Atheism versus Secular Materialism

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Does Atheism = A Secular Materialilstic Worldview?

Yes, it is a necessary conclusion of Atheism.
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No, Atheism does not conclude anything, it's simply a disbelieve in any gods.
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Other. (please explain in your post)
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Divine Insight
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Atheism versus Secular Materialism

Post #1

Post by Divine Insight »

After watching a few videos and debates concerning accusations made by theists that atheism is actually a "religion" I've been inspired to post the following questions to "atheists".

First off, if you are an atheist do you also happen to believe in a purely materialistic reality?

And if so, do you make a distinction between your atheism and your belief in a purely materialist reality? Or do you see this as simply being a necessary result of your "atheistic worldview"?

The reason I ask is because some of the theists who argue that atheism is a "religion" seem to actually be suggesting that many atheists are actually "preaching" secular materialism as a evidence-based worldview. Whilst the theists are proclaiming that this is actually as much of a "faith-based" world view as anything else.

So I'm curious how atheists typically view this difference between atheism (i.e. simply not believing in any gods) versus a firm acceptance of a secular materialistic worldview (i.e. actually believing that secular materialism is the truth of reality)

Is there a sound argument that to merely not believe in any gods automatically reduces to believing in a purely secular materialistic world?

And if so, doesn't that make atheism more than just a disbelief in gods, but actually makes it a philosophy that is basically stating with some conviction that reality is indeed nothing other than a purely secular materialistic reality?

And if so, then doesn't this make "atheism" an actual philosophy of "pure secular materialism"? (i.e. a religion of pure secular materialism)

In other words, doesn't this make "atheism" basically a philosophy that is ultimately claiming to basically know the truth of reality?

I'm just curious how atheists will respond to these questions.

Thank you.
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Re: Atheism versus Secular Materialism

Post #11

Post by Divine Insight »

wiploc wrote: Look at Buddhists; most of them are atheists who believe in souls and reincarnation.
I don't see how you can call a Buddhist and atheist. I also don't see how anyone can believe in souls and reincarnation and claim to be an "atheist".

What exactly does the term "atheist" mean to you?

Without a belief in a "God"?

I guess the problem then becomes how we actually define the concept of "God".

Are you using that term solely to refer to a potentially sentient egotistical being?

Is so, then I can see why you would consider a Buddhist to be an "atheist".

However, I don't think Buddhist think of "God" as a sentient egotistical being.

They have a totally different concept of "God", but it's still a "God concept". It's just not your standard "Zeus-like" picture. The Buddhists see themselves as a direct manifestation of "God". So they are hardly atheists.

I would not call a Buddhist an "atheist". A belief in reincarnation and "souls" is hardly atheism IMHO.
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Re: Atheism versus Secular Materialism

Post #12

Post by wiploc »

Divine Insight wrote:
wiploc wrote: Look at Buddhists; most of them are atheists who believe in souls and reincarnation.
I don't see how you can call a Buddhist and atheist.
I've always heard that they don't believe in gods. Most of them, anyway. A few think Buddha was a god.


I also don't see how anyone can believe in souls and reincarnation and claim to be an "atheist".
Anyone who doesn't believe in gods is an atheist. That's all there is to atheism. If you believe that god created the world and then offed himself, so there's no god now, that makes you an atheist. If you believe in ghosts and souls and vampires and the Great Pumpkin, but don't believe any of those qualifies as a god, then you may be an atheist.

There's only one test for being an atheist. You can believe in karma and Satan and whatever else you want, so long as you don't believe in gods.


What exactly does the term "atheist" mean to you?
One who does not have a belief in gods.


Without a belief in a "God"?

I guess the problem then becomes how we actually define the concept of "God".

Are you using that term solely to refer to a potentially sentient egotistical being?
I was raised in Kansas, so, when I think of gods, I think first of Jehovah.

At the other end of the spectrum, there were the Caesars and Pharaohs and little piles of rocks worshiped by animists. These existed, and one could argue that they were gods, on the theory that they were considered to be gods, so they are what was meant by the word "god."

But they aren't what I mean by "god." They were just regular people (and rocks) who were thought to be gods. They weren't supernatural. They didn't create worlds. They couldn't turn water into wine, or even into a discount soda pop. They had no magical powers.


