Question from Cassie:
I need an athiest view on Reality, Knowledge, Human Nature, Human Problems, Solutions to Human problems, Human Value, Human Purpose, Ethics, Suffering, Meaning in Life and Human desire. With what I have read it is being said an athiest does not have Human Value, Human Purpose, Ethics, Suffering or meaning in life. Which I find to be untrue. Does an athiest truly believe a new born is not human because he is not free willed or can not make a self-conscious choice?
Additional question from Claudia (new):
How do the majority feel about money/careers?
Answer by SmartLX:
We’ve had a lot of people through here looking for atheist responses to questions from the Christian Worldview course ever since I answered the one about our interest in humanity. Cassie was nice enough to summarise all the questions in the course which ask for an atheist perspective.
I’ll give you my take on each of the above concepts, and Andrea will chime in when she can, but first I want to warn any students of this course who read this: your teachers may not want or expect you to ask a real atheist. The course textbook The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog by James Sire is very specific about the interests, priorities and other views of one devout Christian’s idea of archetypical “naturalists”, “secular humanists” and “atheist existentialists”. Biased as that book is, you may be expected to answer the study/assignment questions from the perspective of these archetypes as defined by Sire so you can then refer to the book to support your answers. My views may not fit the bill at all.
That said, it all depends on who’s running the course, so here I go. If you need me to elaborate on anything, leave a comment.
Reality: It’s the same for everyone, no matter what they think it is. It may include things of which we have no understanding, and even things for which we have no evidence. Until we have that evidence, however, and at least a rudimentary understanding, there’s no point in behaving as if such things exist.
Knowledge: Any of it may be wrong, but just because knowledge possibly isn’t certain doesn’t mean it’s useless. Knowledge can prove itself through application, by informing predictions that turn out to be right. One person’s apparent knowledge can therefore be better supported than another’s.
Human nature: The result of our “upbringing” as a species, a long process of physical evolution, technological discovery and social development. Human nature is not necessarily good or evil, inasmuch as those words can be applied, but consists of two main components: instinctual urges, and the facility to follow or overrule those urges. Not free will as philosophically defined, but a solid mechanism of choice.
Human problems: Mostly caused by humans. Highly subjective, because not everyone may see something as a problem. We use our common interests to define common problems; for example our shared will to live drives us to answer threats to our survival.
Solutions to human problems: Found by humans, or not at all.
Human value: Humans have value to humans. This is all that is required to implement and follow laws, rules, ethics and guidelines protecting human life. The universe need not agree with us, because even if it did we couldn’t tell.
Human purpose: Natural selection is the immediate reason human beings came about, but it doesn’t imply any future purpose for us. We have to come up with that ourselves. Most of the time we just find purposes for ourselves as individuals.
Ethics: Based on common goals such as the preservation of life, fairness, minimisation of harm and so on. Also handed down to us by religions, long after we came up with the major principles ourselves.
Suffering: Unless it serves some worthwhile purpose in life, for example character building, it is to be avoided, alleviated and prevented as much as possible.
Meaning in life: See human purpose.
Human desire: Based on instinct and upbringing, which is why most people want roughly the same basic things out of life, but highly malleable to the point where an individual human might want anything conceivable.
Money/careers: some may declare these to be their purpose in life, for better or worse. This is not necessarily a greedy or materialistic thing to do, though, because some careers in particular are built around helping others and improving the world, so everyone benefits if you succeed at them. It’s all about what you do with the things you earn.
Finally, of course a baby is human. Human beings aren’t defined by the ability to make choices, because even a guy in a coma is human. Even if humans were thus defined, babies do make choices: whether to cry, whether to eat and so on. They’re just little choices by little people with very little foresight.
Answer by Andrea:
There are many types of atheists, depending on the group’s particular focus. Groups include secular humanists, naturalists, brights and Zen Buddhists, agnostics, empiricists, freethinkers, materialists, objectivists, rationalists, skeptics, as well as several Buddhist and Taoist sects and the majority of Confucians.
Examples of mission statements from the various groups follow below:
Atheism is a doctrine that states that nothing exists but natural phenomena (matter), that thought is a property or function of matter, and that death irreversibly and totally terminates individual organic units. This definition means that there are no forces, phenomena or entities which exist outside of or apart from physical nature, or which transcend nature, or are “super” natural, nor can there be. Humankind is on its own.
The following definition of Atheism was given to the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Murray v. Curlett, a lawsuit filed to remove reverential Bible reading and oral unison recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in the public schools.
