Monday, October 15, 2012

What it means to be Atheist, and what it does not (by anon)

Today, one of my friends (who is Mormon, and attending BYU) texted me saying that she was writing a paper in her class about being Atheist. Being an Atheist myself, I was interested what the paper would be about. Then she told me that it was about how Atheists do not believe that Jesus existed.

Several feelings and thoughts started coursing through me. At first I was shocked that she would jump to such an extreme conclusion. Jesus doesn't exist? I had not heard that before, but then again, I didn't look it up. So I thought about it. Did atheists believe this? Was this a logical conclusion if you think that God does not exist? My first reaction was "No, We think he existed, we just don't believe he is a prophet or God." But then I thought that maybe there were Atheists who contested his existence. That was when I realized that the real answer is that there isn't one answer. Some might think that there is enough historical evidence to prove Jesus' existence. Others might not. I think a majority of us wouldn't care. And that made me dawn on me that "we" don't have a consensus, not just on this issue, but on almost all of the issues.

When I say "We" I mean Atheists as a collective group. This is a misleading term, as Atheists are not what members of what I call a "collective group." We don't have pamphlets, meeting places, memos, or any other means of coming to a consensus. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely Atheist groups out there. But Atheism in itself is not a group, similar to how it is not a religion. By asking me this question, my friend made me think about how we are misunderstood by religions and people with other beliefs. We are united in one thing: We do not believe in God. That's it. We don't necessarily agree on other issues. We don't have a Pope or some other person who is the uncontested decision-maker for us. We are not a church, we are the opposite. We do not have a church. If someone is called a Catholic, you can be reasonable sure what they believe on most issues. If someone is Atheist, it wouldn't be as clear, or at least it shouldn't be. Some of us might be pro-big government. Some of us might not. We might be fiscally conservative. Or not. We might be ok with the death penalty. Or not. People need to understand that "we" are not a political group. "We" don't have consensus. "We" do not believe in anything universally except for our disbelief in God.


  1. Not sure if I already posted part of this. I hit the wrong key and now I'm starting over. Yep there is a lot of misinformation about atheists out there. The worst, in my mind is that atheists or moral degenerates. Or that they don't have a personal code of behaviour. That's silly. It's true that atheists don't live up to their own code of behaviour (none of us do) but that's another issue.

    The thing is, "Not believing in God" doesn't happen in isolation. The denial of God's existence commits a person to believing several other things as well. Things that science either can't prove (atheists typically say they don't believe anything that isn't proven by science) OR that science has traditionally said is impossible - eg. infinite regress of cause and material things beginning to exist without a cause.

    Things that an atheist is committed to believing:
    . This is a material universe
    . Either matter has always existed (infinite regress) or matter created itself.
    . Material things can just pop into existence
    . Some things can begin to exist without an external cause.

    These are important because none of them adhere to the scientific method of knowing. None of them have been observed, tested, verified because none of them have ever happened. They are simply supportive propositions for an unproven theory (atheism) that would be true if atheism was true. This is also true for the main point of dogma of atheism "God does not exist."

    What I mean is, atheists (those who don't believe anything unless it's proven by science) say that a negative like "God doesn't exist" can't be proven. But atheists certainly believe this negative that can't be proven. Yes?

    I think what you'll find is that as atheists become less and less content to not be recognised, and therefore establish themselves as a group, more and more denominations of atheism (humanist, secular, sceptic, etc.) will grow far beyond the dozen or so that now exist. As well, acceptable behaviours will become codified - see the current struggle with atheism+ and traditional atheism.

    anyhow, good luck on your journey.

  2. I'm always disappointed with, "Your comment will be visible after approval." Freedom of speech is not such a bad concept you know. Much less Fascist than most people like.

    1. In this case it's probably more so to prevent spam and adversising which would take down the actual content. If you've ever read Yahoo Articles, in the comments section there is always at least one post regarding some sort of dating service...

  3. Why must atheists be committed to believing those specified beliefs?
    “The universe is a material universe” – The universe itself is not purely material. Thus, it itself cannot be considered a “material thing”. Thus, if one does not believe in God and subsequently does not believe in a creator of the universe, it does not necessarily follow that one must believe in the possibility that material things can “just pop into existence”. Though the universe itself seems to have done just this, matter formed sometime after the universe came into existence – the early universe was extremely hot and dominated by radiation, not matter.

    Therefore we do not have to conceive of the universe as a "thing" at all. While there are "things" that are a part of the universe (such as space, time, and energy) that are completely, necessarily inter-connected, the universe itself cannot be put into a similar category of “things”, because this would imply that, like other things, it can be understood in a relative manner, as being somehow connected with something else, something external to itself. Yet it is not. To talk about the universe as a thing possibly having a cause and starting point (both of which require a relation to something else) simply does not make any sense. All things are necessarily understood in relation to other things, and the universe can only be understood in relation to itself, or some made up concept like God (thus it appears our only possible explanations are that the universe caused itself, that it has always existed, or that it had an external creator, all of which are absurd propositions).

    It would be more accurate to say that the universe is a physical universe. In which case, you would have to revise the bullet points to say that:
    .This is a physical universe
    . Either physical things have always existed (infinite regress) or physical things created themselves.
    . Physical things can just pop into existence.
    . Some physical things can begin to exist without an external cause.

    The third point has already been tested and verified scientifically. Particles carrying energy do “pop” into existence randomly, in vacuums, for very short intervals of time. What I don’t think is very well understood is energy. If you think about it, energy is a very weird "thing" - it comes in many different forms, we define it in terms of space and time, it’s responsible for everything in the universe, we observe it indirectly through its effects, it is conserved, and at time t=0 of the universe, energy existed – it must have. But what is it? Why does it exist? Can energy actually be independently and externally relatable to the universe? Or is energy necessarily dependent upon the universe? Does it even make sense to ask these questions? I don’t know.

    Anyway, I don’t know where I was going with this… basically just wanted to say that atheists don't necessarily have to commit to believing those things you listed.

  4. That comment was in response to Thesauros' first comment, just to clarify.

  5. Oh this again! Just like parking, food, you can always expect this issue to roll around again and again. Trust me, it will roll around again.