7 Pillars for Atheists to Live By

Mark, the 40 Year Old Atheist, put together a nice little graphic of the 7 Pillars he tries to live by:

7pillars.jpg

Not a bad guide for all of us.

It certainly answers the question of what you (as an atheist) do believe in.

And it doesn’t have any trace of the wacky first four Commandments.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Hez

    Pretty useless, since we don’t need something shown to us to reaffirm our position like the religious do.
    Also, I would say this is more humanism than atheism.

  • Ada

    Sorry, but the lack of parallelism makes my head hurt. Pillar vi is also impossible, and the closest possible approximation is already there in pillar i.

    I agree it’s more humanism than atheism. He did have the decency to label it “One Atheist’s” rather than something broad, though!

  • http://www.myspace.com/theprinceofspinnersend TheHallowPrince

    Oh gawd people, don’t you understand…

    WE KNOW we don’t need rules or guidelines….

    BUT THEY DON’T. This is not for US… it’s for THEM! That way they can understand our general beliefs better and I think it does a great job.

    “As for “DO NO HARM”, it means “DO NO INTENTIONAL HARM”

    Sheesh!

    Anywho, I would make one change however…

    I really need something in there about coveting my neighbors ass… He seems really shy and I think I could get to it if I told him it was part of my person beliefs that I must covet his ass… :-p

  • http://www.secularplanet.org Secular Planet

    How can V be a pillar? It describes a passive state. It’s like saying “interested in video games” or “excited about Seinfeld.”

  • http://evolutionofpseudoscience.wordpress.com Lindsay

    These also overlap quite a bit with Unitarian Universalists’ principles, which I don’t see as a problem, they’re just not unique . . .

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    As one atheist’s belief system I think it’s fine. It may not be mine or your but it’s not claiming to be. I like it but I’d like it more if it was in green.

  • http://4oyearoldatheist.com Mark

    Hi all.

    @Friendlyatheist: Thanks for connecting.

    @everyone else: I would certainly not ever presume to speak for all atheists. The excercise was useful for me being *new* to atheism. Also, as TheHallowPrince pointed out, it doesn’t hurt to communicate what we believe so that theists don’t get the idea (which they often do) that we are all amoral/immoral. Also, I *did* say right in the post that this was based on secular humanism.

    I know it’s far from perfect (could something like this ever be?), but at least it conveys something more to the world than just “I don’t believe in god”.

    oh, and to hoverFrog: I’ll make the next one green. ;)

    Peace!

  • http://blargen.com/blog postsimian

    Wow, I’m actually surprised at the appearance of resistance to being associated with the secular humanist worldview, especially considering its reliance on atheism and their natural compatibility. I can understand not wanting to be pigeonholed, but wow, what gives?

  • http://avantgardefaith.blogspot.com/ D Rho

    Questions:

    i. The Golden rule is from religious writings, is it not?

    ii. Because science can’t prove it exists, right? What about the unexplained scientific phenomenon throughout history?

    iii. Where does the sense of morality come from? Why not simply be a selfish hedonist? Most laws were founded in religion, right?

    iv. Wouldn’t this make religion a viability – as it seeks for truth, clarity, and understanding personally as well as theistically?

    v. How did we get the ability to be awed and inspired by anything? Can one be awed and inspired by nature, humanity, discovery, and science because they reflect a god/creator?

    vi. Again morality? Is it becuase it’s reasonable, or because it’s intrinsic in our minds, or genetics? Isn’t this concept rooted in religious dogmatic belief?

    vii. Can we live any other life?

  • Brian E

    Ya need a different figure in the middle – looks like a men’s room sign.

  • http://blargen.com/blog postsimian

    D Rho – holy loaded questions, batman!

    i. The golden rule can be seen in religious writings, but that doesn’t indicate its origin. The principle can be reached through many means, as it is not terribly complex.

    ii. What about them? There was a time when we couldn’t explain the sun or the moon, too. Even today, we don’t know a number of things, but at least we admit it. But because something is unknown does not mean it is unknowable.

    iii. Enter philosophy and ethics. Created by man, just like god was. Most ethics (as applied by law) are reached by a consensus. If the majority of us think something is a good idea, we generally abide by it (or try to).

    iv. Last I checked, religion has anything but a monopoly on harmony or peace of mind.

    v. If they believe in a god. I’m often inspired by mankind’s genius, and I don’t see any scientific theories printed in religious texts.

    vi. None of the above. We’ll go with reason: humans are a social creature. To make human society possible, there are a few things we’re going to have to do to get along. For the most part, we succeed. But when we fail, we fail big (read: war, genocide, etc.).

    vii. I believe this is in reference to living for an afterlife while ignoring the human suffering (which can be lessened) here on earth–or, living irresponsibly and licentiously because, hey, you’re saved and going to heaven, so to hell with it!

