Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why I'm an Atheist

Here’s why I’m an atheist: I don’t believe in any gods.

Simple, right? I’ve not seen or heard or read any evidence that gods exist.

Also, I don’t need any god; there’s nothing lacking in my life that could be provided by believing, unreasonably, in a supernatural being.

But a discouraging trend that I’ve noticed in the Atheosphere lately — at least among the blogs that I read regularly — is to complicate the simple truth, which I’ll repeat once again in case you didn’t understand it the first time: an atheist is a person who doesn’t believe in any gods because there's absolutely no evidence of their existence.

If I announced suddenly that I don’t believe in flying elephants who fart Beethoven sonatas, I wouldn’t feel the need to defend my reasonable assertion against every idiot who suggested otherwise. I wouldn’t believe that such elephants existed, even if people showed me a book written over two thousand years ago claiming that a whole tribe of ignorant desert-dwellers had heard one passing overhead. I wouldn’t give credence to any assertion that those elephants and/or their musical effusions are responsible for human morality. I would refuse to accept unquestioningly that those elephants had designed a special place of punishment for people who don’t sing along with their gaseous emanations. And I certainly wouldn’t trust as proof of their existence a cluster of urine stains allegedly depicting winged mammoths with musical notes coming out of their asses.

If I deigned to debate people who had blind faith in those elephants, I would merely be buying into their lunacy.

Obviously, such a debate would serve no purpose. I could never convince believers in Beethoven-farting elephants — airborne or otherwise — of the untenability of their position. Because people who believe in flying, mellifluously flatulent pachyderms either don’t understand reason or just don’t want to hear it. They forsook scientific proof the second they accepted as fact that an Appassionata could come booming down from the clouds as a by-product of Proboscidean digestion. By engaging in debate with those morons, I’d implicitly be buying into their thesis. I’d become a moron, myself.

So, I ask my readers, why do so many of us waste our time debating religionists?


Anonymous said...

i think its absurd for there to even to be the term atheists. us categorizing ourselves as such buys into their lunacy just as debating them on our justifications.

Anonymous said...

At least there are elephants on the planet and I'm quite sure that they fart. A high fiber diet will do that to you!

Why debate religionists? It's good practice event though they never concede defeat. Religionists have been ramming morality mixed with mythology down our throats for centuries without our making much protest. Time for us to make like the elephants.

Anonymous said...

I go with Christopher Hitchen's statement: "I consider myself an Anti-theist."

Anonymous said...



Sarge said...

Good point, sometimes I wonder why, myself. My wife, who I've known fifty years, been married close to thirty nine of them, (she's a church goer)and I have never even mentioned it in all that time.

It is true, most of us (that I've encountered) don't want to "convert" the "godly", just leave us be. But there is a breed of believer who starts in on you when you can't easily walk away. I regard it as an assault, the facial expressions, gestures, angry voice are pretty much the same. You can usually trip them with their own words and when they obviously can't support their thesis in a rational way they tend to leave you be next time.

About that elephant, though...I think we might have had one hiding out in the lower brass section at rehearsal the other night. Didn't see him, but I think I might have HEARD him. Might not have been Beethoven but it sure wasn't Barber, at least that was on my score.

Pedro Timóteo said...

So, I ask my readers, why do so many of us waste our time debating religionists?

I guess it's because we tend to be nice people, and want to help. Much like trying to help someone overcome their addiction to drugs or alcohol. Often, they don't want to listen, they're too far gone, and they even get aggressive when pressed. But, still, we tend to try.

Also, the fact that there is a debate, instead of theists getting 100% of the airtime, may help the young and/or undecided realize that it is possible to be an atheist, that we lead good lives, and aren't monsters.

MerryAtheist said...

A fellow atheist on a religious discussion forum said it best when asked why he, being an atheist, hung around on a religious board. He said:

"Because I like leading horses to water."

I love that line.

Anonymous said...

View my blog for my answer, I think that it is detrimental to the public not to debate them due to the overwhelming control of the far right from the evangelists. The moderates just are not voting, therefore the evangelists are geeting their views pushed through easily. If the moderate Christians would vote rationally, then we may have a hal-way rational government (well, ... maybe not half-way). Here's the permlink to that blog:

sacred slut said...

I debate religionists because the indoctrination is quite deep and requires some help to overcome. I was a theist for over 30 years and it never even occurred to me that THERE WAS NO PROOF OF THE ASSERTIONS THE MINISTERS MADE. None. During that time, I was living with an atheist for at least 5-6 years (though we never discussed religion much). It wasn't until I actually studied my religion that I began to realize this fact.

Even then, I'm sure that if I had been surrounded ONLY by other believers I would not have woken up. My husband and I would discuss the lessons and, where, another believer would have tried to reinforce the teachings that relied on "faith" my husband would agree they made no rational sense.

