Atheists: Admit That You Believe, Too

Atheists, to be fair, should more often admit that the belief that there is no God is, in every sense of the word, a belief—as opposed to a fact. It’s a guess. It’s a reasonable guess, to be sure. But it’s absurd to suggest that it’s any more reasonable a guess than that there is a God.

Humans are designed to induce universal truths from limited evidence. Atheists look around, and induce there’s no God. Given the exact same range of evidence, religious people conclude there is.

What atheists cannot then do is pretend that it’s only religious people whose convictions are grounded in what is ultimately a leap of faith. To no less a degree, so is theirs.

 

Take a leap of faith and join my Facebook fan club here.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    That's exactly right.

    I was JUST NOW jotting down a thought on why there are so very few agnostics. I'll post that short thought soon. Try to contain your anticipation.

  • http://suddenlyatheist.wordpress.com/ morsec0de

    It depends.

    Certainly some atheist believe that there is no god. Others just don't believe in a god. The difference is subtle, but I think it does exist. Am I expressing it well? Does anyone else see the difference?

    But I'm an agnostic atheist, so my beliefs and/or lack of beliefs probably annoy everybody. :)

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Bur

    A fundamental (and too common) problem with this question is the understanding of how we use (and abuse) language and words. Often the pure deconstruction of a word is lost entirely and an inaccurate 'common usage' meaning is foisted upon it. This is seldom more clear than the term 'atheism'. The simple deconstruction of the term is 'a-theism' or 'without theism'. It merely means that the person is without theistic belief. By this definition, a deist is an atheist and we are all atheists with regard to the many dead gods on the scrap heap of mythology.

    This common usage couches the term in a false dichotomy. Belief that there IS a personal god vs. belief that the IS NOT a personal god. (or a claim of a truth vs. a claim of a different truth) More properly, the comparison should be 'one who holds theistic beliefs' vs. 'one who does NOT hold theistic beliefs (or a claim of a truth vs. no claim at all).

    So; your contention that we non-believers hold 'beliefs' in this regard would be consistent with the improper usage of the term…that the non-believer is making the truth claim that there is no god. That is fair enough. An attorney friend says that common usage takes precedence over proper usage…at least in a court of law.

    Every ‘atheist’ I know is technically an agnostic. Even Richard Dawkins (author of “The God Delusion”) says that, on a technical level, he can be considered agnostic with regard to the god of Abraham. There is a practical matter, though. If a person were to analyze the truth claims of the Bible (and any/every other holy text) and do the same for the myriad truth claims made by the innumerable sects that those books have spawned and do the same for the arguments made by the adherents of those sects and come up with zero, nada, zip, bupkis … one can pretty comfortably (and reasonably) start forming an opinion. Eventually, absence of evidence begins to mean evidence of absence. I personally know no atheists that are not open to real evidence. I would gladly change my position were compelling evidence be provided. [sound of crickets chirping]

    So…on that ‘practical matter’…look at it like this; Would more agree with the statement ‘The Egyptian god Osiris does not exist as a supernatural being.’…or ‘I doubt that the Egyptian god Osiris exists as a supernatural being.’ Virtually all of us would, as a practical matter, say that Osiris does not exist even though none of us could prove that (no one can disprove a negative) and you might consider yourself ‘atheistic with regards to Osiris’. I am an atheist in regards to your God just as I am an atheist in regards to Osiris. Indeed; we both are atheistic with regards to hundreds/thousands of gods…I just believe in one fewer god that you.

    So, now that we have beat language to death, I can say, comfortably and authoritatively that ‘I believe that I have found no evidence for your god’…and that is the extent of my belief system (in this context any way).

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Bur

    Jimmy said:

    The other thing that I have found in all my talks with atheists is that there is generally some “church” or “religious” person in their life that they want nothing to do with.

    I don't know where you find these people. I haven't run into one!! All the non-believers that I know arrived at their position because of rational thought.

