A Blunt Atheist FAQ

There are already plenty of good FAQ’s about atheism out there, but I don’t think one more could do any damage. Unlike many others, this text aims at short, blunt, to‐the‐point answers to common questions about atheism. The text is almost entirely unoriginal, and owes greatly to the FAQ’s published by the Internet Infidels, Atheism Awareness and others.

Definitions and generalities

This section covers the terminology used, and the connections of atheism to various other ideologies, theories and philosophies.

What is atheism?

Weak atheism is the lack of belief in the existence of a god, or gods. Strong atheism is the belief that a god, or gods, do not exist. All strong atheists are weak atheists, but not vice versa. I prefer the weak definition.

What is agnosticism?

Strict agnosticism is the belief that it isn’t possible to decide whether a god or gods exist. Empirical agnosticism is the belief that there is not yet enough evidence to decide either way. All strict agnostics are empirical agnostics, but not vice versa. I prefer the empirical definition.

What is freethought?

Freethought is a naturalistic philosophy which stresses the importance of reason, skepticism and open‐mindedness in life. Freethinkers tend to be atheistic, aspiritual and nonsuperstitious because belief in the supernatural doesn’t appear to stand up to the challenge presented by reason.

So atheists believe gods do not exist?

Some do, but not all. For example, skeptical agnostics tend to be weak atheists because they do not outright believe gods exist. There are also strong atheists who limit their disbelief to one specific god (typically the Christian God). This confusing terminology is the result of the negative, culturally1 bound definition of atheism.

Is atheism anti‐religion?

Not necessarily. First, there are religious belief systems which do not involve gods, like certain forms of Buddhism. While the vast majority of self‐proclaimed Western atheists are completely irreligious and nonsuperstitious, atheism does not exclude religiosity or spirituality. Second, most atheists do not oppose the religious beliefs of others, but simply want to live their lives free of religion. They are uninterested in religion, not opposed to it. Third, even militant atheists like me mostly subscribe to freedom of religion. We oppose religion but do not use force to advance our views. And finally, atheism does not dictate one’s political views. An atheist might well support state establishment of religion e.g. for economic reasons, so not all atheists even oppose religious privilege.

Does atheism have any positive content?

Not as such, no. Atheism is the lack of belief, not a belief.

Some people have suggested that the different atheistic philosophies (humanism, freethought, etc.) should create their own culture, symbols, holidays and traditions to counter religious culture. In my opinion this would just muddle the concept of atheism. Such things should not be connected to atheism any more than they should be considered religious. It’s better to have secular customs which everybody can share regardless of religion or the lack of same.

Is atheism the same as materialism?

No. Materialism goes a bit further than weak atheism, because it asserts that there is nothing immaterial in the world. Then on the other hand, most Western atheists are completely irrelegious and materialistic.

Is atheism the same as scepticism?

No. One can lack religious beliefs without going with the wider questioning worldview. Most atheists probably aren’t sceptics but just prefer to live their lives without supernatural baggage.

Is atheism the same as rationalism?

No. One does not have to arrive at one’s atheism through reason, even if that is the main conduit in the predominantly Judeo‐Christian Western culture. Rationalism also goes further than atheism because it dictates the use of reason in a context far wider than the mere religious one. Most atheists probably aren’t rationalists.

Is atheism the same as humanism?

Not quite. Humanism is mostly atheistic but there are some religious humanists in the unitarian and deist circles. Humanism is also a complete philosophy with its own theory of rights and morality, an epistemology and a distinctively materialistic ontology. One need not subscribe to those in order to be an atheist.

Theistic arguments

This section briefly goes through the most common theistic arguments and points out some of their obvious flaws.

But I know there is a God! I feel Him everyday!

This is the Argument from Religious Experience.

Some people regularly see UFO’s as well, while some others hear voices. Religious belief and experience aren’t facts. Once you deliver the facts we can discuss them. If you do not wish to discuss, please go away and let us live our lives as we choose.

Everybody believes in something! Atheism is a religion too!

This is also called the Argument from Faith.

You’re equivocating. There are two distinctly separate kinds of belief. The first is religious faith, the second belief in falsifiable theories. Religious faith must always rest on unfalsifiable assumptions, because if the underlying assumptions could be tested, they would no longer be talk about the supernatural, but the natural. In that case it wouldn’t be sensible to talk about gods; we’d have to switch to calling them extraterrestrials.

Atheists have belief in good, tested theories, but we do not possess religious faith involving gods. Atheism is no religion, but simply an absence of belief in silly deities.

But atheists can’t prove God doesn’t exist, can they? Burden of proof?

Of course we can’t. In general it is impossible to prove negative existential claims. That’s why the burden of proof is on the one asserting the positive. Atheism wins over theism by default. Moreover, most confrontations between theists and atheists are initiated by the theist. You don’t start a debate and then expect the other participant to make your point for you.

On the other hand, religious belief systems tend to be so incoherent that if we ever subject them to rational criticism, they won’t survive themselves. Such rebuttals to religious thought do not involve existential claims at all, and they are in principle capable of proving the nonexistence of objects with contradictory properties. Accordingly they are called Incompatible Properties Arguments, or arguments from incoherence.

