Thursday, 30 June 2011

Views of the Common Atheist

It is the age old argument that has been the cause of great disagreement, great speculation and great wars. Religion. It is a part of our lives, whether we are religious or not. We are brought up being taught about our religions and those of others. How the world was formed, about sacred religious scriptures, Gods. I learnt about the Christian faith way back in Primary school. We sang hymns in assembly about how God was the "light" of the world. We went to church at christmas to re-enact the birth of Jesus in a nativity play (where I was never good enough to be cast as Mary, always one of those background angels) In High school, we learnt more about the religions of the world. Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism. What their beliefs were. But mainly, from an early age, it is drummed into us that, as a Christian majority in this country, we should believe in God as he is the creator of all living things.

Ok, so God created the world and everything in it. In a process of seven days, according to Genesis, the first book in the Bible. The first few sentences are this: "In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth. The Earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters." It goes on to tell how God said "Let there be light" and light just appeared, the same with land, plants and animals. Then he proceeds to make man, in the image of himself. All in a week. Not bad going. And so, we are led to believe, that a supernatural being, who himself has appeared from nowhere, created the Earth and every living creature that inhabits it. Look around you and you see trees, clouds, grass. People walking past, dogs perhaps. A rogue cat here and there. All pottering about in this vast amount of space between the land and the sky. And you believe that this is all down to the hand of one being.

I took Philosophy at A Level. This doesn't make me an expert on religion in the slightest. But, although I was already an atheist, once I was past the stage of naivety, able to think for myself and make my own decisions on religion, it still opened my eyes to many things and made me process religion differently and more logically. I cannot, since the days have gone where I believed everything I was told, comprehend the idea of God and the theory of Creationism. Not being able to fully understand a situation however, does not render it false or untrue. It is perhaps just something that is beyond our realm of thinking, that a single being could physically have created every living thing we see around us. However, I am very much a scientifically inclined thinker and whole heartedly believe in evolution.

Creationism is, by proxy, what Christians believe in. They also believe that God is all around us, watching us and protecting us, his creation. This is a reason as to why many believe in him. He is not a lifeless entity, but one with a "personality" and a likeability, because He takes care of us and loves us. Because He is, of course, omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. In other words, he is all loving, all powerful and all knowing. An "Omni-God" if you like. How could we argue with that? A creator who knows and loves everything? Many philosophers over time have argued the existence of God and how there is no understandable nor logical reason as to how he cannot exist. Without getting overly philosophical, Anselm's Ontological argument about God being "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" tries to prove God's existence in a long winded way, the basics being that we can imagine a perfect being in our minds and in reality, those that exist in both are greater than those that exist in just one. Since God is the greatest idea, he must exist in reality as well as the mind or something else in reality could be seen as greater than Him. Or, in other words, a giant "clutching at straws" explaination. This is not the only philosophical argument about the existence of God but they all cover the same storyline; "God must exist because..."

Coming away from the overly complicated arguments of philosophers, people have their own reasoning as to why they believe God exists and that he is the Creator. Some cannot conceive the idea of evolution because it comes without faith. Religion and science have always been at war with one another, more so in the last few centuries. Religious people (I'll stick with Christians in this instance because I'm more familiar with them) thrive on belief and faith. Everything they do in their lives is leading up to a point in which they will be given the ultimate reward. Eternal life. If they are good Christians and practise and spread the word of God, they will be taken up to Heaven into His open arms. So of course, it's no wonder that they are religious. To know that when they die, their soul will carry on living. But I often wonder this. How can people who believe that this being, who created every living thing from nothing, who's son was born to a virgin and rose from the dead and who takes a good Christian soul up into a heavenly world of harp playing angels, think that evolution is not possible, when it is far more logical a belief than the former?

To touch on another point of the Christian belief of God, as I said before, he is an "Omni-God." But how can he be? I see violent wars ripping apart countries, limb from limb, killing innocent children. I see good people suffering with incurable diseases. I see babies never given a chance to live. And then I wonder, if God is really all loving, powerful and knowing, how can he allow any of these things to happen? If He were to exist, He could not possibly be all of those things. Take this situation: A 3 year old boy is diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour. He has very little time left and is in a great deal of pain. If there is a God he either; loves this boy who is part of his creation and knows of his suffering but is powerless to stop it. He knows of the boys suffering and is poweful enough to help him but he does not have love for him as part of his creation. Or He is powerful enough to help and he loves the boy as part of his creation but he he does not know of the boys suffering. Either way, there is no possibility that he could be an "Omni-God" or these situations would not occur. Although Christians would argue that God does have all of those qualities but he has given us free will to make our own decisions and mistakes, surely He would step in at some point when it all goes too far? Two World wars, millions of innocent civillians killed, millions of soldiers killed, millions of Jews killed... the list is endless. Where was God then? Where was He during the Holocaust? Where was He during the reign of terror that Saddam Hussein had over Iraq? Where was He on 9/11? I'll tell you where He was. He was nowhere.

