January 3, 2018

What's the Point of Learning About Atheism?

learning is fun
I had an odd interaction with someone on social media I wanted to share. It happened over a month ago, but that is okay because the only detail worth sharing is not the kind of thing I could forget. I had shared a link to this post on Twitter, and someone responded by asking what the point was of learning anything about atheism. The wording of the question was something like this: "What's the point of learning about atheism? It is just the lack of god belief. How complicated can that be?"

Admittedly, I enjoy learning for the sake of learning. I don't know if I've ever been in a situation where I objected to learning about something because I thought it would be too simple or not have enough content. But I think I could still grasp the point of the objection. If atheism means nothing other than the lack of god belief and someone already knows this, what else is there to learn? If I had been making the argument that we should teach people who know what atheism means what atheism means, then this objection would be well warranted. That wasn't what I was doing (I suspect this interaction may have been yet another instance of someone reacting to the title of a post without bothering to read the post), but let's set that aside and consider the broader question posed in the title of this post.

Here are just a few of the things I have found extremely worthwhile learning about even after I knew the definition of atheism:
  • Different opinions on how broadly vs. narrowly atheism should be defined
  • Philosophical arguments for and against the existence of gods
  • The history of atheism and freethought through various periods of time
  • The common misconceptions about atheism and how to respond to them
  • Theories about why religious belief persists today
  • Perspectives on what various secular/atheistic worldviews might look like
  • Scientific evidence about how various beliefs are formed and the role reason plays in their formation
The list could go on for quite some time, but I think you get the idea. Of course, you could argue that some of what I have just listed has little to do with atheism. And again, if at any point we had agreed to limit ourselves to the meaning of atheism you'd be right. I'd also note that not everyone agrees about the meaning of atheism, including atheists. But even setting that aside, I think it is fair to say that atheism is a broader topic than the definition of atheism in much the same way that almost anything else is.

Suppose that you were to present me with a definition of evolution and I was to accept your definition. Does that mean that there would be no point in anyone learning anything about evolution or that there would be nothing more to say about it? Of course not! And I'd say the same for atheism.

Maybe the original question should be turned on its head. If you are an atheist and someone who identifies yourself as such, why wouldn't you want to learn anything about atheism? If it is an important enough part of your identity that it is worth mentioning to others, wouldn't you want to be informed about it?