I was raised Catholic, and part of my motivation for leaving Catholicism was my dislike of any kind of enforced structure. However, to my surprise, it seems like Atheism is also dogmatic. Is this intentional? Is atheism supposed to be only anti-religious or is it more against dogma itself?
You don't explain why you get the impression that atheism is dogmatic, but it appears that you mix terms which are not interchangeable.
- If you leave catholicism because of your dislike of any kind of enforced structure, it means you're antireligious and probably anticlericalist.
- You didn't say anything about your faith, or lack thereof. It's possible to leave catholicism or any other organized religion while still believing in some kind of god, possibly a different one than the one described in your previous religion.
- If you still have faith, you're a theist. If you think that the existence of god is not known or unknowable, you're agnostic. If you don't believe in god, you're an atheist. From the short description you wrote, it's not possible to determine which category you belong to.
Is atheism dogmatic?
First, atheists aren't an homogenous group. The vast majority of them is silent, sometimes for security reasons. They often have nothing more in common than simply not believing in god. A famous description is:
"Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby."
Some atheists are certain that there isn't any god, some will try to convince theists that they are wrong. They still don't belong to any official institution or blindly follow principles, though.
Some atheists will try to use science (e.g. Russell's teapot) to "prove" that there is no god. This might be dogmatic, but science at least has the advantage of being falsifiable. As noted by @FrankHubeny in the comments, science never considers models to be 100% correct when describing the universe: they are merely "good enough" for the time being and probably will be replaced in the future.
Finally, the "Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster" has been created as a joke, but could be considered as dogmatic for some hardcore followers. By its own definition, though:
"the only dogma allowed in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the rejection of dogma"
At its core, atheism is not an active position, it is merely a passive position. Two atheists can have nothing in common other than that they do not believe in a god. There cannot be a dogma as there are no teachings or philosophy where things like religions are built around. However, some people tend to take things a bit further and actually establish a philosophy which might be dogmatic.
What I think you are referring to is the faulty idea of some religious people that science is some sort of religion in itself. However, given that science is built on the basis of falsifiability and correcting itself, a dogma is inherently absent. Nothing has to 'just be accepted' as there is (or will be, in the case of some of the newer theories) justification behind everything.
No, atheism is not just another form of dogma.
Atheism is defined as a certain answer to a particular question. Namely the answer: No, there is no god. The term „atheism“ does not refer to the manner how one expresses this answer.
While dogmatism is a certain manner how to express one‘s own answer to a given question. Expressing a position in a dogmatic way, i.e. as a dogma, means to state a thesis without taking seriously the objections of others.
Of course, everywhere one finds persons who express their atheistic position in a dogmatic way. But there is no intrinsic relation between the position on one hand, and on the other hand the manner how one expresses this position.
More complex answer:
It depends on the meaning of the word "atheism"
I know two very different definitions of the word - both used by people calling themselves "atheists":
"Atheism" means that someone does not explicitly believe in god. A person who has never heard that a god may exist therefore must be an atheist because it is not possible to believe that something is correct if you have never heard of it.
"Atheism" means that someone explicitly believe that god cannot exist. A person who has never heard that a god may exist therefore cannot be an atheist because it is not possible to believe that something is wrong if you have never heard of it.
Using definition (1.) it seems to be clear that "atheism" is not a dogma. Especially when looking at the person who never heard of god.
Using definition (2.) it depends on how the word "dogma" is defined. (Or of course the word "religion" if you ask if atheism is just another religion.)
However it may be a dogma in any case. Think of countries where it is forbidden to believe in god. (At least in the past such countries existed!)
An particular atheist institution might be dogmatic, but I don't see how atheism as a philosophy (or a specific claim-about-the-world) could be considered inherently dogmatic. I don't know which authority would be laying down the dogma for all other atheists to follow - if there is such a group, I've never heard of them!
Many of the arguments against particular religious claims have a basis in science, evolution being a prime example.
As such, you may have heard the same lines of argument from many people. I wouldn't consider that dogma, but an appreciation of the scientific principle leading many people to the same conclusion.
Beyond that, there's no common group or thread that encompasses atheists. There are no leaders and no particular individuals trusted to "interpret" truth.
Atheism is rejection of faith-based doctrine
This is atheism in a nutshell
Theist: I know what the higher, divine will is, and you would do best to follow it
Atheist: No, I don't think so
Theism is to use religious faith as a basis for doctrine. It is right there in the name: the-/theo-, from god/from faith, and -ism, simply meaning doctrine.
A-theism is indifference to such doctrines. Anti-theism is active opposition against such doctrines.
So there is no dogma here at all, it is just that the atheist is not swayed by religiously inspired arguments.
In short, asking about religion in the context of philosophy without defining your terms does not a good discussion make.