“Your petitioners are Atheists and they define their beliefs as follows. An Atheist loves his fellow man instead of god. An Atheist believes that heaven is something for which we should work now – here on earth for all men together to enjoy.
“An Atheist believes that he can get no help through prayer but that he must find in himself the inner conviction, and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it and enjoy it.
“An Atheist believes that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help to a life of fulfillment.
“He seeks to know himself and his fellow man rather than to know a god. An Atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An Atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An Atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man.
“He wants an ethical way of life. He believes that we cannot rely on a god or channel action into prayer nor hope for an end of troubles in a hereafter.
“He believes that we are our brother’s keepers; and are keepers of our own lives; that we are responsible persons and the job is here and the time is now.”
(Retrieved from American Atheists)
Secular Humanism is also known as Scientific Humanism or just Humanism. The tenets of this belief system are described below.
Humanists are moral and ethical because it is the right thing to do. We try to treat others, as we would like to be treated. We strive to be fair and understanding. We try to be honest with others and more importantly, with ourselves. We look for what is real or makes the most sense and try to avoid believing something just because we want to believe it or because it makes us feel better. We feel it is degrading to our self-image to think that we are only capable of moral behavior if we are threatened with eternal punishment.
We support the right to be religious as well as the right to be non-religious. We feel that all people should be treated with respect, consideration, empathy and understanding.
Humanists do not believe in any God. Men created gods in an attempt to explain the unknown. The only real evidence for a God is in the writings of men. There is as much evidence for the existence of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
Humanists believe that religions have been created by men and women primarily to control, manipulate and exploit other men and women. In ancient times religion was used by tribal leaders to recruit and control their followers. Later Kings and Emperors used it to build and exploit their empires. In recent times religion has become a competitive, but very profitable business. Religion sells the promise of everlasting life (follow me and do as I say and you will never die) through radio, television and from the pulpit. It takes in billions of tax free dollars each year. Many religious leaders become very rich by taking money from the poor.
Humanists do not fear death. We realize that life is but a brief period of conscious during an eternity of sleep. Death is only a return to the state that we were in before we were born. We believe that this life is all there is. Our brain, from which our thoughts and our awareness of ourselves and what is around us originates, is powered by electrical energy supplied by our bodies. When our body dies, the energy, the power to our brain is turned off. Our brain, including all its thought processes ceases to function. Death is final for all animals including humans. To believe otherwise is simply wishful thinking.
We look to science and reason to understand the world and the universe in which we live. Humanists do not claim to have all the answers. We acknowledge that there are things in the universe that are beyond human understanding at this time and possibly for all time. We continually explore new ideas, and reexamine old ideas. We attempt to determine what is true through accumulated knowledge and critical thinking.
Church State Separation
We strongly support the separation of church and state. There can be no freedom of religion or freedom from religion under a state religion. Many early settlers in what became the United States were Christians seeking to escape the state supported religion in England.
(Retrieved from Good Life Humanist Society)
Very briefly, Naturalism emphasizes a type of spirituality based on an appreciation for nature and the cosmos. Science unifies the world so that we are either closely or remotely connected to everything else through evolution. We therefore have a full connection to the world. Understanding this connection gives us far greater self-control and self-acceptance while at the same time reduces self-righteousness, moral superiority, shame and guilt. It also enhances our powers of prediction and control which leads to an ethics of compassion and the potential to revolutionize our relationship to ourselves, to others, to society and to the planet.
Naturalism is the understanding that there is a single, natural world as shown by science, and that we are completely included in it. The three words that capture the essence of naturalism as it applies to our lives are connection, compassion and control.
Everything we are and do is completely connected to the rest of the world. Our bodies and minds are shaped in their entirety by conditions that precede us and surround us. Each of us is an unfolding, natural process, and every aspect of that process is caused, and is a cause itself. We are therefore entirely at home in the physical universe.
Seeing that we are fully caused creatures—not self-caused—we can no longer take or assign ultimate credit or blame for what we do. This leads to an ethics of compassion and understanding, both toward ourselves and others. We see that there but for circumstances we might have been the homeless person in front of us, the convict, or the addict, had we been given their genetic and environmental lot in life.
Understanding how we are caused to behave as we do gives us increased powers of prediction and control. Instead of supposing people can simply will themselves to be otherwise, we concentrate our energies on creating the conditions that promote constructive personal and social change. The ethics of compassion is matched by a practical efficacy based in scientific knowledge.