Is so, then I can see why you would consider a Buddhist to be an "atheist".

However, I don't think Buddhist think of "God" as a sentient egotistical being.

They have a totally different concept of "God", but it's still a "God concept". It's just not your standard "Zeus-like" picture. The Buddhists see themselves as a direct manifestation of "God". So they are hardly atheists.
I'm in no position to argue with you. I don't know anything about Buddhism. I've just always heard that they were godless.

Like, for instance, the Wikipedia article on Buddhism begins with these words: "Buddhism is a nontheistic religion." On the other hand, there's this, from aboutbuddhism.org: "If good karma ripens we are reborn in a fortunate state, either as a human or a god...."

So, like I say, I'm in no position to argue in my state of ignorance.


I would not call a Buddhist an "atheist". A belief in reincarnation and "souls" is hardly atheism IMHO.
This, on the other hand, I can argue. Unless that you are going to claim that all souls are gods, or that reincarnation is a god, then it follows that one can believe in souls and reincarnation without believing in gods.

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Re: Atheism versus Secular Materialism

Post #13

Post by Molly »

Divine Insight wrote:
Molly wrote: The assumption is that reality can be defined through our senses
If that's your assumption then it make sense that you would draw the conclusions that you draw. But it seems to me that this is already in violation of what science has revealed to us. Science has revealed to us that there exist many things in reality that are simply not available to our senses at all. So why would you make the assumption that reality can be defined through our senses? That's an unscientific assumption right there.
It's a philosophical assumption, not a scientific one. It is used by necessity in science though (you can't observe something you can't sense. At best, you can observe effects and extrapolate to posit a theory for something which may or may not exist). Most philosophers and scientists share this perspective (otherwise we would be trapped in solipsistic circular debates. Science is also predicated on the assumption that a) you and I interact with reality through our senses, b) that reality is knowable, and c) that we can understand reality through systematic, controlled, and repetitive observations. How could science work without that assumption of reality?

Also, you seem to be combining a few of my statements. I said reality can be defined by the senses, not that everything that is real can be sensed by our senses. I pointed out that sometimes we need tools to help enhance or extend our senses to be able to identify and observe some objects and phenomena.

What things has science proven to exist that are not observable in some way to a human? That cannot be sensed by a human independently or with sensory tools? Keep in mind that forces and interactions (gravity, consciousness, entropy, etc) are not things/objects in an of themselves. My question is in regard to objects.

Note: Things within reality must be observable for us to know scientifically that they exist. It is possible for things to exist without us being able to sense them, but if they are not sensible in some way to humans, we can't (at least not yet) know they exist. Carl Sagan demonstrates this with his invisible garage-dragon, and Bertrand Russell with his flying teapot. Also, knowing reality/something exists via our senses is not the same as knowing something doesn't exist via our senses. I agree with the former, not the later.

Also:
How would you define reality? How is science not dependent on our senses? How can one confirm something exists without depending on our senses?

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Re: Atheism versus Secular Materialism

Post #14

Post by Divine Insight »

Molly wrote: Science is also predicated on the assumption that a) you and I interact with reality through our senses, b) that reality is knowable, and c) that we can understand reality through systematic, controlled, and repetitive observations. How could science work without that assumption of reality?
I think this might be where we part ways right here.

You seem to be defining "science" as a philosophy whose goal it is to discover the true nature of reality.

The reason I suggest this is because of your item b) "that reality is knowable".

I personally don't think that all scientists would agree with that assumption. Nor would they see this as something that science must assume. On the contrary many scientists argue that it was never the purpose of science to "discover the true nature of reality", but instead it's simply the purpose of science to make inquires about reality the best we can based upon a method of observation, experimentation, and reasoned conclusions.

If this should happen to lead to a discovery of the true nature of reality, then so be it, science will have panned out better than expected. But I think it's going overboard to presume that science is a philosophy based upon this premise.

Moreover, even if we accept both or your premises "b" and "c" that doesn't make them true. All it does is make them unwarranted assumptions.

It seems to me that you are kind of working backwards here. You seem to be assuming that "b" and "c" must be true for science to be successful, and therefore since science appears to be quite successful then it follows that "b" and "c" must be true.

