Bob's Web Page

Why I Am Not an Atheist

I don't believe in God, or any supernatural being, but to be called an atheist makes me uncomfortable. That's not what I am. Here's why.

A theist is a person who believes the fact that their god is real and exists. An atheist takes the logically opposite point of view, believing in the fact that gods are unreal and none of them exist. Both of these points of view are statements of fact. When a person makes a statement of fact, it is up to that person to say why their statment is true. This is the basic rule of argumentation.

Now no one has yet proved that there is a god, and to prove that there is not, to prove a negative about the real, is very difficult to do, which is why it hasn't been done yet, either. So there are thus many people who are not theists, but who would not take the hard position that the atheist would. These people would say only that they do not have a belief in a supernatural god of any kind, or something like that. To call these people atheists misrepresents their position. I would prefer to call them, if we need to call them anything, Religiously Unconvinced.

Some people would say, "God doesn't exist," but as a vernacular statement, not a philosophical one. If you probed a bit, you would find they aren't really saying god doesn't exist, but that they don't believe one exists. They are one of the Religiously Unconvinced.

Sam Harris says we shouldn't have to have a label for people who don't believe gods exist, just like we don't have a label for people who don't believe in astrology or Bigfoot. But those two ideas, and others like them, are not big topics. They are not on a continuum of religion that is affecting our politics in ways that harm our society. Example: harvesting stem cells from a 150-cell blastula is an offense to God, so we can't do research that could cure someone's spinal bifida. Example: If the owners of Hobby Lobby have a religious belief, contrary to fact, that certain forms of birth control are abortifacients, the owners cannot be required to offer medical insurance that includes that form.

The other reason we need a different label is that words matter. "Atheist" is a charged word that closes off dialog with theists. The term Religiously Unconvinced is lighter, non-confrontational, and hopefully would allow dialog to occur. And boy, do we need dialog right now.