Detailed introduction to Athiesm: What is athiesm?
Atheism, from the Greek ἄθεος (atheos), is defined as “The lack of belief in the existence of any deities.” In modern context, atheism can represent several different viewpoints, but is most commonly conceived of as a rejection of belief in gods.
A person can be both atheist and religious, provided that he or she believes in a religion that does not have any deities, such as some forms of Buddhism.
The word “atheism” is not a proper noun (we do not worship the All Powerful Atheismo nor the Goddess Athe), so there is no need to capitalize it except in special cases such as the beginning of a sentence.
How does it differ from theism?
Theism is a belief in at least one god. Thus, religions such as Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism are all considered theistic.
Any person who believes in one or more gods is a theist.
Any person who is not a theist is an atheist.
An agnostic is someone who claims they don’t know (“weak agnosticism”)or it is not possible to know (“strong agnosticism”) for certain whether or not gods exist. The term agnosticism comes from Greek: a (without) +gnosis (knowledge).
What’s the difference between agnosticism and atheism?
Atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive. “Agnosticism” is not some third position which is neither “atheism” nor “theism”. They are different answers to different questions, in this case “Do you believe that any gods exist?” and “Do you believe it is possible to know whether any gods exist?”.
Anyone who does not hold a belief in one or more gods is an atheist. Someone who holds an active belief in the nonexistence of particular gods is specifically known as a “strong” or “explicit” atheist, as opposed to “weak” or “implicit” atheists who make no claims either way.
On the other hand, the vast majority of atheists are at least technically agnostic, even if they are willing to treat fairy tales about Zeus or Allah with the same contempt that they treat tales about unicorns and leprechauns. Describing yourself as “Just an agnostic”, or stating “I’m not an atheist, I’m an agnostic” makes about as much as saying “I’m not Spanish, I’m male.”
What are anti-theism, state atheism, and secularism?
Anti-theism – The active or inactive attempts to put an end to theism, often as a reaction to anti-scientific thought, bigotry, and questionable morals propagated by many theists. Many self-identified vocal atheists are in fact anti-theists on some level. There are a few reasons for this, perhaps most significantly the fact that anti-theists tend to have a lot more to say. Make no mistake: there are a lot of atheists who are not openly hostile to religion. The squeaky wheel, however, tends to get the grease, and atheists who have no major gripes with religious belief have less motivation to speak out. The most public example of an atheist who is not an anti-theist is S.E. Cupp (though many are skeptical of her atheism). One of the better examples of an anti-theist is Christopher Hitchens.
State atheism – This is the “theocratic” form of atheism. It is the ideology that atheism should be enforced by the government, as it has been under many communist governments. Most members of r/atheismare secularists and oppose this notion. Under current and historic Communist governments, the primary desire of the state is economic and social reconfiguration of society, and religious attitudes are an outgrowth of those larger objectives.
Secularism – Secularism in typical usage refers to the government not respecting any religion or religious beliefs. In this way it does not promote any form of theism or atheism. An example being that government recognized “Day of Prayer” is not secular, nor would a government recognized “Day of Disbelief in Deities” be.
In the context of organizations like the Secular Student Alliance, “secular” also denotes an absence of religious affiliation or purpose. Anything that is not specifically religious is secular.
What is Deism?
Deists believe that a higher power created the universe long ago but is not or no longer actively present in the world and does not intervene in its affairs. Because of their belief in this “higher power,” often thought of as a god, they don’t qualify for the “atheist” label. Some definitions consider Deism to a subset of theism, while others consider the two terms to be distinct- there are occasional minor squabbles about this, but the consensus in /r/atheism seems to be that the former is correct.
However, for practical purposes there is little difference between a deist and an atheist: Most deists do not engage in the usual religious practices of praying, worshiping, rituals, restrictions in diet and/or lifestyle or regarding a central holy doctrine. Deists share the atheist position that there is no deity active today.
Because of this similarity, some atheists will claim deism when asked about their religion. Deism places no practical obligations on its adherents, yet does not bear the heavy public stigma associated with atheism. Americans, for example, can benefit from the respect afforded many well-known Deists among the nation’s fathers: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, James Madison, George Washington. Because the deist God takes no action in the present universe, its existence is effectively meaningless because no special actions are the result of its existence. That is to say, there’s effectively no difference between a godless universe and one with a Deistic god, so asserting one’s existence is like asserting the existence of an Invisible Dragon in your Garage.
What is Igtheism/Ignosticism/Theological Non-cognitivism?
Do you believe that frajingle majibbity jibbity moop? Why or why not?
If your answer is “How am I supposed to believe in that? It’s a nonsense statement!”, you’re already half way to understanding Ignosticism andTheological Noncognitivism, because that’s how they feel about the statement “God exists”.
It’s an acknowledgement of the fact that the word “God” has meant billions of different things to billions of different people, from “a magical man who lives on top of that mountain and demands that we sacrifice goats to him” to “a mystical love-force that mystically touches people’s hearts through completely undetectable means” to “like, the entire Universe is God, man. Whoah!”, and that many of these definitions are themselves silly, unfalsifiable, self-contradictory, or incoherent. Indeed, when backed into a corner, apologists like playing silly games with the definitions of words like “exist”, too.
Therefore, ignostics and theological non-cognitivists hold that it’s futile to try to make statements about “God” unless the person you’re talking to is willing to rigorously define what they mean by “God” first, preferably using falsifiable statements that constrain anticipation, rather than nonsense about “faith”. The difference between the two is that ignosticism states that other positions assume too much given the lack of a definition while theological non-cognitivism rejects the idea that the term “God” is cognitively meaningful. Due to the similarities between the two (most people who hold one stance also hold the other) the terms are often treated as synonymous in casual conversation.
See also: Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword, a stronger version of Occam’s Razor which states that statements that don’t actually mean anything are useless.
What are Secular Humanism, Transhumanism, Skepticism, Rationalism, Empiricism, Positivism, Postmodernism, Materialism, Naturalism, Nihilism, etc. ?
These are all terms for philosophies and worldviews which are compatible with and often associated with atheism. Indeed, they are often confusedfor atheism by people who don’t realize that “atheism” means nothing more and nothing less than a lack of belief in any god or gods. Being an atheist doesn’t necessarily make you any of these:
Secular Humanism is a philosophy that ” embraces human reason, ethics, social justice and philosophical naturalism, whilst specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience or superstition as the basis of morality and decision making.” Basically, it’s about being good for goodness’ sake, rather than because some invisible bully in the sky told you to.
