Atheism: Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is atheism?  Atheism is the non-belief in a god or gods.  There are other definitions, but this is the fundamental one.  Perhaps the most common misconception about what atheism means is that an atheist categorically denies the existence of a deity.  While some do, this is not the essence of what the word means.

  • How is atheism different from agnosticism?  An atheist does not believe in god(s).  An agnostic does not know if such a thing exists.  Understood in this way, it is possible to be both an atheist and an agnostic.  However, atheists have often correctly noted that most people who call themselves agnostic are really philosophically atheists and, to be quite frank, many of them simply lack the courage to call themselves what they really are.

  • Is atheism a religion?  Of course it isn’t!  Since supernaturalism is at the base of all religious systems atheism, by rejecting supernaturalism, cannot correctly be called a religion.  Saying that atheists are religious because they deal with religion is like saying doctors are sick because they deal with illness.

  • Why don’t atheists believe in god?  Atheists do not believe in any of the gods that have been offered throughout history, recognizing them to be nothing more than idealizations of humanity’s wishes and fears.  This is true whether we are talking about Zeus, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, or Jehovah.  As evidence for a god, the Bible no more proves the existence of Jehovah or Yahweh than the Book of Mormon proves the existence of the angel Moroni.  Moreover, as a book of moral behavior, the Bible fails most alarmingly; the historical track record of Christian-inspired ethics is tainted with Crusades, Inquisitions, witch burnings, and countless other examples of religious based hatred.  Most fundamentally, since no believer can provide us with a concrete definition/description of what their god actually is rather than what they imagine it does, proof of any god’s existence fails at the most fundamental level.

  • Doesn’t the Bible prove the existence of god?  The Bible fails for the reasons discussed above; nowhere between its covers is any concrete definition of what god actually is offered.  Instead, in lieu of an actual definition, we are given such linguistic claptrap as “I am that I am.”  In addition, if you think about it, why would a god, who supposedly has our best interests at heart, ignore the great civilizations in existence at the time the Bible was written, and instead “reveal” himself and/or his word to a group of illiterate, unwashed, protein deficient, wandering nomadic mystics?  What does that tell you of this god’s intelligence?

  • Do atheists want to banish or abolish all religions?  Certainly not.  People are entitled to go to any church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious edifice they choose to.  They have the right to reject their own reason.  They have the right to believe in any deity their imagination can conjure up.  They have the right to believe in the bloodthirsty god of the Old Testament.  They have the right to believe that a man who probably never existed in the first place is somehow coming back from the dead to rescue them from their own excesses.  In short, god believers have the right to believe in anything they desire, no matter how objectively false and silly it might be.  What we atheists do want to abolish is the favored status religion is accorded in society.  The separation of church and state promulgated by our Founding Fathers must be restored.  Tax-exemption for fundamentalist churches that violate their legal status by politicizing from the pulpit must be stopped.  The Republican Party must sever its allegiance with the extremists in the Religious Right.  Discrimination against atheists must end.  Forced prayer in public schools must not be allowed.  Public officials must act rationally and stop supporting religious institutions that continue to promote and sustain ignorance, superstition, and mythologies that should properly have died out at the end of the Upper Bronze Age.  In short, we feel if religion is left to its own devices, rather than being supported and propped up by government, it will eventually succumb due to its innate falsity.

  • How can you be moral if you don’t believe in god?  Why is believing in something that doesn’t exist proof of moral superiority?  Why is gullibility (faith) rather than objective truth evidence that the believer will behave more morally?  When you consider the countless millions of people who have suffered and died because god-believing people thought that they deserved extermination, a better question might be: How can you be moral if you do believe in god?

  • Doesn’t religion do a lot of good?  No.  Individual religious people can and often do perform good deeds, but so do atheists.  Consider this: which person is more fundamentally moral, the person who does good because he/she thinks their god is watching them, or the person who performs them without a belief in god, but with a love of humanity, rather than imagined impressment of a god, as his/her standard of value?

  • If atheism is true, doesn’t that mean that life has no purpose?  Who said that humans cannot create their own purpose?  The idea of living one’s life according to a pre-conceived plan, which  we are not to question, is a form of intellectual blackmail.  Unfortunately, for many believers, their sole purpose of life is to prepare themselves for death, although they call it an “afterlife.”  Since there is no afterlife, believers have thrown away their entire lives attempting to conform to a two-thousand year old cult.  What is the purpose in that?

  • Doesn’t the existence of the universe indicate a creator?  The existence of the universe is a metaphysical given, the starting point of all our knowledge.  Since the universe, by definition, includes everything in existence, it is existence itself, rather than any unknowable deity, that is at the root of all causal change.  One does not need reference to a god to explain how things change in the universe; that is the function of science.  Compare the scientific method of inquiry, deduction, testing, and conclusion with the religious notion of an unknowable, indescribable, invisible being (itself a contradiction in terms) who has somehow created everything in existence by some unknowable means, at some unknowable time.  How does this theological nonsense explain anything?

  • Doesn’t the perfect order of the universe show the stamp of a brilliant, designing mind?  Once again, no.  One must use one’s words correctly; the word “order” simply means that things are what they are (Aristotle’s Law of Identity) and can only act in accordance with their nature (the Law of Causality).  A radish seed is what it is; under the proper conditions, it will always sprout as a radish.  If you think about it, “order” simply means the laws of Identity and Causality, although believers scarcely recognize or mean this.  What alternative to an “ordered universe could a mystic imagine?  One where the radish seed sprouts into a trumpet, and then into a pizza?  Such a world is impossible, except in the mind of a religionist who refuses to acknowledge that A is A.

  • How is atheism different from humanism?  The two are separable but related.  An atheist does not believe in god.  Most humanists, but not all, share that view, but all agree that gods do not intervene in human affairs.  We are responsible for our own destinies, and no god will save us or damn us.  Humanists emphasize what the religious would call “good works” meaning that humanists seek to make this world a better place, since no god is going to do it for us.

  • Why do so many people believe in religion if it’s not true? Simply because of cultural conditioning.  Napoleon once said “we have religion to keep the poor from murdering the rich.”  Those in power have long recognized that a population that is brought up to believe that, no matter how terrible this earthly existence is, a better world awaits us after death is a population that is much likely to complain against injustices, since they imagine that their god will somehow make things right in the end.

Categories:   Atheism and Religion, Religion In America