Ask an Atheist
UPDATE: Wow, I didn't expect it to take off like this. Keep posting your questions, I'll still answer them, but it may take a little bit. Life happens, but I'll try to answer everyone's question before a day or two passes.
Doesn't bother me at all. I'm on an aircraft carrier, the typical practice when we're underway is for the chaplain to come on the ship's speaker system and pray for a few minutes before lights out. Typically I hardly notice it; I'm either sleeping already, or have headphones in watching something on my laptop. I can't speak for all atheists of course, and I most definitely can't speak for those in the dirt and getting shot at (I joined the Navy, largely because I didn't want to be shot at) but no one is required to participate in prayer. Requiring such a thing would be unlawful. Those that choose to participate have their fix and those that choose not to aren't inconvenienced.
Believe it or not, I do think that chaplains do serve a necessary role in the military, providing much needed emotional support for troops, even if I think the particular crutch of religion is unnecessary. For this reason, I am disappointed that we will not be seeing Atheist chaplains any time soon. Unfortunately, atheists and other non-religious service members do not have the same options when they need to go talk to someone about personal problems. Secular options include the psychologist down in the medical bay, or the Deployed Resiliency Counselor, or Fleet & Family Services, etc., so they are not without options. However, a chaplain is the only one a person can go to and expect total confidentiality. Even if a chaplain breaks confidence, nothing they say relating to that trust is admissible in court under any circumstances, but a counselor or psychologist is allowed to break confidence under certain conditions. That is not to say an atheist can't go to a chaplain, but for repeat visits of people who need help over a period of time, such visits will eventually take a religious turn.
Good question, I hope I've satisfied your curiosity.
I think the question assumes that I'm actively seeking anything from the Christian faith. I am not actively seeking to have my mind changed, at least, not anymore. In fact (to make a long story short) what convinced me to embrace Atheism was attempting to give Catholicism a serious chance for the sake of my devoutly religious wife.
Yes, I'm an Atheist happily married to a Catholic, believe it or not.
However, it's still a good and relevant question. What would I consider supporting evidence of a deity, furthermore a specific deity? That's a big list, but I'll try to consolidate it.
First of all, if convincing, credible evidence existed, it would not be found in the bible or any other holy text. Holy text cannot self-verify, nor can any other source of information. If, however, a test were developed to prove or disprove an entity that could be called 'god' in accordance with the scientific method, said test had positive results that were quantifiable, observable, objective and repeatable, and it were independently verified by another party- preferably, one that wanted to prove you wrong- the subject of that god would be worth further study, but your work would only be getting started. To my knowledge, all tests concerning the effect of prayer have yielded negative results; if there exists another way to quantifiably test a deity then I certainly wouldn't mind hearing it. However, as stated, this would only be the beginning. Would these results be the conscious work of an entity on some kind of plane of existence that we are not capable yet of understanding, or some other driving force of nature? If it is a conscious entity, is there only one, or many? Did it create us? Does it even notice us? Does it care about us? These individual questions and many more would have to be asked, tested and answered before one could even consider calling it 'god', much less the ultra-specific god of any particular religion. Furthermore, depending on the specific religion, the findings from studying this entity would have to overturn and explain mountains of tested scientific theory.
But, just for the sake of having a little fun, let's skip all of that. Let's pretend for a moment that a god suddenly appeared out of the sky, demonstrated that it was the creator of the universe and the Alpha and the Omega and specifically pointed to you and said, "YesuaBought got it right."
Well, the first thing I would do is make sure I wasn't the only one seeing this. Many people have hallucinated about a god in some form or another, there's a good chance my doctor would prescribe me anti-psychotics without even considering my case to be particularly interesting.
But, assuming that this would not be a hallucination, this god would certainly have some explaining to do about a lot of different subjects. Why go to all the trouble of creating so much evidence that does not indicate necessity of a creator, to cover your tracks? Why children with cancer and people starving to death while outright bastards die rich of old age? Why reveal yourself now, instead of stopping the holocaust? What's the verdict on homosexuals and people who wear two types of cloth, are they all in hell? It would be a long list of questions.