Transhumanism is a philosophy which states that the human condition can and should be improved, and improved drastically. It advocates the use of science and technology to fight disease, hunger, poverty, and aging, to enhance the physical and mental capabilities of individuals, and eventually to colonize the solar system and beyond. Prominent Transhumanist Elizer Yudowkoski explains that, in his opinion, Transhumanism is simply Humanism simplified, with no “you should stop helping people after this point” line. Critics of Transhumanism tend to poke fun at its Science-Fiction trappings and its overly optimistic attitude.
Skepticism is, basically, the philosophical position that all beliefs should be supported by evidence. Beloved skeptic Carl Sagan coined the phrase “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence“. It is far easier to convince a skeptic that you have a pet cat than that you have a pet blue whale, and far easier to convince them that you have a pet whale than that you have a pet unicorn. Applied Skepticism is often known as The Fine Art of Baloney Detection.
Rationalism is the belief that Logic is supreme. Logic is extremely useful, but limited by the fact that one’s conclusions are only as reliable as the premises one feeds into the logical framework. Proponents of the strong form of Rationalism (such as René Descartes) love making a prioriarguments and tend to fall prey to the “Garbage In, Garbage Out” effect. When you apply sufficient skepticism to your choice of premises, however, Rationalism begins to resemble Rationality, which is a potent tool indeed.
Materialism is, essentially, the position that there’s no such thing as magic, and that everything that exists is made of either matter or energy. It doesn’t rule out the existence of types of matter or energy with which we are unfamiliar, but tends to frown on pseudoscientific misuse of the word “energy” to mean “magical woo-woo”. Methodological Naturalism, an important component of the scientific method, basically says “In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, let’s at least do science as though materialism is true. Because otherwise what’s to stop us from assuming that everything is run by invisible undetectable pixies?”
Empiricism (Particularly Pragmatism) is the philosophical position that, basically, observation of the real world is the only way to learn thingsabout the real world, and that endeavors such as “faith” and “divine revelation” are useless for gaining knowledge. If you want to make an accurate map of a city, you can’t sit in your room being “inspired” to draw random lines on a piece of paper, you actually have to observe the layout of the city in some way. Empiricists popularized and began to formalize the process of using experiments as a method of asking the universe questions.
Positivism began, basically, as the statement that “that which cannot be settled by experiment is not worth thinking about”. When it quickly became obvious that the philosophical validity of that statement itself could not really be settled by experiment (d’oh!), gentlemen like Karl Popper got a hold of it and molded it into a refinement of philosophical empiricism and methodological naturalism.
Postmodernism is basically a reaction of artists and squishy-philosopherswho objected to the idea of scientists and more rigorous philosophers harshing their mellow. When taken to its extreme, it states that all reality is just made up of social constructs, and that facts are just, like, your opinion, man.
Nihilism is a collection of philosophies which state that such-and-such a thing is without inherent meaning. Existential Nihilists in particular argue that life and existence itself are without inherent meaning, while Moral Nihilists argue that any established moral values are just social constructs. That’s not to say that being a nihilist necessarily makes one a psychopath or a depressed teenager- most nihilists are perfectly capable of making their own meaning to things, they simply reject the idea of there being any deeper meaning than that.
You’re not using the correct definition of that word!
These definitions are the definitions most commonly used in this subreddit, and they reflect the original meanings of the words and the views of very nearly all atheists. Before engaging in a debate that hinges on these terms, it may be necessary to come to an agreement on what those terms mean. Remember, it makes a lot more sense to ask someone what their position is than it does to dictate their position to them based on your understanding of terminology.
Other common terms used on /r/atheism
Please see our glossary for details on other terms frequently used here.
Why was /r/atheism removed as a default subreddit?
Reddit admins keep the “top list” of subreddits as defaults. This means that when you view reddit without logging in, you will see content from these default subreddits on your reddit home page. Also, new accounts are automatically subscribed to these subreddits.
/r/atheism used to be part of this list, but it was removed. Discussion of that act can be found here. The short answer is that no one really knows why except the admins, but whatever the reason there is some silver lining in that we’re less of a target for trolling/karmawhoring and the front page doesn’t mess with our content voting now, unless something makes it to /all.
Topics that belong on /r/atheism
“Atheism” is nothing more and nothing less than a lack of belief in any god or gods. If discussion between the million or so redditors subscribed to this forum were limited to “I don’t believe in gods.” “Neither do I.”, it would get very boring, very quickly.
For this reason, there is significant discussion about skepticism, secularism, humanism, empiricism, and other topics related to, but not synonymous with, atheism. There is also discussion about how various religions, or the concept of religion in general, are harmful, silly, abusive, or absurd. This is all fine, because it gives us something to talk about.
Gay rights, persecution, etc.
Religiously motivated persecution of LGBT people is a gay rights issue, and is thus suitable for discussion on /r/LGBT.
Religiously motivated persecution of LGBT people (or anyone else, for that matter) is a secular rights issue, and is thus suitable for discussion on /r/atheism.
A topic about queer issues, etc. that has absolutely nothing to do with religion is more suitable on /r/LGBT or its long list of related subreddits.
Climate change denial
Climate change denying is influenced heavily by Christianity; and hence, disproportional in conservative politics where you’ll find almost all of the conservative and evangelical Christians.
Rage Comics, Facebook Screencaps, Image Macros
There are more suitable subreddits for these:
- Rage comics go in /r/aaaaaatheismmmmmmmmmm/ (that’s 6 As, 10 Ms).
- Screencaps of Facebook conversations- real or fake- go in/r/TheFacebookDelusion.
- Image Macros and Captioned-Picture memes go in/r/AdviceAtheists.
If you want to view /r/atheism and those three subreddits in one place, you can bookmark/r/atheism+aaaaaatheismmmmmmmmmm+TheFacebookDelusion+AdviceAtheists.
Common Complaints about/r/atheism
Why do you focus on Christianity? Shouldn’t you pick on all religions equally?
Because we’re communicating in English. Christianity is overwhelmingly the dominant religion in English-speaking countries, so that’s the religion that English-speaking redditors encounter most.
There are at least several stories submitted daily that touch on Islam, Judaism, Scientology, Mormonism and even Buddhism. Indeed, in the past, we’ve held “theme weeks”, encouraging our members to learn about this-or-that other religion. For the most part, however, other religions are harder for most people to find quality news sources for due to language barriers, and for them to make jokes about because they’re not as familiar with the theology and rituals. If you would like to see more of something, submit it and be the change you want.
Why do you focus on Islam? Shouldn’t you pick on all religions equally?
Islam is overwhelmingly the dominant religion in parts of the world where human rights violations are prevalent. In many cases, gross human rights violations are traceable directly to Islamic organizations or individuals doing their best to follow the violent doctrines of Islam. Most redditors are from the West where human rights are considered important, so it is not surprising that we would be bothered by this.