So my purpose in reaching out to theists is to serve that function: asking, "WHY?" and "How do you KNOW that?"

The Exterminator said...

I agree that we should protest when the religionists ram their ridiculous mythology down our throats. But I don't think endless debating is the most effective way to do that.

Yes, I've been to many a concert in which farting elephants seem to have taken over the lower brass section. Did you mean Barber was on your score, or Babar?

Why must atheists prove that they're good people and not, in your word, "monsters"? If someone arbitrarily calls me a monster, do I have to prove that I'm not?

Nice line. Still, my favorite variation on that horses-water phrase is Dorothy Parker's. She was playing a game with some friends; they had to use specific words in a sentence, and her word was "horticulture." Her sentence: "You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think."

I'm not saying that we shouldn't indulge in any discussion or dialogue with religionists. Planting a seed of doubt is always worthwhile. But incessant debate is useless. In your experience, did debate ease your way into becoming an atheist? Or was it just conversations with people you thought were reasonable?

tobe38 said...


I take your point, but this may be one of those things where you and I have to agree to disagree ;)

One main reason that I debate with Christians a lot, is simply that I enjoy it. It frustrates me, but then so does snooker, another of my hobbies. And in a way I wish they weren't there so I wouldn't have the option, but since they are, I do enjoy it.

I also think it's worth it because theists deconvert, atheists convert and people in the middle can be drawn one way or another. I do think debate helps to make sure the shift is going the right way, slow though the progress may be.

I've thought a lot about your point of 'planting a seed of doubt', and I think it's a powerful one. But you also never know when something you say in a debate may really hit home to someone. Not too often, I'm sure, but often enough I think to make it worth while trying. At the end of the day, each to their own.

ordinarygirl said...

I don't know anyone that endlessly debates theists. Usually I just debate the ones that come to my blog and ask questions and it's more of a back and forth exchange than a debate.

But when I see/hear statements like, "Atheists don't have morals," or "Atheist governments like Hitler's ... ," I can't help myself. I have to correct them. It's just so infuriating to be faced with such ignorance even if I don't care about the person that's ignorant.

The Exterminator said...

You said, One main reason that I debate with Christians a lot, is simply that I enjoy it. Yeah, me too. Debates with religionists make me feel oh so superior. However, I often know in advance that debating will not have enough of a hedonistic payoff for me to bother. Sometimes, real life takes precedence over metaphysics. When a Jehovah's Witness comes to my door early in the morning, for instance -- as one did yesterday -- I simply shoo him or her away and go back to sleep. Why try to have an intelligent conversation? I also avoid discussing deep philosophical issues with 3-year-olds and schizophrenics. I'm not so insecure that arguing with the intellectually unfit is automatically fun for me. Now, I'm not saying that all religionists are intellectually unfit. But most of those who troll the blogs certainly are. So I, for one, have much more fun debating people with whom I am 99% in agreement -- like you. At least I know that either one of us may change the other's mind. And, even if not, we'll respect and understand each other's positions. So by all means, let's agree to disagree.

Yes, you're right; those kinds of statements are so outrageous that it's hard for us to keep our atheistic mouths shut. I also can't resist responding to Holocaust-deniers and people who think that the American moon-landing was a studio photo shoot. But I know in my heart of hearts that I'm just wagging my tongue. Not that I don't enjoy doing it sometimes (see tobe's comment and my response to him above) because my tongue likes to be wagged as much as the next guy's, maybe even more. But wagging one's tongue is not unlike a dog's wagging its tail: doing so rarely makes the flies go away.

John - Evolutionary Middleman said...

Exterminator - agree with you 100% in your clarification via the comments - ENDLESS debating is silly. We have lives to live and interests to pursue. Hopefully debating creationists wouldn't rank higher than about 37th place on a "to do" list!

While I fully agree that you are never going to have a single debate with a creationist in your life, where at the end of it he/she looks at you and says, "damn, you're right”, you should take Slut's comment very seriously. There are plenty of people out there who have hardly questioned their faith. Some of the things I write are aimed at simply encouraging a thought process. I've said it before and I'll say it again - most atheists don't come from atheist parents. That means they started reviewing the evidence at some point in their lives and eventually made a switch. You may have had a debate 10 years ago with a woman who is now a free thinking secularist and you don’t even know you had a tiny impact on her process.

When I do debate creationists, I'm always thinking about those who are quietly on the side-line listening or reading. They are even more important than the one you are dealing with - because they probably ARE thinking.

Sarge said...

I think that Isaac Singer summed it up best, and he got shots at both the religionists and secularists.

There has been a pogrom and the Jewish inhabitants of a village are fleeing; two enemies, the ultra orthodox rabbi and the secularist/assimilationist
modernist. They have all suffered the loss of home and loved ones, have been injured, and are running for their lives.

They address each other with the words, "nu?"