    At least, that’s how I took it.

  • http://4oyearoldatheist.com Mark

    @postsimian: Thanks for stepping in and answering those questions! And, to answer your comment, I am definitely fine with being called a Secular Humanist – this graphic is a bit out of context. I don’t mean to pimp my blog but you really have to visit the link in this post to see what I was trying to do here. :)

    @Brian E: I’ll see what I can do.

  • http://eshto.deviantart.com Eshto

    Anyone ever heard of the “Platinum Rule”? It’s something my husband learned in counseling psych, it goes “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.”

    Now logic police, please, settle down, they just bring it up to prove a point and don’t believe in it 100% or in a religious way. So don’t go saying dumb shit like “oh well what if someone wants you to steal something for them” or whatever.

    The point is just to show that cultures are all different. So if you went around flatly applying the Golden Rule – doing to others what you would want – you are at the risk of treating everyone like you, which may not be appropriate since a lot of people are not like you.

    You could see how a Christian believing in the Golden Rule would go around treating everyone as if they are, or should be, a Christian rather than respecting their different cultures and beliefs (which is exactly what most of them do). Or when white people don’t know a better way to deal with racism so they try to be “color-blind” and treat everyone like they are the same and ignore any differences – which if you apply the Golden Rule really means you are treating everyone like they’re white, like you. When of course treating everyone with the same level of respect is what is important, not pretending like we’re all the same and have had the same experiences.

    So it’s just designed for a more contemporary, global community where diversity is a big issue, and it’s especially important for psychiatrists so they don’t go around imposing their own views on other people.

    And again they don’t really put faith in it, they just bring it up to point out the flaws in traditional ethnocentric thinking and to segue into the deeper discussions.

  • http://blargen.com/blog postsimian

    Mark – Not a problem. My S.H. comment had more to do with the responses on the post than the graphic, which made your principles rather apparent :)

    Eshto – Oh you know somebody has to say something.

    I think you might be taking the golden rule a bit too far. Because of the vagueness of the saying, to me it’s a way of saying “don’t be rude, don’t hurt others, don’t insult others, don’t steal from others, don’t belittle others” etc. It’s really a general statement and social phenomena such as ethnocentrism can be separated from it.

    A hardline implementation may mean something like “I like being prayed for, so I’m going to tell everybody I’m praying for them” or “I like being choked during sex, so I’m going to choke my lovers from now on.” Heh… but I don’t think anyone really interprets it in such a specific manner.

    That being said, yes, I get your point :D

  • Richard Wade

    D Rho,
    I’m going to take the chance that your questions are genuinely curious rather than rhetorical. I mean no offence, but I have seen these exact questions posed by people who have absolutely no interest in anyone’s answers and responding to them turned out to be a futile waste of time. On the other hand I have also enjoyed discussing them with people who sincerely want to understand others’ points of view. So in the interest of promoting understanding I’ll respond with my opinions:

    i. The Golden rule is from religious writings, is it not?

    While some clerics and religious historians have tried to claim that their favorite religion has the “author” of the Golden Rule and that others borrowed it, from what I can find it seems to have appeared in far flung cultures world-wide at times when there was no communication between these cultures. It seems to be related to the Law of reciprocity as well as the natural trait in humans we call empathy. I would say that it is probably adopted by religions from the culture surrounding them rather than the other way around.

    However, even if it was an original idea by a specific religion, so what? There is nothing in a humanistic or atheist way of thinking that precludes borrowing a good idea anywhere it is found. Adopting an ethical principle from a religion does not require agreement with all the other beliefs in that religion.

    ii. Because science can’t prove it exists, right? What about the unexplained scientific phenomenon throughout history?

    Your question may be coming from the misconception that “no belief in gods” is the same as “belief that there are no gods.” These are completely different. Most atheists do not work hard at believing in the absence of gods, they simply refrain from believing in gods or anything else for that matter, as long as there is an absence of acceptable evidence.

    As for “unexplained scientific phenomenon throughout history” I don’t understand what you mean by “scientific phenomenon.” If you are referring to the “gods, mysticism or the supernatural” mentioned in number ii, these are things human beings tend to be interested in. “Science” does not come in trying to disprove these things. Instead, people who practice the good habit of skepticism patiently wait for others who make claims about such things to bring forth their credible evidence. They’re still waiting. The fact that science cannot disprove a claim that is, by the definition offered by its proponents beyond the reach of science, does not then necessarily mean that the claim must be valid.

    iii. Where does the sense of morality come from? Why not simply be a selfish hedonist? Most laws were founded in religion, right?

