How many times have you watched a debate between an atheist and a theist, and heard this line in response to the atheist’s logical and rational criticism of the theist’s argument?
“Why can’t you atheists just respect our beliefs and stop criticising?”
Aside from being a cop-out to wriggle out of having to answer to the criticism, it’s a double standard – when a theist asks an atheist a question that we don’t know the answer to, and won’t make up a feel-good answer to because we’re honest enough to admit that we don’t have all the answers, the theist’s usual response goes something like this:
“Ha! You can’t answer that, can you? You lose!”
Theists like to assume that atheists think they have all the answers, and when atheists admit they don’t because, well, we can’t know everything theists will claim victory. Yet when they are given a criticism that they can’t answer, they tell atheists to “respect their beliefs” and to “stop criticising their belief”. Well I’m sorry, but it’s not our fault you have holes in your argument that you can’t answer for. Don’t want your beliefs criticised? Don’t have irrational beliefs. At the very least, keep your beliefs personal.
There is of course a dangerous side to the line “respect my beliefs”. It is particularly prominent today in the case of Islam, where any rational criticism of its claims is labelled “islamophobia” and in Muslim theocratic states such criticism can be punishable by death. Just this year, four atheists in Bangladesh have been hacked to death for the “crime” of blogging. In Saudi Arabia, Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes after writing about free speech in his blog. His lawyer was also imprisoned. There was the Charlie Hebdo massacre. And the list goes on.
The notion that religion is above criticism has been around for thousands of years. Back in the days of Christian theocracy, declaring a state of unbelief in God would be a death sentence. We cannot be sure of the true beliefs of the likes of Thomas Jefferson, who was openly critical of Christianity and supported the separation of church and state while claiming a deistic belief in a higher power, as coming out as an atheist (which he may or may not have been) would have been a fatal mistake.
Wonder why the time where Christians ruled was called the Dark Ages?
Imagine what the world would be like now if it had not been for the secularists opposing religious rule, often at the cost of their lives. Imagine a world where we were still performing exorcisms to treat mental illness, where instead of hospitals there were faith healers praying on you to treat your cancer, where you would have to agree with everything the state religion claims or face a death penalty, where slavery was still permitted “because the Bible says so”, where women were still treated as property, where human and animal sacrifice still took place to bring back the sun after it has set.
Do you still want to say that religious law should trump state law in order to “respect your beliefs”?
Strangely enough, 57% of Americans are in favour of making Christianity the state religion and making the USA a theocratic country. So what happens if you are an American citizen and you are Muslim? Hindu? Any other faith? Atheist? The “wrong” denomination of Christianity? If you want a glimpse of what it might be like, look no further than Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia. Even if you are Muslim, you are still in trouble if you are the “wrong kind” of Muslim. For someone of another faith or no faith at all, it is much, much, worse. You certainly cannot make your views known. There is no such thing as “freedom of religion” or “freedom of speech” in such a society. Is that really what you want for America, the “land of the free”?
If you want your right to believe whatever you choose to be protected, it has been proven time and time again that keeping religion out of government is the best solution. Separation of church and state is as much about protecting your freedom to believe as it is about protecting people of other religions to believe what they want, and nonbelievers to lack religious belief. If you still don’t support separation of religion and government, go spend a bit of time in Iran.
As an atheist, I get a lot of religious people trying to tell me why I should believe in their religion so I can be “saved”. The discussions tend to follow the same course each time and, at least in my experience, theists seem to use the same weapons over and over again.
So here I have decided to put together a list of some of the most common ways that theists have tried to “convert” me to their religion, and why they are not effective. Okay, let’s get started.
1. Quoting verses from your holy book.
This is usually the first thing a religious person tries to use, and it’s understandable. For them, their holy book is the ultimate source of information – and it’s their main source of information about their god. So naturally, if they’re going to tell someone about their religion, they should start from the founding document, right?
But there is a big problem. Atheists (or indeed anybody that does not share the same faith) do not see the book in the same way as the theist that advocates it. Moreover, many if not most atheists have already read the book in question, in great detail, and disregard the book as a man-made document not in any way “god-inspired”. So it makes no sense to use verses from the book to support your position. We see no reason to take on what the Bible or Quran says purely because it is written in said books, so why would we care what any particular verse says?
2. Criticising evolution.
Have you ever heard that evolution is “just a theory”, or that there is “no evidence” of evolution? I see these sorts of claims from creationists regularly, as well as claims that there is “irrefutable proof” of “intelligent design”.