  • http://www.brianswriting.com Brian Shields

    I completely agree with you. That’s why I’m not an atheist. I’m a model agnostic. No, that’s not like being the very model of a modern major general but close!

    Seriously, the model agnostic tries to break the cycle of humans who “are designed to induce universal truths from limited evidence.” Instead we try to induce limited truths from limited evidence. We create models based on the evidence but we have to always be open to new evidence that will require an update or tweak to the model. That’s where Christianity and other religions go wrong, in my opinion. They have found a model they have fallen in love with and shut off all inputs that might contradict it.

    So even if through random chance or divine intervention someone were to come across the “one and only true answer to the nature of the universe,” the model agnostic would say he or she couldn’t be certain and must remain agnostic about the model.

    Because you’re right, many atheists (or as Robert Anton Wilson described them “fundamentalist materialists”) are just as dependent on the leap of the faith as the rest of you.

  • http://anziulewicz.livejournal.com Chuck Anziulewicz

    I suppose your are right, John. Just like Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc. have “faith” in the existence of God, you can argue that Atheists have “faith” in the non-existence of God.

    I guess the only truly knowledgable people are the Agnostics, because one thing they can genuinely KNOW for certain: The existence of God can be neither proved nor disproved.

  • http://www.jamesjbaker.com Jimmy

    I have had the chance many times to debate atheist. The one theme that comes up over and over again is that atheist put their hope in themselves; where as a Biblethumper like me puts my hope in God. The other thing that I have found in all my talks with atheists is that there is generally some “church” or “religious” person in their life that they want nothing to do with.

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 benjdm

    “Humans are designed to induce universal truths from limited evidence.”

    And when it comes to figuring out how to inductively arrive at knowledge and beliefs reliably, one sees a few methods that we have found that will work. Math, science, historical, etc. None of these methods conclude ‘there is a God.’ None of them even propose it.

    So, no, I definitely see it as absurd to believe there is a God. I thought it was absurd when I was 7 (ish – I can’t remember for sure) and the Catholic priests and religion instructors could provide no good reason for believing it. Nor have there been any improved reasons since. There’s even theologians who admit this.

    I’ve always considered (honestly, no lie) belief in Santa Claus to be more reasonable than belief in God. Santa Claus does not have a mind without a brain and is affected by most natural laws, for example. There is much less contradiction.

    Sorry, John.

  • http://imintellegentlydesigned.wordpress.com/ mcoville

    I think that it comes down to a fear of being wrong. Atheists refuse to admit that they have a belief that there is no God because that means there is a chance they could be wrong. By calling believers names like irrational they elevate their own belief as the only rational choice. They use words to remove doubt from their speech but I suspect that means that they have more doubt in the still small voices in their heads and it really bothers them that Christians are so confident in their own beliefs.

    Good post John, I look forward to the Agnostic post you mentioned.

  • http://suddenlyatheist.wordpress.com/ morsec0de

    mcoville,

    Let's forget, for a moment, that the majority of atheists started to be atheists by admitting that they were wrong.

    That being said, personally, I LOVE being shown that I'm wrong. It's awesome! Because it tells me two things: I'm learning something, and the person who is showing me I'm wrong is worth talking to.

    And I embrace the idea that I could very well be wrong and that there could be a god. But, as there's no evidence that your particular god exists, I don't let it worry me. :)

  • http://tonyyork.wordpress.com Tony York

    That Mike Burns guy is a smart guy. I liked his thoughtful and honest feedback on the language usage.

    We do have some commonality, which is a cool thing.

    I am also laughing at the human condition – we all want to label ourselves but we don't want someone else to label us even though we want to label them as well. Maybe it is an intrinsic part of who we are…. I mean, Adam was given the job of naming all the animals. :)

  • JJ

    I always admired atheists. I think it takes a lot of faith.

    (Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, Northern Exposure, Seoul Mates, 1991)

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Burns

    Well said Morse. Some mistakenly think that we have a vested interest in protecting our position. In reality we have a vested interest in being factually correct. It is not recognized that you and I would HAPPILY change position were compelling evidence presented.

