Karma

Question from Emily:
I was wondering what an atheist stance on karma would be. I’m not a big believer in faith or the supernatural. However, I am becoming a Buddhist and I just wanted some educated thoughts on the subject matter. I couldn’t really find my answer on the web. One thing I have noticed over the past few years is that things like karma tend to happen. For example, someone drove me out of a dorm because she didn’t like my tolerant view of homosexuality (Christian College). This year, she was driven out of the school because of financial problems. I keep noticing that situations where one “gets what they deserve” just tend to happen. The way they harmed others is the way that they were harmed in return. My question is, could karma be real? Is it possible that it is a factual law of the universe? I’m not inquiring if there is a god in the sky zapping bad people, I’m just wondering if there could be an unseen cause and effect to our actions/ energy. Thanks!

Answer by SmartLX:
Like the gods people believe in, karma certainly could be real, and some things can be interpreted as results of its influence. It’s just difficult or impossible to establish beyond doubt that it’s really true.

The “as you sow, so shall you reap” kind of karma in particular is easy to perceive in the world around us whether or not the universe is actually “keeping score”. We have an innate sense of fairness from our long history as a social animal, so we acutely sense when someone has done enough good or bad deeds to be due some repayment and we remember well if it happens. If it doesn’t, we just hope or assume it will come in the future. That’s confirmation bias for you.

What really muddies the waters in the case of karma is that our behaviour has many kinds of worldly effects which can cause the same kind of future events that karma would. Someone who tends towards violence is more likely to be injured, killed or arrested as a result of a conflict they either started or chose not to avoid. People who are conspicuously generous will inspire generosity in others, towards themselves in particular (the end of It’s a Wonderful Life being a fictional but believable example). A supernatural balancing force is not necessary for people to frequently receive the same treatment they give out.

The existence of karma can be detrimental to assume in some situations. If someone is suffering, then to assume that the suffering is the result of karma is to blame the victim to some extent. If everyone gets what they deserve, there must be some reason they deserve to suffer. Coupled with the Buddhist belief in reincarnation, it can create a very cold and unjustified attitude towards people born physically or mentally disabled in Buddhist countries. The attitude is, “That person must have done something awful in a past life to be brought back like this.” Buddhist scripture does not direct its followers thus to my knowledge, but it’s an unfortunately common interpretation.

Should I tell my fiance I’m an atheist?

Nicholas gives us a relationship question (haven’t had one for a while)…

I recently have become an atheist, I was formally a Christian. During my time as a Christian I became engaged to a woman from the Philippines who is a very devout Christian (pastors daughter). I love her very much and regardless of our differences about religion still want to marry her and spend our lives together. I have not told her that I am now an atheist, and am just curious if you have ever seen a similar situation that worked out? I feel that maybe after she has moved here and we have lived together for awhile I can slowly reveal this to her, or if not just keep it hidden inside me forever. To me it is just not worth killing our relationship over our different views. If I may ask your opinion on this situation, and any advice will be appreciated. Thank you.

I can only give you my personal advice here Nicholas and it’s not going to be pretty. You need to be honest with her. A committed relationship is a union where each party agrees to be their complete selves with someone else. By holding back the truth from her, you are holding back who you are, and that isn’t fair to either of you.  Don’t compromise who you are for another person. That only leads to even bigger problems down the line. Tell her your thoughts and feelings and hope that she can be accepting of who you are as a person, not just who she wants you to be.

I’ve known couples who have opposing views on things. Politics, philosophy, science, and even religion. They make it work because although their perspectives may be different, they still share the same respect for each other. I know it’s hard to do the right thing when faced with our fears, but that’s usually when it’s the most important time to do it. So be strong, trust in your relationship with her, and tell her.

Hope that helps.

How can you be an atheist if you don’t know everything?

Tommy asks…

An atheist is defined as someone who doesn’t believe there are any gods while an agnostic is someone who says that they don’t know if any gods exist. Simply put an atheist’s claim is an absolute statement that there are no gods while an agnostic is admitting that he doesn’t know, perhaps for lack of evidence he is willing to accept or some other reasons. Therefore, my question is this: Can someone make an absolute claim that is logical, reasonable, and scientifically supported that “there are no gods” without having omniscience? This is a Yes or No question. In order to answer this question you must first begin with Yes or No and then explain your answer. If you do not answer firstly Yes or No then you have not answered the question because the question is, in fact, a yes or no question. If you deny that this is a yes or no question then you’ve failed to understand the question because I am the one asking the question and I require a Yes or No answer. You are perfectly welcome to explain your Yes or No answer, but you must start with Yes or No. If you feel that the entire question is some sort of logical fallacy then your answer to this question is automatically No and then you must explain then why you believe it to be a logical fallacy. The most honest approach to answering my question is to simply answer Yes or No and then explain yourself from there. Otherwise your answer will be viewed as evasive and dishonest.

