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.

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.


Everything’s A God These Days

Question from John:
I’m having difficulty grasping the concept of an “atheist.” Perhaps you can clarify it for me.

The concept of a person who doesn’t have belief in a particular god, or a person who is certain that a particular god doesn’t exist, is quite clear. (For example, a person who doesn’t believe in the Judeo-Christian god, or who is convinced that the Judeo-Christian god doesn’t exist.) That’s different, though, from someone who doesn’t believe in ANY god of any sort.

A person might claim that they are an “atheist” because there is no scientifically-acceptable evidence for ANY god. Fair enough, as long as that person is also agnostic. But, is there really no evidence for any sort of god? Most atheists would challenge the claim that there is no evidence for the existence of dinosaurs in spite of the fact that no (non-feathered) dinosaurs exist today, and in spite of the fact that there is no direct evidence of them. (So-called “dinosaur bones” dug out of the earth aren’t bones at all. They’re stones with impressions or forms that resemble bones.)

Wouldn’t a highly technologically-advanced extraterrestrial meet every criterion for a god, as dictionaries define the word “god”? (Like many English words, the term “supernatural” has multiple definitions. Some popular dictionaries define “supernatural” as defying natural law in principle, while others define it as appearing to, or seeming to, defy natural law. Go ahead and do a survey of dictionary definitions for yourself.) If “appearing to defy natural law” is one popular definition for the term “supernatural,” then technologically-advanced beings have “supernatural” powers and meet any and every definition of a polytheistic god.

Modern, technological humans have “supernatural” powers, too, compared to tribal peoples. We can bring the dead back to life, fly through the air faster than the speed of sound, and vaporize a forest with the push of a button. Could Zeus or Thor do much better? Even if our powers don’t seem fully god-like now, they will be in a few generations. Additionally, is there not ample evidence supporting the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations with technology far superior to our own? We don’t need to see and touch a living dinosaur to accept the reality of their existence. Do we need to make first contact with an extraterrestrial species to accept the reality of their existence, given the data we do have?

Is the claim that there is no evidence for the existence of any sort of god a reasonable justification for being an “atheist.”

Answer by SmartLX:
The more you broaden the definition of a god, the more likely it will include something which exists, because more entities both known and hypothetical fall into the category. Hyper-advanced aliens are one thing, but you talk about counting modern humans as gods, which means you’re taking into account practically any possible use of the word “god”. In a nutshell, atheists do not.

Atheism is literally the absence of theism, which is religious belief in a god figure. You could broaden that too, but belief in humans or belief in aliens doesn’t generally qualify as theism. The ontology of a true “god” is often debated, but enough of its hypothetical qualities are near-universally agreed upon by believers and non-believers alike that they can have a coherent discussion about gods together, and one more or less settled point is that a god does not have a natural origin. As Richard Dawkins wrote, advanced aliens might well appear to be gods, but they wouldn’t BE gods because they would have come about naturally like we did, probably via a process like Darwinian natural selection – unless of course they had a hand in our development, in which case they came about MORE naturally than we did.

To look at this from another angle, consider that if there were no religion, no one would bother to identify as an atheist, any more than the term “abolitionist” persisted in America after slavery was successfully abolished there. Vocal, activist atheism is a reaction to religious faith, and thus concerns itself with the same kinds of gods that people believe in, the gods people worship, and importantly the gods in whose names people act. In other words, theistic gods. Atheists claim that there is no good evidence for the gods which are the subjects of religious faith. This is not redundant or circular because the faithful do not define their gods in terms of atheism. They’ll happily tell you what their gods are like, what they’ve done and what they want from us.

Since you mentioned agnosticism: Most atheists are also agnostic because they do not claim to KNOW there are no gods (as gods are defined above). They will make the positive claim that there’s no available evidence for gods, but absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. Besides, incontrovertible evidence might turn up tomorrow in Guam for all we know.

Incidentally, you completely lost me when you said there’s “ample evidence supporting the existence of extraterrestrial civilisations”. There’s currently no unambiguous evidence at all, just a lot of probability-based arguments along the lines of the Drake equation and the unsupported claims of a community of UFO enthusiasts.

If there is a god, wouldn’t faith be insulting to it?

