Justification for punishment?

Our next question comes from Joel who asks…

Name: Joel
Message: Hi, I’m an open-minded Christian and I have a question for an atheist.

Is there any justification for punishment? For example, if a person murders a little child in cold blood, is there any just penalty for the offender? If so, what is it, and who gets to have the final say?

Hi Joel. Great question.

We learn about consequences at an early age. Touch fire, you get burned. Step on a sharp rock, you feel pain. Animals often teach their offspring lessons using consequence. A dog may nip it’s pup if it goes to far from it’s mother. An ape may bop it’s youngling on the head if it’s greedy. A father may take away tv privileges if his kid hasn’t done their homework. If you don’t support yourself, you may become homeless. Consequence is part of life.

When a society creates rules, as in, don’t steal from your neighbor, or don’t hurt another, it also includes consequences based on the severity of the rule that was broken. Steal, and you may spend a few months in jail. Murder, and you may spend your life there. The justification of consequence is that it will hopefully teach the person not to commit the crime again, or at the least be a warning to anyone who is considering doing something like it. The idea of hell is a psychological manifestation of consequence. Don’t obey god, and you might be tortured for eternity. For some, the fear of eternal damnation is enough to keep them honest. Some don’t need that fear however.

So there’s my answer Joel. If you need further discussion on the topic, feel free to use the reply link below.


If I don’t come out, am I being honest with myself?

Todays question comes from Mike who asks….

Name: Mike
Message: Out or in?  I was raised in a conservative Christian household, but can remember questioning my faith from an early age.  I played along for the sake of my family, but finally decided about five years ago that I am in fact an atheist .  Now in my 40’s, I have a wonderful fiance’ and friends who share and/or respect my beliefs, but I am wondering if I should “come out” as atheist to my parents, siblings, and childhood friends.  The prospect of this terrifies me.  My family are not just believers – they are committed Christians that feel you should be constantly in prayer, commit bible verses to memory, have a daily “walk” with Christ, etc.  I’m worried that this revelation would kill my mother.  Literally.  My father would probably react with anger and dismay.  I KNOW that they would spend the rest of their days praying for my lost soul.  I could face being ostracized by my sisters and childhood friends.

What should I do?  Do I spare my family the heartbreak of this news and continue to go through the motions?  Or am I betraying myself and lying to my family by not coming out?

Well Mike. That’s not an easy question to answer. In my own experience I was able to “come out” to most people in my family except my grandmother. I knew it would hurt her and I didn’t want to do that to her, so I avoided talking about it around her. To me, it wouldn’t have done any good.

Some people will say however that by not telling your family that you are somehow not being honest with yourself. I think the flaw in this argument is that there are things that we already keep to ourselves because we don’t consider them to be appropriate. For example most don’t share their sexual kinks with their family. Why not? It’s part of who we are isn’t it? Aren’t we lying by not telling our families that we may be into tentacle porn? (Just an example people. Keep calm.)

I think it’s a case by case basis. If you want to come out to those who you know won’t think less of you or that wont be hurt, than do so. I see nothing wrong though with keeping it to yourself if you think it will do more harm than good. That’s not being dishonest, that’s being compassionate.

One last thing, and this is something I always say to those who want to come out. Before you do, be an example. Be better then they expect you to be. Be kinder. Be more compassionate. Be more. Then when you do come out, if they judge you, they will be judging their prejudice of you, not you. Eventually with time, they may see that, and it may give them peace.

Hope that helps.

Abortion. Is it wrong?

Todays questions comes from Francesca who asks….

Do you believe abortion is wrong? If yes, why? If no, why not?

Wow Francesca, you’ve picked a controversial topic here haven’t you? I’ll do my best to answer.

First things first. Since atheists don’t have any tenants or rules to follow, what I’m about to tell you is my opinion and my opinion only. Just like theists, there are atheists who are pro abortion rights, and there are atheists who are anti abortion rights. The only thing that one atheist must have in common with another is a lack of belief in a god or gods. That’s it. Now with that out of the way….

My personal opinion on the subject is in 2 parts. The first part is that I believe that every person has a right to decide what happens with their body. I don’t believe in forced organ donation, or forced blood donation. I don’t believe that anyone has the right to tell another person what he or she should put into their body. I believe that this right extends in to death and that a person should have the right to decide what happens to their body when they are dead. I also believe that a person has the right to decide when he or she reproduces. No ones right supersedes the individuals right to control their own body. This is why if my kidney fails, I don’t have the right to take yours.