Each of us is an unfolding natural process, and every aspect of that process is caused, and is a cause itself. So we are fully caused creatures, and seeing just how we are caused gives us power and control, while encouraging compassion and humility. By understanding consciousness, choice, and even our highest capacities as materially based, naturalism re-enchants the physical world, allowing us to be at home in the universe. Naturalism shows our full connection to the world and others, it leads to an ethics of compassion, and it gives us far fgreater control over our circumstances.
There are several rather important personal implications of naturalism that make it a useful world view. First, by seeing that you are indeed caused to be who you are and a fully physical creature, you discover yourself fully connected to nature and to the physical and social world around you. You discover yourself to be completely at home in the universe, on the planet, and in your community. This is the basis for a naturalistic spirituality, an approach to your ultimate personal concerns that celebrates the grandeur of the cosmos and the beauty and wonder of nature. For this reason, naturalism can also help improve interpersonal relationships, gives you a profound shift in our self-understanding and self-acceptance, and provides the basis for progressive social policies.
(Retrieved from Naturalism.org)
A freethinker is one who has rejected religious authority and dogma in favor of rational inquiry and speculation. The Freethought Association is Committed to:
An environment of civil discourse in which all viewpoints can be expressed within civil discourse, without fear of recourse and to provide a philosophical approach to alternative views in which these views are provided serious analysis and consideration.
The application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solution of human problems without reference to supernatural explanations.
The principle of the separation of church and state. It is our goal to ensure that a plurality of world views has a voice in the public arena.
Free Inquiry and oppose any oppression of the human mind and any efforts by ecclesiastical, political, ideological, or any other social institutions to shackle free thought.
Universal moral and ethical principles that are founded on enlightened self-interest and reason. All human values should be grounded in a profound respect for life, personal freedom and the universe in which we live.
(Retrieved from FreeThoughtAssociation.org)
The Skeptics Society is a scientific and educational organization of scholars, scientists, historians, magicians, professors and teachers, and anyone curious about controversial ideas, extraordinary claims, revolutionary ideas, and the promotion of science. Our mission is to serve as an educational tool for those seeking clarification and viewpoints on those controversial ideas and claims.
Under the direction of Dr. Michael Shermer, the Society engages in scientific investigation and journalistic research to investigate claims made by scientists, historians, and controversial figures on a wide range of subjects. The Society also engages in discussions with leading experts in our areas of exploration. It is our hope that our efforts go a long way in promoting critical thinking and lifelong inquisitiveness in all individuals.
Some people believe that skepticism is the rejection of new ideas, or worse, they confuse “skeptic” with “cynic” and think that skeptics are a bunch of grumpy curmudgeons unwilling to accept any claim that challenges the status quo. This is wrong. Skepticism is a provisional approach to claims. It is the application of reason to any and all ideas — no sacred cows allowed. In other words, skepticism is a method, not a position. Ideally, skeptics do not go into an investigation closed to the possibility that a phenomenon might be real or that a claim might be true. When we say we are “skeptical,” we mean that we must see compelling evidence before we believe.
Skepticism has a long historical tradition dating back to ancient Greece, when Socrates observed: “All I know is that I know nothing.” But this pure position is sterile and unproductive and held by virtually no one. If you were skeptical about everything, you would have to be skeptical of your own skepticism. Like the decaying subatomic particle, pure skepticism uncoils and spins off the viewing screen of our intellectual cloud chamber.
Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, which involves gathering data to formulate and test naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. But all facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge, and therefore skepticism is a method leading to provisional conclusions. Some claims, such as water dowsing, ESP, and creationism, have been tested (and failed the tests) often enough that we can provisionally conclude that they are not valid. Other claims, such as hypnosis, the origins of language, and black holes, have been tested but results are inconclusive so we must continue formulating and testing hypotheses and theories until we can reach a provisional conclusion.
The key to skepticism is to continuously and vigorously apply the methods of science to navigate the treacherous straits between “know nothing” skepticism and “anything goes” credulity. Over three centuries ago the French philosopher and skeptic, René Descartes, after one of the most thorough skeptical purges in intellectual history, concluded that he knew one thing for certain: Cogito ergo sum — I think therefore I am. But evolution may have designed us in the other direction. Humans evolved to be pattern-seeking, cause-inferring animals, shaped by nature to find meaningful relationships in the world. Those who were best at doing this left behind the most offspring. We are their descendents. In other words, to be human is to think:
Sum Ergo Cogito—I Am Therefore I Think.