There are at least several stories submitted daily that touch on Christianity, Judaism, Scientology, Mormonism and even Buddhism. Indeed, in the past, we’ve held “theme weeks”, encouraging our members to learn about this-or-that other religion. For the most part, however, other religions are harder for most people to find quality news sources for due to language barriers, and for them to make jokes about because they’re not as familiar with the theology and rituals. If you would like to see more of something, submit it and be the change you want.
Why are you all so angry? Why do you dislike religion if it’s a personal choice?
If religion were nothing but a personal choice, many of us would have no problem with it. Unfortunately, it causes a great deal of harm in the world, from justifying historical slavery and genocide, to current oppression of women, LGBT individuals, and other minorities across the globe, to promoting child abuse and teaching fairy tales as fact in science classrooms.
For more detail, please see the wiki entry on Atheists and Anger.
I’d like to remind you that not all religious people are crazy. Some are very nice!
Most /r/atheism redditors already know not all religious people are crazy.Here’s an informal study suggesting as much. The most popular posts onr/atheism are those highlighting some of the most extreme, fantastic aspects of religion, but this is no different from any daily newspaper that highlights the most extreme, fantastic events of the day.
If you’re here to apologize on behalf of anyone else’s behavior, stop right there. If you have nothing to do with the behavior we’re criticizing, then the criticism is not directed at you. If you want to make a difference, go take it up with the gay-bashers and creationists. Your energy would be much better spent attacking their behavior than defending the book they use to justify it.
It must be noted that “not as evil as those guys over there” is not synonymous with “good”. Most forms of moderate religion have problems of their own- see below.
The Pope is not all that bad!
Imagine that tomorrow morning, the Pope called a widely publicized press conference, announcing a new Papal Bull that was to come into effect immediately:
“Every rapist and every accomplice to rape that the Catholic Church has ever sheltered is hereby excommunicated and declared anathema. The Vatican will be opening every sealed file we have on this subject, and every Diocese office in the world will be instructed to do likewise. Any Catholic who destroys or conceals any such evidence is likewise excommunicated and declared anathema. We will be co-operating completely with the secular authorities in bringing these disgusting criminals to justice. We are finished with sheltering abusers of children, now and forever.
On behalf of centuries of my predecessors who have known about this problem and chosen to do nothing, I am deeply, deeply sorry. The Church has betrayed your trust, and it has failed in its role as the Body of Christ on Earth. I cannot in good conscience pretend that the institutional abuse of children represents no more than the actions of a few disordered souls. I cannot pretend that the actions of the thousands who protected them, at all levels of the Church’s hierarchy, do not reflect upon the Church as a whole. I cannot stand by and make any claim to moral authority while I exploit said authority to aid and abet the sexual abuse of hundreds of thousands of children. I can make no apology for this most grave of sins. I can only hope that this long-overdue gesture will represent the first step on the long, long road to earning not just God’s forgiveness, but also that of society, and of every person we have wronged.”
Any decent human being would have given that speech, or one very much like it, by the end of their first week as Pope.
This is not an optional objective that is might be nice to accomplish “some day, maybe”. This is not something that would be Above and Beyond the Call of Duty. “Not helping your employees to rape children” is the bare fucking minimum of human decency. Bergoglio fails to meet that bare minimum.
Those mean/intolerant/violent people aren’t practicing the TRUE version of my religion!
Those people are saying exactly the same thing about you. And it’s a safe bet that they have at least as much support for their claim as you do for yours. Willfully ignoring the many, many parts of your own Holy Book that mandate violence, injustice, intolerance, and oppression might make you a better neighbour or a better human being than various fundamentalists, but it sure doesn’t make you a better Christian/Muslim/etc.
See this article by Greta Christina for a more thorough dissection of this problem.
I’m not trying to convert anybody, but…
Why the hell not? If you think you’re right, if you actually believe the claims of your religion rather than just believing in them, you should damn well be trying to convert us.
A lot of people think they’re enlightened for proclaiming that everyone “has a right to believe whatever they want to believe”, but upon examination, it becomes clear that that’s an attitude which we really can’t respect.
I can’t speak for every atheist, or even every member of this subreddit, but the majority of us are skeptics: We don’t want to believe whatever makes me the most comfortable- we want to believe whatever most accurately reflects reality. As the saying goes, “If the sky is blue, I want to believe that the sky is blue. If the sky is not blue, then I want to believe that the sky is not blue.”
Likewise, if the Christian God exists, I want to believe that the Christian God exists. If Allah exists, I want to believe that Allah exists. If Princess Celestia exists, I want to believe that Princess Celestia exists.
If you have access to actual evidence that this is so, you do us a great disservice by withholding it from us. (And if you don’t, you do yourself a great disservice by continuing to believe it). I’m not saying you should be going door to door waking people up to hand out shitty pamphlets (unless, of course, you think that bad things are going to happen to everyone who disagrees with you, in which case that’s very very least that you should do), but if somebody asks you a question, you should be willing to give an answer.
And that’s not even considering the whole “unforgiven mortal sins –> HELL” thing. If you also believe that heaven and hell exist, letting somebody “believe whatever they want to believe” is just about the worst possible thing you can possibly do to them. If you’re not willing to annoy someone for a few hours to save them from eternal torture, don’t youdare say that you “respect them”.
Note that this doesn’t mean that any of us actually enjoy listening to evangelism. If I thought that somebody was about to be dragged underground by trolls and tortured for a thousand years, and the only way to keep the trolls away was to cover yourself in cat urine, and I washolding a bucket of cat urine in my hands, I can’t think of anybody that I hate enough that I would let the trolls take them. However, from the point of view of someone who doesn’t share that delusion, you’d probably just rather not be covered in cat urine. This is the danger when people think that they’re entitled not only to their own opinions, but to their own facts as well.
Do you consider moderate beliefs to be better than fundamentalist beliefs?
Better in some ways, but worse in others. It is far better to believe that your hair-dryer is telling you to volunteer at a homeless shelter than to believe that it’s telling you to go out and murder every redhead you see, but far better than both is not listening to what you think your hair-dryer is telling you.
A strongly held belief in the Santa Claus is mostly harmless, and may well help you to be a more generous person, but it still requires you to ignore or rationalize away huge piles of evidence in order to maintain. This sort of Faith requires a suspension of the part of your brain responsible for telling sense from nonsense, and if you’re willing to let something so huge as a God Claim through unchallenged, who knows what else might slip through the cracks? Once you admit that you believe in something “because of faith”, you are essentially admitting that you don’t care whether or not it is actually true. As soon as you stop caring about reality in one aspect of your life, it becomes that much easier to stop caring about reality in others.