This is very poor reasoning. Especially when anything is being considered beyond the macro world. And science has already recognized that the laws of physics not only transcend the macro world, but that they also become extremely strange and mysterious beyond anything we can even reason with.

I don't know if you realize this or not, but all of "Macro Science" (the science that has been so successful) deals almost entirely with the macro world and pretty much Classical Physics and Relativity. Even Relativity requires some quite counter-intuitive observations, that are not clearly understood by science. Scientists are still baffled by the very concept of "time" for example. A fundamental concept that sits at the heart of all scientific theories.

Moreover, whilst the macro world can be described quite well using Classical Physics and Relativity, these both fail miserably at the quantum level.

And think about this. Quantum Physics rules all. It's not that there exists two different physics. There's really only physics needed and that's quantum physics. In other words, the entire macro universe can be described using Quantum Theory. But not the other way around. You can't describe the quantum world using macro physics. The fact that Relativity breaks down at the quantum level is pretty well known.

So science may not be as successful as you might think, especially when restricted to only things that human can sense.

It's clearly successful in the macro world. The universe most likely did begin as a Big Bang and evolved into what it is today over some 14 billion years. Stars, planets and solar systems may very well have evolved precisely as science has discovered. Live on earth may very well have evolved precisely as science has described.

But none of that is an explanation of "reality".

On the contrary, science is telling us that our entire physical universe is but a manifestation of something else entirely.

To even talk about "objects" is an illusion. Do they exist in our physical world? Sure they do. But only because of things like the Pauli Exclusion principle. A quantum concept that appears to be nothing more than a mathematical trick of nature.

Does there even exist such a thing as a "physical object" at all? Perhaps not. Perhaps all of what we call physical reality is nothing more than some sort of magical simulation being orchestrated from another world where the concept of "physical objects" doesn't even have any meaning.

To believe that science can tell us the truth of reality is indeed a totally bold and unwarranted assumption. And if we hold this up as a "premise" of science we may be doing nothing more than kidding ourselves.

Science is great, and I'm all for science within it's realm. But when we start pretending that it can reveal the truth of reality we might just be making a far greater assumption than warranted.

Science is mainly based on physics. And physics is the study of the physical world. We have already lost that in Quantum Mechanics. Physics and the idea of well-defined physical properties and objects has gone up in smoke in Quantum Mechanics via the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle or what Neils Bohr has dubbed "Complementarity".

Suddenly physically parameters take on "ghostly qualities" that defy common sense, logic, and even predictability. Cause and effect go on sabbatical. And a very mysterious non-physical "probability wave" of potentiality takes over.

To put it in terms of the Old Classical Physics notion that the universe can be reduced to tiny billiard balls, we can actually say that at the quantum level science has lost it's balls.

There goes the "physical objects" that science was hoping to put a finger on. They have become as illusive as "ghosts".

This thought blew Einstein's mind. He couldn't accept it. But it never went away. And evidently it's here to stay. We're stuck with a "reality" that cannot be reduced to physical objects. That's a done deal.

And ironically we have learned this from our very investigation that was based upon the idea that we could reduce everything to physical objects. Science has discovered it's own dead end. ;)

At least we can give credit to science to be able to do that. That's actually a quite remarkable feat in and of itself don't you think?
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Post #15

Post by Molly »

I wrote a longer reply by lost it when my wireless disconnected. Oh well.
Divine Insight wrote: You seem to be defining "science" as a philosophy whose goal it is to discover the true nature of reality.

The reason I suggest this is because of your item b) "that reality is knowable".
Nope; I am not defining science as a philosophy. I said that reality is knowable. Knowable: adjective. capable of being known. Known. from to Know: verb. to perceive or understand as fact or truth. 2. to have established or fixed in the mind or memory. 3. to be cognizant or aware of. 4. be acquainted with (a thing, place, person, etc.), as by sight, experience, or report. 5. to understand from experience or attainment.

Notice it doesn’t say to comprehend everything. To know the perfect essence of something. Reality is something that we can learn about. That we perceive and be aware of. We can experience it. It is knowable. And science can use our perceptions/observations to make sense of the world.