Yes, evolution is a theory. Just like germs causing disease is a theory, gravity is a theory and the earth rotating around the sun is a theory. Theists that label evolution as “just a theory” are using the definition of “theory” in a colloquial sense and applying it to evolution, even though the term is used differently when referring to a scientific theory. The National Academy Of Sciences defines the term “theory” in science as “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.” In contrast, Dictionary.com defines the everyday use of the word “theory” as a “guess or conjecture”. Obviously these two definitions are quite different. In short: evolution is a fact, evolutionary theory explains the fact.
Of course evolution has nothing to do with atheism. Many theists accept evolution as true. It is not the job of evolution to answer the question of whether of god exists or not. The only reason theists attack it is to promote their version of creationism.
And even if evolution was false, it still wouldn’t prove that atheism was false or that “intelligent design” is true. Disproving theory A doesn’t prove theory B. So even if a scientist was to one day disprove evolution and collect a Nobel Prize (I see none of these creationists have got theirs yet!), it would not mean that intelligent design was the only other answer or that god exists. The creationist still has all their work still ahead of them to prove not only that a god exists, but that said god created everything.
3. Claiming that there can be no morality without God.
Theists like to tell me that without God, I cannot have a sense of morality. That I wouldn’t know right from wrong if it wasn’t for God telling me what to do. As if the only reason I don’t kill people is because some dude in the sky will punish me if I do.
There are multiple problems with this assertion. Firstly, it defines morality as simply obeying God’s commands. But following orders isn’t morality – it’s obedience, which is doing what you are told regardless of what is right; while morality is doing what is right, regardless of what you are told to do. Is something good because God commands it? Or does God command it because it is good? The former is a “might makes right” mentality, which of course is nothing like morality. The fact that someone is powerful does not make their actions or teachings correct. And if the latter is true, then it means that God is not required for morality; furthermore, morality is independent of God.
The second issue is that theists are claiming that if it weren’t for their belief in God, they would be running around raping and killing everyone. It is not a good concession to make when arguing from moral superiority. If the only thing standing between you and a mass-murderer is fear of divine judgment, then you are not a good person; you are just afraid of punishment. But if these people were to suddenly lose their faith, would they really become monsters and start committing heinous crimes? And it’s not like religion is much of a deterrent to immoral behaviour – some of the most horrific atrocities in history were performed by people of faith. The suicide-bombing community is entirely faith-based. The genital mutilation community is also entirely faith-based. In study after study, it is repeatedly demonstrated that the less religious a society is the better they score on tests for societal health, wellbeing, crime and so on.
Also, it devalues human decency. If it were really true that morality was commanded to us by a god, then it would mean that we were only doing good because we were told to, we were hoping to get a divine reward or we were afraid of going to hell – rather than doing good for the sake of it. Christopher Hitchens addressed the issue of religion and morality in the form of a challenge:
“Name one moral statement made, or moral action performed, by a believer in the name of faith, that could not have been done by an infidel, and if you can – and this is easier – name a wicked action performed or wicked statement made that could only be done in the name of faith.”
Religion does not have a monopoly on human decency. It is innate in us. Which brings me to the next item.
4. Bringing up Hitler, Stalin, etc.
When dealing with morality theists often attack the atheist position by bringing up the atrocities committed by Hitler, Stalin, etc.
First off, Hitler was not an atheist. He was a Roman Catholic; he never renounced his baptism and the Catholic Church said a prayer for him on his birthday every year until 1964, well after the end of the Nuremberg trials. The belts of the Nazi soldiers had “Got Mitt Uns” – “God With Us” in German – engraved upon them.
Even if he was an atheist, which Stalin almost certainly was, he nor Stalin did their terrible deeds ” in the name of atheism”. Religion certainly had a large role to play – you shouldn’t be in the dictatorship business if you can’t find a way to exploit people’s willingness to behave religiously. The likes of Hitler and Stalin were almost deified and they demanded to be respected like gods. They are certainly not examples of secular leaders. Quite the contrary; their dictatorships were very religious in nature.
To quote Hitchens again:
“Morality does not come from a divine being, it is innate in us. For those in which it is not innate – sociopaths who only care for the needs of themselves and psychopaths who take pleasure in the suffering of others – on one hand they were also created in the image of God, which makes the image of God rather questionable, does it not?”
5. Telling the atheist to prove god doesn’t exist.
I have lost count of the number of times I have asked theists for evidence of their god and they have responded by telling me that there is no proof that god doesn’t exist. First of all, this is shifting the burden of proof onto the atheist. Instead of providing evidence for the claim “god exists”, the theist demands that the atheist proves a claim he/she is not making. Atheism is not the belief that god doesn’t exist; it’s just responding “I don’t believe you” to the theist claim. Since it is the theist claiming god’s existence, the onus is on them to provide evidence.
