical that is continous. how can you argue with that. at the same time, everything alive contributes to an energy field that humans, being living creatures, are sensitive to. we call that energy field god. we’ve imaged that perception to look a lot like us in one disguise or another. what a great idea.

    in other words, hand out a hundred shovels and you’ll get a hundred different ditches. virtually any explanation is perfectly plausable since they are all unproveable. but we’re good that. the flower of experience can be viewed as an illusion or a religious experience, or as our knowlege unfolds, as a quantum soup. the experience will still be unchanged in any primal sense.

    harry and ianful are both right.

  27. john q says:

    Of course atheism is rational.

    A straw argument. There are no atheist beliefs. Non-belief is not a belief system, and a lack of faith does not require a leap of faith. I do not believe in gravity. I do not believe in electromagnetism. I grant provisional acceptance based upon the overwhelming preponderance of acceptable evidence. True beyond reasonable doubt works just fine. Few, if any, live life needing 100% certainty at every turn.

    Begin with a blank paper. Make a large circle and label it ‘B’ for belief. Within, insert all sorts of magical and improbable things. Ghosts, bigfoot, astrology and gods. Non-belief does not fit, nor does it belong. No inclusion, no overlap. It belongs in a separate category. A circle all it’s own. Not two sides of the same coin.

    Until this simple truth is acknowledged, no meaningful discourse is possible.

    Of course atheism is rational.

  28. wondering14 says:

    It’s easier for me to reverse the question into “Is Atheism Rational?” 

    I may have missed a definition of “irrational” or “rational” to help me get into the discussion speaking the same language as others.

    If rationality is doing what serves oneself, then atheists are rational (and so are believers).

    If rationality is being logical, then atheists are irrational (as are believers) for the inability to prove initial premises, or to prove that assumed facts lead inductively to an unchallengeable conclusion.

    If we agree on what rationality/irrationaliy is, then we can also probably agree that this human faculty varies with the individual as do other human faculties. But does that help us? Not much because life and good and facts are not all rational/irrational, and the “more rational” person may led the lousier life. 

    If we equate rationality with doing science, fine. We use the results of science (which can be subject to change), but most  of us don’t live in the name of science.

    It may help in answering the question of whether “athesism is irrational” if the public figures and authors of atheism were asked why they expend so much energy trying to disabuse people of their belief in gods. If the debunkers’ intentions are irrational, maybe what they promote is more irrational than they think.

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      You’re right to note that I did not define rationality/irrationality. As you can imagine, given word limits, I couldn’t discuss everything in this essay. You might well think, though, “Well, why the heck didn’t he define the key term, rationality?”

      In my feeble defense, let me say that it takes too many words for me to define those terms. For example, I think people are rational or irrational (not beliefs). That takes some defending.

      Many equate being rational with being logical–I reject that view for many of the same reasons that you raise. Logic is formal, showing us what follows from what. But logic can’t tell us if a person is rational in accepting the premises of an argument. Being rational sometimes involved using logic, but being rational cannot be reduced to being logical.

      I think a person is (prima facie) rational if she accepts the deliverances of her cognitive faculties (memory, perception, hearing, belief in the past, theory of mind, etc, etc), and what follows from them, unless or until she has adequate reason to cease believing them.

      You can read what I think about this in more detail at

  29. xtra says:

    The stereotype about artista, being mad and drunk, with many examples such as Van Gogh, is just that, a stereotype. Perhaps neuroscience will find a link between psychosis and creativity but most artist are hard working, mentally stable people. Also, I read a paper (abstract) about the “autistic/atheism study. There is a test for autism. A score of 34 is autistic. However, the researchers tested award winning mathermaticians and the mathematicans  scored 22-24. The scientist rescaled the test to 22-24 being “high functioning autistic, then correlated the “22-24” to being logical and rational. That proved “mathemmatical genius” is the product of”high functioning autistisml.And proves the sterotype, as Van Gogh did for artist, that atheists are rational and logical.  I scored 22 and am very religious. I think this study needs more work

  30. Chromehawk says:

    Okay, This very well could be the most volitile of your questions because most atheists feel that theirs is not a belief/disbelief question.  They feel it is a Belief/fact question.
    A lot of this though has alreadybeen discussed over the past century in Philosophy.

    The Progression went

    “What is Truth? (Theory of truth )
    How do you know it is True ( Theory of Knowledge or Epistimology )
    What is knowledge ( Theory of Knowledge )
    Side trip to Phenomenology/Existenialism which deal with what does something MEAN versus what IS it?
    Theory of Mind ( The Philosphical version — because you can’t KNOW without a mind to know with )
    Theory of Causation (Causal Theory ) which really got going in the 1990s ( and pretty much states that “necessary and Sufficient” is neither necessary OR sufficient to explain a casual connection.

