Natural Born Atheists
Apparently Hays is uncomfortable with this observation and raised a few objections against it. But it is what Hays does not do that should give us pause before going forward. While Hays is eager to undermine the observation that we are born atheist in some way, he demonstrates no concern for whether or not it is true that we are born atheist. For example, he nowhere challenges the claim that it is true, nor does he show that it is not true.
Importantly, he nowhere introduces any evidence that anyone has theistic beliefs at birth. Rather, Hays' mission seems to be nothing more than to lampoon the idea and those who propose it. Hays attacks for what it is not, not for what it is. It is simply an observation that happens to be true, not an argument that should cause Hays to become defensive. Defensiveness in response to true observations only suggests that one feels threatened by truth. That's not a very promising testimony for someone who's been publicly championing a position for more than a decade.
i) That's quite ironic. Atheists like to compare Christian faith to childish belief in Santa Claus. Something we're supposed to outgrow.
But how does this make the observation that we are all born atheists ironic? On the view in question, atheism is not a belief, but the absence of a belief.
The point of the observation in question is that we are not born with any beliefs already throbbing in our minds. Beliefs are learned: some are acquired as a result of exposure to ideas from others (beginning usually with parents and other family members) which we accept either because we find them convincing or because of some social compulsion; others are formed from our own firsthand interaction with the world around us.
As absence of god-belief, atheism does not belong to the category of belief. Since we are not born with any beliefs, and atheism is technically merely the absence of god-belief, we are essentially born atheist, just as we are born without any other kind of belief. Even Hays, we will find below, acknowledges this.
If, however, everyone is born an atheist, but many people outgrow atheism when they achieve intellectual maturity, then atheism is the mirror image of believing in Santa Claus.
If a person adopts some theistic species of mysticism, such as the Christian faith, then clearly such faith is analogous to believing in Santa Claus since both are positively held beliefs based on imagination rather than facts which we can discover by looking outward at the world around us. But one does not “outgrow” atheism to begin with; one either remains an atheist, or he accepts some sort of theism. Accepting a form of theism is not progress towards maturity of any sort, so it cannot count as “growth” if “growth” means progress towards improved life-centered development.
In fact, to equate acceptance of theism with “intellectual maturity” is utterly Orwellian: it’s like saying war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, etc.
By contrast, the distinguishing essential of intellectual maturity is uncompromising adherence to reason as one’s only source of knowledge, his only standard of judgment, his only guide to action. This is called rationality. But reason and theism are diametric opposites; it is only by abandoning reason that one can adopt some form of theism (including the Christian faith). This is because reason is squarely seated on the primacy of existence metaphysics (cf. wishing doesn’t make it so) while theism assumes the metaphysical primacy of consciousness (cf. some form of wishing brought the universe into existence).
On this note, it’s ironic that in reacting to Hays’ blog post, a commenter posting under the moniker “rockingwithhawking” wrote: “the good thing about God is he exists whether or not you believe in him!” So here we have a theist unwittingly making use of the primacy of existence principle in defense of a worldview which, at its most fundamental level, rejects the primacy of existence in toto. As a matter of habit theists unwittingly borrow from a non-theistic worldview even in defending their theistic fantasies. Whenever someone says something to the effect that “it’s true whether or not you believe it” or “wishing doesn’t make it so,” he’s assuming the primacy of existence, a principle that is wholly incompatible with theism.
It is when an individual adopts reason as his epistemological standard that he is finally in a position to consistently discard all forms of irrationality, whether it is belief in Santa Claus or Jesus Christ, Allah, Krishna, Ahura Mazda, Geusha, et al. Only when one has in fact abandoned all forms of mysticism as a consequence to his adherence to reason is he on the road to intellectual maturity.
Keep in mind that it is Christianity (and not Objectivism, for example) that requires its adherents to “become as little children” (cf. Matt. 18:3). Children often exhibit sharp skepticism in response to fantastical claims. But when it comes to established authorities, they often tend to accept whatever they’re told on the authority’s mere say-so, even if they don’t understand it, even if there is no tie to reality connecting what is claimed to objective fact. This is especially the case if the claims are backed up by some kind of threat, such as Christianity’s very own “believe or burn” appeal.
ii) By parity of argument, we could say babies aren't scientists. They don't believe in evolution. They don't believe in global warming. They don't believe in a woman's right to abortion. They don't believe in gay rights and trans rights.
So the atheist argument undercuts many beliefs dear to politically correct atheists.
Also, saying that someone was not born with a particular belief as such is a very poor way to contend that any particular belief is not true. Beliefs have to be weighed for their merits, assuming they have any. Indeed, the fact that we do not come with a set of beliefs already in place straight out of the shrink wrap in no way suggests that we do not later develop or accept beliefs. It is when we are able to use our faculties as rational adults (having put away childish things, like belief in invisible magic beings) that we are in a position to scrutinize particular belief claims for soundness.
But I do sympathize with Hays’ frustration with many atheists in the west today who seem to have adopted politically correct positions in wholesale fashion simply because they are politically fashionable. But I count such trends as simply more influence of religion. Both religion and today’s leftist secularists have something fundamental in common, namely unquestioned authoritarianism and the uncritical acceptance of whatever is adopted by the crowd. Rationality requires an independent mind, and neither religion nor the secular left can tolerate an independent mind.
Hays raised one final objection:
iii) Also, since when do atheists make babies the standard of comparison? Most atheists support abortion. Even "after-birth" abortion.
As for support for abortion, this is irrelevant to the question of whether or not we are born atheist. It’s simply another red herring intended to tilt emotions in favor of his prejudice.
by Dawson Bethrick