Why I am an atheist

by Michael Nugent on June 3, 2008

I am an atheist because I reject the idea that gods exist, in the same way and for the same reasons that I reject the ideas that that the earth is balanced on the back of a sea turtle, that homeopathy is more useful than a heart transplant, that Rapunzel wove her hair into a ladder or Rumpelstiltskin wove straw into gold, that stepping on a pavement crack will break my mother’s back, that a deposed Nigerian prince wants to email me several million dollars, that Uri Geller can bend spoons with his mind, that I am in danger from vampires or zombies or broken mirrors, or that I am protected by angels or leprechauns or horseshoes.

Reasons to Believe

Like many people, you may sincerely accept some of the above ideas as being true, either because you have experienced something unexplainable that has caused your brain to generate a belief in your God or Uri Geller, or because you feel happier when you believe in heaven or homeopathy, or because you prefer your life to be guided by holy writings or horoscope readings, or because you think that people behave better when they are being scrutinised by Satan or Santa, or because life is just simpler when you seem to believe what most people seem to believe.

Absence of Evidence
However, I reject all of these ideas simply because there is no evidence that any of them are true. Of course, I might be wrong about any or all of them. And I will happily change my mind if I ever get evidence that an alien spacecraft crashed at Roswell in 1947 and that successive US Governments since then have been hiding the aliens at a military base near Groom Lake in Nevada, or that the creator of the universe visited one small planet and caused a virgin of one species to give birth to himself so that he could die, return to life, and then write his story in a book.

Atheism is a Way of Thinking

I think I am very unlikely to get such evidence, because the ideas are so improbable, but if I get it I will not resist it. And this is the key to understanding atheism. It is far more about a way of thinking than it is about the outcomes that result from that thinking. Atheism involves believing in the power of reason to pursue knowledge, accepting ideas because of evidence, rejecting ideas because of lack of evidence, and always being prepared to change your mind if you learn something new.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Antaine June 12, 2008 at 11:57 am

“Atheism involves believing in the power of reason to pursue knowledge, accepting ideas because of evidence, rejecting ideas because of lack of evidence, and always being prepared to change your mind if you learn something new.”

in this case,
Atheism = Common sense.

I fear that we will have a lot of people turning their backs on religon due to the lies and crimes commited by the churches but it will happen at the same time that the World hits a big recession and is also hit with lots more natural disasters. Then we’ll have the religous nuts coming out and saying that its all because we lost our faith in God. Then we’re back to Square One.
Unfortunatley I dont hold a lot of faith in human intelligence!

2 Kat April 6, 2009 at 6:27 am

“or that the creator of the universe visited one small planet and caused a virgin of one species to give birth to himself so that he could die, return to life, and then write his story in a book.” LMAO Bwahahahahaha!

Sorry, that just always makes me laugh.

“Atheism involves believing in the power of reason to pursue knowledge, accepting ideas because of evidence, rejecting ideas because of lack of evidence, and always being prepared to change your mind if you learn something new.”

Exactly, that is exactly how I see it to be, best explanation I think I’ve ever read.

I also feel that as the recession gets worse, as natural disasters happen more often and are more catastrophic, that more and more of the religious, will be out there saying that this is all because we have turned our backs on god.
I see so many people blaming the troubled youth problem on the fact that religion has been taken out of our schools, that if we put it back, that magically, our kids will suddenly be better.

No.
Sorry, that’s not the problem with kids today.
The problem with kids today is that their parents are both working ong hours, or only one parent homes and they are working long hours, the kids have no adult supervision, and when the parents are home, they are so tired they don’t want to discipline their kids, so they hand them money, tell them to go out with their friends, or plop them down in front of 300+ channels on cable and have completely stopped being parents.

If parents did their jobs, parent their children, kids might behave better.
It should not be up to the schools to teach our kids morality, it’s our job as their parents to teach them morality.

Sorry, just went off for a minute there.
I should just blog this…LoL

3 Michael Nugent April 9, 2009 at 3:33 am

Thanks, Kat.

I agree with you that the recession will boost religious thinking. When people are focused on survival values, they tend to fall back on superstition for comfort.

I also agree with you that parents should teach their children morality, but I also believe that society should be able to counteract the influence of parents who (for example) teach their children to be racist or homophobic etc.

4 Roger - Faith Interface April 18, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Like most atheists, you profess that the main reason for your unbelief is lack of convincing evidence. And yet, I’m certain that you are prepared to believe a great many other things without requiring the same level of empirical evidence. For instance, I’m sure you cross a road or board a plane without convincing empirical evidence that you will survive. You believe the earth is round, but I doubt you’ve been in orbit to see for yourself. I expect you believe in the existence and properties of matter, but I doubt you’ve ever seen a proton, neutron or electron in the flesh. All of us, even dyed-in-the-wool empiricists like yourself, are forced to believe on faith in certain aspects of the world around us, in the absence of clear supporting evidence.

More likely, with respect, I expect your rejection of the notion of God has more to do with subconscious (or maybe conscious) psychological issues around moral accountability, existential autonomy and issues such as religious conflict in your own country, and the problem of suffering and evil.

http://www.faithinterface.com.au/apologetics/the-psychology-of-atheism-prof-paul-c-vitz

http://www.faithinterface.com.au/apologetics/the-psychology-of-atheism-dr-rc-sproul

5 Michael Nugent April 19, 2009 at 11:15 am

Roger, thanks for commenting. Here are my initial thoughts.

