Why Not Believe? Reasons Why Atheists Don't Believe in Gods.

Atheist Austin Cline offers a brief but good overview of why atheists do not believe in gods, here.


Multiple Gods and Religious Traditions:
It is difficult to credit any one religion as being True or any one god as being True when there have been so many throughout human history. None appears to have any greater claim to being more credible or reliable than any other. Why Christianity and not Judaism? Why Islam and not Hinduism? Why monotheism and not polytheism? Every position has had its defenders, all as ardent as those in other traditions. They can't all be right, but they can all be wrong.

Contradictory Characteristics in Gods:
Theists often claim that their gods are perfect beings; they describe gods, however, in contradictory and incoherent ways. Numerous characteristics are attributed to their gods, some of which are impossible and some combinations of which are impossible. As described, it's unlikely or impossible for these gods to exist. This doesn't mean that no god could possibly exist, just that the ones theists claim to believe in don't.

Religion in Self-Contradictory:
No religion is perfectly consistent when it comes to doctrines, ideas, and history. Every ideology, philosophy, and cultural tradition has inconsistencies and contradictions, so this shouldn't be surprising — but other ideologies and traditions aren't alleged to be divinely created or divinely sanctioned systems for following the wishes of a god. The state of religion in the world today is more consistent with the premise that they are man-made institutions.

Gods Are Too Similar to Believers:
A few cultures, like ancient Greece, have postulated gods which appear to be as natural as human beings, but in general gods are supernatural. This means that they are fundamentally different from human beings or anything on earth. Despite this, however, theists consistently describe their gods in ways that make the supernatural appear almost mundane. Gods share so many characteristics with humans that it has been argued that gods were made in the image of man.

Gods Just Don't Matter:
Theism means believing in the existence of at least one god, not that one necessarily cares much about any gods. In practice, though, theists typically place a great deal of importance on their god and insist that it and what it wants are the most important things a person can be concerned with. Depending upon the nature of a god, however, this isn't necessarily true. It's not obvious that the existence or desires of gods should matter to us.

Gods and Believers Behave Immorally:
In most religions, gods are supposed to be the source of all morality. For most believers, their religion represents an institution for promoting perfect morality. In reality, though, religions are responsible for widespread immorality and gods have characteristics or histories which make them worse than the most vile human serial killer. No one would tolerate such behavior on the part of a person, but when with a god it all becomes laudable — even an example to follow.

Evil in the World:
Closely associated with taking action that should be considered immoral is the fact that there is so much evil in the world today. If there are any gods, why don't they act to eliminate it? The absence of substantive action against evil would be consistent with the existence of evil or at least indifferent gods, which is not impossible, but few people believe in such gods. Most claim that their gods are loving and powerful; the suffering on Earth makes their existence implausible.

Faith is Unreliable:
A common characteristic of both theism and religion is their reliance on faith: belief in the existence of god and in the truth of religious doctrines is neither founded upon nor defended by logic, reason, evidence, or science. Instead, people are supposed to have faith — a position they wouldn’t consciously adopt with just about any other issue. Faith, though, is an unreliable guide to reality or means for acquiring knowledge.

Life is Material, not Supernatural:
Most religions say that life is much more than the flesh and matter we see around us. In addition, there is supposed to be some sort of spiritual or supernatural realm behind it all and that our "true selves" is spiritual, not material. All evidence, though, points to life being a purely natural phenomenon. All evidence indicates that who we really are — our selves — is material and dependent upon the workings of the brain. If this is so, religious and theistic doctrines are wrong.

There is No Good Reason to Bother Believing:
Perhaps the most important and common reason for not believing in any gods and for not following any religions is the absence of any good reason for doing so. All of the above are decent reasons for not believing and are common reasons for questioning — and eventually leaving — whatever theistic and religious beliefs a person might have had in the past.

Once a person gets beyond the bias in favor of belief, though, they can realize something critical: the burden of support lies with those claiming that belief is rational and/or necessary. Believers fail to meet this burden, however, and as a consequence fail to provide any really good reasons to accept their claims. As a consequence, those who don't already believe and/or who are not biased in favor of belief aren't given a reason to start.