When making a hypothesis in science, it must be falsifiable– that means that it is possible to disprove the hypothesis provided the right evidence is presented. That is the only way it can be possible to test it. For example, the claim that gravity makes objects fall towards the ground. An easy way to disprove it would be to drop something and have it float upwards. That makes the claim falsifiable; that is, that certain evidence if it were to show up in experimentation would disprove the claim. The claim that god exists is, as it stands with our current knowledge and possibly always, unfalsifiable – meaning that no item of evidence presented can definitively disprove the claim. But then how could you test if the claim was true? No matter what experiments are performed, you would never get evidence that disproved it even if the claim was indeed false.
Bertrand Russell demonstrated this with a hypothetical teapot orbiting the Sun between Earth and Mars, that is so small it cannot be detected with even our strongest telescopes. Obviously you can’t disprove the existence of such a teapot, but it would be ludicrous to believe that it existed just because there was no way to prove it didn’t. Similarly, just because god’s existence cannot be disproved (at least not yet) doesn’t mean that god exists. Only evidence that god exists can prove it.
6. Asserting Pascal’s Wager.
“Well, if I’m wrong I lose nothing. If you’re wrong you’re going to hell forever! HAHAHA!” Or words to that effect. That is Pascal’s Wager, which says that it is better to believe in god and be wrong than not believe and be wrong.
For a start, there are literally thousands of gods to choose from. How do you know that yours is the correct one? What if your religion is false and the one true religion is someone else’s? What are you gonna do, believe in all gods in case you’re wrong about them?
Second, don’t you think that an all-knowing god would see through your bet and would know that you didn’t sincerely believe? As far as I’m concerned, any god worthy of praise would prefer an honest atheist to a bet-hedging theist.
7. Arguing from “faith”.
Usually after repeated requests for evidence are failed to be met, the theist will argue that they have “faith” that their religion is true.
Most atheists are such precisely because they value evidence over faith. Since faith is a belief without evidence, and sometimes despite evidence against the belief, atheists do not see faith the same way as theists. In literally any other discourse an argument from faith would be a concession of gullibility. Yet when talking about religion, somehow “faith” gets special status and is even considered a virtue superior to evidence. Any reasonable atheist will never place faith over evidence.
The other thing that theists fail to realise is that people from other religions make the same argument of faith for their religion. Muslims have just as much faith as Christians – on what grounds does one get to decide which person’s faith claims have more value? If one wants to grant credence to the faith argument for one religion, one must grant it for all – which is of course ridiculous as every religion cannot all be right at once. The most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong, since there is no evidence for any of them and faith proves nothing.
8. Saying that science doesn’t know everything.
While it may be true that science doesn’t yet know everything, it doesn’t mean that the remaining answers lie in religion. When science didn’t know about thunder and lightning, god was used to explain that. When science didn’t know about germs, demons and curses from god were used to explain disease. This is what’s known as God-of-the-gaps. Wherever there is a gap in scientific understanding, God is placed into the gap.
The problem is that if scientists had settled for “god did it” when it came to disease, we would have never found out the true cause and would still be performing exorcisms on epileptics. If scientists had settled for “god did it” when it came to natural disasters like earthquakes, we would have never found out what caused them. Just think about the many things that once had a supernatural explanation that now has a natural explanation. However there isn’t a single thing that once had a natural explanation, that is now better explained by the supernatural. Furthermore, if a “supernatural” explanation was to ever be proved scientifically, the phenomena would cease to be supernatural and would simply become a part of the natural.
So far, religion has a pretty poor track record when it comes to facts. And even if science never finds out everything, ever, that still does not mean that “god did it”, or that the answers can be found in religion.
9. Providing an anecdote of a so-called “miracle” or personal experience.
Theists love to tell atheists about how they “saw God”, or that they or someone they know had a “miraculous” recovery from illness/injury, got a promotion after praying for it, and so on. They think that this is powerful evidence that god exists.
However, these anecdotes are only evidence for god if you already believe in god. Occam’s Razor, which states that the most simplest and most plausible explanation for something is usually the right one, is well-known among atheists. When a theist claims that they saw a vision that could only be God, atheists realise that it is not the most likely explanation; it is far more plausible that the theist was simply hallucinating, and linked the hallucination to God because of the beliefs of his parents. Similarly, whenever theists claim that somebody’s cancer was cured by faith healing they usually leave out the part of the story that says that the person was also having chemotherapy or that they died later on.