The second part is simple. I don’t have a uterus. Since I will never be faced with the decision of aborting a fetus, I don’t think that I have the right to tell someone who does, what she should do with her body, unless I am asked. If a woman becomes pregnant because of me, then I believe that I gave up my reproductive rights the moment I decided to have unprotected sex.

That’s pretty much it for my opinion on the subject. The main thing I want to reiterate, since this is Ask The Atheist, is that the only thing that one atheist must have in common with another is their lack of belief in a god or gods and that any opinion an atheist has on the subject of reproductive rights is theirs and theirs alone. If you have further questions feel free to ask in the reply section below.


Am I an atheist even though I believe in the paranormal?

Keith asks an interesting question…

Message: I don’t believe god exists. Why should i? What i know of religion is unbelievably contradictive and I’ve studied them all. I believe we all have a personal heaven as well as a hell. Depending on our choices in life. I believe in angels because I’ve heard ones voice. I believe in demons because I’ve come face to face with several. Not including my own.and i have never met a truly religious person who has been able to hold on to a shred of sanity. And to me the biggest BS about religion is people like
rapists can still go to Heaven if they sit in a box and say their sorry. I consider myself an Atheist but Im curious to know if I’ve labeled my self right?

Hi Keith. Great question.

In short, yes, you are an atheist. For a clearer understanding of what an atheist is, you can check out my video here. An atheist is just someone who has no active belief in a god or gods. That’s it. Nothing more than that.

As for your experience with angels and demons, the mind is a powerful thing. As I stated in my last post here the mind is always trying to justify itself. When I was a mormon I had experiences akin to the ones you’ve stated above and eventually came to understand that it was more likely that it was my mind creating these events then it was any type of paranormal event.

I hope that helps. If you have further questions on this subject please feel free to reply in the comment section below.

Letting go of the soul.

Today’s question comes from Eva who writes…

Message: Hello! I’m so glad I’ve found this site! I’ve recently separated myself from Christianity but its been quite difficult. My question is this. Can an atheist be spiritual? Spiritual meaning believing in spirits and an afterlife ect. Now obviously I understand that athiests believe in pure logic and science and therefore a spirit world per say would seem like an unlikely belief however I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a spirit world out there beyond this life. Would you agree? What are your thoughts?

Hi Eva. First, you’re right. The transition from theist to atheist can be a difficult one. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of our old ways of thinking even when presented with better ways. When I left theism it was a two year journey into atheism. I let go of Jesus, then god, and then finally the soul. Believe it or not, it was the last one that was the most difficult. The idea that we will continue on after death has more to do with how our mind works then anything else. The simplest way to explain this is that the mind always wants to justify itself. For example when we drop a pencil off of a desk and don’t realize it. We reach for the pencil that we swear we just saw a second ago, and it disappears. Our brain thinks the pencil is there, and because we didn’t see it fall, tells us that the pencil is still there. Magicians have been exploiting how our mind justifies itself for hundreds of years. I believe when it comes to souls, our brain, which knows it exists, can’t conceive of not existing because of the very fact that it does exist. It’s like telling someone not to think of a pink elephant and the first thing they do is think of a pink elephant. When we try to think of nonexistence our brain can’t imagine it without a perspective of existence. So it sends our minds into confusion. I believe this is why letting go of the idea of the soul is so hard.

There’s no easy fix for letting go of the idea of a soul. Maybe we have them, maybe we don’t. The truth is that there is no objective evidence for souls and until someone discovers it, there’s no reason to accept it. The way I see it is this, much like Schrodinger’s cat you wont know if there is no soul until after you die (open the box). If there is a soul, you’ll know after you die (open the box). So until you die, or someone comes up with a way to discover it, there’s no point in worrying about it. For me, I live my life as if I have no soul. I live it as if this life is the only one that I have, and that my true immortality exists in how I impact others around me. It’s why I do things like this website.

So ask yourself. How will you live on, after you die? What will be your immortality? Feel free to discuss it in the comment section below.

Christian question buffet.

Today we get several questions by J …..

Name: J
Message: As a Christian, I will readily admit that I have faith (as the Bible defines it: “..the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1)

I cannot prove to anyone the existence of God.  In fact the whole idea of being a Christian is to have faith in God without having to prove He exists scientifically or otherwise–and that being a personal decision devoid of coercion.  Though there is some science, history, and fact in the Bible, it is not a book on such topics.  I personally see the need for God and His Bible in my life and in society.

