Dr Rajiv Desai

An Educational Blog

ATHEISM

ATHEISM:

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Caveat:

This article has no desire to insult anybody in any way at all. If anyone feels offended, it is a regrettable misunderstanding because the criticisms are aimed at the objectives of the belief, never at believers as individuals. I recognize and respect right of all individuals to believe in their faith and their God if that helps them to live better life in the brief period of human existence allotted to them. But religious beliefs and doctrines become dangerous if they threaten the liberty and the integrity of the individual or of the society.

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Prologue:

According to Psalm 14 of the Bible, people who don’t believe in God are filthy, corrupt fools, entirely incapable of doing any good. Before the 18th century, the existence of God was so accepted in the western world that even the possibility of true atheism was questioned. This is called theistic innatism—the notion that all people believe in God from birth; within this view was the connotation that atheists are simply in denial. Former American president George Herbert Walker Bush said that atheists are neither citizens or nor patriots as America is one nation under God. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. The seminal social thinkers of the nineteenth century — Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud — all believed that religion would gradually fade in importance and cease to be significant with the advent of industrial society. The dazzling achievements of medicine, engineering, and mathematics as well as the material products generated by the rise of modern capitalism, technology, and manufacturing industry during the 19th century emphasized and reinforced the idea of mankind’s control of nature. Personal catastrophes, contagious diseases, disastrous floods, and international wars, once attributed to supernatural forces, primitive magic, and divine intervention, or to blind fate, came to be regarded as the outcome of predictable and preventable causes. Despite all these, the world today, with some exceptions, is as furiously religious as it ever was, and in some places more so than ever.

Atheists and theists too often seem more intent on scoring points at one another’s expense than carefully following where the evidence leads them. Many of the loudest voices in the debate about God refuse to accept the possibility that anyone who disagrees with them deserves to be taken seriously, and one must see the evidence contrary of one’s belief.  All five of the core arguments for a supernatural God (mystery, creation, design, revelation, and morality) extensively violate basic rules of rationality.  “Your God is too small for my universe,” Carl Sagan once reacted to a Christian theologian. According to the scientist and thinker Lawrence Krauss, within a tiny circle between your thumb and forefinger against a dark sky, and with a powerful telescope, you could see at least 100,000 galaxies, each containing more than 400 billion stars. You may also witness at least three supernovae in a given night. Over the course of the history of the Milky Way, our galaxy, about 200 million stars have exploded, says Krauss. Our sun will explode within six billion years and of course the earth will disappear along with the sun and it is doubtful whether the humans, their culture, religion and God would survive till that day to see the disappearance of the sun. The incompatibility of reason and faith has been a self-evident feature of human cognition and public discourse for centuries. Ask yourself, which is more moral, helping the poor out of concern for their suffering, or doing so because you think the creator of the universe wants you to do it, will reward you for doing it or will punish you for not doing it?

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Some quotations about Atheism and Atheists:

Evil men do evil on their own accord. For good men to do evil requires religion.

-H.L. Mencken

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Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open-mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.

-Christopher Hitchens

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I’ve been worshipping the sun for a number of reasons. First of all, unlike some other gods I could mention, I can see the sun. It’s there for me every day, and the things it brings me are quite apparent all the time: heat, light, food, reflections at the park—the occasional skin cancer, but hey! There’s no mystery, no one asks for money, I don’t have to dress up, and there’s no boring pageantry.

-George Carlin

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Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

-Epicurus

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Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.

-Edward Gibbon

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I prefer ‘rationalism’ to ‘atheism.’ The word ‘atheist,’ meaning ‘no God,’ is negative and defeatist. It says what you don’t believe and puts you in an eternal position of defence. ‘Rationalism’ on the other hand states what you do believe; that is, that which can be understood in the light of reason. The question of God and other mystical objects-of-faith are outside reason and therefore play no part in rationalism and you don’t have to waste your time in either attacking or defending that which you rule out of your philosophy altogether.

-Isaac Asimov

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Given that we know that atheists are often among the most intelligent and scientifically literate people in any society, it seems important to deflate the myths that prevent them from playing a larger role in our national discourse.

-Sam Harris

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Atheism is more than just the knowledge that Gods do not exist, and that religion is either a mistake or a fraud. Atheism is an attitude, a frame of mind that looks at the world objectively, fearlessly, always trying to understand all things as a part of nature.

-Emmett F. Fields

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All thinking men are atheists.

-Ernest Hemingway

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Those who kneel to God are learning how to prostrate themselves before a king.

-Joseph Joubert

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Faith means not wanting to know what is true.

-Nietzsche

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Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet. Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.

-Napoleon Bonaparte

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Terminology:

  1. A priori –Knowledge, judgments, and principles which are true without verification or testing. It is universally true.
  2. Agnosticism–The belief that the existence of God is not knowable. The word is derived from the negative ‘a’ combined with the Greek word ‘gnosis,’ which means knowledge. Hence, agnosticism is the belief that God cannot be known.
  3. Atheism–The lack of belief in a god and/or the belief that there is no god. The position held by a person or persons that ‘lack belief’ in god(s) and/or deny that god(s) exist.
  4. Causality–The relationship between cause and effect. The principle that all events have sufficient causes.
  5. Chance–Being undetermined. Events without apparent cause. An accidental happening.
  6. Choice–Action based on one’s volition, will, desire.
  7. Cosmological argument–An attempt to prove that God exists by appealing to the principle that all things have causes. There cannot be an infinite regress of causes; therefore, there must be an uncaused cause: God.
  8. Cosmology–Study of the origin and structure of the universe.
  9. Deduction–A system of logic, inference, and conclusion drawn from examination of facts. Conclusions drawn from the general down to the specific.
  10. Deism–The belief that there is a God, but that God is not involved in the world. Deism denies any revelatory work of God in the world whether it be by miracles or by scripture.
  11. Deontology–The study of moral obligation.
  12. Determinism–The teaching that every event in the universe is caused and controlled by natural law.
  13. Dialectic–The practice of examining ideas and beliefs using reason and logic. It is often accomplished by question and answer.
  14. Dogma–A generally held set of formulated beliefs.
  15. Empiricism–The proposition that the only source of true knowledge is experience. Search for knowledge through experiment and observation. Denial that knowledge can be obtained a priori.
  16. Epistemology–The branch of philosophy that deals with knowing and the methods of obtaining knowledge.
  17. Ethics–Study of right and wrong, good and bad, moral judgment, etc.
  18. Faith–Acceptance of ideals, beliefs, etc., which are not necessarily demonstrable through experimentation or reason.
  19. Free will–Freedom of self-determination and action independent of external causes.
  20. Freethinker–A person who forms his opinions about religion and God without regard to revelation, scripture, tradition, or experience.
  21. God–Deity, infinite being of power, influence, knowledge, and immortality.
  22. Humanism–The system of philosophy based upon human reason, actions, and motives without concern of deity or supernatural phenomena.
  23. Induction–A system of logic where specific facts are used to draw a general conclusion.
  24. Infidel–A person who does not believe in any particular religious system.
  25. Karma–In Hinduism, the total compilation of all a person’s past lives and actions that result in the present condition of that person.
  26. Metaphysics–Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that explores the nature of being, existence, and reality.
  27. Monotheism–The belief that there is only one God in the universe.
  28. Morals–Ethics, the codes, values, principles, and customs of a person or society.
  29. Myth–Something not true, fiction, or falsehood. A truth disguised and distorted.
  30. Ontological argument–An attempt at proving the existence of God by stating that God exists because our conception of Him exists, and nothing greater than God can be conceived of.
  31. Ontology–The study of the nature of being, reality, and substance, branch of metaphysics
  32. Panentheism–The belief that God is in the universe. It differs with pantheism which states that God is the universe and all that it comprises.
  33. Pantheism–The belief that God is the universe and all that comprises it: laws, motion, matter, energy, consciousness, life, etc. It denies that God is a person and is self-aware.
  34. Philosophy–The study of seeking knowledge and wisdom in understanding the nature of the universe, man, ethics, art, love, purpose, etc.
  35. Polytheism–The belief that there are many gods in existence in the universe.
  36. Pragmatism–A method in philosophy where value is determined by practical results.
  37. Rationalism–A branch of philosophy where truth is determined by reason.
  38. Relativism–The view that truth is relative and not absolute. It varies from people to people, time to time.
  39. Religion–Generally a belief in a deity and practice of worship, action, and/or thought related to that deity. Loosely, any specific system of code of ethics, values, and belief.
  40. Science–The process of learning by which theories are offered, tests developed, and experiments are conducted in order to verify and/or modify the theory.
  41. Teleological argument–An attempted proof of God’s existence based upon the premise that the universe is designed and therefore needs a designer: God.
  42. Teleology–The study of final causes, results. Having a definite purpose, goal, or design.
  43. Theism–The belief that there is a God, and that He is knowable and involved in the world.
  44. Theology–The study of things pertaining to God and/or the relation of God to the world.
  45. Transcendent–That which is beyond our senses and experience. Existing apart from matter.