The problem is Tonny, you are basing your question on a false premise. You assume that a person can’t be both an atheist and an agnostic. I am an atheist/agnostic. I have no (a) belief in gods (theist) because I have no (a) knowledge (gnosis) of any. (knowledge also meaning evidence) This chart will help explain…

Agnostic v Gnostic v Atheist v Theist

 

In other words, I don’t claim that there are no gods. I claim that the current lack of evidence is such that no gods have been proven to exist and it is because of this that I lack a belief in any. What you are looking for are gnostic/atheists. They lack a belief in gods and also claim that they don’t exist. Which, depending on the gnostic/atheist that you talk to can violate your “Well you don’t know everything” argument. So in a sense, I agree with you. Who knows what’s out there in the land of the undiscovered? Maybe there is a god, I don’t know, and I don’t think you do either. No one does. I am open to the possibility within reason.

So there you go Tommy. Asked and answered. I look forward to your response.

Demons and gods and the Big Bang oh my!

Arushi asks…

Okay so I am an atheist and I am 13 yo girl from India !! Yes , India but my mom and dad were quite supportive of my act … I read about different stuff from the Internet and then I read about Stephen hawking and all his books and he says that the universe just blurted out of a Big Bang and he’s an atheist the question is who really created the Big Bang or designed humans . Then why are there so many evidences that God is present ?? And even if there isn’t y r demons present and I can’t stop myself from believing all this after I saw some real exorcism tapes !! What happens to our body when we die coz atheists don’t believe in afterlife ?? Is there a hell or heaven ?? Pls answer my queries I’ll be really grateful to and I could answer them when my frnds inquire me 🙂 I am really interested in science , physics , philosophy , paradoxes but I love knowing about myths , demons and legends so pls help me end my search !! Thank you xx

Thanks for all of the questions.

You’re problem here is that you have a little information but it’s obvious you haven’t actually studied them for yourself. I know from having a teenager and from once being one, that studying isn’t something that you like to do unless you have to (there are exceptions of course). You are probably used to people telling you what to think instead of learning things for yourself. I get that. You’ve got a lot going on with school and friends and family, who has time to learn? However, if you really want to begin to understand the world you live in, you’re going to have to do more then just “read about Stephen Hawking”, you’re going to have to actually read his books, or at the very least, listen to some of his lectures. You see, the internet is full of disinformation. You have to be willing to verify claims by doing a little research. I know that seems like a lot to do, but it is infinitely better then relying on what other people tell you about things. Look at it this way, the more you know and understand about the world around you, the clearer your perspective becomes. You can either choose to live blindly, or choose to try and understand. The choice is yours alone either way.

With that said, I’m going to answer your questions in a short manner and encourage you to go and learn these things for yourself instead of just accepting what I tell you.

First there is no evidence for any gods. Evidence for any claim of existence requires objective, verifiable proof. If someone told you there was a teapot circling Pluto, you wouldn’t believe it unless you had hard evidence for it right? Same thing with gods and demons. What people like to do is point to something that they don’t understand and say “god did that”, instead of actually trying to understand it for themselves. For example, for a long long long time people thought that those who screamed out, and shook on the floor and suffered from seizures were “possessed by demons”, but it wasn’t until science came around that we came to understand what causes seizures. Guess what? Demons weren’t involved.

Let’s take for example the “exorcist tapes” you referred too. What science was done to confirm these were people actually possessed be “demons”? How do you know the film wasn’t edited to make you think the demons were real? Why is the default explanation “demons” instead of just saying “I don’t know why this is happening”? An extraordinary claim like “demons” demands extraordinary evidence to verify it. Where is the verification? The James Randie Foundation offers a million dollars to anyone who can scientifically verify their claims of gods and demons and magic and psychic powers. Many have tried, and not one has ever succeeded. Their claims always fall short when studied in an objective manner. You might want to ask yourself why that is?

