An Interesting Comment: Atheism and Conspiracy Theories

A friend recently offered this comment on one of his blogs. I thought it was thought-provoking.

Atheism itself, while disdaining conspiracy theorists, is the greatest of all conspiracy theories. According to atheists, billions of people living today have been, often cynically, deceived into believing their lives are directed by a fictional character and that they should spend a certain portion of theirs lives and their wealth worshiping this fictional character. Atheists believe it is a conspiracy so pervasive that only a small minority of the people on earth, generally more intelligent than the rest, have managed to discover it. Atheism, in fact has all the hallmarks of a conspiracy theory. So why are atheists so disdainful of the conspiracy theories of others?

Thoughts?

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7 thoughts on “An Interesting Comment: Atheism and Conspiracy Theories

  1. I think you’re misunderstanding what a conspiracy theory is. A better comparison would be people believing that the sun revolves around the earth. That wasn’t a conspiracy theory, either. It also wasn’t true.

    1. For the sake of conversation, here’s wiki’s definition:

      “Conspiracy theory is a term that originally was a neutral descriptor for any claim of civil, criminal, or political conspiracy. However, it has become largely pejorative and used almost exclusively to refer to any fringe theory which explains a historical or current event as the result of a secret plot by conspirators of almost superhuman power and cunning.”

      I don’t want to speak for you, but isn’t that exactly what some atheists think about religion?

      As an easy for example from Christianity, one working theory to skeptically explain how the story of Jesus’ resurrection spread is to claim that Jesus body was stolen, and his followers (some knowingly, some unknowingly) then spread the story of Jesus’ resurrection, pointing to an empty tomb as proof of the story.

  2. Ben, your friend makes a really poor argument.

    There is one thing that atheists share (and in fact, is what literally defines them): lack of a belief in a god or gods.

    Let’s tackle your friend’s assertions one by one:

    1. Atheists disdain conspiracy theorists
    Largely true, because most atheists have considered religious arguments before rejecting them. Atheists generally require proof and rational thinking in their explanations – something conspiracy theories abundantly lack.

    2. Atheists believe that the pervasiveness of religion is a conspiracy theory.
    I don’t see how anyone can make this argument. For one, not all atheists believe the same things on issues not related to the non-existence of a god or gods. And secondly, I don’t see how the observation that religion is so pervasive necessitates a conspiracy theory. There are plenty of logical and rational reasons for the popularity of religion, most notably the tendency of the human mind to seek patterns and causes where there are none. So no, most atheists (because again, there could be some atheists out there who think that way) do not believe religion is propelled by a giant conspiracy theory.

    3. Atheism is the greatest conspiracy theory of all.
    Given the chain of assertions fell apart at number two, you’ll be hard pressed to convince me of this one.

    I know some great atheist blogs if you are in the market for some. There’s always http://www.talkorigins.org as well.

    1. Devin,

      Thanks for your comment. While it’s probably not obvious given the content and organization of my blog, I’m fairly well-versed (or at least very familiar with) what atheists do not believe. I’m most familiar with Existential Philosophy, particularly Sartre and Nietzsche. I’m also familiar with Bertrand Russell’s works, and I have at least a rudimentary understanding of several of the New Atheists, such as Dawkins, Hitchens, and P.Z. Myers.

      I’m also very (painfully?) familiar with the Evolution/Creationism controversy, especially from the biblical scholarship/theological perspective, and I certainly appreciate a friendly nudge to quality resources such as TalkOrigins.

      I tend to not blog about those things myself, although I do follow and comment on a few blogs that focus on God’s existence and/or Creation/Evolution … and as a result, it wouldn’t be obvious to someone commenting for the first time that I’m aware of those larger, academic conversations.

      All that to say, thanks for the quality, informed, and constructive comment. It is much appreciated, and I look forward to chatting in the future.

      1. I highly recommend regular reading of P.Z. Myers – he is the most strident atheist there is. The commenters on his posts also tend to be very good. I’ve been subscribed to his blog for…something more than a year now, and in that time, I have only found him to be lacking on two issues. One was about how “video games cannot be art” (on which hundreds of commenters provided convincing arguments to the contrary), and the other, just recently, that there can be no evidence that would convince him of the existence of God or gods (which Jerry Coyne of whyevolutionistrue just recently rebutted).

        I made that comment without having looked at any other content. After submitting it, I went to look around a bit. I can see that you are a little more sophisticated than your typical Christian (as you have read about in the recent Pew study).

        My answer included the definition of atheism simply for the sake of completeness. I’ve come to learn that I shouldn’t assume that everyone knows what I’m talking about!

        So, if you want any recommendations, I’d recommend Pharyngula, and whyevolutionistrue. Bad Astronomy occasionally has good pieces on conspiracy theorists and nut jobs, but doesn’t really talk about religion or atheism all that much (and he’s typically not as good on that as the other two).

        My personal viewpoints will stay quite removed from NBeh?. There wouldn’t be enough time to cover both my viewpoints and NBA stuff, and besides, there are plenty of people out there who do a much better job of covering it than I could.

        After I found out that you had a blog, I figured one good turn deserved another.

  3. Hey Ben!
    Getting caught up. I think that people of faith should look at atheism in the same way that educated atheists should look at people of faith. Choose a single Western Religious Brand, from Christianity to Islam to Judaism, you’ll find hundreds of splintered denominations who are often in contrast to one another. Some Catholics believe that their faith is the only way to heaven. Some Lutherans believe this is wrong, and their path is the only way to heaven. In reality, the two faiths are pretty darned similar. Take an extreme Catholic and an extreme Lutheran, put them in a room and ask them to explain why their faith is superior, you’ll be in for a lot of loose talk and fiery emotions.

    It’s not only true of western religions, however. As my personal spiritual hero Alan Watts once said:

    [Alan was in] a Buddhist temple in Thaliand. A scrawny Buddhist monk was looking at a book on mediation when Alan stepped over to him and said, “Hm. Satipatthana” which was the name of a particular style of meditation. The monk asked, “do you practice Satipatthana?” Alan replied, “Well not exactly Satipatthana but something similar called Zen.” The monk retorted, “Oh, Satipatthana not Zen. Zen not good; Satipatthana only way.” “Well,” said Watts, “You know you’re like some Catholic friends of mine. They say Catholicism is the only right way. Now who are we to believe? Imagine you opened a ferry business downstream. Would it be right to say to the government, ‘Only I have the right to operate a ferry!’ I say let all operate ferryboats who will.” Then Alan added, “and if you haven’t got the sense to get off a sinking ship, that’s your problem.”

    The understanding of denominational divisions should be equally offered to atheism. There are peaceful, respectful atheists who give credence to those of faith, and there are the oft-feared extremists who denote religion as a cancer. In between those two poles, there are a myriad of forms of philosophy for atheism. In fact, one difference between theism and atheism is that the latter is unorganized. There are no true temples or guiding sects under which atheists exercise their beliefs. With that lack of organization, that kind of kicks the definition of “conspiracy” to the curb…

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