'Dogma' requires definition, for us to tell if atheism has that/is that or not. 'Religion' would probably benefit from definition, given that you ask "Is atheism supposed to be only anti-religious". 'Atheism' most certainly would benefit from definition.
Depending on the definitions you propose, the answer can be quite different. In many cases, atheism has dogma, meaning that it is a perspective or system of belief (and, obviously, has foundational tenets in these cases). In other cases, atheism is a dogma prescribed as foundational for certain systems of belief/perspectives on the world. In other cases, atheism is neither a system of belief nor a belief and thus neither has nor can be dogma. In yet further cases, dogma isn't necessarily entailed by a system of belief, so atheism can be a special unicorn system with no dogma. In still other cases, things are defined unconventionally and anything can happen.
(Wiki): Dogma: "In the non-pejorative sense, dogma is an official system of principles or tenets of a church, or the positions of a philosopher or of a philosophical school such as Stoicism."
So no, because Atheism has no "official system of principles or tenets".
Depending on your definition, Atheism is either the lack of belief in existence of deities or rejection of the existence of deities.
Neither of these fulfill the definition of "Dogma".
That's the formal(ish) answer.
Less formally, as others have mentioned, two atheists may have nothing else in common, other than the lack of belief in any deities. I might say "I don't see any evidence for the existence of a god, so - absent new data - I assume none exists". My friend might say "I categorically deny the existence, and indeed the possibility of existence, of any god".
We are both atheists, but our positions are very different - so what dogma are we following?
Finally, again mentioned by others, everyone is an atheist - at least with regard to most deities!
I think one should consider dogmatism as an epistemological problem, as that's what it is treated as in philosophy.
About the definition of dogmatism
I would like to link dogmatism with scepticism, as it is commonly depicted as one of the answers to the Agrippan Trilemma. The following reasoning can be read in
Franks, Paul (2009): Ancient Skepticism, Modern Naturalism, and Nihilism, In: Frederick C. Beiser: The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, Cambridge, MA: CUP, pp. 58-60
with corresponding sources.
The Agrippan Trilemma gives three possible ways to face sceptical objections about knowledge:
- Circular Reasoning
- Infinite Regress
- Arbitrary hypothesis
Dogmatism, Hegel argues, essentially means taking the third option in stating something finite/relative as absolute, i.e. stating something as an absolute truth that in fact is (logically consistent) open to objection:
The essence of dogmatism consists in this that it posits something finite, something burdened with an opposition (e.g., pure Subject, or pure Object, or in dualism the duality as opposed to the identity) as the Absolute (Hegel, GW, 4:219; T-WA, 2:245; RSP, in BKH, 335 as per Franks, p. 60, fn. 20)
Mind, this whole discussion is about knowledge claims.
About the definition of atheism
Merriam-Webster's defines as follows regarding philosophy:
a philosophical or religious position characterized by disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods
Bringing the two together
A dogmatist, you can be regarding basically every single knowledge claim conceivable. Atheism, in particular, can be dogmatic. But it does not have to be. A lack of faith [faith is a subspecies of belief] in God is a matter of fact, it does not need justification. Faith is strongly linked to religious feelings and we have to distinguish between the claim of someone having faith [=holding a particular belief] and the claim of his faith being an accurate assumption about reality [=having knowledge]. As soon as atheism as a knowledge claim comes into play, matters lie differently: Knowledge needs some justification, all kinds of knowledge do.
But atheism as a knowledge claim is but one version of atheism. A dogmatic one, indeed. Just as theism/religion as a knowledge claim instead of (purely) a matter of faith. That is why agnosticism (the view that one cannot have knowledge about something) regarding God potentially can very well both be on theist's and atheist's side, although the former surely is uncommon considering the subjective certainty a conviction of faith carries.
As you can see in this answer, even the quite prolific New Atheists (Dawkins in particular) shy away from labelling their view as dogma and consider themselves agnostic instead.
According to the OED, δόγμα is
that which seems to someone, opinion, belief, doctrine, decree < δοκεῖν to seem, to seem good, to think, suppose, imagine
spec. a tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down, esp. by a church or sect
A system of philosophy based upon principles dictated by reasoning alone, and not relying upon experience
Atheists deny cosmological proofs of God's existence (e.g., St. Thomas's) based upon sense experience (e.g., that change exists in the world). What are atheists' proofs of God's non-existence, based upon the sense experience, besides that evil exists in the world? And what is evil besides a privation of the good? And what is good without an Absolute Good? Thus, it seems atheists are dogmatically opposed to theism, just like relativists are dogmatically opposed to absolute truths.
(cf. Edward Feser's The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, which speaks of "dogmatic fiat" etc., and his Five Proofs of the Existence of God)
Atheism is the absence of belief in God. While such absence can be based on dogmatic principles, it doesn't have to. One can be atheist by simply ignoring the whole category of divinity, just like people who aren't interested in math or CS don't believe that P=NP.