Given the fact that the burden of support lies first and foremost with those making the positive the claim — the theistic, religious believers — then non-believers don't necessarily need reasons not to believe. They are helpful, to be sure, but they aren't particularly necessary. Instead, what is required are reasons to believe.

The question "Why don't you believe?" is a request for justification from the nonbeliever; the response "I haven't seen any good reason to bother believing" returns the need for justification back to the believer where it belongs. Too often, believers fail to realize that their position is the one which needs defending and perhaps this can help them begin to understand that.

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Of course, I add The Religion That a Person Adopts is Determined Almost Entirely by the Faith He or She is Exposed To, that's why I have proposed The Outsider Test for faith...

8 comments:

Sharon Mooney said...

Loftus: "They can't all be right, but they can all be wrong."

Sharon: Not necessarily. I've even acquainted Christians who question, "Maybe all religions are right". But how could that be? In my view as a Deist, Christianity and Fundamentalist religions like Islam hide themselves in front of God.

An atheist once told me, "Maybe God is just a big demon."

Many testimonies and even questionable events attributed to God have occured through history, and often times, those "miracles" and "signs" ended in evil. Perhaps there is a God behind those things, telling mankind something if he/she only chooses to listen closely. For instance, Joan of Arc it is believed, heard celestial voices telling her to lead France to victory over the English.. she seemed to believe they were real enough.
Joan of Arc's victory at Orleans (1429), according to the Commentaries of Pius II. Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, a statesman, poet and humanist --

Perhaps Joan was "spoiled" by the glory of conquest - getting a taste of what has been solely a male rite... honor, respect, prestige...

Joan of Arc often wore men's clothing between her departure from Vaucouleurs and her ... Hence it is in itself sinful for a woman to wear man’s clothes, ...

Joan of Arc (-1431). As a teenager, Joan believed she heard the voices of angels telling ... who found her guilty of witchcraft and wearing a man's clothes.

She wore man's clothes (this was in fact the main reason for her death sentence)

The poor girl was burned at the stake by "good Christian men" whom incidentally God never wasted a second to breathe a single word into their ear. Perhaps this was because, "God" never found them worthy.

I like this verse, and the fact that "Satan" is thoroughly ommitted throughout the majority of the Old Testament, "Satan" utterly fails to appear until the closing books of the Bibles (when outside mythology began to influence Hebrew religion):
"I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: *I the LORD do all these things." Isaiah 45:7
*No credit given to Satan there.

Yet, erroneously, the New Testament states:
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace...
1 Corinthians 14:33

And here's Jesus, on peace:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. (KJV)

Maybe there is one God alone, and maybe he is the giver of the confusion, the truths, the lies, the signs... the evil --as Gandhi once said, God is even the atheism in the atheist.

I'll refrain from posting all those lively quotes from the Deist founding fathers, like this one:
"Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one-half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth."
-- Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1781-82

Sharon Mooney said...

Edward T. Babinski (Agnostic): In my own studies of NDEs (Near Death Experiences) I've read about people who have had Christian NDEs, New Age NDEs, Mormon NDEs, Native American NDEs, Buddhist NDEs, Hindu NDEs, and most NDEs don't involve a god at all, most are either a bright light and lots of love, or a being of light that remains unidentified. And in most cases the NDE's relieve a person's fear of death, no matter what that person's religion is. I even know of one in which a person went to a dark hellish place and was taunted by dark beings, but was taken up out of that darkness by a being of light, and asked the being which was the best religion, and the being said, "whichever one brings you closest to God."

As for waking dreams and visions from various people and for various cultures, the cultural differences and perceptions and interpretations again are of a wide variety. Heck, there were visions and appearances of ancient Greek miracle workers back in the days of ancient Greece.

Likewise, some NDEs experienced by born again Christians reveal a firey hell and huge talking Bibles in the next life.

Sharon (Deist): All of it sounds like insanity. That was my point in the earlier post: maybe God is some kind of wise, more than capable of evil, mastermind of confusion.
Ed Babinski wrote in an email some months ago, to the degree of saying (in his Agnosticism) maybe we're just pawns in a big game, and hopefully that's so. Hopefully there is something better after this life... though he has seen no evidence.