Some theists will try to get round this by saying that God works through people sometimes to achieve miracles. But it is an insult to doctors who save lives every day to suggest that god is doing all the work. Just imagine being a top surgeon, who has just spent hours and hours saving the life of a person who, without medical intervention, would have died. When telling the person’s family of the operation’s success, the first to be thanked is God. The only recognition you get is as a puppet; that God merely worked through you to perform his “miracle”. Excuse me? I’ve just spent hours saving your daughter’s life, and you thank God? In fact, it is an insult to just about anyone who has ever performed a good deed. Thanking God for everything even when it’s something a human being has done completely devalues all human endeavour, as it wouldn’t really be us doing it.
And while you are bragging about all the miracles that God has performed for you, you fail to take into account the vast numbers of people who pray for miracles and don’t get them. What makes you so special?
And while on the subject…
10. Saying how arrogant atheists are.
Theists not only claim that they know god exists, but that they know what this god is like and what he wants from us and especially what he wants us to do while naked. They have no problem with that, but an atheist saying that there’s no evidence to support such claims – apparently that’s “arrogant”.
Oh yes, atheists are so arrogant for not thinking that the entire universe was created with them in mind. That’s something that gets on my nerves about theism, particularly monotheism – all this me, me, me crap. Never mind the millions that suffer and die year on year, only to go to hell for eternity for believing in the wrong god, my god loves me and I will get to go to heaven!
11. Telling the atheist “I’ll pray for you”.
Going by how often I have theists tell me they’re going to pray for me, if it really worked I should be a believer by now.
Telling an atheist you are going to pray for them is meaningless. We don’t believe god exists, nor that he can answer prayers or cares about us. And as a theist you know that we don’t see prayer in the same way as you. By all means, if it makes you feel any better to pray for us you can go ahead. But why bother telling us about it? (Especially if you are Christian. Read Matthew 6:6 before praying in public or announcing you’re about to pray.) As far as atheists are concerned it doesn’t help, so it makes no sense to inform us of your intent to pray for us. We really couldn’t care less whether you pray for us or not. It won’t make a difference either way.
12. Threatening the atheist with hell.
This is the last defence of the theist who has nothing left to offer. But while such a punishment may seem terrifying to the theist, it is meaningless to an atheist. We don’t even believe that such a place exists, so why should we be afraid of going there? Threatening an atheist with hell is about as effective as telling an adult they will not be getting presents from Santa. And you wonder why we laugh at you.
If you want atheists to start taking your god claims seriously, you probably shouldn’t keep using the same tactics over and over again after repeated refutation. It’s intellectually dishonest and won’t help to win us over. In closing, I shall leave you with a quote from Richard Dawkins:
“Evidence is the only good reason to believe in something.”
I have recently been faced with yet another theist making the same arguments for their religion that I have heard thousands of times. I hear the same platitudes from well-meaning theist friends whenever I am having a rough time. Entering debate with theists is like listening to a broken record: you hear the same things over and over again, and you can’t move forward. I’m pretty sure most atheists would love to move on, but the religious won’t let certain things go.
Here are some of the most common lines I hear regularly from theists, and my response to each. They are in no particular order.
1. I don’t care about ‘evidence’. That’s what faith is about!
And why is that a good thing? “Faith” in any other discourse is considered by any reasonable person, atheist or not, to be synonymous with gullibility. Scammers who prey on the vulnerable use appeals to faith to gain the trust of their victims before stealing all the money from their bank. Despite homeopathic treatments being shown to be no more effective than a placebo, and in some cases actively harmful, homeopaths are successful while people are willing to accept their claims on faith. Faith causes children to die from easily curable diseases and easily treatable wounds, because their parents decided to pray over their child instead of taking them to a doctor. Faith makes people fly planes into buildings because they think it will secure them a place in paradise. I don’t criticise your religion because I don’t know what faith is about- I criticise it because I know precisely what faith is about, and its potential to cause great harm.
2. Why don’t you just keep your atheism to yourself?
When Christopher Hitchens was asked why he couldn’t just “keep his atheism to himself”, he replied, “The religious won’t let me.” As he often was, Hitch was right on. These days it is impossible to listen to the news or read the newspaper without seeing headlines about Muslims killing cartoonists for ‘insulting’ their prophet (and so-called “moderates” supporting the murders), Christians crying ‘persecution’ because an atheist group wants just one billboard next to hundreds of religious ones in their town, young girls being raped as a sex slave and then refused an abortion, atheists being hacked to death simply for writing a blog, and the list goes on and on. Homosexuals are at best discriminated against and at worst killed, for being something they were born as and cannot change, because of a few words written down in an ancient book written by ignorant bronze age men. Women in Muslim-majority countries are forced to cover up their body head to toe in a cloth because the men might get too ‘tempted’ to rape them if they dared to dress normally, treated as property rather than people, forbidden to drive, forbidden to leave the house without a male escort, require four witnesses to prove a rape case, etc. Wherever it can, religion likes to trample all over everything and impose its views on everyone regardless of what other may or may not believe. Again quoting Hitchens, “Religion poisons everything.”
