|A baby, no doubt busy thinking on existential matters.|
Atheists are apparently as guilty of making stupid statements as anyone else. No surprises there; we are just people, after all.
Occasionally I’ve heard the idea that “everyone is born an atheist” bandied about on the internet or amongst friends, so I thought I’d take a break from all this studying to address this quickly. Because it’s a pretty silly idea when you look at it closely.
First things first, we need to define what exactly ‘atheism’ is. Offering up a definition of this concept is actually pretty easy, however. To put it simply, atheism is the rejection of theism, or the idea of the existence of god/gods. That’s really it. Nothing more, nothing less. To have no understanding of gods or the supernatural is a different thing entirely; to be an atheist, one must reject theism.
Now let’s consider this idea that we are born atheists.
To be an atheist (that is, to reject the concept of the supernatural or divine) one must first be capable of comprehending what the supernatural or divine is; we need to have an understanding of theism in order to decide that it is worth rejecting. Such a mental process is beyond that of an infant, and runs contrary to the idea of tabula rasa (the blank slate).
In short, babies cannot be atheists. Because babies cannot comprehend the idea of a theist in order to add the ‘a’ to it.
We are not born anything. It takes a long time for the brain to develop enough in order to start grappling with such concepts as religion and the rejection of it. Thus assigning these concepts to babies in an attempt to make a point is ridiculous. A baby cannot be an atheist, just as it cannot be in favour of the war in Afghanistan or a Liberal Democrat supporter. Why?
Because it’s a baby, for fuck’s sake. It’s busy doing baby things. Like crying. And sleeping. And eating. And waking it’s parents up in the middle of the night with strange gurgling sounds.
Statements like “we are all born atheist” might sound funny or clever upon cursory inspection, but when you actually get down to it they’re rather childish and detrimental to the cause those who use them are trying to support. Such phrases are easily deconstructed and therefore bad arguments; using them will make you look stupid when you are debating against any half-competent religious apologist.
So when it comes to the origins of atheism in the human psyche, just bear in mind that it comes about a lot later than infancy. And that saying otherwise can very easily backfire on you.