Psychology 20 Questionnaire

Question from :
I’m currently taking Psychology 20 in school and would like to ask you a few questions about atheism for a project on spirituality if you have the time. The questions are:

1. How does your faith or understanding of the world shape your worldview?
2. How do you justify your actions (good and bad) for your belief system?
3.What gives you meaning and purpose?
4.What are ways you express yourself and why?
5. How do you view the idea of the soul and/or the afterlife?

Hoping for a quick response and thank you for taking the time to answer.

Answer by SmartLX:
Not my quickest response ever, but not bad. Here we go.

1. My view of the world is that it’s shaped and influenced by natural forces, which are powerful but undirected and certainly not worth pleading with. I’m acutely aware that many do not feel this way, so I see what appears to be a great deal of effort wasted because it’s spent trying to please gods that I don’t think are there.

2. I care for myself, and as a social animal I care for the people around me. My awareness of the world beyond my immediate surroundings extends that expression of care to all the people of the world, generally speaking. I justify my actions in terms of the benefit and harm they do to myself and other people, not necessarily in that order, with a view to maximising benefit and minimising harm. The exact meanings of those two quantities I often re-evaluate based on the situation, so that I’m not thinking in a way that doesn’t apply to the circumstances at hand.

3. I choose what my purposes are. From personal achievements to the welfare of selected others (that is, not all purposes are selfish), I devote myself to realising those things I want to bring to fruition. This gives my life meaning to me, and to many others, though not to everyone. This is enough, because whether my life matters to all strangers is not something I worry about.

4. I speak, I write, I sing, I draw, I work, I dance, I play, I struggle, I love. I do these things because I can.

5. The soul does not appear to exist, because identity and consciousness are products of the brain and are damaged or destroyed when the brain is. After the death of the brain there is nothing left of a person to experience any kind of afterlife.

More Than a Feeling? Not Even a Feeling

Question from Dylan:
As an Atheist, do you have that feeling/thought deep down that tells you there has to be a God? I was an Atheist for my whole life and fought with the idea of god, even though I felt it was right. I couldn’t bring myself to believe because I didn’t have cold hard evidence right in front of me and obviously didn’t want to waste my life on something that may be false. Long story short I found faith during some hard times, I accepted Jesus and have never felt the same.

I just wanted to say that if you do have that feeling deep down that God is real, give it a chance. From one human to another, faith has changed my life entirely and after stumbling upon your site I felt compelled to share this with you. Sorry if you’ve already completely made up your mind, I just thought I’d give it a shot. Just keep in mind that sometimes the heart knows best.

Enjoy your Sunday and take care mate.

Answer by SmartLX:
I didn’t have that feeling even when I was a Christian. I just accepted what I was told and assumed God was real right up until I realised that some people didn’t believe, and some of the theology (though I hadn’t learned the term) didn’t really make sense to me. This led to a minor crisis of faith at age 11 and I just stopped thinking about it all. A couple of times I reassured myself that certain coincidences were God at work, but they were just so trivial and the argument felt hollow, so I dropped it again. Finally I took stock as an adult and realised my belief had faded entirely, and the world made more sense without a god than with. My heart did not object, and I felt no disappointment. Rather, I felt freed.

Faith does change lives, I wouldn’t dispute that. It even changes some lives for the better overall, though of course it has its drawbacks from a secular perspective. But it’s not the only thing that can effect that sort of positive change, and the change does not depend on the god actually being real because it may simply be all you, with a new attitude. But it’s all good, do what you’re compelled to do.

Help With Your Homework

Question from Sheena:
Hello, I’m currently studying Year 10. I would like to ask you a few questions with my Religion major assignment. If it’s okay.

Here are the questions:
1. What is your name?
2. What is the reason you became an Atheist?

Hoping for your immediate response.

Answer by SmartLX:
Sure it’s okay Sheena, but wow, that’s all they told you to ask? But then I suppose “why” is the only question that’s really on one’s mind when faced with a person whose position is so different from one’s own.

1. My name’s Alex, and you can give them any surname you want and they’ll accept it. Alex is a very common given name. Or be honest and say you asked a public blogger, this site will prove you right and they’ll understand my unwillingness to throw my whole name around.