Charles Darwin, the enemy of the religious, came up with the theory of evolution. That we all started as micro-organisms and evolved over millions of years to become who we are today through a process he refers to as "survival of the fittest." There is evidence of evolution all around us, as Darwin had found and written about. It makes absolute sense, to me anyway, that there is every reason to believe that is how the world is as it is. There is no evidence that God made the World. The only thing that Christians have, and use when things like this are raised, is the Bible. But, if you aren't blinded by your faith, it is plainly obvious that the Bible it just a storybook full of moral endings. Which is not a bad thing, it is still a good book for Christians to read to try and learn more about themselves but it is not a book of truth. It may help you lead a good Christian life but it shouldn't be believed to be, and excuse the pun, gospel. Noah did not build an ark and keep two of every animal on board. Moses did not part the Red Sea with a stick. You see where I'm going.

I used to go to church when I was younger as my dad's side of the family is religious. I hated going because it was like being dragged to an AA meeting when I'd never touched a drop of alcohol in my life. I didn't need to be there because I had no regard for anything they were saying. But it was insisted upon. They would talk about certain chapters in the Bible and relate it to every day life. I would sit kicking the pews and counting down the minutes until I could leave. I could just never "get" what they were saying and I wondered how anybody else could. I am fairly open minded on most things. But not religion. I'm pretty much closed minded on this. I don't think badly of religious people, I would love to be able to completely throw myself into believeing in a faith. How great it would be, if God did exist and all our sins were forgiven once we died? But again, that's not the case. Because we then have the issue of Hell. You will hear some Christians say that if you don't follow the word of God and live a good life free of sin, then you will not be accepted into Heaven and you will be damned to Hell. Why is that then, when it is also so widely believed that God is all forgiving? Surely, if he can forgive anything and anyone, all people will be welcomed into Heaven? Not just the ones he picks and chooses? It seems that these "teachings" are only used to suit. If God has forgiveness in His heart for all then I fully expect to see Him up there chatting away with Hitler and Bin Laden. A ridiculous concept? Of course it is. What self respecting Christian would believe God would invite murderers and terrorists into Heaven? Well, every Christian that believes that God has the capacity to forgive everyone regardless, actually.

I could probably go on forever with this. It is a right to believe what we want (at least in this country) and I respect it to a degree. I don't enjoy religion being thrown in my face so I just wanted to throw a little bit of atheism back out. I believe what I see. I see evidence for evolution all around me. I see no evidence for the existence of God. And until I see souls being beamed up into the sky or the second coming of Christ, I'm afraid an atheist I will remain. As for the truth, I suppose none of us will really know in every degree of certainty, until it is too late to preach it.


  1. Firstly, great article! There's a lot to answer here, so i'll be like any good writer and try to be as concise as i can. It's worth mentioning up front that I'm a Christian - but not the happy-clappy retard kind at all, and more at home in the company of non-Christians than the church, which i heavily dislike. You can go into huge amounts of detail here, so i'll just try and stick to what i personally believe.

    I respect atheism - it's a very honest starting position, and the church has been so pathetically inept at explaining or showing an example, that it's deserved. I have every single one of Dawkins' books, love exchanging views with atheists (or Muslims, Hindus etc), and it doesn't worry me at all. I came to faith through a very rigorous process of examining every spiritual perspective from the beginning, a la Sherlock Holmes, with an open mind.

    The very first thing is that the premise of the article employs a false dichotomy, which is that the two positions that can be taken are Creationism (biblical literalism) and atheism, which isn't the case at all. There's plenty of space in the middle.

    The second point to make is the division between theological understanding, and scientific reasoning. They're not exclusive, but mutually interdependent. If scripture is truly divine revelation, then it will reflect our scientific understanding of the world.

    We're starting on what could be considered a dishonest assumption: that God exists (i'm obviously biased). That question is about how the universe began, as we know it began, along with time. The existence of a supreme being revolves around the universe (and its system of natural laws), not the Earth. It can either be a binary state (yes/no) or a series of other theories (multiverses, multiple gods, not the God we think etc).

