What does “atheism” mean?
There are many misconceptions about what it means to be “atheist.” Most dictionaries define atheism as “Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods” and it is important to keep in mind that this is all that atheism means. It is not a belief system, or a religion but simply the denial that supernatural beings exist. There are many kinds of atheists, with all sorts of philosophies, beliefs, and religious views, as atheism is simply a negation that God(s) exist, not a positing of any other ideas of beliefs.
Then who are agnostics?
An agnostic is someone who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God, or he does not yet have evidence on whether God(s) exist.
Because, agnosticism is a position on the nature of knowledge, not the rejection of a belief in God(s), atheism and agnosticism cover separate areas. A person can be an agnostic theist, an atheistic agnostic, or an atheist who has concluded both that he does not hold any belief in God, and that God does not exist.
Aren’t all atheists immoral?
The books of the Bible/Koran/Torah all provide a framework for morality, but that does not mean that a person cannot be moral without a religion/God to tell him what morality is.
The dictionary defines morality as “a system of ideas of right and wrong conduct.” A religious book is one source of an ethical doctrine, but atheists have many other ethical systems that they use as a guide for their actions. Some believe that society determines morality, some believe that seeking pleasure is the only point of life, and others believe that doing good for humanity is the only worthwhile activity in life. My own morality is based on rational egoism – that is, the principles I adopt as the standard of good and evil for my actions are based solely on what I believe is necessary for my life and happiness.
But then you must be a greedy, self-centered egoistic bastard, right?
In a sense, you are correct. In my philosophy, the achievement of my own values is primary, whereas most theists dedicate their life partially or completely to Jesus/Vishnu/Allah/etc.
However, just because I only act to achieve my own values, does not mean that I don’t care about others. There are many people – friends, family, colleagues, who I care for because they provide me with friendship, love, insight, or inspiration. However, unlike Christians, I believe that love, respect, and devotion must be earned, not granted. Hence, I don’t “love my fellow man” and I certainly don’t claim to love a stranger or a neighbor in any sense similar to the way I’d love a significant other.
But if everyone is a selfish, who will care about the poor/disabled/sick?
Because I value my own life as a precious and wonderful thing, I also have a respect for human life in general. Additionally, I value a happy, prosperous world much better than one full of violence and poverty. Because of this, I believe in private charity for people and ideas I would like to see better of. I think that charity that is done because of a willingness to live in a better world is much better than charity done out of the fear of hell or social obligations to the needy.
Doesn’t atheism lead to communism/socialism/Nazism?
While it’s true that socialism and its various flavors are inherently atheistic, these regimes are actually very much like religion because they simply replace worship of God with worship of the State. Religion, especially fundamentalism actually makes a society more, not less susceptible to these regimes. For example, before communism took hold, Russia was a very mystical and religious state where people took it for granted that their life was ruled by a central authority (God.) When the communists took over, they banned all the churches, but imitated all their tactics to try to make the people believe that serving the state, rather than God was their only purpose in life. An atheist who believes in the inherent value of his own life would be much less susceptible to this kind of regime.
Are you a Satanist/Wicca/Hippie/New Age Cultist?
Actually, atheists reject the existence all forms of supernatural beings and other forms of mysticism. Those Satanists who worship Satan as a supernatural deity are not in fact atheists, since atheist precludes worshipping a supernatural deity.
While some atheists do lead unusual lifestyles, many become better people after becoming atheist because they resolve a deep conflict between their faith and reality, and are able to start living happier lives. I personally live what most people would call a conservative lifestyle, drinking only socially and occasionally at best, not engaging in promiscuous sex or drugs, and voting for republican candidates. I live the lifestyle that I do because I believe that is the best way to promote my life and happiness, not because I read it from a book.
What if you’re wrong – can you risk an eternity of hell?
What if you are wrong? What if the Hindu is right? What if the Jehovah’s Witnesses are right? What if the Muslims are right? What if the Native Americans are right?
This question comes from the root of Pascal’s Wager.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, and inventor. He is best known for his religious argument called “Pascal’s Wager”. Pascal was looking for a way to convert friends to his sect of Roman Catholicism, called Jansenism. He devised an argument that he thought was foolproof and that would cause instant conversion to Jansenism. Amazingly, many theists today still think this argument is foolproof.
Simply put, Pascal’s Wager goes something like this:
- Either the believer or the non-believer will be correct – one of them has to be wrong.
- If you are a believer and you are correct – then you will be rewarded with eternal life.