Seeing as there are many answers here that claim to the contrary, I'd like to attempt to present an answer where I find atheism to be as dogmatic as theism (or maybe, in a slight change of definition, "non-dogmatic"-I'll show this in the end of the answer), but first let's set up the terms properly (note- all definitions are my own, and I'd be happy to argue about them in the comments):
A state of mind where the subject would reject any evidence (empirical*, logical) that objects his view, without positively considering it.
A personal view of belief in "God" (I won't go into that definition, but you should note that it may change the entire conversation).
A personal view of belief that there is no "God".
I don't want to start going through agnosticism, as it isn't as relevant to this question, so I'll set this one aside.
Now let's digest our subjects. I'd like to state that both theism and atheism, by definition, are not dogmatic, only that under certain circumstances (highly subjective) they can both arrive at dogmatism.
Looking at our definitions (which considers a personal subject, rather than a group of people, so I'm not considering "theism"/"atheism" as an organized group but rather as the personal faith) we can see that a theist person, while believing in a divine force (and sometimes in its commands) isn't necessarily "dogmatic", meaning he wouldn't necessarily object any sort of evidence against his view - he might accept it, he might contemplate with it, and yes, he might also completely reject it. On a personal note I'd like to add that I've seen all of these cases in Judaism.
Now, what might be difficult to address it the reason why atheism can be dogmatic as well, but I'm sure that if you've carefully read my terms it shouldn't be a problem. See, atheism, very much like theism, can be mostly considered a faith just as much as theism - it's simply a negative faith. I'd argue that anyone that claims he's an atheist but would not accept to see his view as faith, but rather as "lack" (more precisely, passiveness) of belief, is agnostic. The atheist (although he obviously wouldn't agree to look at it that way, because he's against faith and all of its implications, which is absurd on a different level that doesn't belong to this question) would actually believe that God doesn't exist, and hence will have all implications of possible dogma as much as the theist.
*The problem often rise when people think that it is obvious that the evidence points towards atheism, and that's a common theme with popular atheists. It happens mostly when people mix up empirical advancements and metaphysics, when they don't realize that empirical evidence cannot even be asked for questions such as "Does God exist". When they manage to mix them, they often take scientific theories such Big Bang and Evolution and say that they prove God doesn't exist.
Atheism is just another alias. The same reason that leads people to adopt religious beliefs is the same that leads people to atheism. It was Otto Rank who first showed that non-religious dogmas are no different from religious ones. It's therefore right to say the secular religion, the communist religion and the consumerist religion, even the atheist religion is a dogma.
To be clear, i am referring to 'atheism' as a concept which is debated, attacked and justified.
Since it is in question, therefore it's being conceptualized as a stand-alone concept not just a nil.
Dogma(tism) is not primarily about the contents of the dogma – objective – but about the attitude of the view-holder – subjective.
Belief-in-God vs non-belief-in-God is one axis.
Dogmatic-ness vs open-mindedness is another orthogonal axis. And the choice of where one lies essentially depends on whether one reaches one's belief(s) thorough a philosophical journey or by blind assumption.
So, it is about calm, quiet search or blind assumption.
I have seen people converting to Atheism by simply pledging to the belief that there is no God. No other requirements but only a dogmatic belief in the non-existence of God. But as a mature person one would want a philosophy in addition to atheism to deal with the problems of the world. Atheism does not offer any such philosophy by default. I personally tried to adopt scientific atheism. It turned out to be dogmatic when I saw it refusing the cases of rebirths of people as genuine. It turned out to be dogmatic when I saw it refusing to recognize free-will as a formless property of Universe.I personally found it dogmatic when scientific atheism insisted on consciousness as an emergent property of matter (matter+chemical juggling= consciousness). In short as much as I have grown as a scientific atheist I have found that there are dogmas within the scientific community. Why is that case ? Because Science creators started with a belief system which challenged God and then tried to become God by converting men into Atheism. Atheism relies heavily on the dogmas of science to prove or make belief that there is no God.
Atheism itself is neither dogmatic or non-dogmatic. Some atheists are dogmatic about the non-existence of the supernatural, others are not.
Non-personal dogmas always require an organization to define them, but there is no church of Atheism that could define such dogmas for atheism. There is no central scripture or other universally accepted source of truth relevant to atheists.
We use the word dogma to mean two different things, I will only talk about the use of this term in philosophy.
In epistemology, Dogmatism is the opposite of skepticism. Skepticism is to say that knowledge (or at least some kind of knowledge) is impossible in principle.
Dogmatism on the other hand is the claim that some knowledge (or all knowledge) is possible, in principle, even if we do not currently have such knowledge. Dogmatism (dogma in general, in philosophy or day-to-day use) can be described as a claim, a positive statement about knowledge.
Now, what is atheism?