    Empathy, socialization, the law of reciprocity, and possibly inherited traits from groups that succeeded in surviving because they had these tendencies. Because most of the individuals had these traits, their group was more cohesive, cooperative and well functioning and so survived, while groups that did not have these traits perished. Contrary to certain bigots who don’t bother to actually investigate, groups and individuals who do not have belief in gods generally do not degrade into selfish hedonism. They still retain their inborn traits for social cooperation. As for laws, while some come directly from specific religious traditions, as with the Golden rule, most laws deal with principles that seem to be universal or at least common among most cultures, regardless of the religion or its power over the culture. Again, as in my answer in question i, even if a good law comes from a specific religion, so what? If it works for the society as a whole, they will sustain it. If it doesn’t they will eventually rescind it. It is not necessary for a society to be grounded in religion for it to be a lawful society, any more than is it necessary for an individual to be religious in any way for him to live ethically and morally.

    iv. Wouldn’t this make religion a viability – as it seeks for truth, clarity, and understanding personally as well as theistically?

    People get their sense of clarity, truth and understanding from many sources, not just one, and they all have differing definitions of what those terms mean. If you get yours from your religion and it works for you, that is fine with me. But it is a mistake to assume that it is the only source that works for people or to attempt to force one single version of these things on others. Regardless of one’s stand on religion, I think it is an admirable goal for anyone to keep seeking these things.

    v. How did we get the ability to be awed and inspired by anything? Can one be awed and inspired by nature, humanity, discovery, and science because they reflect a god/creator?

    As with morality, I think these are natural traits. They are part of our natural curiosity and they drive us to investigate, which while sometimes can be risky in the short term, often leads to benefit in the longer term. One can be awed and inspired by these things if they think they are reflections of a god/creator, or if the don’t think that. You and I are living proof of that diversity.

    vi. Again morality? Is it becuase it’s reasonable, or because it’s intrinsic in our minds, or genetics? Isn’t this concept rooted in religious dogmatic belief?

    See my answers to questions i and iii.

    It is arrogant of religions to try to claim that they or their deities are the one and only source of morality. Since they spend a great deal of time declaring the falsity of each other, they contradict themselves since they all have very similar moral codes. This claim is also shown as false by highly moral individuals, groups, communities and societies that function just fine without religion.

    vii. Can we live any other life?

    No, we can’t. I think the author here is trying to emphasize living by these guidelines in the here and now for the here and now, rather than basing one’s life on the anticipation of some kind of afterlife, or following such guidelines only because that would produce a better result in an afterlife.

  • http://avantgardefaith.blogspot.com/ D Rho

    Richard Wade,

    Thank you for the in depth response to my questions. They are genuine and seeking real answers from an atheists point of view. They’re the sort of question many Christian scholars say silences atheists, HA! They were wrong! I have a couple insights and some further questions from your responses:

    1. It’s the very sense of empathy I’m wondering about. How did this sense of empathy evolve into a natural human tendency? Looking at the social behavior of animals, where only the strong survive, how did a sense of empathy even have a chance to evolve and survive? The very ability to be empathetic towards anything seems to be a “spiritual” quality, not a natural quality.

    2. So atheists are simply waiting for evidence for a god? Well, I guess you can also say that the religious are waiting for evidence against God? I guess atheism can be a belief, as much as a having a religion is. Atheists believe there is no gods, the religious believe there is.

    3. Medical journals are full of unexplainable healings… Studies have shown that prayer actually works in achieving a peaceful state, and actually incurs a healthier outcome in the sick… Countless reports of NDE’s (near death experiences)… I have known people who have been in fatal sitiuations and have not received a scratch… observatories who have seen things in the skies… the beauty and harmony of the chaos theory… ? Do you mean to say that these are to be ignored until they are followed up with scientific evidence – that seems pretty passive to me.

    4. Sorry, I didn’t mean to say that those who don’t believe in gods, are selfish heathens. I’m just trying to understand the logic of obeying any sort of set rules that are usually borrowed from religious ideals. And I apologize for my ignorance – I’ve never heard of any society that survived because of high morality and ethics. If this is my only life, and after this I’m dead and gone, I’d most assuredly care little to nothing of others well being. I would seek my own pleasure above all things (which I think is natural human tendency anyways for some reason). Being that an atheist would have no belief in god, heaven or hell, or an afterlife – what would be the point of social morality? Just let each person do what is best in his own eyes.

    4. If one’s source of truth leads to the conclusion that it’s Thee Quintessenetial Truth in the universe – then wouldn’t they also have to believe that everyone else’s truth is inadequate, or incomplete, or just plain wrong? If one didn’t believe that, then wouldn’t they even really believe their truth? Which would mean that one’s pursuit of truth, clarity, and understanding is meaningless. Everyone argues from a percieved truth, and hopefully are striving to get the most complete truth from dialoguing with others with openness and honesty..

