This is reprinted from another column of mine at a more general-purpose site. It is relevent because Objectivism gets into the issue of "atheism"

This In Focus article has its roots in "I Have Touched the Face of God". I have decided to go into a deeper explanation for "no such thing as an atheist"

Notice I used "How come" and not "Why". This was deliberate. "Why" is teleological and looks to a desired end state. "How come" is cosmological and inquires after how a current state of affairs came to be

There are only two types of simple statements of fact, or "propostions": "Positive [or affirmative]", such as "The sky is blue", "it is raining", and "negative" such as "The sky is not pink" or "It is not snowing". A positive statement denotes a state of affairs that is. A negative statement references what is not. Both of these kinds of statements can be true or false. Both "the sky is blue" and "the sky is not pink" can be true at the same time and false at the same time. If the sky is green as part of a freak winter storm then "The sky is blue" and "It is not snowing" are both false. If it is raining then "the sky is blue" is false" but "it is raining" is true. A simple statement of fact, be it positive or negative is absolute and exclusive. If the sky is blue then it is not pink. If it is raining then it is not snowing (You can have mixed precipitation or even other forms theriof, but they are just that and if that is the cause you would say "there is mixed precipitaiton consisting of rain and snow" but the state of affairs would be "it is mixed precipitation". Now, as an aside complex statements can be mixed such as "It is raining or the sky is blue", "it is snowing and the sky is not pink", "the sky is not pink but it is not raining" or it is night so the sky is black". All of these can be true and have been at one time or other in the experience of pretty much all of us.

What then has this to do with "atheism"? To answer that, let us look at the terms "atheism" and "atheist" and their meanings. To be an "atheist" is to not believe in God. It is usually used to mean one who does not believen in the commonly accepted god(s) The polytheistic Romans considered the Christians to be atheists. "Atheism" is more amorphous in that it means "not believing in g(G)od(s)". Now that can be used to denote a state of affairs or a doctrine.

Therein lies the rub

If you look at the concepts of "positive" and "negative" as used in Philosophy, you find that one expresses what is and the other expresses what is not. "Atheist" as a label is based on what one does not believe; from Greek "A [no]" and "Theos [god]". "Atheism" has the same roots.

To not belive in god(s) is the negative of believing in god(s). More specifically is the contradiction thereof and therefore the opposite. There are two kinds of opposites.

Contradictory opposites cannot exist in the same space at the same time since on negates the other. Contradictory abstractions such as ideas or principles can not exist in the same being at any time since valid abstractions are either always true or always false. This, one cannot shift back and forth between being a tyrannist and libertarian or a person of reason and a person of faith; as Pope Urban VIII put it "Proof destroys faith"

So what has all this to do with atheism and atheists?

The first principle, or foundation, of rational, meaning valid, thought was proposed by Aristotle some 23-1/2 centuries ago and is called "the Law of Identity": "A is A": A thing is what it is. That "thing" and "what it is" is not understood via logic, but empirically meaning, by observation "It looks like a duck, It walks like a duck. It quacks like a duck. It swims like a duck and it flies like a duck. Hey: Guess what; it's a [insert favorite obscenity here]ing duck!!!!! Not a dog and not a goose. a [repeat obscenity or insert 'bleep']ing DUCK!!!! Comprenez-vous; Boo-boo?". Notice that the negative folows from the positive like an afterthough. It is not a primary but is derived from the positive. Before the "it" can be a dog or a goose, it has to not be a duck. This is so integrated into logic that attempting to require one to "prove" a negative is listed in the very basic fallacies aka invalid thinking and is called "The Fallacy of the Argument to Ignorance ['ignorance' here does not mean "dumb" only not knowing; specifically not being omniscient]". To illustrate this, less than two months befor president Bush said there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, talk show host Neal Boortz, who routinley looks down his nose at persons who did not go to college as being uneducated and unfit to challenge him on anything, was trying to defend the attack against Iraq on the "weapons of mass destruction" charge. When told they were never found Boortz said in his usual sanctimonious way "You can't prove that [the WMD] weren't trucked into Syria [which argument had been obliterated by Arlene Violette years before and demonstrated why I call him "Boot in Boca Boortz"]" This is a basic "logical fallacy called "the Argument to Ignorance" and consits of trying shift the burden of proof from the person asserting the claim, upon whom it properly rests to the person denying the claim; the fallacy lies in trying to have someone prove a negative which is logically impossible: But Boortz is a highly educated Man: So are they all; all highly educated men: Ummm...Neal?: Where's the front of the horse? This is not to be confused with "negative logic". This works along the lins of "If A is true, then B is falso and if B is true then A is false: By observation B is true: Therefore A is false [not true]". The fact that A is false is not proven but implied and inferred by B being observed to be true which rules out the possibility of A being true.