I respect the decisions, philosophy, and path that atheists choose, though I may agree to disagree with them.  Here are my questions to atheists (if I may ask more than one):

-Is religion needed in the world?
-Can atheism become a religion?
-Do you have to have faith to be an atheist?
-Can an atheists prove that God doesn’t exist?
-What’s more beneficial, being an atheist or agnostic?
-Where do atheists get morals?
-Why is it wrong to murder?

Respectfully, J

Those are a lot of questions J. Most have already been answered and you can use the handy search box on the upper right side of this page to search for them. In the mean time I’m going to give you short and to the point answers that can be expanded upon in the comments if you need more info.

Okay? Here we go…

Is religion needed in the world?
I hope not.

Can atheism become a religion?
Religion is the politics of mythology. Since atheism has no such mythology, I would say no. (Read more here.)

Do you have to have faith to be an atheist?
No. Don’t confuse faith with reasonable expectation.

Can an atheist prove that god doesn’t exist?
Can you prove that I don’t have an invisible intangible dragon living in my garage?

What is more beneficial? Being an atheist or an agnostic?
Being both. They are not mutually incompatible. (More here)

Where do atheists get morals?
The same place everyone else does. (More here)

Why is it wrong to murder?
If you don’t know the answer to that you should ask yourself why your god would create you without being able to understand why murder is wrong on your own.

And there you go. Feel free to ask follow up questions in the comment section below.

Why do atheists deny gods existence?

Mik’la asks..

Message: I will never understand why there are atheists around. There IS evidence that God exists. Just look at the change in a person’s life after becoming a christian. They are billions of people who’s lives has been changed completely. There was this man who was taking angel dust from before he was in high school. He was kicked out of his parent’s house when he was 20 because he was always getting in trouble. He smoked marijuana from age 20 to 30. From age 30 to 40 he smoked cocaine. From 40 to 50 he smoked heroin. After attending dozens of rehabs (all of which failed ), his father persuaded him to go to a christian rehab. There he went from atheist to agnostic to christian. He finally quit this horrendous addiction to drugs after years of trying. He decided that he wanted to help other people like himself and became a counsellor for those addicted to drugs. That is amazing evidence for the existence of God. Look at what He did with that man. Why are there still atheists around? Is it because no one has ever told them the truth or is it just that they are lying?

Hi Mik’la. Thanks for this question. I’ll do my best to answer it questions for you.

First of all. Before we evaluate any claim. The first thing that we need to do is define the type of claim. In the case of theism the claim is that a god exists. This is a claim of existence. The next thing we do is we look for a criteria, or in other words a method, with which we can evaluate the claim. When it comes to existence, the only valid criteria is the objective one. For a claim to be objective, it must produce the same results every time. For example if I hold out a rubber ball to you and say to you, “This is a rubber ball” and you understand that a rubber ball is a spherical object made out of rubber, you will naturally accept my claim. Then, you can turn to another and do the same, and so on, and so forth. You can do this over and over and each person will say “That is a rubber ball”. However if I were to approach you with my empty hand held out and told you that “This is a rubber ball” you would see that not only is there nothing in my hand, but that the nothing is neither rubber, nor a spherical object, and it becomes easy to dismiss my claim because it can not be objectively evaluated. We use this criteria every day to determine what exists and what doesn’t exist. It’s how we know when someone has a mental illness and claims that they see elves or pixies or tall 6 foot invisible rabbit named “Harvey”.

Keep in mind that there is not one thing that you know to exist, that doesn’t fall in to this already established criteria. Not a single thing.

So now we know how to tell if something exists or not. The next step is to evaluate the claims around its supposed existence. Most theists like to point at change that people make in their lives as proof of their gods existence. They will claim that because a person prayed to a particular god, and that because they felt that their prayer was answered, that this proves that their god exists. The problem with this is that it doesn’t actually prove which god is the real one? For every story that you hear of someone having their lives changed by Jesus, you can find other correlating stories of how someones life was changed by Allah, Vishnu, Elohim, Zeus, and so on. At this point you the believer are stuck with two choices. You can either claim that there are many gods, and that each person was just as right as you are for your claim of Jesus, or you have to say that all of those other gods are false and that only yours is right. Wait though! What happens if they make that same claim? Now you have thousands of different god beliefs, with their miracles and their scriptures all making near identical claims. How do you decide which one is right if all of them are claiming the same type of subjective evidence for their gods existence?

