The idea that atheism ought be assumed by default is a chimera. Atheism cannot be assumed by default, it must be demonstrated. The belief that given the failure of theistic case for God, atheism ought be assumed does not only commit an appeal to ignorance but is also against the picture painted by modern discoveries in Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR).
Several recent researches in CSR shows that children naturally hold certain universal religious ideas such as belief in divine agents and belief in mind-body dualism. Similar to universals of language, universals of religious belief include principles that are shared in all culture and time, the belief in supernatural beings.
Paul Bloom explained that it was believed that those beliefs in Gods, the afterlife &c., could not have been a result of innate but social and cultural learned beliefs. Observing a recently growing body of literature on this field, however, Bloom affirmed that such a view is no longer entirely right. Though culture plays a certain role, “some of the universals of religion are unlearned”(Bloom 2007: 149) Jesse M. Bering concurs with Bloom’s observation. He wrote:
Although conventional wisdom tends to favor a general learning hypothesis for the origins of after-life beliefs, recent findings suggest a more complicated developmental picture (Bering 2006: 454).
The idea that belief in supernatural beings requires indoctrination appears to be false. Bering explained that these findings show that the origins of such beliefs are not cultural indoctrinated. Children are natural predisposed, hard-wired, to hold such beliefs. This natural bias enables cultural indoctrinating to set in with ease. Atheism is thus unnatural. It requires indoctrination.
Following Bering, Darwinian mechanisms can reveal “how the standard architecture of ancestral human minds was co-opted by natural selection to create the functional illusion of an intelligently designed, immortal soul that was under nearly unbreakable moralistic contract with the natural world.”(Bering 2006: 461) A religion-critic may argue that, given our idea of gods is a by-product of our evolutionary process, then such beliefs are false. This, though, would be a fallacious reasoning because giving a successful account of how a person acquired a particular belief p does not address the truth-value of such belief. Belief p may have been acquired in a very dubious or unreliable methods yet true.
An illustration is required to take this point home. John Doe believes that his wife Jane Doe, 7 days pregnant, is going to have a baby girl because they made love 8 days before in the kitchen. Showing how dubious John’s belief aroused does not remotely address whether his belief is true or not. To show that John’s belief is false, we must examine not how John came to hold such a belief but whether or no Jane is carrying a baby girl. Providing a naturalistic explanation of John’s origins of belief does not discredit his belief.
Theists can agree with Bering and contend in line with Alvin Plantinga that, it is possible that “God [has] designed us in such a way that it is by virtue of those processes that we come to have knowledge of him.” Plantinga added:
Clearly, it is possible both that there is an explanation in terms of natural processes of religious belief (perhaps a brain physiological account of what happens when someone holds religious beliefs), and that these beliefs have a perfectly respectable epistemic status (2000: 145).
If what I contended and the findings in CRS is correct, unlike theism, atheism requires cultural indoctrination. We are not born atheists. Theism is nature’s favored preparedness default. If this is correct, atheism cannot simply be assumed by default, it must be demonstrated. It must demonstrate that our natural bias toward theism is an accidental by product of our bellum omnium contra omnes. To show that our natural bias towards belief in God(s) is false, atheism must be demonstrated to be true. As in John-Jane example, God(s) must be demonstrated not to exist. This is why the idea that atheism ought be assumed by default is a chimera.
Bering, J.M. (2006). ‘The folk psychology of souls,’ Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29:453-498
Bloom, P. (2007). ‘Religion is natural,’ Behavioral and Brain Sciences 10 1:147-151
Plantinga, A. (2000). Warranted Christian Belief. Oxford: Oxford University Press.