Questions from a high schooler

On the topix atheist forum, one of the atheist posters started a thread about being contacted by a high schooler wanting to understand atheism. So he shared his answers to her and I thought, those are interesting questions; and I provide my response here:

1. Why don’t atheists believe in a god ?

Because we live in a natural universe with natural causes and nothing that we have observed through the study of nature – which is what science is – would lead to a conclusion of a supernatural agent who leaves no traces or detectable evidence and what we have learned so far, the universe conforms to consistent rules that vary depending on the scale and scope being examined.

2. How do you think the earth came into being?

A collection of space debris that formed a mass, cleared it’s orbit and remained intact as a planetary body; cooling over time to develop an atmosphere and oceans- and eventually, us.

3. What made you decide to be an atheist?

I didn’t decide, all humans are information sponges who don’t want to work too hard, so religion is where most people settle as it provides comfortable, easy answers that you dont have to think too much about or develop any real or meaningful understanding of the world or people.

I realized that religions made no sense and did not provide a means to a better world with dynamic social progress – religion is about the past and maintaining the status quo despite what we humans have collectively learned.

In particular, that there’s less than 1 percent genetic difference between any two people anywhere. So, being that we are the same, why should we uphold beliefs that say others are less than for not adhering to a belief that is entirely culturally dependent – there are many ways that humans express culture and we need to not pretend that they are all good or equally valid, because they are not.

But one of the first things we need to do is to be able to deal with facts on the ground – humans are highly adaptable and creative creatures – religion would force conformity and that is not the strength of people, it is in fact, against our nature to conform more than what we need to for cooperative and harmonious living.
People need to understand that what’s normal for them isn’t normal for everyone and that range is what creates the natural variation within our species.
Religion inhibits human development with the contempt for humanity that religion would have us beleive.

Anything that tells you that sex that makes you feel good is bad – especially if it’s masturbation the safest possible sex, isn’t anything you should be giving any consideration to.

4. Do you believe in an afterlife?

No. We know we have a life and we need to live our lives for the living existence, not on spec or as a dress rehearsal for after death.

If there is something, then it’s part of the natural universe and no adhering to any religion of the day is going to make a difference.

5. Do you have any leaders (via atheism)?

No. Atheism does not require joining or following.

But there are people in public positions who are atheists who have the ability to promote atheism and a naturalist worldview who are often looked to as leaders.
But they are individuals who represent themselves and similar minded people are heartened by their public efforts.

6. How do you feel about other religions?

Atheism isn’t a religion, so the question is poorly worded.

Religions are a cultural affectation and should be maintained in private by those who wish to and the public sphere needs to deal in naturalism and not coddle religious sensibilities.

But it is the nature of Abrahamic religions to spread by the word or the sword and this must be resisted strenuously to remove it from government policy and lawmaking.

7. Do you think your own children should have a say in whether they are atheists or not?

Yes, children are their own people and at age appropriate intervals, they should learn about religion, but not be taught any religion, so they can made their own choices to explore a religion that is attractive to them or not partake in any, in accordance with their individual interest and nature.

8. Do you believe atheism is ‘accurate’ because it’s based on science? Please explain .

Atheism is merely the rejection of religion without replacement. So it is not science, it is simply logic.

Atheism doesn’t explain anything, doesn’t provide a guide for behaviour and has no rituals, customs or meetings.

Atheism isn’t accurate because it doesn’t claim anything.

Naturalism is scientific, because science is the study of nature.

Atheism is just rejecting religion to the degree that it doesn’t limit your thinking.
So it may be thought of as a pre-indicator, or necessary state to carry out scientific study of nature.

9. Do you think atheists could believe in a god?

No, because belief in a god is faith absent of evidence.

If something can be proven to exist, then belief is not necessary – it exists.

10. What’s the difference between an implicit atheist and an explicit atheist?

These are not meaningful terms, but attempts to characterize atheists in religious terms. Atheism is the rejection of religion.

Whether a person keeps this view to themselves or blogs and debates is down to the person and not any characteristic of atheism.

There are not fundamentalist or moderate rejection of religion.