    5. Where else does morlaity exist but in humanity? How is it a natural trait? The rest of nature doesn not recognize or operate with any sense of morality? Where did we get it from?

    6. I agree that most people, groups, communities, and societies in history have operated without religion and can still be highly moral people; even moreso than religious folks. Isn’t is just as arrogant to say that godly and religious people are wrong and ignorant in their supposition that their god and religion is the source of morality. Isn’t it really about whose history you choose to accept? Does morality (or lack thereof) determine the truth/falseness of one’s god or religion? Like you said, a person with no religion or god can be more moral, than one who literally believes every word of their sacred text!

    7. I believe most religions have a high veiw of “this” life and how to operate in “this” life. In Christianity, for example, one cannot possibly aspire to “heaven/afterlife” without bringing it to people here in “this” life – which basically means “no soup for you!” unless you “bring soup to the hungry right now”. The highest message there is LOVE, I think. “Heaven” is the hope that the destructions, injustices, and depravity in this life are temporary – to a starving child with AIDS living in a refugee camp in Somalia this is good news – to the upper middle class American, not-so-much.

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    I was curious about the inclusion of the Golden Rule. I mean, I certainly won’t complain if Atheists adopt it, hey, good on you all if you do. But I am wondering, on what basis do you adopt it? Do you see it as stemming from evolutionary principles? Is it intrisic to Atheist belief? Or is this adoption somewhat arbitary? Just something that sounds good?

    Part of the reason I ask is, well, it seems to me that there are many Atheists who explicitly reject the Golden Rule. Particularly when it comes to things like respect of others who believe differently. Some Atheists (quite understandably) protest loudly when their system of belief is aggressively attacked by fundamentalists who have forgotten the Golden Rule themselves, yet feel quite justified in demeaning others for holding contrary beliefs. This is ethical asymmetry is hardly “do as you would be done by”. Now of course there are Atheists who do practice the Golden Rule and I take my hat off to you. But given this diversity of opinion, how can it be said to be a “pillar” of Atheist belief? That is what puzzles me.

    I suppose what I am asking is, just how do you derive ethics? I can understand how Nietzsche came to his “will to power”. But I am unclear how you come to the Golden Rule.

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    I suppose I would similarly question “do no harm”. Why? Does not evolution imply that it is not only impossible, but not necessarily even a virtue? How for instance does the selfish gene imply do no harm? Is not harm, even intentional harm, sometimes evolutionary advantageous?

  • Darryl

    I suppose I would similarly question “do no harm”. Why? Does not evolution imply that it is not only impossible, but not necessarily even a virtue? How for instance does the selfish gene imply do no harm? Is not harm, even intentional harm, sometimes evolutionary advantageous?

    Evolution, as a process, doesn’t imply anything about morals. The Universe, so far as I know, is a-moral. We decide to have morals, and what they are. We clearly have the ability to deny our basest desires to some degree. Of all our behaviors that may be beneficial to survival, the fact that some of them are positive and life-affirming, and some otherwise, and that we have chosen among them those that are moral and those that are immoral, indicates that we make morality and virtue what it is. Whenever possible it is a good policy to do no harm, don’t you think?

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    The Universe, so far as I know, is a-moral. We decide to have morals, and what they are

    .

    But this is entirely my question, if the universe is a-moral, if morality is whatever we decide it to be, doesn’t that make morality somewhat arbitary?

    If morality is arbitary, how can the Golden Rule be a “pillar” for Atheism?

    “Pillar” language suggests that it is something so intrinsic to Atheism that it is beyond personal choise, that it is intrinsic to the system, that cultural context is irrelevant, that anyone who infringed it would cease to be an Atheist as that term is conventionally understood. Now, I can see how that could be true of ii and v particularly, but for the life of me I can’t see how “pillar” language could be extended to i or vi.

    You see the Golden Rule is not culturally universal. There have been cultures that adopted asymmetric understandings of morality … for survival reasons. So it is not beyond the bounds of my imagination to envisage situations where Atheists may choose to abandon the Golden Rule for legitimate survival reasons. Would such people cease to be Atheists? I can’t see why not. Therefore I can’t see how the Golden Rule could be a pillar for anyone’s Atheism. It might be a nice value that some choose to adopt, but I don’t see how it is foundational (ie pillar-like) to the system. These 7 pillars just don’t seem internally coherant. I can’t help thinking it would have been more honest to say, here are 4 pillars and 3 things which I think are kinda nice.