The rest of your questions are easy. There is no evidence for an afterlife just like there is no evidence for gods or demons. Don’t take my word for it though. Go learn these things for yourself. Start with learning the scientific method (systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.) and learn to apply it to your questions and ask if the evidence you’ve been given is justifiable. Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out.

I know these aren’t the answers that you were looking for, but the direction I’m pointing you in will allow you to learn these things for yourself instead of relying on others to tell you what to believe. Feel free to read through this website. Use the search function. Read, learn, and try to understand. That’s the best advice I can give you.

If you don’t believe in a god, why bother?

Jackie comes to us with this question…

hi, I just wanted to ask you guys that if you guys do not believe in God why bother and created a Blasphemy Challenge? why bother with something that does not exist? For example: If do not believe my husband is cheating on me 100% and to my knowledge there is no evidence that he is cheating on me, but every time he gets home I fight with him accusing him of cheating. That sounds ridiculous. Why fighting for something that inst there. So why the challenge? Maybe because you guys are not 100% sure that there is no God? Or you guys just don’t want to believe in God because you guys do not want to follow God’s instructions? Its ok if you guys dont. God made us with free will. You choose to follow Him or not thats all just simple. Why the hate for something that does not exist? ( that does not exist to guys af course) Hope you guys answer my question. Thank you guys for your time. I look forward to see your email with your thoughts. Best wishes =D. Sincerely, Jackeline P.S God bless you guys.

I see this question on Twitter all of the time and I find it, admittedly, a bit strange. To me, it should be obvious that since atheists don’t believe in gods, we can’t hate them. So why does this question get around so much? Are believers that naive? Do they really think we hate their god, and if so, why do they think that? Is your preacher telling you this? Why is he/she perpetuating a lie? Who keeps saying atheists hate gods? It’s certainly not atheists.

The reason the Blasphemy Challenge was created was for several reasons. First to show Christians that we do not fear their god (because we don’t believe it exists) and to show this lack of fear, what better way then committing what is referred to as “the unforgivable sin” which is to deny the holy spirit. The second reason was to show atheists that there are others just like them who don’t believe, and to feel a sense of unity. It was a great success. Lot’s of people took the challenge, it got publicity in the news, and a broader dialog was created.

Atheists do not hate gods. What we hate is the way religion pushes itself on to others. Take the phrase “One nation under god” in the pledge of allegiance for example. Most Christians today don’t realize that the original pledge never said “under god”. Here’s a video of the cartoon character Porky Pig saying the pledge before it was changed in the 1950’s….

Why was the pledge changed? Because of the great “Communist scare” of the 1950’s. The fear of communists was so strong that pressure was put on the government by religious lobbies and organizations to change the pledge to reflect the differences in our political structure and communism. Never mind that it doesn’t actually reflect the beliefs of all Americans.

I could go on to give you more examples of how religion interferes with personal liberties. Dry counties, decency laws, laws against homosexuals, laws against atheists holding public office, laws against women controlling their reproduction, public displays of religion on government property, forced prayer at schools, laws that withhold the progress of science, Religion can also be abusive by teaching that men have the right to lead women, that the natural desire for sex is wrong and that even touching oneself makes you less then human, and that child abuse is permitted (spare the rod and spoil the child).

For these reasons and more atheists speak out against religion. Atheists in the U.S. want this to be “One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” not just the religious.

So no, atheists don’t hate your god. We just don’t want your god belief to be pushed on us. Hope this answer helps.

 

Do you admire any Christians?

JimmyC asks….

There are many negative stereotypes about Christians. And, unfortunately many of those stereotypes prove to be true. Are there any Christians in your past or present that you admire and feel are misrepresented by the stereotypes? Thanks

Great question Jimmy and very original. We haven’t had that one here yet. Thanks.

There are many people who are christian that I admire. They range from my friends and family to politicians. What makes a person admirable to me isn’t what faith or political side they swing towards, it’s how they treat other people. I don’t care what a persons faith or lack of faith is as long as they lend a hand to someone who needs one. Christianity teaches that “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8 KJB) but few Christians actually practice this, which in turn creates the stereotype you’re referring to.