There is simply the rejection of religion as a basis to understand the world.
Anything other than rejection, is then down to the individual and is largely based on their experience with religion – people who have experienced abuse at the hands of priest or anyone sensitive enough to be appalled by centuries of religious driven conflict – that’s down to how religion is and religion has provided many historical and current events reasons why it needs to be educated out of the human species.
We need to stop seeing our differences and see our commonality and we need to choose to co-exist and religion is the greatest impediment to coexistance.

11. In the Buddhist religion, there is no ‘God’. Would that be considered atheism?

No, because buddhism is still a religion – and it is not the only religion that doesn’t posit a god. Shinto, Taoism, Confucianism – these are all religions and philosophies that encompass supernatural agents at work in the universe, they just aren’t personified or representative deities.

However, these religions do not interfere with social progress or scientific advances – and generally are not as divisive as god centered religions are.
In these godless religions, it’s more about how you are as a person in the world – and this aligns with naturalist thinking of being in and of the world.

12. Was atheism initially your choice?

We all start off without beliefs, so in that sense no, it’s not a choice, it’s the default setting.

I chose to expose myself to religion and while I had a positive experience, religion was ultimately not compatible with a naturalist world view.

13. Are there different sects of atheism?

No. There is only one rejection of religion and how you live and act and are in the world, is down to the individual, not their lack of belief in religion.

However, religious people often cannot grasp individualism and individual behaviors and since we are pattern seekers, we tend to round up everyone with shared characteristics and view them as a group.

So saying there’s fundie or moderate atheists is just trying to talk about an individual’s behaviors in the context of group behaviours that are understandable to religious thinkers, who do understand that as a believer in a given religion that they are a certain way compared to other believers in the apparent same religion.
but that is not a meaningful way to think within atheism.

To us, it’s an on or off switch, with no further consideration, because our personalities and ideas about the world don’t come from atheism, there cannot be kinds of atheism. Our understanding of ourselves and the world comes from the study of people – anthropology and psychology.

Saying I am a fundie atheist is sort of true within the religious mindset because I am forthcoming in my lack of belief and able to provide many reasons and examples why religion is a force of evil. That would seem to be fundamentalist to a religious person.

But it’s not correct to say that there’s kinds of atheism that athiests would really understand and getting sucked into that kind of debate should be avoided and believers need to be brought into naturalist discussions – not discussion within their religious mindset and give it validity.

14. Do atheism have a community center?

The internet. it’s where individual atheists can connect to each other.

Before then, there were a handful of organizations, but participation is not a requirement. Getting atheists together as a group is like trying to heard cats.

15. Is the ‘ask an atheist day’ considered a holiday?

Maybe it should be.

But in terms of what should or shouldn’t be a holiday – religious special days should not be secular statuatory holidays. Because secular government are to ensure equal access and treatment under the law – and separation of church and state means that.

The State should not be favoring any religion’s special days over any other religion’s special days. People are free to use their paid vacation for religious observance – statuatory holidays should be limited to civic matters, such as:

Memorial/Remembrance Day

Labour Day

New Years

and whatever independence day, presidents day, family day and whatever other notable days – such as Queen Victoria/May Day.

Honestly, I think Elvis Presley day is long overdue – although I can see the problem being which day – the January 8 birthday or the August 16 death day.

There is a reason for everything

That the universe exists is not proof of a deity and is certainly not proof of any particular deity.

Even if we could agree that the universe was created, there’s been tens of thousands of religions that have attempted to explain how the universe came to be, all with the same amount of credibility and evidence; which is to say, none at all.

Moreover, since all the religious conjecture was made without really understanding how big the universe is – and with all that we still don’t know – it’s not at all credible for anyone to assert that there’s a deity that is not subject to the universe’s rules that are  predictable.

We used to explain crop harvest/failure, volcanoes, earthquakes and all kinds of natural weather phenomenon as being the deity’s expression of displeasure, now we understand global plate tectonics and weather systems.