God exists. We just can’t detect Him.

If so, He does not interact with this world, His existence does not matter and we can just as well assume Him away.

Atheists have nothing to lose in believing!

This is a form of Pascal’s Wager.

First, we do have a lot to lose in believing: a rational, coherent worldview, time and energy spent in worship and prayer, and the ill effects of a restrictive, religious morality are but a few examples. Second, it isn’t possible to just snap your fingers and sincerely believe. Insincere belief would then probably count as nonbelief. Third, the same goes for all the tenets of minority religions. By that token everybody should be a polytheist.

The US is one nation under God!

No it isn’t. While the majority of contemporary Americans are, and of the Founding Fathers were, Christian, the United States was purposely built on a secular constitution. That was done because many of the early settlers fled from religious persecution and did not want the atrocity to repeat itself. Calls for God in schools or government are the first signs of a new theocracy, and run directly counter to the Founders’ intent.

You shouldn’t presume the US is all there is, either.

You talk about God, so you know He exists!

I talk about Santa Claus and the Toothfairy as well. They don’t exist either.

But what if atheists are wrong?

Then we’re wrong. People are wrong all the time. When the evidence comes in, it’s entirely possible we have to change our minds. The same goes for theists as well. So are you prepared?

There are much more theists than atheists, so theism is right!

This is the Argument from Masses.

Once an overwhelming majority of people believed stoning infants to death was sometimes right. So it must be, mustn’t it?

There are many famous scientists who have been believers! Even become Creationists!

Sure. Many atheists have won Nobel prices as well and many theists have deconverted. That doesn’t tell us whether they were wrong or right.

But if you insist on playing the numbers game, believers are currently a minority in the scientific community and only seem to make sense when they refrain from religious speculation. Creationists are in a vanishing minority, and do not even appear to be able to publish in respectable journals.

All cultures have developed religions. That must say something!

Sure. It tells us either that we’re hardwired for superstition, or that there has been some social evolutionary advantage to superstitious beliefs, or that religions are parasitic memes which aren’t harmful enough to be weeded out.

Besides, not all religions are theistic. They aren’t that much alike, either, and we should never forget that there are more non‐Christians than Christians in this world. Even if we grant that there is actually some benefit to religion, that doesn’t mean one should choose a theistic one.

It says so in the Bible!

Ah, but consider the source.

I can prove God exists!

Then do so in an orderly fashion, starting with clear premises and rigorous definitions. Atheists are usually willing to listen, but don’t be disappointed if the proof falls apart upon closer examination.

Everything has a cause, so there must be an original/causeless cause.

This is called the Cosmological Argument.

Causation is a human abstraction used to describe how nature works. We know perfectly well that all the scientific theories we currently have cease to work sufficiently early in the history of the universe. There is no reason to expect causation would hold, either, at least in its vulgar form.

Besides, if everything has a cause, what caused God to exist? And what on earth makes you think God would have to be the original cause even if both existed?

There is independent evidence that the Bible is true.

A good proportion of the historical content of the Bible can be independently verified. Nobody’s denied that. What atheists claim is that the ahistorical, supernatural content is false. Besides that, much of the historical content of the Bible is also disputed by other contemporary writings.

Science cannot explain it all. We need God for the rest.

This is the God of the Gaps argument.

Of course there are plenty of things science cannot explain. If there weren’t, science would be pretty much pointless, wouldn’t it? Science exists to uncover good explanations for the things we see around us and do not yet understand. It’s also doing a terrific job at it, so this concept of God ends up emasculating the deity in due course. Are you ready for that?

Naturally the surest way to stop scientific progress is to pretend you do understand, while you actually don’t. That is, blind faith. That’s what theism is all about.

Atheists do not believe because they haven’t read God’s word.

This is highly unlikely, because most Western atheists have grown up in a Christian environment. At the very least we’re acquainted with common interpretations of the Bible, and more often than not the self‐searching that leads us to denounce our faith involves going through tons of religious scripture from different traditions.

We can read. We just don’t buy it all.

You’re only an atheist because you haven’t opened your heart to God.

Both me and many other atheists besides have actually believed at one time. Now we don’t, and for a good reason—we woke up and decided to stop deceiving ourselves.

The universe seems to be designed, so there has to be a sentient Creator.

This is the Argument from Design, or Paley’s Teleological Argument.

Modern science in its various forms shows us that hugely complicated functional structures can evolve, and that they can follow from simple physics. Plus, the universe isn’t quite as orderly and neat as people used to living in cities, in a rich biosphere and on a particularly nice planet would readily think. Actually the vast majority of things in the universe are rather disorderly, and they can be explained as phenomena emergent from simple physics, chemistry and, sometimes, biology. In light of today’s science there is no need for a Creator.

The universe/life is too complex to have formed unless a sentient God created it.

This is the Argument from Complexity, and it’s closely related to the Argument from Design.