Todays question comes from DK who asks…

Name: DK
Message: I have read enough of the questions and responses to gain a general understanding of why you have chosen to be an atheist…  In saying that, I do believe there is a God.  I was raised in a Christian home, and have been taught Biblical principles my entire life.  I am actually a student pastor at the church I attend, and I am in the process of creating a message series proving the existence of God through Biblical and physical evidence.  My belief, much like yours, is that Christians, as a whole, are viewed as ignorant and hypocritical, because their behavior and the claims they make personally, come from very little understanding of who God is and why they actually believe in him.  For most, Christianity is just what they were always taught was “the right thing to believe.”  Without a belief in God being built on a firm foundation of evidence, any belief you express in that regard, whether in word or deed, will lack conviction and lead to instability.  While I am still searching for all the answers, my conviction comes from having personally experienced God’s intervention in my life.  I am not referring to a sense of a being I have never seen that I have made a blind assumption is the presence of God; I am referring to him making a way for me in times when I, despite my greatest effort, could not accomplish something or meet a desperate need.  Ultimately, whether you believe in Christianity or science, Creation or Evolution, we will all be searching for answers until the day we die, some of which we may never be able to answer completely or even at all.  In an effort to gain a better understand of your perspective as an atheist, have you considered the possibility that you are attempting to justify your position from an intellectually finite perspective, when the answers we are all looking for come from an infinite origin?  The Bible says in Proverbs that men judge the outward appearance; God judges the heart.  While having enough understanding of God to be confident in your belief of Him is im!
portant, we can allow our relentless pursuit of understanding God through everything we see to push us away from Him when we don’t find all the answers, when the truth is, we will never have all the answers.  Even a scientist when he verifies a hypothesis understands that, while he may have uncovered a portion of the truth, there is still much left to discover.  Does that make his belief in his original findings any less true?  God does not expect us to have all the answers before we trust Him.  He only wants to bring us peace in the midst of uncertainty – to bring joy and hope to our hearts in a world that is in a constant state of moral decay.  He wants us to trust that if we believe in Him instead of working tirelessly to solve a problem on our own, He can help us through the trials we face.  However, He has given us the free will to choose whether we give Him the chance to do so.  I say these things not to preach at you, but from the first hand experience of, at one time, being in your shoes-of questioning the existence of God.  You cannot experience God’s true purpose until you stop trying to answer everything with your head, and give Him the opportunity to change your heart.  That is the choice He has given you.  What are your thoughts?

Great question and I want to get right to what’s bothering me about what you just said, in fact, it’s one of my biggest problems with the judeo-christian belief system.

It’s dishonest.

Let’s for a minute assume that there is a god and that it wants us to find it. How has it set things up for us to determine how everything else exists? What is the criteria for determining existence? In short, ( I go into greater detail here. ) it’s through objective, verifiable means. So why is it, then when religion comes around, it says that “god” wants us to find it not with the rational, the intelligence, and the brain that said god gave to us, but in a way that’s exactly the opposite? Remember, god through it’s creation has already taught us how to determine what exists and what doesn’t. So why ask it’s creations to toss that out the window? It’s like telling us that dirt is water, the sun is dark, things fall upwards, and that women get pregnant from kissing. We know it’s not how the world, ( which in this scenario has a god ) was set up.

If there is a god, faith would be insulting to it.

A lot of believers at this point like to tell me that faith is a test, and that we need to let go of everything that said god has already taught us, and believe in it despite all of that. Well isn’t that exactly what a person or organization who wants you to think that god is on their side would tell you since they can’t actually produce a god? They would try to convince you to stop thinking about it. After all, you’re human and can’t begin to understand the ways of god. They would tell you that it’s better to believe without evidence because it would show their god that you really trust it. They would show you places in the world that match places in their stories and try to use that as evidence. They would villainize anyone who didn’t agree with them, telling you how evil and immoral everyone else is, and how you need to convince them to believe as you do for their own sake. They would tell you that everything good in your life was given to you by their invisible, anti irrational criteria for a god. It’s insidious and it’s dishonest. I believe that it can be said that the only honest seekers of the divine are atheists.

There was one more thing that you said that bothers me. You said, “I am referring to him making a way for me in times when I, despite my greatest effort, could not accomplish something or meet a desperate need.” I hear this from time to time from believers, and it disturbs me not only because of the underline message of human devaluation, but because I can’t believe that a loving god would want it’s creation to think so low of itself. I go into deeper explanation in my post titled “How do I overcome adversity without a god?

I hope this and the other two articles I mentioned here answered your question for you. If you have any further thoughts please feel free to use the comment section below.

The Unproveable Absence of God

Question from MiK’la:
Atheists always ask the Christian to prove that God exists. What proof is there that He doesn’t exist?

Answer by SmartLX:
None, but that doesn’t change anything.

Most atheists, myself included, allow for the possibility of a god existing. We think it’s unlikely, but there are so many ways in which a god could exist and yet remain unproven that there’s no way to prove beyond all possible doubt that there are no gods. That in no way means there’s enough evidence to justify positively believing that there is one, let alone a particular one. It’s impossible to prove that George Burns wasn’t the actual composer of Eleanor Rigby – he was around at the time, after all, and might have written Paul McCartney a long letter – but no one believes he did it. (That analogy was originally going to be that no one believes Queen Elizabeth I wrote Shakespeare’s plays, but it turns out some people do.)

Christians do believe in God, and therefore think there is at least one good reason to believe in God. When atheists go asking, we’re asking what that reason is. It’s an important question, because if it’s really a good reason to believe then we should believe too, and if it’s not a good reason then the believer shouldn’t. This is all based on the simple assumption that one should only believe in something with good reason. You’re welcome to argue with that if you really want to.

“And must I now begin to doubt…”

Question from Jackson:
Should I believe in the Bible? I have grown up in a Christian church and I am having my doubts about the Bible and “God”.

Answer by SmartLX:
Well, I don’t think you should believe in it because I don’t think its central claims are true, like the existence of a god or the resurrection of Jesus or the instant creation of humankind in its present shape, but that’s just my opinion.

What’s important is what you think, and you can think better by learning about the issues. If you have a specific doubt about the Bible, many others probably share that doubt, so if you Google some keywords you’ll find a wealth of information and arguments. Or just use the search field on this site, because we’ve gone through all the major ideological battlegrounds at some stage. Feel free to comment anywhere with questions, even in long-dead threads, because we see it all at this end.

Don’t just look for the skeptical material, though. Ask your fellow Christians about the things that cause you to doubt, and see what you think of their answers – and just as importantly, their emotional reactions. Are they ready with an answer like the Bible tells them to be (1 Peter 3:15)? Do they try to deflect the question with appeals to unquestioning faith? Do they start to become wary of you as a potential source of doubt in themselves? Or do they just avoid the subject?

Trust me, you’re not alone among Christians in doubting the dogma, and it’s often flavoured with a significant fear of doubt. Admitting that you have your doubts is therefore an important first step towards either becoming more secure in your beliefs or discarding them altogether. Either way, it’s in your best interests to pursue this line of inquiry.

God’s Plan for the Multiverse?

Question from Devilush:
I am a devout Atheist. I enjoy documentaries, I recently watched one on PBS Nova and they were talking about a subject I know a little about, alternate universes. This made me think about the theist argument I always hear…god’s divine plan. To me it makes a strong argument that every choice is possible, therefore it is god’s plan because he does not make mistakes. So whatever we think is choice is in reality his plan because every choice is possible…personally I need measured evidence of [I think Devilush was possibly cut off there]

Answer by SmartLX:
If every choice is possible, and has happened in some universe or other, then every possible wrong choice has been made. Yes, there would be at least one universe where everything has always gone perfectly according to God’s supposed plan (maybe more, if nothing stops universes from being identical) but the larger multiverse would be littered with universes that had fallen by the wayside.

Crediting God for the one universe He got right would be like calling someone a good marksman for peppering the area around the target with stray bullets until one happened to hit the bullseye (close to the Texas sharpshooter fallacy, but really just simple confirmation bias). It would also be completely undeserved, because in a multiverse where everything happens somewhere, it’s a mathematical certainty that any given plan will be matched perfectly and God doesn’t actually need to do anything. So much for all-powerful. If He created the whole system in the first place, good for Him, but that makes him a deistic god, not the kind of interventionist theistic god the theists you’ve heard this from actually worship.

Of course this is all assuming there’s a god at all, which brings it into the area of theology and out of the area of consideration which is useful to atheists, except when they’re conversing with believers.

Proof? We don’ need no steenkin’ proof!

Question from Madoka:
I’m a Catholic but I’m open minded. I keep hearing about how God does not exist but how can you PROVE he doesnt exist? I’m just looking for your opinion because I read about some atheists who had near death experiences and became Christians so it’s kinda confusing. Have you ever thought that He might exist?

Answer by SmartLX:
I can’t prove God doesn’t exist, and I still think that He might exist. Neither of these is a good reason to believe in something, though.

In order to prove God didn’t exist, with our vague concept of what a god actually is, we would have to rule out every place in (and outside) the universe where He might be hanging out. This would be impossible to anyone except a being which itself had godlike powers, so it’s not worth trying. Thing is, it means very little that we can’t prove God’s non-existence if whether he exists makes so little difference to the pursuit. Put another way, we can’t prove that there’s never been any such thing as a leprechaun, but that doesn’t mean we should all believe in them.

I used to think God existed, because I grew up Catholic. When I realised there’s no good reason to think He does, and lost my faith, I didn’t suddenly declare that God can’t exist. I could still be wrong, and He could be out there somewhere. I just think that’s very unlikely, for reasons I’ve given here, and until we know that it’s the right God and not a jealous alternative deity it’s no use worshipping any particular one.


“I honestly think that common understanding of words like “existence” stretches far enough that people with different positions on the existence of something important can discuss and debate it in a way which is at least meaningful to them.”

Question from Cody:
When Christians and atheists argue, they seem to assume they mean the same thing when they say words like “existence,” “being,” “is,” and “truth.”

I find that they usually do not. Some speak from the modernist/rationalist mindset, some from the classical metaphysical mindset, and others from the post-modern, phenomenological POV.

What do you, and other atheists you know, assume as definitions for these seminal terms. What is the arbiter of truth? What is being and existence? Or, more realistically, what are your working assumptions about these things?

I’m afraid without clarity about our basic assumptions, any attempt to real dialogue is doomed. Help a devout Catholic understand atheist fundamental philosophy.

Answer by SmartLX:
I don’t think there is any fundamental atheist philosophy, Cody. That’s like asking for the common political views of everyone who isn’t a libertarian. Different people may have come to reject it by different routes.

That’s not to deny that many atheists think about this stuff in similar ways. For many or most atheists, questions of existence are rooted in the material. If something exists as anything more than a manmade abstract concept like love or justice (though of course those can be quite powerful in their own way), then it either has a material presence or some practical effect on something in the world. If something were to exist but have no effect on us, we might be strictly wrong but who cares?

The other assumption I think is near-universal is the idea that existence is universal. If an entity exists, again as anything more than a hypothetical construct, it exists for you as it does for me, and if it doesn’t then it doesn’t exist for anyone. “What’s true for me is true for me” is only meaningful when applied to interpretations of the abstract.

Let’s be explicit here: when atheists and Christians or any other believers clash over words like “existence” and “being”, they’re usually talking about God, or a god. This makes the issue a bit simpler. The Christian God and many others share certain qualities: they watch over us, they are capable of intervening in the natural world and they have complete power over whatever’s left of our personhood (our “souls”) after we die. If a god doesn’t do any of these things, then even if it still “exists” in some sense it might as well not.

I honestly think that common understanding of words like “existence” stretches far enough that people with different positions on the existence of something important can discuss and debate it in a way which is at least meaningful to them.

Dawkins’ Reasoning

“For something like a god to form by any known undirected process, it’d have to start out simple and proceed slowly.”

Question from Amber:
In his book “The God Delusion”, Professor Dawkins states that given the improbability of life originating in the universe, the creator would presumably have to be as improbable, if not more. Please expound upon this, for I do not quite understand why probable creator cannot do improbable things without being improbable himself(I say ‘himself’ for the sake of convenience). Also, Richard notes that the creator of the universe would have to be a simple one (to start out from nothing?), God is complex thus he could not have created the universe?


Creationists and other theists argue that one reason life must have been deliberately created is that it’s so complex. By that logic, God as understood by most religions is even more likely to have been created because an all-powerful, all-knowing being would have to be more complex than any known life, or even the whole universe. If God exists without a creator, why is is less likely for beings infinitely less complex, like you and me, to do the same?

Dawkins’ other point is that complexity in the universe has arisen very gradually over time, right up until the first living things existed and could design their own creations (most likely pre-human primates shaping rocks). Life, for example, took a billion years after the formation of Earth just to get started and then a billion more to get past microscopic organisms. For something like a god to form by any known undirected process, it’d have to start out simple and proceed slowly.

If on the other hand God can have existed forever without having formed at all, why is it less likely that the (less complex) universe itself has always existed in some form? Why does the insertion of an even more complex entity into our origins help us at all?

– SmartLX