This only become a problem if we accept subjective evidence as valid towards a claim of existence, and it’s precisely why we don’t. The moment you accept subjective evidence as a valid claim of existence, then there becomes little to no difference in your claim that a god exists, and the claim of a schizophrenic who says that he see’s goblins.

So no. It isn’t that atheists are lying or that no one has ever told them. It’s that the evidence that theists produce for their gods, isn’t really evidence. There’s a great quote that sums it up perfectly…

“I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” — Stephen F Roberts

I hope that helps you to understand. Thanks again for the question!

Teenage atheism

This week we received two email with very similar themes….

Name: Dylan
Email: dylanblade.ex90@hotmail.com
Message: I’m 15 years old and I’ve been an atheist for about 1 1/2 years openly. I had been brought up in a baptist family and went to church for a year or two. I opened up to my parents about 3 weeks ago and they challenged me with such questions as “Prove he doesn’t exist.” I fought with them for a few hours and then my father claimed I was just uneducated on the subject and was just “talking out of my *ss.” I went to church for a year and learned much about God and decided that he didn’y exist. They now want me to go back to church to learn more about him. I do not wish to go back and sit through and hour of gibberish. Is there anyway that I can get out of church in a way that my parents can respect? If I had a logical reason my father will have to agree for he is a man with a respect for knowledge. I just wanted to ask if there was any way to get out of church, either with the U.S. legal system or even with just a good argument. Thanks in advance.

And this one….

Name: David H
Message: Hey im 13 years old and I’ve accepted being an atheists but i have 2 problems . 1. I have a fear that devil might exists i have tried getting over that a lot of times but its just stuck to my head what can i do? 2. My parent wont accept or let me be an atheist and I know I have right for my decisions  what do I do what do I tell them ??

Hi there Dylan and David. I hope you two don’t mind if I answer your questions together. It’ll save me some time. David, don’t worry, I’ll get to the first part of your question towards the end.

First the bad news. You both are minors. That means that until you are on your own and independent, your parents are responsible for your well being, both mental and physical. This means that they have to try to help you become a decent person. For a lot of parents this means installing a sense of faith in a god by giving you their religious values. I know it’s easy to believe that they are trying to suppress you and force you to believe what they believe, however keep in mind that being a parent is a sometimes scary thing. They have a lot of hopes for your future. They want things to go well for you, and having a god on your side, to them, can only help. In other words, they are doing the best they know how, and for right now, you don’t have a choice in the matter. This means that if they want you to go to church, you go to church.

Now obviously they can’t force you to believe, and to some degree they know that. What they are doing is gambling on your lack of life experience and hoping that if they keep pushing you in the right direction, that eventually you will see things the same way they do. Try to not be to upset with them. They just don’t know a better way. They feel pressure from their own past, their community, and society as a whole to indoctrinate you into their faith. If you keep this in mind, and try to understand that they have the best intentions for you, then the rest of what I will tell you will make sense and help you to show them that your lack of faith, isn’t going to ruin your life.

First, be more then they think you can be. Show them that being an atheist doesn’t make you less compassionate. It doesn’t make you less moral. Show them this by BEING more moral. By BEING more compassionate. If you’re acting like some brat who sits around and plays games all day and doesn’t do his chores, then how can you expect them to believe that you can make the right choices for yourself if you can’t even keep your room clean? I’m not saying you have to be a perfect child, however a little maturity can go a long way in this matter. How can they think less of you, if you are doing more then they expect?

Next, show them some respect. I understand that you may no longer respect their faith, but don’t allow that to be the cause of your disrespect for your parents. Fighting and arguing will only push them to push you in to their way of thinking, If they want you to go to church, then go to church. You can still, if asked, talk about your lack of belief, but do it in a respectful way. Do a Google search for the ” Socratic form of argumentation ” and teach yourself how to ask the right questions of your parents in order to get them to understand where you are coming from.

There are no laws that protect the religious rights of minors. There is no magic argument that will convince your parents that you are right. At your age your parents aren’t looking to see what you know, they want to see if you can put what you know in to practice. So show them.

Oh and David, here’s a great post by SmartLX on fear of the devil. Check it out.

I hope that helps !

Don’t we need a god to save us?

Susan asks: Seeing all of the bad things that happen in our world, how can you not pray to a god to save us from all of this?

Jake answers: Because we’re doing fine enough on our own. Yes there are plenty of problems in the world. Hunger, violence, disease, finances, but compared to 100 years ago, we are as a species doing much better then we have in the past. People are living longer, there is less violence, people have access to information like never before, and so on. People pay to much attention to the news whose job it seems to be to report even the most insignificant negative story in order to get ratings.

