I read The God Delusion just a couple of years ago. Yes, much to everyone’s utter shock and awe, I had never read it before that. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “what sort of heathen makes it close to her forties without reading this cornerstone godless literature?”. What can I say? I’ve been an atheist all my life in a secular land… I’ve never needed arguments against God. One can be a raging infidel and never read a single, solitary atheist book, didn’t you know? Now that I write as Godless Mom, though, I have felt more reason to read atheist staples like this Dawkins masterpiece and I’m glad I did. You know a writer is unbelievably skilled when you find yourself in the middle of their book, at 3:30 in the morning, sitting upright in bed with your body hair standing on end, mumbling, “What… the actual flip… are we?”. There I was at some ungodly hour going full-on existential dramakaze, shimmery book in hand, staring wide-eyed out my bedroom window as though if I looked long enough, the answer might come to me.
What are we?
Why are we?
These very same questions have haunted me my entire life. As a well-travelled kid, I found myself under the stars in remote places often, straining my neck to take in the entire diamond-studded night sky. I’d feel the questions bubble up and my skin would begin to crawl. There seemed to be an electric charge in the air as the words formed in my head,
What… the hell… is this?
It took my breath away each time as though I’d just fallen a couple of storeys and landed on my back, knocking the wind out of me. I literally forgot to breathe. These words. These questions. They are unanswerable questions tattooed on my psyche that don’t go away. I want to know. I want to understand. I want to believe that one day, just maybe, we actually might.
For now, though, the answer is, “I don’t know.” I don’t know what this is. This universe of ours is a colossal mystery and the awe it inspires simply uncontainable.
This is not just something I experience from time to time. This is a core ingredient in what makes up me. The awe and wonder I find in our existence on our Earth in our universe is something that I think about and feel daily. When I look at my kids or admire my cat; when I watch my dog frolic in the icy lake; when I look out my window from my desk and see the breathtaking hills ever-so-slightly dusted with snow. Even just watching Cosmos forces me to take a break and pace the room as my thoughts catch up to my beating heart. It is my make-up. It is who I am.
So, when believers assert that atheists don’t experience awe and wonder, or that we don’t ask ourselves these very questions I ask myself daily, I just have to assume the theist has never met or listened to an actual atheist with any generosity, ever. I don’t know any heathens who don’t have similar experiences to the ones I described above, and we cannot forget, I have always been an atheist, raised by atheists who were raised by atheists who felt and wondered just as I do.
Atheism, as a worldview, has a common forbidden fruit and that is asking the question, “Why?”.
First of all, atheism is not a worldview. While atheists do have worldviews, they vary from atheist to atheist depending on their thoughts and feelings on myriad other issues. Atheism itself is not a worldview. What atheism is, instead, is a response to the claim that there is a god. That response being simply, “I don’t believe you. Please prove it.”
Second, atheists do indeed ask why. I have been doing it my whole life. Asking questions is the basis of science, especially how, why and what. While not all atheists have a scientific worldview, I would venture to guess the vast majority respect the scientific process, so to assert that atheists don’t ask the question, “Why?” is unfounded and absurd.
Atheist don’t like to ask that question for two reasons:
1. They’d rather state their view then have to defend it
2. There is no why
Billy says this while filling the rest of his blog post with quotes from Richard Dawkins, who has spent much of his career defending his disbelief in god, to the tune of endless speaking engagements, countless debates and around a dozen books. What about Christopher Hitchens? David Silverman? Aron Ra? I could spend my life listing names of atheists who defend their lack of belief damn near every day. In fact, I don’t think I know a single out and open atheist who does not find themselves almost daily in a situation where they need to defend their lack of faith. I simply have no idea where you’ve gotten this unless it’s just simply an unfounded attack. I’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt, though Billy. You’re not just trying to attack atheists, are you?
As far as there being no ‘why’, I think you might be confused. I think what you meant to say was that atheists cannot find an answer to the question why. That is if you’re talking about the question, “Why are we here?”. The truthful answer to this question is simply that we don’t know. And we do not. You believe we have a god-given purpose, but you do not know that this is the case with 100% certainty. If you did, it wouldn’t require faith, would it? The only honest answer to the question, “why?”, as it stands today, is we don’t know. That doesn’t mean we stop asking the question. If we stopped asking questions because there was no immediate answer, we wouldn’t have electricity, Google, skiing, medicine or pulled pork sandwiches. Lacking an immediate answer to our questions simply means look harder.
The believer’s approach, on the other hand, is to make up an answer. So much discomfort is felt in not having an answer to our most burning questions about the universe, that literally anything is better than saying we don’t know to some theists, including believing a lie.
there is no rhyme or reason to atheism
You’re wrong, Billy. There is reason. I assume, now that I have explained it to you, that you understand what atheism is, Just in case you didn’t quite grasp it above though, I’ll let my good friend Mr. Oz Atheist explain it:
"Can you prove that?"
"Then I don't believe you" <- This is atheism. This doesn't require faith. This is not a religion.
— MrOzAtheist (@MrOzAtheist) September 21, 2014
That is it. That is all atheism is. This is the only consensus among atheists (perhaps a few exceptions exist) and this is being explained to you by a third-generation atheist of 42 years. You have a choice here. You can accept what atheists themselves tell you it means to be an atheist, or you can make up your own definition and apply it to us as though we do not know ourselves well enough to understand what we do and do not believe. Either way, this is what atheism is to me and all the atheists I know.
Once we accept that definition of atheism, I can tell you that the reason I do not believe the claim that there is a god is that I have no good reason to. A good reason, to me, would be demonstrable evidence.
So you see, there is reason to atheism. I just gave you a reason for it.
What I think you’re trying to say is that there are no rules, no dogma, and there is no guidance for life within atheism. That is correct. Atheism is not prescriptive. It’s not a belief system by which we judge behaviour or make life decisions. There is no moral framework to be found within atheism. It is not something we “live by”. That’s why many atheists are humanists. Humanism is prescriptive. Humanism is a philosophy with which we can judge our actions. You cannot look to atheism for any rules at all to live by, as they simply do not exist. As I explained, it is the response to one question: Do you believe in god?
Your answer to this question is, of course, yes. That makes you a theist. Theism on its own, like atheism, also lacks prescriptive rules to live by. It is not until you divulge which god you believe in, that we know anything about your worldview and can take a guess at how you live your life. Like atheists can be humanists or nihilists or LaVeyan Satanists, theists can be Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Jews. Theism is the affirmative response to “Do you believe in god?” and atheism is the negative response. Theism does not offer a moral framework, nor does atheism. You need to seek those elsewhere, from religions or philosophies or evidenced reason.
Knowing this, Billy’s entire post seems to be one of two things: either he honestly misunderstood what atheism is, or he was just looking to cut us down using lies and misinformation. Either way, it’s nothing new.
How would you respond to Billy? Let me know in the comments!
Here, Billy, is one of my favourite quotes from Richard Dawkins:
Book of the day:
I’m writing a book addressing the many reasons believers distrust atheists. I’m around 40,000 words in! If you want to help me get it done, you can support me by donating here or becoming a patron here.
Image: Copyright/Courtney Heard