The problem isn’t specifically a hatred of gays/women/blacks/etc., or an opposition to Cosmology or Biology. The problem is delusion, dogma, and a willingness to ignore reality that one finds inconvenient. As far as most skeptics are concerned, people who believe uncritically in supernaturalist religion, who are willing to continue believing in extraordinary claims despite the complete lack of evidence, have a fundamentally dishonest worldview that can never fully coincide with evidence and rationality.
Furthermore, anyone who demands respect for uncritical acceptance of superstitious nonsense, even mostly harmless nonsense, is indirectly giving aid and comfort to the fundamentalists, because they’re making it that much less acceptable to criticize those who hold similar beliefs which are obviously crazy or evil.
It’s nice that some religious people share some political opinions with some atheists. It’s nice that some religious people don’t hate gay people, it’s nice that some religious people accept evolution, it’s nice that some religious people accept that the Big Bang happened. Heck, it’s nice that most religious people are willing to accept that the Earth isn’t flat. It’s certainly better than the alternative.
In short, We know you’re not as bad as those crazies. But unless you’re opposed to all of the things wrong with religion, don’t be surprised if you’re seen as part of the problem.
Why are you all so mean?
/r/atheism is a moderated forum with more than 2 million members. A consequence of the size and freedom of the forum is that it also includes people who are willing and able to make mean and nasty posts. Hopefully you will find that the mean people are greatly outnumbered by kind and considerate redditors. If you find the meanness unbearable, you can always unsubscribe.
Rebuttals to common theological arguments
For a list of common theological arguments and their rebuttals, as well as a very comprehensive list of atheist arguments have a look here. Other places you can go to are Ironchariots, Wikipedia and the Common Theological Arguments article.
The Atheist Worldview
How can atheists have morals without a god?
Morality is not something given by a god.
For instance, Buddhists follow the five precepts given by Buddha (c. 563 – c. 483 BC):
- “I abstain from taking life”
- “I abstain from taking what is not given”
- “I abstain from sexual misconduct” (e.g. sexual contact not sanctioned by secular laws, the Buddhist monastic code, or by one’s parents and guardians)
- “I abstain from false speech.”
- “I abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.” (Alcohol)
Even before that, the Code of Hammurabi is a well-preserved Babylonian law code, dating back to about 1772 BC.
Most societies rely on written laws, which are important and useful, but shouldn’t be mistaken as the word of God.
And the law is expected to change, as societies evolve. The most famous of Hammurabi’s laws is: “If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out”. Can you imagine a society still being ruled by such ancient laws?
What is Morality?
In Philosophy, Morality in general is broken down into (at least) three branches: Consequentialism, or the belief that the morality of an act is based on the consequences of the action; Deontology, or the belief that the morality of an act is based on whether or not it is compliant with a rule/rules; and Virtue ethics, or the belief that morality should be based on what people ‘are’, rather than what people ‘do’.
Using these definitions, most of today’s religions advocate deontology, with the set of rules being ordained by supernatural entities. However, there is nothing inherent in this branches that requires them.
Beyond that, morality can be studied within the fields of psychology and sociology. While both offer explanations of its existence, neither field offers a solution to say that one set of morals is greater than another, but the notion can still be achieved through secular philosophy. This is evidenced by the judicial actions of secular institutions (perhaps the best example is that of secular governments) or prevailing social norms which have no basis in religion or are not held by religious adherents. Examples would include the outlawing of slavery, and the rejection of sexism and racism.
Conversely, dogmatic approaches by religions to establish one solid set of rules, which explicitly state one thing is wrong and the other is not, deter progress in morality.
“But look! The most horrible murderous leaders in history have been atheists! Hitler! Pol Pot! Stalin!”
A common misconception that has been decidedly promoted among the theist community is that each of these evil dictators was evil because they were atheists. The implication is that without a god, people have no ‘moral grounding’ and are therefore somehow inclined to perform evil acts such as mass murder.
This is completely false. Morals and morality are natural to all humans, and are entirely separate to religious belief. Would a believer in religion suddenly decide to kill and rape if they stopped believing in god? Indeed, if morals are truly determined by religious teachings, then slavery, the stoning of adulterers, homosexuals, misbehaving children, and many of the other atrocities condoned by the Bible would not be considered atrocities at all — they would be perfectly ‘moral’ things to do. In practice, morality is better described as being an inevitable result of theZeitgeist (from the German phrase meaning ‘the spirit of the times’), the ever-changing social understanding that we all share that determines what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior within every society.
If a person doesn’t already understand that cruelty is wrong, he won’t discover this by reading the Bible or the Koran — as these books are bursting with celebrations of cruelty, both human and divine. We do not get our morality from religion. We decide what is good in our good books by recourse to moral intuitions that are (at some level) hard-wired in us and that have been refined by thousands of years of thinking about the causes and possibilities of human happiness.
We have made considerable moral progress over the years, and we didn’t make this progress by reading the Bible or the Koran more closely. Both books condone the practice of slavery — and yet every civilized human being now recognizes that slavery is an abomination. Whatever is good in scripture, like the golden rule, can be valued for its ethical wisdom without requiring us to believe that it was handed down to us by the creator of the universe.
The argument is also intrinsically wrong for the following reasons:
- The existence of gods is not contingent on who takes a theist or atheist position.
- Causality is crucial in understanding any kind of relationship. The causality between examples of immoral atheists and atheism is borderline non-existent, in most cases — as much to the point as saying that Hitler and Stalin were both bad because they had mustaches.
- The causality between immoral actions is much greater with religions. Perhaps the purest and most recent example is the attacks on various European cartoonists drawing pictures of Islam’s Mohammad. Were the attackers not Muslim, it’s doubtful they would take such violent offense.
- It denotes grave misunderstandings of history as will be discussed later in this section.
In regards to Hitler, Pol Pot & Stalin, it is important to point out first thatHitler appears to have not been an atheist at all. He was raised as a Catholic, regularly invoked Jesus in his speeches, and spoke often of his and the German peoples’ “manifest destiny” — a decidedly un-atheist position. It is also worth noting that aside from Hitler, the overwhelming majority of Nazi party members were religious, and it was they who committed the crimes of the Nazi party first hand. In addition, the Nazi party also officially banned books that “ridicule, belittle or besmirch the Christian religion and its institution, faith in God, or other things that are holy.” (Amusingly, among the books he banned was Darwin’s Origin of Species).
Pol Pot was raised Buddhist, later spent eight years in a Catholic seminary, but was more accurately described as a deist as he professed a belief in “heaven” and “destiny.” Stalin was born into a very religious household and attended the Tiflis Theological Seminary, from which he was expelled. His personal religious beliefs are hard to pin down exactly, however he did publicly advocate the idea that religions were unnecessary and was likely to have been a deist or atheist in his later years.