The Rabbi means,Where are your friendships with the 'other', your 'reason', your books and ideas? They have availed you nothing.

The other means, Where is your mighty god and its care, its strength? Why has it been absent, not protected you as you said it would, no angels, the good and bad together? What have all your prayers, faith, and studies of scriptures availed you?

That's the jist of it anyway, and I have found that it's pretty much always what the argument boils down to, no matter what.

The difference between the two seems to be in action rather than philosophy alone.

By the way, Exterminator, may I use the "Babar" reference? I NEVER think of the good ones, and Wednesday is rehearsal for that group.

The Exterminator said...

Go ahead and borrow the Babar quip. If I need it again, I'll ask for it back.

PhillyChief said...

We have to argue because we've been walked on for far too long. Imagine if atheists were as united and outspoken 60 years ago, do you think those xtian bastards could have gotten away with desecrating the Pledge of Allegiance or adopting a motto like "In god we trust"? Most theists don't keep their religions harmlessly to themselves like Amish, they impose their shit on the rest of us. We have to argue with them, and the arguments need to be as public as possible because although we might not convince the person we're arguing with of anything, we can have a huge influence on the onlookers.

The Exterminator said...

I never said we shouldn't argue against governmental intrusion by religionists, and I certainly never said we shouldn't get involved in the political arena to assert our rights. I wholeheartedly endorse those activities, as anyone who has read this blog knows. I merely said that a debate about their beliefs is useless. Frankly, I don't care what claptrap they espouse -- as long as they leave my nonbelief alone.

PhillyChief said...

Well of course a debate about their beliefs is useless. Even in the political arena it's useless. For something like creationism vs evolution you'd be stupid to argue the idiocy of creationism. Instead you argue that it's not a valid scientific theory so it can't be taught as science. When arguing ten commandments in a courthouse you don't attack the commandments, you attack the legality of them being there. This is the basis for every argument with them. Honestly, what does it matter to you and me if someone believes in people in the clouds? It's only when they invade our space with mandates from the people in the clouds.

Arguing belief is a waste of time.

homar said...

We, atheists, are mnority in this world. If ever we intend that other people should listen to us, we must at least be sensitive and respectful. I still think that reasonable arguing or debate is still the best way to convince people and not mere arrogant heckling.

The Exterminator said...

I'm certainly not suggesting "mere arrogant heckling." All I'm saying is that "debate" is a waste of time. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have conversations with religionists who sincerely wish to gain insight into our nonbelief. But if we think we're going to convince them with reason, we're as delusional as they are.

angelsdepart said...

I think it is important to have an open forum for discussion. It does not matter to me if I sway someone's belief structure, after all what does it matter what people believe.

I think that debate on religion is appropriate to keep religion in check. It is an important topic because of the strangle hold that the topic has on the lives of so many. While it is a stupid issue, it is not one that can be ignored.

The Exterminator said...

Angels, you said I think it is important to have an open forum for discussion

I, too, believe that discussion can be valuable. But I think debating is a waste of time. The problem with your suggestion above is that there is no such thing as an open forum when it comes to religion. Whenever god comes up, the deck is stacked in "his" favor. Debating with believers about beliefs is like playing poker with cheaters. There's no way for you to win.

If religionists were truly open to non-believers' ideas, they wouldn't insist that their beliefs be shown any special respect. I don't feel it's my duty to tacitly go along with the notion that religious claptrap has enough credibility to be argued about in a reasonable fashion. To me, it's just crap. Now, I'm perfectly happy to argue, debate, or discuss why I think religion is ridiculous to anyone who genuinely cares to hear my ideas. But religionists do not genuinely care to hear my ideas, or yours, or anyone else's in the Atheosphere. So what's the point?

Mark said...

Very interesting post. I think the reason for dialogue between Atheists and Christians is the same on both sides. Both groups feel passionately about their beliefs and they want to help the other side. (At least I hope that's the reason, but sometimes it seems more like a competitive sport than a conversation.)

As a Christian, I can honestly say I gained a lot by reading this post. It interests me to know why atheists believe there is no God. Maybe another reason for the debating is that both sides learn about their own beliefs through discussion and counterarguments. You may dismiss all Christian arguments, but an honest appraisal of the conversation would reflect that both sides have some intellectual ground to stand on.

The Exterminator said...

Mark, you said: You may dismiss all Christian arguments, but an honest appraisal of the conversation would reflect that both sides have some intellectual ground to stand on.

Well, see, I've given every Christian argument I've ever heard an honest appraisal. And I don't think you have any intellectual ground to stand on. As far as I can tell, your collective heads and your feet are in the clouds.

Of course, if you can show me that there is some intellectual ground -- but not by quoting the bible, or the words of some godpusher, or your feelings, or a piece of anecdotal evidence passed on to you fifth-hand -- then I might be willing to engage you in conversation.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should read David Strauss the 19th century German philosopher.