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What do atheists believe?

So I’m sitting here right now, listening to the latest episode of No Religion Required (episode 024 – We Are Joined By Atheism 101 Podcast). Slightly before the 1:28:00 point (where I paused to write this), Miss Ashley brings up the question of what atheists believe.

I paused there because I think it’s a question that a larger number of public atheists need to answer, myself included. We spend so much time knocking down people’s religious beliefs, but comparatively little time offering up our own world views for consideration. I wanted to take a shot at answering this question before I hear everybody’s response on the podcast.

Let me start by getting the obvious disclaimer out of the way: I’m just one guy. I don’t represent all atheists everywhere. There is no single guiding document – no “bible” – that tells us all what to believe.

A lot of atheists – myself included again – say that we believe in science. Scientific evidence found by way of the scientific method. That’s true to some extent. I have looked at animals and seen morphological similarities that I think are best explained by evolution. I have looked at (photos of) rocks and seen different layers of sedimentation, with different animal bones in them. I have looked at the sky and seen the stars and planets (N.B.: The word planet comes from the ancient Greek ‘πλανήτης’, meaning ‘wanderer’ or ‘wandering star’), and have noted the planets’ movements which can most easily be explained in a heliocentric solar system. To the extent that I have been able to personally verify it, science has shown itself to be reliable. This is why I say that I have faith in science. I believe in Lemaître’s primordial atom theory (more commonly called the Big Bang, but I think ‘primordial atom’ sounds more poetic) because that is the most commonly accepted theory among scientists regarding the initial formation of the universe.

More to the point of what Miss Ashley was trying to ask, what do I believe that affects my life and how I live it? Beliefs about the origin of the universe are one thing, beliefs about how we ought to live are different. Atheism alone has nothing to say in this regard: an atheist can be a nihilist, a Nietzschean, or many other things. I was raised as both a humanist and a secular humanist; I list those separately because, though they both use the word ‘humanism’, they are not entirely the same thing. A humanist, in the broadest sense, is one who believes that we have to be as good as we can in this life. As an atheist, I don’t believe in reincarnation or any other kind of afterlife, so naturally I fit this definition of humanism. A more specific concept of humanism includes the betterment of the self through education, and the betterment of others through the seeking of social and economic justice. I save my money not for the sake of having money, but for the sake of using that money in ways that will benefit myself and others. Some of that money pays for my continuing education, some is given to organizations that I think do good in the world, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Secular humanism, I would define as the belief that keeping religion out of politics will benefit us all – that we as a society need to base our decisions not on dogma or superstition but on reason and ethics.

I guess I’ve run out of things to say, so I’m going to end this post. Stay happy, stay free, and don’t forget that you don’t need to believe in God.


Unintentionally insulting card

I’m about to graduate from OSU. I don’t know what will happen to this blog – whether I’ll be allowed to keep it on OSU’s server as it is now, or move it somewhere else.

I just got my first card from a relative congratulating me on my graduation. “For a special graduate,” it says on the front, followed by “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” (Proverbs 16:3). I should say at this point that I’m an atheist (always have been).

On the inside of the card is printed the message “CELEBRATING your achievement and looking forward to the amazing future God has planned just for YOU.” Which makes me wonder just how much of an achievement the senders think this was for me. I mean, if God planned this all out, do they really think I had any hand in it?

The worst part is this handwritten note: “This comes with warm congratulations & a prayer that you’ll always be reminded God is the source of all true success in life. May you contrived to be blessed – Blessings to you”. To me, as an atheist, this seems like giving a compliment and then immediately taking it back. I am also a bit confused by the use of the word “contrived” in past tense here.

What really makes me stop and think, though, is the reminder that God is the one who should be thanked for all this. Do those who believe in God feel some subconscious need to send each other cards reminding them of something that obvious? “Don’t forget that you believe in God!” says one to another. “Don’t worry, I won’t forget,” says the other. “I’ll also thank him for making you remind me!”

Another written note, in somebody else’s handwriting, says “Congratulations James ~ We are proud of you – Always be proud of yourself!”. This is in my opinion far more fitting for a card like this. It’s the kind of thing I’d write if I were the one sending the card. But it makes me wonder: considering that this card quotes Proverbs 16:3 on the front, did this person not remember Proverbs 16:5? “Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.”

The best part, of course, was the $25 check enclosed with the card. It renders my previous blog post out-of-date.

Atheism Is On The March: An analytical deconstruction of a Jehovah’s Witnesses publication

I recently received a couple pamphlets from a Jehovah’s Witness. You know, one of those people who stand outside schools or go door-to-door handing out reading material trying to convert you to their particular religion. Normally I just accept their pamphlets and leave, as that is in my experience the quickest way to get rid of these people, then dump the pamphlets into a recycling container once I’m out of their sight.

I must admit I admire these people, even though I don’t agree with them. It takes some courage to go out in public, walk up to a group of complete strangers, and try to convert those strangers to your religion. The strangers will undoubtedly find you annoying, and I know some people who do not take kindly to that kind of annoyance. Continue reading Atheism Is On The March: An analytical deconstruction of a Jehovah’s Witnesses publication