3. Everything happens for a reason, God has a plan. It is not for us to try to understand his mind.
Really? Is terminal childhood cancer in God’s plan? People becoming so depressed they commit suicide as they feel it is the only remaining option for them? Child rape? Babies dying from rare incurable diseases? Thousands of families starving in Third-world countries while the Vatican is obscenely rich? And the typical “original sin” rebuttal theists often resort to just makes things worse. And honestly, if there really was a god with a divine plan we mere mortals couldn’t possibly understand why do you even bother praying? If what you pray for is in God’s plan, then God was already going to give it to you anyway. And if it’s not in God’s plan, what makes you think God should change his perfect plan just for you? Suppose you don’t get what you prayed for. Theists usually answer, “well it must be God’s will.” But if God’s just gonna do what he wants regardless, why bother?
4. Homosexuality isn’t natural!
Oh, and talking donkeys and snakes, virgin births, winged horses, unicorns and the rest of the shit that religion sells is? Anyone who believes in things that absurd cannot be a judge of what is ‘natural’. And even if it wasn’t natural, so fucking what? Clothes aren’t natural. Neither is the internet, which is ironically quite a popular platform of choice for theists to preach how ‘unnatural’ homosexuality is. You don’t like anything that’s unnatural? Go and live in a cave.
5. Religion offers us a sense of morality!/Atheists have no morals!
You want to tell me that I have no morals while you advocate a book that promotes slavery, rape, murder, genocide, treating women as property and more? And I hold myself accountable for my actions, while you can just pray for forgiveness and be absolved of responsibility. Seriously, when you say you need religion to get a sense of morality you are saying that if you only do good because you’re hoping to get a divine reward or trying to avoid divine punishment. I’ll leave you with a challenge by Hitch: “Name one moral statement made, or moral action performed, by a person of faith, that couldn’t be done by a non-believer. And here’s an easier one: name a horrific action performed that could only be done by a person of faith. You’ve already thought of one. And another.”
6. Why do you have be so militant and offensive?
Let me get this straight. For centuries, religion ruled and anyone who dared to question it were severely punished, often killed, and this still happens in theocracies like Saudi Arabia. Religion imposes its views on everybody wherever it can, forcing people to abide by the rules of their belief system by law if possible. But if I dare to criticise the extraordinary claims religions make, I am militant? I have already written a post on this topic in more detail, which you can view here.
7. Atheism is a religion!
False. Atheism is a lack of belief in gods. That’s it. Theists like to assert this claim, and the similar claim that it takes faith to be an atheist, because to them it then puts atheism on an equal footing with their religion. But the claim is just simply untrue. Atheism has no doctrines, no rituals, or any other of the components it would require to be considered a religion. Atheism is simply answering “I don’t believe you” to the claim “God exists”, and nothing else. It’s the only requirement. It’s also kind of ironic that they make the claim that atheists have as much faith as they do as a means to criticise the atheist position. I mean, if you think atheism is incorrect because you see it as faith-based, what makes you think that your faith-based religion is correct? If “atheists have faith” is a criticism of atheism, then “theists have faith” is a criticism of theism. You can’t have it both ways.
8. Well, if I’m right I’ll go to heaven forever and if I’m wrong nothing happens. But if you’re wrong you’ll burn in hell forever! How do you like that?
That’s about as effective as telling a grown adult that if he doesn’t believe in Santa he’ll go on Santa’s naughty list forever.
This is also what’s called Pascal’s Wager, which says that it is better to believe in God and be wrong than not believe and be wrong. But with thousands of gods to choose from, how do you know if you’ve picked the right one? Theists generally respond with “I just have faith”, which I have already addressed. Every religion has a faith element. What are you gonna do, believe in all gods just in case? They can’t all be right- but they could all be wrong. Besides, surely an all-knowing god would detect if someone was simply hedging their bets and see through Pascal’s Wager? Ultimately, if a god exists and is going to send people to hell for not believing in him/her/it then you’re not really any better off than an atheist. And if such a god exists, it is not worth a second of anybody’s time anyway because it would be a monster.
“We are all atheists regarding most of the gods humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” – Richard Dawkins
9. Do you really think so many people could be wrong?
First of all, this commits the argumentum ad populum, or “argument from popularity”, logical fallacy. It basically goes like this:
P1. Lots of people believe X is true.
Conclusion: X is true.
This is a fallacy because the fact that lots of people believe something does not automatically make it true. Allow me to demonstrate why with an example argument.
