“Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.” Carl Sagan (American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, science popularizer, and science communicator in astronomy and other natural sciences – deceased 1996) – Google it kids!
I would like to preface this post by assuring all contributors that religious/spiritual people are always welcome to contribute to any discussion on this blog, as I want this to be an inclusive space. I wish to discuss the topic of Atheism without the proverbial descent into barb-trading between believers and non-believers (and everyone in between). There are some very destructive misconceptions about Atheism that I hope to clear up in this post.
Incidentally, anyone who uses this post to preach, proselytise or denounce or attack contributors in any way will be immediately blocked. You can do that on your own time and in your own space, this is a place for cool heads and mutually respectful dialogue.
Okay! So I’m going to take the plunge and make my second ever blog post about a topic that defines me very deeply as a person, and which continues to inspire me in my journey of recovery. YES! It’s the topic of scepticism and non-belief….Yup! I’m going for it!
I am a committed atheist, there, I said it! I don’t believe in gods or deities and believe they are a human construct; I support Darwin’s theory of evolution as the most rational explanation for our existence as a sub-species…so far. I believe that we are alone in the universe; that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and that in 5 billion years our sun will die and destroy our entire solar system in the process. I’m not worried though, as I believe our sub-species will be long extinct, and in the process of expansion, the sun will scorch all life on Earth before obliterating the planet in its final stage of demise.
But hey, that’s just me!
Okay, so now that you all know, I want to discount some myths about Atheism and scepticism that tend to be propagated by the extremes on all sides of the debate, and usually for self-serving purposes.
Atheism is NOT a religion – Religion is defined by the Oxford Dictionary thusly:
Personally? I think that’s a lackluster and potentially flawed definition in need of urgent revision; religion is far more than that. For me, religion has traditionally been characterised as the active worship of god/s through adherence to doctrines that ascribe certain rules and traditions defining personal and group conduct in order to show respect, love and/or loyalty to a chosen god to ensure a ‘good life’ and a smooth and prosperous transition into the afterlife (I welcome your definitions or understandings of religion, as I love to learn, and enjoy hearing other’s respectful points-of-view).
By contrast, Atheism is quite simply a non-belief in gods…that’s it! There are no doctrines, rules of conduct or particular attributes and behaviors that define Atheism or Atheists. Therefore, I believe it can be safely asserted that Atheism is NOT a religion.
Scepticism is not Atheism – …and Atheists are not sceptics. Atheists are people who don’t believe in gods; they are not sceptics, they are non-believers. Alternatively sceptics tend to fall into the category of Agnosticism, and no, this is not fence sitting (as is often insinuated by antitheists and fundamentalists alike).
Agnostics lack belief in gods as they argue it can never be proven that a god exists…but equally gods can never be proven to not exist, therefore Agnostics take the stance of “the evidence suggests it’s unlikely, but we can never truly know”. Many sceptics (including scientists), take this stance, as they believe it is morally bankrupt to assume something does not exist when there is no evidence that it doesn’t. However, given the strong evidence supporting scientific theories for our existence, and the existence of our universe, Agnostics often pursue their lives as though they are non-believers.
Atheists are not devil worshipers – Atheists do not believe in gods and therefore do not believe in concepts of evil, or in the existence of devils or demons. For an Atheist, as god does not exist, neither does he/she/its opposite. Consequentially, Atheists have a lack of belief in the concepts of heaven and hell.
Atheists do not hate god/s – One cannot hate what one does not believe to exist.
Atheists do not hate people who believe in gods – Atheists lack belief in gods, beyond that concept there are no specific behaviors or attributes that Atheists adhere to. Whilst some Atheists may hate religious people it is not a product of their lack of belief, but rather their individual feelings towards religion and its adherents. Many Atheists support the rights of people to follow a particular religion and actively fight for the rights of people to hold any belief system they choose. Lack of belief in gods does not imply hatred of those who choose to believe in gods.
Atheists do not worship Charles Darwin – As mentioned earlier, Atheism is a simple lack of belief in gods; beyond this lack of belief Atheists live their lives how they choose, and are not defined by any particular beliefs or understandings of the world. The theory of evolution is separate from the concept of Atheism, both are separate ideas linked only by the idea that humanity was not created by a god/s. Atheists may choose to support Darwin’s theory of evolution, or not to. Many Atheists simply don’t care where we came from, or where we are headed, they quite simply just don’t believe in gods.
Atheists do not worship Richard Dawkins – Similarly to the above, Atheists do not worship Richard Dawkins, and some are indeed actively opposed to his views. Richard Dawkins pursues the concept of antitheism, many Atheists do not support his stance on many issues…including religion, or the assertive stance he takes against it. As Atheists do not subscribe to a defined belief system, they see no need to adhere to a defined way of thinking about the world and the universe; life and death.
There is no such thing as ‘new/neo Atheism’ – Atheists have always existed and will continue to exist. As Atheism is not defined by any doctrines of conduct or belief how can it be new or modern? It is quite simply the lack of belief in gods, therefore the Atheists of today are the same as the Atheists that existed 2000 years ago. The only difference is that the punishment for Atheism in most countries is no longer torture and death, freeing people to be open about their lack of belief without fear of persecution. Unfortunately, in some parts of the world, the punishment for Atheism remains torture and death, this behavior has also not changed in 2000 years.
Atheists DO have belief systems – Atheists have a lack of belief in gods, but there are many things on this Earth to believe in, love, respect, support, emote over, fight for and die for. Gods are just one kind of belief system.
..but the one myth I want to discount above all else? Is that Atheists and sceptics are bad people. I would like to share the following quote from Carl Sagan (remember to Google it kids):
“You’re an interesting species. An interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.”
― Carl Sagan, Contact
Although Sagan was more Agnostic than Atheist, many Atheists look to his wisdom for inspiration. For me, this was Sagan’s simple message:
To the rational among us, believers and non-believers alike…are we really so different? It begins and ends with being human, and this is the common ground; the unifier; the future; the only way forward…
Let’s enjoy our time on this rock…come what may.