The universe actually seems to be very, very simple. All the readily apparent complexity in it appears to be emergent and theoretically requires little in excess of quantum physics and general relativity to explain it. We certainly don’t need God to understand nature.

As for life and the so called irreducible complexity advocated by Behe and the rest of the Intelligent Design lot, all of their examples have been shown to be lacking. Eyes, ball‐bearing molecules and the like can evolve, and we have evidence of intermediary stages of such evolution. Punctuated equilibria, enzyme retargeting, modular recombination of genes, retroviral injections of genetic material, transposone genes, junk DNA activation, transfer of genes from one species to another, hybridization, crossing‐over, endosymbiosis and a huge variety of other mechanisms can easily explain rather sizable jumps in evolutionary development, while things like multisubstrate enzymes, multiple use organs, and the theses of neutral evolution help lower the imaginary functional barriers on the way to the evolution of complex organs. According to modern science, there’s nothing irreducible about biological complexity.

What is the Theistic Anthropic Principle?

It is an argument for theism based on the idea that the world around us seems to be fine‐tuned to human needs right up from the basic physics. This is taken as evidence that it was designed, and specifically for humans. The principle is a theistic modification of the strong anthropic principle.

The strongest counter‐argument is a modification of the weak anthropic principle. We see the world as being fine‐tuned to our needs because we’re the product of evolution which can only produce sentient observers which always see their world this way. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have evolved and there would be no one to wonder about it. If physical constants were different, for instance, there could be completely different kinds of life, or there might be no life. The whole paradox comes about because of excess bio‐centrism, carbocentrism and human‐centrism, and goes away after we apply the weak anthropic principle.

Secondarily, there are theories which can better explain fine‐tuning than the existence of a Tuner. Lee Smolin’s cosmological evolution is one of them, while the so called Hartle–Hawking cosmology is another.

Finally, there are more misuses of probability (in particular conditional probability) in the principle’s derivation than can be counted. It’s basically a smokescreen.

The second law of thermodynamics stops life from forming.

The second law is a statistical prediction. It tells us that in closed systems, entropy will most likely only increase. The first objection is that life cannot exist indefinitely in a closed system. Life is a disequilibrium process which dissipates local entropy, while creating larger amounts of stray entropy in other parts of the environment.

Secondly, non‐dissipating systems can in theory violate the second law. Perpetual motion is theoretically possible. It’s just that it’s exceedingly unlikely.

Thirdly, entropy often means disorder, but not always. For instance, electrons stick to their orbits even if it would be more disorderly for them to fly around free. Yet electrons never violate the second law—atoms are the lowest energy state of a system of nucleons and electrons. A proper definition of entropy then involves the absence of free, utilizable energy. Seen from this perspective elementary quantum chemistry tells us that all chemical pathways needed by living organisms and evolution strictly obey the second law. Individual compounds do not seem to, because their creation requires entropy to be exported, but the reactions which create these compounds as a whole do. The compounds are then stable because of activation energy barriers, something quite beyond the proper area of application of thermodynamics.

The bible has coded messages in it! It can predict the future!

No predictions about the future made based on the so called Bible Codes have ever panned out. The codes are in fact so elaborate that cryptanalysis experts commonly view them as examples of wishful thinking and projection. Apparently the people doing the decoding have imposed structure on the Bible that isn’t really there. Plus, nobody has ever suggested an algorithmic decoding of a Bible Code, which suggests that no consistent structure has actually been found in the text.

Without God there is no meaning to existence or the Universe!

This is yet another teleological argument.

Why is that precisely? First, why should there be a meaning to everything we see around us? Second, why should we expect that this meaning cannot be derived from natural laws?

There have been miracles. They prove the existence of God!

Not one miracle has stood upto scientific scrutiny so far. And even if one of them should do so, it would have to be something completely contrary to our knowledge of how the universe works if it were to be taken as a miracle. Otherwise it would be prudent to treat it as an as‐yet unexplained natural phenomenon.

What is Descartes’s God‐claim?

It is an aprioristic argument for the existence of God. It states that since we exist and can envision the idea of a perfect being, but as imperfect beings couldn’t have come up with it by ourselves, we must have gotten the idea from a perfect, existing being. Namely, God.

The main problems with this argument are that we actually can’t envision a perfect being, what we can envision is entirely within the realm of human inventiveness, the weird idea that perfect things need to exist (math proves the contrary) and the haziness of the terms used (it isn’t certain we’re operating with meaningful concepts).

What is Anselm’s Ontological Argument?

It is an aprioristic argument for the existence of God. It states that since God is the greatest thing that can be imagined, to claim that He doesn’t exist is equivalent to claiming something greater exist, which by definition isn’t possible. Hence God exists.

This of course does not follow, so the argument is one of the weakest aprioristic ones there are. We can imagine things that do not exist. Whether we can or cannot imagine something has little to do whether it exists or not. Plus there is no reason there should be a greatest conceivable thing in the first place—we could have an infinite ascending chain of them.

Could the Universe have been created old?

Sure, but why would it have been? It’s quite difficult to believe in a benevolent God who has set out to fool people on such a grand scale. Or could it be that God wants us to treat the world as old? Who knows?