  • http://blargen.com/blog/ postsimian

    “But this is entirely my question, if the universe is a-moral, if morality is whatever we decide it to be, doesn’t that make morality somewhat arbitary?

    If morality is arbitary, how can the Golden Rule be a “pillar” for Atheism?”

    —-

    Matt Stone – Wow, farewell, great subject of philosophy. We’ll miss you! /sarcasm

    To answer your first question: in terms of the universe at large, yes, it’s completely arbitrary. As a supporting function of civil society and (since humans are social creatures) survival/propagation of the species, it is key. So no, in evolutionary terms I don’t think it’s arbitrary at all, especially not when we have man-made weaponry powerful enough to drive us into extinction. As a response to recognizing the such dangers, a moral code might say,”use it in only the most extreme of circumstances or don’t use it at all” whereas an amoral stance might be fatalistic: do it and whatever happens, happens.

    Understand that I use the term “moral” in a general sense, since it’s the most goddam subjective word in the English language. As for being a pillar to atheism, no, it’s really not. But I think it is a pillar of modern, civil society.

  • http://40yearoldatheist.com 40 Year Old Atheist

    Wow. I’m utterly amazed at how selective people can be, and how they can color things with their own way of looking at things (i.e. how they can so utterly fail at even imagining another way of seeing the world).

    1. My graphic doesn’t represent all atheists.
    2. The graphic doesn’t even represent atheism.
    3. It is a simplified representation of my worldview which happens to be secular humanism.
    4. Theists: You don’t own morality. The atheist perspective is that morality and ethics are innate (like emotions) and that they can be explored and developed through rational thought.
    5. I am regretting the use of “pillars”. I was looking for something that conveyed the strength of those things but the word has proven itself far too “loaded” a word for this.

  • Darryl

    I agree with postsimian. A good argument can be made for the golden rule. To favor one morality over another, based upon a rationale, is not arbitrary, unless you are a complete determinist, and nothing is meaningful to you.

    But, I do agree that moralities differ and change based upon necessities and desires and enlightenment. For instance, if you were to ask your average American if they believe in the golden rule, or if they try to live by it, how many would give lip service to it? Then, look at our position in the world today and ask yourself “Are we living by the golden rule?” How many Americans are railing against their government for violation of this moral “pillar?”

    Furthermore, if you were to ask your average American which is more precious, oil or human life, I think most would say the latter. And yet, how many of us will avoid making such a comparison, and instead continue to substitute WMD, or Saddam Hussein, or Liberty, or Democracy in the place of oil, when the prices go down at the pump and our economy comes out of its slump? Will George Bush be remembered as a visionary President in time to come, if the Middle East transforms itself into a Liberal Paradise? Will all his sins against morality be forgiven?

    We are poised to celebrate our Fourth of July at a time when it may be argued we are repudiating it’s meaning. Are we moral?

  • Richard Wade

    Hi D Rho,
    I’ll try to answer your questions as best I can but I am certainly not an expert in any of the fields I may be touching upon. I’m trying to not be too long-winded, so I’ll take them one at a time. Also, please forgive me if I go over concepts that you already understand:

    How did this sense of empathy evolve into a natural human tendency? Looking at the social behavior of animals, where only the strong survive, how did a sense of empathy even have a chance to evolve and survive?

    Evolution is driven by natural selection, and natural selection is driven by time, mutation and death. The offspring of all organisms are slightly different from their parents due to genetic mutations. Those differences can be in physical structure or in behavior. Most of those differences are innocuous, neither giving the organism an advantage nor a disadvantage in dealing with their environment or in competing with their peers. If their difference is a disadvantage they will be less likely to be able to survive until they can reproduce and over many generations their offspring will die out. If their difference is an advantage then over many generations their descendants who have genetically inherited that advantageous trait will out-compete, out-reproduce and out-number their peers that don’t have that advantage. The difference can be small and rudimentary, but over many generations those with even more of that trait will thrive and compete successfully with those possessing less of it. Eventually their trait is both dominant and accentuated and it will continue to be reproduced as long as it remains an advantage. But to be clear, for a trait to come to dominate the scene, those without that trait must continually tend to die off before they can reproduce. Otherwise both varieties of the organisms will continue. Time, mutation and death drive the process.

    In animals that live solitary lives this is easier to understand. In social animals such as the primates, including humans, it can be more complicated. Not just physical traits or simple behaviors such as food acquisition but traits that involve interactions with peers can be very important to the survival of the group. Here, the survival of the group can become more important in the long term than the survival of the individuals. Empathy is a form of intelligence where an individual can notice subtle cues in the appearance, behavior and communications of another individual, and to correctly understand what the other is experiencing. This ability can lead to protecting behaviors, nursing the sick or wounded, cooperation, alliances, loyalty, altruism and even self-sacrifice. It permits the intricate emotional communications that allow a hierarchical social structure to be flexible and to adapt quickly to crises. An individual with such traits might end up being killed as he fights to protect the group, but he and his similar peers will have already helped to create a more stable, safer and more adaptable group, and his offspring will survive and will continue to pass on those traits.

