Yes, Virginia, Atheists Have a Worldview

Dave Armstrong

Dave Armstrong is a full-time Catholic author and apologist, who has been actively proclaiming and defending Christianity since 1981. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1991. His website/blog, Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, has been online since March 1997. He also maintains a popular Facebook page. Dave has been happily married to his wife Judy since October 1984. They have three sons and a daughter (all homeschooled) and reside in southeast Michigan.

“The most dangerous philosophy is the unacknowledged one.”

Darwin sticker
Darwin sticker (photo: KirsiV)

I recently observed on my blog:

Atheist critics are constantly informing us lowly, ignorant Christians that atheism itself is, alas, not a formulated position, but only the absence of a position (belief in God). It’s not a worldview, etc. I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that. It’s not true, but we hear it all the time. 

Lo and behold, on the very next day an atheist on a prominent Christian-bashing atheist website, addressed this very topic and stated that “an atheist is one who is not a theist.” But he denied that atheism was “itself a belief.” No one doubts that that is the literal meaning of the word. It doesn’t follow, however, that the atheist believes nothing in a positive sense, or that he or she possesses no worldview or sets of beliefs (which is my topic). 

They certainly do — as virtually all sentient human beings do, whether they acknowledge it or not. Someone wisely said: “The most dangerous philosophy is the unacknowledged one.” Briefly stated, almost all atheists are empiricists, positivists,  philosophical materialists,  methodological naturalists, enraptured with science as supposedly the sole valid epistemology — making it essentially their religion (“scientism”) — all of which are objectively identifiable positions, that can be discussed and either embraced or dismissed.

So it’s not so much that we are saying that there is an “atheist worldview” per se. Rather, we make the observation (from long personal experience, if one is an apologist like myself) that every self-described “atheist” will overwhelmingly tend to possess a particular worldview (whatever they call it or don’t call it) that is an amalgam of many specific, identifiable things that themselves are worldviews or philosophies or ways of life.

Whatever one thinks of the above analysis, it remains highly likely that atheists will hold to one or more the (usually clustered) belief-systems outlined above. And they will often be blind to the fact that they are doing so, and will talk in terms of their simply following “science” and/or “reason” (with the implication that the non-atheist usually does not do either or is fundamentally irrational or “naive” or “gullible” simply because they reject atheism). 

I’m not discussing a mere word (atheism); I’m talking about what atheists do in fact believe, and asserting that atheists hold to beliefs and belief-systems (usually quite predictable ones at that). In other words: atheists are just as likely to hold worldviews as anyone else.

The same atheist went on to decry the title atheist itself and lament that its widespread use was “a game with language.” This is downright comical; as if atheists don’t massively choose to call themselves this name? They could reject it if they like. They’re free to do so. No one is forcing them at gunpoint to use this name for themselves. They could use “agnostic” (and many do, but it is a less certain and less dogmatic outlook), or they could use a word like “humanist” (which a number of them also do). But the fact remains that lots and lots of atheists show no reversion to the term atheist. Quite the contrary, they proudly embrace it.

For heaven’s sake, on the very website where this essay was published, if one looks at the top, we see John Loftus’ books in a photograph: one of which is Why I Became an Atheist. The late Christopher Hitchens (a very famous and influential atheist indeed) edited a book entitled, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever. The anti-theist atheist Dan Barker authored the modestly titled volume, Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists

One atheist I have debated at length wrote an article entitled, “Why is an atheist an atheist?” in which he opined:

“But ask an atheist why they are an atheist, and most times the person is so ready to respond to why the atheist is incorrect in her reply; they literally cannot wait for the poor person to stop talking. …

“You want to know why an atheist is an atheist. Ask him. …”

But atheists somehow don’t like the term atheist anymore?

In conclusion, here are some of the many things that atheists en masse believe:

  • that matter exists.
  • that he or she exists.
  • that matter can be observed according to more or less predictable scientific laws (uniformitarianism).
  • that we can trust our senses to analyze such observations and what they mean (empiricism).
  • in the correctness of mathematics, which starts from axioms as well.
  • in the laws of logic, in order to even communicate (not to mention argue) anything with any meaning at all.
  • in presupposing that certain things are absolutely true.
  • that matter has the inherent “God-like,” in effect “omnipotent,” capability of organizing itself, evolving, inexorably developing into all that we observe in the entire universe. There is no God or even any sort of immaterial spirit that did or could do this, so it has to fall back onto matter. The belief in this without any reason whatsoever to do so is what I have written at length about as the de facto religion of “atomism.”
  • that the universe began in a Big Bang (for who knows what reason).
  • that the universe created itself out of nothing (for who knows what reason), but it’s deemed more rational than the Christian believing that God is an eternal spirit, Who created the universe.
  • that science is the only method by which we can objectively determine facts and truth (extreme empiricism + scientism).

I’m sure I could come up with many more things if I sat and thought about it a while, but this is more than sufficient to demonstrate my point: atheists (as people) have worldviews, even though the word atheism itself means (literally) “rejecting a belief in God.” And that’s what we apologists (so relentlessly despised by atheists) are saying.