Anyway, what we have here is an argument which cannot be falsified. If every bit of the world looks as if it is old, it necessarily behaves as if it is old, and no empirical test or scientific theory can ever discern it from an old world. Thus, we’re perfectly justified in assuming the world old and treating it as such. That’s the best science can do under these circumstances.

The Earth is young! Creation Science proves that Christian faith has it right!

This is utter hogwash. The strict consensus of the scientific community is that the Earth is old. This fact has been established by various independent methods, each with internal sanity checks strict enough to stand the Creationist critique all by themselves. The evidence has also accumulated almost beyond repudiation. Many of the people who’ve built it are Christians as well, so there’s no point in arguing a conspiracy. Furthermore, the evidence is consistent with the broad outline of Western science and has been extensively cross‐checked from a multidisciplinary viewpoint.

Creation science on the other hand rests on a very thin foundation, hasn’t even been peer‐reviewed, and is clearly at odds with the results of most avenues of scientific inquiry known to man. Young Earth Creationists in particular manage to trip themselves even on the most trivial sorts of evidence, and go to unimaginable lengths to justify the mere plausibility of their research.

The existence of creation science is more a testament to the fundamental opposition of religious belief to the progress of humanity and human knowledge than corroboration of the theist viewpoint. If one needs to advocate theism, one would do far better by reconsiling it with the results of modern science than by arraying oneself in support of the patent absurdity that is Creationism. Even strong atheists can respect a sincere, intellectually honest theist, but that’s not what Creationists are.

Atheistic arguments

This section goes through the common reasons, philosophical or not, for nonbelief. Personally I find the philosophical arguments somewhat weak and boring—we aren’t battling with consistent philosophy or rational thought when we argue against religion, after all. There’s no reason to expect logic would cut it. Still, these arguments are used by atheists, so they must be mentioned.

Why don’t atheists believe?

There are many reasons. People are born without religious belief, so some atheists simply haven’t heard about possibility that gods might exist. Some atheists are raised by atheistic parents. A number of atheists possess a religion or philosophy which doesn’t involve the existence a gods. Many atheists deconvert from existing religions, after they realize religion just doesn’t make sense. A precious few might renounce God out of anger or despair, but that kind of deconversion appears subject to relapse.

In the end, it’s just reasonable, fun, less burdensome and more secure to be an atheist.

What’s this about gods not needing preachers?

One of the simplest counter‐arguments to theistic belief is that if there really is a god of some sort, it certainly would not need preachers, churches or the like to propagate faith. It could just speak directly to prospective believers. But it doesn’t. Hence, it likely doesn’t exist, or even if it does, it probably doesn’t care whether people believe in it or not.

What is Occam’s Razor?

Otherwise known as the KISS principle. It means we should use the conceptually simplest explanation available to explain what we observe, and not impregnate our theories with wild, unnecessary assumptions. In light of today’s knowledge, the existence of God is one such assumption.

Noncognitivism? Huh?

Noncognitivism is an atheistic viewpoint which states that the idea of god(s) makes no sense. We cannot even talk about it, because the whole concept is self‐contradictory, severely under‐specified, not well‐defined and so on. It’s like talking about marshmellows being the fundament of human understanding of love and happiness—huh?

Which is what god‐talk is about, of course. Lots of talk, no substance. I wouldn’t elevate noncognitivism to atheists’ guiding light, though, since it doesn’t leave us with any tools with which to convince the typical reluctant, willingly irrational believer. At most it stops the debate cold, which is bad.

What is The Freewill Argument?

It is a type of Incompatible Properties Argument. It states that having free will implies being able to make choices. However, God is omniscient, so it knows its choices beforehand. Hence, it doesn’t have a choice. Thus, God cannot have free will. This implies that God cannot be personal, at least in the sense that Christianity claims. Hence, the Christian God does not exist.

What is The Perfection–Creation Argument?

It is a type of Incompatible Properties Argument. The first version can also be called the Argument from Satiation. It states that God is perfect and hence can have no needs. He has also created the universe. But in order to create, God must have had some need. Hence, a perfect God cannot have created the universe, and we have a contradiction which proves the nonexistence of the Christian God.

The second version states that a universe created by a perfect being would be perfect, but since the universe isn’t perfect it couldn’t have been created by the Christian God.

What is The Immutability–Creation Argument?

It is a type of Incompatible Properties Argument. If God is unchangeable, then he cannot go from not creating to creating or vice versa. He must have for the universe to be created. Hence we have a contradiction which proves the nonexistence of the Christian God.

What is The Justice–Mercy Argument?

It is a type of Incompatible Properties Argument. If God is both perfectly just and perfectly merciful, he would have to judge every person both strictly and leniently. This is impossible. Hence a God with both properties cannot exist.

What is The Quantum Cosmology Argument?

It is the reverse of the theistic Cosmological argument, and is logically enough also called the Atheistic Cosmology Argument. Nowadays quantum physical models exist which actually predict the boundary conditions of the universe from the laws of physics plus some sensible physical precepts. After this, we can explain the existence of the universe quite without external influence, because all the structure and information it contains can in principle be derived from quantum theory. No place is left for godly influence in this theory, so the assumption of God’s existence is made redundant.

