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What Is Atheism?
"Imagine There's No Heaven." An atheist manifesto by Sam Harris. It might be from his fantastically written and reasoned book, The End Of Faith, now a bargain in paperback.:

Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind is not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of 6 billion human beings. The same statistics also suggest that this girl’s parents believe—at this very moment—that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this? Is it good that they believe this?


The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle. The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for. This is a thankless job. It carries with it an aura of petulance and insensitivity. It is, moreover, a job that the atheist does not want.

It is worth noting that no one ever needs to identify himself as a non-astrologer or a non-alchemist. Consequently, we do not have words for people who deny the validity of these pseudo-disciplines. Likewise, atheism is a term that should not even exist. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma. The atheist is merely a person who believes that the 260 million Americans (87% of the population) who claim to “never doubt the existence of God” should be obliged to present evidence for his existence—and, indeed, for his benevolence, given the relentless destruction of innocent human beings we witness in the world each day. Only the atheist appreciates just how uncanny our situation is: Most of us believe in a God that is every bit as specious as the gods of Mount Olympus; no person, whatever his or her qualifications, can seek public office in the United States without pretending to be certain that such a God exists; and much of what passes for public policy in our country conforms to religious taboos and superstitions appropriate to a medieval theocracy. Our circumstance is abject, indefensible and terrifying. It would be hilarious if the stakes were not so high.

We live in a world where all things, good and bad, are finally destroyed by change. Parents lose their children and children their parents. Husbands and wives are separated in an instant, never to meet again. Friends part company in haste, without knowing that it will be for the last time. This life, when surveyed with a broad glance, presents little more than a vast spectacle of loss. Most people in this world, however, imagine that there is a cure for this. If we live rightly—not necessarily ethically, but within the framework of certain ancient beliefs and stereotyped behaviors—we will get everything we want after we die. When our bodies finally fail us, we just shed our corporeal ballast and travel to a land where we are reunited with everyone we loved while alive. Of course, overly rational people and other rabble will be kept out of this happy place, and those who suspended their disbelief while alive will be free to enjoy themselves for all eternity.

We live in a world of unimaginable surprises—from the fusion energy that lights the sun to the genetic and evolutionary consequences of this light’s dancing for eons upon the Earth—and yet Paradise conforms to our most superficial concerns with all the fidelity of a Caribbean cruise. This is wondrously strange. If one didn’t know better, one would think that man, in his fear of losing all that he loves, had created heaven, along with its gatekeeper God, in his own image.

Consider the destruction that Hurricane Katrina leveled on New Orleans. More than a thousand people died, tens of thousands lost all their earthly possessions, and nearly a million were displaced. It is safe to say that almost every person living in New Orleans at the moment Katrina struck believed in an omnipotent, omniscient and compassionate God. But what was God doing while a hurricane laid waste to their city? Surely he heard the prayers of those elderly men and women who fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there. These were people of faith. These were good men and women who had prayed throughout their lives. Only the atheist has the courage to admit the obvious: These poor people died talking to an imaginary friend.

Posted by aalkon at December 10, 2005 9:45 AM

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I get so tired of the same old rant: ‘There can’t be a compassionate God, or any kind actual, real god for that matter, because people die in awful ways.’ I get so tired of these so called savvy and bright people who have the audacity to presume that they know the mind of God and his purposes and program, and the full breadth and depth of what life is in terms of our eternal existence; yes ‘eternal.’ We all spend more time ‘dead’ than alive in mortality. What real significant difference does it make no matter how I die if I live one hour or one hundred years being that I am going to be ‘dead’ for eons of time in both instances anyway? What happens after death? Do you really suppose that it’s the final end of our existence? Is it not even remotely possible that we are born into this life having come from a previous life (ether re-incarnated or brand spanking new) and this mortal life is for a certain purpose that has implications for a much longer, i.e., eternal life in the here-after? Is it beyond the realm of possibility that this life is a ‘test’ prescribed on the notion that human beings will have their agency to make choices even if these choices are deleterious to other human beings’ well-being, and that these individuals will stand accountable (before God) for their actions having failed their ‘test.’ Or if someone dies by an act of ‘nature’ (not God!) or accident, that they will be judged according to what they did do during their life in mortality no matter how little time they lived, i.e., where much is given, much is required? What if there really is going to be a ‘resurrection’ (as Jesus Christ taught and was the first fruits of a mortal resurrection) of all souls one day, but resurrected into a different, let’s say, ‘political’ climate, or taken to even another place (as Jesus ascended to ‘someplace’) where they can resume their life and grow to the full measure of their potentiality physically and mentally without impediments or harmful interference? To postulate that these are absurdities is no more absurd than someone presuming the contrary. In fact it’s more absurd to presume that there is no God because if you really make a serious study of NDE’s (near death experiences) and other like subjects either epistemological or ecclesiastical you readily discern that there is much more evidence in support of a case that there is a God than there is not. Einstein as well as many, many current-day, erudite scientists and men and women of other disciplines affirm the belief in a ‘God’ entity. I would think that their positions in this matter are substantially sustainable intellectually.

