“An apologetics site, when discussing atheists and atheism, will most often focus on belief claims and rational arguments. We know a lot about what atheists believe and the arguments they use to counter the faith claims of Christians in particular. What may not be so well-known is “the community in which atheists sustain their social reality.” Who are atheists? George Yancey, a professor of sociology at the University of North Texas, has begun a series of blogs in which he describes research aimed at rectifying this neglect.” This is the continuation of a post begun earlier this year.
In part 2 of his series, Yancey explores “how atheists perceive science,” particularly in light of the belief that science and religion are incompatible. He quotes one interviewee who expressed a common sentiment:
Science is about finding the best way of doing things, the best knowledge that we can acquire. Religion has nothing to do with either of those, absolutely nothing. They’re not compatible ‘cause they’re going to ignore the facts. You can’t be a scientist. If you wanna be a scientist you can’t be religious. They don’t fit together. Oil and water.
In comparison to religious believers, atheists consider themselves clear and rational thinkers. Because science exemplifies a clear and rational approach to knowledge, “atheists envision the priority of science as a key component of their social identity.”
In part 3 Yancey mulls over the offence readers took “at [his] use of the word ‘belief’ [in contrast to ‘fact’] to characterize atheism.” Atheists, he found, “are so certain their beliefs are correct that they do not even see them as beliefs. This fits a sociological term known as particularism which is defined as the degree that people feel that their beliefs are correct and all other beliefs are wrong.” His respondents apparently exhibited a very high degree of particularism. He notes,
In fact, we asked atheists if they have ever had doubts about their atheism. We found that almost two thirds (65.2 percent to be exact) stated that they never doubted their atheism from whatever point in their lives that they became an atheist…. Once a person becomes an atheist, he/she generally does not find a reason to rethink or challenge that belief.
Naturally, from that point of view, atheists perceive themselves “as rational and driven by science.”
In part 4, the last in the series, Yancey turns his attention to atheist morality. He writes, “When I think of morality as a sociologist, I am thinking about claims of right and wrong,” (as opposed to the philosophical basis for those moral claims). Since “religion is seen as the antithesis of rationality… it becomes [the] enemy in the creation of a rational society.” And by definition, according to the atheists he interviewed, a rational society is a moral society. Those whom Yancey interviewed hold to “an ideology whereby religion leads to irrational actions based on foolish beliefs whereby atheism leads to self-control. Atheists trust humans to use their own intelligence to make their lives better. What is moral is doing what is rational. Religion is not merely irrational but it is also immoral.”
At the end of the day, what kind of social world do atheists want? “Generally they wanted a world where individuals were free to be religious but they want religion to be dying in that world.” Understandably so, given that atheists believe religious people are both irrational and immoral.
If you want to read more about the worldview of atheists, and what motivates them in the political and social spheres of life, take a look at his book, “There Is No God: Atheists in America”, co-authored with David A. Williamson.