We need to stop using dieties as placeholders to explain what we don’t yet understand, because that placeholder only ends up holding back discovery by limiting research funds and restricting government policy to forbidding promising areas of research and worse, basing scientific policy on matters other than science.

We live in a natural universe. with natural origins. Just because science can’t explain everything right now with easy answers, doesn’t negate the centuries of built up knowledge of the natural world, repeated validated by observation or experimentation and continuously added to by larger and larger numbers of scientists working in a wide ranges of scientific areas, biology, geology, physics, chemistry and interdependent and related fields.

We’ve gone from being limited in our travels to what we could do with our own bodies to animals to machine travel and being able to see with telescopes most of the universe in a very short time period.

There’s a reason why the age where Christianity dominated Europe is called the Dark Ages.

Put in zero sum terms:

It’s not just the lack of evidence, but also the lack of logic and credibility and most importantly, probability.

Especially when you get out of a zero sum mindset it’s not a choice between no god and a christian god but a choice between none and innumerable possible gods that humans have invented and worshipped or will invent and worship.

When you consider science vs each and every religion collectively the scales, if they measure anything meaningful, come down on the side of science, which is a body of knowledge built up over generations and from a range of interconnected disciplines vs the religions with all the same evidence for (none), the same credibility as each other (none) and the same chances of being true (virtually none).

Before the Big Bang

Why does it matter what occurred before the Big Bang?

Cause and effect only have meaning in the context of there being time – and if the universe began at the Big Bang, so did Time begin, thus, the universe had nothing preceding it, since there was no time by which anything else could be put in a cause and effect relationship.

It may well be that the universe we occupy exists – or arose phoenix-like on the ashes of a collapsed previous universe – a perpetual universe of collapse and expansion, where everything that is possible to occur does occur.

Sometimes the idea that as soon as one person actually figures out the universe, it collapses and expands anew, something more strange and wondrous than before, makes perfect sense. In which case, Douglas Adams forecast more than the internet in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy in 4 parts, which later expanded to 5  with a 6th volume written by some other writer. Certainly, the universe has become a less cheery place with Mr. Adams being absent from it.

Godbots are always demanding answers of science that they do not demand from their own beliefs – and that they cannot distinguish between the actual answers provided by science and scientific theories where there are yet to be answers and “goddidit” is disturbing.

What exactly is “goddidit” supposed to answer, other than a vague everything? Goddidit doesn’t explain the how or why of anything.

It certainly doesn’t explain why a god that can poof the universe into existence and make it all appear as it would had everything occurred the way that we could expect and scientifically understand it to have occurred – yet, God is apparently only able to have made a handful of civilizations in a small region of the world aware of it’s existence – since the Abrahamic religions historically arose in the middle east and it’s path of followers can be clearly traced by trade and immigration routes – and none of the Abrahamic religions arose in other places in the world – it took missionaries to spread the word – along with swords to force conversion and diseases to finish off many who would refuse to convert and to scare the rest into submission.

Even a casual study of the history of religions should make it as plain as the nose on the student’s face that all religions are human ideologies to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the elite. A religion is no different than a political ideology – they are home grown and home spun, beginning as dangerous revolutionary upstarts to overturn the status quo and eventually, if successful, a replacement of what had been in place before.

If unsuccessful, well, one person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. How it’s spun and remembered is entirely dependent on which side won – the old guard (aka traditionalists) or the new guard (change).

If the new guard is more successful, then with enough time, they become the traditionalists that resist replacement.

Which is why, when dealing with religion, they have to claim to have all the answers – if they can answer everything, then there’s no need to replace them.

This is why religious people resist social change, they do not work and play well with others – and are unwilling to change a system wherein they have all or the majority of the benefits. They act as if there’s a limit on the human rights and freedoms available, because deciding who is in and who is out is the essence of power and influence.

Once the artificial barriers are kicked down and trampled on and more people are included, then the sense of the benefits is somehow lessened, an emotional argument. A childish position and selfish understanding of the world – rather anti-evolutionary, given that members of small groups were interdependent and the ability to work and play well with other was critical to survival. Clearly, the greater numbers of people that survive to breed, the more opportunity there is for anti-social behaviours to flourish and be passed along or developed – when being cooperative is not longer vitally connected to survival.