Define "truth." Do you mean an accurate absolute about the world? Or do you mean a scientific fact. Do you mean truth or Truth?
I personally don't think that all scientists would agree with that assumption. Nor would they see this as something that science must assume. On the contrary many scientists argue that it was never the purpose of science to "discover the true nature of reality", but instead it's simply the purpose of science to make inquires about reality the best we can based upon a method of observation, experimentation, and reasoned conclusions.
There is nothing all scientists agree on. At best, it’s 99.9999. Anyway, my position was never that science’s purpose was to discover the true nature of reality or that science is a philosophy.
It seems to me that you are kind of working backwards here. You seem to be assuming that "b" and "c" must be true for science to be successful, and therefore since science appears to be quite successful then it follows that "b" and "c" must be true.

This is very poor reasoning.
I am not saying that. If I was, I would have stated that. Please don't assume what I am saying. If you have a question or need clarification, then ask.
Especially when anything is being considered beyond the macro world. And science has already recognized that the laws of physics not only transcend the macro world, but that they also become extremely strange and mysterious beyond anything we can even reason with.

I don't know if you realize this or not, but all of "Macro Science" (the science that has been so successful) deals almost entirely with the macro world and pretty much Classical Physics and Relativity. Even Relativity requires some quite counter-intuitive observations, that are not clearly understood by science. Scientists are still baffled by the very concept of "time" for example. A fundamental concept that sits at the heart of all scientific theories.

Moreover, whilst the macro world can be described quite well using Classical Physics and Relativity, these both fail miserably at the quantum level.
This makes no sense. "Macro Science" is not a thing. You stated that, "I don't know if you realize this or not, but all of "Macro Science" (the science that has been so successful) deals almost entirely with the macro world and pretty much Classical Physics and Relativity" which is blatantly incorrect. Biology, physics, ecology, chemistry, geology, and more all deal with the microscopic world (micro being the important bit there). Counter-intuitive observations are still observations. Observations are definitionally based on our senses (again, with or without sensory tools like microscopes, spectrometers, etc).

Scientists are not "baffled by the very concept of time." Scientists and mathematicians have been studying many different aspects of time and have made a plethora of discoveries and new theories (space-time, time dilation, M-theory, string-theory, etc). Also, time is observable (entropy, decay rate of isotopes, etc).
And think about this. Quantum Physics rules all. It's not that there exists two different physics. There's really only physics needed and that's quantum physics. In other words, the entire macro universe can be described using Quantum Theory. But not the other way around. You can't describe the quantum world using macro physics. The fact that Relativity breaks down at the quantum level is pretty well known.
You should publish a scientific paper and become famous if you know how there is only one physics. There is no accepted theory to unify quantum mechanics/theory and general relativity. It's the unified field theory problem. Also quantum mechanics only work on the quantum level and on the macro level during only a few specific conditions (Cooper pairs being superconductive. Keep in mind "macro" here is the size of two electrons. Not because electrons are traditionally considered macro, but because quantum phenomenon usually occurs only for things on the much smaller quantum level).
So science may not be as successful as you might think, especially when restricted to only things that human can sense.
First, I never mentioned what I think about science being or not being successful. Do not assume what I think. Ask instead of putting words in my mouth. Secondly, what you previously said does not indicate that science has not been successful in its purpose. Third, you didn't mention anything that humans can't sense. We can use tools to allow us to perceive quantum phenomena. Again, the word observation is definitionally involved with human senses and how our brain interprets/perceives those senses.
On the contrary, science is telling us that our entire physical universe is but a manifestation of something else entirely.


Please elaborate. What do you believe science telling us about our “entire physical universe�, specifically?
To even talk about "objects" is an illusion. Do they exist in our physical world? Sure they do. But only because of things like the Pauli Exclusion principle. A quantum concept that appears to be nothing more than a mathematical trick of nature.
The Pauli exclusion principle only applies to identical fermions and some aspects of astrophysics (neutron stars, white dwarfs, etc.
Does there even exist such a thing as a "physical object" at all? Perhaps not. Perhaps all of what we call physical reality is nothing more than some sort of magical simulation being orchestrated from another world where the concept of "physical objects" doesn't even have any meaning.
I already addressed solipsism. Please see previous responses.
To believe that science can tell us the truth of reality is indeed a totally bold and unwarranted assumption. And if we hold this up as a "premise" of science we may be doing nothing more than kidding ourselves.
Again, define "truth." I also did not say that science can tell us the absolute "truth" about reality. I said that science can help us to understand it. I didn't say understand it completely, but that it can help us to gain information about it.
Science is mainly based on physics. And physics is the study of the physical world. We have already lost that in Quantum Mechanics. Physics and the idea of well-defined physical properties and objects has gone up in smoke in Quantum Mechanics via the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle or what Neils Bohr has dubbed "Complementarity".