But! Assuming that all of these were somehow answered in a satisfactory manner, and I were faced with proof in the flesh of the existence of the Christian god, at this point, would I worship it?
No. Now, don't get me wrong, I'd be grateful. Hey! God would have made beer, which as Benjamin Franklin said, is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy. I would thank god every day for beer, and pizza, and smokeless gunpowder. But I wouldn't worship it because, well, what is the point of creating a life but to eventually let it go, to make yourself obsolete? What is the point of being given life if you are not allowed to experience it for yourself, on your own terms? So, if that god wanted me to get on bended knee and sing praises, they would be disappointed. They'd just have to settle for me being grateful.
It was actually a long process, but there were specific moments that were especially important. I was raised in a protestant household. Both my mother and father were very religious, we attended church almost every Sunday, I prayed before bed, the whole nine yards.
When I was seven, my parents split and I went to go live with my grandparents. My grandfather was still a practicing minister at the time, so I attended his services. I remember, one Sunday, people bowing their heads in prayer and proclaiming that the gods of other religions were idols, and I remember wondering, how can you assert that? What makes our god any more valid than anyone else's? If there were evidence to support one god over another, wouldn't everyone be worshiping the same god? The last question certainly sheds light on my naivety at the time, and admittedly, I probably didn't think all of this in as many words. It would take some time for the importance of this moment to fully become apparent, but I tucked it away for further contemplation, and I'm glad I did. I think it was from that moment that faith required a conscious effort to maintain. In a way, I was questioning the existence of god before I was questioning the existence of Santa Clause. That's not a joke; I was absolutely certain there was no way my parents would have got me an N64 for Christmas.
Another important moment in eroding my faith would come when I was fourteen, no longer living with my grandparents or attending their church, and attending protestant confirmation classes. To this day I can't believe the pastor sat us all down and told us this, but he told us about the history of the bible, something I had not bothered to consider before: how it had been passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation, how it had finally been transcribed, translated, edited, had untold amounts of context added and omitted. This was not the end of my belief in a god- not yet- but it certainly marked the end of my ability to take the bible seriously.
I would later go on to reject confirmation, more out of rebellion against my parents than for any intellectual reason, but it's a decision I have never regretted. Over the years that followed, I simply stopped caring about religion, but the subject was briefly revisited when I read Under the Dome by Stephen King, which would reignite my interest in pondering what, exactly, a higher power might be. I eventually concluded that if a higher power existed, there was no reason to assume there was only one, no reason to assume that they created us, that they noticed us, or cared about us any more than we cared about the individual lives of ants. It is thanks largely to Mr. King that if you had asked me six years ago, I would have told you I was agnostic. But, it is thanks to my devoutly Catholic wife that the final nail in the coffin that contained my faith was driven, and that I finally began to call myself an Atheist.
When we met, I made the attempt to reconsider religion. I tried praying, I tried not just going to church but actually listening (which was possibly the first time I had done so for an hour straight under a church roof). Frankly, it just didn't take. Having been forced to take religion and the concept of a god seriously for the first time, not just because I was dragged to church every week as a child, I realized I could not do so and remain intellectually honest with myself. it was then that I finally came to terms with Atheism.
Of course, this didn't stop us from continuing our relationship and eventually getting married- not without a few rough patches- but that's another story.
Thank you for sharing your story. I'm like you in many regards only I went the other way and continue to believe in God. I remember going to my husbands (boyfriend at the time) church to meet his Mother who is highly religious. I would go a few times, being raised Protestant it was interesting hearing Baptist sermon's, but I wanted to see what it was about and also to put forth a good impression on his family. There were two Pastor's, one I loved a great deal. His name was Lonnie, I had him marry us because I respected him so much and the reason why is he said something that stuck with me. He told us, it doesn't matter where you pray. You can pray at home, in the bathroom, out in nature....church doesn't amplify our thoughts and prayers to God to receive His blessing. God will hear you wherever you are and if you truly need forgiveness for something that you are truly sorry for, He will hear. The other Preacher, I can't even remember his name, but he was very clearly in it for the glory of having people kneel before him to receive God's blessing. He would stand up when Lonnie wasn't there and say if people wanted to be forgiven they must come to him (the preacher) in front of the congregation and kneel to receive it. That I absolutely did not agree with.
