Myths about atheism obscure its secular values


OPINION: Recent letters in The Irish Times promoted six common myths about atheism, including that it is a religion or belief system based on faith and certainty, and that we need religion for meaning and morality.

Atheism is not a religion. Religions typically have creeds supposedly revealed by supernatural beings, while atheists form our own beliefs. Atheist groups claim to speak only on behalf of our members, not on behalf of the creator of the universe.

Atheism is not a belief system. There are as many belief systems as there are atheists. But two significant general beliefs follow from atheism: that morality does not come from gods, and that reality is not revealed by gods.

Atheism does not require faith. Faith is belief that is disproportionate to the best currently available evidence. Atheism is proportionate to the evidence. There is no reasonable evidence that gods exist, and a lot of evidence that humans invented the idea.

Atheism does not require certainty. Strictly speaking, we cannot be certain about anything. But we can be as certain that the Christian god does not exist as Christians are that Thor or Zeus do not exist. Give us reliable evidence and we will change our minds.

We do not need religion for meaning. We each determine our own sense of meaning. We have evolved to notice patterns in nature, which helped previous generations to survive. This can cause us to mistakenly see patterns and ascribe agency, including to gods, that are not there.

We do not need religion for morality. Morality is a natural process of our brains, based on empathy, compassion, reciprocity and reason. It enables us to distinguish good moral ideas in the Bible, such as love thy neighbour, from bad moral ideas in the Bible, such as killing people for gathering sticks on the Sabbath.

What then is atheism, outside of these myths? What is “new atheism”? And why does a secular state protect the rights of everyone equally?

Written By: Michael Nugent
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  1.  @OP Recent letters in The Irish Times promoted six common myths about atheism, including that it is a religion or belief system based on faith and certainty,

    In almost all examples I have seen of theists spouting this nonsense, they have no concept of:  “an absence of belief in gods”, and simply view atheism as a reversed image of their own blinkered dogmatic view.

    This is frequently accompanied by “therefore atheists deny (my pet) god and all the morals attributed to (my pet) god”!

    The concept of the existence of other codes of conduct or morality – secular, or from other religions, is usually denied by them from a position of deep ignorance. 
    ie. anyone who does not agree with their dogma is immoral and evil –  perhaps even in league with “the devil”. 
    (The notion that atheists do not believe in devils, often does not seem to cross the mind of a fundamentalist.)

  2. Check out the comments under the original article.  Everything from Reason to total Wackaloon.  Sometimes I wish we had more Loony-Toon posters here – everyone is so supportive and kind.  Now there’s a challenge to readers.

  3.  ” petecadogan
    I don’t know, I mean atheism is just so far-fetched “Like this gem? Farfetched in the same manner as transubstantiation?

  4. My Gypsy-Jewish-Armenian-Irish-Italian grandfather would warn me about atheists and their ways, that they took money for work and split town before doing it, made bread from the blood of children, consorted with calico cats, controlled the fur industry, stole unattended children to raise as their own in otherwise fruitless unions, and brought plague. We would guard against their weirdings by tying medicinal-herb pouches around our necks that the atheists found offensive. Their habits were nocturnal as the light of God shames them, they would stay up all night at the local Denny’s, drinking coffee until the morn came. All night they would sit there chain-smoking, trying to convince themselves of evolution so they could defy the Laws of Jesus and do as they pleased. Their women-folk were most unusual, practitioners of non-procreative sex acts, yet drugged barren. They were oft known to lay with one another, seduced into possession like the Sisters of Loudon by the vexing of screeches of Icelandic sirens.

  5. De-humanising the other party to frame them clearly in opposition is a common tactic (propaganda) and a useful psychological device to justify one’s own position.

    Atheists don’t believe in god

    god (mine) is a good god (compartmentalising the nasty bits)

    Therefore atheists are evil, antichrist and satanic.

    Just one of another bad patterns that human cognition is susceptible to.

  6. Many people I know, fell away from religion as a young adult…until the kids came. The reasoning usually involved the realization that they need to teach their children good morals. Without any awareness of the options, they rely on what they know…church. Church is supposedly “the only place you can get good morals and an understanding of what it takes to be a good person.”

    Humanists should create learning materials and curriculum to help parents with this topic. It should be free of any religious bashing or political motivation. It should be filled with stories of people simply being good, helping others, and show ways to get along with others by highlighting stuff like self-esteem, acceptance, understanding personality differences, dealing with conflict, being healthy, motivation, reaching for a goal, coping with disappointment, and other ways to live wisely in this world.

    Edit: Actually I did some searching”humanist parent lessons plans curriculum” and stuff did come up. There is one pdf which looks good.

  7. Sometimes I have really great conversations with theists, where we both gain a lot of insight. If I hear “atheism is a religion” I know that won’t happen and my task becomes making fun of them.

    I agree with Vorlund that it is a tactic to kill empathy, otherization. By killing empathy, moral people become capable of immoral acts.

  8. I really like Penn Jillette’s quote: “Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby”

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