Sam Harris provides a typically lucid explanation regarding the actions of these men:
“People of faith regularly claim that atheism is responsible for some of the most appalling crimes of the 20th century. Although it is true that the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were irreligious to varying degrees, they were not especially rational. In fact, their public pronouncements were little more than litanies of delusion–delusions about race, economics, national identity, the march of history or the moral dangers of intellectualism. In many respects, religion was directly culpable even here. Consider the Holocaust: The anti-Semitism that built the Nazi crematoria brick by brick was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity. For centuries, religious Germans had viewed the Jews as the worst species of heretics and attributed every societal ill to their continued presence among the faithful. While the hatred of Jews in Germany expressed itself in a predominately secular way, the religious demonization of the Jews of Europe continued. (The Vatican itself perpetuated the blood libel in its newspapers as late as 1914.)
Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields are not examples of what happens when people become too critical of unjustified beliefs; to the contrary, these horrors testify to the dangers of not thinking critically enough about specific secular ideologies. Needless to say, a rational argument against religious faith is not an argument for the blind embrace of atheism as a dogma. The problem that the atheist exposes is none other than the problem of dogma itself–of which every religion has more than its fair share. There is no society in recorded history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable, or too accepting of rational inquiry.”
Why not believe in God anyway, just to be safe?
This is known as Pascal’s Wager, and has been thoroughly debunked ever since Blaise Pascal introduced it. Rationalwiki has an excellent page on the topic, as does Iron Chariots, but we’ll go over some highlights.
- Which god? This assumption is a specific example of the logical fallacy of false dilemma. Humanity has worshiped between twenty-seven hundred and three thousand different gods since the beginning of recorded history, and those are just the ones we know about. The gods that could exist that we don’t know are practically infinite. Pascal himself acknowledged the weakness of this assumption, and later explained he was only speaking in terms of the Christian religion.
- Assuming we somehow manage to choose the right god, how do we know we’re worshiping that god in the correct way? There are many different sects of Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Christianity in particular has approximately forty-one thousand different denominations. Assuming that this god cares about being worshiped at all, how do we know we’re worshiping him as he demands? If the Calvinists are correct it doesn’t matter how you worship him, your salvation is pre-ordained whether or not you believe. If the Catholics are right salvation is only possible through rituals like communion and the last rites. If the Baptists are correct then only deliberate submission through prayer begging for salvation will do the trick. They can’t all be correct.
- Assuming that we have the right god and are worshiping in the manner that god requires, why would this god accept a lie? No one can force themselves to believe something they don’t genuinely think is true. Try forcing yourself to honestly believe that gravity is a myth and that you can float off your seat any time you wish. Simply claiming belief isn’t the same as believing. If this god is willing to accept such a lie, how does that make it worthy of worship? If it’s capable of being lied to, how does it qualify as a god at all?
- One should not believe in vampires in the fear that I might get bitten one day. It is irrational to believe something based on fear. Pascal’s Wager is an appeal to emotion and says nothing about the validity of the claim.
- Pascal’s wager assumes that if there is an existing god, that it rewards faith and punishes skepticism. There is no way of knowing that skepticism is the virtue being rewarded and that god does not punish faith and irrationality.
- Religion takes away time and effort as well as money. If the chances of god are exceedingly low, you have wasted your life. Atheism has a lack of religious restrictions, so in a sense, atheists are being rewarded. Religion as a whole does monstrous things to society, so even if there isn’t a god, you still have a lot to lose. Atheism is the intellectually honest approach to the topic.
One of our member came up with a different wager in response. Read Nuke’s Wager and see how it works for you.
What happens when we die?
Atheists have only one thing in common- a lack of belief in gods. Atheism has nothing to say about what happens to the self after death. It’s possible to be an atheist but believe in reincarnation (as do most Buddhists), or paradise, or perdition, or ghosts, or any other answer to this question.
Many atheists are also materialists (to the point where some people erroneously think the terms are interchangeable), and therefore have no belief in immaterial souls, or indeed immaterial anything. As far as any evidence has ever been able to determine, the human mind is nothing more than a piece of software being run on the computers we call “brains”. It might one day be possible to run them on computers other than brains- meaning that afterlives of a sort might eventually exist- but it certainly isn’t possible to run them on nothing. Not any more than it’s possible to run Word or DOOM on nothing, anyway.
Information is a description of the state that matter and energy happens to be in at any given time, it’s not something that exists outside of and independent of that matter and energy. If it helps you understand, look at it this way: A person isn’t a thing that ”exists”, any more than a fire is. A person is a thing that happens.
Death is what we call it when a person stops happening. A person doesn’t “go anywhere” when they die- they cease to exist, and their body is buried/cremated/eaten/whatever. Likewise, the fire doesn’t “go anywhere” when you blow out the candle, nor does un-backed-up data go anywhere when you destroy a hard drive, not even to a realm of black emptiness. It simply isn’t there anymore. The matter and energy that were sustaining it are now doing something else.
Sam Harris, when asked about whether we have immortal souls, said that“there are very good reasons to think it’s not true. We know this from 150 years of neurology where you damage areas of the brain, and faculties are lost… You can cease to recognize faces, you can cease to know the names of animals but you still know the names of tools…
What we’re being asked to consider is that you damage one part of the brain, and something about the mind and subjectivity is lost, you damage another and yet more is lost, [but] you damage the whole thing at death, we can rise off the brain with all our faculties in tact, recognizing grandma and speaking English!”
Do atheists fear death?
Some atheists fear death, and some don’t. Some have ways of coping with the fear of death, some don’t waste energy thinking about it, and some tremble at the thought in spite of our best efforts. Like so many other topics, there’s no official answer to this, although a common response is to quote Mark Twain’s thoughts on death: “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
Does life have a purpose?
First, ask yourself- what is a “purpose”, and why would a life need one?
Most atheists assert that there is no inherent higher purpose to life, because the evolutionary processes that allowed our existence have no purpose other than successful reproduction. Although atheism itself makes no conclusions about life’s meaning, many atheists conclude that life has the purpose that you give it. It’s an open book, or a tabula rasa. You can make it what you want. Do you want to create things? Leave the world a better place than you found it? Teach? Learn? Make oodles of money? Find love? Contentment? Have beautiful babies? The world is yours to explore, and you have to find meaning for yourself.
Do atheists celebrate Christmas (or other holidays)?