P1. Many people believe that the Earth is flat.
Conclusion: The earth is flat.
Obviously we know that the conclusion is false. That means there is something wrong with the logic, making it an invalid argument.
The other problem with this is that no matter which religion you pick, there are more people who don’t believe in it than people who do. So it’s just absurd to claim that a religion must be right because it has a lot of followers. More follow something else or none at all. Of course it’s possible for many people to be wrong at once. Like when people thought the Sun went round the earth, or that devils, and not germs, caused disease.
10. Religion gives so many people a sense of hope. Why would you want to take that away?
While it may be true that people could feel a sense of hope from the idea that a god is watching over them, that has no bearing whatsoever on the veracity of their religion’s claims. When Richard Dawkins was faced with this question, his response was, “The universe doesn’t owe you a sense of hope. It could be that the universe is a totally hopeless place. I as a matter of fact don’t think it is, but even if it were that would still not be a good reason to believe in religion.” Besides, what good is hope if it’s false? It would be no good for a doctor to tell the family of a child who has a terminal illness that the child is going to get better; when he/she doesn’t they will be gravely disappointed. And quite frankly I don’t think religion is a good source of hope anyway. It convinces you that you are a sinner, unworthy from the moment you are born, and that you can only be saved from eternal punishment if you are willing to give up the only thing that makes us higher primates, your critical faculties, and believe absurd assertions with no evidence. It tells you that without a god, you are nothing. What kind of ‘hope’ is that? But what if it turns out that you passed that exam because you worked hard, a premature baby survives and becomes healthy because years of research by scientists has paid off, you got that promotion because you did an amazing presentation, you scored the winning goal for your football/soccer team because you trained well, you beat your cigarette addiction because of your effort and willpower? The idea that you are capable of amazing things and that you can do them yourself without the help of a god is, to me, far more hopeful than anything religion can offer.
Quite regularly, especially on the internet, atheists are faced with the accusation that they are being “militant” or “extremist” with their atheism by religious people and religious groups. The term “New Atheists” is used as an insult towards atheists to describe what religious folk often call a “militant atheist movement”, in an attempt to discredit our position.
Of course, what the religious crowd fail to realise is that there is no fundamental difference between the atheists of BC to the atheists of today. The definition of an atheist, a person who has a lack of belief in a god or gods (Note: NOT the belief that there is no god!), has not changed. The only thing that separates the “old” atheists from the “new” atheists is that we no longer put up with being silenced. In a democratic society we cannot be burned at the stake simply for being atheists anymore.
Religious groups discriminate against women, homosexuals, transgenders, rival religions, atheists, and just about anyone that doesn’t adhere to their worldview, and it’s “religious freedom”. But if anyone dares to object to this, the religious claim “persecution”.
So what do the religious people mean by “militant” atheism?
Here are the behaviours that get atheists labelled as “militant”:
Saying “I’m an atheist”
Debunking beliefs on the internet
Posting on an atheist page on Facebook
Thinking the state should not favour one religion over another
Writing a book about how illogical religion is
Thinking what is proven should be taught in schools, not an archaic belief system
In contrast, here are some examples of “militant” religious behaviour in the 21st Century:
Going door to door at an ungodly hour bothering people with your beliefs
Threatening people of other religions or denominations
Killing people of other religions or denominations
Outlawing the practice of other faiths
Outlawing freedom of speech
Using taxpayers’s money to distribute your holy book in public schools
Demanding that what you believe should be taught in schools, not what is proven
Believing your personal beliefs entitle you to deny others the same rights
And yet, atheists who decide to speak out against things like the killing of gays and other militant behaviour of religious people are the ones who are labelled extremist.
For centuries the religious majority demanded that atheists keep quiet and imposed their beliefs on us. If we dissented, we were punished – usually by a death penalty. In countries where their society is more theocratic, for example Saudi Arabia, this is still the case.
Now when atheists say that we want no more of that, suddenly we are the ones forcing things down people’s throats. Religious groups discriminate against women, homosexuals, transgenders, rival religions, atheists, and just about anyone that doesn’t adhere to their worldview, and it’s “religious freedom”. But if anyone dares to object to this, the religious claim “persecution”.
Can anyone imagine going to war over which sports team was the best? And yet more people have been killed in the name of one religion or another in history than any other cause.
They whine that paying for birth control goes against their religious beliefs while expecting atheists’ taxes to pay for their churches. They want to have as many billboards as they like plastered all over, but as soon as an atheist group puts up just one they complain that they are “offended” and demand that it gets taken down. They go into courts and attempt to push their version of creationism under the smuggled-through-customs (Thanks Hitch) name of Intelligent Design into science classrooms, but if atheists ask that facts (Yes, evolution is a fact) be taught in schools it is “imposing” something on them. And that’s barely scratching the surface of religious hypocrisy.
