Wednesday 5 December 2012

The No True Atheist Fallacy


I used to be an atheist. That doesn't necessarily mean I was a Hitchens/Dawkins (insert other religion despiser) style atheist, in fact I wasn't anti-religious at all. Yes perhaps I thought it was all a little silly but to be honest it was more out of ignorance than disdain for the religious. Coming from a single-parent, dysfunctional  and working class household I wasn't particularly well read and needless to say I did pretty bad at school, not because I was stupid but because I was lazy and was never really encouraged to see any value in education and learning. However, I considered myself an atheist because I didn't believe a God or gods existed nor did I believe in the supernatural which seems consistent with atheism. I have always been naturally sceptical and atheism just seemed rather normal to me. Although I never thought about it at the time (because I'd never heard of hedonism), I used my atheism to justify my hedonistic lifestyle because it just seemed okay because that's what everyone else in my friendship group was doing. Of course I'm not saying atheism necessarily leads to hedonism but it could just as much as it could lead to humanism.


Yet in the seven years I've been a Christian I can't count the number of times I have been accused of lying, since I couldn't really have been an atheist. I'm constantly struck by the arrogance of some atheists who seem to know better than I do about what I have or haven't believed in the past, rather than accept that people can move from atheism to theism. How dare people accuse me of not knowing what I didn't believe in. One does not have to be a middle-class, Nietzsche read, university educated, Starbucks sipping humanist to be an atheist, one simply needs to have the absence of belief in the gods and the supernatural! There is no atheist disclaimer that states only those that know the Origin of the Species from back to front or those that saw the light after reading The God Delusion are allowed to call themselves atheists. Perhaps it's that it's only some of the arrogant atheists (and atheist celebrities) on Twitter that define themselves by their lack of belief in the gods that feel justified in accusing those less read than themselves as worthy of calling themselves atheists. There is no qualifier for atheism other than that one doesn't believe in the gods or the supernatural, there are no books to read or prophets to obey, just the ones you choose. I'm quite justified in referring to myself as a former atheist whether atheists like that or not and in fact the more atheist literature I read the more I think I'm justified in my decision.

The No True Atheist Fallacy

What this amounts to is a variation of the no true Scotsman fallacy whereby anyone who once considered themselves an atheist but has changed their minds couldn't have been a real atheist. This is because from their perspective anyone that once called themselves an atheist should never become a theist, so you therefore must have been pretending, not properly understood atheism (there's not really much to misunderstand) or just using the story for some ends. This is all very strange since many (not all) atheists view themselves as being the champions of reason and logic yet fail to see the problem of their own erroneous reasoning which I demonstrate below.

No true atheist would ever become a Christian
You said you were an atheist and are now a Christian
Therefore you couldn't have been a real atheist

I suppose all I really want to say is that if you are an atheist please don't keep accusing ex/former atheists of not really being atheists to begin with. Firstly, it makes you look silly and arrogant and secondly, I'm afraid you better get used to it because I think a number of people are starting to see that ultimately atheism does not stand up to scrutiny. As a Christian I have to constantly hear about all the Christian de-conversion stories going around which I read and try and learn from so perhaps extend the same respect to former atheists rather than pretending we don't exist. Thanks.


  1. I believe you when you assert that you were an atheist but have in becoming a Christian changed your mind.

    I do wonder if you extend the same courtesy to former Christians who are now atheists or do you, as do most of the organizations linked in your recommended sites, believe 'former Christian' is an oxymoron?

    1. To a certain extent yes. But in a number of ways its far more complicated when it comes to Christianity and people with differing beliefs on soteriology may disagree.

      Complicated because there are a number of beliefs one must have to be considered a Christian, for instance one couldn't be a Christian if they didn't believe God existed or that Jesus physically rose from the dead after his death on the cross, even if that's what they called themselves.

      So as valid as the comparison is it is far more complicated going from Christian>Atheist than it is Atheist>Christian in terms of assessment. Here in the UK over 70% of people tick Christian in the census (my mum used to even though she was agnostic) yet other research suggests most in that 70% don't actually hold any Christian beliefs but are rather 'cultural' Christians. You don't generally get people ticking the non-religious (atheist) box who believe in God. That of course is not to say people who considered themselves genuine believers can't become atheists that much is clear to anyone, there are enough de-conversion stories around for us all to see.

      So no I don't believe its an oxymoron but I also think that many of the 'conversions' from Christianity were from those who were culturally Christian rather than true believers, but clearly not all of them.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this, failedatheist. I enjoyed it.

    To me you sounded like a real atheist. The ones who claim that you couldn't have been a real atheist are the ones that I doubt. If what they claim to believe is true then what they believe doesn't matter and they should not bother about it. I suspect they're angry with God and are pretending that He doesn't exist to spite Him.

  3. I found this particularly interesting because I am always trying to distinguish between real Christians and those who are Christians in name only whenever I encounter atheists who say they "used to be Christians." I'm wondering how you feel about that, failedatheist.

    I think it's always important to define terms. I define a Christian as being someone in a relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ by the infilling of the Spirit. There are, of course, people who attend church and give some credence to the idea of God existing, but they don't have that relationship.

    I put "ex-Christian, now atheist" people in the category of nominal Christian. After all, if you have been in a real relationship with the Lord and born-again spiritually, you could not walk away from God and suddenly declare he no longer exists any more than you could walk away from your earthly father and say he wasn't real either.