Many atheists celebrate a variety of holidays with religious origins or connotations, but don’t think that makes them hypocritical. For instance, Christmas isn’t exclusively a Christian holiday, it’s celebrated throughout the world as a time to celebrate with your family, exchange gifts, and reflect on things as the year draws to a close. As cultures change, they take the best parts of the past and bring them into the future. For example, we know that Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25, if he was born at all. Midwinter festivals have a long tradition, and Christian feast days often coincided with pagan religious festivals as the culture grew and changed. There are plenty of examples of pagan influences over religious holidays, like Christmas trees, Christmas lights, flying reindeer, virgin births, and a rabbit distributing colored eggs. Christmas isn’t the only thing that has religious significance and been taken into the culture at large. There are other examples of pagan influence on our calendars, such as the names of days and months.
What do I say when someone sneezes?
This may seem like a sticky subject, but don’t worry, it’s snot. Some atheists try to avoid using language with religious connotations, “bless you” included. Alternatives to the phrase include gesundheit, salud, wash your hands, or not saying anything at all. It’s good to remember that language and word meanings change over time, too. “Goodbye” is short for “God be with you”, for example, but what atheist feels indignation at hearing the word?
Do atheists believe in Ghosts (Or other supernatural things)?
Some atheists do. Many do not. Atheism only describes a person’s lack of belief in deities. Everything else is negotiable. Being an atheist does notnecessarily make one a materialist, or a rationalist, or a humanist, or an empiricist, or a positivist, or a skeptic- it’s just that being those things tends to make one an atheist.
You can still be an atheist and believe completely uncritically in ghosts, reincarnation, souls, Heaven, Hell, zombies, wizards, unicorns, leprechauns, Bigfoot, spells, curses, auras, divination, astrology, homeopathy, crystal healing, psychics, Ouija boards, alien abductions, UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster, The Lost City of Atlantis, and honest used car salesmen.
Most of those you’ll find here are skeptics, however, so they would apply the same skepticism they use with the god question to the paranormal as well. Given the complete lack of any evidence of ghosts, unicorns, or $SUPERNATURAL_THING, don’t expect them to believe in it.
If you have any evidence that they exist, you’re welcome to submit it for peer review and collect your Nobel Prize, or at least contact James Randiso he can give you $1,000,000.
Do you have to hold Political Belief X to be an atheist?
Atheists have only one thing in common- a lack of belief in gods.
You can be an atheist and still believe that women should have to cover themselves in burlap sacks whenever they go out in public, or that heterosexual couples should be entitled to special privileges denied to homosexual couples, or that women should be forced to carry every pregnancy to term regardless of their feelings on the matter or any risk to their health, or that stem cell research is evil, or that there is no need to protect the environment, or that people of certain races are inherently inferior to people of other races, or that funding social programs like healthcare and education just encourages people to be lazy, or that a wealthy oligarchy is entitled to hold on to every penny they acquire, or that death is something to be looked forward to. If you do, however, you’ll probably get a lot of people looking at you funny, because the most common justifications for holding such beliefs are religious in nature. Most “secular” justifications require the exact same denials of reality that the religious justifications do (eg: An blastocyst can think and feel! Global warming isn’t real! All poor people are lazy! All gay people are crazy!), and without any holy books or sacred tradition to back them up.
Indeed, many atheists who believe such things are either former theists who internalized the belief a young age and have never really examinedwhy they believe it, or who grew up in a culture where the belief was repeated so frequently that they never really examined why so many people believed it. In both cases, they are likely to have invented reasonsfor maintaining the belief that are orthogonal to the reason why they originally came to hold it. This is a well-recognized psychological phenomenon- changing your mind is ”scary”.
Of course, it’s completely possible to have come to such a conclusion completely independent of any belief in any invisible lawgiver- but if you do, as I said, you’re going to get a lot of funny looks.
Do you have to belong to Political Party X to be an atheist?
The short answer: No. But if you even have to ask this question, then it’s a pretty safe bet that Political Party Y is full of people who hate you, and who hold at least some positions which you find abhorrent.
Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t want your vote. You’re not going to lose your Atheist Card if you vote for a theocrat, but you might lose a bunch of other important things. Please consider carefully before doing so.
The long answer: See Atheism and Politics.
What do atheists do when they testify in court? What do they swear on?
In many countries (including the US), the concept of affirmation in lawexists. Where affirmation exists, you don’t have to swear on anything, you can simply affirm. If you don’t wish to swear but are not offered this option, you can try asking for it. In some countries you are nowadays only asked to affirm. Indeed, the fourteenth President of the US affirmed rather than swore an oath.
Some atheists simply choose to swear on the Bible, as they view such a procedure as religiously ambiguous, symbolic and technically meaningless (and most likely do not wish to incur the hassle of an alternative method of affirmation). This says nothing about what they actually believe. Rather, they are acknowledging the Bible as something to put their hands on other than their laps during an oath.
What would it take to get you to believe in my God / in any god?
If you haven’t figured it out by reading this far, there is no unified atheist worldview or policy. Just about every atheist would have a different answer to this question. Some atheists may well take “There is no God!” as an axiom, and could never be convinced to change it. Some are surely gullible/emotionally vulnerable enough that the door-to-door missionary sales pitch might actually work (or else why would they keep trying?). Most, however, care about reality: They don’t want to believe in things just because it’s comforting to believe in them. They want to believe in what is true.
That means that purely emotional arguments, arguments from ignorance or personal incredulity (I don’t understand how X works, so the only possible explanation is that my god did it!), arguments from adverse consequences, arguments from popularity, appeals to authority, arguments from
hallucination nebulous personal experience, attempts to define your god into existence through equivocation and logical fallacies (first cause arguments, Aquinas’ Five Ways, etc.), or any other such sophistry are a waste of time. This FAQ contains a basic list of arguments that aren’t going to work on such people, and the wiki at Iron Chariots has a more comprehensive list.
So what would work, then?
Well, some verified miracles would be a great start. Not just a burned grilled cheese that kinda looks like the Virgin Mary if you squint hard enough, or someone whose cancer just happened to go into remission after eight months of praying (with the efforts of the doctors conveniently ignored), but something safely outside the bounds of what could ever be expected to happen by random chance. Evidence that prayer (by members of one specific religion or even just prayer in general) accomplished more than doing nothing at all would be a nice first step. A religious text that contained accurate prophecies or scientific foreknowledge- not just scattered poetic language that can be twisted into something that vaguely resembles reality, but something centuries ahead of the author’s time which is unambiguously true- would go a long way to establishing its credibility.
None of these would be sufficient to unambiguously and definitively prove that your god exists and has all the characteristics that you assign to him, but it would be enough to establish that there was something funky going on. That would put us a whole lot closer than we are now. If you want to be really pedantic, none of this would establish “Hyperpowerful universe-creating supernatural being” over “Hyperpowerful alien pranksters with sufficiently advanced technology”, but it would at least make the former proposition worth considering.
