Tuesday, January 2, 2007

10 Myths About Atheists

Sam Harris has put online his top 10 list of atheism myths.

1) Atheists believe that life is meaningless. I've always believed that life has the meaning that the owner attaches to it. Think about it. You have a clean slate to do whatever you want to make your life meaningful! The only problem is finding amongst the myriads of possibilities the one you want. How can anyone not find this absolutely wonderful?
2) Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in human history. My favorite is the Holocaust. Hitler was a practicing Roman Catholic and stated in Mein Kampf and in speeches that he was doing God's work. Doesn't sound much like an atheist to me. As Harris points out, the truly despicable regimes of Pol Pot and Stalin were dogmatic of their own accord. Extremism and fundamentalism have proven over and over again how truly terrible they are, whether or not it is religious in nature.
3) Atheism is dogmatic. A nonsequitor. We simply lack any belief in a deity. As Stephen Henry Roberts said (and I've heard Richard Dawkins reiterate): “I contend that 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.”
4) Atheists think everything in the universe arose by chance. As Harris points out, this is usually thrown up as an attack on evolution. Unfortunately, there is nothing random about evolution at all, and just shows the total ignorance of the attacker on the subject.
5) Atheism has no connection to science. Unlikely, as 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences are agnostic/atheist, while the same proportion of the general population is theistic. This says volumes.
6) Atheists are arrogant. No more so than theists. It just depends on the viewpoint. Me, I like to think of myself as more "adamant" than "arrogant"...
7) Atheists are closed to spiritual experience. If by spiritual experience you mean a religious one, then this is actually true for me. But if you mean having an epiphany about something amazing, then all of us, religious or not, have experienced this.
8) Atheists believe that there is nothing beyond human life and human understanding. If anything, it is religious dogma which limits our understanding. It single-handedly stalled advancement in all aspects of society, not just scientific, in the dark ages. It took a wresting of control from theocratic institutions to start things moving again, a fact which gives me hope that theistic institutions can not bottle the human spirit indefinitely, try as they might! Indeed, it has always been Science that has been in the vanguard of human understanding, not religion.
9) Atheists ignore the fact that religion is extremely beneficial to society. Another nonsequitor. How can systematically teaching people to unquestioningly live a lie be at all beneficial? To behave in certain manners to appease god and obtain the love of a deity out of fear is good? Sounds rather totalitarian to me.
10) Atheism provides no basis for morality. True, in a sense. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in the supernatural. Fortunately, there is no need for atheism to provide morality. It's simply something that evolved as part our species' group survival strategy. I find it ironic that when a theist asks where do atheists get their morals from, our answer is the same place the theist does. Does anyone really believe that I will not think that harming others is bad just because I don't worship a dusty old book of dubious origins? Heck, that book and others of similar ilk have been responsible for a immeasurable harm on their own. Where do you think we get the term 'witch hunt' from? My surprise has been that theists have not argued that it was god that instilled morality into each and every one of us. My only conclusion after giving it much thought is that this would be too gnostic a belief. You don't collect much money in the coffers when people realize they don't need to show up every Sunday morning to worship. Their whole industry would shut down!

Yet we are still haunted by these beliefs born of ignorance. I see it all the time on the web. It is time we atheists banded together into a real lobby group and change perceptions. Maybe we can finally politically "herd the cats" into having one voice. I'm tired of sitting on my hands and allowing right wing conservative religious groups having more than their say and we remain silent. Heck, even those loons at the Westbro Baptist Church get more coverage. Enough is enough!


Matt said...

11 (?) - People always assume I am some sort of "lost soul" because I don't believe, or that something terrible must have happened for me to turn my back on god. It's amazing how insulting some people can be without realizing it.

Similar to the commenter Am1specialkitty on one of your other posts - obviously you've done something that you think god can't forgive you for. Though it could be kind of fun to see their reaction when you hint around that you once killed someone...

Shamelessly Atheist said...

I'd really like to get on board with a secular human organization in Canada, but all attempts at getting an application form to join Humanist Association of Canada have failed. My brother had the same experience. Maybe my reputation preceded me...