    I do, of course, know people who have walked away from God out of anger for a variety of reasons -- death of a child, loss of a business, severe health problems, for example. They are disgusted with God for allowing these things and they may hate him because of it, but they don't deny his existence.

    I also know people who have walked away from God because they want to indulge in a sin -- usually sexual -- that God doesn't approve of and the desire to commit adultery or whatever is stronger than their desire to serve the Lord.

    An interesting topic indeed! Thanks for a perspective I had never even thought of before, failedatheist. God bless you!

  4. To be honest i cannot fully express my POV since in the first place i don't know how to define atheist in the first place. But i believe that not all atheist is bad. Some are just still in the process if looking what they can call as real religion.
    christian colleges and universities

  5. I used to be an atheist as well. However, I was one of those who spent a lot of time trying to destroy belief in God and any religion. I did this for almost a decade until I finally called out to God to prove me wrong and received an experience that changed my life. Never did I think I would be caught alive a Christian. Yet, here I am. Those who would say I wasn't ever a "true atheist" are just making yet another excuse to reject God. There really are no atheists, just those who "suppress the truth in unrighteousness". This is most evident in the militant atheists, who are really just angry at God and being accountable to Him. Many disown being "Christian" because of personal experiences rather than the facts. I just hope and pray those who are genuinely seeking will find Him as He promised.

    Now, I couldn't fall back into atheism, even if I tried, because I have been saved and would clearly know it is wrong. So, I also believe you are right in saying it is more complicated going from a "Christian" to an atheist. After all, "many are called, but few are chosen".

    1. "This is most evident in the militant atheists, who are really just angry at God and being accountable to Him."
      so you can read minds now professot X? This is an absurd argument if athiests accept human governments, then the divine would be another super-level of government, and since athiests have no problem with human levels why would they with a super-level of government

    2. You were an atheist and yet you "finally called out to God to prove me wrong". I think you must be mistaken, since you could not call out to something you actually did not believe in. Or do you call out routinely to the literal infinity of potential deities who you also don't believe in? Gies a break!

  6. I'm in a similar light, I guess. I mean, I can admit that I used to hate religion and religious people, and I still have a certain Dawkins' book (it's not a bad read, it's sort of ignorant and kind of has prejudice attitudes against Christians and Jews, but not that bad of a read). I disagree with Didactic there, who says that atheists are just angry at God. True, many are in that group, but I don't think most atheists are like that. They just don't believe. They are like me and you and simply see the world in a different way.

    I wasn't really like that, and even some old friends of mine were pretty astounded that I would convert from atheism to Christianity. They act like it was something that ruined me (though I still have atheist friends, don't think that because I converted I can't still have a few drinks with my friends anymore). That being said, I couldn't see myself ever going back to atheism, nor could I see people going the other way around.

    I do not get into religious dialogue with people anymore for this particular reason. When I state that I am a Christian, I do not want people automatically assuming I believe in a "bearded man in the sky," or an "abuser," especially since I happen to be a Christian Universalist. I do not assume that every atheist is "morally corrupt," or "a Stalin-imitator." I just wish we could all look past our personal beliefs and just... agree to disagree.

  7. I thought I was an atheist once, it turns out I didn't believe it.

  8. Good article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and some of your journey with us.

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  10. Thank you for pointing that out.

    I get now, that you can be atheist and stop being an atheist to become whatever spiritual calling you feel now. But I also get, that you might be an atheist, a not be a sceptic, not aspire to be more rational, critical thiniking and scientifically educated.

    You might be an atheist but without an effort to maintain your mental health, without constantly trying to unlearn your cognitive bias and practicing critical thinking... you can still be an atheist.

    You just made your mind a bit more vulnerable to the guy, that sell magical beans. Nobody says, that you would buy those magic beans, you'd probably laught at them, but in right, very particular set of bad circumstances you just might. We all might.

    Let it won't be argued, that many theists are smart. That only tells me, that organized religions, religious ideas and religious phenomena can be that compelling even to a smart person. In fact, some parts can be tailored exactly to appeal to smart people, if they met the right circumstances. This just shows us how dangerous the religious ideas can be (you might disagree on whole 'dangerous' part, but heck, if it helped you to get rid of hedonism and a bit arrogance, I can see your point).

    Being a critical thinker, doing your study in science, paying close attention to your experiences, views and behaviors and trying to correct them doesn't automatically make you better person, it doesn't make you some kind of hero or pioneer of humanity and it definitely doesn't make you any "truer" atheist, than others. But it sure damn helps to a) stay atheist, keep your mind sharp to other tricks people or even your own mind can employ against you.

    Oh, and it shouldn't give you some sort of smug satisfaction - it's hard work and it can be damn hard to know whether you succeed at it ir fail, at times. But if it does, you should think about that - you might be a prick and nit notice it. Worrying trend if it so.

    And you have to aspire to be a good person - at least, as much as you and your society can agree on the definition of it and have a successful career or something. If you spend all yoir time on critical thinking and reading science paper but otherwise live on the top of the mountain or in what constitutes as your parents basement - you're most probably not gonna persuade a lot of people, that they should follow such.. an example.

    And aspiring to be all of those things (critical thinker, a good person, successful person) may be very hard. So hard, indeed, that yoy might fail your own expectation and ideals and drop some of them, make up some excuses or even tell ourselves and others bullshit stories to cover our shame.

    Same can be true for christians. It can be much easier to be a "good christian" than a good person.

    There's nothing wrong at failing. And there's nothing wrong at prioritizing in a world without "win" conditions.

    It's more of a mental articulation, rather, than conversation, sorry.


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