With regard to solipsism, I would go even further and say that you cannot even know with 100% unchangeable certainty that your mind exists. However, for practical purposes, most of us assume that reality is broadly as it seems to be, based on applying reason to the apparent evidence of our senses.

With regard to crossing the road and plane journeys, I have convincing empirical evidence that I am likely enough to survive to make it worth the risk of taking the journey based on my reasons for doing so. I accept that I might get killed doing so.

With regard to the shape of the earth, protons and quarks, etc., I typically accept the current consensus of peer-reviewed scientifically tested theories, with varying levels of personal doubt and certainty, and I am always prepared to change my beliefs if I get new evidence, but not until then.

Your position on belief in the existence of gods seems to start the other way around – you seem to start by believing that a god exists, without positing any objective evidence for that belief, then you seem to assume that there must be a psychological flaw that moves people away from that supposed default position.

In fairness, I will read the articles in your links sometime this week and respond further.

6 Doze April 23, 2009 at 12:12 pm

Armando Iannucci wrote that: “If we have not killed god off, we have at least given him brochures for a hospice that we are thinking of checking him in to.”

Fighting the cause of athiesm for future generations.

Love the site x

7 Ned Landry June 19, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Where do you believe morals come from? I’m not an athiest, I am curious, since athiests claim some sort of moral discrimination. (if you don’t mind)

8 Michael Nugent June 19, 2009 at 5:08 pm

The short answer is that I believe our morality evolved.

I’ll develop the idea further in a separate post soon.

9 Durward June 30, 2009 at 8:59 pm

Michael, I don’t claim to have all the answers. I was born and raised in a Christian home. My dad taught me to never take anything for granted, but to seek the truth on my own. I have done that with my sons as well. I respect your opinions. It is difficult for me to not believe in God. When I sit on the mountaintop and look out over the beauty of this earth, I find it hard to think that everything happened by chance.
I can tell you of miracles that have happened in my life, instances that defy reason, but it would do no good. Why for instance, when I am usually one to follow closely behind a vehicle, did I suddenly withdraw to a safe distance, then a log from the truck aheand came streaking down? Had I been in the same position I had been for ten minutes, I would have not had time to react, resulting in a log through my windshield. There are numerous accounts even more amazing in my life. Others, I’m sure have even more astounding experiences. But, to a non-believer these words are meaningless.
I’m a skeptic by nature. I take very little at face value. The Word of God is as real to me as it is unreal to you.
You expressed a word of doubt in your message. You said you would change your mind when there is evidence. I challenge you to find a Bible and with an open mind, study it. Study it with a critical eye, but with a willingness to hear the unspoken word. You may be suprised at what evidence you find.

10 James Plaskett July 4, 2009 at 5:11 pm

I love this! –

“Atheism involves believing in the power of reason to pursue knowledge, accepting ideas because of evidence, rejecting ideas because of lack of evidence, and always being prepared to change your mind if you learn something new.”

AND THEN WE GET –

Photo: Unicorns by Erika Hall

An ASTUTE photographer, Erika, to snap those!

11 Roger July 4, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Michael,

That’s not atheism, that’s a mixture of skepticism and empiricism.

Roger.

12 Michael Nugent July 4, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Brilliant observation :)

My revised belief is that I don’t believe in unicorns, but I do believe in photographs of unicorns.

Unicornology is a very nuanced area of study, and not always internally consistent.

Michael

13 Michael Nugent July 4, 2009 at 10:31 pm

Well, it’s intended more as an explanation of why I am an atheist, rather than as a definition of atheism.

However, I don’t personally go along with the minimalist definitions of atheism that focus only on the etymology of the word.

I believe they are accurate, but incomplete.

I believe that any core related beliefs that necessarily follow from rejecting the existence of gods are, in practical terms, part of what atheism is in real life.

For example, I believe that atheism involves (not is, but involves) the belief that we can only learn about reality without the guidance of gods, and the belief that we make moral choices without the guidance of gods.

Sorry about the complicated sentence structure with too many “I believe”s but I don’t want to sound as if I am being prescriptive for other people.

14 James Plaskett July 4, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Don´t believe in unicorns?

Hmmm…
Check out the naming of the PAIR of stars – the largest object of KNOWN measurable mass, if you please – in the constellation of The Unicorn: Monoceros.

15 Jairo Mejia July 30, 2009 at 7:30 pm

Atheists and Gnostics are right in most of their thinking

It has been common among religious believers to look with misgiving to atheists and Gnostics, and to think that they are mistaken; however, in many instances the opposite is the truth; some religious beliefs are not just irrelevant, but baseless. The “God” of main line traditions simply does not exist. I accepted the challenge of finding the One who may be recognized even by Gnostics and atheists: the Existence itself, “All-That-Is.” If something is there, that is God. Look at the book “Christianity Reformed From ist Roots – A life centered in God” (Amazon.com). I am confident that some of your friends will be relieved of the illusion, as I did myself.

Jairo Mejia, M. Psych., Santa Clara University
Retired Episcopal Priest
Carmel Valley, California

http://www.mbay.net/~jmejia/Grudzen.htm
http://www.mbay.net/~jmejia/Churcher.htm

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