2. I was a self-professed Christian until about the age of 11-12, when I was suddenly shocked by the fact that I didn’t have an answer to the Problem of Evil: why evil exists in the world if there’s a God who’s all-powerful, all-knowing and absolutely good. (Years later I didn’t just find one answer but far too many different ones; it became clear that no one really knows. But that was after the fact.) It was too hard to think about and I had teen things to focus on, and I moved from a Catholic primary school to a secular high school, so I didn’t consider religion seriously for almost 15 years. Without the constant reinforcement from within and without I barely prayed, I only went to church for Easter and Christmas and zoned out both times, and I only read the Bible when tracking down quotes (like the speech from Pulp Fiction).

Then in 2006 I read about Richard Dawkins and New Atheism, when journalists were all writing their first articles on the subject. Without reading any of Dawkins’ work or knowing any of his contemporaries’ talking points, I suddenly asked myself whether I still believed in God. It turned out that I didn’t, my simple opinion was that His existence no longer seemed likely. I was by definition an atheist. You should note that this is when I realised I was an atheist – the point when I became one could have been any time in the preceding years.

I recognised that this was a pretty big turnaround, so THEN I started digging into the meat of the debate to see if I was missing something. I searched the Web for the best arguments in favour of God, or any other god. Every one of them was plainly flawed (as I’ve chronicled in my Great Big Arguments series). There were certainly plenty of people willing to defend the arguments, but their defenses just weren’t convincing. I hadn’t known of this general weakness in the “apologetic” as a Christian boy, but it didn’t matter because I didn’t even know the arguments, I had merely accepted what I was told. I’d only known atheists existed because my father is one, and he only ever told me on two occasions.

So there you have it. I’m an atheist because I took a break from religion long enough to lose my emotional connections to it, and when I returned to the subject it was easier to see that faith was not intellectually justified. If the right justification finally came along it would be a different story, but I’m still waiting. In the meantime I live my life as if there is no god, and from that perspective much to do with religion appears pretty rotten.

You Don’t Have to Know to Not Think So

Question from Neil:
Why do atheists mostly dismiss the existence of an intelligent creator of any kind?

I see no firm evidence of any god being especially the Old Testament one, he doesn’t seem to be aware the Earth moves among many other things!
But I accept the possibility that one could exist and may have caused the Big Bang.

Until we discover what did cause the Big Bang it seems arrogant to dismiss the possibility.

Athiests are accused of being arrogant (mainly by arrogant religious people). I wonder if they’re right or are most atheists really agnostics?

Answer by SmartLX:
It all depends, heavily, on the atheist.

Like you I acknowledge the possibility, however remote, that there is or was a creator god or equivalent entity. To know for a fact that there wasn’t one would take more information than the human race as access to at the moment. I’m still an atheist because I don’t think or believe that there was a creator, but I accept that there’s a chance I’m wrong simply because I don’t know. That makes me an agnostic atheist, same as Dawkins, same as Dennett and same as many other prominent atheists who spell out their positions in public. I think most or at least a lot of atheists are agnostic but statistics on that are hard to come by.

Those who claim to know there’s no god are gnostic atheists and when I discuss gods with them, like you I ask them how they think they know.

If Questions Came By Instant Messaging

Question from Rachael:
ok i guess i don’t understand how a person can be atheist i mean how can u go through the world knowing that ur going to hell even if u don’t want to believe it

Answer by SmartLX:
Sorry it took so long to get to these next four, but they were incorrectly submitted in the comments of the question submission page instead of using the form, and I’ve worked through the correct submissions first.

It’s quite simple Rachael. If you actually don’t believe in God, you usually don’t believe there’s a Heaven or a Hell either. Removing the existence of God from your worldview doesn’t just leave a Christian worldview with a God-shaped hole cut out of it. The whole afterlife mythology goes out the window (possibly after a long period of “faithdrawal”), and you’re left with one life to live as best you can. So you do that, often with a great deal less fear.

Hope Is A Plentiful Thing

Question from Jun:
This may be similar to a question already asked about dealing with adversity, but I feel it is sufficiently different to stand on its own: How does an atheist overcome thoughts of despair, of giving up, even suicide, when things look hopeless? Christians turn to passages in Scripture or to prayer. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you very much.

Answer by SmartLX:
That’s okay, I think Jake answered the last one about this so I haven’t had a go in a while.

Look at it this way: what does God provide that gives you hope and a reason to go on? Whatever the answer, atheists get it from somewhere else because since they don’t believe in God they don’t believe God is the only source of these things. That can be hard to comprehend for people who think God IS the only source, which is why this question crops up regularly, but without a central theist belief a lot of secondary theist assumptions which you might not even realise you make suddenly go out the window.