So what?

Thought and knowledge rely on "A is A"; on a thing being first something then a specific something. This law cannot operate in the negative, only in the positive. This is so because negation menas "not" means nothing (relevent to the discussion) so there is nothing for the Law of Identity and therefore the rational faculty to get traction on. To not be something is to not exist in that context and there is no traction with that which does not exist; just as suction cups do not work in a vacuum. This fact explains why the non sequtur; "does not follow" meaning is irrelevnet to the discussion is another fallacy, aka invalid thinking.

Where does this leave us with regard to atheism and atheist?

Conservative commentator and Babylon 5 star (Michael Garibaldi) Jerry Doyle made a statment that was both the smartest and dumbest on the matter: "When I look at an atheist, I see nothing". It was the smartest because it shows that he "gets it" and the dumbest because, in the context he made it, he committied another basic fallacy. The Fallacy of the Substitution of the Part for the Whole. The idea is this, If all you ever saw in the way of cars throughout your first 25 years of life were black Mustangs and suddenly you are told to put something "in the car" and you look all over for a black Mustang but all you find is a red Corvette so you go back with that something and said that you could not find the car and the person leads you to the red 'Vette and you say "That's not a car, it isn't even black". Now you have to learn about red Corvettes, white Dodges, green Cadillacs and the whole world of cars. Having seen only black Mustangs all your life; car=black Mustang in your mind. Ayn Rand referred to this as "the Frozen Abstraction since the generic "car" is, in your mind, limited to "black Mustang" thus "freezing" car as black Mustang. "Black Mustang" is the "part"; one of several that make up the "Whole" which is "car". Jerry Doyle, for one or more of several reasons can only recognized as persons, those who believe in God or gods. Since it is most likely that he was heavily indoctrinated as a child, before he could think clearly and rationally about it and give or withhold consent. This is most likely an honest, non-evil error, unlike the Ad Hominem Fallacy and the Argument to Ignorance (Argumentum ad Ignoratio) which are deliberate acts resulting from reaching the dead end of one's line of argumentation

What do you mean "he 'gets it'"?

"Atheism" and "Atheist" are negative terms. They indicate what a person is not or does not do (believe). If one has, as a key defining point about oneself or one's operative system, a negative. then the Law of Identity and therefore the rational faculty can not get traction and go nowhere. There can be a number of reasons why one does not believe in god(s). One could be a Nihilist, a Marxist, operate under a system that rejects Supernaturalism or one can be too young to address the matter. As an example of the last. It is attributed to Ayn Rand "...At age 13 I decided that I was an atheist because I found the existence of God to be insulting to Man...". While approprate to a 13 year old, it does not point to the external world nor does it show the level of subtle understanding that comes after age 20. Compare that with the following from The Ayn Rand Lexicon; "Objectivism rejects the Supernatural....and therefore [it] is atheist". This last points to something; rejecting Supernaturalism. Ironically, it is also Agnostic in the exact meaning of the term as defined by the particular Huxley that created it. Agnosticism holds not that one does not know if there is a god. but that knowledge of the Supernatural is impossible. a statement that Rand has made several times. As George Smith put it "One can be Agnostic and be an atheist or be a theist...". All of the above can lay claim to be atheists, but only as a by-product. In fact. Nihilism is amenable to any belief with the operative phrase being "whatever gets you through the night" and "Whatever floats your boat": Key operative temr; "whatever". The only claim that Marxists have to atheism is the statement "Religion is the opiate of the people" which could just as likely have been an indictment of organized religion without rejecting a belief in God. Objectivism, because it holds to aboslutes and rejects Socialism and Fascism is in contradiction to both Nihilism and Marxism. Yet all are catalogued under "Atheism". It is not that Jerry Doyle was not looking under "Atheist" but that the label points nowhere specific because it is a negative term.