    Casual Theory could be considered the definition of what science is (What is the connection between two phenomena and how can we use that to predict what will happen ) and is the core issue of the Mind/Brain problem ( how can something such as conciousness and intent that has no height/weight/depth/measurabilty have a casual effect on the body ).

    Now this question runs to what is the difference between knowledge and belief.  At what point are you justified to say it is knowledge not belief.

    If you watch the Wimbledon Championships and see “X beat Y” you are justified to claim “X beat Y”.
    But unbeknownst to you, the station played LAST years Wimbledon match.  Where it just happens that X beat Y that year too.
    You are STILL correct.  X beat Y.  But you are not justified in your knowledge.

    Without justification, atheism is a belief.  Not knowledge.

    The Rule of Parsimony fails to justify, well because the Rule often fails.

    For example :

    Abiogenisys (origin of ife by random chance ) is a fascinating topic with many brilliant and intriguing ideas.  These ideas cover a wide range of possibilities that are amazing.  Yet they are all looking for the same thing currently.  a VIABLE path.  Not a plausable one.  A viable one.  One that is even remotely (1 divided by 10 to the 50th ).
    So asf ar as science is concerned today … life by random chance is impossible.

    Citing the rule of Parsimony, not only do the facts not support the theory.  But the facts suggest the theory is inheriantly flawed.  Therefore it should be concluded as illogical.

    But if life is not RANDOM, then it is on PURPOSE.  And now we are talking about the characteristics of the original intent not whether or not there was an entity with original intent.

    But this violates the Rule of Parsimony ( without proof the Theory God exists should be dismissed ).  So to apply the Rule of Parsimony to both existence of God and Abiogenisys you get conflicting ( circular ) results.

    Now a good atheist will say that the more we learn and the more science goes along, some day we will find a viable path.  That goes past belief to faith.  Faith is a belief based upon hope.  Because it is just as likely science will actually do the oppsite ( The Evolutionary tree is all wrong, with current level of DNA analysis shows that for every more complex evolution there are 5 less complex evolutions.  So in fact it is 5 times more likely that the common ancestor of man and apes looked more like man than ape ).

    Ockham’s Razor is another tool that fails.  Mostly because what it states is “When explaining a phenomena, the simplest explanation is preferable”

    Note it does not say TRUE.  It has no capability to DISPROVE anything or suggesting the non-existence of something.  And in fact it makes it clear … it is PREFERABLE.  Nothing more.

    We often mistake evidence that is suggested by data, and is not inconsistent with a given theory as evidence that supports it.  Evidence that is consistent with a theory means nothing has occured yet that disproves it.   Often evidence makes a suggestion of a theory, that would be a mistake to say there is a connection ( such as the autism/atheism connection ) until more evidence comes in that reinforces it to the point you are justified that YOUR belief is more correct than the possibilty of the reverse.

    Two specific examples :

    1 ) Oto Sclerosis.  Hardening of the bones in the ear.  Many post operation analysis of the bone structures after they were removed ( 60%+ ) showed a higher than normal amount of measles antibodies.  And since it is heridatary ( when both ears are involved ) but often people would have it and no one within 7 generations had it … it was thought that there may be a connection.  That childhood measles was an environmental trigger.
    This was an interesting point of research, but no one could possible say that it was for sure.  Just a possible connection.
    Over the last 20 years, the cases of diagnosed Oto Sclerosis has plummeted.  It appears to not be occuring and may even become a non-issue.  What happened in such a short time?
    Measles vaccinations.  Kids do not get measles anymore.  And the drop off started 10 years after measles vaccinations became normal.

    The two together NOW makes the connection a justifiable belief.

    2 ) Non-Euclidean Geometry.  On the introduction of this, the originator was ostracized.  Predictions were dire that everything we know about physics would be destroyed if it was accepted ( the reverse was true, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was the result 30 years later ).

    How did this come about.  Well a brilliant methemetician wanted to win the award for proving Euclid’s 3rd law … parallel lines never cross.  He came up with a novel idea.  Let’s assume it was true that parallel lines COULD cross.  By showing that is inconsistent and provides impossible results, you can prove the Law is true because for the law to be false would be impossible.
    Yet he found the mathematics of lines drawn on the inside or outside of a curved surface would indeed have parallel lines cross.  And were valid.

    The first example is an example of how further information justifies a belief.
    The second example is an example of how further information could be use to throw out a belief ( or if it had worked justify the belief due to the fact the falsity of the belief is impossible).