(Retrieved from Skeptic.com)
An agnostic is defined as
A person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.
A person who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge in some area of study.
(Retrieved from Dictionary.com)
Objectivism regards reason as an absolute. It holds that all knowledge is based on the evidence of the senses. It holds that all beliefs, conclusions, and convictions must be established by logical methods of inquiry and tested by logical methods of verification. In short, it holds that the scientific approach applies to all areas of knowledge.
(Retrieved from WhatIsObjectivism.com)
In philosophy, materialism is that form of physicalism which holds that the only thing that can truly be said to exist is matter; that fundamentally, all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions.
Science uses a working assumption, sometimes known as methodological naturalism, that observable events in nature are explained only by natural causes without assuming the existence or non-existence of the supernatural. As a theory, materialism belongs to the class of monist ontology. As such, it is different from ontological theories based on dualism or pluralism. In terms of singular explanations of the phenomenal reality, materialism stands in sharp contrast to idealism.
(Retrieved from Wikipedia.org)
Empiricism is a theory of knowledge that emphasizes those aspects of scientific knowledge that are closely related to experience, especially as formed through deliberate experimental arrangements.
It is a fundamental requirement of scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world, rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation. Hence, science is considered to be methodologically empirical in nature.
(Retrieved from Wikipedia.org)
In philosophy and in its broadest sense, rationalism is “any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification.” In more technical terms it is a method or a theory “in which the criterion of truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive.” Different degrees of emphasis on this method or theory lead to a range of rationalist standpoints, from the moderate position “that reason has precedence over other ways of acquiring knowledge” to the radical position that reason is “the unique path to knowledge.”
In various contexts, the appeal to reason is contrasted with revelation, as in religion, or with emotion and feeling, as in ethics. In philosophy, however, reason is more often contrasted with the senses, including introspection but not intuition.
Within the Western philosophical tradition, “rationalism begins with the Eleatics, Pythagoreans, and Plato, whose theory of the self-sufficiency of reason became the leitmotif of Neoplatonism and idealism.” Since the Enlightenment, rationalism is usually associated with the introduction of mathematical methods into philosophy, as in Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza. This is commonly called continental rationalism, because it was predominant in the continental schools of Europe, whereas in Britain empiricism dominated.
Rationalism is often contrasted with this view known as empiricism. Taken very broadly these views are not mutually exclusive, since a philosopher can be both rationalist and empiricist. Taken to extremes the empiricist view holds that all ideas come to us through experience, either through the five external senses or through such inner sensations as pain and pleasure, and thus that knowledge is essentially based on or derived from experience. At issue is the fundamental source of human knowledge, and the proper techniques for verifying what we think we know.
Proponents of some varieties of rationalism argue that, starting with foundational basic principles, like the axioms of geometry, one could deductively derive the rest of all possible knowledge. The philosophers who held this view most clearly were Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz, whose attempts to grapple with the epistemological and metaphysical problems raised by Descartes led to a development of the fundamental approach of rationalism. Both Spinoza and Leibniz asserted that, in principle, all knowledge, including scientific knowledge, could be gained through the use of reason alone, though they both observed that this was not possible in practice for human beings except in specific areas such as mathematics. On the other hand, Leibniz admitted that “we are all mere Empirics in three fourths of our actions.”
(Retrieved from Wikipedia.org)
Zen allows a person to attain enlightenment in this life through the practice of meditation, which leads to mental and spiritual discipline. Zen simply means “meditation” and is the Japanese equivalent of the original Sanskrit term dhyana.
We practice meditation to help clarify our lives and be present to our experience as it is.
We vow to liberate all beings and reduce suffering for ourselves and others.
We uphold precepts as guidelines for conduct that orients our lives towards service and benefiting all beings.
Our Zen practice includes zazen, services, samu work practice, study, koans, classes, workshops and sesshins (retreats).We practice in both Soto and Rinzai traditions.
(Retrieved from ZenCommunity.org)
“Be like a mountain and flow like a great river.”
Tao can be roughly translated into English as path. The founder of Taoism was Lao-Tse (604-531 BCE), a contemporary of Confucius. He was searching for a way that would avoid the constant feudal warfare and other conflicts that disrupted life during his lifetime. The result was his book: Tao-te-Ching.
Taoism started as a combination of psychology and philosophy but evolved into a religion in 440 CE when it was adopted as a state religion. At that time Lao-Tse became popularly venerated as a deity.
It, along with Buddhism and Confucianism, became the three great religions of China. Taoism currently has about 20 million followers, and is primarily centered in Taiwan. About 30,000 Taoists live in North America; 1,720 in Canada (1991 census).
Taoist beliefs and practices encompass the following:
Tao is the first-cause of the universe. It is a force that flows through all life.
Time is cyclical, not linear as in Western thinking.
Yin (dark side) is the breath that formed the earth. Yang (light side) is the breath that formed the heavens. They symbolize pairs of opposites which are seen throughout the universe, such as good and evil, light and dark, male and female. Intervention by human civilization upsets the balances of Yin and Yang. The symbol of Taoism represents Yin and Yang in balance.
“The Tao surrounds everyone and therefore everyone must listen to find enlightenment.”
Five main organs and orifices of the body correspond to the five parts of the sky: water, fire, wood, metal and earth.
Each person must nurture the Ch’i (air, breath) that has been given to them.
The goal of everyone is to become one with the Tao.
Development of virtue is one’s chief task. The Three Jewels to be sought are compassion, moderation and humility.
Taoists follow the art of “wu wei”, which is to achieve action through minimal action. “It is the practice of going against the stream not by struggling against it and thrashing about, but by standing still and letting the stream do all the work. Thus the sage knows that relative to the river, he still moves against the current. To the outside world the sage appears to take no action – but in fact he takes action long before others ever foresee the need for action.”
One should plan in advance and consider carefully each action before making it.
A Taoist is kind to other individuals, largely because such an action tends to be reciprocated.
Taoists believe that “people are compassionate by nature…left to their own devices [they] will show this compassion without expecting a reward.”
There is a long history involvement by Taoists in various exercise and movement techniques. Tai chi in particular works on all parts of the body. It “stimulates the central nervous system, lowers blood pressure, relieves stress and gently tones muscles without strain. It also enhances digestion, elimination of wastes and the circulation of blood. Moreover, tai chi’s rhythmic movements massage the internal organs and improve their functionality.” Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that illness is caused by blockages or lack of balance in the body’s “chi” (intrinsic energy). Tai chi is believed to balance this energy flow.
(Retrieved from ThinkQuest.org)
This is a very simple look at the statement “Buddhism is atheistic.” People question this statement from time to time, so here is a series of quotes and references supporting the general claim that Buddhism is not a theistic religion.
“Buddhism” by Christmas Humphreys (1954). C.H. was President of the Buddhist Society, London, from its foundation in 1924 until its Silver Jubilee in 1954. On page 79 under title “No God, No Soul” he writes “As between the theist and atheist positions, Buddhism is atheist”.
In the prominent book, “The Varieties of Religious Experience”, William James says “there are systems of thought which the world usually calls religious, and yet which do not positively assume a God. Buddhism is in this case. Popularly, of course, the Buddha himself stands in place of a God; but in strictness the Buddhistic system is atheistic” (p50).
Moojen Momen writes in “The Phenomenon of Religion”, 1999, that the worship of deities has continued in many forms of Buddhism despite Western scholars thinking that, because of their texts, Buddhism was atheistic (p53).
Edward Conze states in “Buddhist Scriptures” that what are sometimes referred to as ‘gods’ in Buddhist texts are merely ‘enlightened beings’, and not what the West means by the word “god” (p221).
Buddhist theology does not rely on or need Gods, nor do Buddhist ethics or teachings involve Gods, which is probably why many scholars consider Buddhism to be atheistic rather than theistic. In reality it may be closer to agnostic, but it is certainly untrue to say that it is out and out theistic.
(Retrieved from Vexen.co.uk)
Confucius – (this is the Latin version of his name); since he was Chinese, his real name was K’ung Fu-tzu, which means “Grand Master K’ung”. China is where Confucianism originated, but it is all over East Asia.
Beliefs and Practices
1. All humanity is good and always striving to be better, be loyal and live upright.
2. The focus is on comprehensive truths rather than logic. They feel the more comprehensive the closer it is to the truth.
3. Confucianists put an emphasis on sympathizing over others when they are suffering. They are always searching for a higher sense of sympathy for people.
4. This belief system also entails the belief that the ultimate personal harmony in life are the relationships one has with: ruler to subject, parent to child, husband to wife, older to younger, and friend to friend. Nothing to do with a relationship with God. No relationship unless it is within human existence.
5. They do believe in a heaven, they call it T’ien, but that it is silent.
(Retrieved from TheSpiritualSanctuary.org)
Question from Cassie: