“We are all born atheist!” is something we have heard a lot. I’ve said it in the past. I am sure if you are an atheist you have said it too. But how true is that?
What is an Atheist?
An atheist is someone who subscribes to atheism.
We have gone over the definitions in our podcasts but the classical definition of atheism is “The belief God(s) do not exist”.
- Conflated and Misunderstood Terms – Volume 2: Atheism, Theism, Agnosticism
- Fresh AiR – S01:E01 – Atheism
- Fresh AiR – S01:E05 – Belief, Truth, and Knowledge
- Conflated and Misunderstood Terms – Volume 5: I Don’t Believe
We understand the redefinition of atheism to the modern weak atheist position which is the “lack belief in gods”.
We have discussed how “don’t believe”, in a normative sense, is “believe not”. I covered this in more detail in CMT5 but I will recap here.
In logic, you have P and not P. The not P then creates an inverse P.
For example, you have theism; The Belief God(s) Exist and the not P, the disbelief in gods existence, which creates its own P; The Belief God(s) do not exist.
However, folks often use the term descriptively to mean withholding belief. It is describing the psychological state rather than the active position on a belief.
If you don’t understand what I mean by this or are disagree, then I suggest reading Conflated and Misunderstood Terms – Volume 5: I Don’t Believe to understand the nuance.
So are we born Atheist?
We are born as blank templates. Assigning agency is part of an evolutionary survival trait, and we are therefore prone to superstition/paranoia.
A blank template does not hold any beliefs. As such we cannot say we are born atheist in a classical sense.
In fact, if we HAVE to assign any position to a blank template it should be agnosticism due to the ignorance and lack of any beliefs, although we should not assign any position to a blank template. Even an agnostic has considered the proposition around God’s existence. A baby has not.
Of course, I am sure many will say “they lack belief in a god, so are atheist” although this is a modern definition of atheism, it does not hold up to the main philosophical definition. I will admit there are a number of different definitions, even within philosophy. A few argue that the psychological state of not believing, rather than the logical proposition of believing god(s) do not exist should be enough to classify one as an atheist.
One of the issues with the whole “lack belief” position is it does not give you any indication on what folks do believe.
The classical agnostic position is withholding judgement, perhaps due to not enough information to know if either Atheism or Theism is true, and therefore believing neither is true or false.
This ties in closely to the whole “lack belief” position atheists tout these days. They don’t believe gods exist but they don’t hold the belief “gods do not exist”.
This is why the psychological state of not believing, rather than the belief gods don’t exist, poses issues and muddies the water.
Does using the lacktheist position change things?
I suppose using the modern and debatably erroneous definition of atheism you could argue that we are born atheist, but the truth is we are not born with any knowledge (unless we can call base instincts knowledge) or beliefs, and these form as we are given information.
We are ignorant, which does fit how folks might have used agnosticism to particular topics, agnostic to evolutionary biology would have been ignorant/lacking knowledge in said topic. So in that sense, we are agnostic to EVERYTHING. Perhaps, by the ignorance definition of agnosticism, we could argue that the default position is agnosticism. But of course when discussing the theological proposition there is more to it, and a baby will not have a positive attitude to any of the 3 beliefs around God’s existence.
The fact is though, whatever beliefs the child’s parents have, the child will hold for some time.
There are no atheist babies. There are no Christian babies. There are no Muslim babies. There are just blank templates awaiting programming.
Saying we are all born atheist, regardless of your definition of atheism, is an incredibly weak and pointless statement.
We are all born without any beliefs one way or the other, nor knowledge of any of the topics to “lack belief” in.
If you HAVE to define a default position, the closest is agnosticism (but even that is wrong). It is only once a position has been considered and believed in can we truly say one is an atheist, theist or agnostic. Babies do not have the ability to do this.
We really shouldn’t be making these definitional changes and weak arguments to suit our narrative/ideology.