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God, religion and irreligion:

Many descriptions and definitions have been applied to religion (Banister, 2011), with belief in a supernatural being or beings often posited as the core feature (Burke, 1996; Norenzayan, 2010). Defining the religious and nonreligious is not necessarily straightforward. Some religious people believe in the existence of a God and also participate in religious practices, such as attending services in a place of worship. On the other hand, other people believe in the existence of a God without belonging to a particular faith or participating in religious services (Hunsberger & Altemeyer, 2006). In terms of the nonreligious, an agnostic is defined as someone who is uncertain or undecided about the existence of a God, while an atheist doesn’t believe any form of supreme being or universal force exists (Zuckerman, 2009).

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God:

Atheism is the view that there is no God. Unless otherwise noted, this article will use the term “God” to describe the divine entity that is a central tenet of the major monotheistic religious traditions–Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.  At a minimum, this being is usually understood as having all power, all knowledge, and being infinitely good or morally perfect. It must not be forgotten that social, cultural, and traditional factors can exercise a significant influence on the image of the God that is adopted by a particular era.

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Consider the following four responses to a request for a definition of the term “God”:

God1 = the universe itself (all that exists). [Or, alternatively, God1 = love.]

God2 = the powerful being who created the universe.

God3 = the omnipotent creator of the universe whose highest goal regarding humans is that they believe that he has a son who died for them so that they might obtain salvation.

God4 = ? (No definition is possible; the word is indefinable.)

Now suppose there were a philosopher who examined these four responses. When asked the question “does God exist?” he might very well respond as follows:

In the case of God1, yes, God definitely exists, for it is obvious that the universe [or love] exists. In the case of God2, I understand the question but have no answer to it since the evidence is insufficient. In the case of God3, there is good evidence that such a being does not exist, for most humans do not believe in his son, etc., yet, if such a being were to exist, then probably he would have done things to cause them to have the given belief. And in the case of God4, I do not understand the question. Since no definition of “God4” has been given, the sentence “God4 exists” expresses no proposition whatever.

Given this response, we should say of such a philosopher that he is a theist relative to God1, an agnostic relative to God2, an atheist relative to God3, and a noncognitivist relative to God4. These answers to the four “does God exist?” questions are reasonable, though they are not necessarily the correct (or “best”) answers. It should be noted that the term “theist” is here being taken in a broad sense, one which includes what are often referred to as “deists” and “pantheists.” In a narrower sense, a theist only affirms the existence of a certain type of deity (a personal deity who rules the universe).

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Theism:

Theism at its most basic, is the belief in one or more gods. More modern definitions of theism suggest that the deity or deities in question must in some way impact the universe, separating theism from deism, which holds a god exists as the prime mover, but does not bother tampering with the world, if it even were able. The belief in god(s) can be broken into a host of subsections depending on the number and the kind of the gods being postulated. In monotheism, only one God exists. There are no other gods in the world. Most monotheists, however, tend to hold some technically untenable positions about beings like Satan or concepts like the Trinity.  Monotheism can further be divided into personal transcendent gods, and impersonal or non-transcendent gods. In a polytheistic religion, several gods are worshiped as part of that religion. The pantheon of deities in such religions tend to specialise, in contrast with the ubiquitous gods of monotheistic religions. Most of human’s culture’s religions are polytheistic in nature, from various Native American religions, to the Classical Greeks, ancient Celtic religions, to the early Israelites. Zoroastrians hold a belief in two complementary deities or, analogously to Christianity, two complementary aspects of a single deity.  Many pagan and neo-pagan religions subscribed or subscribe to some form of polytheism. Pagan means person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions.

There seems to be an assumption that a theist must necessarily be a member of an organised religion with a prescribed dogma.  Many of the pros/cons commonly attributed to being a theist are nothing to do with personal belief:

Pros:

-Social cohesion/sense of belonging to a group, especially in a predominantly theist culture

-Availability of the religion as a support network

-Freedom from discrimination/persecution/torture/death; depending on the prevailing local culture

Cons:

-Need to subsume personal morals to an externally demanded framework (or at least appear to)

-Time spent in religious observance that could instead be spent with your family, on altruistic goals or on personal improvement

-Expectation that gifting to charity be along religious lines, vs. any true assessment of effectiveness

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Deism:

Deism is a philosophical belief that posits that God exists and is ultimately responsible for the creation of the universe, but does not interfere directly with the created world. Equivalently, Deism can also be defined as the view which posits God’s existence as the cause of all things, and admits its perfection (and usually the existence of natural law and Providence) but rejects divine revelation or direct intervention of God in the universe by miracles. It also rejects revelation as a source of religious knowledge and asserts that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a single creator or absolute principle of the universe.

Deism is a belief that God created the universe, but left everything else to its own devices.  Some views differ in specifics. Many deists believe that the Big Bang was initiated by a God (of their choice), and that everything that happened since is the consequence of scientific laws “created” at the same time. In other cases, deism implies that said God set in motion all the events needed to make life on Earth inevitable — and thus is still responsible. They may or may not believe in an afterlife. Deistic beliefs tend to differ from usual religion by the fact that the creator god is either not worthy of worship, or worship is completely unnecessary. This gives deism a greater overlap with atheism and freethought compared to religion.

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What is the difference between deism and theism?

Deism is the belief in a creator, who made the world but does not take a personal interest in it — doesn’t require worship, answer prayers, judge behavior, or necessarily promise a life after death (unless that was part of the original creation). Deism is a fairly benign belief, because there are no consequences for accepting or rejecting it.

