In a recent diary, someone made the statement that von Brunn was an atheist as evidence that "dogmatic atheism" is just as dangerous as dogmatic christianity, or something along those lines.
The comments were loaded with people talking about the von Brunn and atheism, but the comments were flooded with incorrect assumptions about atheism and atheists.
So if you are curious about atheism, or if you think you fully understand atheism but want to double check yourslf, or maybe you are an atheist and want to expand/argue what I write below: have at it.
The first incorrect assumption I would like to address is the topic of "belief":
Atheism is a belief system.
Atheism is not a belief system because there isn't anything we are "believing" that could be considered a "system." Atheism doesn't join people together in a common ideology like religions do because atheists share nothing in common, except their lack of belief in 1 specific thing. Imagine trying to label other groups based on their lack of belief in 1 specific thing. You'd have the "Non-bigfoot-believers" and the "Non-mermaid-believers" and the "Non-magic-believers". These groups wouldn't share anything you could call a belief system. Same with atheists.
In a way, people will get into a discussion of semantics of whether atheism is a "belief" or not, but really that is only because it is possible to state the any negative belief as a belief in the negative, which kinda works in english even if it doesn't exactly convey the position.
Some definitions of atheism will even say something along the lines of "belief there is no god" but really the issue here, from my perspective, is that there are a finite number of things I believe. I believe gravity makes things fall, I believe I am losing my hair in the back, I believe my favorite team just lost their 3rd game in a row etc.
But the things I don't believe are infinite. You could come up with an infinite number of things I don't believe in. In fact, I could come up with an infinite number of things YOU don't believe in that all deal with pink unicorns!
Don't believe me?
Do you believe that there is a pink unicorn in front of you right now?
Do you believe that there are 2 pink unicorns in front of you right now?
Do you believe that there are 3 pink unicorns .... forever.
So you could turn ALL of those infinite "lack of beliefs" into "beliefs" by stating the negatives, but none of those define the persons actual finite beliefs.
So, if someone asked me "Do you believe there is no god?" I would probably simply respond "Yes" but really the correct response to convey my position is "I don't believe that there is a god."
Whether or not atheism is a "belief" really isn't a giant deal, but it kinda leads into the next issue which is a big deal:
Atheists require faith to believe there is no god.
It takes more faith to be an atheist than to believe in god.
How can atheists be sure there is no god when they have no proof?
Atheists are arrogant in thinking they know there is no god when really they don't know.
Atheists claim to know what cannot be known.
These statements are all inaccurate.
This is where "belief" (or our lack of it) comes in to the real discussion. 99.9% of atheists won't claim (with the certainty that religious folks do to the contrary) that they know there isn't a god.
Now, once again, if someone asked me "Is there a god?" I'd probably just say "No", but the full answer would really be something like "I think the chance that there is a god is extremely small."
Most atheists don't usually respond with the fully qualified answer, which I think leads to people to make the assumption that atheists are 100% sure that god doesn't exist.
This is not the case. We don't KNOW that god doesn't exist. I am totally open to the possibility of god existing, (and bigfoot, alien abductions, the lock ness monster, and holistic medicine) and as soon as there is evidence to support any of it, I will reevaluate my position.
So you see, (virtually all) atheists leave open the possibility for god existing. Some people refer to this view as "weak atheism". A "strong atheist" on the other hand (of which there are very few) would say "I know there is no god." These people do in fact require faith to make such a statement because they can't have proof that god doesn't exist (because it's impossible to prove), but the 99.9% of us atheists who leave open that possibility of god don't require any "faith" to hold our position any more than it takes "faith" to not believe in Santa Claus. You don't have proof that he isn't real, but the odds are pretty low.
If you aren't sure if god is real or not you aren't an atheist, you are really an agnostic and not an atheist.
In some respects this is true, but I still consider myself an atheist, and maybe after reading this some agnostics will consider themselves atheists too.
One definition for agnostic is:
One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.
By this definition, I am an agnostic.
But let me pose a question:
On the topic of leprechauns, do you know they exist or not for certain?
While some would just jump to saying they are sure leprechauns don't exist, the reality is that no one can really be 100% sure that leprechauns or (insert any mythical magical made up thing here) don't exist. It's impossible to prove. So, by strict definitions, on the topic of leprechauns, you are all agnostics.
But that really doesn't accurately describe your position on leprechauns does it? No, you really don't think leprechauns exist... you aren't really "on the fence" about the issue. Same for most atheists. Yes, by leaving open the possibility that god could exist, by definition, we are agnostic, but for all intents and purposes, we are atheists.
Pol Pot and Stalin were atheists and they murdered tons of people.
This may be true, but they also both didn't believe in the flying spaghetti monster. Neither of these lack of beliefs directed them to do what they did. Their lack of blief wasn't the reason they murdered people. They were sociopaths.
Based on sheer numbers, Christians must be committing murders all the time in the US. But, usually not because of their religion. I'm not going to blame christianity or any other religion for something one of it's followers do, unless they are acting based on their religion.
So von Braunn might have been atheist, as one person suggested, but he didn't go to the museum to kill because he was atheist, he went because he was racist. Scott Roeder on the other hand, killed George Tiller because, in his religious beliefs, Tiller was a mass murderer who had to be stopped.
How can atheists be moral if they don't believe in the bible which teaches what is right and wrong?
Someone could write an entire book on this topic, but I'll just say that morality is something we have evolved as a trait to help us survive. Tribes of humans who helped each other out were more likely to survive than those that didn't.
You'll find that most atheists have a very strong sense of morality, but it isn't dictated to them by a holy book.
I'd also argue that the 3 main holy books are loaded with immoral lessons. Genocide, slaughtering women and children, beating slaves to a pulp, rape, sacrificing your own children etc. Sure there are positive moral stories too, but these books are far from quality lessons on morality in today's society.
Why does it matter if people are religious or not? Can't you just leave them alone?
At the most basic level it matters to me because the truth matters to me. I want to have the most accurate view of the world possible, and that means trying to believe as many true things as possible, and trying to NOT believe as many false things as possible. And if there isn't evidence for something, I don't think it should be believed.
On a DK level, religion stands in the way of a lot of progressive goals either directly or indirectly.
It directly impacts things like:
-stem cell research
-AIDS funding in Africa
-science education in school
-middle east relations
-global warming and environmental efforts
But it indirectly impacts EVERYTHING we fight for on this site, because if religion were not allowed into the equation when elections came around, the country would be much farther to the left on issues that have nothing to do with religion (like health care or taxation).
Without religion, Bush would have never won election. It wouldn't have been close. How many GOP senators and congressmen have won election in part due to their strong religious positions? How many "Republicans" do you know who are only Republicans because of their religious beliefs and vote a straight republican ticket because they think its the right thing to do from a religious perspective, even if they know (or don't know) that they are voting against their own self interest?
People will vote for a guy who promises to fight to allow prayer in school, but when elected what he is really doing is voting to kill health care reform, voting in favor of tax breaks for the rich, voting against CAFE standards... none of this has anything to do with religion, but it is religion that put him there.
Also, if you look around the world at countries that have a high level of atheism (where religion is not oppressed by an authoritarian government) you will find they are some of the most progressive, successful, and "happy" places to live. So I think you could make the case that if the US were to move more in that direction in terms of religion, it would result in good things for the country as a whole.
-Atheism is a lack of a specific belief, not a belief system.
-Atheists don't KNOW that there isn't a god.
-Atheists don't need faith to be atheists.
-Atheist murderers don't kill in the name of atheism.