    Let's made it clear, straight up, right now. Creationism is dumb. It's not science, and shouldn't be taught as such. People who take the bible that literally, and believe the world was created in 7 24hr days 4000 years ago in a single garden with two fully formed humans, are ridiculously ignorant, and plain embarrassing. As a Christian, i'm perpetually frustrated at people misrepresenting scripture. It has to be studied, not just read line by line.

  2. So, on to the existence part, before we tackle the big stuff.

    Before you do anything else, you have to understand why Genesis was written, and who it was written for. Scholars believe it was written up to 5/6th century BCE, and it is a theological explanation of our existence. It gives a simplistic people an overview of how everything came to be. In simple terms, it states the world was created by God: the reasons why, what went wrong, and how it all got to be the way it is.

    Science tells us the life on earth (after the singularity of the Big Bang) began via the process of abiogenesis, and species developed through the process of evolution by natural selection. Sharing a common ancestor with apes, the first humans appeared around 200,000 years ago in middle Africa, and migrated north.

    These two principles are NOT incompatible. The majority of thinking Christians understand that science reveals to us the mechanics of *how* God created, and that evolution was the engine (theistic evolution). Genesis is theology written a long time ago for a specific audience that couldn't begin to understand the science of electricity, let alone the Origin of Species. Evolution is fascinatingly beautiful - God's wonderful brush stroke.

    There are enormous amounts of evidence in the natural world for a Created world (e.g. irreducible complexity), and if you look again carefully at the "7 days", you'll see they are the only words in any holy text that accuractly describe the stages of abiogenesis and evolution.

    The issue then becomes a problem of reconciling what science tells us, with what we understand theologically. How we account for the "days", the Fall(s, plural - evil, and Eve), the invasive nature of original sin, and the personality of Adam and Eve. Or put simply, how theology fits with science.

    Questions like "where does consciousness come from?", "why did we immediately bury our dead", "how did morality develop?" etc.

    Some believe that each "day" (Hebrew: yom, or "day-age") means a period of millions of years. Some take the view of time-space relativity, that a day on earth is millions of years to God, or a far away entity. Others understand Adam and Eve to be "representatives" of homo sapiens. Creation in itself is described as "satisfactory", but not "perfect" (KJV mistranslation).

    Which in turn brings us on to natural disasters, predation, deformities, human nature and so on. Some see it as "sin" invading the natural system and corrupting it (i.e. the fall of Satan); others see it as the inevitable consequence of a self-perpetuating system (e.g. without earthquakes there would be no continents etc).

    There are plenty of other, sadly inane, atheism conundrums which are so frighteningly ignorant - who created God (a Creator is outside of his creation, and its natural laws of cause/effect, ergo is uncaused), can God create a weight too heavy for him (wrong definition of omnipotence), it's the same as Thor/pink unicorns (polytheism is logically impossible, science disproves the rest) etc.

  3. The arguments for and against the existence of God are many - and if you look carefully, perfectly balanced for free choice, as if, strangely, by design. Perfect for a balanced choice either way.

    Here are yours - very good ones:

    a) God doesn't intervene, and or should intervene.
    b) God allows suffering, and/or shouldn't allow it.
    c) The natural world is full of horror.
    d) God doesn't forgive everyone.

    All very good points, and too lengthy to go into - but i can assure you they all have answers, and are lifelong questions to wrestle with. The oldest ones. In fact, the *only* ones.

    The question in each of these needs to be theological - WHY? Why doesn't He intervene? Does He actually limit evil? Why doesn't He prevent suffering, when He could? Why couldn't He have foreseen the problems, and/or created the world differently?

    What are His reasons? That's the questions the BIble is there for. It explains the character of God, and what He has to say. And that's what God says - ask me, and i'll tell you. Seek me. Come and ask me.

    And lastly, the issue of forgiveness.

    Forgiveness is given freely; the Bible is very clear on this. God won't be mocked, and knows the heart. You don't just get to say a words and be let off the hook. Anyone who is truly sorry in their heart, and turns from their ways, is forgiven. You can't fool God - if you try, you're in for a shock, because you're quite stupid to think He wouldn't know of your cunning ruse. The point of Christ was to build a bridge, a way back. There's no need for punishment or hell anymore. Don't listen to anyone who condemns you, when the whole of the New Testament is about the good news that all that crap been rendered irrelevant now.

