Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Fundamentalist Atheists

Just to be clear from the outset, I am an atheist. My worldview is naturalistic and free from supersition.

I have heard and contributed to several discussions debating whether the term 'fundamentalist atheist' is a valid one. In my opinion, it is. The term 'fundamentalist' can be applied to an atheist, as well as to a theist. Although few atheists in practice fit the description, the term is a valid one nonetheless.

It is easy to see how the term can be applied to a theist, but how does it apply to an atheist? As atheism is the absence of religious faith, is it not a contradiction to describe an atheist as a fundamentalist? The short answer is no. A fundamentalist is a person who has a strict belief in a doctrine, belief system or point of view, to the exclusion of others. Any atheist who takes such a strict advocacy may reasonably be labelled as a fundamentalist atheist.

It is the lack of doubt that is the defining quality of a fundamentalist.

The blogger Austin Cline of atheism.about.com, argues that fundamentalist atheism does not exist, because it cannot exist on the grounds that atheism has no fundamental doctrines, and that fundamentalism is not a personality type. I disagree with this statement. I think it is perfectly possible to take a strict atheist stance. Atheism may lack fundamental doctrines, but it does have defining attributes, such as a naturalistic wordview that is devoid of superstition which can be held strictly to the exclusion of other worldviews.

Any belief can be held so srictly that it becomes a fundamentalist belief.

Richard Dawkins has stated that, unlike religious fundamentalists, he would willingly change his mind if new evidence challenged his current position. This is the more reasonable position that the vast majority of atheists take, and is the polar opposite of the fundamentalist atheist.

As atheists by their very nature tend to be open minded, as they have actually taken the time to consider their worldview and what it means (a claim which sadly cannot be made for the majority of theists), then the term 'fundamentalist atheist' will rarely apply, but it is worth setting the ground rules for its definition.


  1. 1. Atheism is defined as the absence of belief in gods. That your worldview includes both atheism and naturalism doens't mean all atheists are naturalists. There are atheists who believe in astrology, ghosts, reincarnation, etc. It's a mistake to confuse atheism with a worldview that includes atheism; some Christains make a similar mistake when they act like "theism" were limited to a monotheism about a creator god.

    2. Fundamentalism is a lot more than just lacking doubt. I don't doubt for a second that water is wet, but that doesn't make me a fundamentalist. Cline's argument, which you don't actually link to, explains this. If you're going to disagree with it, why not link to it and explain how/why you think it is in error?

    3. There is nothing about atheism which inclines a person towards being open minded; you are confusing the context in which you arrived at atheism for atheism itself. In another context, people could have atheism indoctrinated into them and taught to be dogmatic and closed minded about it. This is analogous to confusing a world view which includes atheism with atheism itself.

    Just because something is associated with atheism in your life and even the lives of atheists you know doesn't mean that it's somehow inherent in or necessary to atheism. Look at how many Christians in America are blind to historical, economic, and cultural circumstances, thus leading them to associate extraneous things like capitalism to Christianity as if the former were inherent in the latter. Then, consider that you're doing something rather similar.

  2. 1. Atheism is the absence of religious faith, a naturalistic worldview is one which is devoid of deities or superstition. Are they really so different? Subtly perhaps, fundamentally, probably not.

    2. I did not say that being a fundamentalist was 'only' about lacking doubt, just that this was one of the defining traits.

    3. The quote from Richard Dawkins exemplifies the approach the vast majority of atheists take. Atheists do not dismiss out of hand whether there is a god or not, just that there is no proof that one exists. Theists do not require proof or evidence for its existence. In my opinion, if you do not reqire proof or evidence, then you are not being open minded. Quite the reverse.

    Atheists demand proof and evidence when evaluating a subject. They hold no sway with blind faith. I think it is a fair assumption then that any class of people who demand evidence, will more likely be sceptical and open minded individuals. To arrive at a conclusion before you have any evidence does not strike me as being open minded.

    I would be more than happy to have this hypothesis tested, where the link between open mindedness and atheism is tested under scientific control. To paraphrase Richard Dawkins, I am happy if you can prove me wrong.