Saturday, February 26, 2011

Some Common Misconceptions About Atheists

Because I often have conversations with Christians who either explicitly or implicitly accuse me of believing something or holding some position that I don't, I'd like to say a few brief words. I mean, the words themselves will be brief. I make no claims about the length of my blog post itself. (Though if I can legitimately work pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis into a relevant paragraph, I probably deserve to violate my previous statements.)

1. "Atheists have no morals"

I hear this the most often so it gets the first spot. So I feel like I've definitely already addressed this in previous posts, but I'll reiterate the major point here. I can't speak for all atheists, but the majority of them, like myself, still agree that the concepts of right and wrong are important and relevant without the concept of a god. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" was around long before Jesus and will continue to be applicable long into the foreseeable future. We humans are empathetic creatures and we know what it feels like for others to be hurt, sad, sick, happy, and healthy. We realize that we have largely the same goals and that none of us can be the best we can be without other people in our lives. I find murder morally wrong because I value human life and the right to a person to his or her own. I find stealing to be wrong because I value ownership and the right of a person to be secure in his home and property. And I don't find homosexuality wrong because it involves two consentual people and doesn't hurt anyone outside the relationship in any kind meaningful way (outside the "I'm offended!" crowd).

2. "It takes just as much faith to be an atheist as it does to be a <religion>ist"

Atheism is really a lack of faith in a god or gods. I don't have faith that Yahweh doesn't exist any more than you have faith that Zeus doesn't. Our explanations of the world around us work perfectly well without the need to invoke a supernatural deity pulling the strings of the universe behind our backs. They also don't require beliefs in demonstrably false claims such as "the universe is <6000 years old" and "all modern languages were created at the tower of Babel." This claim is most likely just an attempt to make it seem like the statements "my god exists" and "your god doesn't exist" are on equal footing because they both require faith. Sorry, but to posit the existence of a deity, you need evidence. I don't need to provide you evidence of the non-existence of leprechauns to justify my non-belief; you must show me why they do. (See: null hypothesis)

3. "If you would just read the Bible/Koran, you would know the truth."

Many of us have read these books and find them to be disturbingly void of morals and evidence for their extraordinary claims. I've heard it said by some that "the quickest way to atheism is to read a bible." While I wouldn't say it leads to atheism itself, it is true that if one starts from the beginning and critically reads with an open mind, there's a slim chance that they'll suddenly convert. It would probably lead them to the opposite conclusion: that their god is mentally challenged, did a particularly poor job of planning ahead, or is losing a bet and needs to step up his game. In any case, I have like five physical bibles laying around and three more electronic searchable ones and I'm not a Christian.

4. "Atheists are angry at God"

This would mean that we actually believe in him but just don't like the guy. Many of us dislike the character portrayed in the bible but realize we don't actually hate a real thing. Would you accuse someone who gets angry at Darth Vader while watching Star Wars of actually being angry at a real Vader? Please.

5. "Atheists worship the devil"

Um, no. The devil doesn't exist either. Most satanists don't even worship the devil. Although to be fair, he does seem like a nicer guy than Yahweh.

6. "Some tyrannical dictators in the past were atheists and therefore you're both bad people."

Depends who you're talking about. While it's true that some genocidal maniacs were atheists, many were also religious. Even Hitler. I mean, take a look at this quote:
"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter."
I'm not saying he was a "true Christian" (often as that phrase is thrown around), but combining this with other quotes, it's pretty clear that he believed in some concept of a god. And I can condone his actions no more as a theist than atheist. However, it would be extremely difficult to say that the non-belief in god was the cause of their actions. And even if it was, it would have no bearing on whether a deity exists or whether any other atheist is immoral.

7. "Atheists think life is meaningless"

Imagine you walk up to a stand at a carnival and ask for an ice cream. It's the middle of July in Texas, 103° in the shade, and you've been walking around all day. The pudgy man behind the booth hands you your double-dip and tells you that this is the last ice cream cone in the world. Would your response be one of disgust, causing you to throw your cone on the ground and storm away? Or would you eat it all the more slowly, savoring every lick? My response is the latter in the context of my only life in this world. I only get one. Why waste it? That's why it is meaningful. No second chances or eternal life once I'm dead. I should make the most of what I have before it's over. Atheism does not inevitably lead one to nihilism, regardless of what your church leaders may have told you. I know plenty of non-believers and not a single person who thinks their life is fully devoid of meaning.

8. "Atheists claim that no god exists"

Close. We only lack a belief. Most atheists don't claim to know for certain that a god doesn't exist. We're just pretty sure he doesn't. (To be fair, some actually do take the hard-line position and are called "strong atheists," but I'm not one of them nor do they represent all of us.) Like the aforementioned leprechauns, I can't disprove their existence or any gods'. I am, however, justified in non-belief until positive evidence has been brought forth.

9. "Atheists wouldn't believe even if verifiable proof was shown to them."

Again, I can't speak for all atheists, but that's not true for me. I'm open to the idea that one could exist and I would publicly acknowledge it if the time ever came. That does not mean, however, that I would worship it. Any being that asks for or requires worship probably doesn't deserve it in the first place. I would judge that deity on its own merits, in the same way I judge other people. Probably more harshly if it is wiser or more knowledgeable than us.

10. "Atheists eat babies."

Aw, come on now, that's just wrong.