Posted by: Paul at December 10, 2005 10:19 PM

And your proof that there is a god is?

Einstein, by the way, did not believe in god. But, let's say he did. Unlike, apparently, you, I don't choose my beliefs according to monkey-see/monkey-do-ism, but by weighing evidence. In the absence of evidence, there is no belief.

Being human, you have opposable thumbs and the ability to reason. You might put the latter to more use.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 10, 2005 11:18 PM

“Einstein, by the way, did not believe in god,” you say? How about when author Thomas Torrance states: “In a recent book Max Jammer, Rector Emeritus of Bar Lan University in Jerusalem, a former colleague of Albert Einstein at Princeton, claims that Einstein's understanding of physics and his understanding of religion were profoundly bound together, for it seemed to Einstein that nature exhibited traces of God quite like "a natural theology." Indeed it is with the help of natural science that the thoughts of God may be tapped and grasped. On the subject of Einstein and God Friedrich Dürrenmatt once said, "Einstein used to speak of God so often that I almost looked upon him as a disguised theologian." I do not believe these references to God can be dismissed simply as a façon de parler, for God had a deep, if rather elusive, significance for Einstein which was not unimportant for his life and scientific activity.
Or when Einstein stated, “I am convinced that He (God) does not play dice.”
Or, “I want to know God's thoughts; the rest are details.”
But regardless as to what, or in what way Einstein believed in God, you asked for ‘proof.’ You are correct in stating, “In the absence of evidence, there is no belief” Well to that all I can say is that if you had never tasted salt in your entire life, how do I even begin to explain to you what it tastes like? How do I present to you some evidence that there is salt to taste? “Is it like ‘sweet’?” you ask. “No,” I reply, “It’s not like ‘sweet.” “ Well, is it sour, or bitter?” you continue. “No, it’s not like that either,” I can only reply, “It’s, well, it’s ‘salty’! You have to taste it to really know for yourself.” Hence, do I have proof? Yes, I do, but it’s my proof to myself — it’s my ‘salt.’ I can’t give you this taste (proof) you have to get it for yourself. Einstein had a sign in his office at Princeton that said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” But, hey, I don’t want to scrap. Religion is a touchy subject and I suspect that I offended you in your beliefs, which I did not intend to do. After all it’s your blog site and I am only a guest. Perhaps I was out of order in stating my opinion on the subject.

Posted by: Paul at December 11, 2005 12:08 AM

Oh, this is tedious. Here's the link about Einstein.

Again, I can see from your faulty logic that you would feel comforted knowing others believe as you do. I prefer to go all the way and actually reason as opposed to sucking down beliefs just because others of some repute supposedly had them.

I can't read that whole big block of text you posted above or here. It's tedious, and also, it's pointless to try to convince those who use their minds simply as a foundation for hair.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 11, 2005 12:42 AM

Perhaps you should get your head examined?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 11, 2005 1:04 AM

You - “Oh, this is tedious” and “It’s tedious.”

Me - Well, I’ll make this last comment short: Acquiring some things of great worth (gold, higher knowledge, etc.) can be very “teddious,” (and often requires a great deal of humility and teachableness). The fact is, though, that not many are willing to undertake a perceived tedious journey to obtain such things; to sift through all the nonsense religions and such; it’s simply of no value to them. To each their own.

Posted by: Paul at December 11, 2005 8:41 AM

Paul, like many people of limited logic, you make assumptions about me. I just wrote a letter to my seven-year-old friend Sophie about this, detailing research I heard yesterday:

Dear Sophie, I have some important news for you. I’m listening to this very famous psychologist talking at a conference. His researcher found that self-discipline seems to be twice as important as IQ for academic success. (And probably success in all areas of life.) Now, I know from talking to you that you are very smart. But, what this means in terms of your school work is that just digging in and doing the work, even when it’s hard, is what it takes. If there’s one really important thing I could tell you that I’ve learned, it’s that everybody feels like they can’t do it, and they’re going to fall flat on their face if they’re talking in front of a group, or they think everybody is looking at them and thinking they’re stupid. Everybody thinks this. Ask an adult who is honest and they will tell you this...

