There are many thoughts as to just what a worldview is, but the definition I like best refers to it as “the framework of ideas and beliefs forming a global description through which an individual, group or culture watches and interprets the world and interacts with it.” In other words, a worldview can be thought of as the glasses through which I see and understand the world around me. And given that a worldview includes a framework of beliefs, and atheism claims to have only a single belief, it may seem a bit strange to talk about an atheistic worldview. But that one belief, that there is no deity, actually spawns other beliefs, and has some pretty significant ramifications that will cause a real atheists worldview to differ dramatically from that of a theist, or one who believes that this universe had a personal creator.
It is important to note that I am not an atheist, nor have I ever been. I can’t claim to understand how an atheist thinks. And so, this construction of an atheist worldview is mostly an intellectual exercise that I am sure will not please many atheists who happen to read this, although I am genuinely interested in hearing from them about why I am wrong.
It is also important to note that most atheists I have talked with will claim that they only lack belief in God, which, they will argue, is distinct from believing there is no God. But in talking with them it is readily apparent that the first position is only put forth when asked for proof that there is no God, allowing them to avoid providing proof for their position, and the second position is used for everything else. Claiming to be an atheist is taking a position in regards to the existence of God/gods/divinities; it is not a neutral position.
Generally, if one believes there is no supreme being, they will also deny the existence of anything in a supernatural realm. The physical universe is all there is, and everything that happens is explainable in naturalistic terms. No appeal is made to divine intervention for unexplainable occurrences. Instead it is assumed that an explanation will eventually be discovered as our knowledge increases.
If there is no God, then there is no creator. And if there is no creator, then the universe came into existence via purely naturalistic means. What that might be is unknown, although there are several alternatives. Which alternative an atheist may accept as most likely really does not matter to their worldview. What matters is there is no creator and the universe is a product of chance.
And if there is no creator, then there is really no purpose for this universe, for humanity, or for any individual. Humanity is nothing more than an insignificant infection on an infinitesimal speck in the cosmic expanse. Even if an explanation for the origin of the universe, and for life and mind, could be provided, the result would be the same; there is no overarching purpose for any of it. We are nothing more than an accidental byproduct of naturalist processes, which themselves are coincidental, at work in an accidental universe.
If we have no purpose, and are simply the product of blind cosmic chance, then it is hard to see how life can really have any value. What is it that would make a human life any more significant than that of an ant or dandelion; or for that matter, a rock? And this is likely where most will take an exception to this worldview. Who wants to believe that their life has no value? And yet what reason is there to suppose that you have value, if you are nothing more than the product of blind chance?
But surely our minds, our consciousness, give us value, raising us up above the level of the rest of the universe. But why? If mind is merely a function of chemistry, then why does it have more value than any other chemical reaction. While we as humans value our ability to think, if it is simply a complex chemical reaction going on in our brains, what makes it fundamentally any different than the chemical reactions in a car battery?
Most atheists will indeed argue that their life, as well as others, has value. But that value is really something that they assign to themselves. They have value because they want to have value, because believing that you are cosmically insignificant is a hard way to live. But that does not give a person actual value. Diamonds have value, not because they want to, but because something outside of themselves views them as having value. And that is true of everything else in our world. If we have value, it is not because we want to, but because something beyond us considers it to be so. But for the atheist, there is nothing beyond themselves to give them purpose and value.
But, you might argue, I have value to my parents, spouse, children and close friends; and I value them as well. Granted, we have a limited value to other people because of what we do for each other, at least on an emotional level. But that is a pretty limited value. If I am valuable only because I make you feel good, do I have real value in and of myself? I don’t think so.
If there is no God, no creator, no lawgiver, then morality and ethics become highly subjective. Who is to say what is right and what is wrong? Communities and societies develop moral codes to regulate interactions among the members of the society. But what makes the morality of those in the 21st century west any better than the morality of our forebears from 500 years ago, or of the Australian aboriginal people, or even ISIS or the Taliban? Why is it wrong to kill my antagonistic neighbor whose dog is always barking at me and pooping in my yard. They have no value to me and they are interfering with the short time I have to enjoy my life. Better to remove them so I can enjoy what time I have before it’s all gone.
If there is nothing beyond the natural world we see around us, then existence is nothing more than a brief and passing blip in time. We are born, we live, and then die; and there is nothing to look forward to beyond the decay of the body. And so, since this life is all one gets, one needs to make the most of it. What possible reason could there be for self-sacrifice, for depriving myself for someone else’s benefit?
Most, if not all, atheists I know are moral, living as productive members of society, valuing other people and helping them as they can, even at cost to themselves. But why? I truly do not understand this, although I am glad they do. They will say that it is just the right thing to do, and they do not need religion to help them live a moral life. But what makes it the right thing to do? Why is that choice any more right that ‘might makes right’. It seems to make for an inconsistent worldview. Could it be that they do not truly believe that there is no God, living as though there was someone who gives them purpose and value, while at the same time denying it.