I understand why you wonder why Christians feel their God is the one true God. I wonder that too. That's why I just don't care what a person believes so long as they are a good person. Zeus is as real to them as my God is to me, and so on, so who is anyone to say anyone who believes different is right or wrong for those beliefs so long as they don't cause harm to others. If it gives them comfort, great.
Anyhoo, thank you again for responding. I hope you have a great day and congratulations again on your new baby!
To this day I can't believe the pastor sat us all down and told us this, but he told us about the history of the bible, something I had not bothered to consider before: how it had been passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation, how it had finally been transcribed, translated, edited, had untold amounts of context added and omitted.
Are you familiar with the books of Bart Ehrman? He is an evangelical Christian who is a Biblical scholar, and writes about the process and history of exactly what your pastor told you.
He got into the field because he figured that if the Bible is the word of God, it mattered what the original words really were, so he started some heavy duty research, learned Ancient Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, etc..
In one of his books, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why he lays out the history of the Bible and the various versions we have, changes that were made, and differences between transcriptions.
It is fascinating how we ended up with the collection of documents we ended up pretending were a single document.
It also turns out that the modern concept of Jesus as an avatar (a god incarnated as a human) was not the original first and second century doctrine. Some early Christian beliefs had Jesus as a normal human who was beatified, or in some cases, deified by God. Other early Christian beliefs were that Jesus was a demigod (product of reproduction between God and Mary) like Hercules or Perseus.
Not only did the text undergo radical changes, but the entire religion did, too. If Constantine had not ordered the Council of Nicea, who knows how the religion would have morphed!
An agnostic atheist is one who doesn' believe in any deity but can't say for sure that one doesn't exist.
A gnostic atheist is one who doesn't believe in any deity but also thinks for sure that none exist.
Atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive. I am an agnostic atheist (I'm not the guy who made the debate).
Atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive.
While I'm not saying that agnostic atheists don't exist, by definition, being agnostic means that you don't know whether god exists or not. Agnostic atheists are ones who predominantly believe god doesn't exist but can't say for sure. That doesn't make atheism and agnosticism mutually inclusive as one can exist without the existence of the other.
I am right there with you. My whole point is that I don't see how ANYBODY could know. Agnosticism strikes me as the only honest position on the question at present.
As much to the point, I never come across anybody who can articulate in detail what they mean by the term god and then explain clearly the practical realities of god's relationship to the rest of the universe.
If we don't even have a clear definition of what we are looking for, how would anybody know if someone has found it or not?
Good question- quite simply, because I find the idea of a creator or god, especially an ultraspecific god such as the Christian god, to be unlikely enough that I can say with a high degree of confidence that it does not exist. Now, of course, I can't say it with certainty, as such a being by its nature would be largely unknowable or at least currently undetectable. One hundred years ago, it was though with certainty that we would never know the composition of stars- today we're proving them wrong. Now I doubt that in another hundred years (or ever) we'll build any kind of genuine 'god detector', but I don't have a time machine. That said, based on what perspective I have, I find it extremely unlikely that any deity exists. If it does, I find no reason to assume there is only one, no reason to assume that it created us, notices us, or cares. I do not know for certain, but I'm confident enough that I neither bother with a lifestyle around the possibility that a god exists nor is my default position "I don't know." Rather, my default position is more along the lines of "There's probably no god, so stop worrying about it".
Let's say you have two buttons in front of you, one red and one blue.
The red button, when pushed, instantly erased all non-believers from existence; with any trace and memory of them being gone, as well.