    Imagine two packs of early hominids living on the savannahs of Africa. They live fairly close to one another but far enough apart that they do not interact or interbreed. The packs tend to breed within their own ranks. Both packs are being continually menaced by leopards that kill several individuals each year. In one pack a few individuals possess the rudimentary traits of empathy and the resultant ability for cooperation, loyalty and self-sacrifice. The other pack does not have anyone with these rudimentary traits. When the leopards come the first pack is a little more able to respond as an organized force with leaders, subordinates and specialists, including those who will be the heroes and those who will be the gratefully rescued. Meanwhile, the other pack scatters in all directions, each individual for themselves, and they are all hunted down. Repeat this process millions of times over millions of years and what you have is the surviving hominids with a set of complex traits that varies in degree from individual to individual, but is strong enough in the overall group to be advantageous and therefore reproduced and accentuated over long periods of time. Once again, time, mutation and death drive the process, even with traits as beautiful and admirable as empathy.

    D Rho, I’ll respond to your other questions when I can, or perhaps someone else can take one or two.

  • Darryl

    There is no agreement on what is moral. How many would put greater value on material possessions than on human life? One of our Americans from Texas decided to kill two people to save some ‘stuff.’ His fellow Texans agreed with him. Are Texans moral? How much do you want to bet that this guy is a good Christian?

  • Richard Wade

    D Rho, here is the second installment in my attempt to respond to your questions.

    2. So atheists are simply waiting for evidence for a god? Well, I guess you can also say that the religious are waiting for evidence against God? I guess atheism can be a belief, as much as a having a religion is. Atheists believe there is no gods, the religious believe there is.

    Yes, atheists are waiting for evidence for a god. Skeptics are waiting for evidence of any claim. I personally would not make the statement, “the religious are waiting for evidence against God,” because the ones I know don’t seem to be very interested in evidence one way or another. Religious folks are the ones who make claims about God doing this or that, God wanting this or that, and when they come to atheists with these claims, the atheists politely (I hope) say “Please show me the evidence for your claims.” It is up to the person making a claim to come up with the evidence. An infinite number of claims can be made about an infinite number of things. Skeptical people cannot be expected to do the work of gathering refuting evidence for an infinite number of claims. That’s up to the claimant. For the skeptic, no evidence equals no belief.

    It is the believers of God who describe his nature, and they include in their description that he cannot be perceived by people unless he wants to be perceived. Otherwise he remains invisible, inaudible, intangible and beyond the laws of the universe. Given that definition, coming up with refuting evidence is impossible. However, the impossibility of disproving God’s existence is not something that believers should take as proof of his existence. The lack of evidence is, after all, part of their description of him.

    It wasn’t always like this. The ancient Greeks believed in many gods who lived atop Mount Olympus. They believed that the gods were solid, real and physically existed on Earth. They could transmutate, travel rapidly and perform all sorts of feats of magic, but they were more like very large, powerful wizards. If an ancient Greek dared to climb Mount Olympus, according to the concept at the time he could catch a glimpse of one of the gods. It wasn’t until folks actually started climbing the mountain and like the proverbial bear, the other side of the mountain was all that they could see, that believers began describing the gods as being insubstantial, invisible, inaudible and intangible most of the time. They would only solidify for the benefit of a select few mortals. Gods have been described as beyond perception ever since.

    Now for the last part of your second statement/question:

    I guess atheism can be a belief, as much as a having a religion is. Atheists believe there is no gods, the religious believe there is.

    I understand how very hard it can be for a person for whom believing is a big part of their life to comprehend the absence of belief. At first they assume that not believing in God means believing that there is no God. From this misconception they make statements like atheism is a religion or it can be a belief as much as theism is. Respectfully, no, no, no. The absence of something is not the presence of its opposite. A vacuum is the absence of air, not the presence of some kind of gas other than air. If I don’t have dollars in my pocket that doesn’t mean I have pesos in my pocket. The vast majority of atheists are simply void of the belief in God or gods. There is no counter-belief in its place. They are not busy believing that gods do not exist.

    Believing is not a state of existence. It is a mental activity as distinct as counting down by threes. You are either busy doing it or you are not. If you are not busy counting down by threes that does not mean that you must be counting up by threes instead. It is quite possible to be doing no counting at all and it is quite possible to be doing no believing at all.

