Thursday, October 18, 2012

my atheism is not a faith

...But I should first address the obvious retort. By the minimal categorical definition of "a complete set of beliefs related to religion", my atheism qualifies as a faith. That's not my point.

Although this categorization might be necessary for entirely practical reasons, it can produce the wrong impression. It tempts incorrect comparisons. Both before and after my deconversion, I've encountered statements on this subject which are simply wrong. "Like any other religion, atheism requires the suppression of doubt." "Like anyone else, atheists have their own fundamental unfalsifiable axioms to serve as the basis of logical thought." "Like the existence of the supernatural, the non-existence of the supernatural amounts to a huge assumption."

However, the way that I consider it, atheism can't be yet-another-faith. It's a different type of belief than my former religiosity. That's the rationale behind the unwieldy term "deconversion". For me at least, atheism wasn't acceptance of a differing conglomerate of notions. It was dismissal of all of my religious notions. I reapplied my Pragmatic standard of meaning to the religious domain and judged it too shaky to continue believing.

Thus the deconversion to atheism did not require an equal or greater number of doubt-suppressed assumptions. It required fewer. It lowered the cognitive difficulty. I gave myself the freedom to stop strenuously separating the privileged religious domain from the normal processes of skepticism and critical thinking. I no longer had the weighty burden of either resolving or ignoring all the inconsistencies between discovered reality and the propositions of my parents' religion.

Having said that, I should also acknowledge that I still make assumptions. It seems to me that everyone does all the time. Assumptions are Pragmatic planning tools. The pivotal question is which assumptions to make. Not every assumption is well-grounded. Human inventiveness can supply assumptions at a faster rate than the rate of possible verification. It's worthwhile to be choosy with assumptions. For instance, does an assumption fit with a great number of confirmed ideas? Can it be used and tested? Does it depend on a multitude of other assumptions? Distrust of a particular assumption doesn't consist of a second assumption. Since humans swim in an ocean of free-floating assumptions, distrust of each assumption's underpinnings is the sensible default!

Moreover, I confess to a handful of "fundamental axioms". The essential distinction is that my boring axioms are mostly about methods and are not universally applicable. For example, reality has patterns. A given change usually happens at approximately the same speed. Senses yield consistent results under normal circumstances. Not everything that the human brain computes corresponds to stuff outside it. Evidence that passes a greater number of checks is more reliable than evidence that passes a fewer number of checks.

A Pragmatic atheism isn't comparable to many faiths. It's not an alternative dogma for Truth. It's a side-effect of a methodical and careful search for truths (plural, lower-case).

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