The blue button, when pushed, instantly erased all believers from existence; with any trace and memory of them being gone, as well.
A few side notes:
-Upon erasing a population, the remaining will be redistributed and reorganized to appear as if nobody has instantly vanished, meaning cars or machinery operated by all believers/non-believers wouldn't suddenly be driverless and crash, etc..
-Geography of earth will remain the same, so to account for the physical lack of persons, remaining populations will be redistributed starting from the most advanced civilizations to the least, meaning only the least developed nations will see an actual decrease in their populations; though they will never have known any different.
-The red button would bring the erasure of approximately 900 million people who are non-believers, whereas the blue would see a drop of the remaining 6+ billion.
Which would you push?
Damn, you come up with some great questions! I like you.
Of course, if given the option, I would push neither button. However, I'm guessing I'm not allowed that particular cop-out. Obviously, I have friends and family on either side of the spectrum, making the choice quite difficult.
A few points to consider:
If there exists no memory or record of the individuals that wave disappeared, is this a total erasure from existence, as though we have stepped into an alternate reality where these individuals never existed in the first place? If so, is this actually murder? If redistribution of civilization from the top down is involved, then removal of the larger population would of course be better for those in lesser developed nations. Holy wars would end, as would their potential for nuclear catastrophe (not to say that the potential for nuclear catastrophe in general is eliminated, just by that one significant cause). I think it is inarguable that the remaining population would be much better off if I were to press the blue button, both by virtue of the fact that there would be fewer people to mess up the planet (and each other's lives), the wealth would be better distributed, and people wouldn't be focusing time, effort and money on the great placebo of religion, but more fulfilling and tangible endeavors.
However-before I convince myself otherwise- I do not think that this justifies the erasure of the remaining 6 billion lives. Sadly, I think this would be not only a dark day for secularists, but the entire world, as religion has an uncanny tendency to be used in such a way for people to get away with whatever injustice they can, claiming a greater good. Holy wars would roll on. Secularism would very likely be effectively removed from government; basic human rights would be trampled the world over. Scientific progress would be dealt a major blow, not only because there would no longer be a voice to counter those who oppose certain advancements on religious grounds, but also because quite simply, many if not most of our most brilliant scientists are nonbelievers. It is, however, comforting to think that this would not be an end to the end of religion, but a setback. A rejection of the claim of the existence of a god is simply logical. It will inevitably occur organically and spontaneously after the event of the removal of their unknown predecessors, and that idea will spread. Meme theory will win out eventually, and religion will inevitably become just as obsolete, it will only take longer.
So, ultimately, I would like to think that in that situation I would sacrifice few for many, and press the red button. Which would you push?
...the blue would see a drop of the remaining 6+ billion.
I (also an atheist but not the guy who made the debate) would push the blue button.
1 - I am an agnostic, so I would still be around - as with Mack, this is pure selfishness.
2 - There are about 6 billion too many people, so we get a cleaner, less crowded world for cheap.
3 - It would immediately increase the percentage of skeptics, reduce the number of people who are easy prey for unrealistic marketing schemes, and thereby improve the likelihood of common sense.
Does it matter to you if God exist?
I (also an atheist but not the guy who made the debate) don't particularly care. The universe is amazing enough without having to identify/insert the supernatural.
As much to the point, if any god exists, then it is a god who obviously does not particularly care whether or not f I know god exists. Otherwise, there would be clear evidence of god's existence.
If neither of us care, then I am pretty sure the answer to the question is not particularly important.
No way. The world is not amazing with natural disasters, famine, suffering, wars etc it's not amazing enough. Oh come on man, we need lower pride,If God exist he is the solution to these problem, if he created all things suffering and all negative stuff that had came to us and to this world, then he is capable of taking back what he just caused. If you and your wife got an argument probably he can change that situation cause he is the one who created all things. Yep and now you know why some Christians are so confident with insane situations even tough some atheist call them deluded. And man you just say you don't care coz you don't know its value.