What is The Argument from Nonbelief?

There are people who do not believe in God. Yet we know that God wants people to believe in it. God could have caused this to obtain, yet he didn’t. Hence, he is unlikely to exist.

What is The Argument from Confusion?

Christians (and other theists) disagree heavily about morality, theology, philosophy and countless other issues having to do with their religion. We have been provided no way to weed out the bad interpretations, outright lies and fairy tales. Yet God could have provided such a way, and would have, if we presume he is benevolent. He hasn’t done that, so he is unlikely to exist.

What is The Argument from Evil?

If God is benevolent, he would not have created evil and certainly would not allow it to persist. Yet evil persists. Hence God probably doesn’t exist.

We might still claim that God is malevolent. But if God is malevolent, He could do a lot more damage and give birth to a lot more evil than He does now. He doesn’t. Hence, He is unlikely to exist.

What is The Argument from Evolution?

It is a twisted form of the theist Argument from Complexity. We know that complex things can come about either through evolution or by design. This means that intelligent things have been designed or have evolved since they are complex. Intelligent beings can design intelligent things, but the only thing that we know of that could give rise to intelligence in the absence of prior intelligence is natural selection. Thus, to the best of our knowledge the first intelligence evolved. Now, none of the three well‐known conditions for evolution existed before the universe was born. Hence, to the best of our knowledge intelligence didn’t exist before the universe. Ergo, the universe probably doesn’t have an intelligent designer.

What is The Argument from Physical Minds?

All conscious minds we know of are dependent on physical structures. Thus there is probably no conscious mind independent of physical structure. If so, no minds can exist in the absence of the universe or outside it. God is postulated to have such a mind, so God probably doesn’t exist.

What is The Argument from Worshipfulness?

If God is worthy of worship, this means that He has an unqualified claim on our obedience. People are autonomous moral agents, which means that we must do as our morality tells us to do. However, if we are completely obedient to someone or something, we cease to be autonomous moral agents. Thus, unqualified obedience is immoral as such and nothing can be worthy of worship. But God is postulated to be just that. We get a contradiction, so God as thus described probably doesn’t exist. Plus, even if He did, we shouldn’t worship Him.

What is The Argument from the Immorality of God?

Theists and atheists alike agree on at least five moral principles. For the sake of the argument we can take them to be objective moral truths, even if a minority of atheists would actually believe in objective morality. The five principles are: it is wrong to murder innocents in cold blood, it is wrong to aid in systematic rape, it is wrong to make people eat their loved ones, human sacrifice is wrong, and torturing people for their beliefs is impermissible.

Since the Bible tells us that God has committed all of the aforementioned five acts, we have to conclude a) that God can be immoral, which both contradicts with His holiness and perfection, and forces us to not treat Him as a moral authority, b) the Bible is not the word of God, so there is no basis for the Judeo‐Christian beliefs of the majority or c) that the five acts are in fact morally permissible, which contradicts other parts of the Bible.

We might claim that God doesn’t have to share our moral standards. But then those standards would not be absolute, and we would have to admit the possibility that morality isn’t universal even with regard to people. It might be right for someone besides us to commit the five acts.

Are there any practical advantages to atheism?

Atheists do not waste time praying or going to church. We do not have to worry about supernatural surveillance. We get to use our reason without bumping into irrational religious dictates. Atheists can happily, productively and with societally beneficial outcomes follow a humanistic ethic, which is far more permissive and sensible than that of most religions. We do not have to worry about sins or confess them to anyone—we only have to keep from harming others, or apologize, offer restitution and mend our ways if we happen to do so anyway. We do not need to bother about victimless immorality—we can do as we will as long as we keep abreast of our responsibilities and harm no one.

Atheism gives one the possibility of living one’s only life fully, without regrets or fear. It enables one to become truly moral, as opposed to duty‐bound and morally repressed.

What are atheists’ beliefs on life after death?

Mostly that there is none. Get over it, and make the most of what you do have. It is possible for atheistic religions to claim otherwise, but religious people are in the minority among atheists.

What are atheists’ beliefs on the origins of the universe?

Atheists do not need to have a common opinion on such matters, but most Western atheists think that Big Bang cosmology pretty much sums it up. The universe started out small, became big and has no readily identifiable cause of existence. It follows certain natural laws and is explainable in their terms, but the precise reason those laws exist haven’t been unearthed yet.

What’s wrong with school prayer?

The same thing that is wrong with the idea that religious children should be forced to publicly renounce their faith in schools: it’s runs counter to religious freedom.

What’s wrong with the Pledge of Allegiance?

First, the under God part. Atheists do not believe in God, so we shouldn’t be forced to pretend we do. Plus, even benign hints at the direction of any particular religion (or lack of it) are not a business the government should be in.

