A new report on atheists is of interest. It’s “Understanding Unbelief: Atheists and agnostics around the world: Interim findings from 2019 research in Brazil, China, Denmark, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States” by Stephen Bullivant, Miguel Farias, Jonathan Lanman, and Lois Lee, at a slew of different universities.
Now there is no such thing as unbelief per se: everybody believes in something about the purpose of life, even if these beliefs shift and bounce around in time. I bounced. I went from Catholicism, to embracing for many years the Naturalism Fallacy, to grasping that fallacy and so coming home. This experience at least gave me insight into a common form of atheist typically found in and around universities and in the lower-upper levels of organizational life.
The report’s authors say (ellipsis original):
Our use of the term ‘unbelief’ follows that provided in The Oxford Dictionary of Atheism (Bullivant and Lee 2016): ‘The state of lacking (especially religious) faith or belief… unbelief is often used in a wide sense, implying a generalized lack of belief in a God or gods.’ It is chiefly employed, along with its cognates (unbelievers, unbelieving) as a convenient shorthand term, incorporating much of what is commonly termed atheism and/or agnosticism.
What might surprise is that many atheists and agnostics consider themselves Christian, just as some Jews consider themselves Jewish, and some other atheists consider themselves Muslims, and so on. Religion is seen to a certain extent an ethnicity. Perhaps this attitude will strengthen in Europe as Christianity fades and other religions take precedence.
Some fun is to be had in what atheists like to call themselves in different countries. By vote, Americans prefer atheist, while Chinese and Danes like non-religious. The ghastly seeker, you’ll be glad to learn, came in last.
The real proof atheist does not mean non-believer comes in the large number of self-identified atheists who believe in life after death. Some 30% of Chinese do, and even about 18% of Americans do. Could this be partly explained by belief in strong AI? Or maybe some kind of pantheism? After all, more than 50% of Chinese atheists believe in astrology and so do just shy of 20% of American atheists.
Other supernatural topics are reincarnation, objects having mystical powers, people with strange powers, fate, supernatural beings, a “universal spirit or life force”, karma, and the one with the biggest support, “underlying forces of good and evil.” About 40% believe in these on average.
The USA doesn’t even reach half of atheists who are complete naturalists; only 35% strongly agree with naturalism. In China it’s only 8%.
Naturalism is a radical philosophy. Thinking about it, really understanding its implications, can scare most atheists straight. That’s what worked with me. Grasping the universe can’t explain itself, that if naturalism is true then there is no good or evil, that there is no self, that there is nothing if naturalism is true is sobering. Because none of that makes any sense.
This is why only 30% of American atheists strongly agree that the universe is “ultimately meaningless”: Brazil is the highest at 47%. If the universe is ultimately meaningless, so then is the phrase ultimately meaningless. Indeed no phrase has any meaning. Everything is not only not opinion—opinion would be an improvement—but nothing at all.
Another curiosity is that only 80% of American atheists are evolutionists, which is tad higher than the rest of the world. If a purely material naturalistic evolution of humans is true, then you can’t trust thought. Anything you believe is nothing more than random impulses in chemicals. And you can’t even believe that!
It’s well only some 36% of American atheists believe “In the long-run, society becomes better over time.” But I suppose the same kind of reasoning that leads to atheism leads to believe in progress. It’s also the same type of thinking that causes one to agree that “What is right and wrong is up to each person to decide”, which a whopping 46% of American atheists agree to.
This is what in philosophy is known as an academic belief. That kind of theory is fun to say, makes you seem like a good guy at the cookie tray before the seminar, but it’s utter nonsense. Hold a knife to the throat to the next professor who says it and see him suddenly become a Realist.
“Bye bye, pal. I’ve just decided it’s right for me to slit your gullet.”
“Didn’t you say what is right and wrong is up to each person to decide?”
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