    But if you're curious, "hell" is translated as the "absence of God's presence", and is predominantly a place about justice - where sin, evil, Satan and everything bad, has to go. True love is not permissive - you wouldn't let your child do something wrong, or dangerous in most cases, because you love them. You don't want your child to be polluted with the wrong things, or end up in a bad place because they're burdened down with it. The best way to understand God is that he's fundamentally a parent. But not a human one, with all their faults. Parenting means disciplining out of love, allowing a child to grow into their own person, allowing them to make mistakes, and holding them responsible/accountable for their behaviour by explaining there are consequences for their actions.

    In God's case, He's even braver. He allows us to choose freely (possibly a stupid idea in hindsight when you consider the mess that's been made).

  4. "If they are good Christians and practise and spread the word of God, they will be taken up to Heaven into His open arms."

    Sadly, wrong - and wrongly taught in Catholicism. You can't earn it, you can't do it yourself. You can't work for it, or just lead a great life. Scripture says that reconcilation is through Christ's sacrifice alone, as a gift. Through Grace (undeserved kindness) alone. It's not about getting up there - it's about a Father climbing down here to meet us where we are.
    Christianity is not about "religion" controlled by an institution, or a set of rules. It's about a relationship with the person who made it all, and a community of people living in a way to honour that. It's not about speaking in "Christianese", preaching damnation to others, being stupid (far too many of them), or violence in a religious figure's name.

    Oh, and Darwin's the enemy of religious people. He was a lifelong CofE member, who described himself as an agnostic.

    What i would say is to ignore what the Church has told you, or indoctrinated you with. Make up your own mind, and study for yourself. The institution's "religion" or dogma is what Christ fought against all his short life - which is ironic considering i see more Christianity in non-Christians than i see in a church. That's not hypocrisy, it's conceit.

    But once you've discovered it for yourself, if you think the institution's wrong, create a new one. Change the status quo. That's exactly what Christ did, and in 3 short years, changed thousands of years of our history.

    And as for Christians and the church, forgive us.

  5. Thanks for your input, of course all I am basing my writing on is my own knowledge of the religion and what I have been taught. I have never delved too deep into its meaning because, honestly, I don't want to because it bores me as I have no interest in religion other than to express why I think it is wrong.

    All valid points though and I do realise that there are those in the middle of over enthusiastic religious nuts and atheists but my article would have been very long and tedious if I'd gone on about all the average occasional church go-ers or the "religious from afar" such as yourself.

    Unfortunately, having studied around religion myself for a couple of years (not into actual Christian teachings but the philosophy around it) I have already come to the conclusion that I am a definite atheist. I have no need for a faith in my life and I don't care to know if there is such a thing as Heaven. I can live a fulfilled life without having to believe in God and I'm happy with that. Just as you are happy with your faith and have it as an albeit, casual aspect of your life.

    Thank you again for your input, all comments are taken on board and appreciated :)

  6. Totally understand that. Everyone has to come to their own answers to the big questions in their own time, in their own way - which always nag too much in the end to be left unanswered. Most people find them a little too intimidating; others embrace them. I'm not "religious" though, and not "from afar" either. That's a perception issue.

    I think my main point is simply that critics of faiths often display the same ignorance and/or misconceived prejudices that they accuse others of. Often much worse. With respect, and a certain affection, the case you're making is completely undermined by your own admitted lack of interest and/or insight into it :)

    A friend of mine who's a very famous glamour model (and now a well-known make-up artist) and i were walking down Oxford St a while back. She turns to me and asks, "i don't get why you need to believe in a God. Why not just believe in yourself?"

    To which i replied, "I do. But there's more than just me. "

    Ultimately, when it really comes down to it, spirituality is about awakening to the idea that there's more than just you: your community, the world, the universe, something supreme behind it all. You're part of something bigger. There's a longing in you to grow, and to contribute beyond yourself. It's a process of personal maturity.

    That can be to help others, write for the collective knowledge bank - but it's derived from the sense that you're contributing to something beyond yourself that is bigger than you.

    I'm not judging you for being self-focused, but i've always found it a bizarre way to be when those who are spiritually focused are the leaders, changers and most incredible people in history who lead the most amazing lives. I've yet to meet a single atheist who's lived a life even 10% as exciting as those who have lived as part of something greater than themselves. It's just a totally alien mindset to 99% of people.

    Wilful ignorance and/or spurious dismissal ain't cool though.