Second, a freethinker will have to point out that a repeated, forced pledge both constitutes an appeal to force (be a patriot or bad things happen to your grades!), is senseless (it takes valuable time from more important activities) and violates individual liberty (if people do not want to be patriotic, they should have the right to refuse; even the Supreme Court of the United States has stated so).

Third, if the point is to instill patriotism in youth, why not use the original form of the pledge which does not include a reference to God?

What does it matter if people are exposed to a little bit of religion?

Nothing, per se. We’re exposed to irrational thought all the time. But if the ideas are represented as truth or expected behavior, especially by an authority figure, if people aren’t allowed to freely argue against them, or if they can’t decline participation in situations where the ideas predictably surface, that’s a huge problem.

Children are particularly susceptible to manipulation like this. That is why religious indoctrination of any kind in a school environment is unacceptable to atheists.

Atheists accuse religion of atrocities, but those weren’t real believers!

Mostly they were. The fact that they would go ahead and risk their own lives, families and properties suggests that they were serious. Most of the believers who have committed violence in the name of religion had little other reason to behave as they did. And of course every mainstream religion has at least one explicitly violent interpretation. Furthermore, since religion denies reason, it can be used to justify just about anything. Including what conquistadors, serial killers and child molesters have done over the time.

Most violence is probably caused by individual stupidity and irresponsibility, but there’s no point in denying that religion too often instigates brutality.

Practical matters

Atheism doesn’t really have content of its own, but since people usually ask about atheists’ lives and manners, something probably has to be said about the practicalities as well. There are also some specific political questions raised by atheism which are probably best answered here.

Did George Bush really renounce atheists as US citizens?

He did indeed. What can you say, idiocy and immorality thrive in the highest places.

But what really bugs me about Bush’s remark is that it constitutes an irredeemable breach of the constitutional separation of church and state. Public officials have no right to say things like that, yet nobody even bothered to notice.

Is xian an insult?

No. It is a perfectly legitimate and respectful way of referring to a Christian. It derives from a Greek abbreviation for Christ. It’s also easier to write, since you don’t have to shift.

What’s with the varying capitalization of God?

Some atheists do not feel it necessary to capitalize the name of God, because they do not think the Christian god has any special place in the pantheon of gods claimed to exist. Some of us think that it’s necessary to respect the established spelling, for reasons of tradition or common courtesy. Some of us are poor spellers.

I do capitalize God, as you’ve seen. Why? Because it’s customary, respectful and sensible. That doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes every now and then.

So what is the meaning of life to an atheist?

Atheists decide this for themselves, and create their own meanings. I for instance do not think it is not sensible to talk about the meaning of life—such a thing isn’t needed to live a good life. Other atheists might not agree, but that isn’t really my problem.

What are atheists like? What do you do?

We’re just like everybody else. We simply do not believe or worship. We range from toddlers to great‐grandfathers, men to women, Nobel laureates to dishwashers, judges to burglars, technofreaks to classical pianists, communists to libertarians, and so on. We do what people do, except we don’t go to church, or pray, or place our hopes in the supernatural.

Should I marry an atheist?

If you’re an atheist yourself, absolutely.

If you’re not but you’re willing to forgo a church wedding and give your children a secular upbringing, then yes. In the absence of children or strict spousal adherence to theist culture, atheists make good spouses.

If even that is not enough, you might want to think twice—you might not get all you want from the institution of marriage, and children can become a huge problem.

Atheists believe in evolution, then?

Not necessarily. Not all atheists are rationalists or freethinkers. Atheism doesn’t force one to believe in any specific scientific theory.

That having been said, most self‐proclaimed Western atheists do believe in evolution, just as most self‐proclaimed Western Christians do. We do that because evolution is one of the most solid scientific theories in existence. Those who fight it are a vanishing minority, and for a good reason.

Isn’t it lonely, insecure or pointless to be an atheist?

No. Atheists have their friends, family, hobbies, duties and vices, just like everybody else. In fact we have more time for them because we do not worship gods. Since we don’t have to worry about a Father looking over our shoulder, we can fully throw ourselves at the thing we call life. It’s all quite liberating and easy, really. We have what makes life worth living, without the supernatural baggage.

How does it feel like to be an atheist?

What does it feel like to you to not believe in Zeus? What does it feel like to believe the Earth is round? It doesn’t feel like anything, because you never really think about it.

Atheism is not a faith. We do not have any atheistic symbology, escatology, religious culture, social practices or the like to discuss, think about or share. We don’t even have our own words like Bible, God or Salvation. We only have words like atheism because they are needed to explain confused theists what we don’t have. The only time we really have to think about our lack of belief, start forming an atheist self‐image or assert our stance is when a theist brings the matter up. The only time atheists ever congregate is when we feel threatened by the surrounding theistic culture.

Simply put, being an atheist feels like the non‐religious, fun part of your life fills all of it.

How does it feel like to be an atheist when most people are theists?

Sometimes a bit lonely when other people worship and you’re left out. Weird, when other people let slip all sorts of odd theistic thoughts. Scary, when theists display the limits of their tolerance.

Otherwise it’s largely the same theists feel when they’re not actively thinking about religious things. Normal.