- If you are a non-believer and you are correct – then you will die and nothing will happen.
- If you are a believer and you are wrong – then will you will die and nothing will happen.
- If you are a non-believer and you are wrong – then you will be punished with eternal damnation in the pits of hell.
· Therefore, if you are a believer you have a chance of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven – even if you are wrong. If you are a nonbeliever you have zero chance. Why should we not be a believer just in case the believers are right?
Pascal’s Wager cannot work and is not foolproof, contrary to the persistent belief of some theists. Replace God with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Zeus, Mithras, or Allah and re-read the wager. Does it still sound okay to you?
First and foremost, the non-believer must forsake the truth in order to be a believer. Should I stop searching for knowledge and forsake the truth for a “chance” that I might be wrong? The sky is blue: that’s the truth. Should I forsake that truth because a religion says the sky is green and that if I’m wrong I could spend an eternity in hell? No, I’ll stick to the truthful blue sky.
Second, the wager does not specify which god to believe in. Do I believe in Zeus, Osiris, Jupiter, Allah, Jesus Christ, Mother Earth or extra-terrestrials? Which god do I sacrifice the truth to in order to have a chance, just in case?
Since Christians often use Pascal’s Wager the most, which sect of Christianity do I choose to follow? Do I choose Pascal’s Jansenism or do I go with the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Do I choose the Baptists, Mormons, Catholics or Lutherans? Choices, choices and more choices. There are over 3,500 sects of Christianity; each believing differently. Which one will be right? Should they all sacrifice their beliefs for others, just in case? While they all certainly have a root belief in Jesus as the Christ, they all choose different paths to gain access to heaven.
Third, the wager says we should believe something solely for the prospective reward. Should we sacrifice knowledge and truth for rewards? What happens if a religion offers a better version of Heaven and less vile version of Hell? Should I leave Christianity for that one? If people are so afraid of being wrong, shouldn’t they be looking for the best Heaven out there?
(This answer came from http://atheismawareness.home.att.net/questions/pascals_wager.htm)
Atheists must have faith in something, don’t they?
People generally base their views on one of two things – on faith of what someone else has said or on underlying assumptions. Since reading this FAQ would only be useful to someone who is willing to critically examine and formulate their own views, rather than simply borrowing someone else’s, I am first going to explain why one should care to form independent views of their own in the first place.
To base your opinion on faith (also known as blind faith) is to base your understanding of the world on what someone said without actually attempting to independently find go out and determine what the world is actually like. As such, faith is dangerous (that is, harmful to your and others lives) because it falsely assumes that everything claimed by some politician, teacher, or theologian is true and leads a person to act on these false premises. Usually these premises are based on someone’s desire for wealth, power, or both. Even when such people have good intentions, they are usually wrong, and following them not only leads one to ignore reality, but to sacrifice the interests of themselves and those they care about in order to reach an earthly or heavenly utopia that does not exist and is impossible to reach but requires the loss of real values in the process. Political and religious fundamentalist movements from the Nazis to fundamentalist Muslims, to blind State-worship in the form of communism have led to much death and destruction in the 20th century, and thus is it absolutely critical that no one should ever base their views on anything solely on someone’s word, whether it be parents, preachers or college professors.
The alternative to basing your opinion on someone’s word is to verify that position with reality – that is to see whether what someone said is actually true as reflected in reality or as Ayn Rand said, “no concept man forms is valid unless he integrates it without contradiction into the sum of his knowledge.” In science, this is known as the scientific method.
What is the point of life without God or an afterlife?
This question could just as easily be turned around to say “what’s the point of living when getting to the afterlife is your only goal of life?”
Unlike a theist, an atheist knows that this life is all he or she has and thus will try to live each day to the fullest. Because I live for myself, I can enjoy every day of my life without worrying about ruining my chances of getting into heaven.
Furthermore, because I am an atheist, I know that I am solely responsible for my achievements as well as my failures in life. When I accomplish something in life, I can take pride in having done it on my own, and when I see a great piece of art, literature, or architecture, I take pride in the achievements of other men, instead of attributing it all to an invisible puppet master.
What will you tell your kids about God? How will you teach them morality?
People are born atheists – theism is something that has to be taught. Religion was invented to explain various phenomena that cavemen could not explain, and often used by rulers and shamans throughout history to force the populace to adhere to their rules. Since I think reason and science provides all the answers we need about the world, I see no need to teach my children about any religion, but I plan to truthfully answer any questions they have about religion and let them discover the truth on their own.