    The existence of God does not make science or reality impossible ( falsity not impossible).  Nor has further information came out to justify that belief.  Hence it is a belief.

    Frankly, this whole discussion is more an issue of scientists no longer being required to actually learn the Philosphical underpinnings of their profession ( until 1900, there were no science degrees.  There were degrees in Philosphy – PhD, Medicine – MD, and Law JD ).

    This has even gotten worse by many people who do not even have the scientific education, yet wanting to defend their beliefs with the “aura of legitimacy” that science offers ( the defintion of psuedoscience ) … most of whom look down on Philosophy as intellectual masturbation.

    But as was the case I mentioned in the Rule of Parsimony — circular logic abounds due to lack of reading and learning what many people have discussed before us.

    So ultimately the answer to the question ” In what ways might belief in God be similar or dissimilar to unbelief in God?” is that both ARE beliefs.  Neither justifiable due to evidence or the impossibilty of being falsified.  Neither is provable nor disprovable ( hence NEITHER could be called scientific ).  They are both beliefs.

    BTW : even the ToM you mentioned is flawed.  research the Human Computer in San Diego.  He can calculate complex mathematical problems faster than super-computers.  They put him in an MRI scan while he did so and found out he does not process math were most of us do.  He processes it in his vision center.  Which actually makes sense if you understand Computer graphics and getting a bat to hit a ball going 90 mph.  The thing is … if ONE brain processes information in areas that can not be predicted.  Than it can be posited that many brains do so.  On many forms of processing.  In fact, it is a reasonable hypothesis that every human being process some thoughts in locations other than the “standard” locations to the point any prediction is at best … generalized to the point of unreliability.

  31. blindboy says:

    So in essence your argument is that atheism may be rational, because someone has arrived at it through logic, or irrational because….well maybe they were assaulted by a religious figure in their youth and so now have insufficient theory of mind to support enough empathy to detect god’s supernatural vibes Or maybe it was just a pure emotional revulsion at the conduct of so many religious leaders in tolerating such abuse over so long a period that their rational faculties were over whelmed by revulsion at the entire concept of religion god and all that.  Is that what you are trying to say in a rather convoluted and jargon laden manner?

  32. blindboy says:

    …and just one more point. If some one who had previously been a  believer, having experienced the holocaust, decided no longer to believe, would that be rational?

    • Kelly J. Clark says:

      could the holocaust fit the category of “unless or until one has adequate reason to believe otherwise”?



  33. ntadepalli says:

    Regarding God`s existence , possible subjective states of mind are :

    1.Belief state of some believers

    They see God`s presence in all situations based on their own personal 


    2.Disbelief state of believers

    They expect to see His presence in some situations;but fail to see 

    attributing this to some unknown reasons.

    3.Knowledge state

    These people know 1.Non-existence cannot be proved and 2.So far people 

    failed to prove His existence.

    Scientific history gives confidence that phenomena can be explained without supernatural help.

    Belief in the absence of reason is irrational.

    There is no unbelief state of mind regarding existence.

    I categorise atheism as knowledge state of mind.

    • Chromehawk says:

      ( BTW : not replying to you as an attack, but your coment clarified to me what I think the author was saying which is the last paragraph )

      There is no difference between knowledge and belief.  Knowledge is simply a specific type of belief ( justified ).  But it is still a belief.

      and from the dictionary

      : to accept or regard (something) as true

      : to accept the truth of what is said by (someone)

      : to have (a specified opinion )

      You can think of the authors position as … ( putting words in his mouth )

      “With the evidence now that there is a connection between autism and atheism, is it reasonable to say that atheists may have second thoughts on the justification of their beliefs … thus turning their belief state from knowledge to belief. “

      • Kelly J. Clark says:

        Thanks Chromehawk, for clarifying. Your very helpful distinctions are ones I perhaps should have made earlier. I don’t mean to oppose belief to knowledge (I think, as Chromehawk wrote, that belief is a key part of knowledge) and I don’t mean to claim that belief is faith (although faith typically involves belief). So when I say that atheist in some cases for some persons involves belief, I only mean to say that they accept or regard a proposition as true. If a person, however, has never entertained belief in God (or non-belief), then they are not accepting or rejecting any propositions and so have no beliefs in the relevant areas.

        • Chromehawk says:

          Thank you for your response.  I wrote the previous perception clarification before I saw your post.

          One of the things that was written by Martin Buber  in I and Thou ( so I take no credit for it ) was that all actions are taken on a belief.  But to HIM beliefs were threefold …

          Knowledge – Justified belief.