What do atheists do on holidays? Don’t you celebrate Christmas/Hanukkah/Ramadan?

Mostly atheists go with the flow and participate in the same festitivies as the surrounding society. Vacation time is nice enough, and there’s really no good reason not to celebrate e.g. Christmas—originally it was a good, old‐fashioned, pagan thing, after all. Yule, in other words. (In my native tongue it’s still called joulu because of that.) The same goes for most other holidays.

How about rites of passage and shorter rhythms of life? Do atheists have them?

Yes, we do. They might follow those of the surrounding society or they might be purposely secular. The nice thing about atheism is that you get to decide.

What will you tell your kids about God?

That varies with the parents. Some atheists prefer not to expose their children to the silliness that is religion. Some answer children’s questions as they come by. In my experience most atheists provide a broad education to their children in order to foster critical thinking. That includes wide knowledge of different kinds of religions and superstitions. Eventually the child will grow up and decide for herself whether to believe or not.

What’s the atheist’s Bible? Holy book? Scripture?

There’s no such thing. Atheism is the lack of belief, not a religion. We do not have symbols like that or our own culture. At most we have philosophical works or popular outreach material aimed at getting people away from their Bibles, living their real lives for a change.

Would an entirely atheistic world be ideal?

Of course. But it would have to arise naturally and nonviolently if it was to be a stable, human, moral development.

What do you swear to tell the truth on in court?

Technically we don’t. We affirm and since we don’t have a holy book, we don’t do it on anything. All in all most atheists consider swearing an oath somewhat redundant, because the only real sanctions you’ll ever get for not telling the truth are societal, not supernatural. Really the only legitimate use for the institution is to check theist immorality.

How do I tell my family and friends I’m an atheist?

First you should think twice about telling. Some people can’t take it, so healthy self‐preservation might call for keeping it a secret or admitting to some lesser sin, like agnosticism or unitarianism.

But if you think it’s sensible to let people in on it, kudos! Being in the closet isn’t nice at all, and it’s always good to have more nonbelievers around. That way atheism can one day become normal and accepted, or even the default position.

The typical way to tell would be to first slowly withdraw from religious life and overtly religious customs, so that people have time to adapt to your worldview. After that the matter should be taken up with your closest ones, and only them. It shouldn’t just be slammed on their faces, but you should take the issue up at a proper moment. Then you should tell honestly and impassionately what you think and prepare to take some heat for it. Remember never to flare up in this situation, even if others do! That can only make it worse—you definitely do not want to be labelled militant as well.

After your loved ones know, you might in time consider telling friends, acquaintances or even coworkers. Note that telling to each group and each individual carries different risks. In some societies you can easily tell everybody you meet. In others spreading the knowledge can get you fired from your job. Think before you act.

Theistic slurs

This section treats pejorative and emotional charges against atheists, commonly encountered on online fora and live discussions alike. Slurs are separated from arguments (even the weak ones) by a deliberate maliciousness, and must be treated separately because not all theists succumb to using them.

You lie about what you are! There never were real atheists!

It is true that we cannot be completely sure whether we who claim to be atheists actually believe what we’re saying. But the same actually goes for everybody, including theists, scientists, politicians and the lot. We have to ask whether it is likely that a certain person is truthful about his convictions.

Atheists have no clear motive to lie about their lack of belief, except to conceal it—most atheists have to take some heat for their position, or even get persecuted for it. Theists in fact have far stronger motives to lie because religion is typically connected with tithing, clerical control over other people, and the like. Yet atheists do not usually question other people’s faith.

But surely atheists want to believe in God?

Some might, but most don’t. What’s the point? Do you for instance want to believe in pixies or elves? You shouldn’t lightly second guess other people.

You’re just unwilling to see God!

Some of us are, most of us don’t see any need for such unwillingness. Still the conclusion doesn’t seem to be swayed: even those of us who want to believe (or indeed have believed, like I have) eventually determine that there is no god to believe in. Please don’t second guess other people’s motives.

You’re Satanists!

Nope. First, what most people call Satanism is actually Satan worship. Atheists do not believe in gods, including Satan, so we consider Satan worship as silly as Christianity.

Second, Satanism proper is based in Anthony LaVey’s thoughts, and is a neo‐pagan, humanistic religion built around the worship of a lifeforce or human tendency labelled evil by earlier theistic religions. Satanism doesn’t take a stand on the existence of the supernatural, but treats Satan as a symbol of the natural and the vital. Thus, Satanists can be atheists, agnostics or theists. Most Western atheists are strictly nonreligious, and consider Satanism just as silly as the New Age movement.

Third, Christians believe in a personal Satan, which takes them far closer to Satan worshipers than atheists could ever be. Do not insult other people if you do not wish to have the insult thrown back at you.

Atheists will go to Hell!

No we won’t, since there’s no such place. And by the way, you’ll be nothing but wormfood after you die. Do not insult other people if you do not wish to have the insult thrown back at you.

Atheists are immoral! Atheism is a conspiracy to overturn people’s values!