Sharon Mooney said...

You've ever heard, The other 14% ought to sit down and shut up ?

How many in the polls, are actually Agnostics who believe in the possibility of God... and some who are actually deists, but not assigning "God" to the Christian religion?

I am an Agnostic. For those who are unfamiliar with the latter, for me it means that while I believe in, at the very least, the possibility of a "god" or higher being, I do not believe it is any of the "manmade" religions we are familiar with.
C.J. Baserap

Sharon: For those who are unfamiliar with what deism is, similar to Agnosticism, for me it means that while I believe in the existence of a "god" or higher being, I do not believe it is any of the "manmade" religions we are familiar with.

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The Religious and Other Beliefs of Americans 2003

The 90% of adults who believe in God include 93% of women, 96% of African-Americans and 93% of Republicans but only 86% of men, 85% of those with postgraduate degrees, and 87% of political independents.

Many people believe in miracles (89%), the devil (68%), hell (69%), ghosts (51%), astrology (31%) and reincarnation (27%)

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Fully 92 percent of Americans say they believe in God, 85 percent in heaven and 82 percent in miracles, according to the latest FOX News poll. Though belief in God has remained at about the same level, belief in the devil has increased slightly over the last few years — from 63 percent in 1997 to 71 percent today.

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Sharon: Yes, atheists should be more vocal, so should Agnostics and Deists --(many Christians are totally unaware that many founding fathers were Deists, and have even attempted to deny this, implying America was founded as a Christian nation).

Vocal is great --perhaps many of the people out there who were surveyed may have been Deist and even questioning the Bible, or possibly Agnostic --but many are totally unaware of freethought circles... unfortunatley the media somewhat failed to go into depth on that.

John W. Loftus said...

Sharon, I went from being a Christian to a Deist to an agnostic to an atheist. I really don't want to be debating this with you here, but you've brought it up a few times already. We are in agreement about a great many things, you and I. Yet, sometimes I'm tempted to going back to be an agnostic, and even a Deist, but the preponderance of the arguments I've considered lead me to reject such a being.

If God Does Exist….
If God does exist then he would only be the god of this one particular area of created reality (one or more universes). Other gods and created realities could exist in the great VOID, and as such it would no longer be a VOID in those areas where something exists.

If God exists he’s either impotent to help us or he’s uncaring. There is just too much human suffering for a good omnipotent God to exist. And if either of these things are true he’s unworthy of worship and/or not worth fearing.

If God exists as a spirit who is omnipresent then he doesn’t have a physical body and therefore cannot act in this world or answer our prayers. So there can be no help from him in times of troubles. And there is no way he could reveal himself to us either, since doing so requires him to speak and to act.

According to Marcus Borg: “There is little difference between a distant and absent God and no God at all.” [The God We Never Knew (Harper, 1997, p. 23)].


There Have Been Four Cosmological Displacements:

1) The Copernican theory of the heliocentric universe defended by Galileo. (1600’s). Man was no longer the center of the universe.

2) The discovery that our solar system is not central to the Milky Way galaxy, but located on the periphery; out on a spiral arm. (c. 1900). Man was not even central in his own galaxy.

3) The discovery that our galaxy is only one of billions galaxies. (c. 1930’s). Man isn’t even central to the universe as a whole. We are insignificant.

4) The possibility that there are an infinite number of universes, called a multiverse. God is no longer needed.

Where did this God you believe in come from? That is, how did this being originate? Your choice is to say that he was always there or that he too popped into existence out of nothing. Since I see no evidence of him caring for his creatures I see no evidence he exists.

Sharon Mooney said...

Loftus: Where did this God you believe in come from?