That said, let me be a little more precise what I was trying to tell you with "this is tedious": You're wordy and boring. And intellectually lazy.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 11, 2005 9:12 AM

Paul, why don't you take the "godless geeks" link apart point by point for all of us who find it so compelling. After reading it I can't imagine how any thinking person could accept beliefs like that.

Posted by: Rojak at December 11, 2005 11:15 AM

Hey - there are whole forums dedicated to this. Usually, they're full of "Christians" who don't know anything about the Bible, any other religion or any mode of logical thought. They're happy - sorta - and they can't imagine why mindless happiness doesn't appeal to everyone. I'm generalizing, of course.

Posted by: Radwaste at December 11, 2005 5:24 PM

Arguing about whether "God" in some abstract form exists, might be pointless. However, arguing against the reality of the biblical "God" isn't. The cobbled-together Old Testament presents a "God" that is interventionist - smiting, cursing, demanding genocide and sacrifices, favoring some, turning his metaphorical back on others, and it is this nonsense that is afflicting us today - a belief in a "Big Ju-Ju" who is playing "Sim Creation" and tinkering with us.

Posted by: Russputin at December 12, 2005 9:59 AM

Atheism is a religion like all the rest of the religions based on simply a desire to believe . . . .
******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

(In the case of the Atheist: that nothing that you haven't experienced can exist or more precisely must logically have to exist)

******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

. . . that the state of things which is to your taste - is the way Things are.

******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

You Atheists and other Religion-believers trade accusations with each other: that the one you are opposed to is ignorant.
******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

Perhaps you are All ignorant.

******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

The idea that God is 'Loving' is a Christian one among other religions who Postulate that 'God is Loving'.

******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

How did you all come to know so much about what God is and isn't?

******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

To speak about 'God' is to accept some primary definitions concerning God.

******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

The basic statements about God, that those who wish to waste other's time defining God have arrived at, are that God Is:

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1. Absolute - therefore God is infinite Extension of Anything but most particularly power.

******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

1.a) God is all-powerful ******Paragrahp stop:: . ./
2.b) God is all knowing(past and future therefore)******Paragrahp stop:: . ./
3.c) God is at all times present.

******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

and 1.a)[A], Anselm's ontological proof for God
which can be summed up as 'God is the most powerful thing of All. (what ever that 'Thing' may be.)

******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

If one accepts Anselm's basic premise(assumption) for God then God must definitely exist because by tautological logic that 'Thing' Must exist which is the most powerful 'Thing'(God) of all.

******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

But we don't have to accept that the most powerful Thing (Force) of all is God. Perhaps it's just the most powerful thing of all and that's all it is.

******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

However - Existence IS. How can it? Why is it?
Could all of this Something in reality, logically have come out of Nothing?

******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

Well it could have as Dr. Michu Kaku points out in the Superstring Theory transformed to M Theory. 'Yes logically Sometbing could have come out of Nothing - because Nothing is an unstable state'.

******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

Very good, Dr. Kaku. But tell me please, How is it possible that there can be even 'Nothing'? What made it possible for a state of Nothing?

******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

Well in any case here we ARE. Something made this state possible for us to Be Here Now. Something made it possible for states of anything to be.

******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

That 'Thing' which made it possible for any states to exist - is beyond our present understanding. The only Part of anything that be Logically be said about 'God' as 'The making-anything-that-ever existed -'Thing'(God} - is that, that 'Thing'(God) is beyond our understanding.

******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

Beyond the devout Atheist's Understanding and
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Beyond the devout Christian's Understanding
******Paragrahp stop:: . ./
Neither of you believers know Anything about that 'THING' (of course some limited Atheists would say that there is/was no creating THING ... What is your proof of that Mr. Atheist? Certainly your proof of that can't rest on the imbecility: that no one else can prove that there was/is such a THING . . .? For instance One could say that a New Guinea tribesmen has 3 penises. Can you disprove that simply by saying that the asserter of that can't prove it so at this moment?
******Paragrahp stop:: . ./
There is no possibility of a disproof of God as no one has the power to inspect the conditions that would determine whether there is or is not a God.
******Paragrahp stop:: . ./
The illogicality of Atheism is apparent in that: - you Atheists Also know nothing about that. . . .
-'Thing' that-made-any states-of-anything-possible ever- . . .either.
******Paragrahp stop:: . ./
You devoutly religious Atheists are still believing your own assumptions about that 'Thing' just as much as the Christians or other religious people are.
******Paragrahp stop:: . ./

A man who Once defines God - has cheapened his previous definition. (Samson Baker)

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But Atheists and Christians alike, - Hey!
******Paragrahp stop:: . ./
" If you want to make God laugh - just tell Him your plans."