Requests for help
What am I? Am I an atheist?
It’s not uncommon for people to be unsure of who they are and where they belong. Fortunately, this is one of the easiest questions to answer: take a paper and pencil and write down the names or descriptions of all the gods you believe in. Even if you believe the universe and reality itself is some form of god, write that down. When you’re done tally up all the gods you believe in. If the answer is “none” then congratulations, you’re an atheist.
You may not be comfortable with this answer. You may have reasons why you don’t want to call yourself an atheist. That’s fine; you don’t have to. You can call yourself a seeker, a non-believer, a skeptic, a humanist or whatever you like. But as far as definitions go, someone who doesn’t believe in any gods is an atheist. The rest is just details.
Where can I find a good charity that isn’t religious?
What should I do about abuse of religion in my [school/workplace/etc.] ?
Each one of these situations is going to be different, and require analysis of various local, state, and federal laws. Often, speaking with the people who are overstepping their bounds can resolve everything without having to go any further. Other situations will require more pressure. r/atheismis a good starting point for publicizing your situation, but you should seek actionable legal advice from the Freedom From Religion Foundationand/or the American Civil Liberties Union. Redditors outside the United States should see a list I haven’t made yet.
Be aware that if you intend to pursue corrective action against an agency that is wrongly requiring religious participation, you will likely not remain anonymous, and could suffer other repercussions from friends, family, the agency you’re seeking to correct, and strangers. This is not a course of action to be taken lightly.
Should I come out to my parents as being an atheist?
The short answer is “No.”
The slightly longer answer is that if you are not in a position where that is likely to end well for you, you should probably wait until you’re more self-sufficient. However, you know your own parents better than we do. You could try breaking the ice on the subject of atheism to get a feel for their reaction to it in general, if you’re not sure. Always keep in mind that for many people religion is a highly emotive subject, and for many parents who have been raised to believe in the “moral superiority” of religious belief, a child who comes out as an atheist can be interpreted as a betrayal of them or as a failure of their own.
In some religions, it can actually be dangerous to “out” yourself. If your father is a hardline Muslim, for example, getting kicked out of the house is the least of your worries. You risk being beheaded or set on fire. If you’re coming from one of those, keep that in mind as well.
/r/atheism will almost invariably respond that you should wait. A common proverb here is “The best place to come out to your parents is at a home you own, over a dinner that you paid for yourself”.
If you do decide to “come out,” then consider that “atheist” has many evil, hateful connotations to religious people. It’s right up there with “Satanist.” You might be able to reduce the amount of flak you get by choosing a label for yourself that has a similar meaning but is less controversial. Please consider using an alternative such as “agnostic” or “humanist”, which does not carry quite as much baggage.
There’s also another approach: You could say “I’ve lost my belief” or “I don’t know what to believe any more” or even “God doesn’t speak to me any more.” Asked if you are an atheist, you could say “I don’t know.”
This makes you look less like a monster and more like a victim. You’ll be subject to sympathy rather than anger. You won’t be kicked out. But you run the risk of having folks work really hard to bring you back to God. Expect (more) frequent church visits, and maybe a talk with the priest/pastor/counsellor.
I have a friend / parent / teacher / boss / co-worker / significant other / self that doesn’t believe in Evolution!
Please see our section on Creationism, the Talk Origins Index to Creationist Claims, and Wikipedia’s Introduction to Evolution (since it’s a pretty safe bet that they don’t really understand what the word “evolution” means).
Before launching into a five hour debate with someone, however, you may wish to keep in mind that there are generally two types of people who don’t believe:
- People who are merely uneducated about evolution, and are more or less rational about other topics.
- People who categorically deny the existence of evolution, with or without extensive research.
If you choose to discuss the topic with the latter, you are unlikely to get anywhere.
My boyfriend / girlfriend / crush / etc. says they don’t want to be with me because I’m not a member of their religion!
The short answer to this is that you’re probably dodging a bullet. If your difference in opinion regarding belief in fairy tales is going to be a dealbreaker, it’s far better to find out early in the game than to find out when you’re married and your spouse is insisting on indoctrinating your children like his/her parents indoctrinated him/her.
If you’re determined to attempt to salvage the relationship, however, the best thing to do is to sit down with them, and have a frank and open discussion about why they refuse to be with somebody who isn’t a member of their cult. It’s possible that they’ve internalized attitudes such as “Jesus is the only source of morality”, and it might be to your benefit to dispel such misconceptions. At the very least, it will save you from spending the rest of your life wondering why it didn’t work out.
Where can I find evil stuff / contradictions / nonsense in the Bible?
The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible is probably your best resource- it has cross-references and categorical lists for Absurdity, Injustice, Cruelty and Violence, Intolerance, Contradictions, errors with Science and History, “Family Values”, Vague Interpretation, Misogyny, Sex, Prophecy, Naughty Language, Boring Stuff, Politics, Homosexuality. There’s even a category for the rare Good Stuff- they give credit where credit is due. The same website also has sections for the Qu’ran and the Book of Mormon, though neither has been completed nearly as thoroughly as their section on the Bible.
For a more detailed analysis of contradictions (including an analysis of the apologetic responses), see Errancy.org.
For a bunch of really nifty interactive charts, see the BibViz Project.
Come vote in this poll!
To paraphrase another well-known website, /r/atheism is not your personal army. However, there are other subreddits which enjoy engaging in such behaviors. Go to /r/SampleSize if you desire an accurate collection of data, or /r/PollSpamming if you just want to ruin someone else’s results.
Come sign this petition!
Before you create a petition on some online petition site, be sure to read their terms of service and their how-to guide. The following quote is from the first page of We The People, other petition sites usually have similar instructions.
Look for Similar Petitions Once you submit your petition headline and categories, we’ll search the system to see if there are any existing petitions that are similar. If there is already an existing petition that addresses the concerns you have, you may want to sign that petition instead rather than creating a new one. You will increase the likelihood of getting a response by signing onto an existing petition rather than creating a duplicate petition on the same issue.
Should churches have to pay taxes?
See all about this complicated question/answer here:/r/atheism/wiki/taxes
Was the United States founded as a “Christian Nation”?
No. Many of the founding fathers were various varieties of Christian, and most of the biggest names (Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Madison, etc.) were Deists, but all of them saw value in a system that did not privilege any religion over any other, or indeed over no religion at all.
The US Constitution — the foundational document of the government — makes no reference to any religion, nor to any god or gods. The First Amendment to said constitution reads:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Thomas Jefferson clarified in a 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists that “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their “legislature” should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”
The Treaty of Tripoli: Endorsed by John Adams and ratified by a congress full of Founding Fathers, this treaty states that “…the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…”, explaining to the Muslims with whom the treaty was being signed that the US had no intent whatsoever of advancing any state religion.