Jimmy Carter is a great example to me of a devout christian who practices charity. Instead of sitting on his ass after his presidency, he went out and built homes. He helped feed the hungry. He works toward improving the conditions of those that society has brushed aside. He also believes in the separation of church and state. If more Christians, hell, if more people of faith were like him, atheists wouldn’t have as much of a problem with them.

 

It’s okay to say “I don’t know”.

Todays question comes from Tejash who asks…

I am a very rational and logical person and although i don’t tend to fall into unnecessary arguments with theists but I have two questions about two known miracles. I need an answer desperately before my strong atheism hold gets shaken. 1) It is said – and i coudn’t find any against-article on google as well – that zamzam water (well) in mecca is always flowing and its in a desert. Therefore, its a miracle. Is this actually a miracle?. and if it is then what more do we atheists need as evidence. Please give a logical explanation asap so my believe in rationalism is not shaken 2) Dead body of a pharoh (by the name ‘firon’) was found in red sea and it has not decomposed for thousands of years. Which is scientifically not possible which many muslims claim. The reason why it has not decomposed is that its God’s miracle to show what will happen to your body if you do a lot of crimes like ‘firon’ did. Please tell me how do i rationally, scientifically, and logically disprove this because I could not find anything logical in it. I hope for a positive reply. Thank you.

I’m going to disappoint you by not specifically answering the two examples you gave me. Why? Because answering them doesn’t really help you. You see, the problem is that you’re committing a logical fallacy called “Argument from ignorance”. This is when you give an answer to something that you don’t really know or understand. For example saying “I don’t know how this happened, so it must have been Billy.” is an argument from ignorance. If you don’t know how something happened, how can you attribute it to anything? So simply put, just because you don’t know how these “miracles” happened doesn’t mean that a god did them. It just means you don’t know.

And that’s the tricky thing. Humans don’t like not knowing. It’s why we’ve made so many advancements. It’s why science is always striving to understand existence. It’s our curiosity that has driven us out of the caves and into the light. However that same yearning for answers can dupe us into thinking any answer is better than none at all. Sometimes we have to be okay with saying “I don’t know” because it’s only then that we leave ourselves open to finding the answer.

 

Does Grandma’s feeling trump parents decision?

Question from Val:

My wife and are atheists and my mother is constantly speaking with our 3 and 5 year olds about God. I don’t know how to approach it with her. She tried to read them a creation story book once and we told her no. She got very upset and said that her beliefs were a part of her and we were trying to suppress who she was with her grandchildren. I don’t want to alienate her but this has to stop. I feel our children can learn on their own and make their own decisions when they are older.

 

Answer from Erick:

Although I’m sure her heart is in the right place, she’s not being completely genuine. If she really wanted to share her beliefs with her grandchildren she would wait until they are old enough to not only understand what she’s talking about, but also old enough to be able to discern fact from fantasy.

That being said, the best approach is always a direct one. Having raised a child myself, I understand how it can be difficult dealing with family members who think it’s their mission to keep my kid from going to hell. My approach has always been the same. I ask them to stop and make it clear that if they don’t, they are risking not only their relationship with my child but with me as well. This is usually met with either anger or apologies. When met with anger the key is to stay calm and not allow yourself to get dragged into a theological debate. The discussion isn’t about the value of their religion. The discussion is about how you want your child raised. Stay firm. Let them know that you understand and appreciate their concern and that you’ve got everything under control in this area. If they still remain angry, then let them be angry. At that point there’s nothing you can do but allow them the space to move past their anger.

For me raising my child was more important then having family or friends upset that I wouldn’t let them take my kid to church. If they choose to get upset, then that is their choice. Their feeling don’t trump my child being raised to think for herself. You’re responsibility is to your child, not to others feelings.

Hope that helps. Let us know in the comment section bellow.

Prophecies or confirmation bias?

Question from: Alisco

Message: There are numerous prophecies in the Quran which has come true.

The Romans have been defeated in the lowest land, but after their defeat they will be victorious within three to nine years. The affair is Allah’s from beginning to end. On that day, the believers will rejoice. (Qur’an, Surat ar-Rum :1-4)

These verses were revealed around 620, almost 7 years after the idolatrous Persians had severely defeated Christian Byzantium in 613-14. In fact, Byzantium had suffered such heavy losses that it seemed impossible for it even to survive, let alone be victorious again.

