A Test for Atheists

 

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The Pew Research Center, in the 2014 Religious Landscape Study, asked self-identified atheists how often they shared their views on gods and religion with religious people.

Nine percent said they did so at least weekly. Two-thirds said they seldom or never discuss their religious views with religious people. That may be changing as secularism becomes more acceptable. On line, these discussions often take the form of Q&A sessions.

Here are eleven sample questions that I promised to blog about. I Bogarted the questions from a variety of internet sources, but the responses are mine.

Why don’t you believe in a god? This is a difficult one to answer without appearing rude or offensive. The bottom-line, and most simple answer is that there’s no proof.

Are you really an atheist? Kind of insulting, but easy to answer. Atheists should not be drawn in by the temptation to be sarcastic. Leave out really from the question, or be young enough to excuse, and the answer is there.Test4

Are you absolutely sure there is not (are no) a god (gods)? The problem here is that the subject has now changed from belief to certainty. Absolute certainty of anything normally requires abundant proof of some sort – often, repeatable and testable evidence. My honest answer is no. I wonder what percentage of believers are absolutely sure of what they say they believe.

What happens when we die? Why would anyone ask this of an atheist? But again, easy for me to answer. I don’t know.

However, I still love this song. It’s fun and uplifting. Hear it Here (The Spirit In the Sky). Norm is something of a one-hit-wonder, but he wrote and sang a good one way back then. Interesting side note: while this is clearly a Christian song, Norman Greenbaum, to this day (age 73), is an observant Jew.

What if you’re wrong? That depends. Wrong about there being supernatural beings? Is that any different than being wrong about which religion, or which god is real or true? Again, I have no idea.

Without a god, where do you get your morality? First, I have some morality. Second, the same place you get yours. Morality comes from learning and being human. How often are immoral atrocities committed in the name of a god? Where do those offenders get their morality?

How does life have any meaning without a god? My life has meaning just as yours does. Mine may have more meaning to me than someone who believes they will be in Heaven or Paradise. I believe that this world is all there is for us (right here and now). As for the universe, it is the same but we only have access this part of it: Earth.

What about the love and appreciation of nature and art? We love nature as much as any believers, maybe more than some. I love art, read and write about it, and consider myself an artist. While atheists may not see nature as the work of a creator or supreme being, they have the same, if not more, appreciation of nature than believers do.

Where did the universe come from? This is where I might begin to lose it. Seriously? Do I have to explain the origin of the universe simply because I don’t believe there is a god to have created it? I don’t need to know and neither do you. Read Carl Sagan or something, then pick one of the theories. I was not there when it happened, no matter what my grandchildren think.

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What about miracles? Have you ever noticed how the number of miracles has reduced as methods to record them has increased? I don’t think there are supernatural beings out there to bring about miracles. Unexplained things have always happened and perhaps science never will explain everything. At times in the past, believers decided that unexplainable events were witchcraft, or from the devil, and not miracles from a good deity or spirit.

Four Gods to believe in

Four Gods to believe in

Why do you hate God? Do you hate Santa Claus? Or Krishna? Or Thor? Zeus, Jupiter, and Saturn are all gods. If you don’t believe in them, is it because you hate them? I’ve known believers who were angry with their god. I always thought that was awesome. Being angry with an omnipotent being has to be special. I guess their god wasn’t doing a good job.

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I admit that face-to-face, such questioning events are rare, especially following someone’s commitment to atheism. But they happen and I think they are fair enough.

Test8Personally, I don’t see why people shouldn’t discuss religion and atheism (or agnosticism or humanism, or any such subject), if they want. I realize two problems come into play. Human emotion and the need to defend turf, opinions, friends, or in some cases, a god.

Criticizing religion in general, or any religion specifically, is taboo. Oddly, that taboo is not applied equally to lack of religion or atheism. While insults and criticism may fly, I’ll wager that no atheist has marked someone for death because they criticized, or drew a picture of, anyone.

I hope that we can find ways to exchange ideas, discuss beliefs, and venture into better understanding of our diverse and complex world. I once had a man tell me this, “I don’t even know anyone who is not Christian.” How sad.

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18 thoughts on “A Test for Atheists

  1. Sane and mostly irrefutable points.
    On one point, though, I disagree.
    There is absolute certainty that not one piece of evidence has been established for this here “god” or “gods” or capital G or whatever deity you want, despite the millennia of humans claiming it/he/she for themselves.
    That’s enough for me. The concept is out the window. Dark energy, life in exoplanets, other scientific “mysteries” can be postulated as needing to be added to our basic human consciousness of our predicament of being alone on this rock, but that other god-stuff is for sure defunct.
    We need to operate with some basic assumptions about reality, and if something is wholly unproven after all these strenuous efforts to invoke it, we need to discard it.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. being a non-believer does kinda free you up, spiritually, doesnt it. No one taking credit for what you do, no one to blame when you mess up. It’s incredibly empowering. (Just had a flash of insight). People who cling to a religion are afraid. They don’t have the cojones to just get out there, unsupported, and do stuff. “God told me to say this”. ‘Jesus held my hand on that stage.” “I pray to God every night to keep me safe.” “The devil made me do it.”

    I had a neighbor who used to do this, and one day in a moment of annoyance I asked her, ‘When do YOU take credit for what you do?” She looked puzzled and said, “Well, without God I couldnt do anything; he guides me. And Im always fighting the devil.” I said, “where does Julie come into all of this?” She looked puzzled, as if I had asked her about tectonic plates.

    The only evidence for the existence of God (or any god for that matter) is, “well of COURSE there is.” “He TOLD me so himself. He’s in my heart.” and then they counter with the old “how did the universe start,. smarty?” and of course no one has figured that one out, and probably never will.

    Frankly I think true non-believers are probably saner, simply because they lean on themselves and have learned how to make their own decisions, and mistakes, without placing blame. And when you realize, finally, that this is truly all there is for us, you become a bit kinder, a bit more careful about yourself, and the earth, and the mess you leave behind.

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  3. I’ve never had an atheist try to convert me, maybe because I wouldn’t try to convert anyone to my vague sense of belief. Seems to me we all have different mindsets and preferences, and while it’s good for everyone to think about the whys, and certainly the big questions, it’s not good to make people feel badly about things they find true on their own. People can be mistaken about great many things, but like you said, we can’t know the truth, only our personal truth.
    I’ll tell you what I do find interesting, in paradox, with my athiest friends; a great number of them believe in other things that cannot be proven — Bigfoot, aliens, ghosts… I have observed this and decided “proof” isn’t the thing, it’s something else, some experience or lack of, something personal.
    I never think these things are my business. Regardless of religion and a whole scope of other labels, it’s good to mind one’s own business.
    That ‘being there when the universe was formed’ thing made me lol 🙂

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  4. I’m confused, are those sample questions from Pew Research? If so I’ve lost a lot of respect for them given how childish and angst filled a few of them are.

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  5. I find the claim that no one can know the truth is nonsense. Unless one wants to believe solipcism or some “matrix” nonsense, then we operate knowing the truth and it works. For example, will you stick your hand in a ladle of molten steel with no protection? Physics works quite well and we can predict things pretty darn accurately. Same with vaccines, antibiotics, TV’s, computers, GPS, etc.

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    • I think we each have our own truth to listen to. Some may have angels in theirs, some may have barking dogs. But at base, our own truth is the thing we face in the dark in the middle of the night. Frankly I miss the idea of angels, and of heaven. It’s a bit scary to know that when I die, anything Ive done dies with me, except maybe for a few walls Ive painted, and a garden, and the tangibles. Poems, a blog no one will bother with again.

      And my truth is not yours nor is yours mine–even though we might blink at a few of the same things. =) Trying to adopt a universal ‘truth’ beyond the physical and demonstrable is not only dangerous but silly.

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      • What we face in the dark is our own doubts about things we don’t know. That doesn’t mean we can know nothing and/or that everyone can have their own truth. The idea that pencillin can cure (and kill) isn’t up for opinion. Reality will merrily go along no matter how much you insist that it isn’t true.

        It is also not true that everything you’ve done dies with you. You’ve influenced people and they’ve influenced people and down the line. Influence doesn’t just stop with death. If this were the case, then no one would remember Gandhi, MLK, or my grandmother.

        You are right, to accept a truth beyond the demonstrable is silly. And that means that there are truth, that can be demonstrated, and opinions which can vary. Your truth and my truth about molten steel and the ladle of molten steel are very much the same; it is demonstrable. If you think there are purple green furred aliens in orbit around Zeta Reticuli IV, well that isn’t a truth, but an opinion. Evidence can make it a truth. Or we’re stuck playing the solipcism/matrix game again.

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  6. I guess The Truth is personal. I can only know what I know, and what I feel, and believe. No one needs to know all of it, and can’t these days. There’s just too much stuff floating around out there.

    I will disagree gently about facing things in the dark, however. some of them aren’t doubts, but knowledge you can’t hide from yourself. Im gonna die is one of them. It would be nice, and comforting, to be able to say, when I die I go to heaven and Ill see my dog Petey and my little sister and Mum and Dad. Not gonna happen. People tell themselves stories about things like that and it gets them through.

    Atheists are among other things realists, arent they. They have to look themselves in the eye and tell themselves truths, varnished and unvarnished. When i was a little girl mother said I used to tell myself stories to put myself to sleep. Sometimes I’d make up songs to sing. I wonder if that isnt pretty much what people do with religion; tell themselves stories around the fire, and the stories grow, and pretty soon people start to believe they’re real. Bango, you got a religion.

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  7. I am a believer. I take no issue with those who don’t. I only wish they would come up with a different way of expressing their disbelief instead of saying, “I don’t believe in God.” It’s such a contradictory statement. They acknowledge the very thing they are professing to deny and not believe in. Just my thought…

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    • We do, Angel. We do not believe in any supernatural beings. Also, I bet that there a good many gods that you do not believe exist. BTW, first you “take no issue” then you imply that the obvious is an insufficient “way of expressing their disbelief.” Seems like an issue to me. The way it usually works is “Do you believe?” Ans is no. Or, “Are you atheist?” Ans is yes. We do not profess, we answer. Thanks for the comment.

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