August 1, 2011 13 Comments
Okay, I’ve been promissing it for a little while now, and I think it’s about time I started to lay out what I believe and what I don’t believe. I will try and keep this as sucinct as possible but it’s likely to be an on going piece. I’m pretty certain about some things I believe, but unclear on plenty of others. Still others I’m fairly confident of where I stand, but wouldn’t have a clue how to go about explaining it (for example free will). Some of this is likely to be me trying to find the best way to word my position and I ask for your patience in that.
I also expect that writing this out and having people comment is likely to lead me to change my opinions, so this is hardly an ending to my beliefs; more likely a beginning.
And finally (and I guess also my first belief), nothing I write here is sacred. I do no believe opinions, beliefs or even faiths are sacred and everything should be open to question. I intend to go to town on others beliefs and I hearby give permission for people to tear mine apart.
I wanted to start by laying out where I stand with my atheism. To be clear, weak and strong atheism aren’t exclusive of each other. I’d say most if not all strong atheists are also weak atheists, and I fit into both categories.
As we discussed previously, weak atheism is simply hearing a statement akin to “There is a god / there are gods” and rejecting it, usually because it hasn’t met it’s burden of proof.
As well as agreeing with this, I am also a strong atheist, which means I think there is evidence that suggests gods don’t exist.
Since becoming an atheist I’ve become a lot more skeptical, and one thing I’ve found is there are a lot of sayings out there that are wrong. “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” is one such saying. The fact is if we expect there to be evidence somewhere, and that evidence is non-existent it is in fact evidence of absence. Not proof of course, but evidence. Many people have been sucked into believing this saying and the fact is it’s not true.
With that in mind I would argue there are massive amounts of evidence we would expect to find that indicate the existence of a god, but that evidence is not there. Just to list a few:
- The effectiveness of prayer. The studies have been done and there is little doubt that prayer has no effect. All studies done come back with a 50/50 success rate of prayer, exactly what we would expect from a coin flip experiment.
- Increased happiness. One would expect that being closer to a benevolent loving god would make one happier. Apparently it doesn’t and atheists have been found to be just as happy as believers. Ironically it is those that are unsure where they stand that seems to be the least happy.
- Increased wellfare. Surely communities that believe in a god would experience better living conditons. Better health from all the healings. Less crime from better morals. The fact is there is a negative correlation between community wellfare and religion. Areas with greater numbers of believers also have a decrease in wellfare.
- A lack of evidence for a soul. Experiements have been done and so far we have no good reason to believe they exist.
- Some sense of Karma, where good people have good things happen to them and bad people are generally punished. Although I would say this does in fact happen, it is due to obedience to the law. If bad people don’t break the law they seem to be able to get away with just about anything. Good people tend to attract good people and this seems to be the sole reason for good things happening around them. Any true sense of Karma seems to be completely random.
- Evil acts commited by ‘gods’ people. The most obvious example being pedophile priests, but of course there are many others. Surely a benevolent god would only allow the best of humanity to represent him, rather than harming his chosen people. Considering how these acts can often drive people from their religion you would expect a god to interviene and assist those in trouble.
- Specifically for Christianity: Better evidence for the existence of Jesus. There is no first hand evidence of Christ and there isn’t ANY evidence for his existence until at least a couple of decades after his death. Despite feeding 5000 people no one bothered to write it down. Apparently not important enough. Outside of his followers no one bothers to write about Jesus for ages. I can’t remember exactly how many years, but there are decades and possible centuries before anyone who isn’t a believer decides he is worth recording. This alone is unlikely, but when you consider it is meant to be a message to all of humanity and that the only way to God is through Jesus it seems odd that an all powerful god wouldn’t have made sure there was a better standard of evidence available.
- A world wide religion. Again a little specific to Christianity, but applicable to others. There are many people who will never hear of the various gods or prophets. Considering that a belief in the deity is often required isn’t it a little unfair that these people are condemned to the various versions of hell simply because they were unlucky enough to be raised in an area without that knowledge?
- The number of ‘dead’ gods. Throughout history there have been literally thousands, probably millions of gods. And so far they’re all dead. All of them have died with the civilisations that worshipped them. So far everyone has got it wrong. After these hundreds of thousands of failed attempts to find gods, what makes people think the modern religions will be any more successful?
- Better morality. None of the holy books I’ve read or been told about have even a good example of morality, let alone a superior one. Certainly there are decent morals to be found in the Bible or Quaran, but there are an equal or greater number of bad morals. Gods don’t appear to hire very good editors.
- A lack of consistency. My best knowledge comes from the Bible, but I’ve no doubt the same can be said about the other holy books. Even the Gospels are inconsistent, let alone the rest of the books. I heard recently that there is more consistency between all the books related to ‘Star Wars’, and I believe it to be true. Maybe Jedi should be a major religion?