In truth, religion like the news, is dependent on things being bad as well. Why else would you need a savior unless the world was quickly decaying into chaos? Why else would you need clerics to tell you how to live your life unless it was because people are to immoral to figure it out for themselves? Like I said in my post about overcoming adversity without a god religions job is to tell you that things are bad, that humans are weak petty things and that unless you have a sky daddy looking over you, you’re going to suffer. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When was the last time you heard a preacher talk about how great things are? How even though there’s hunger, we still feed (and yes I know, throw away) more people then we ever have in the history of mankind? When was the last time you heard a priest talk about how things like the flu used to kill millions each year or how only a 100 years ago the average life span was 25? How about how most countries don’t have child labor or how women across the world now have more rights then they ever have? I’m not saying things can’t get better but the truth is there are people out there coming up with solutions to world problems more then at any point in history. It’s not religion that is making things better, it’s science. Science has given us agriculture, medicine, technology, and more. It’s individuals who studied and used the scientific method to come up with solutions to problems, and you know what ? There’s no reason to believe that science wont continue to make things better. So ask yourself, why doesn’t religion tell us these things?

The simple answer is because they need you to believe that things are bad. Religion doesn’t want things to go well for humans because if people realized they didn’t need to be saved from an invisible devil who tempts us to do wrong, or from ourselves, they might also realize that they don’t need religion.

How do I overcome adversity without god?

Barclay asks: God has helped me get through some terrible times in my life. I’ve lost both of my parents when I was young, beat cancer into remission, and I win over alcoholism daily. I couldn’t have done any of these things on my own or without the help of my lord and savior. Why would you want to try and take this source of strength away from me or anyone else?

Jake answers: Welcome Barclay. You’ve touched on a very dear topic to me, one that I have written about before on another website. So instead of writing a new post, I’m going to repost my article here and hope that it adequately answers your question.

You are stronger then you think.

One of the things I hate the most about religion, and theism in general, is this idea that without a god to help us along, we would fail. You see this attitude with people going through addiction rehab. They claim that if not for their god, they wouldn’t have been able to get off of whatever substance that they were abusing. They ignore the doctors, the medicine, the support system, their own inner will, and give the glory to their god.

Imagine for a moment that you have a child who has just made an achievement in their life. It doesn’t matter what it’s for, graduating, winning a race, top of their class, whichever. Now imagine that your kid, when asked how he or she achieved this goal, ignored all of the hard work and effort that they just put in, and claimed that Spiderman helped them ? That if it wasn’t for Spiderman, they wouldn’t have been able to do it. It would be a gigantic ” WTF? ” moment wouldn’t it ? You and most people out there would think your kid was either crazy or at the least delusional. Yet replace “Spiderman” with “God” and practicaly no one blinks an eye.

Now, the obvious thing here is to point out that just like Spiderman, god isn’t real. That’s not what I want to get at though. What I want to write about today is the underlying message about how a person thinks of themselves. A persons sense of value. In the case above, the person who gives all of the credit to their god is essentially saying that they don’t believe in themselves. This is what bugs me. People not believing in themselves.

Here is the truth, of your existence as well as my own. The truth is that so far through out your life, you have found ways over, under, around, through, between, out of, every single problem that you have ever had, and that there is no reason to believe that you wont continue to do this in the future, Did you get that ? Read it again. Read it a third, a fourth, and a fifth time. Read it until you memorize it. This is your true strength. Not a god. It’s you. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for. You have more will power than you allow yourself to believe. You can over come any and all adversity. The great thing is, you don’t have to do it alone. There are people out there who have trained for years to help you. If you are strong on your own, imagine how much stronger you would be with people who have trained to help you understand just how strong you can be ? These people are scientists, doctors, nurses, therapists, psychiatrists, social workers, etc. These people are standing by right now to help you. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that you can’t over come your problems. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that you are weak, and that without a god your are helpless. That’s a lie. Theism cheats people of their true strength. It robs them of their own sense of will.

You aren’t weak. You aren’t a sinner. You aren’t unworthy. You are stronger than they want you to believe. Let go of that crutch and walk on your own. Use the tools available to you and learn to believe in yourself. Imagine how much better the world would be if all of the time and energy put in to praying for help, was instead used to help ourselves ? You can do it. You are stronger than you think.

I hope that answers your question.