Instead, I will give them the critical thinking skills needed to explore and determine reality on their own. As far as morality goes, I will tell them that certain principles are good because it is in their own self-interest to follow them, and when they are old enough, they can come to their own conclusions about what they believe.
What holidays will you celebrate without Christmas/Hanukkah/Ramadan?
Even if this was a problem, keeping holidays is not a valid reason to hold on to an entire system of beliefs if you believe that it is false. However, there are many secular holidays one can observe to celebrate great events in our nations history. As far as Christmas goes, I see the gift giving as a celebration of friends and loved one and a showing of appreciation for the people you care about by giving gifts, and I plan to celebrate other holydays in a similar secular manner.
Do you hate God/theists/religion?
Some Christians assume that atheists are actually theists who are “hate God” or have somehow lost faith due to some misfortunate event(s) in their life. But according this view, there would be no atheists at all, since not liking God does not constitute not believing in him.
However, the great majority of atheists have no bone to pick with God, just as they don’t have any offense about Santa Clause or the tooth fairy. Regarding religion, I think it would be giving it too much credit to say that I hate it.
Aren’t atheists ignorant to “God’s Word”? Have you even read the Bible/Qu’ran/Torah/Bhagavad-Gita, etc?
Most atheists only reject religion after extensive examination, and many were devout and religious people before becoming atheist. Personally speaking, I spent many years an observant Jew, including three as an assistant Sunday school teacher, and continued my formal education in Judaism well into high school, including an eight week trip to Israel. However, I was always troubled by the logical flaws in religion, and finally rejected theism and religion outright when I realized that it was fundamentally incompatible with my view or reality.
Additionally, like many atheists, I’ve studied and read many parts of the Jewish Bible, and for a time attended Christian bible study as well and read the New Testament as well, and while there are some great stories in the Bible, it is also full of contradictions, horrible ethics, and miracles that contradict everything I know about reality.
You’re only atheist because you just haven’t really opened your soul/heart to Jesus/Vishnu/Siddhartha.
That’s kind of like saying “you can only believe if you really want to believe.” The reason why the great majority of people are theists is that they want to believe, even if their experience with reality dictates otherwise. Like hypnosis, religion only works if you really want God to exist – at the expense of forsaking your own experience of the world. Having lived all my life with the assumption that reality is an absolute, and my mind is the only tool I have of comprehending it, it is simply impossible for me to throw it all away and take a completely new reality from a book. For more, click here.
What is the atheist’s Bible?
There isn’t one. There is no Atheist Manifesto or other atheistic documentation that declares required atheistic beliefs. Atheism is not a belief system so it follows no given rules. Atheists are individuals and each of us has our philosophy and our own ideologies. Many atheists subscribe to a certain philosophy, but unlike Christians, they do usually do so because their own experience of the world shows it to be true – not because they want that view of the world to be true.
How can you prove there is no God?
How can you prove that God does exist? The real question is — how does one prove a negative in the absence of evidence either way? How do you prove that invisible pink elephants don’t exist? How do you prove that Leprechauns don’t exist?
Of course theists cannot prove there is a god. Exceptional claims require exceptional proof. Theists make the exceptional claim that there is a god. That claim requires exceptional proof. Therefore the burden of proof is on the theist and not the atheist. After all, I don’t see waters parting, manna from heaven, and God speaking down from heaven every day, — what I do see a logical, ordered universe, where the principle of causation is absolute.
Furthermore, I could easily invent an imaginary creature, such as an invisible floating pink elephant, and claim that the book I am handing you is his Word, and hell is the price of not following it. However, unless I can show evidence to support my position, you have to go with everything else you know about the world, and conclude that magical invisible beings don’t exist — unless and until there is evidence to the contrary.
Isn’t America a nation based on Christian values?
No. America was founded on the Western values of individualism, reason, freedom, and capitalism. Christianity had existed in Europe for 1700 years, but it was not until the Renaissance that reason was accepted as the dominant means of gaining knowledge about the world. Most of the founding fathers were deists (the believed in a God who created the universe and then left it alone) and wanted strongly to separate church and state. As John Adams said, “I shall have liberty to think for myself without molesting others or being molested myself.” The Virginian delegation led to the movement to extend Virginians constitution separating church and state to the United States Constitution. As Thomas Jefferson said, “In every country and in every age the priest has been hostile to liberty; he is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”
Isn’t atheism a perverse conspiracy to overturn these values?