Posted by: Samson Baker at December 24, 2005 11:15 PM

You get paragraph breaks by writing <P>. And if you want to write <P> without getting a paragraph you write &lt;P&gt;. And to get an ampersand, write &amp;. And paragraph is spelled 'Paragraph', not 'Paragrahp'. Basic computer illiteracy like yours diverts people from your message so litearcy's a useful skill to aquire.

Now to the content of your post. "(In the case of the Atheist: that nothing that you haven't experienced can exist or more precisely must logically have to exist)." - not true. Atheists don't believe in gods or goddesses. They just don't have that belief, like you don't have any belief in (I'm guessing) the Tooth Fairy or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Do you have these beliefs? No? Does that say anything about your opinion on anything else, such as your sentence implies? No, it doesn't. Nor does it for atheists. A good way of understanding atheists is to think of all the gods and goddesses that people have believed in during the last several thousand years. How many of them do you believe in now? Just one? Well, atheists are like you, except they believe in one less.

You ask how athesists come to know so much about god? Quite simply, by reading books such as the bible and other sacred texts, and by talking to people like yourself. This has led me and others to the conclusion that this "god" thing you talk about does not exist. I didn't invent god, or define it to be impossible - I took believers' own definitions. Atheists are often more widely read and informed about god than believers are.

Of course it's possible to define god as "the most powerful thing that exists" or something similar. There may well be such an entity; it's hard to be sure since the definition is rather loose. It sounds good but it's not obvious that it means anything in practice. For example, if I ask which is more powerful: George Bush or Bill Clinton, you could argue that GB has access to more power thab BC, though some might say that BC is more powerful as a person. If you try to compare, say, George Bush and the colour yellow, then it's pretty much impossible to decide. So I'm left wondering whether "the most powerful thing that exists" has any meaning at all. This is why I think Anselm's Ontological Argument is nonsense.

But let's suppose it does have a meaning, and something X is more powerful than any other thing. Perhaps X is the force of gravity, or truth, or love, or the Tooth Fairy. There is no reason to suppose that any of these things is Jehovah. Should I worship gravity?

You also say "God is infinite Extension of Anything" in which case god is not only the most loving wise powerful etc thing, but also the most cruel, stupid and weak etc thing. Again, this seems to me like nonsense - each word makes sense, but putting them together in that order does not.

So, I simply can't see any sense in your descriptions of your god. It looks to me that you have defined god in such a way that he could not possible exist.

Perhaps you are not good with words. Perhaps god exists despite what you say. Let's go and look. Do we see signs of a universal creator who cares about us individually? Do we see signs of miracles lifting us up and saving us? Not really. We see an enormous universe which we have evolved to fit, but which is entirely indifferent to us. We see that it has order and that complexity comes from simple origins. We see tsunamis and hurricanes as a consequence of physics, not faith. We see babies born with two heads or no head because of genetics and biology, not as a punishment or a sign. We see that people need insects more than insects need people. Perhaps god is a beetle? There's lots we don't understand - such as how life started - but we recognise that "God did it" is just a stupid way of saying "We don't know how it happened."

We also see the people who argue for their particular god, and frankly, they are not inspiringly brilliant. Every religion divides up into warring factions. They claim to worship the same god, but can't agree anything about that god. How do you explain that? It's because they are making it up. They have unwittingly tapped into their unconcious and called its random whisperings the small, still voice of conscience - or god. We see idiots arguing for so-called intelligent design because they don't like the idea of having evolved from apes, but who are too dumb to realise that nobody claims we did evolve from apes. The whole thing is an exercise in organised wish-fulfillment. We either evolved or we didn't - whether we like the idea or not doesn't come into it. Unless of course your likes and dislikes are inspired by your faith, then it's not your opinion, it's god's. Yeah, right.

I've written this as an atheist. But atheists don't necessarily agree about anything except the non-existence of gods & goddesses. So you may find others who disagree with some of what I wrote.

Posted by: Norman at December 25, 2005 4:22 AM

Norman, thank you.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 25, 2005 6:59 AM

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