In short, everyone was expecting Byzantium to be destroyed. But during this time, the first verses of Surat ar-Rum were revealed, announcing that Byzantium would triumph in 3 to 9 years. This predicted victory seemed so impossible that the Arab polytheists thought it would never come true.

But like all the other predictions in the Qur’an, this one also came true. In 622, Heraclius gained a number of victories over the Persians and conquered Armenia. In December 627, the two empires fought a decisive battle at Nineveh, some 50 kilometres east of the Tigris river, near Baghdad. This time too, the Byzantine army defeated the Persians. At last, the Persians were defeated as was predicted in the Quran.

Here’s the problem, prophecies are a funny things. We believe them when they confirm our bias, but ignore them when they don’t. For example take the TV show Star Trek. It predicted handheld personal communicators, medical imaging, high speed transfer of data, equality of the sexes, flat screen tv’s, compact disks, and more. Now, you wouldn’t claim that Gene Roddenberry was a prophet would you? Why not? Is it because he wasn’t part of the same religion as you?  Do you accept the prophecies made from other religions? Why not? Is it because you think that your belief in your religion is more justified then everyone elses? Did you come to that conclusion because of things like the prophecies you mentioned?

Hopefully you can see the vicious circle created by this kind of thinking. When we readily accept something because it agrees with our perspective, and don’t attempt to understand how and why that perspective could be wrong, we fall into a hole of disinformation that prevents us from seeing the truth of a thing.

This kind of thinking is called “Confirmation Bias“. It’s important to be aware of how our minds work and how we sometimes allow ourselves to think a certain way not because it’s true, but because we want it to be true. So how do we stop our brains from doing this? Well you can’t really stop it, but what you can do is learn to question your own assumptions. Why do I believe this to be true? What do the facts say about my “truth”? Do others agree or disagree and why? Could I be wrong, and if so, how? Asking these questions allows us to be a little more objective in our thinking and allows us to be aware of confirmation bias occurring.

I hope that answers your question. Feel free to discuss this further in the comment section below.

Why don’t scientists prove god doesn’t exist?

Question from Jan,

Hi! First, let’s realize the difference between the following three words: agnostic, atheist and antitheist. OK? Are you ready? So, how can someone who calls himself a scientist be an atheist (or even antitheist)? The science is based on proves – this is the difference between science and belief. Is there any prove of non-existence of something “supernatural” or something like “spiritual power” that is often labeled as “God”? I don’t believe so. I think it’s so arrogant and till the moment of an evidence of non-existence of these “spiritual things” all the so called scientists should choose between: 1) change their status from “atheist” to “agnostic” or 2) change their status from “scientist” to “believer”. Thanks.

Hi Jan, and thank you for your question.

I hate to say it, but there’s a lot wrong with your question. First let’s make sure we get the definitions right.

  1. Atheist: (a) without (theism) belief in gods. So an atheist is someone who lacks a belief in a god or gods.
  2. Antitheist: (anti) oppose (theism) belief in gods. An Antitheist is someone who opposes belief in gods.
  3. Agnostic: (a) without (gnostic) knowledge. An Agnostic is someone without knowledge in something.

Notice the difference between 1 and 3? Atheism and Antitheism (and theism) both deal with beliefs. Agnostic deals with knowledge. That’s an important distinction to make. Agnostic in the theological discussion isn’t as much a third position as it is a qualifier for both atheism and theism. A person can be both an atheist by lacking a belief in a god, and agnostic by not knowing if one exists.  A person can also be a theist by believing in a god, and agnostic by not knowing if one exists. With me so far?

Now let’s talk about what’s called “the burden of proof”. When someone makes a claim of existence, it’s their responsibility (or burden) to prove their claim. It’s not the other persons burden to prove them wrong. If I told you that snarfwidgetes exist, would my position be valid if you can’t prove me wrong even though I have no objective evidence for my claim? Of course not. So when you talk about “ Is there any prove of non-existence of something “supernatural” or something like “spiritual power” that is often labeled as “God”?” what you’re trying to do is switch the burden of proof from yourself, where it belongs, to the other person. It’s a dishonest tactic usually taught by preachers to their peritioners who simply don’t know any better. 

So, to answer your question, scientists can still be atheists and agnostics at the same time. They don’t have to provide any proof for your god not existing. It’s your responsibility as the one making the claim, to provide the proof.

I hope that answers your question. Feel free to continue this discussion in the comment section below.