    Scientists aren’t overwhelmingly atheistic because they are an elite cabal protecting their turf; they merely find no evidence. Were a researcher find actual evidence of Yaweh, they would be win much praise and many awards.

  • http://imintellegentlydesigned.wordpress.com/ mcoville

    Mike Burns: "Were a researcher find actual evidence of Yaweh, they would be win much praise and many awards." Where is Michael Behe's Nobel Prize?

    If any scientist goes public with any evidence for an Intelligent Designer, (Yeweh, Jesus or any other name He goes by), they are put aside and labeled a 'creationist'. That label allows your evolutionists to dismiss the evidence as bias and move on.

    Do you not admit that Evolutionists, or Darwinists, have a world view that could possibly cloud their judgment of evidence or do you only believe that Creationists are the only people that can have clouded views of evidence?

  • Candace

    The latter, McO. As you'll soon discover, if you hang out long.

    With Mike, it's all about the utterly unchallengable certainty and superiority of the atheists' view vs. the fantasy-landish, unthinking, uninformed and unsupported faith of the believer.

  • http://suddenlyatheist.wordpress.com/ morsec0de

    The issue, mcoville, is that one group of people has their conclusion and are desperately trying to find evidence to back it up. The other group is looking at the evidence and seeing what the evidence says.

    The first group is not performing science, and the second group is. The first group are creationists, and the second group are biologists.

  • http://www.brianswriting.com Brian Shields

    Again making the case for agnosticism and yes, John, my anticipation is boiling over for your why there aren't many agnostics post…

    The whole idea of drawing any conclusions (that is a final answer to the nature of the universe) seems like hubris to me. We are barely at the point as a species where we're beginning to know the fight questions to ask. I have spent most of my life with the human genome unmapped. Three generations from now they may have enough data to begin to be able to answer some of these questions or maybe not. In any case, it seems unwise to me to draw any conclusions from either the scientific record so far or the writings of people from the bronze age and just after.

    So why can't we all be honest enough with ourselves to say, we don't know the answers? No one knows the answers. If someone claims to have all of the answers the likelihood is that he or she is fooling him or herself, you, or trying to get into your wallet. Is that unsettling for some? Probably. But it's also very liberating once you realize and embrace it.

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Bur

    Mcoville:

    What evidence would that be? The BEST that the Discovery Institute can offer is the argument that boils down to 'I don't know how it happened, therefore God did it.' If you think that is science, then you have no idea what science is. All of Behe's cited 'irreducibly complex' features have been shown to have precursor forms. You should watch a wonderful PBS show that discusses ID and the Dover Trial. It is reenacted directly from the court transcripts. It is viewable in its entirety at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/id/

    You can also read my less-inspired essay contrasting ID and science at http://fvthinker.blogspot.com/2007/06/intelligent

    Candace:

    Science forms opinions on evidence and predictions (if theory 'x' is accurate, then we should expect to see 'y'. Possibly the most cogent example would be that when we discovered the existence of DNA, it was predicted that, were Darwin's theory of Evolution accurate, we would find a diversity of DNA that would correspond to how primitive/ancient the life form is. We would also find that human DNA would be nearly identical to our closest ancestors. (That is just one of many examples)

    My point is that science makes claims of knowledge based on evidence and empiricism. We readily admit what we don't know (i.e. what preceded the Big Bang) Notwithstanding theories from theoretical physicists; I have no problem with someone speculating some 'higher intelligence' as to the origin of the universe (the human animal has created gods for eons). Such a position puts no artificial constructs on society. When someone then claims to have specific knowledge of that higher intelligence based on zero evidence and tries to tell other people it is fact and tries to form public policy…I kinda get my pants in a bunch.

    So which would you consider the more arrogant position? Claimed, limited knowledge based on evidence? … or Claimed knowledge based on no evidence?