Theism is the belief in an active, interventionist god who not only created the world (and some believe fine-tuned it for human use), but also may require worship, answer prayers, judge sinners, and may have created a divine son or other entities to live among humans. Most theists are 100 percent certain their god(s) exist, and have faith in this without any objective, verifiable evidence. There are many theistic religions, each of which insists it is the only true one.

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The Simplicity of Religion:

All religions have three central properties.

(1) All religions are social systems,

(2) All endorse (and even require) something that is supernatural, and

(3) All designate something as holy or sacred.

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A common adage is that religion provides easy answers to hard questions. The core aspect of the religious worldview is always trivial – God created the world, and the order within it. From this foundation, we get the pillars of religion: God is omnipotent, and omniscient, and interacts with humans in a direct way.  Building on this premise, the basics of religious beliefs are similarly easy to comprehend – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Five Pillars of Islam, the concepts of karma and reincarnation. There is room for the theologians to argue the finer details, but these limited foundations are all that is necessary for one to participate fully in the religion, and expect to attain its promises. Religions are inherently populist.  The sociological view of religion meshes it with culture to the point of indistinguishably, and this standpoint explains the evolving nature of religions and their attendant cultures. It also allows religion to be understood in the context of a complete, cultural standpoint – for the masses, religion answers the basic philosophical questions of life while also providing the appeal to divinity that justifies their feelings of cultural superiority.  The key element of any religion, more so than even a conception of divinity, is thus accessibility. Religion, as with the cultures around it, evolves by the action of the majority, and thus always reflects the requirements of the majority. It follows that those who reject religion are the same as those who are capable of levelling philosophical criticism towards their culture and society, as all are on the same plane.

The persistence of religion in the majority of the world can best be explained by the sociological view established i.e. religion is an extension and modifier of culture. As with cultural norms, religious beliefs are indefensible from any rigorous standpoint, and their extreme resistance to logical challenges closely parallels the survival of cultural identities. Once more, those with the faculty to leave strong religious traditions are likely to be the same persons who undertake criticism of cultural norms. This leaves the majority, who subscribe to both and question neither, stranded in the intellectually and morally restricting paradigm of their local religion.  For these reasons, anti-theism tends to fail, unless the anti-theists are interacting with people who already hold a privileged, nuanced viewpoint of the world.

Due to the symbiosis with culture, religious moral systems and restrictions inevitably reflect the cultural standards they evolved with. A crucial problem is that, due the absolutist claims of religions, they may not ‘keep up’ with cultural changes. Reactionary movements in all societies are almost universally rooted in religious support. Passive, and occasionally violent, rejections of human rights and gender equality on “ethical” grounds are invariably backed by conservative religious attitudes. Philosophically, religion alters one’s view of the world. In the process of providing absolute answers, religion prohibits believers from readily and seriously considering foreign solutions to the original questions. In addition, religious belief ties them to a superficial understanding of their own religion and its historical impact and evolution. A believer’s worldview inevitably contains an inescapable bias in favor of their religion and its associated persons and cultures, depriving them of a great deal of nuance. For this reason, an irreligious person will always be able to craft a more accurate perspective on the world, provided religious bias is not replaced with a similar bias.

All these discussions lead back to a fundamental question about whether religion is essentially a culture — or where the line between the two is drawn. There’s definitely some interplay between the two. But culture is always evolving. If you look at secular societies like the United States, the way it was in the 1950s is very different from the way it is now. It’s moved a lot, culturally. But religion freezes culture in time. Religion dogmatizes culture and arrests its evolution although religion helps to create and reinforce culture.

Atheists retain some cultural elements of the religion. Richard Dawkins the famous atheist has described himself as a cultural Christian. He even says he prefers singing the religious Christmas carols like “Silent Night” to the others, like “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” I think all atheists should be able to enjoy some of these rituals without the burden of belief. All religions have in common that they are faith based. People are taught to believe claims from some ancient text or self-proclaimed spiritual leader, instead of relying on their own senses, evidence and critical thinking.  Indeed, as Christopher Hitchens said: “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

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Heredity can control our behavior in only the most general of ways, it cannot dictate precise behaviors appropriate for infinitely varied circumstances. In our world, heredity needs help. In the world of a fruit fly, by contrast, the problems to be solved are few in number and highly predictable in nature. Consequently, a fruit fly’s brain is largely “hard-wired” by heredity. That is to say, most behaviors result from environmental activation of nerve circuits which are formed automatically by the time of emergence of the adult fly. This is an extreme example of what is called instinctual behavior. Each behavior is coded for by a gene or genes which predispose the nervous system to develop certain types of circuits and not others, and where it is all but impossible to act contrary to the genetically predetermined script.

The world of a mammal – say a fox – is much more complex and unpredictable than that of the fruit fly. Consequently, the fox is born with only a portion of its neuronal circuitry hard-wired. Many of its neurons remain “plastic” throughout life. That is, they may or may not hook up with each other in functional circuits, depending upon environmental circumstances. Learned behavior is behavior which results from activation of these environmentally conditioned circuits. Learning allows the individual mammal to learn – by trial and error – greater numbers of adaptive behaviors than could be transmitted by heredity. A fox would be wall-to-wall genes if all its behaviors were specified genetically. With the evolution of humans, however, environmental complexity increased out of all proportion to the genetic and neuronal changes distinguishing us from our simian ancestors. This partly was due to the fact that our species evolved in a geologic period of great climatic flux – the Ice Ages – and partly was due to the fact that our behaviors themselves began to change our environment. The changed environment in turn created new problems to be solved. Their solutions further changed the environment, and so on. Thus, the discovery of fire led to the burning of trees and forests, which led to destruction of local water supplies and watersheds, which led to the development of architecture with which to build aqueducts, which led to laws concerning water-rights, which led to international strife, and on and on.

Given such complexity, even the ability to learn new behaviors is, by itself, inadequate. If trial and error were the only means, most people would die of old age before they would succeed in rediscovering fire or reinventing the wheel. As a substitute for instinct and to increase the efficiency of learning, mankind developed culture. The ability to teach – as well as to learn – evolved, and trial-and-error learning became a method of last resort. By transmission of culture – passing on the sum total of the learned behaviors common to a population – we can do what Darwinian genetic selection would not allow: we can inherit acquired characteristics. The wheel once having been invented, its manufacture and use can be passed down through the generations. Culture can adapt to change much faster than genes can, and this provides for finely tuned responses to environmental disturbances and upheavals. By means of cultural transmission, those behaviors which have proven useful in the past can be taught quickly to the young, so that adaptation to life – say on the Greenland ice cap – can be assured. Even so, cultural transmission tends to be rigid: it took over one hundred thousand years to advance to chipping both sides of the hand-axe! Cultural mutations, like genetic mutations are resisted – the former by cultural conservatism, the latter by natural selection. But changes do creep in faster than the rate of genetic change, and cultures slowly evolve. Even that cultural dinosaur known as the Catholic Church – despite its claim to be the unchanging repository of truth and “correct” behavior – has changed greatly since its beginning. Incidentally, it is at this hand-axe stage of behavioral evolution at which most of the religions of today are still stuck. Our inflexible, absolutist moral codes also are fixated at this stage.

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What’s behind success of religion?