Sharon: I admit, I can no more explain God, than science has yet to explain gravity. Yet, gravity exists.. we can't actually see or understand the source, but we feel it and see its effect in our personal lives, and therefore I genuinely believe gravity exists. When my young son comes to me, and loves -- I can no more explain that, than I can explain God. I only know that in my life, I've experienced some things that leave me more open to a belief a Deity exists, than Agnostics or Atheists. If God exists, and chooses to withhold knowledge of his existence to an individual, under the right circumstances, that person will certainly become an atheist. I would have, but then as I began reviewing all I had known in my life, atheism was not right for me. I feel a God exists. It's personal.. what has shaped my view, it's not for anyone else. Every person has their own world view. Billions of worldviews have dwelled on this earth --none the same.

Loftus: If God exists he’s either impotent to help us or he’s uncaring....And if either of these things are true he’s unworthy of worship and/or not worth fearing.

Sharon: Who gave you the idea, that God *must* care, is responsible to mankind, or that especially he wants anyone to fear him?
I know the answer already, it comes from projection of preachers, priests.. holy men who want your money.

One of my all-time favorite quotes:
"The church must stop trying to act like a "spiritual pharmacist" - working to produce acute guilt, and then in effect saying, "We just happen to have the remedy for your guilt here in our pocket."
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

My point is, I do know some atheists whom, if having the opportunity to push forward an agenda to wipe out God and religion -- to make it illegal, they would -- just as bad as the some radical fundamentalist christians who've said "this nation was founded as a Christian nation" and having every intention to make it so. People like these, I fear. Yes, I have had a minority of atheists question me about God, and when I affirmed without shame, "yes, I believe a God exists", (it's my Constitutional right afterall to believe what I want for myself --not my right to force my beliefs on others)... they literally began spewing personal insults and hatred -- labels, accusations -- and I had to excuse myself. Some atheists (not most, not the majority, but some) I personally know are already as bad as Christians when it comes to "evangelizing".

The founding fathers had it so, in their wisdom to create a system which protects individual spiritual beliefs. That is all God should be... retired from politics and the education system, nothing more and nothing less. There is no so-called "burden of proof", because I am not promoting a religion.

John W. Loftus said...

Sharon, so you've experienced God like you've experienced gravity? Hardly. Such experiences are either the same as a lottery winner or a horoscope reader. The former has experienced a lucky event, the later reads into an event what they want to see. And you cannot say even to yourself, much less argue with me that God was behind the specific event (or events) in question. Our minds play tricks on us.

Can you defend the religious experience argument for the existence of God?

Can you tell me anything about this God you believe in....anything at all? What are his/her characteristics? What are his/her goals? To whiom has he/she/it revealed himself? How? Why?

But I can tell you something about this God of yours. He/she/it doesn't care for us. He/she/it doesn't reveal himself in nonequivacable ways. He does nothing to help humankind in ways we can know. He's a distant, uncaring, miserable being, for whom I have no respect. He doesn't even have more power in this world than I do, for I can at least help a burning child out of a building. He cannot, or he will not. As far as YOU know, this God of yours created a "quantum wave fluctuation" that resulted in this universe, as his very last act, and then died. But if that's the case, then you too are an atheist.

If your God doesn't care, then why bother praying to him or caring about him? He might as well not exist. And you might as well accept it. You are alone in the universe. Does that scare you? Fear of being alone isn't a good reason to believe. Fear is one of the main motivators to believe, not arguments, in my opinion.

And as far as your rights go. You have them. They are obvious and unarguable here. But as with all of our rights, especially freedom of speech, they are political prizes that are won by the diligent.

Sharon Mooney said...

Loftus: Can you defend the religious experience argument for the existence of God?

Sharon: Religious experience? There's thousands of religions. No, I cannot explain religious experiences. I can only say, I believe God exists. I cannot prove this, it's personal, and nothing "logical" anyone can say, will ever sway the "emotional" side in human reasoning. Those things that have happened in my life, shaped my view. My view is not for anyone... only myself. No more than you can convince Jerry Falwell he is doing wrong, or vis versa, him convincing you that you are wrong. Sometimes, I even wonder if some of those preachers are atheist, without conscience, unafraid of using God's name in vain, using the Bible to make millions. What events in their life lead them to be without conscience or remorse?