Atheism is the absence of belief in one or more deities. An atheist does not claim nor deny the existence of God.
Since not every atheist claims that God does not exist, it then follows that "denying God's existence" is not the appropriate definition of atheism.
Suppose I claim that it is possible to know whether you wear a red shirt now. This is dogmatism , and if I claim that it is impossible to know, this is skepticism.
And if I say that you wear a red shirt , and I know it, and nothing can change this, this is dogma as the term is more commonly used in daily our daily life.
Atheism on the other hand is a very different subject. Three kinds of people I can think of now : Those who believe that you wear a red shirt, those who believe that you do not wear a red shirt, and those who believe neither, they just suspend judgement.
Which ones are a-redshirt-ists here?
The ones that believe you wear a red shirt are believers.
The ones that don't are all a-redshirt-ists including those that just do not believe.
If I say that I am an a-redshirt-ist, it does not mean that I believe you wear another color (blue, green or yellow..etc) , it just means that I do not have any good reason to believe that you wear a red shirt.
This is not a claim (remember, we said that dogma is a claim).
It is contradictory to have one thing be a claim and not be a claim at the same time, therefore : Atheism is not a dogma.
So, this is not a claim that I have knowledge or that knowledge is possible as covered by the philosophical and common definitions of the word dogma.
You are asking multiple questions and you would do well in the future to define what you mean when you ask them.
Is atheism just another form of dogma?
The answer is easily and clearly "no." It is no because you could have spent your entire life from birth to death as an atheist and never thought even once about the validity of the position or any logical component to atheism. Atheism is an absence of a belief. It is not an intellectual stance. Agnosticism is the absence of knowledge, which is closer to reasoning.
This does not mean that becoming an atheist wasn't thought about, it just isn't a requirement. Dogma requires reasoning.
I was raised Catholic, and part of my motivation for leaving Catholicism was my dislike of any kind of enforced structure. However, to my surprise, it seems like Atheism is also dogmatic.
Either these sentences are irrelevant, or they need material expansion to explain how they relate to the questions. Your personal discomfort or your direct experience are irrelevant to the question at hand.
Is this intentional?
Is what intentional and by whom? Atheists are a heterogeneous disaggregated group. Although there are small groupings of atheists here and there, they primarily exist due to discrimination by the larger group. Buddhists are a group; Catholics are a group. Atheists are not a group in the same sense that aunicornists are not a group.
Indeed, atheist is defined relative to another group, theists. It is non-membership, but it is not mere non-membership as "heretics" are also not members, but heretics are still theists.
Is atheism supposed to be only anti-religious or is it more against dogma itself?
Atheism isn't anti-religious but religious perceive it as such because religions are groups and members leaving a group endangers the survival of the group. Theists view atheists as anti-religious. Some are. Some are not. Most do not care about religion at all. If you like joining the group in its tribal headgear, chants, ritual and maybe even dance, go for it. Just don't expect everyone who is an atheist to think you are fully sane.
Atheism isn't for or against dogma because atheism is a description. A dogma is a belief arrived at through reason alone. People make dogmatic thoughts quite a bit and nobody cares. For example, it is dogma that people do not invest money with the intention of losing it since they could simply consume their resources instead. That fits the definition of dogma. It doesn't require any evidence at all. It might be nice if evidence were collected, but it isn't required except for confirmation. Science would require confirming evidence, but dogma does not.
The Pythagorean theorem would fit the definition of dogma, for that matter.
For your next question, you should consider looking carefully at your definitions, how your personal experience is driving this question, and what you really want to know. You should probably post it in a social sciences wiki instead, though.
Atheism is an extremely conservative position, intellectually, in that it requires the fewest assumptions about the world. The claim of a god or goddess, kami, spirits or leprechauns is a perilous assertion of logic unless grounded in an axiomatic system which presumes their existence or there is commonly accepted data to support it. As an example, there is no dispute that Pluto exists. There are disputes as to its classification. The existence of Pluto is not in doubt and so it requires no assumption, other than that nature is real, to assert the existence of Pluto. It may be perilous to assert that it is a planet.
As a disclosure note, I believe that Pluto is a planet because the alternative is that Mrs. Smith, my third-grade teacher, was wrong and that is too devastating a possibility for me to consider. The IAU was wrong and I stand on the authority given by the State of West Virginia to my school teacher. To assert that I may have been misled, that Mrs. Smith may have been misled, or the West Virginia Education Department may have been misled is beyond contemplation.
Take the answers posted here and contemplate both your motivation, your experience and what you really want to know. I think you probably need to ask another set of questions, but I think the questions will probably belong to another type of forum as my guess is that there is little that philosophy can provide. The primary and most profound thing that philosophy provides most people is clarity of thought. Once the thoughts are clear, those thoughts usually belong in the domain of a science or one of the humanities.