What an atheist believes
March 6, 2010 § 9 Comments
As humanity matures and grows, the universe we strive to understand has grown with us. Historically, as the human brain has evolved, our understanding of the universe has expanded, filling in the smaller gaps along the way with pieces of truth and knowledge. Where once our universes may have only extended as far as the eye can see, we now know that our universe is immensely vast, and stretches away into space AND time beyond our comprehension. You may have read about this previously in my blog.
Science helps us to explain our physicalities, by using empirical observations of the world and universe around us. Over thousands of years, humankind has used physical observations, trial and error, repeated experimentation and rational deduction to help us understand our place in the universe. It is human nature to ask questions, and human nature to seek truth.
For all we know, humans are the only creature in existence to have a level of intelligence and self-awareness that allows us to ask questions about the nature of our existence. We are the only creatures living that have an innate need to understand our world and our universe further. We ask questions about our origins, and our destinies. We ask why we exist at all. You can’t be an intelligent human and not ask yourself these questions at least once in your lifetime.
Religion used to attempt to answer questions of our existence. It also once offered guidance for those who otherwise were without it. And religion was a great tool to unify people, to create a common bond between people where they could share in their beliefs about life. Religion was also a way to fill gaps in our understanding, a way to educate and pass information from one generation to the next. Religion uses stories as metaphors to illustrate situations, then by means of an outcome, illustrates how it is recommended that humans act in different situations. Unfortunately for religion, when a metaphor is taken literally, it causes problems in belief and understanding of our universe.
That and the fact that religion is peppered with inaccuracies, and the whims of the people who wrote the texts. Can a person believe one paragraph of a religious text and ignore the next? Can a belief system which is based upon what it claims to be “the word of god” be believed at all if parts of the very same text are no longer relevant? What parts are correct? How literally should it be taken?Who is to say? You can’t say a religious text is “the word of god” then say that parts of it aren’t to be taken literally and other parts are to be ignored. That defies logic.
And when it comes down to it, a story is just a story. Without proof, anything can be claimed to be truth, but until proof is offered up, it remains a story. And the problem with religious stories is that they are so fanciful and bizarre, and take huge leaps in the face of logic, that it all becomes farcical. One may as well believe that Harry Potter is real than believe that Jesus walked on water, or Allah spoke exclusively through Mohammed. Just look at Scientology, and the stories spun by the latter-day prophet L. Ron Hubbard, and tell me that the sci-fi that is based upon isn’t fanciful.
The best tool we have to make sense of the universe is logic. Wikipedia defines logic as “…examin[ing] general forms which arguments may take, which forms are valid, and which are fallacies,” whereas Richard Whately defined it as ‘”…the Science, as well as the Art, of reasoning”. We all use logic daily, and when something isn’t logical we tend to ignore it, or reevaluate it. Why is it that we treat religion so differently?
I’m not saying that science can explain everything. It can’t. Yet.
But it does a much better job than religion.
So what DOES an atheist believe?
I asked this on Twitter yesterday, and the best response I got was this:
“An atheist believes in anything that can be proven, accepts as likely anything which has considerable evidence for it.” @LaceySnr
Indeed, this is a good summary of what could be widely accepted as a definition, especially given the 140 character limit of Twitter. However it IS different for every atheist. The only one defining characteristic that all atheists have is a belief that there is no God, no divine creator, no omnipotent benefactor. All else is up to the individual. I know atheists who believe in ghosts, atheists who believe in the power of Reiki, atheists who believe in UFOs. I know atheists who believe in telekinesis, ESP and government conspiracies. There are atheists who read their horoscope daily. Me? I don’t go for any of that. Using logic as my guide, reason as my co-pilot and rational thought as my platform, I make my evaluations of my existence. Proof and evidence are my best friends.
If I was asked “What is one thing you believe that is without proof?” it would be this: I believe that all things will eventually be known, assuming we don’t destroy ourselves. And I’m not saying in our lifetimes, but I’d like to think that we as a species will be around long enough to make sense of our universe. Fanciful, I know, but I am a humanist, and would like to think that we are capable of doing that.