- Evidence of altered texts. There is no doubt that the ancient texts have been altered. Again, supposedly being the word of god why is this necessary? Why does a god not interviene and make sure the texts are kept consistent?
- All the answers we have aquired to date point towards a natural explanation for our universe. Although there are questions still to be answered, currently we have no good reason to posit a god.
- In all of history every time supernatural phenomenon has been explored we have found a natural explanation. Throughout all of history there is no definitive example against this. The answer has never been ‘God did it’.
I’ve no doubt I could go on, and that there are any number of arguments I might still miss. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of the world is looking for some kind of god. After probaby 10,000 years (going back to the ancient shaman) we have no good reason to believe. How many years do we continue to look for something when after all this time we have nothing solid to offer? At what point do we throw in the towel?
As for strong atheism I am limited to Christianity. Given enough time I intend to study all the major religions and I expect to find similar proofs, but for now I haven’t had the years to dedicate this study.
- There is zero evidence for Moses outside the Bible. There is no written or archiological record of the early Jews living in Egypt, nor is there any evidence of a people wondering the desert for forty odd years. To be fair, the Egyptians often didn’t keep records when their Pharoah was defeated (Pharoahs were considered gods, and nautrally a god could not be defeated), but this is hardly evidence for the exodus. Also,it rained frogs! I don’t care how strict their record keeping was, that gets written down by someone.
- There is however evidence of Jewish people living in the holy lands around the time they should have been in Egypt. Jews were the only people of the time that didn’t eat pork, so spotting their campsites isn’t terribly hard.
- Now, assuming Jesus is meant to be divine, shouldn’t he have know the story of Moses was just that, a story? Why they did he speak of Moses on multiple occasions then? He either knowingly lied, or he didn’t know. Neither of these are consistent with a divine being.
- We have no evidence to think the Genesis story is true, and accepting evolution and the age of the earth suggests it probably isn’t. However the story of Jesus doesn’t make any sense except in the light of Genesis. Jesus was meant to die for our sins, but not just current sins. More importantly he was meant to have died for the one sin God hadn’t been able to forgive, original sin. But original sin isn’t only relevant if the story of Adam and Eve is true. Without Genesis, Jesus’ sacrifice is ultimately pointless. Taking this into account the entire Bible doesn’t make a great deal of sense.
These are just a sample of my atheistic position. I’m sure given time I’ll come up with better ones and think of better ways to phrase what I’ve so far written. I’ll try and keep people posted whenever I make an edit to the above.
As for other things I don’t believe in. Basically, if it’s a skeptical question I almost always side with the skeptics. I don’t believe in
- The paranormal (ghosts, spirits, ghouls, weigi boards etc).
- Cryptozoology (Bigfoot, Lockness monster, chipocarbra etc).
- Psycic abilities.
- Fortune/Future telling.
- Speaking to the dead.
- The vast majority of conspiracy theories (eg. 9/11 being an inside job).
- Most alternative medicines, although not necessarily all. They need to be taken on a case by case basis.
- I’m unconvinced that acupuncture works, although I don’t know enough to be certain.
- Aroma therapy (although I’ve no doubt it can be relaxing, not unlike meditation).
- Magnetic healing
- Minds. There is no evidence that people have anything more than brains.
For all of these things I am a weak non-believer about, in the same way I could be called a weak atheist. I just don’t think these things have met their burden of proof. Like gods, many of these claims have been around for decades, centuries or even thousands of years and so far we have no solid evidence that any of them work. After all this time I would expect something!
I think rather than going into each of the above seperately I’ll wait and see what responces I get from you readers. If people have a particular interest in one of the topics I’ll consider dedicating an entire post to it.
What I do believe.
- Meditation does work. Certainly there will be claims in this field that are just ridiculous, such as levitation. But we know that people can in fact lower their own heart rates. Obviously meditation can do something. For the most part I think it’s just relaxing ones body and brain to a point of light sleep. Especially in todays society, taking a moment of the day to relax and reflect has to have some kind of positive effect.
- Thought crime is stupid. The idea that people should be punished for what they think, or that thoughts should be restricted is abhorent to me. This is another reason I reject a few Biblical passages. I think people should be allowed to believe what they want, I’d just prefer it if people had good reasons to do so.
- As long as it harms no other, do as you will. The closest thing to an atheist creed, this is a general idea (although not a rule) that I try and live by.
- People are inherently good. Most people seem to do the right thing. Although sometimes indifferent, when presented with choices people usually try and do the most good. The idea that humans are inherently evil or insufficient in some way doesn’t seem to be justified.
- There is no meaning. Not only to life, but to anything. Not only does this not depress me, I find it infinitely more rewarding. There is no meaning to my life, therefore I get to make my own. I get to carve my own destiny. We all do. It’s not governed by any external force and the choices we make matter. This to me is more meaningful than completing someone elses, even a gods meaning to existence.