Would I Mind Being Called an Atheist?

I wouldn’t mind the atheist tag—if that is what I was. Atheism has a more than respectable intellectual pedigree and it has brought enormous levels of freedom and intellectual intelligence into the world. I wouldn’t want to be in a world without atheists. I feel the same way about theists. But, alas, I am still not an atheist or a theist. I am an agnostic.

I would offer an analogy. I am agnostic about bacterial life on Mars. I know that there are people who are highly confident about this question, but I am not certain bacteria on Mars exists, and I’m not certain it does not exist. I simply don’t have sufficient information to know for sure. I feel the same way about God belief. Agnosticism leads me, obviously, not to engage in specific religious practices, but it also leads me to critique overconfident atheist arguments.

From my vantage, the great question of existence is this:

Does mind precede matter or does matter precede mind?

I don’t have a clue what the ultimate answer to this question is. And I’ve never heard an answer to this question that does not end in question begging. So why decide? Why not be Socrates and keep an open mind till we know more?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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5 Responses to Would I Mind Being Called an Atheist?

  1. ice gal says:

    Perhaps just knowing the question, or being open minded enough to question our existence, is more important than the answer.

  2. Grad Student says:

    You know, I think I owe you a concession. It looks like I was wrong that confidence atheists are only confident about the nonexistence of an interventionist God. I’ve been looking at responses to your comments on “Why Evolution is True,” and wow, them atheists can be a darn nasty lot!

    Personally I resonate with your agnosticism towards deism. But I’m not sure I’m with you about mind preceding matter. Let’s just say I’m agnostic about being confidently agnostic towards consciousness 😉

  3. Heuristics says:

    After what Grad Student wrote I took a look at that blog as well. It’s interesting how philosophical inquiry is not of high interest there, the atheists I come across in sweden can be extremely ignorant of philosophy and logic sometimes but they at least do not throw it out the window prima facie by stating that “reality” exists and everything that IS not reality does not exist. That position is so very weird one would wonder how it is even possible to hold it without asking oneself “what is what I call reality based on? Is it based on math, if so is math a apart of reality, is math different from matter? etc”. Is this a normal position for atheists to take? Verificationism/Logical Positivism has after all been defeated, one would wonder why they would still be around in this extremely weak form.

  4. santitafarella says:

    Grad Student:

    They laughed at Noah too.

    As for mind preceding matter (or vice-versa), perhaps I’m using the word “mind” too loosely. I’m open to the idea that there are, basically, three things in the universe, and maybe they cannot be ontologically reduced: “God”, matter, and (human) minds. In other words, the disjuncture between these three things is so huge that they really cannot be understood or reduced to the terms of the other. There’s analogies. There’s links. But the full reductions are category mistakes. I’m thinking of the Hindu game of asking about Brahma and pointing to things in the environment and saying “Not this, not that, not this, not that” etc. and ad infinitum. I say “mind prior to matter” as a way of saying God prior to matter, but I recognize that God is only vaguely analogous to human minds.

    Is there a mechanical blind spider at the beginning of the universe, or something like a person? And where did those laws of physics come from again?


  5. santitafarella says:


    There is a fine line between a naive postivism or naive realism and a kind of emotional and intellectual barbarism. The New Atheists or confidence atheists I encounter on threads at other sites are much too frequently impatient not just with philosophy, but poetry and literature as well. There is a literalism at work that goes deep. The nearest analogy to their mindset is to Biblical literalism (though they would be outraged to hear it). They read the book of Nature the way a fundamentalist reads the Bible. Nature says it. I believe it. That settles it.


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