I have no intention of forcing my atheism or any other ideas on anyone else, however I do want to make sure that neither I nor my children are forced to be indoctrinated by any religion, and I want to make sure that my tax dollars do not go to pay for religion either. I firmly support the first amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that I have a right to promote or criticize any religion I choose, but I must respect others right to the same.
Do you believe in evolution?
This is often posed as a loaded question by fundamentalist Christians trying to equivocate an irrational faith into a reasonable conclusion based on overwhelming evidence. I do not have “have faith” in evolution — I have concluded that it is the most likely explanation for the immense variety of life on earth. The distinction between a rational belief and faith is that a rational belief is backed up evidence and a conclusion reached through logic, whereas faith is based on simply the desire for something to be true, without independent, logical verification.
Doesn’t the Second Law of Thermodynamics prevent evolution?
The short answer is no, because while entropy does increase in a closed system, the earth is not a closed system – it is powered by the sun, hence the law is not violated.
For a longer technical explanation, go to http://atheismawareness.home.att.net/questions/thermodynamics.htm
If the universe doesn’t have an intelligent designer, why is it so complex and not chaotic? Did it all come about just by random chance?
No, there is definitely an order to the universe – that is obvious to anyone who observers that rocks don’t turn into flowers, flowers grow only on the ground and not in the sky, and there is an immense variety of life on earth. However it would erroneous to credit god(s) with this. When the theist asks “Is it all chance?” what is he really asking? He is either saying that God is the only thing keeping rocks from turning into flowers, or God made the rules of nature that rule the universe in general and rocks in particular.
The first position is clearly false because it easy to see that the universe is governed by certain universal (meaning that they apply to all things) laws, which explains why each and every thing in the universe has a certain nature, and cannot act contrary to it. This is known as the law of causation: each action has a cause, and each object an identity: and given the same exact initial conditions, a silkworm will always turn into a butterfly rather than a maggot. Likewise, no god(s) is needed to make a species adapt to its environment, as a process of cause and effect directs evolution just as a process attracts a opposing magnets to each other, every time, in the same way.
The second position (known as deism) is to say that god(s) created the laws that govern the universe, and then left it alone. This view is harder to dispute, but it also falls flat after a careful analysis of the logic behind it. The first thing to recognize is that such a being is not a Christian, Jewish, or Hindu god, but might as well be a green-eyed creature from the dimension X who created our current dimension. A more serious blow is struck by the question of who made the rules that govern the god-being itself. If we assume that the universe needs a creature to define the “rules of the game” we have to impose the same standard on the creator! Immediately, then, we are faced with the question of who created the creator who created the creator, and so on. The typical theist reply to this is claim that the nature of God is such that he is beyond the need for a creator, as his nature is immortal, all-powerful, or other such variation. However this is a logical error, because if this assumption were true, then the question would arise: if God does not need a creator, why does the universe need one? Faced with these two options, it is much more reasonable to accept that the universe is in fact eternal, and so are the laws that govern it.
A possible objection with the atheist reply above is to ask why physical laws are defined and the universe is organized precisely such that intelligent human life on earth should arise just by following them. However this is a scientific question more than a philosophical one. Astronomers estimate that there over 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (1021) stars in the known universe alone, and there only needs to be one planet with the conditions for life to exist. Additionally, physicists see evidence of more than one dimension and certainly many states of matter existing in the universe – and only one dimension and state of matter is necessary for suitable conditions for intelligent life. Skeptics may claim that such chances are extremely remote – but every man produces billions of sperm in his lifetime, only a few of which may become a person, and yet, babies are born every day.
How do you tell your family and friends you’re an atheist?
I believe that there is a good and bad way to become atheist.
The bad way is to decide that religion does not reflect reality or achieve your happiness and adopt a nihilistic, rebellious attitude that rejects religion, but does not adopt anything better. Such people often resort to sex, drugs, or equally mystical philosophies such as environmentalist earth-worship and new-age cults and give a bad name to atheists.
The good way to become atheist is to decide that religion does not reflect reality or achieve your happiness, and adopt a rational set values that servers to achieve your life and happiness. Personally, I believe that Objectivism is such a philosophy, however, if you adopt a philosophy on faith rather than verifying and integrating every principle with your own experience of reality, you have never really lost your religious mysticism.
Why I Am Agnostic
by Robert G. Ingersoll
FAQ by David Veksler, v1.0 — 9/23/2002
(Some of these questions are adapted from http://atheismawareness.home.att.net/questions.htm)