A reader writes:
Your philosophy student reader's email did a wonderful job of finding three ways to say the same simple point: Christianity is more than an infatuation with God as Deity. I think most atheists understand and accept this and a moment's time exploring the writings of even the spittle-flecked atheist agitators shows that they understand that life still presents significant questions, both moral and existential, that religions claim to answer.
Your previous reader letter raised a similar point concerning the seeming lack of positive propositions from atheist thinkers, but the philosophy student goes a step further and insinuates that perhaps "real atheism" is close to impossible unless one can otherwise justify all of one's existential beliefs without God.
Both of these readers, I think, conflate atheism with too much else. Atheism is a simple proposition: Sufficient, convincing evidence for existence of the Supreme Being(s) is lacking and claims that rely on the existence of God for their validity are therefore false. Atheism is not the idea that morality does not and cannot exist, it is simply the idea that God does not exist. To use your previous reader's metaphor: Atheists claim we all actually live in the same country, but that our country is not God's country even though most people believe that's where they live.
And indeed, were atheists ever to "win" their argument, people would have to decide how to guide their conduct in the world without taking it for granted that certain things were deemed impermissible by the highest Authority in existence. These aren't easy questions to answer and, to my mind, the naked fact that God does or does not exist, does little to help us with their answers. There are reasons to follow certain moral principles that are founded on more than God's directives and lessons and stories that constitute so much of religious teachings bear this out. Atheist thought does, in fact, grapple with these issues as well... but it's somewhat difficult getting religious people to devote lots of time to atheist study.
Your two previous reader letters started by implying that atheists haven't yet earned a place in the discussion and finished by insinuating that it might be impossible for atheists to have anything to say once they get there. The problem is that they seem to expect to find people who identify themselves as "Atheist Philosophers" when in fact they should be looking for thinkers who happen not to believe in God. It may surprise them to learn, despite the Dawkins and Harrises of the world, that many atheists wake up in the morning without deciding how they can disprove God's existence today. Many people who don't believe in God have spent alot of time thinking about how to life a satisfying and proper life.
To put it another way: Just as religion is not an infatuation with God, atheism is not an infatuation with Nothing. The long and significant history of non-theistic philosophy and moral theory is full of the very positive arguments and metaphysical justifications your readers say they want. May I suggest a little Hume to start? Some Bentham or John Stuart Mill? Nietzsche (but always with a grain of salt). Ayn Rand - but only as a case study in how non-theistic theories can still be dogmatic.
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