Mostly we are moral, but some might not be. Neither are all theists. Morality is a thing separate from religion, and most theists follow a secular morality as well. They do so because a secular morality aimed at peaceful cooperation, prosperity and harmony is much better than a Scriptural one which e.g. obligates one to stone misbehaving offspring to death.

There’s no conspiracy, here. Atheists are just individuals who dare to think and do not easily swallow patent nonsense.

Atheists are anti‐social!

Mostly we aren’t, but some might be. So are some theists. Sociability is a personality trait, separate from religious belief.

The secular morality followed by most atheists does encourage social interaction as a means to a good, balanced life, while at the same time theistic belief systems tend to favor such anti‐social behaviors as isolation, ostracism, asceticism, puritanism, intolerance and suppression of individuality.

Atheists hate God!

Nope. It would be nonsensical to hate something that does not exist. Atheism is not about defying God out of anger or selfishness, but about lack of belief in gods who could be defied.

Atheists hate Christians!

Some might, just as some Christians hate atheists. Mostly we don’t, though. We just think belief in gods is silly.

Atheists hate Christianity!

Those atheists who have to put up with Christian terror day to day often do. They have a good reason for their anger. But atheists like me who rarely have to deal with such oppression mostly can’t be bothered. We simply have better things to do.

There are no atheists in foxholes!

If you’re referring to the fact that people might panic under life threatening situations, nobody’s ever disputed that. Current knowledge suggests that theism isn’t a cure to the fight‐or‐flight reaction.

If you’re making this a thing about patriotic tendency, morality or altruism, atheists have always been in foxholes. And we always will be: being an atheist doesn’t stop you from self‐sacrificing, being attracted to danger or acting morally.

Furthermore, religion and patriotism are two separate things. Mixing them is a sign of a dangerous, theocratic mindset.

Atheists do not involve themselves in charity. You do not care!

Statistically atheists contribute as much to charity as everybody else. We just don’t make such a fuss about it. We even contribute to churches if no better alternative can be found.

Furthermore, many atheists consider it immoral to use charity as a tool of evangelism—when somebody genuinely needs help, there is usually a grave imbalance of power between helper and helped, so there’s also a serious potential for spiritual exploitation.

Atheism is just youthful rebellion!

To some, perhaps. But most atheists who deconvert do so after careful consideration, and stay that way. Mostly children of atheists become atheists as well.

As cultural phenomena, theism and atheism are comparable, except perhaps for the fact that freethought and naturalism tend to interest those who make their choices independently and rationally. Theism tends to attract the opposite.

You just want to do whatever! You refuse responsibility!

If theists are right, we can’t refuse responsibility, so why bother being an atheist if that is true?

In reality atheists take responsibility because we acknowledge the facts. All we have is this life, the recognition behaving well in it can bring, and the lasting secular heritage only responsible people can leave behind.

You’re just going through a phase!

Maybe. It’s just that it’s lasted some nine years as of now, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Some of my atheist friends have been in that phase from birth to ripe old age.

If atheism is a phase, it seems to be a lasting one.

Atheism is selfish!

Atheists can be both selfish and selfless, just as theists can be. Selfishness is a personality trait, so it has little to do with gods or the lack thereoff. Some selfishness is also a good thing—then it’s called enlightened self‐interest. Trying to get rid of it would only cause harm to individuals.

In fact we might claim that religion is more selfish than atheism, because it enables one to shy away from one’s responsibilities and rely on deities to pick up the slack. That hurts others to one’s benefit, which is the very definition of harmful selfishness.

Hitler was an atheist! See what he did!

Adolf Hitler was a self‐proclaimed Catholic, who probably believed he was acting under orders from God to wipe out Jewish vermin. He was also a vegetarian, a health‐nut, a violent anti‐tobacconist and quite possibly a meth addict. Go figure.

Atheism leads to socialism/communism/nazism!

Atheism isn’t a political ideology, so no, it doesn’t. Marxism includes an atheistic component, true, but that doesn’t make even the majority of atheists worldwide socialists. What is more, national socialism actually promotes religion as a unifying characteristic of a people/nation.

I’m a libertarian myself, so I support private property, individual liberty and self‐determination in general. So do most of my friends. In fact most Western atheists, free‐thinkers and humanists actually argue for full religious freedom, even if we don’t have a whole lot of respect for superstition. Most of us find the suggestion that we’re socialists rather laughable.

A state without a religion makes for state atheism! That has killed millions!

This is untrue. The state should be neutral in religious matters, including lack of belief. State atheism on the other hand means active suppression of religious belief. Most Western atheists vehemently oppose that sort of thing. We may privately oppose religion, but we still see that the only justifiable way to do that is to do it without help from the coercive machinery of the state. The right way is to proselytize, if anything.

I will pray for you…

Don’t. That is not only a waste of your time, but also an affront to human reason and a personal insult to us as nonbelievers. Upright theists do not condescend or sneak in their beliefs like that, anymore than upright atheists wish eternal damnation on theists or agree to disagree, in the vulgar sense.

Where can I find out more about atheism?

If atheism catches you in any way, you might want to try out some of the following: