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.
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.
- Atheist: (a) without (theism) belief in gods. So an atheist is someone who lacks a belief in a god or gods.
- Antitheist: (anti) oppose (theism) belief in gods. An Antitheist is someone who opposes belief in gods.
- 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.
Question from Geoffrey:
Bishop John Shelby Spong defines an atheist as someone who disagrees with the theistic explanation of God. Do you agree? That seems to make all non-theists myself included an atheist.
Answer by SmartLX:
Based on former Bishop Spong’s definition, that’s the implication. Spong’s own position, however, is almost entirely unique and therefore not a very secure basis for generalisations.
Spong’s stated opinions on Christian doctrine reject theism by name, and place him well outside most people’s definitions of a Christian. It’s difficult to determine from his online writings what if anything he thinks God is, but it’s nothing like the supernatural being we all imagine in some form.
I might agree that an atheist is simply someone who is not a theist from the words alone, if not for the existence of deists. A deist believes in a god, but not the interventionist gods of theists. The fact that “theist” and “deist” come from the Greek and Latin words for “god” (theos and deus respectively) makes the modern definitions somewhat confusing, but there you have it.
I think everyone’s a theist, a deist or an atheist. Some agnostics may disagree with me there, or even be quite annoyed at this statement, but even an agnostic – who by definition does not know or even thinks it’s impossible to know whether there are gods – either believes in at least one god or does not believe in any (which is not the same as believing there are none). I’m an agnostic atheist myself.
(New: audio version!)
Question from Devilush:
Do you agree with the studies that have been done stating that theism is similar to mental illness?
Answer by SmartLX:
I can’t actually find the studies you’re talking about. The Rational Response Squad talked about “curing the world from the mind disorder known as theism,” but they backed that up with their own arguments as opposed to actual studies. If you know of any, comment and link to them.
Theism is compared to mental illness (usually by atheists) because it involves believing in entities and events for which there is no physical evidence, scant documentation and no known natural explanation, which means it can be and has been called a delusion. The thing is, being deluded about something (which simply means misled) isn’t the same as being clinically delusional.
The big difference, for me, is that we get religion primarily from external sources. People are told what gods or equivalent beings supposedly exist, and by and large they accept the core dogma as is. There’s no particular mental illness that causes this to happen; it’s just believing what you’re told. A real mental case, on the other hand, invents as much incredible information as he or she adopts.
That brings me to an important distinction: I don’t think theism is a mental illness per se, but there are mentally ill theists out there. Further, there are many mentally ill people whose deranged thought processes are centred around religion, from those who think they’re Jesus to those who see demons everywhere to those who hear God telling them to kill people. Sure, some of these folks might actually be telling the truth, but since many contradict each other (there are several self-proclaimed Jesuses about, for instance) some of them must be wrong.
There’s plenty of criticism to level at theism based simply on the idea that it’s most likely wrong, it has no unique benefits and it’s potentially very dangerous. Questioning the sanity of all its adherents is no way to convince them of anything, and it seems to be a step too far anyway.
“I don’t know for sure that there isn’t a god, and I never said I did. I simply don’t believe that there is one…”
Question from Jay:
How is an atheist’s argument that there is no God any different from a Deist’s argument that there is a God? Both are unfalsifiable stances. How is an atheist’s view any better? You maintain your stance because it is the best answer you can come up with. You cannot rationally explain your stance any better than I can. How do you rationally know there isn’t a God? I know, you’ll say I don’t know 100 percent, well nobody does. But you asked this same question to a Deist, can you answer it?
I don’t know for sure that there isn’t a god, and I never said I did. I simply don’t believe that there is one, and I don’t think it’s likely either for reasons I’ll go into when answering your subsequent question.
Deists have an easier time defending their position than theists because they don’t have to establish any interference by a god since what they see as the act of Creation. Of course they do have to argue for Creation the same as theists, and there’s your overlap. I’ve laid out my basic position on the cosmological argument here in response to both theists and deists.