The historical record shows that supernatural beings have not always been associated with morality. Ancient Greek gods were not interested in people’s ethical conduct. Much like the various local deities worshiped among many modern hunter-gatherers, they cared about receiving rites and offerings but not about whether people lied to one another or cheated on their spouses. According to psychologist Ara Norenzayan, belief in morally invested gods developed as a solution to the problem of large-scale cooperation. Early societies were small enough that their members could rely on people’s reputations to decide whom to associate with. But once our ancestors turned to permanent settlements and group size increased, everyday interactions were increasingly taking place between strangers. How were people to know whom to trust? Religion provided an answer by introducing beliefs about all-knowing, all-powerful gods who punish moral transgressions. As human societies grew larger, so did the occurrence of such beliefs. And in the absence of efficient secular institutions, the fear of God was crucial for establishing and maintaining social order. In those societies, a sincere belief in a punishing supernatural watcher was the best guarantee of moral behavior, providing a public signal of compliance with social norms. Today we have other ways of policing morality, but this evolutionary heritage is still with us. Although statistics show that atheists commit fewer crimes than average, the widespread prejudice against them, as highlighted by various studies, reflects intuitions that have been forged through centuries and might be hard to overcome.

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Religion and rule of law:

Not all beliefs are created equal, though. A recent cross-cultural study showed that those who see their gods as moralizing and punishing are more impartial and cheat less in economic transactions. In other words, if people believe that their gods always know what they are up to and are willing to punish transgressors, they will tend to behave better, and expect that others will too. Such a belief in an external source of justice, however, is not unique to religion. Trust in the rule of law, in the form of an efficient state, a fair judicial system or a reliable police force, is also a predictor of moral behavior. And indeed, when the rule of law is strong, religious belief declines, and so does distrust against atheists.

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Reductionary accounts of religion:

Philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud have argued that God and other religious beliefs are human inventions, created to fulfil various psychological and emotional wants or needs. This is also a view of many Buddhists.  Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, influenced by the work of Feuerbach, argued that belief in God and religion are social functions, used by those in power to oppress the working class. According to Mikhail Bakunin, “the idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, in theory and practice.” He reversed Voltaire’s famous aphorism that if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him, writing instead that “if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.”

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Irreligion:

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Theological bar:

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Irreligion (adjective form: non-religious or irreligious) is the absence, indifference, rejection of, or hostility towards religion. Irreligion, which may include deism, agnosticism, ignosticism, anti-religion, atheism, skepticism, ietsism, spiritual but not religious, freethought, anti-theism, apatheism, non-belief, pandeism, secular humanism, non-religious theism, pantheism and panentheism, varies in the different countries around the world.

Irreligion may include some forms of theism, depending on the religious context it is defined against; for example, in 18th-century Europe, the epitome of irreligion was deism, while in contemporary East Asia the shared term meaning “irreligion” or “no religion” with which the majority of East Asian populations identify themselves, implies non-membership in one of the institutional religions (such as Buddhism and Christianity), and not necessarily non-belief in traditional folk religions collectively represented by Chinese Shendao and Japanese Shinto (both meaning “ways of gods”). According to the Pew Research Center’s 2012 global study of 230 countries and territories, 16% of the world’s population is not affiliated with a religion, while 84% are affiliated. By 2060, according to their projections, the number of unaffiliated will increase by over 35 million, but the percentage will decrease to 13% because the total population will grow faster.

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Atheism and agnosticism:

Atheism is the absence of belief in any gods. Atheist has recognized that she or he sincerely has no belief in any god or gods. That definition covers all atheists. Note that it implies nothing about an atheist beyond lack of belief in any gods. It is not a belief system and it is not a religion. Based on the absence of any evidence for the existence of any god(s) where such evidence should be if god(s) did exist, many atheists are 99.9 percent certain that no god(s) exist. But they are open to the slight possibility they could be wrong and would be willing to accept the existence of god(s) if convincing objective, verifiable evidence were to appear. Therefore they do not have faith in the nonexistence of god(s). They simply have no belief in any gods, Atheists have always constituted a very small percentage of the population. However, the number of people who identify themselves as Atheists has grown rapidly in many countries including all predominately English speaking countries, particularly over the last few decades. This increase may have been partly caused by the decline of attendance at Sunday schools, and churches. It probably also reflects the general increase in secularism within society. Many Atheists who feel a need for spiritual discussion, fellowship in a religious community, and ritual join a congregation of the Unitarian-Universalist Association.

Agnosticism is not a halfway point on some continuum between atheism and theism. It is formal uncertainty about the existence or nonexistence of god(s). The agnostic asserts it is impossible to prove either the existence or the nonexistence of deities. Theists sometimes try to tell atheists that because they cannot prove god(s) don’t exist, they are agnostics. This is not true. An atheist has no belief in any god(s). That is not the same as believing it is impossible to tell if god(s) exist or not. Most atheists are agnostic atheists; they cannot prove the existence or nonexistence of any god(s) to a 100 percent certainty (agnostic), but they have no belief in any god or gods (atheist).

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Difference between Theist and Atheist:

Theist denotes a person who believes in the existence of a God. A theist believes that God is the creator and sovereign ruler of the universe. An atheist is the one who denies the existence of any God or gods. The word Theist has been survived from Greek theos “god” (Thea) + -ist.  A theist believes in the existence of a God who can be denoted as the creator and governor of the whole universe. The definition of god varies from religion to religion, person to person, and therefore no proper words have been able to characterize the actual definition of the God. However, God is generally looked as the supreme power. The description of the God is commonly found in various religions, where Gods, Goddesses, Deities, etc. are considered to contain divine powers, and thus are worshipped in various forms.

Atheist is the one who disbelieves in any Gods or supreme power. The word Atheism comes from ‘a’, meaning without, and ‘theism’ meaning belief in god or gods. Atheists do not believe that God is the creator of the Universe. Atheists believe that men are capable to live without the aid of any Gods or scriptures. The disbelief could be originated due to a deliberate choice or due to an inherent inability to believe in god. People could be atheist due to various reasons like- they are apprehensive about the insufficient evidences to believe in any religion. They might also think that religion has no associated sensible meaning, and many more. Thus, atheism may occur due to various reasons. The ideological conflicts between theists and atheists are common and often results in long debates

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Non-theism:

The Oxford English Dictionary (2007) does not have an entry for nontheism or non-theism, but it does have an entry for non-theist, defined as “A person who is not a theist”, and an entry for the adjectival non-theistic. Nontheism or non-theism is a range of both religious and nonreligious attitudes characterized by the absence of espoused belief in a God or gods. Nontheism has generally been used to describe apathy or silence towards the subject of God and differs from an antithetical, explicit atheism. Nontheism does not necessarily describe atheism or disbelief in God; it has been used as an umbrella term for summarizing various distinct and even mutually exclusive positions, such as agnosticism, ignosticism, ietsism, skepticism, pantheism, atheism, strong or positive atheism, implicit atheism, and apatheism. It is in use in the fields of Christian apologetics and general liberal theology.

And there are self-described atheistic Christians (e.g. Gordon Kaufman; and Paul Tillich was at least a non-theist).

There is an interesting distinction that might be made without being pedantic between “atheist” and “non-theist.”  The latter is not (necessarily) one who explicitly denies the existence of God (or denies theism).  A non-theist (like a non-Hegelian) may simply have never contemplated theism (or Hegel).  “Atheist” suggests a person has at least given theism some thought and rejected it – or not accepted it as true or probably true.  Although the difference may not be obvious, there is a difference between not believing x (i.e. not believing there is a God) and believing not-x (i.e. believing there is not a God).

