Ever since coming out as an atheist, I’ve noticed a few recurring questions about my unbelief. I thought I would offer a few clarifications so I can refer people to this article when the questions come up again.
What is the difference between atheism and non-theism?
I usually call myself a non-theist, and this is deliberate. I feel like there is such a stigma surrounding the word “atheist” that I can destabilize that bias by using a slightly different term. In essence, though, nontheism and atheism mean the exact same thing: “no god.”
So you believe there is no God?
No. I cannot prove that something does not exist, and God very well may be out there somewhere in the cosmos. Instead, I am not convinced by the evidence presented to me for the existence of a god. my position is not that no gods exist, which would require its own set of proofs, but rather that I am unconvinced by the case for god. In other words, I am an atheist (no God), and not an anti-theist (there is no God.)
While many people see atheists and skeptics as close-minded killjoys, robbing others of the expansive mystery of the universe, I see true skepticism and my own atheism as the exact opposite. I am willing to believe anything, no matter how extraordinary — I just want evidence and sound reasoning to back it up. I’d argue that the theories and discoveries of physics are more extraordinary than any God any human mind could conjure up (black holes? Dark matter? The theory of relativity?) The difference is that I have evidence for these extraordinary claims, but I have yet to find compelling evidence for God.
I love mystery, I love the big questions, and I love getting lost in spooky, confusing, or existential questions and stories. To quote the X-files, I want to believe. But I have to temper my enthusiasm for the paranormal and strange with sound skepticism. If I don’t have good evidence for something, then why should I believe it?
So it sounds like you are an agnostic and not an atheist.
I’m both. Agnosticism has to do with what you *know* (gnosis having to do with knowledge) whereas atheism has to do with what you *believe*. Knowledge and belief are not always in lockstep. I want my beliefs to correspond as much as possible with what I know, and therefore not knowing there is a God (agnosticism) results in not believing in a God (atheism.)
So you believe the material world is all there is?
No. Just as I can’t say “I believe there is no God,” I also can’t say, “I believe the material world is all that exists.” I can’t conceive of a non-material world, and I can’t begin to comprehend what the supernatural is (how is anything “above” nature?) But I also can’t rule it out.
Rather, my materialism is rooted in humility. I accept that all we have to work with to observe, understand, and test the world around us is the material world. If there is a supernatural world, we are limited to testing it through physical means. I am, therefore, a Methodological Materialist, accepting that I am limited to only working with material stuff to understand the cosmos, not a Philosophical Materialist, who believes that the material world is all there is.
Do you think religious/spiritual people are stupid?
Absolutely not. Some of the smartest, kindest, and most interesting people I know are theists and/or supernaturalists. I think that religion and supernatural belief are long standing features of human existence, and I’m unimpressed by claims that all religion and supernaturalism will someday be eradicated for good.
Not only do I not think that supernaturalists are stupid, I am infinitely more concerned with right behavior over right belief. I’m far more concerned with how you conduct yourself as a just and humble human being than I am with your religious beliefs. I believe we must work together to create a better world, and as such it is my responsibility to see past differing beliefs and to a common cause. I am only concerned with religious belief when it compels you to exact harm against yourself, others, or the natural world. Otherwise, I don’t really care what you believe.
Many atheists will probably see this as a form of doormat atheism, but I don’t care. It’s not in my temperament to fight, and while I have enormous respect for those who do, I’m not interested in debating God with anyone. I don’t have the energy for that. I want more friends, not fewer.
This is just a preliminary list of clarifications. If you have any additional questions please let me know, and I might write a follow up post.
Many of the ideas in this post are not original. I’ve gotten most of them from online atheist Matt Dillahunty, who has helped me clarify a great number of my thoughts. I strongly recommend his youtube channel.
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8 thoughts on “A Few Clarifications About my Atheism”
” I’m far more concerned with how you conduct yourself as a just and humble human being than I am with your religious beliefs. I believe we must work together to create a better world, and as such it is my responsibility to see past differing beliefs and to a common cause.”
This is definitely a view we share in common.
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People wondering what is makes sense. Believing or not, or unsure, as regards where you are makes sense to me. Unless one walks in someone else’s shoes, one cannot know or judge. **Ever since I was a kid, I had doubts. I don’t know where those doubts came from regarding the meaning of life, how can we know, and such. I also understand people who believe they make their own meaning, but I’ve never been comfortable with that. It just didn’t strike me as true, so I thought, listened, read, and searched.
Here’s what I came up with so far (This was on my own: entirely.). No one could convince me of anything: I had to “see” and understand for myself.
I know I exist. I also have no memory of creating myself, and being an intelligent being with understanding, I had to have been created (The me inside this skin.). I also know others exist, for try living completely alone, then one realizes the need for companionship, and selflessness/sharing comes from helping and socializing with others. Life with others is more rewarding and fulfilling, many wanting marriage and children.
I know there is truth. I know there is understanding (Knowing without knowing how you know. I’ve experienced that at a very young age.). There are facts (2+2 = 4, here and across the universe). Then, I see the father son relationship as being very important. Then, there’s the universe: it couldn’t have self-evolved. A cell can’t self evolve. Not possible (Researched.). There’s more, but like Jiminey Cricket, I know we’re born with a conscience, and that’s also something that couldn’t have self-evolved.