    Responding directly to your statement:

    "Utterly unchallengeable certainty": It is challengeable, but ID has yet to mount any sort of credible offense.

    "Superiority": If defined as based on demonstrable truths and evidence…yes. If defined by whether religious or irreligious societies have fewer societal ills…yes.

    "Fantasy-landish": False. The human animal's brain seems predisposed to create gods (and has done so many times). Religious narratives are a characteristic of humans trying to explain the unknowable. (We prefer a conspiracy theory to no theory at all.)

    "Unthinking": That varies person to person

    "Uninformed": Almost certainly. That said; it can take decades of hard work to amass the scientific knowledge and understanding of our universe to properly compare the naturalistic vs. the theistic explanations of things.

    "Unsupported": Well duh!! It wouldn't be called 'Faith' then would it?

  • http://www.rbfproject.tk rbfproject

    Great Post John. I was actually thinking about writing about this, but you beat me to it!

    And regarding the ID vs. Evolution debate, i strongly suggest The Language of God to anyone who thinks that Theistic Evolution isn't a viable option and that ID is a scientific theory.

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Bur

    rbfproject said:

    i strongly suggest The Language of God to anyone who thinks that Theistic Evolution isn’t a viable option

    …which merely says that Darwinian evolution is accurate, but it was God who got things started. I can't say that TE sheds any new light on things.

  • http://www.rbfproject.tk rbfproject

    Exactly, it leaves science up to it's job of explaining how the universe works! It's a win-win for people who believe in a higher power. AND it doesn't contradict the Bible, because the Bible in it's original language does not specify if the days of Creation are "days" or "time periods" not to mention the fact that the book of Genesis is a poetic book, not a textbook of science!

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Bur

    I will credit TE in that it does not directly cause societal problems (which is really all I am concerned with). It is effectively a deistic stance, so I don't know why they call it 'theistic' evolution. TE is still an unsupported assertion, though. Where the naturalist will say 'I don't know' and proceed to look for the answer, the TE adherent says 'God did it'…which effectively squashes inquiry. I think society is better served with inquiry NOT being squashed.

    Just another example of the 'God of the gaps'.

  • http://www.rbfproject.tk rbfproject

    Actually according to Dr. Collin's book TE is not a God of the gaps theory, which he directly criticizes ID and Creationism for.

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Bur

    Oh! Well as long as HE says so!! :-)

  • http://suddenlyatheist.wordpress.com/ morsec0de

    "If you do not use science to determine the age of the earth, and purely rely on the Word of God, then you will see that the days of creation where literal 24hour days."

    You, sir, are absolutely, 100% correct.

    I'll take science.

  • http://imintellegentlydesigned.wordpress.com/ mcoville

    morsecode: I'll take the Word of God. One day we will both see which is correct.

    Mike Burns: You have "evidence" interpreted by Darwinist scientists to support your beliefs, I have "evidence" interpreted by Creation Scientists and the bus goes round and round. I agree that we see natural selection in nature, we do not see an Oak tree evolve into a person, as stated on the UC Berkeley evolution site (http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/0_0_0/evo_02).

    Why do we not see a fish give birth to a mammal, or a bird hatch a reptile?

  • http://suddenlyatheist.wordpress.com/ morsec0de

    "morsecode: I’ll take the Word of God. One day we will both see which is correct."

    Pretty sure I know who is correct today.

    But anyway, I'm done hijacking John's post. Sorry John.

  • http://imintellegentlydesigned.wordpress.com/ mcoville

    Actually morsecode, you are sure you believe who is correct today. (Back to the heart of John's original post)

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Bur

    we do not see an Oak tree evolve into a person, as stated on the UC Berkeley evolution site

    It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

  • http://imintellegentlydesigned.wordpress.com/ mcoville

    I agree Mike.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    aaaaaaaand …. scene.