    A few, very rare atheists actively practice the belief that gods do not exist. By doing this they put themselves in the position of being challenged to present evidence for their claim. It is doubly foolish because they have to go by the definition and description offered by theists, as you remember the one that is beyond perception and immune to evidence. This stance only works in refuting narrowly limited claims such as some specific event that is at first attributed to God but later is shown to have been caused by something more mundane.

    D Rho, I want to reaffirm here that my remarks are not meant to ridicule or mock your beliefs in God. I am attempting to describe the atheist point of view, the process of coming to that point of view, and to dispel what I see as misconceptions about atheists that are embedded in your questions.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    I’m just commenting because Richard makes great comments, and I don’t want to miss any others appearing here. In other words, I am subscribing to this thread. If anyone knows a way to subscribe without actually making a comment, please let me know.

    I feel bad making a comment with no real content besides some praise (mixed with an ulterior motive) so here’s an oft repeated quote I like regarding atheism as a belief:

    Atheism is a belief, like bald is a hair color.

    (Just to be clear, I only capitalized “atheism” because it was the first word of a sentence. I wish some atheists would stop capitalizing it because it lends a kind of subliminal support to the whole “atheism is just another religion” idea. Would you capitalize “theism”? Actually, I don’t think “theism” is a religion either. Just as “vegetarianism” isn’t a carrot. ;-) )

    One more thing, just to defuse any risk of yet another “atheism defined” thread, everyone should read all of this:
    http://atheism.about.com/od/definitionofatheism/p/overview.htm

  • Richard Wade

    NYCatheist,
    Funny, I have subscribed to threads just to follow your comments. :) There used to be a way to subscribe without commenting, a button to click, but I don’t see it on these threads any more.

    Anyway it’s just as well because your “comment without much content” is both welcome and useful. The “bald” analogy and the point about the capitalization are helpful, and about.com is such a fine resource.

    Jump right in any time, your input is most appreciated.

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  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Wow!

    How did I miss this fascinating discussion until now…

    My brain is throbbing (but it’s good pain).

    Jut a few comments “without much content”… ;-)

    40 Year Old Atheist (Mark): I rather like your diagram. Very similar to my own beliefs. Except for the Golden rule thing. It does not always apply, as what I like done onto me is not necessarily what others desire. But I do believe that another version of the Golden rule often (always?) applies in humanity: “The one who has the gold makes the rules.” :lol:

    D Rho: Please be careful about referring to any group of people as holding the same beliefs. You make some great points, though.

    Matt: I love the way you think, question, and explore possibilities.

    Richard Wade: You’re the man! How do you express your ideas so well?

    Other than that, I’m not smart enough to articulate my jumbled thoughts…
    But NYCatheist, YOU are! You are here way too seldom.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    Richard, Linda,
    Thanks! :-)

    Hmm, I still don’t have any new content. How about Matt Dillahunty?

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=qs3RKZjSzYg

    He expresses himself so clearly. And the video above has a surprise ending! ;-)

  • Richard Wade

    To D Rho (Hope you’re still there)

    3. Medical journals are full of unexplainable healings… Studies have shown that prayer actually works in achieving a peaceful state, and actually incurs a healthier outcome in the sick… Countless reports of NDE’s (near death experiences)… I have known people who have been in fatal sitiuations and have not received a scratch… observatories who have seen things in the skies… the beauty and harmony of the chaos theory… ? Do you mean to say that these are to be ignored until they are followed up with scientific evidence – that seems pretty passive to me.

    I wouldn’t use the term “unexplainable.” It implies that something will never be explained, and never is a word sure to eventually embarrass the person who utters it. I’d rather say “unexplained.” That term implies “as yet.” When something unexpected happens some people are eager to rush in and “explain” it with their own favorite rubber stamp explanation, such as “It’s gotta be that God did it,” or “It’s gotta be natural.” They don’t have the patience or humility to let it remain unexplained for the time being while we look closely.

    Medical and scientific journals are also full of accounts for things that were once unexplained but are now understood in simple, straight forward ways. I just met a neurologist who is doing research on the brain activities of people who alter their mental states with prayer, meditation or other methods by scanning their brains before, during and after using those methods. He found that praying produced identical peaceful states as did simply counting one’s breaths from one to ten.

    I’m not saying that these things are to be ignored until they are followed up with scientific evidence. Certainly they should be wondered about and pondered over. But “explaining” them with a pat answer that massages the mind dismisses the issue and often no further investigation moves forward. It is arrogant and foolish to hastily toss around one’s favorite response, whether natural or supernatural for the as yet unexplained. It isn’t being passive to let something be unexplained during investigation, it’s being conscientious.