    But regardless, well done on the writing! Keep pushing and growing! Keep challenging yourself and other people. I'll spar with you when the argument's good enough. x

  7. Oh my G... oh wait... I mean... I really enjoyed reading your article, i thought i was reading Nietzsche haha nah, i really enjoyed it, because same thing happened to me when i was little, i was forced to go to church, pray, eat those white things that taste like paper, even tell my "sins" to some stranger (and that was VERY embarrasing, only did it once tho), i went to a catholic school too and i always laughed when they started singing or praying and they make me stand up in front of everybody in the church but i kept laughing haha brought me back those days, i guess teachers hated me for that. I think catholic schools should start to disappear cause half of my friends from that school are now atheist haha they make us hate God even more with all their ridiculous beliefs.

    I strongly agree with you about using common sense and not to believe some "force" made everything that exists, it is just... Lets not say ridiculous, its IMPOSSIBLE! Even knowing everything and everyone, come on... please.

    When i told my family that i was an atheist both of my grandmas hated me haha i think they erased my name from their testaments or something haha but i told them that i dont hate religion, i respect it, If i have to go to a wedding, ill go or a funeral, i dont care i know my beliefs (i wont pray or sing thats for sure).

    I dream of the day when i wake up, turn on the tv and watch on the news that the supreme pope camw out to his balcony and said: "God doesnt exist! everything about religion is a lie! It was all created to manipulate you! Stop believing and im not on drugs!" ooooh i wish that.

    Anyways great article! Couldnt have done it better myself, cause its in english ofcourse. Sorry if i misspelled or you didnt understand something, tryed my best haha oh by the way I would have never thought you were an atheist at least for what i can read on twitter, i think ill read more of your blog later, if you dont mind :) and im not somekind of sex perv, i say that because ive seen what you actually RT from your followers. Greetings from Mexico.

  8. Thank you for your comment :) glad you enjoyed reading

  9. Really good blog Bex, here's my 2-cents worth.

    I see religion as a way of explaining our existence conceived in a time when they knew no better. Now with the enormous advances we have made with science and as our knowledge continues to grow, more and more people are turning their back on religion as they can find answers to the fundamental questions of existence elsewhere.

    I think not many people now believe the Bible is the be all and end all of religion, which means religious leaders and thinkers are now having to change their ideals and beliefs to fit with science, but most are still unwilling to believe that every living creature has evolved to where it is now, even your friend above mentions "irreducible complexity". I see irreducible complexity as a last ditch attempt to disprove science by picking on a naturally occurring phenomenon, for instance the flagellum of a bacterium, and making the assumption that since we have not yet discovered the origin of this device through evolution then it must have been created. I have seen many examples (blood clotting, mitochondria, etc) of so called "irreducible complexity" but once studied by scientists there is always an answer through evolution. I don't like to but wikipedia gives a statement based on the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial in America, where the teaching of evolution was banned from schools and some parents took the school board to court over it. "In the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial, Behe gave testimony on the subject of irreducible complexity. The court found that "Professor Behe's claim for irreducible complexity has been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers and has been rejected by the scientific community at large."[2] Nonetheless, irreducible complexity continues to be cited as an argument by creationists, particularly intelligent design proponents."

    I guess my main gripe with religion boils down to current thinkers stating that they can both believe in science and in a God, yet science is based solely on facts. Also, I think it equates to the issue of "if there is no religion then what is the point of my existence?"

  10. yea yea the age old fight for whos right xD. I have the feeling this is a very prominent battle because people seem to be a lot more religious more and have a heck lot more denominations which are very anti atheism.
    I as a 6 year old kid had started reading the bible and i read the story I didnt come very far because it was boring and repetitive. the thing that peeved me the most while reading it was that people supposed to become 900 years old. how lame lol. I had skipped to other chapter t see whether they were any better but I just didnt like it and it was boring. I had fairy tales and other tales books books(grimms and naturalistic ones with personified nature)or fables which were much nicer to read and you knoew that they were tales as well.

    In the end I never became friends with an all surrounding spirit that is supposed to be everywhere.
    Also religionw as lept to ones self anyway, I proclaimed as a 9 year old that i wasn't believing into any of that, whereas my father said he did(which surprised me as he didnt show it) but I didnt mind . When i was asked whether I wanted to be confirmed (protestant area mostly) I said that I didnt . there were some in my class who were but I know that at least half of them found the classes to be deadly boring and they only went there because you get a lot of money or because some friends were doing it.

    Also I think there doesn't need to be an inherent reason that we are living here and now it just is. I am living my life to the fullest and I have no problems whatsoever to know that I will be dead at some point earlier or later and that nothing will remain but memories. (also I feel that the idea of an eternal life is quite repulsive and nothing I would like)

  11. oh I forgot I meant it is more prominent in states like the US.