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I disagree with a lot you say, but with nothing as much as that “we’re born with a conscience.” I am a atheist, which to me means there is no god. I am not an anti-theist, which to me means people who fight against theism, more accurately those who hate what theism did to them in their lifetimes.
But that was just for clarification. When we are young and unable to understand the things that are told to us, those things that speak of bad or good, right or wrong, those are the things that can create a conscience inside us. But it is not our understanding of right or wrong, that understanding belongs to the authority figures in our lives. They are repeated so often that a growing mind eventually takes them for reality, even when they are not real. It’s not okay to hurt the cat, but it is okay to swat a fly, and kill it. One is causing pain, the other is destroying life. If you put any value on life, all life should be valuable. Do you feel bad about squishing a bug? You should. Conscience is a human construct. No other living beings seem to have one. This is not a sign of superiority, but rather a sign of weakness. Other living beings encounter each other, and if there is no hunger involved, they generally live and let live. That is life. We, on the other hand, have to be told not to do harm to others. Why is that?
Thank you for the clarification. But as with you, we can agree to disagree. The whole idea of America is the freedom to express your beliefs, or lack thereof, and the arena of discussions is open to others as in this format. You share, I share, others share, and people listen and think for themselves. I’ve always believed, that if people can learn to think for themselves (That means, not just thinking, for we all do that, but learning to realize, separating fact from fiction, separating emotions and trauma from reality.), if they can look at ideas carefully, really looking to understand, they will more often arrive at the right conclusions. We may not always agree, but more often, we will see eye to eye. It comes from something we’re all born with.
I understand this from experience: lots of it. Young people want to see right done. Young people like it when an authority figure represents responsibility and care. It’s in our dna. We’re born with the consciousness of it. But of course, through traumas and poor parenting, young people can become disillusioned, angry, and hateful, then turning to ideas such as what was discussed above.
Regarding killing bugs. That’s a ridiculous idea. Young kids, if they step on a cockroach, an ant, or some other insect, think nothing of it. They know it’s a living thing, but it’s a bug. However, they instinctively regret being mean to another kid who didn’t deserve it. They believe that all human life should be protected. It’s our humanity. But again, that can become displaced if parents are bullies and hate rules the household, though some are stronger than others.
There’s a reason for this, and those of common sense, not disconnected by rhetoric and intellectual mumbo-jumbo, know. I go fishing. I go hunting on rare occasions. I have fed tigers and lions from road kill and animals we put down: those animals were close to dying, so we put them out of their misery and used them for the cats. There’s no guilt there. It’s an animal. However, when someone provided a horse going lame, we didn’t put it down for we saw that we could nurse it back to health. And we did. Later, the horse some kids rode. It became part of the group.
We watched a show about Alaska. The grizzly bears were killing salmon, eating them while they were still alive. This kind of thing happens all across nature. Crows killing other birds babies. Pumas killing other cat’s little ones. A pride of lions eating a kill while it lives. They don’t feel guilt. They’re entirely instinctual. It’s survival of the fittest. Ever watch a house cat with a mouse? It doesn’t just eat it. It sneaks up. Then, it paws the mouse, playing with it, teasing it, until it finally decides to eat it. And, it feels no guilt. But they also cannot wonder about life or the hereafter. They don’t have that human aspect capable of wonder, at least, not in the sense.
But I’ve also noticed that, very often, the ones who care so much for insects and such are cruel to humans. Many hate people, looking to protect animals for they’ve lost a connection with humanity, seeing humans as bad and animals as good. I get that. Pets cannot talk back. Pets “love” unconditionally. However, there’s a reason for people turning away from humanity and towards animals. Not always. But very often. It’s a rebellion they are possibly unaware. Perhaps, they have been traumatized or things didn’t go their way in life, or something else. So, they turned to protecting other forms of life. I get this. But it’s trauma based. Usually, in my house, if a bug is just walking about, I don’t think of it. Too many, and we bring out the raid. Just can’t have flies landing on our foods and such. I know what flies do to food. However, we do what we understand.
All the best.
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You think it is ridiculous to harm life? You think humans are the most superior of living beings? You are right, I don’t want to know humans like you, dolphinwrite. No matter if you are theist or atheist, life belongs to all living things. It is the most valuable force in our world, or off it. Yeah, that is just my opinion, but it is a very strongly held opinion.
But how do you think giant aliens would look at us is they came to our planet. I’m talking hundred-foot tall aliens, or bigger. Would they even notice us. We would be as bugs to them, our cities as anthills. How many anthills have you destroyed in your superior life. More than a few, I’m betting.
Yes, being a cat person, I have watched cats play with mice. It is not easy to watch, death never is. But they don’t play with a sense of cruelty, they seek the thrill of the chase. Humans are the lifeform that display true cruelty, and torture. But it’s okay, as long as you aren’t the torturee.
I apologize, Stephen, for ysurping your blog to have this discussion, but as dolphinwrite partially predicts, I hate that part of the human race that thinks they can ride roughshod over all other beings. That is not a responsible human being, or a respectful one, in my opinion. We are all living beings, trying to get from birth to death as best we can. All lives are as important as any other.
This issues you’re experiencing are far bigger than I can help. All the best.
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Thanks, but I need no help. You, on the other hand…
Nice try. Guess no real communication here. Going onto other articles. Kind of like Johnny Appleseed. Talk, and if there’s real communication, remain. If not, shake the dust of your feet, and move on. Adios.
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