Aside: In a way, science (aka modern medicine, improved sanitation, mass production, machines replacing human labour and other technology) becomes our undoing by removing nature as a factor in human survival. We have outbred our niche and environment, and now have the leisure time and surplus to eat ourselves and each other to death.

Certainly, women getting to vote did not diminish the votes of men – except that many men at the time probably did think that it was a stronger vote to have one vote out of 49% of the population instead of one vote of 100% of the population.

I just flipped in the middle of writing that sentence – more people voting means that the people running to be elected have to dilute their message and appeal to more people – more people voting does mean that individual votes matter less.

This is why the godbots and right wing moral majority don’t want any more expansion of human rights and equality – they are just not capable of sharing and so only can enjoy what they have as long as there are people who cannot have a share.

But they cannot be honest and say we’re bigots and we’re always going to be know it all bigots, even though the answer that we have to offer – goddidit, god says so, god’s will, sometimes the answer is no – isn’t any kind of answer or explanation at all. None of those blanditries explain how or why and with no evidence that there is a god – and because I say so isn’t a basis to deny people rights or live your life according to rules in a text that is historically inaccurate, internally inconsistent, unevenly written, poorly edited and translated and re-translated with various agendas over the centuries – hardly a stable basis for a belief system and demonstratively proven to not be sacred, given all the agenda fiddling to maintain power in the hands of an elite.

It makes sense, men forming the actual hierarchy of the religion translates into men being the power base in the society that the religion controls – which is why the paranoia of the straight white conservative male of having to be inclusive and tolerant of diversity is almost comical – given that the faces in the parliaments or senate or house or commons in secular democratic countries remains fairly solidly pale males, with just a sprinkling of women and a slight dash of colour.

That diversity is becoming the norm within the government bureaucracies and the board rooms of multi-national corporations is only the mechanism for political change and increased representative diversity of the actual lawmakers – and it is resisting that inevitable change that gave rise to the American tea baggers – who are so staid as to not understand the double entendre.

Aside: Why is it that conservative religious types are far more obsessed with gay sex than gay people? And why in allegedly heterosexual porn is the money shot the cum shooting out of the dick? Aren’t they supposed to be watching the girls?

So in a past California state election where the rights of chickens to be treated humanely passed by a large margin, these same voters voted against the human treatment of their fellow homosexual humans. The Prop 8 Anti-Gay Marriage ballot was passed partly through the reverse wording – voting yes mean voting against – and the largely out of State interference by the Church of Mormon, a major reason of the defeat for gays and lesbians was the black community voting against gays having equal rights. Black people, once slaves who were freed and had fought hard to win legal equality, en masse basically said “We the man now, no marriage for you gay people.”

They got their legal equality, which apparently was not going to be charitably extended to another minority, but withheld as if to deny equality, the ability to form legally recognized families and enjoy the protections and access to over 1000 rights and responsibilities, was somehow moral. I guess that one can only have power by virtue of others not having power. While rights and freedoms are not in short supply, there is always a run on power.

Were people confused and expecting that somehow, gays and lesbians would pack their bags, and live single and sexless lives?

Well, we won’t and we’re not sorry. Being gay doesn’t mean we are sub-human and less deserving of forming families and pair bonding. We all have the same biological imperatives, we’re just wired differently.

Gays and lesbians can and will continue to couple up and some will raise children – are these children less deserving of protections than the children in households of one man and one woman?

Withholding the rights is not going to alter reality – and this is perhaps the most dangerous thing about religion. Religion is already divorces from reality – and now that unreality is being shoehorned into government policy and practices – where it should not be. Reality and the government of secular democratic societies are for all members of the society.

Religion is just for those who wish to participate in it – and these preferences should not be foisted on the public – not in oaths of office, not in national anthems, not in constitutional law or any subsequent law or government practice or policy.

Power of the people means empowering all people equally – rights and freedoms for all, balanced against personal responsibility and accountability to not cause harm to any other people.

Just Imagine.