I look to other people as well, and draw my conclusions on God.
For instance, Oral Roberts was it? I do not believe any God told him to milk eight million dollars from widows, or would call him home. Ozzy Osbourne jokingly criticized God told him, "If you don't get eight million, I'll let you live."

Never mind God, I know what Oral Roberts is.

Another profound testimony, that was touching, and I believe it may have been God. Loretta Lynn swore she saw and heard her father calling her name --she walked outside with an amazed, curious expression -- (300 some odd miles away from home) -- she saw an apparition, or what she perceived to be a ghost of sorts. It was actually her neighbor delivering news of her father's death. She tells her mother in Coal Miner's Daughter, "Mama, he came to me, I saw him plain as day." --that experience likely gave Loretta Lynn the closure she needed ... her story tells she was very close to her father, it seems like it was an act of love --I see no reason why Loretta Lynn would make this story up. I believe she told what she believed was true. I believe God may interact with man in strange ways.

I also believe it's not healthy for the mind to dwell too long on such things. I believe we should focus on reality --the empirical, keeping our head out of the clouds, our feet on the ground and our mind in the world we're living in, here and now.

Sharon Mooney said...

Loftus: Can you tell me anything about this God you believe in....anything at all? What are his/her characteristics?

Sharon: I cannot speak for God. That is for the preachers and priests to do... they write the books, and they sell their religions. Actually...

Loftus: ...He's a distant, uncaring, miserable being, for whom I have no respect.

Sharon: And as Robert Ingersoll often implied, there is nothing any man can say that can hurt God, so-called blaspheme, can not harm God, if God exists. That is the perception you have of "God", and it is a fair and valid description you've given since that is where you've been lead in your personal life. I suppose your own words, is the only answer I can offer you, for "who" and "what" God is.

Loftus: If your God doesn't care, then why bother praying to him or caring about him?

Sharon: Actually, I don't "pray" per se, not in the traditional sense of prayer. I have learned it is a waste of time to pray.. to meditate, fine... most of us meditate I think. Is meditation a form of prayer? Traditional prayer is a waste of time, for God should already know before anyone could ask. I meditate on things, surely God should know our thoughts -at least I believe God does. God has no need of "worship". People who allow their minds to go, thinking they somehow please God by rolling down aisles in church buildings, falling into trances and convulsions, raising their hands in the air-- uttering garbled syllables as in tongues -- how does any of this benefit God? -A sane, rational God that is.

Further on prayer, I've came to realize, even if God would answer me and give me anything I asked for, I would not be wise enough to even know what to ask for. For instance, I could ask God remove all misquitos... they bite, make us itch, they spread malaria, okay, say all the misquitos died, --and shortly after, the entire foodchain collapses, because misquitos provide food for some animals, and those animals likewise provide food for other animals, etc. My stupidity...
Or, I could ask God to grant immortality for every man, woman, child --what we end up with, is a serious overpopulation problem... I don't pray -- I do meditate on the evils I see in the world, just like you do evidently ... I do a lot of soul-searching and self-judgment, I realize things about myself, that I should change to make myself a better person, and ask myself "how can I change this", -- I meditate and soul-search a lot. Maybe the misquitos were a bad analogy, but I concentrate on the smaller things in life. There's too many things I simply have no control over, and many things I simply don't understand in this world, and in times past, I have asked for understanding. If a God is listening, then I hope that's exactly what's happening. I just stand back and allow my life to happen as it happens.

I think Kenneth Miller stated something to that degree on Evolution the PBS Mini-Series, that he is a Darwinist, but God is part of his life--he is a Christian --Miller feels God is a spiritual guide - but Miller does not believe in the creation.

I understand his belief, now.. some years ago I would not have.

I may end up dead in terrible car accident tomorrow...I may live another 20 years... I do not know the future, and in fact, I do not want to know. Of course, I'm human and always hopeful for good things down the road... whether by natural circumstances, or God guiding those circumstances. Who knows?, and it's really not so very important. It won't make any difference for the "salvation of mankind" or something, as I've heard said, "There's two things guaranteed in life: Death and Taxes." Normally, I really try not to dwell too much on those kind of things... I derive too much pleasure in other things, real things in the here and now, I have going on in my life.