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Post-theism:

Post-theism is a variant of nontheism that proposes that the division of theism vs. atheism is obsolete, that God belongs to a stage of human development now past. Within nontheism, post-theism can be contrasted with antitheism. Though the belief system is independent from organized religions, some post-theists posit a specific religion as formerly useful. A most notable example is Frank Hugh Foster, who in a 1918 lecture announced that modern culture had arrived at a “post-theistic stage” in which humanity has taken possession of the powers of agency and creativity that had formerly been projected upon God. Another instance is Friedrich Nietzsche’s declaration that “God is dead.”

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Pantheism:

Pantheism is the religious belief that God is not merely omnipresent, but that God is the universe. Proponents of pantheism may point to the fact that, if you define God as something that could create the universe and create and nurture life, then you do not need to leave the natural realm to find something that fits the description perfectly; the universe itself does so. Pantheism is the view that everything is part of an all-encompassing, immanent God. All forms of reality may then be considered either modes of that Being, or identical with it. Some hold that pantheism is a non-religious philosophical position. To them, pantheism is the view that the Universe (in the sense of the totality of all existence) and God are identical (implying a denial of the personality and transcendence of God).

Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, has described Pantheism as “sexed-up atheism.” That may seem flippant, but it is accurate. Of all religious or spiritual traditions, Pantheism – the approach of Einstein, Hawking and many other scientists – is the only one that passes the muster of the world’s most militant atheist.

So what’s the difference between Atheism and Pantheism? As far as disbelief in supernatural beings, forces or realms, there is no difference. World Pantheism also shares the respect for evidence, science, and logic that’s typical of atheism. However, Pantheism goes further, and adds to atheism an embracing, positive and reverential feeling about our lives on planet Earth, our place in Nature and the wider Universe, and uses nature as our basis for dealing with stress, grief and bereavement. It’s a form of spirituality that is totally compatible with science. Indeed, since science is our best way of exploring the Universe, respect for the scientific method and fascination with the discoveries of science are an integral part of World Pantheism. Naturalistic Pantheism, of the kind espoused by the philosopher Baruch Spinoza, is similar to atheism insofar as it disbelieves in a personal God or other deities and supernatural beings, and the “god” of Spinoza is essentially just a metaphor for the laws that govern the universe. However, unlike atheists, pantheists tend look to nature and the universe for mystical or spiritual fulfilment.

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The differences between Atheism, Pantheism, and Syntheism:

The Syntheist vocabulary constantly returns to the three terms Atheism, Pantheism, and Syntheism. Atheism is the belief that there has been no god presented to us so far which we can credibly believe in. Atheism is the opposite of theism, the belief that at least one god exists independently of human existence (often divided between monotheism claiming there is one god only as opposed to polytheism believing there are many gods). Pantheism is the belief that all dualistic theisms are based on mistaken assumptions, that there is no point in discussing God as something external to our obvious existence. According to Pantheism, The Universe and God amount to one and the same thing. God is internal and not external to The Universe and everything that exists is divine. An atheist can therefore also be a pantheist and vice versa.  What Syntheism adds to this spectrum is the concept that rather than discussing whether gods exist independently of us or not (as if this for some strange reason would be a necessary condition for divinity), we have to admit that all gods have been created by humanity and nobody else, and we are consequently free to keep creating gods (even physically) as long as we admit that this is precisely what we do when we conduct religion.

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Deism vs. Pantheism:

Richard Dawkins described the difference between these two systems of thought in his books. Deism, he suggested, is stripped-down theism, whereas pantheism is dressed-up atheism. Perhaps the main difference between them is that deists believe in an actual deity but don’t talk about him much, whereas pantheists talk about God all the time but aren’t referring to a deity when they do so.

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Apatheism:

Apatheism (a highly original portmanteau of “apathy” and “theism”) is an attitude that the very question of whether or not deities exist is not relevant or meaningful in life. Apatheists are not even interested in addressing any claims for or against god(s). Almost literally “I don’t care about gods.” It’s not a claim, belief or belief system but an attitude.  Author and journalist Jonathan Rauch quite effectively described apatheism as: A disinclination to care all that much about one’s own religion and even a stronger disinclination to care about other people’s.

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Atheism and Satanism:

Terms like Satanism, satanic, and even the name Satan, encompass a variety of ideological, philosophical, and spiritual beliefs today. “Satanic” groups can be quite different from one another, but use the same terminology. There are different ways to classify satanic groups according to how each group believes and behaves. Not every group performs satanic rituals, participates in satanic worship, reads the The Satanic Bible, uses traditional Satanic symbols, or attends “the Church of Satan.” Satanism can mean either the belief that Satan needs to be seriously worshiped (which is actually Luciferianism) OR a philosophy of human nature and reverence for oneself, based on the teachings of Anton Szandor LaVey, founder of the church of Satan; and this philosophy involves different ritual rites, doctrines, lifestyles etc.

Atheism is the belief that no deities exist, whereas Satanism is either the belief that Satan is a deity and needs to be worshiped -call it type 1 Satanism (for whatever reason) OR the belief that Satan doesn’t exist but uses the metaphorical  ideas to express a world view -call it type 2 Satanism. An atheist can be a type 2 Satanist (or vice-versa) but not a type 1 Satanist. And a type 1 Satanist is NOT an Atheist but actually a type of Theist. To keep things simple, Wikipedia defines “Theistic Satanism (also known as traditional Satanism, Spiritual Satanism or Devil worship)” to be ” a form of Satanism with the primary belief that Satan is an actual deity or force to revere or worship”. This is different from Atheistic Satanism.

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Anti-religion:

Antireligion is opposition to religion of any kind.  The term has been used to describe opposition to organized religion, religious practices or religious institutions. This term has also been used to describe opposition to specific forms of supernatural worship or practice, whether organized or not. Opposition to religion also goes beyond the misotheistic spectrum. As such it is distinct from deity-specific positions such as atheism (the denial of belief in deities) and antitheism (an opposition to belief in deities), although “antireligionists” may also be atheists or antitheists.

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Non-religion:

Some people have a total lack of faith system, neither believing nor disbelieving in a spiritual realm but they are few and far between. The fact that these people are so rare is a matter of intense curiosity. There is strong evidence supporting the notion that there is something inherent in the human design which makes practically all people question whether or not a spiritual realm exists, if they doubt its existence at all.

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Antitheism:

Antitheism (sometimes anti-theism) is the opposition to theism. The term has had a range of applications. In secular contexts, it typically refers to direct opposition to the belief in any deity.  Antitheism, also known pejoratively as “militant atheism” (despite having nothing to do with militancy) is the belief that theism and religion are harmful to society and people, and that even if theistic beliefs were true, they would be undesirable. Antitheism, which is often characterized as outspoken opposition to theism and religion, asserts that religious and especially theistic beliefs are harmful and should be discarded in favor of humanism, rationalism, science and other alternatives. Antitheism is, perhaps surprisingly, technically separate from any and all positions on the existence or non-existence of any given deity. Antitheism simply argues that a given (or all possible) human implementations of religious beliefs, metaphysically “true” or not, lead to results that are harmful and undesirable, either to the adherent, to society, or – usually – to both. As justification the antitheists will often point to the incompatibility of religion-based morality with modern humanistic values, or to the atrocities and bloodshed wrought by religion and by religious wars.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines antitheist as “One opposed to belief in the existence of a god”. The earliest citation given for this meaning dates from 1833.  Antitheism has been adopted as a label by those who regard theism as dangerous, destructive, or encouraging of harmful behavior. Christopher Hitchens offers an example of this approach in Letters to a Young Contrarian (2001), in which he writes: “I’m not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.”

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Atheism vs. antitheism:

Atheism and anti-theism so often occur together at the same time and in the same person that it’s understandable if many people fail to realize that they aren’t the same. Making note of the difference is important, however, because not every atheist is anti-theistic and even those who are, aren’t anti-theistic all the time. Atheism is simply the absence of belief in gods; anti-theism is a conscious and deliberate opposition to theism. Many atheists are also anti-theists, but not all and not always.

There is a distinct difference between an atheist and an anti-theist. First of all, there are several variations of atheists. Some state they lack belief in God. By this they mean that they neither affirm nor deny God’s existence; they don’t have a position either way. There are atheists who don’t know if God exists, and there are others who doubt he does. Then there are atheists who are stronger in their denial and believe that God does not exist. Atheists generally cite lack of evidence for God’s existence and will sometimes relate, particularly in America, the behavior of the God of the Old Testament with antiquated cultures that are not relevant for today. Nevertheless, one could categorize these kinds of atheists into four main areas:

  1. Those who lack belief
  2. Those who don’t know if God exists
  3. Those who doubt that God exists
  4. Those who believe God does not exist

Anti-theist:

An anti-theist would be someone who not only believes that God does not exist but also is against the idea of God’s existence. He would oppose religion. Just as there are varieties of atheists, there are varieties of anti-theists. Some anti-theists oppose the idea of God but don’t do much about it. Then there are those who assert that any belief in God is harmful to society, and the proper thing to do is reduce harm by openly attacking and denouncing theistic beliefs with the aim of eradicating all religion. Of course, this makes no sense since they can’t demonstrate that “reducing harm” is the “right” thing to do. They just assume it is proper and act accordingly. Anti-theists, like atheists, don’t have any objective moral standard. Anyway, atheists have no belief in any god or gods (weak atheism), where anti-theists work against the idea of God’s existence (strong atheism). All anti-theists are atheists, but not all atheists are anti-theists.

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Anti-theism and Activism:

Anti-theism requires more than either merely disbelieving in gods or even denying the existence of gods. Anti-theism requires a couple of specific and additional beliefs: first, that theism is harmful to the believer, harmful to society, harmful to politics, harmful, to culture, etc.; second, that theism can and should be countered in order to reduce the harm it causes. If a person believes these things, then they will likely be an anti-theist who works against theism by arguing that it be abandoned, promoting alternatives, or perhaps even supporting measures to suppress it.

It’s worth noting here that, however, unlikely it may be in practice, it’s possible in theory for a theist to be an anti-theist. This may sound bizarre at first, but remember that some people have argued in favor of promoting false beliefs if they are socially useful. Religious theism itself has been just such a belief, with some people arguing that because religious theism promotes morality and order it should be encouraged regardless whether it is true or not. Utility is placed above truth-value. It also happens occasionally that people make the same argument in reverse: that even though something is true, believing it is harmful or dangerous and should be discouraged. The government does this all the time with things it would rather people not know about. In theory, it’s possible for someone to believe (or even know) that but also believe that theism is harmful in some manner — for example, by causing people to fail to take responsibility for their own actions or by encouraging immoral behavior. In such a situation, the theist would also be an anti-theist. Although such a situation is incredibly unlikely to occur, it serves the purpose of underscoring the difference between atheism and anti-theism. Disbelief in gods doesn’t automatically lead to opposition to theism any more than opposition to theism needs to be based on disbelief in gods. This also helps tell us why differentiating between them is important: rational atheism cannot be based on anti-theism and rational anti-theism cannot be based on atheism. If a person wishes to be a rational atheist, they must do so on the basis of something other than simply thinking theism is harmful; if a person wishes to be a rational anti-theist, they must find a basis other than simply not believing that theism is true or reasonable. Rational atheism may be based on many things: lack of evidence from theists, arguments which prove that god-concepts are self-contradictory, the existence of evil in the world, etc. Rational atheism cannot, however, be based solely on the idea that theism is harmful because even something that’s harmful may be true. Not everything that’s true about the universe is good for us, though. Rational anti-theism may be based on a belief in one of many possible harms which theism could do; it cannot, however, be based solely on the idea that theism is false. Not all false beliefs are necessarily harmful and even those that are, aren’t necessarily worth fighting.

Religious moderation as compared to religious extremism is an example of theistic anti-theism, also known as dystheism. Dystheism also encompasses questioning the morals even of a deity you believe in, e.g. choosing to obey commandments on nonviolence over calls to violence from God, despite them both being clearly put forward by this alleged giver of all morals.

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Modern anti-theism, be it in the form of Soviet oppression or the prolific New Atheists, has not greatly undermined religion in society. Indeed, even in the face of the internet and the globalization of information, the world has a seen a resurgence of religion, especially fundamentalist strains.  Popular anti-theism seems to have little effect on the masses, despite the strength of the arguments presented. The societies which achieved mass secularization, notably those in Northern Europe, did so without revealing what combination of socio-economic factors allowed this. It could not be education, for that has failed everywhere else, nor could it be wealth, for the United States and Saudi Arabia are highly religious. The apologist’s explanation, which posits an emotional or physiological need for religion, could not be true, for the non-theistic East Asian societies have proved highly successful in the modern world.

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Types of anti-theism depicted in the figure below:

Most atheists do not consider themselves anti-theists but merely non-theists.

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Typology of Nonbelief: a study:

Many assume that nonbelievers are a monolithic group with no variation such as Atheism or Agnosticism. Various studies found that individuals have shared definitional agreement but use different words to describe the different types of Nonbelief. Moreover, social tension and life narrative play a role in shaping one’s ontological worldview. Through thematic coding, a typology of six different types of Nonbelief was observed in this study. Those are Academic Atheists, Activist Atheist/Agnostics, Seeker Agnostics, Antitheists, Nontheists, and the Ritual Atheists.

  1. Intellectual Atheist / Agnostic (IAA):

The first and most frequently discussed type is what could be termed The Intellectual Atheist / Agnostic or IAA. IAA typology includes individuals who proactively seek to educate themselves through intellectual association, and proactively acquires knowledge on various topics relating to ontology (the search for Truth) and non-belief. They enjoy dialectic enterprises such as healthy democratic debate and discussions, and are intrinsically motivated to do so. These individuals are typically versed in a variety of writings on belief and non-belief and are prone to cite these authors in discussions. IAAs associate with fellow intellectuals regardless of the other’s ontological position as long as the IAA associate is versed and educated on various issues of science, philosophy, “rational” theology, and common socio-political religious dialog. They may enjoy discussing the epistemological positions related to the existence or non-existence of a deity. Besides using textual sources such as intellectual books, IAAs may utilize technology such as the Internet to read popular Blogs, view Youtube videos, and listen to podcasts that fall in line with their particular interests. Facebook and other online social networking sites can be considered a medium for learning or discussion. However, not only is the IAA typically engaged in electronic forms of intellectualism but they oftentimes belong to groups that meet face to face offline such as various skeptic, rationalist and freethinking groups for similar mentally stimulating discussions and interaction. The Modus operandi for the Intellectual Atheist /Agnostic is the externalization of epistemological orientated social stimulation.