  • http://imintellegentlydesigned.wordpress.com/ mcoville

    Mike Burns:Darwinists have their own god of the gaps, it’s called TIME. I notice every time a evolutionist can not provide evidence for their belief they say, “it takes millions of years to do that”.

    rbfprject: http://www.gotquestions.org/Genesis-days.html

    This site shows a great word study of the original hebrew text of the Bible. If you do not use science to determine the age of the earth, and purely rely on the Word of God, then you will see that the days of creation where literal 24hour days.

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Burns

    But, mcoville, we have evidence that it takes millions/billions of years and we have also seen natural selection in action both in the lab and in nature.

    There are gaps in scientific knowledge, but science goes looking for the actual answers as opposed to inserting an evidence-devoid placeholder.

  • Kelly

    John (and All) – The comments on your blogs are as good as the blogs themselves. This is interesting stuff. Thanks!

  • Candace

    I just love it when, in their attempts to portray Christians as idiots, atheists come off looking so idiotic.

    Lot of it going on lately, and It tickles me no end :-)

  • http://www.users.bigpond.com/pmurray Paul Murray

    If ever there was a question that has been done to death!

    The confidence that an atheist has is not the same thing as religious faith. With religious faith, it is a virtue, it is a good thing, to believe without evidence, or in spite of evidence (cf Jesus & Thomas).

  • http://www.myspace.com/whitenoisemetalpodcast Brian Shields

    Gee Paul thanks for reviving this thread after six months to tell us the difference between you and us is that your point of view is virtuous and ours isn't.

    Seriously thanks because no matter how solipsistic your point seems to me, it gave me a reason to go back and read all of the wonderful and thoughtful comments from six months ago (only two of which were mine!)

  • http://mtgap.wordpress.com/ Michael Dickens

    If I asked you whether you believe in unicorns, you would probably say no. (I would.) And yet that is a belief. It's the same with God. In essence, assume nonexistence until existence is proven.

  • http://neilmcgarry.com Trackerneil

    I don’t know, John…I’ve heard this argument before and have never been convinced by it. Here’s why.

    Carl Sagan once said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Certainly the concept of the Christian deity – all-knowing, all-powerful and all good – is a pretty extraordinary concept necessitating some pretty extraordinary evidence. It seems to me that the burden of proof for any such claim is on the claimant, and not those who have yet to be convinced. It’s true that I cannot prove to you or anyone else that no god exists, because that would involve me showing the universe to you all at once so you could see there was no deity there. Similarly, you could not prove to me that an invisible, intangible parrot sits upon my shoulder and telepathically advises me about political matters. Does that mean you or anyone else should believe in such a parrot?

    I’m not interested, however, in getting into a discussion about the existence of your deity, nor do I think your belief in same makes you ignorant or stupid or whatever. However, I think that calling atheism a faith equivalent to, say, Christianity is inaccurate to say the least.

  • http://atheos-godless.blogspot.com Barry

    I must admit that I get tired of people (invariably creationists) referring to "evolutionists" and "Darwinists". There is, simply, no such thing.

    Scientific theories are based on evidence. Those that best fit the available evidence are accepted. To accept the theory of evolution by natural selection as the best for for the facts does not make one a Darwinist any more than accepting the theory of gravity makes on a Newtonist, or accepting the general theory of relativity makes one an Einsteinist.

    By the way, you will note that I gave the theory its full title above. It's only the "natural selection" part that is theoretical and up for debate; evolution itself is an observable phenomenon and not a theory.

    • http://dianer.blogspot.com DR

      Barry,

      I read your blog a bit (and enjoyed it). As you rightfully encourage Christians to approach you with an open mind and a lack of straw man based on their pastoral thinking, perhaps that applies here as well. You're dealing with Christians who will define their terms on their experience. Hence "evolutionists" being a term that seems to make sense within the context of what many believe about evolution being a "theory".

      I happen to agree with the merits of your particular point, but consider where you are blogging and with whom you're blogging. There has to be some degree of latitude regarding terms when dealing with such a profoundly different set of filters, yes?


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