Myth: Abstract Concepts are Immaterial, Depend on God & Theism

Are Atheists, Materialists Unable to Account for Abstract Concepts?

Myth:
Atheists must borrow from the theistic worldview to account for the existence of anything non-material. In denying the Creator, the atheist ought to throw out everything that is contingent on a theistic worldview. In effect, by using abstract concepts, they have thrown out the baby, kept the bath water, and now try to explain why the bath water is meaningful.

Response:
Most atheists are materialists and naturalists, which means that they only accept the existence of a natural world made up of matter and energy.

This means not believing in the existence of supernatural beings or anything not produced by matter and energy. For some strange reason, this gives some theists the idea that atheists must therefore be unable to consistently or logically accept that abstract concepts exist because they are not made out of matter.

This is an incredibly bizarre argument to make and I have trouble understanding how anyone could sincerely offer it as a genuine "insight" into atheism. At best, we might imagine that this position is derived from Plato's ideas about the existence of abstract, eternal forms that exist on a higher plane of existence removed from our own. Otherwise, this strikes me as something like an adolescent who adopts extreme solipsism by declaring that if nothing can be proven absolutely to their satisfaction, then nothing can be proven and nothing exists outside their own mind.

The simple truth is, abstract concepts are not non-material.

They are derived from our encounters with the material word and produced by our physical brains. As to the first, we have abstract concepts like "chair" and "house" because of our encounters with chairs and houses in the world. The more such encounters we have, the broader and more complete our concept will be.

As to the second, these concepts do not float around in some supernatural and immaterial plane of existence; on the contrary, they are created by the physical structure and energy paths in our very material brains. That is why encounters with real objects in the world are required for the production of abstract concepts: without information for our brains to store, process, and work through, there would be no way for concepts to be produced.

Perhaps, if we want to be very generous, we could suppose that this myth that atheists are unable to account for abstract concepts is a direct product of the myth that immaterial, supernatural souls are responsible for our thinking and reasoning. If a person is unable to accept that thought is something produced by the physical brain, then it's unlikely that they will be able to accept that abstract concepts are also produced by the physical brain. Even if this is so, however, such people do know that atheists regard the physical brain as the source of human thought, so they will also know that atheists will regard the brain as the source of abstract concepts.

Such religious theists may not agree with this position, but knowing it denies them the ability to reasonably and honestly claim that atheists must treat abstract concepts as being non-material and outside their material world.

If they do so, they are effectively ignoring an atheist position which they are aware of and pretending that it doesn't exist. Disagreeing with a person's position does not entitle one to make up false accusations that require ignoring what that position is — but that's precisely what this myth is all about even under the very generous explanation for it described above.

Thus, in the end, there don't appear to be any good reasons for this myth — no reasonable misunderstandings and no understandable errors. One way or another, religious theists who promote this myth are doing so with the background knowledge that atheism and atheists are being misrepresented. This means, however, that such people aren't simply mistaken about atheism but are in fact engaged in a conscious and deliberate effort to get people to believe false things about it.