  1. Activist Atheist / Agnostic (AAA):

The next typology relates to being socially active. These individuals are termed the activist atheist and/or agnostic. Individuals in the Activist Atheist typology are not content with the placidity of simply holding a non-belief position; they seek to be both vocal and proactive regarding current issues in the atheist/agnostic socio-political sphere. This socio-political sphere can include such egalitarian issues, but is not limited to: concerns of humanism, feminism, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered (LGBT) issues, social or political concerns, human rights themes, environmental concerns, animal rights, and controversies such as the separation of church and state. Their activism can be as minimal as the education of friends or others, to much larger manifestations of social activities such as boycotting products, promoting legal action, or marching to raise awareness. Activist Atheists / Agnostics are commonly naturalistic or humanistic minded individuals, but are not limited to these types of ethical concerns. It is not uncommon for AAA individuals to ally themselves with other movements in support of social awareness. The Activist Atheist / Agnostic’s are not idle; they effectuate their interests and beliefs.

  1. Seeker-Agnostic (SA):

The third typological characteristic is the Seeker-Agnostic. Seeker-Agnostic typology consists of individuals attuned to the metaphysical possibilities precluding metaphysical existence, or at least recognizes the philosophical difficulties and complexities in making personal affirmations regarding ideological beliefs. They may call themselves agnostic or agnostic-atheist, as the SA simply cannot be sure of the existence of God or the divine. They keep an open mind in relation to the debate between the religious, spiritual, and antitheist elements within society.

Seeker-Agnostics recognize the limitation of human knowledge and experience. They actively search for and respond to knowledge and evidence, either supporting or disconfirming truth claims. They also understand, or at least recognize, the qualitative complexities of experiences in the formation of personal meaning. Seeker Agnostics do not hold a firm ideological position but always search for the scientifically wondrous, and experientially profound confirmation of life’s meaning. They may be intrinsically motivated to explore and seek understanding in the world around them. The diversity of others is accepted for the SA and co-existence with the “others” is not only possible, but also welcomed. Their worldly outlook may be mediated by science; however, they recognize current scientific limitations and embrace scientific uncertainty. They are comfortable with this uncertainty and even enjoy discussing it. Some Intellectual Atheist /Agnostics or Anti-Theists may accuse the seeker agnostic of avoiding responsibility or commitment to a more solid affirmation of Atheism. In other cases, outsiders may see it as an ontological transitional state from religion or spirituality to Atheism. In some cases, Seeker-Agnostics may generally miss being a believer either from the social benefits or the emotional connection they have with others such as friends or family. At times, their intellectual disagreement with their former theology causes some cognitive dissonance and it is possible they may continue to identity as a religious or spiritual individual. However, taking those exceptions into account, the majority of Seeker Agnostics should in no way be considered “confused.” For the Seeker-Agnostic, uncertainty is embraced.

  1. Anti-Theist:

The fourth typology, and one of the more assertive in their view, termed the Anti-Theist. While the Anti-Theists may be considered atheist or in some cases labelled as “new atheists,” the Anti-Theist is diametrically opposed to religious ideology. As such, the assertive Anti-Theist both proactively and aggressively asserts their views towards others when appropriate, seeking to educate the theist’s in the passé nature of belief and theology. In other words, antitheists view religion as ignorance and see any individual or institution associated with it as backward and socially detrimental. The Anti-theist has a clear and – in their view, superior – understanding of the limitations and danger of religions. They view the logical fallacies of religion as an outdated worldview that is not only detrimental to social cohesion and peace, but also to technological advancement and civilized evolution as a whole. They are compelled to share their view and want to educate others into their ideological position and attempt to do so when and where the opportunity arises. Some Anti-Theist individuals feel compelled to work against the institution of religion in its various forms including social, political, and ideological while others may assert their view with religious persons on an individual basis. The Anti-Theist believes that the obvious fallacies in religion and belief should be aggressively addressed in some form or another. Based on personalities, some Anti-Theists may be more assertive than others; but outsiders and friends know very clearly where they stand in relation to an Anti-theist. Their worldview is typically not a mystery. The Anti-Theist’s reaction to a religious devotee is often based on social and psychological maturity.

  1. Non-Theist:

The fifth typology termed the non-theist. While not many individuals identified themselves as this type, they did have experiences with others who indicated themselves as being non-theists. For the Non-Theists, the alignment of oneself with religion, or conversely an epistemological position against religion can appear quite unconventional from their perspective. However, a few terms may best capture the sentiments of the Non-Theist. One is apathetic, while another may be disinterested. Non-Theist is non-active in terms of involving themselves in social or intellectual pursuits having to do with religion or anti-religion. A non-theist simply does not concern him or herself with religion. Religion plays no role or issue in one’s consciousness or worldview; nor does a nontheist have concern for the atheist or agnostic movement. No part of their life addresses or considers transcendent ontology. They are not interested in any type of secularist agenda and simply do not care. Simply put, Non-Theist’s are apathetic non-believers. They simply do not believe, and in the same right, their absence of faith means the absence of any thing religion in any form from their mental space.

  1. Ritual Atheist/Agnostic (RAA):

The sixth and final type was one of the most interesting and unexpected. This study termed this type The Ritual Atheist / Agnostic or RAA. The RAA type holds no belief in God or the divine, or they tend to believe it is unlikely that there is an afterlife with God or the divine. They are open about their lack of belief and may educate themselves on the various aspects of belief by others. One of the defining characteristics regarding Ritual Atheists/Agnostics is that they may find utility in the teachings of some religious traditions. They see these as more or less philosophical teachings of how to live life and achieve happiness than a path to transcendental liberation. Ritual Atheist / Agnostics find utility in tradition and ritual. For example, these individuals may participate in specific rituals, ceremonies, musical opportunities, meditation, yoga classes, or holiday traditions. Such participation may be related to an ethnic identity (e.g. Jewish) or the perceived utility of such practices in making the individual a better person. Many times Ritual Atheist / Agnostics may be misidentified as spiritual but not religious, but they are quick to point out that they are atheist or agnostic in relation to their own ontological view. For other Ritual Atheist / Agnostics, it may be simply that they hold respect for profound symbolism inherent within religious rituals, beliefs, and ceremonies. The Ritual Atheist / Agnostic individual perceive ceremonies and rituals as producing personal meaning within life. This meaning can be an artistic or cultural appreciation of human systems of meaning while knowing there is no higher reality other than the observable reality of the mundane world. In some cases, these individuals may identify strongly with religious traditions as a matter of cultural identity and even take an active participation in religious rituals. While Ritual Atheists may celebrate their association with ritualistic organizations or call themselves cultural practitioners of a faith-based practice, they are open and honest about their ontological position and do not hide their lack of belief in the metaphysical or divine. Ritual Atheist /Agnostics may identify ritualistically or symbolically with Judaism, Paganism, Buddhism, or Laveyan Satanism to name some examples.

