Why Atheism Nowadays?
by Daniel Reynoso
Scrolling through my Facebook feed is always a two-edged sword. On the one hand, I’ve got access to some of the most creative, insightful, and all-around amusing content to be found on the internet. On the other hand, I’m taken aback by some of the most ignorant, childish, and counterproductive approaches to important ideas that I’ve ever seen!
Our “deep” discussions often devolve into a chaotic back-and-forth of anecdote, alleged evidence, and rejections of various sources of so-called authority. Just try to salvage a coherent, level-headed argument in the minefield of the comments section of any given post! It can make you swear off social media—at least temporarily.
Of course, some topics tend to evoke this kind of erratic behavior more so than others. Few of us ever become emotionally embroiled in a charged debate about our favorite Netflix series, but controversial claims about the nature and meaning of our existence will always find stalwart soldiers on all sides of a debate.
For instance, think about the two taboo topics we’re told to keep out of our happy hour conversations at the local bar: politics and religion, right? Now, while you may be drinking a beer right now, this is no barroom chat! And, so, I hope to offer some food for thought surrounding the quintessential religious subject of them all, the existence of God.
Countless pages fill modern social media sites devoted to dismantling religious ideology, challenging unsubstantiated faith claims, and simply poking fun at the faithful. We skeptics, free thinkers, and irreligious are making our voices heard throughout the internet, and our numbers are only growing.
It seems we simply can no longer muster the faith of our forefathers and mothers, and nowhere does this lack of faith prove more provocative than in the outright denial and dismissal of God altogether.
Anyone can quickly defer to any number of reasons as to why she personally leans toward belief or disbelief in God, but rather than rehash the arguments for and against the existence of God—arguments that often fail to persuade either way—I want to approach the concept of disbelief in the divine from a cultural point of view. It’s my hope that this common ground will lay the foundation for moving the conversation forward into more charitable territory.
So why atheism nowadays?
First, we embrace atheism because it’s the most intellectually honest approach for making sense of our lives. Comparing diverse faith claims with even the most basic claims of the sciences, we recognize the total inadequacy of faith as a valid way of gaining real knowledge about our world.
Faith claims not only invert the scientific method, they altogether lack the epistemic warrant we’ve come to require as a foundation for what to trust. Basic expectations of cause-effect relationships and inference to the best explanation governs our daily lives, and rightfully so! After all, if we become gravely ill, we’d be wise to consult a medical doctor; magic spells and potions just won’t do!
By a simple step of logic, then, we extrapolate from this basic scientific approach governing our day-to-day experiences to the workings of existence as a whole. We reject belief in any supernatural cause or activity because we recognize these faith claims to be not only completely indemonstrable, but also dependent upon an unjustified and erroneous method of acquiring knowledge.
What follows is simply this: atheism places our lives on a level playing field of evidence and warrant. Claims about the world—whether religious, secular, or scientific—must all be subject to open criticism according to the same epistemic approaches as our other items of knowledge, especially when those claims demand authentic assent.
Second, we embrace atheism because it’s the most obvious conclusion we derive from a scientific approach to human history. Comparing diverse faith traditions with even the most basic facts we accept about our own lives, we recognize the total inadequacy of depending solely on those traditions as a valid way of establishing real knowledge about our past.
Few today attribute plagues or droughts to demonic forces, while these were common beliefs held by pre-scientific people of an earlier time. We’ve learned to approach phenomena from a perspective of science and skepticism. After all, if an epidemic breaks out, we’d be wise to consult the sciences for a cause; curses and witchcraft can’t account for it!
By a simple step of logic, then, we extrapolate from this basic scientific approach governing our inquiry into the past to religious traditions as a whole. They cannot all be right in what they claim, by faith, to be true, and deliberating between them on that basis cannot produce the evidence necessary to determine which, if any, is true.
What follows is simply this: atheism denies all gods as equally indemonstrable on the basis of faith and equally improbable on the basis of historical inquiry. We all reject countless gods of various religious traditions, but the complete atheist has rejected one more god than the monotheist, who rejects multiple gods.
Third, we embrace atheism because it’s the most reasonable approach to working toward our future. Comparing different approaches to action with even the most basic accomplishments of our lives, we recognize the total inadequacy of reliance upon a divine will as a valid means for achieving our goals.
Not only is a recognizable divine will notoriously absent from our lives in particular, it’s also notoriously absent from all of history leading up to this point in general. Neither attempting to trace causality back to a causa prima nor to search for the divine hiding in our human ignorance—a kind of “God of the gaps”—helps us better navigate our lives.
By a simple step of logic, then, we extrapolate from the absence of a divine will guiding human history to the meaning and goal of our own lives on the whole. As the infamous Friedrich Nietzsche noted, “The whole of history is indeed the refutation by experiment of the so-called ‘moral order’ of things.”
What follows is simply this: we’ve learned that life is what we make it and that the process of history is not working toward some kind of divine moral purpose. Atheism places our lives into our own hands and rejects notions of divine intervention. It’s up to us to create the lives and the world we desire.
So, that’s a straightforward answer to our question of why atheism is growing nowadays. Through a process of careful reasoning we’ve arrived at philosophical atheism, arguably the best default explanation for our lives and the world in which we find ourselves.
An intellectually honest approach to our individual lives, our collective history, and our foreseeable future repeatedly demonstrates that our current circumstances, like all circumstances, are the result of an intertwined play of choice, chance and fate.
Quite simply, there’s no reason to presume anything is the result of a divine plan or open to divine intervention. In fact, all of the evidence, when reasoned through with inference to the best explanation, testifies to the opposite; atheism is simply the name for the logical conclusion of strict reasoning.
Atheism—a basic disbelief in the divine—liberates us from remaining ensnared by faulty interpretations of our lives. It also opens our minds to new values and existential approaches, and for this reason, as Nietzsche also observed, “atheism and a kind of second innocence belong together.”