But if you dare to question it, you are the militant one. Right.
Imagine if the situation was reversed. No-one can deny that the religious would be all over the atheists if it was us doing it. If a political party was to behave this way, or fans of a particular football team, you can guarantee that any reasonable person would think it was wrong. Oh, but if it’s in the name of religion, then it’s okay? Really?
Why does religion get a free pass where any other discourse would be criticised? Can anyone imagine going to war over which sports team was the best? And yet more people have been killed in the name of one religion or another in history than any other cause.
Murdering people who offend me? Fine. But drawing a cartoon? How extremist! Oh, the horror!
After the Charlie Hebdo incident, where an “offensive” cartoon depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed caused Muslim gunmen to open fire and kill 12 people including the magazine’s editor and several cartoonists, “moderate” Muslims, even those who claimed to be “against terrorism”, condemned the cartoons of Mohammed, and not the gunmen who killed 12 people.
A month later, where a similar event happened in Copenhagen, guess what the Muslims condemned? That’s right. Yet again, they condemned the cartoons.
Murdering people who offend me? Fine. But drawing a cartoon? How extremist! Oh, the horror!
“Moderate” indeed. And from a so-called “religion of peace”, to boot.
When you as a religious person demand that people who follow a different religion to yours, or no religion at all, must follow the rules of your belief system whether or not they agree with you, that is the kind of society you are trying to create for them.
And they have the nerve to call atheists “militant” simply for stating their opinion that religion is illogical on the internet or that all religions, and the absence of religion, should be treated equally by the government?
If you are religious, imagine waking up one morning to find that your country was being ruled by religion- but not your religion. So if you are a Christian, suppose your country’s laws are based on Islamic scripture. “In [insert a god’s name other than your god] We Trust is printed on every banknote you use. In science classrooms a version of creationism that doesn’t agree with what you believe is taught in schools. If you have children, they must take part in compulsory prayers to a god they don’t believe in, every day in school. You cannot commute to work/college/school without passing numerous billboards telling you that you and your children (present or future) will be going to Hell if you don’t repent and join this different religion. You cannot freely express your belief in public without facing severe punishment. You must comply with all the rules of the religious government, even if they conflict with your personal beliefs. If you dare to disobey, you will likely face a death penalty.
Would you want to live in a society like this?
When you as a religious person demand that people who follow a different religion to yours, or no religion at all, must follow the rules of your belief system whether or not they agree with you, that is the kind of society you are trying to create for them. You wouldn’t put up with it yourself, so is it really that surprising that people are going to complain when you try to force it on others?
The wall that is the separation of church and state is extremely important, and serves to protect the religious just as much as it serves to protect the non-religious. The legislations that have allowed atheists to finally speak up are the same legislations that have allowed you as a religious person to openly express your beliefs even if you are not the majority (for example if you are a Hindu in the US). There is no separation of religion and government in Saudi Arabia, a country ruled by Islam. Would you as a Christian feel comfortable living there? Heck, even a lot of the Muslims don’t like it.
So before you accuse atheists of being “militant” for asking that religion stays out of government and vice versa, remember that the separation is to protect you as well and it should be in your best interest to keep religion and government well away from each other. Just as your right to swing your arm ends where someone’s face is, your right to express your beliefs ends where you begin to impose them on other people.
And if you still think it is “militant” for me to say “I’m an atheist and I think that no group, whether it is a religion, gender, sexual orientation, class or otherwise, should be favoured over another by the government”, then I shall wear that label with pride.
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not all-powerful. Is God able to prevent evil, but not willing? Then he is not all-loving. Is God neither able to prevent evil nor willing? Then why call him God? – Epicurus
Whenever I debate theists, the Problem Of Evil inevitably comes up. The problem is generally set up in the following way:
1. If God exists then he is Omnipotent (all-powerful), Omniscient (all-knowing) and Omnibenevolent (all-loving), OOO.
2. If an OOO God exists, then there would be no evil; because it would be powerful enough to prevent evil, knowledgable enough to know in advance when and where evil will take place and loving enough to want to prevent evil.
3. Suppose God exists. Then he is OOO.
4. Then there is no evil.
5. But there is evil.
And here we have a contradiction. Supposing that God exists implies that there is no evil in the world, but in fact there is plenty of evil in the world. In order to resolve this contradiction, one is required to give up at least one of the above statements. They cannot all be true at the same time.
here is where all the fun and games begin because now the theist must somehow explain how, if an OOO God’s existence implies the absence of evil, why it is quite plainly obvious that there is great abundance of things that most reasonable people would define as “evil”.