    The universe is full of things we find beautiful, mysterious and wonderful. Those emotional responses are in us. They are our creation. Beauty, wonder and mystery are in the eye of the beholder. If they were qualities that are intrinsically embedded into the things we see, (such as by a creator) then our responses to them would be universally consistent. But they are not. What is beautiful to one person is plain or even ugly to another. What is mysterious to one person is obvious to another. What is wondrous to one person is mundane to another.

    So to invoke the beauty, mystery and wonder we see in the world is not necessarily a testament to whatever created it to be like that, as much as a celebration of that ability in ourselves.

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  • Richard Wade

    D Rho,
    An “uh huh” would be helpful once in a while. This is a lot of work. I don’t do this just to keep my fingers nimble but to actually promote understanding between people. If nobody’s reading this crap I’ll shut up.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    What is beautiful to one person is plain or even ugly to another. What is mysterious to one person is obvious to another. What is wondrous to one person is mundane to another.

    That is absolutely true.

    If they were qualities that are intrinsically embedded into the things we see, (such as by a creator) then our responses to them would be universally consistent.

    I disagree. I want to investigate the possible (probable) purpose in diversity. We can design a watch to tell time, a compass to give us diretion, and a thermometer to measure(?) the temperature. They all serve different functions. They are each wired (designed) differently by the creator (us) to collectively serve a greater purpose.

    My argument is not for creation, by the way. I’m just addressing your argument against it. ;-)

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    NYCatheist,

    Hey, that’s not fair (referring to the video)! Atheists way too often get portrayed as smarter than the theists…

    It really made me cringe. But you know better, right? RIGHT?!? Don’t make me come over there and knock you out! :-)

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    Richard,

    For what it’s worth, I read your comments and enjoyed them. I’d also like to hear Rho’s thoughts on what you wrote, if he’s still out there.

    Linda,

    Re: your reply to Richard, which part do you disagree with? Do you mean you think qualities like beauty are intrinsic in objects?

    Re: the video, there must be a video with a smart theist and a dumb atheist. It’s your mission to find it! ;-)

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    postsimian said,

    “Wow, farewell, great subject of philosophy.”

    Well, I am relying on an Atheist philosopher after all.

    “When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident….Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands….Christian morality is a command, its origin is transcendence…it has truth only if God is truth–it stands and falls with faith in God.”

    From Nietzsche – Twilight of the Gods

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    NYCathiest,

    Re: your reply to Richard, which part do you disagree with? Do you mean you think qualities like beauty are intrinsic in objects?

    I guess I did not make myself clear. Let me try it again…

    I was just pointing out that perhaps the embedding by the creator is not in the thing that is observed but how the observers are wired differently. What is intrinsic may not be the beauty but the perception of beauty.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    Linda,
    OK, I think I see what you mean. So if one person thinks a painting is beautiful, but another person disagrees and thinks a different painting is beautiful, there is no right answer. That is, there is no True Beauty, just different opinions. But the perception of beauty, that experience the first person has when looking at painting A, and the experience the second person has when looking at painting B, are the same. (I’m not sure I agree, but is that what you mean?)

    It would seem that such a view is more compatible with an evolutionary view of human psychology, where all humans have evolved the ability to experience beauty. However the objects which trigger that experience vary from culture to culture, or with the vagaries of personal taste. I think the theistic model presumes that God has created universal qualities, like beauty and goodness. God has given humans the ability to perceive these universal qualities that exist independent of human opinion.

    Do you think God could give a final answer on which painting was truly beautiful?

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    But the perception of beauty, that experience the first person has when looking at painting A, and the experience the second person has when looking at painting B, are the same. (I’m not sure I agree, but is that what you mean?)

    Closer, but still not quite. The way we perceive the paintings may be quite different. You could look at individual objects in the painting, the colors, and the layout to call it beautiful. I could look at the mood the painting portrays, the emotions that it triggers, and the patterns I see within the painting and call it beautiful. That’s what I mean by the difference in perception. We could arrive at the same conclusion but still have two completely different ways of perceiving. That is what is intrinsic. And yes, neither is right or wrong.

    I am a theist, but I disagree with the theistic model that you describe. I don’t think God created universal qualities like goodness and beauty. I think they were created by humans, such as religious leaders or the societal norm. The only things that come to mind that are universal which I attribute to God are… life, grace, and love. The very things that I don’t think humans are capable of creating for ourselves.

  • Richard Wade

    Linda and NYCatheist, thank you for such an interesting dialogue. I have discovered why D Rho disappeared right after asking all those questions. He is on his way to St. Petersburg, Russia as part of a missionary group. I left word wishing him a safe and rewarding journey and I invited him to return to this thread if he ever gets the chance. Until then I’ll not comment further on his questions.


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