One Nation, Under God: Even though the original version of the US Pledge of Allegiance was written by a baptist minister in 1892, it contained no reference at all to any gods or supernatural elements:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The version officially recognized by Congress was somewhat different, reading:
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
“Under God” was not added until 1954, after the Red Scare had motivated people to distinguish US (God-fearing red-blooded Americans) from THEM (Evil Godless Commies).
In God We Trust: While placed on some coins as early as 1864, it was not generally placed on all US currency until 1957. It was made the offical motto of the United States in 1956, replacing the original motto of “E Pluribus Unum” (from many, one). This was the result of a campaign of religious special interest groups very similar to that responsible for the change in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Famous Person X isn’t really an atheist!
The short answer: Yes they are. Unless you’re here with proof that Famous Person X secretly believes in one or more gods, I don’t think that word means what you think it means.
The long answer: Let’s take the example of Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson, the two gentlemen most most commonly referenced for this sort of complaint (though it’s equally valid whether you’re talking about Thomas Henry Huxley or Albert Einstein). Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson are Agnostic Atheists in the same way that Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are Agnostic Atheists. They have more or less identical attitudes towards belief in the supernatural, the difference is in how they choose to present themselves to the public.
Drs. Sagan and Tyson care first and foremost about educating the masses about science. Given that “atheist” is a dirty word in many parts of the world, their ability to reach certain audiences would be compromised if they went around using it to describe themselves, just as if they’d described themselves as “communists” or “witches”. They still don’t believe in any gods, nor do they consider faith to be a good thing, but don’t consider it their business to directly convince others not to.
Meanwhile, firebrands such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are no less agnostic than Sagan or Tyson, they simply decided to tackle the problem of religious faith head on. They’re tired of playing nice, theywant to be “up in your face”, they want to point out that the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, and they don’t care whose feelings they have to hurt to do it. They use ridicule and rhetoric as weapons. Dawkins is himself a brilliant science educator, but this open stance against religion has alienated people who take such things personally, which is something that Sagan and Tyson seek to avoid.
What’s with the Teapot logo?
The teapot logo refers to Russell’s Teapot. This is an allegory which explains why the burden of proof rests on the person making claims (such as existence of a teapot orbiting the sun, or existence of a deity) rather than the person denying them, and why it is absurd to believe in something just because it’s impossible to prove it 100% wrong.
“/r/atheism should be about…”
/r/atheism is a subreddit for “All topics related to atheism, agnosticism and secular living” as explained on the subreddit’s sidebar. That encompasses a very wide range of material. While certain material may fit just as well or even better in other subreddits (see “Topics that belong on /r/atheism”) that says nothing as to whether or not they also fit here.
If you don’t approve of the content here you are encouraged to post what you’d like to see so that the community can evaluate it themselves. Additionally, spending time in the “new” section and using your up and downvotes is an effective way of promoting content you think is valuable and making sure that it is seen by more people. If you are looking for specific kinds of content you are also encouraged to use the filters linked on the sidebar (the small squares) Remember, this subreddit is almost entirely what the community makes of it and the only way to promote any change is to be an active member of that community.
The important thing to remember is that /r/atheism is about a community of people. There is very little moderation by design and no particular mission beyond a safe place for atheists to hang out. This is not a forum dedicated to philosophy or debate, and it is not an outreach of nonbelievers to believers. Everyone is welcome but no one can dictate what should or should not be here. If you don’t like what you see then we’re sorry to disappoint. You are not required to stay subscribed.
While we may appreciate the sincerity of your desire to apologize for the actions of theistic and religious individuals who may share your beliefs, we cannot seriously accept an apology unless you are actually a representative of those individuals you are apologizing for. You cannot apologize for others’ actions without appearing disingenuous and attempting to do so will not benefit anyone. If you are sincerely opposed to the actions of individuals who share your religious affiliation please share your concerns with them in the hopes that they will limit such actions in the future. We do not need to know that you disagree with them, they do.
For whatever reason, a significant portion of questions asked by new users, visitors, and throwaway accounts tend to be titled some variation of “An Honest Question”, rather than a useful, descriptive, or informative title. A quick search reveals hundreds of such threads.
If your question is “Honest” (i.e.: it isn’t ill-informed, leading, or disingenuous), you should probably just ask the question rather than playing an elaborate game of CYA. If it isn’t, labeling it as “Honest” isn’t going to help. When people are scrolling past a list of posts, a title like “Why do you describe yourself as an atheist rather than as an agnostic?” is informative– it helps people understand whether or not it’s a discussion to which they can contribute. By contrast, a title like “this is an honest question” will led to your post getting lost amid 850 posts with the same title. It tells us nothing.
Well, almost nothing. Some basic pattern recognition will allow one to make a couple of educated guesses- and they’re rarely good things. In the context of /r/atheism, “an honest question” almost always seems to mean “a question which is answered by the FAQ, but whose answer I don’t know because I never bothered to read it”. They are often accompanied by a plea not to downvote them or a passive-aggressive statement that “I know I’m going to be downvoted for this…”, neither of which are polite or encouraged by reddiquette. In short, it serves as a sort of “waste of time” flag, which you should probably try to avoid.
What caused/came before the Big Bang?
Longer answer: No one really knows. There are several leading hypotheses in the cosmology community, any of which (or none of which) might turn out to be correct.
In some of these, time as we know it actually began with the Big Bang, so asking what came “before” it is a semantically null question, akin to asking what happens if you go to the North Pole and then walk North.
However, it is highly dishonest to go from “Nobody knows” to “The only possible explanation is that a magical man done it. And since my magical man is the only one it could possibly be, we can safely assume that he has all these other qualities…” This is known an Argument from Ignorance, or more specifically, the God of the Gaps.
A thousand years ago, no one knew where lightning or diseases or volcanoes or seasons came from, so they invented gods to explain them. As people learned how those phenomena really worked, the gaps shrunk, and those explanations were suddenly “intended as metaphors all along”. The beginning of the Universe is one of the last few gaps in which theists think their god could be hiding, but the gaps are ever shrinking.
This question is also frequently associated with First Cause arguments, which state, roughly, “Everything needs to have been caused by something else, and there can’t be an infinite chain of causes, therefore my god must have caused everything”. This argument fails on multiple levels, the most obvious of which is that once you’ve asserted that your god can exist without a prior cause, you have already defeated your own premise that everything needs a prior cause. If your god needs a god-maker and a god-maker-maker, then an infinite regress is necessary, and if it doesn’t, then what makes you think the universe does?
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