Giving up the first doesn’t look appealing to the theist, because it requires them to remove at least one of God’s properties. This probably puts their god, for example the Christian God (at least the way Christians like to define it), out of the running, and that would deal a major blow to their faith. With similar reasoning most theists won’t admit that statement 3 could be abandoned, as atheists have done.
The theist is left with no good-looking option but to resolve the conflict between statements 4 and 5, and here is where all the fun and games begin because now the theist must somehow explain how, if an OOO God’s existence implies the absence of evil, why it is quite plainly obvious that there is great abundance of things that most reasonable people would define as “evil”.
The typical theist’s first response is the argument of “free will”. It goes as follows: God has given all of us the gift of free will, both to do good and bad things. If he was to prevent the bad things it would violate our free will.
“Why does God care more about the free will of rapists than the free will of rape victims?”
Besides the fact that free will is an illusion, this argument is problematic. Even if we grant the theist their premise that we truly do have free will, it doesn’t address the issue. Suppose a child is raped in the street. Surely the child has the free will to walk down the street without being raped? If God exists and does nothing to prevent the rape, he/she/it is violating the free will of the child. Trying to resolve the Problem Of Evil with “free will” only raises the question, “Why does God care more about the free will of rapists than the free will of rape victims?”
The way they try to resolve the new problem created by their free will argument is to posit that God has a “divine plan” for everyone, and that it is not for us to try to understand this plan. We cannot understand the mind of God.
It begs the question, “Why pray then?” If what you want is in his plan, he will do it anyway! And if it is not in his plan, what makes you think he’s going to change it just for YOU?
But of course this is just another contradiction. If God has a divine plan, how can he have given us free will? This can be illustrated with two logical arguments.
Can free will exist if God has a plan?
God is OOO.
An OOO God cannot fail.
God has a plan.
Since God is OOO, the plan cannot fail.
Unless all actions are predetermined, sometimes people can do things that are not in God’s plan and God would fail.
Therefore the only way God can ensure his plan doesn’t fail is to predetermine all actions.
God cannot fail, so all actions are predetermined.
If all actions are predetermined, free will cannot exist.
All actions are predetermined.
Free will doesn’t exist.
Can God have a plan if free will exists?
God is OOO.
An OOO God cannot fail.
If God has a plan, it cannot fail.
God gave us free will.
Because of free will, sometimes people can do things that are not in God’s plan.
God’s plan failed.
God cannot have a plan, because the only plan an OOO God can have is a plan that doesn’t fail.
God doesn’t have a plan.
Another criticism of the divine plan argument is that it begs the question, “Why pray then?” If what you want is in his plan, he will do it anyway! And if it is not in his plan, what makes you think he’s going to change it just for YOU? (And they call atheists arrogant!)
Now it is clear: the theist has to admit that if God exists, then either he couldn’t have given us free will or that God doesn’t have a “divine plan” after all. And even if the theist manages to adjust his position accordingly, it still doesn’t address the suffering caused by natural disasters, premature births, genetic defects, and so on, i.e NOT by something we choose to do. Cue “Original Sin”.
If someone commits a crime, then it won’t be just them who gets punished but their children, and their children’s children, down the generations continuously until humanity’s eventual extinction. This is not a fair justice system, and no reasonable society would accept it in their courts. So why should it be acceptable for their god?
Original sin is based on the story in Genesis in the Bible where Adam and Eve ate an apple from the Tree Of Knowledge, resulting in the “fall” of mankind and condemning the rest of humanity to the wrath of God. Aside from the fact that evolution demonstrates that mankind did not descend from just two humans who had two sons (think about it! Take as much time as you need.), it’s a disgusting concept. Just imagine it being translated into a court of law. If someone commits a crime, then it won’t be just them who gets punished but their children, and their children’s children, down the generations continuously until humanity’s eventual extinction. This is not a fair justice system, and no reasonable society would accept it in their courts. So why should it be acceptable for their god?
The theist is cornered. They don’t know how to answer. In a last-ditch attempt to salvage their position, they usually posit Pascal’s Wager and threaten the atheist with Hell. Well, that’s about as relevant as telling an adult that they will be on Santa’s naughty list forever if they don’t believe in him and that they’ll be better off believing and being wrong than not believing and being wrong. And they wonder why we never take that threat seriously?
In conclusion, the Problem of Evil is a major challenge to the theist position. It creates a contradiction that can’t be resolved easily. The only way to intellectually honestly address the problem is to downgrade their god to a non-OOO god, or a deistic god who does not intervene in human affairs, or- as atheists do- throw out belief in God altogether.