          Faith –  Belief with insufficient justification

          Hope – Belief with no justification.

          So if one were to be sitting at the Blackjack table and say “I am going to walk away with winnings”

          Knowledge – I have an Ace and a Jack.  And as soon as the hand is over I am cashing in my chips and walking away.

          Faith – I have a system.  This system in the past has always had me walk away with money.  Yet I understand that it is possible that THIS time it may not work.  

          Hope – I am sitting down, putting down my money and collecting my cards.  But I really feel lucky today.

          You can not act without belief.  It is through our belief that something is true that we ascribe meaning to the world around us.  Your belief in the truth of something is either justified, unjustified — or in the case of Faith, insufficiently justified.  

          It doesn’t mean what you believe IS true ( even with justification ) but you passed a judgement based on your pecerceptions of the justification of the truthiness of the issue.  And we all have basically no choice but to believe our perceptions.

      • Chromehawk says:

        Thinking this through, I also see a connection to the Philosphy of Perception ( 1960s ).

        When looking at a stop light most people think “Red, yellow, Green” but color-blind people think “Top, Middle, Bottom ).  This thinking is all-pervasive in how the world is viewed.  And the differences are hard-wired.

        In essence, ToM, tires to explain theism as a hard-wired perception.  And the views of the evidence of the world, and the conclusions drawn from them is due to an ( evolutionary ) defect in the construction of the brain.

        The Autism/Atheism connection suggests the same, but from the opposite side of the debate.

        So in a way your question could be stated

        “With the evidence now that there is a connection between autism and atheism, is it reasonable to say that atheists justification for their position is as much due to perceptive hard-wiring as theists … thus turning their belief state from knowledge to belief. “

        ( Side note for the use of terms as seen from Philosphy:  Again belief comes in three catagories based upon actionabilty.  And a judgement ( particularly of others ) is an action.

        Non-belief : Not actionable.  No judgement can be passed on others. More closely aligned to Agnosticism. 

        Belief NOT : Actionable.  in the case of this discussion NOT God.  A judgement or conclusion has been made.  Thus an action has been taken.  This is the Atheist position.  Particularly if they judge others.

        Belief IS : Actionable.  God IS.  A judgement or conclusion has been made.  Thus an action has been taken.  This is the theist position.

        Non-beleif needs no justification.  Belief NOT or Belief IS do need justification.  The attempts to move atheism in to non-belief is an attempt to make the position not requiring justification. Agnosticism can be moved into this category because there position is “Neither of the other two positions are justifiable”.  Though in a way that begs the question of whether non-action is itself actionable.  But then the USSC had that debate on the health-care mandate.

  34. George Gantz says:

    Dr. Clark – Relative to your comment on conspiracy and beating a dead horse, you have hit the hornet’s nest with a stick and are dealing with the consequences.  This kind of aggression is common from fundamentalist (religious or atheist) when challenged.  I am reminded of the work on “Belief Superiority” of Toner et al, widely reported last October.  According to Dr. Leary, who supervised the research, “the tendency for people with extreme views to be overly confident is not limited to politics.  Any time people hold an extreme position, even on a trivial issue, they seem to think that their views are better than anyone else’s.”   Humility and collegiality can be so difficult to maintain. Bravo for your efforts! 

  35. Dr.GSPANGLOSS says:

    The belief that either Atheism or Theism are irrationally based philosophical positions is irrational , for either position can be logically supported depending on which axioms are chosen as a starting point . Given the constraints placed on the accuracy of measurement (Uncertainty Principle), and the incompleteness of most logical proofs(Godel), some degree of humility is warranted . Both humility and Pride are reflections of emotional states of the mind. Do Atheist lack Humility ? Do they fail to interpret their own philosophical position as one ,which  at least in part, is due to an emotional state of their own minds? Is it rational to believe that a Universe from which emerge beings with minds compelled (emotional state) to discover/ invent and use logic in order to understand the Universe from which they stem , does not entail a rational beginning ,and by extrapolation a rational entity as initiator  and author of the software allowing emergence and Evolution ? Some Atheist find no irrationality in positing the existence of civilizations millions of years more evolved than our own , or of other Universes which gave rise to our own, and thus the possible existence of civilization which predate our own Universe , and perhaps beings with an understanding of Nature , likewise , vastly superseding our own .However ,mention a personal God , and many Atheist considered the thought irrational . But who is the irrational one ?Who does not critique his own thought  process ,and realize that his philosophy stems , at least to some degree, from a rationalization based on denial of one emotion(Pride), and the absence of another(Humility) ?