Purpose, for example, can come from almost anywhere because people choose their own purpose. Even those who believe in God admit they don’t know what God’s larger plan is or how they personally figure into it, so they make their own choices about how best to serve Him. Not thinking that one has a divine purpose isn’t much worse than not knowing what one’s supposed divine purpose is, and allows more freedom in the choice because it can go entirely outside the realm of religion. Many social and political activists choose what cause to support in direct opposition to the mainstream religious dictates of the day, some because they don’t think the deity is real and some because they think the deity actually disagrees with the religion. Whatever is most important to you in life can become your purpose if you throw yourself into it. And if it ceases to be fulfilling or worthwhile, you can spin on a dime and pursue something else.

To tackle the other major point, people looking for a reason not to commit suicide need not only a purpose but a reason to think there is good to be found in the world. The point is worth hammering that if God doesn’t exist, God isn’t the only source of good in the world because there IS good in the world regardless. However you define “good” it’s happening out there somewhere, you just need to look for it. There’s no denying that terrible things happen all the time, but even in the middle of tragedy some of the greatest deeds are found. The Reverend Fred (aka Mr) Rogers often said as his mother said to him that whenever something awful was happening one should look for the people helping.

Another thing atheists see differently is that they think this life is the only one we have. Therefore leaving it prematurely gives no chance of a better subsequent life. Happiness can only be found in this life, so the only way to achieve it is to stick it out.

A Relationship with the Divine

Question from Samson:
I am studying philosophy and worldview and I’m currently working on an assignment where we are meant to explore this question:
“What is the relationship between humanity and the Divine?”

If you aren’t sure how to answer the particular question outright, I think answering these questions might give me what I’m interested in knowing:

1. Do atheists believe in any gods or supreme beings?
2. Do you believe in the supernatural or paranormal at all? Not just gods, but stuff like ESP, magic, mind reading, ghosts, etc.
3. Does life or humanity have intrinsic value?
3a. If not, is there any way for a human or their life to be “valuable” or have meaning?

Answer by SmartLX:
The main question is easily answered from an atheist perspective: “probably none”. There has to be a Divine for humanity to have any real relationship with it; if there’s not then much of humanity is operating on false assumptions, and any perceived relationship is in their heads.

And now for the rest of the questions, which I’ve numbered above for clarity.

1. Atheists, by definition, do not believe in any gods, and most definitions of a “supreme being” are close enough to a god as makes no difference. For instance, there’s a similarly poor standard of available evidence and logical arguments for a non-divine supreme being, so it fares no better than gods in that respect.

2. Lots of atheists believe in supernatural or paranormal phenomena. For instance I’ve discussed ghosts with many self-proclaimed atheists who believe in them for various reasons. It’s consistent (to some extent at least) for an atheist to believe in such things if they do not necessarily require a god to exist. I personally do not believe in any such things, as far as I’m aware.

3. Look up definitions of value and you will find expressions like “the regard that something is held to deserve” and “one’s judgement of what is important in life” (emphasis mine). Value is subjective by its very nature, because it has to have value to someone. Even its definition as a verb is phrased along the lines of “consider (someone or something) to be important or beneficial”, which is again dependent on the one doing the considering. For something to have “intrinsic value” it would need to be of value to the universe as a whole, entirely independent of people. That either means the universe is conscious and values certain things, or it is controlled by an entity such as a god which has its own values. Atheists don’t think either is the case, so there’s no such thing as intrinsic value to us – unless you instead define value in terms of physical quantities. A pint of beer might cost $10 or it might come for free or it might save or end a life, but it will always measure one pint.

3a. The above does not stop us from valuing things, because subjective judgments are still judgments. Life has value to the living, humanity has value to humans, and we’re all living humans so we can happily behave as if they are intrinsically valuable. If there’s no god then you’re not looking for a stamp of approval for your values from the universe at large, only from the people your values may impact or impress.

With that covered, take a step back and consider the nature of question 3a. I don’t know whether you’re repeating it from somewhere, but it could be considered an attempt to have atheists admit a bleak, nihilistic outlook, as the existence of 3a makes it look likely that the answer to 3 is “no” and the answer to “3a” might just be “none”. If this is the author’s motivation, it is an appeal to consequences as it does not say anything about whether atheism is right or justified. Apologies if this is clearly not the author’s intention, but it is exactly the intention of some advocates so I wanted to mention it regardless.

This Is Not A Boys’ Club, Dammit

Question from Kris:
Background information for my question: I am female atheist (not atheist agnostic, but an atheist who doesn’t believe in any supernatural power or being) who studies human evolution in the Cradle of Humanity in Kenya.

