What is atheism? Is atheism the default position?
According to a common view, belief in God is kind of like belief in a giant teapot circling the sun. Just like we would assume that the teapot doesn't exist if there's no evidence for a teapot flying around the sun, so if there is no evidence for a god then we should assume that a god does not exist.
But there's one more thing left to talk about when we think about the teapot. Say there's no teapot around the sun, then what *is* there? I'd assume empty space.
So the a-teapotist (as in a-theist) believes that there's empty space around the sun, and the teapotist assumes that there is a teapot.
If we carry the analogy to atheism, then an atheist believes that there's just the natural universe, rather than the natural universe plus a god, when people revert to atheism as the default position.
But there's something wrong with the above analysis. Atheism can't be the view that 'there is only the natural universe', because a lot of atheists maintain that there could be billions, trillions, even *infinite* numbers of other universes. These universes, some very different, some similar to our own, could explain the characteristics of our universe (see the multiverse theory). In other words, you can believe in many universes and definitely be an atheist.
So atheism has to include the possibility that there is *more* than just the natural universe. OK, then so what is atheism, exactly? Is it the view that there is just the universe and, possibly, a multiverse? In a sense yes, but there must be a better, more concise way of putting it...
Is atheism the view that a mind didn't create our universe?
Not necessarily, because we could be brains in a vat experiencing a virtual world, or computer programs like in the movie The Thirteenth Floor, and so technically our 'universe' is the product of a mind, and yet there is nothing that we would call a 'god'.
To be sure, the creators of such artificial realities would seem like 'gods' to us, but they aren't gods in any greater sense than we would be if we created our own artificial realities.
OK, so what is atheism? It has to include the possibility of a multiverse, and that the universe is the product of a mind, but not a 'god' mind (whatever that is).
What we are left with is that atheism is the view that no mind is behind *all* universes, behind every conceivable universe; behind every physical thing.
Another way of phrasing this is that atheism is the view that at the foundations of reality, at the most basic level, there is inanimate matter rather than 'conscious stuff'. A theist says that at the most basic level there is 'conscious stuff' (like our inner awareness, whatever that is) rather than matter.
So that's what atheism can be rephrased to without losing any of its meaning: the view that the foundations of existence are inanimate matter rather than conscious stuff.
So to go back to our original example, the teapotist says that there's a teapot around the sun, and the a-teapotist says that there's not. So what does the a-teapotist believe is there? They believe that there's just empty space of course!
So the theist says that there's a mysterious 'god', and the atheist says that there's not. So what does the atheist say is there? They believe that the foundations of existence are inanimate matter rather than conscious stuff. Otherwise a god exists in some sense (even if pantheistically).
I agree that the default position should be 'no god exists' in the absence of evidence for a god. That seems to be sound... but I don't see why the default position should be 'the foundations of existence are inanimate matter rather than conscious stuff'. Why should the foundations of reality be automatically assumed to be inanimate matter? Because that's all we can see? But we see ourselves and others as conscious beings... and we're pretty sure consciousness is quite different to matter. So to assume that there must be inanimate matter at the foundation of existence 'by default' seems a bit unwarranted.
So paradoxically, atheism both is and isn't the default position. The idea that there's no god is a default position, but the view that there's inanimate matter rather than consciousness at the foundation of reality seems unwarranted as a 'default position'.
It's likely that any argument to the 'existence is built upon matter' view could be doubted because of the experience of consciousness, which seems different to matter. Likewise, consciousness can't settle the question in favour of the 'existence is built upon mind' view, because it may just be that the universe was destined to create 'animate'/conscious matter.
What's worse for atheism is that in some ways it's hard to see the view of consciousness at the foundation of reality as anything less than the view that there is a god. Why? Because such a consciousness would probably have many god-like characteristics...
In the end, maybe there's no requirement that anyone be an atheist or a theist if there's no evidence for a god. It doesn't seem like we have an obligation to believe that the foundation of reality should be characterised a certain way, if what I've written has made sense.
So when viewed in an alternative way, that atheism is positively saying that there's inanimate stuff at the foundation of reality, it seems that neither atheism nor theism is the default position. We must simply assume that either there's inanimate stuff or consciousness at the foundations of reality based on what feels right to us. That could be what the religious instinct is all about: the feeling that there must be consciousness at the most basic level rather than 'empty' matter. And it's not clear that this view is basically silly. Actually, it seems like a pretty reasonable (50/50) guess at the nature of reality.