There is an article by a feminist atheist claiming that atheism can make the world better by tearing down religious irrationality. (We should understand ‘religious’ here as meaning the belief in supernatural beings.) I won’t mention the severe bias found in the article, the numerous fallacies or the complete lack of objectivity. Instead, I will mention one problem that sometimes does not get enough attention. You cannot refute a view without offering a positive answer. If this article is representative of atheism then atheism cannot offer that answer.
The very title shows this problem. Tearing down any form of irrationality is a good idea. But surely we are trying to replace it with some sort of rationality, right? Let’s suppose, contrary to fact, that the descriptions of religion and conservatism in this article are accurate. Clearly they claim that evidence and logic are better than arbitrary authority. I agree. But faith is about more than adherence to arbitrary authority. It also explains the world. We need to explain what human beings are, what their purpose is, how they fit into the world as a whole and plenty of other things. We also need to do in a way that is both satisfying and allows for the average person to follow those beliefs. Doing this is a positive task, not a negative task of tearing down irrationality.
So where does atheism get the positive answer from? There is no common positive answer from atheists. Atheists, just like many others, support free speech, human rights, and their own personal desires. But there appears to be nothing in atheism that gives a positive answer explaining why these things are good or why supporting them is so great. To point to humanism, as the article does, is to point in an irrelevant direction. Some humanists in history were very religious, such as the Catholic saint and doctor of the church Thomas Aquinas. So unless the article offers a proof that humanism logically leads to atheism, humanism cannot be the positive vision of atheism. Neither can the answer point to some sort of liberalism. Liberalism is not even a positive vision itself. It promotes gay rights, abortion rights, evolution, wealth redistribution and others. But there is no clear vision of humanity that liberalism presents. So it seems that atheism has no positive vision at all.
Without a positive vision, atheism will rely on religion to provide what it does not have. Religion does offer a positive vision, and many people do like that vision. Since only 16% of people are secularist, the remainder of people have a religious vision of some kind. By acting as a kind of parasite on religion, atheism can attack it in order to promote itself. Without a positive vision atheism cannot refute religious belief – and it never will. Right now, atheism needs theism in order to exist at all – just like a parasite.