A Higher Power

I’m an atheist, but my brother isn’t. I think it’s been rightly said by a number of people in a number of places that atheism itself is a type of religion. Generally I think this is said as an insult or an attack against atheism, but I don’t really take it that way. The reason my brother isn’t an atheist is that, from a scientific perspective, there is nothing to suggest that there either is or is not a God. So in the absence of any evidence one way or the other, there is no reason to have an opinion on the matter. That forms the basis of why atheism can be considered a religion: if you don’t believe in God, but you do believe in the absence of God, then you in fact have a belief system very similar to that of a religious person.

But having said all of that, I do consider myself to be an atheist. And I don’t mind it if people call my commitment to atheism a “religion”. My rationale for a non-belief in God is that it is common for people to have a need or merely a desire to form an opinion on a matter in the absence of an abundance of establishable fact. For example, reading this right now, you aren’t diving for cover underneath your desk are you? Yet, it’s possible that an alien spacecraft is about to launch a barrage of laser beams at the building you’re in, but despite that you’re acting as though that isn’t going to happen. The reasoning here is fairly obvious: nothing in your experience or observation exists to suggest that such an attack is even possible, let alone imminent. Therefore you continue on with your life on the assumption that it isn’t going to happen. This is a survival mechanism, really. How could you ever leave your house or even function at all if you had to be constantly on guard against even the most remotely possible occurrences? It’s not possible – so we make assumptions and move forward.

One of the, to my mind, fundamental concepts that establishes whether something deserves to be considered a real possibility or not is the Law of Parsimony. This law suggests that in the absence of all facts, assumptions should be based on the most reasonable and least fantastic possibilities. For example, if your watch is wrong it may be for several reasons. It could be that you forgot to wind it, or the battery died. Or it could be that an evil gremlin from the 18th dimension is plotting to make you late for work so that your despair over being fired will cause a negative emotion surge that will empower it to conquer the universe. Which assumption are you going to make? Probably not the last one. The point is that in an absence of fact, you proceed on the most mundane and realistic assumption, not a bizarre or fantastic assumption.

Which brings us back to the idea of atheism. Atheists believe that there is no God. What evidence do they have to suggest there is no God? None, really. I mean, you could theorize all day about the existence or non-existence of God: where did the universe come from? Why is there life? What is the meaning of everything? Et cetera. But really there’s no evidence in any of those musings; it’s just philosophy. So if you want to arrive at a conclusion about whether or not there’s a God, you need to make a “leap of faith;” essentially deciding to arrive at a conclusion for which you lack evidence.

The Law of Parsimony provides the rationale for atheism. I don’t know why the universe exists, although I suspect that the question is unanswerable because there is no “why.” Rather, the universe exists for the same reason hydrogen has one proton, which is to say there is no why; that’s just the way it is. I have no evidence, but in the absence of evidence I can still arrive at a conclusion according to the parameters of the Law of Parsimony. Is there a God? Well, I’ve no evidence… yet I’ve never witnessed anything that could be considered divine; I’ve never encountered anything that would suggest it’s possible to be all-powerful; the concept of a God figure is utterly foreign to any observable phenomena; therefore, the Law of Parsimony suggests that belief in God equates to selecting a fanciful explanation rather than a reasonable or prosaic one. The reasonable conclusion is that since nothing observable exists to suggest a divine presence, one must conclude that there is no such presence. Hence, atheism.



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