Suddenly physically parameters take on "ghostly qualities" that defy common sense, logic, and even predictability. Cause and effect go on sabbatical. And a very mysterious non-physical "probability wave" of potentiality takes over.

To put it in terms of the Old Classical Physics notion that the universe can be reduced to tiny billiard balls, we can actually say that at the quantum level science has lost it's balls.

There goes the "physical objects" that science was hoping to put a finger on. They have become as illusive as "ghosts".

This thought blew Einstein's mind. He couldn't accept it. But it never went away. And evidently it's here to stay. We're stuck with a "reality" that cannot be reduced to physical objects. That's a done deal.

And ironically we have learned this from our very investigation that was based upon the idea that we could reduce everything to physical objects. Science has discovered it's own dead end. ;)

At least we can give credit to science to be able to do that. That's actually a quite remarkable feat in and of itself don't you think?
Where on earth are you getting your information? Saying science is based on physics is as meaningless and nonsensical as saying science is based on chemistry. Quantum mechanics has not proven that the physical world doesn’t exist. Please explain why you think the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the Complementarity Principle show that physical properties and objects “[have] gone up in smoke.� They discuss how, on a quantum level, objects are both a wave and a particle, and that when you measure their location, you loose information about the object’s velocity (and vice versa). Physical parameters are not illogical with quantum physics.



Please respond to: how would you define reality? How can one confirm something exists without depending on your senses? How do you respond to Carl Sagan’s invisible garage-dragon?

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Post #16

Post by Molly »

What is your experience with science? I ask because science communication is a huge problem right now, and I feel like we are talking around each other. It might be easier for us to communicate with each other if we understand each other's scientific context.

Though I am no longer a scientific researcher, I still am active in the medical/scientific community. I tended to focus my work on therapeutic interventions, psychology, and trauma. My sister is a geologist (geochem).

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Re: Atheism versus Secular Materialism

Post #17

Post by Box Whatbox »

Divine Insight wrote:
First off, if you are an atheist do you also happen to believe in a purely materialistic reality?
I believe that there exists a reality which is independent of my mind, but about which I may, however imperfectly, know some things.
And if so, do you make a distinction between your atheism and your belief in a purely materialist reality?
My atheism is a well-considered opinion. My materialism is a working hypothesis.
Or do you see this as simply being a necessary result of your "atheistic worldview"?
For me, the process happened the other way around. Uncertainty about God led to philosophical reading; Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx and Karl Popper between them knocked the final nails into the coffin of my earlier religiosity.
My secularism is a political position; one shared by many theists. Simply put, it is a recognition that we are many and varied. We believe many different things, but we have to have some basic laws that all can agree to live with. For this reason I believe that is is important to frame our laws so that they do not favour one religious view over all others.

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Re: Atheism versus Secular Materialism

Post #18

Post by Divine Insight »

Box Whatbox wrote: For this reason I believe that is is important to frame our laws so that they do not favour one religious view over all others.
I'll certainly give my support to that. ;)

In fact, I personally don't think that any laws should be made based on religious beliefs (or morality), no matter how great a consensus there might be on those religious or moral views.

If feel that the only criteria for laws should be to protect the citizens of the state. And especially to protect them from each other. I'm not sure exactly how far laws should go toward protecting citizens from themselves. That becomes a highly questionable area.

Just like traffic laws aren't about "morality" but rather they are solely about making transportation via automobiles safe for everyone, so too, all other laws should not be about morality either, but should be made solely for the purpose of protecting the citizens of the state.

Morality shouldn't even be a matter of law at all. Laws should be made solely based on the single criteria of protecting the citizens of the state. Period.
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Re: Atheism versus Secular Materialism

Post #19

Post by Box Whatbox »

Divine Insight wrote: Laws should be made solely based on the single criteria of protecting the citizens of the state. Period.
And protecting citizens from the state.
O:)

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