So where does that leave us?

Two places:

  1. Verbal shorthand: In psychology, we speak of "phobias". These are greater-than-normal fears of very specific things or events. Acrophobia is an exaggerated fear of falling. Aerophobia is an exaggerated fear of heights, oftne occurring as an exagerated fear of flying; I am very acrophobic but enjoy flying, and both galeophobia and ailurophobia are exaggerated fear of cats. Now these are observed not medically, but behaviorally and can often be traced to a single event that is "seared into the memory" or a series thereof and the "curing" of which was the origin of Behaviour Modification. Thus there is no such thing as a phobia. They are states of affairs. we speak of a person being "acrophbobic" or "an acrophboe". "Acrophbia" refers to an abstract defined by its attributes, not a physical condition. "Atheist" and "atheism" do not refoer to persons or things, but rather to persons or things for whom and which being atheistic is the state of affairs. I am atheistic because I am an Objectivist and reject Supernaturalism and one of the attributes of god(s) is Supernatural.
  2. As verbal shorthand, the temrs point elsewhere. I am an Atheist or a system is atheism because, with respect to belief in God, it points elsewhere. It would be more exact to say "I am atheistic" or "Objectivism is atheistic" just as on does not have "a phobia" but rather is phobic about something based on what is observed when the phobogenic item or condition is brought into proximity to the "phobe". One more thing; being acrophobic does not mean that one is automatically aerophobic. If I am stadning on a small platform 5 feet of the ground, I get woozy but I'll fly in anything that has a modest chance of getting off the ground and coming back in one piece. My ex-best friend would climb up things that would give a mountain goat the shakes but had to be dragged kicking and screaming aboard an airliner (after which he loved flying) and to my knowledge, never went up in a small plane (which you could not keep me out of with a knout) Because of all of the above, many preachers and political activists of the Right are able to try and sometimes succeed in demigoguery by making blanket statements about non-believers or try to insert their beliefs into the political system. The oft-abused in these page Matt Allen who talks about having "God in governemt" has no idea how much like Al Qaeda he sounds. They may not know it, but what do you think 9/11 was all about? What principle do you think Al Qaeda operates under? or the Muslim Brotherhood? But then again, Matt Allen Believes in "Mass Consciousness" as peddled on Coast to Coast and (are you sitting down with an empty stomach?) "We need to find a John Galt solution"

    How does this relate to the title?

    I am not "an atheist" because I am "a Randite Objectivist [Objectivist funtamentalist with no admixture of anything else], which is atheistic and therefore resonates with my understanding of the wrold even before I came across it. So I was atheistic before, in time, before I became a Randite. What Randism added was Egoim, libertarian political principles and support for a fully capitalistic political-economic system. I neither have acrophbia, nor am I "an atheist", I am acrophobic and atheistic

    Much of this problem arises from the fact that, in the west, Christianity has been the dominant belief system for some time. This results in the following as presneted by one of my Dominican instructors at Providence College

    The very first question is "do you believe in God"? If the answer is "no" then you are an atheist. If the answer is "yes" then we can go on from there
    This does not address the other possibilities nor was it meant to. It was meant to demonstrate a difference. Now that is fine fore the person trained in understadning but it does no good for the layman; read Jerry Doyle and Matt Allen, who, being (mis)indoctrinated from childhood (My high school freshman religion instructor, Brother Dominic, for whom there will always be a warm spot in my soul, told us several time about having to correct misinformation given his students by the nuns) and having a life, cannot imagine a person not "of the body" that does not have than 3 heads all filled with razor-sharp teeth and waiting to ravage their daughters and convert their sons to Satan worshippers at the Temple of the Hammer and Sickle. Consequently the other possibilities remain closed to these persons and it degenerates into "us vs, them". While the answer holds for the first question relating to theology. For the honest and willing enquirer, it could also be the gateway to understading other systems and their relation to the world