I have noticed many, not all, male atheists seem to aggressively question my atheism. I have never had this issue with other female atheists.

So my question is actually two parts, one for female atheists and the other for general atheists.

So for the female atheists, has anyone else experienced this aggressive questioning of their atheism by fellow atheists?

And why do some male atheists need to question females’ atheism?

Answer by SmartLX:
I regret that there are no female atheists currently “on staff” here, as it’s just me for the moment. Women are more than welcome to answer by comment, and incidentally if anyone male or female would like to be a contributor it won’t hurt to write via the “Ask it here!” form and let me know.

I think the simplest answer to your second question is one word long: sexism. Some atheists think their own atheism is a sign of intelligence and resistance to social pressure. If they also think that women tend to be of lower intelligence and more susceptible to social pressure, they may come to the prejudiced conclusion that few women have the necessary qualities to be real atheists.

If they are sexist to the extent that their own sense of masculinity depends on a perceived superiority to women, they may actively resist the idea of a contemporary female atheist, because a woman who’s an intellectual equal threatens their self-image. The only way to act out this resistance, as silly as it sounds, is to interrogate you and ideally uncover you as a false atheist. One can only guess at what they think your motivations might be; perhaps they suspect you’re trying to sound more intelligent and independent than you really are.

Meanwhile in the real world, of COURSE women can be atheists, of COURSE women can equal or surpass men intellectually, and an inverse statistical correlation between religiosity and intelligence has been shown by several studies (here’s a meta-analysis) but the causal nature of the link has not been established. It’s not surprising that the atheist community isn’t free from sexism as sexism isn’t only caused by religion, but it’s still disheartening when women (and minorities) aren’t welcomed.

What’s The Use?

Question from Tsahpina:
I am a strong atheist and as such one of those who keeps trying to put reason in believers’ minds. I believe I have never succeeded in anything, except to get unnerved so badly that I now hate them. Yes, hate them.

So, my question to fellow atheists is why bother even talking to to them about their silly uneducated beliefs?

I mean, can any atheist tell me any good reason why I should bother to even consider them as people with reason?

Answer by SmartLX:
Believers are not by definition devoid of reason. Some people probably are, but it’s not true of someone simply because they have an unjustifiable belief. It just means their reasoning is based on incorrect or unsupported premises, they have reasoned incorrectly, or their emotions have overridden or railroaded their reason. The most intelligent of us can be wrong about very important things, and still defend our positions on them very strongly.

You are expecting too much of believers and of yourself if you think they will simply drop their long-held beliefs during one conversation with you. Beliefs are seldom dispelled in an instant; if you’ve heard of true-believer syndrome, you know that they can even be reinforced when the objects of belief are utterly debunked. The most you can realistically hope for in a single exchange is to bring someone to a state of aporia. Simply put, it’s when they respond with (or at least think), “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that, and I can’t reconcile it with my position right at this moment. I need to go and think about this some more before we discuss it further.” Their mind will process what was said and realised, and their position will have changed at least a little by the time they want to talk about the subject again – or, they will have found new logic or evidence they didn’t previously have to hand which supposedly supports their position. Either way the discussion will have moved forward.

As for why you should bother discussing beliefs with believers at all, that’s up to you. Many atheists decide that it’s not worthwhile and never do it, or keep it to specific situations. For those who do think it’s worth doing, it’s because it benefits someone. It might benefit the believer to be freed from religious beliefs because the beliefs are doing them harm, or holding them back, or making them unhappy, or putting pressure on their friends and family. It might benefit atheists and those whose beliefs don’t match those of the given believer, because reduced devotion to one dogma can mean less prejudice toward others, and toward a lack of dogma. I do it because I think people would be better off abandoning religion of their own accord, and by and large I restrict my efforts to this site.

No god or probably no god?

Question from Mark:
Claiming that there is no god is a universal negative. So, my question is, do most atheists flat-out claim that there is definitely no god, or is it more often than not an “it’s not probable” argument?

Answer by SmartLX:
No, not most atheists. Some atheists, sure, but not the majority and not the most prominent atheists, and not me. Even Richard Dawkins, when he created a scale of 1 to 7 from total belief to total disbelief, rated himself a 6.9 to leave room for some possibility.

Certainty in the absence of gods is called gnostic atheism. Gnosis is a knowledge of the spiritual, so gnostic atheism is just knowing that there’s nothing there. The obvious question for a gnostic atheist, as you imply, is how can one know such a thing? For me there’s no good answer to this, though that doesn’t imply by itself that positive belief in a god is justified.