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Postmodernism:

Postmodernism does away with many of the things that religious people regard as essential. For postmodernists every society is in a state of constant change; there are no absolute values, only relative ones; nor are there any absolute truths. This promotes the value of individual religious impulses, but weakens the strength of ‘religions’ which claim to deal with truths that are presented from ‘outside’, and given as objective realities. In a postmodern world there are no universal religious or ethical laws, everything is shaped by the cultural context of a particular time and place and community. In a postmodern world individuals work with their religious impulses, by selecting the bits of various spiritualties that ‘speak to them’ and create their own internal spiritual world. The ‘theology of the pub’ becomes as valid as that of the priest. The inevitable conclusion is that religion is an entirely human-made phenomenon.

This is not a very new development. In Japan, many people have adopted both Shinto and Buddhist ideas in their religious life for some time. In parts of India, Buddhism co-exists with local tribal religions. Hinduism, too, is able to incorporate many different ideas. In a world where there is no objectively existing God “out there”, and where the elaborate sociological and psychological theories of religion don’t seem to ring true, the idea of regarding religion as the totality of religious experiences has some appeal. Religion in this theory is created, altered, renewed in various formal interactions between human beings. Images and ideas of God are manufactured in human activity, and used to give specialness (‘holiness’?) to particular relationships or policies which are valued by a particular group. There is no one ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ religion – or sanctifying theory. There are as many as there are groups and interactions, and they merge and join, divide and separate over and over again. Some are grouped together under the brand names of major faiths, and they cohere with varying degrees of consistency. Others, although clearly religious in their particular way, would reject any such label.

Some of these interactions are labelled ‘religious’: rites of passage like weddings and funerals, regular worship services, prayer meetings, meditation sessions, retreats. Some of these are just the rituals of everyday life. These include cooking and cleaning, and working. (Many established religions had that insight a long time ago – although they required the actions to be carried out with a particular attitude of mind to count as religious.) Yet others are group actions designed to “bring about the Kingdom of God” on earth. These are often initiatives for social change, or charity work, or fighting for individual human rights. These dramas remove religion from the exclusive narratives of scriptures, or the lifestyle rules of various faith communities, and bring religion into everyday life. They enable people from different faiths, or none, to work together in religious acts when they engage in social action – they are working to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth, and they don’t worry about who God is, or whether God is or not.

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Introduction to atheism:

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Atheism may be defined as the mental attitude which unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a lifestyle and ethical outlook verifiable by experience and the scientific method, independent of all arbitrary assumptions of authority and creeds.

-Madalyn Murray O’Hair (1963)

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Atheism is traditionally defined as disbelief in the existence of a god. As such, atheism involves active rejection of belief in the existence of at least one god. This definition does not capture the atheism of many atheists, which is based on an indifference to the issue of the existence of gods. This attitude of indifference is sometimes called apatheism. There is a difference between disbelief in all gods and no belief in a particular god. Before one can disbelieve in something, that something must be intelligible and it must be understood. Since there are many concepts of gods and these concepts are usually rooted in some culture or tradition, atheism might be defined as the belief that a particular word used to refer to a particular god is a word that has no reference. Thus, there are as many different kinds of atheism as there are names of gods or groups of gods. Some atheists may know of many gods and reject belief in the existence of all of them. Such a person might be called a polyatheist. All theists are atheists in the sense that they deny the existence of all other gods except theirs, but they don’t consider themselves atheists. Most people today who consider themselves atheists probably mean that they do not believe in the existence of the local god. For example, most people who call themselves atheists in a culture where the dominant god is the Jewish, Christian, or Islamic god (i.e., Abraham’s god) would mean, at the very least, that they do not believe that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, providential creator of the universe. Atheism is often considered to be a negative, dark, and pessimistic belief that is characterized by a rejection of values and purpose and a fierce opposition to religion. However atheism shows how a life without religious belief can be positive, meaningful, and moral. Atheists can be indifferent rather than hostile to religious belief. They can be more sensitive to aesthetic experience, more moral, or more attuned to natural beauty than many theists. There is no more reason for them to be pessimistic or depressive than there is for the religious to be so.

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There have been many thinkers in history who have lacked a belief in God.  Some ancient Greek philosophers, such as Epicurus, sought natural explanations for natural phenomena. Epicurus was also to first to question the compatibility of God with suffering.  Forms of philosophical naturalism that would replace all supernatural explanations with natural ones also extend into ancient history. During the Enlightenment, David Hume and Immanuel Kant give influential critiques of the traditional arguments for the existence of God in the 18th century.  After Darwin (1809-1882) makes the case for evolution and some modern advancements in science, a fully articulated philosophical worldview that denies the existence of God gains traction.  In the 19th and 20th centuries, influential critiques on God, belief in God, and Christianity by Nietzsche, Feuerbach, Marx, Freud, and Camus set the stage for modern atheism.

It has come to be widely accepted that to be an atheist is to affirm the non-existence of God.  Anthony Flew (1984) called this positive atheism, whereas to lack a belief that God or gods exist is to be a negative atheist. Parallels for this use of the term would be terms such as “amoral,” “atypical,” or “asymmetrical.”  So negative atheism would include someone who has never reflected on the question of whether or not God exists and has no opinion about the matter and someone who had thought about the matter a great deal and has concluded either that he/she has insufficient evidence to decide the question, or that the question cannot be resolved in principle. Agnosticism is traditionally characterized as neither believing that God exists nor believing that God does not exist.

Atheism can be narrow or wide in scope.  The narrow atheist does not believe in the existence of God (an omni- being).  A wide atheist does not believe that any gods exist, including but not limited to the traditional omni-God.  The wide positive atheist denies that God exists, and also denies that Zeus, Gefjun, Thor, Sobek, Bakunawa and others exist.  The narrow atheist does not believe that God exists, but need not take a stronger view about the existence or non-existence of other supernatural beings.  One could be a narrow atheist about God, but still believe in the existence of some other supernatural entities.  (This is one of the reasons that it is a mistake to identify atheism with materialism or naturalism.)

There are two main categories of atheists: strong and weak with variations in between.  Strong atheists actively believe and state that no God exists. They expressly denounce the God. Strong atheists are usually more aggressive in their conversations with theists and try to shoot holes in theistic beliefs.  They like to use logic and anti-biblical evidence to denounce God’s existence.  They are active, often aggressive, and openly believe that there is no God. Agnostic Atheists are those who deny God’s existence based on an examination of evidence.  Agnosticism means ‘not knowing’ or ‘no knowledge.’  They state they have looked at the evidence and have concluded there is no God, but they say they are open to further evidence for God’s existence. Weak atheists simply exercise no faith in God.  The weak atheist might be better explained as a person who lacks belief in God the way a person might lack belief that there is a green lizard in a rocking chair on the moon; it isn’t an issue.  He doesn’t believe it or not believe it. Finally, there is a group of atheists called militant atheists.  They are, fortunately, few in number.  They are usually highly insulting and profoundly terse in their comments to theists. They are vile, rude, and highly condescending.  Their language is full of insults, profanity, and blasphemies.  Basically, no meaningful conversation can be held with them.

Separating these different senses of the term allows us to better understand the different sorts of justification that can be given for varieties of atheism with different scopes.  An argument may serve to justify one form of atheism and not another.  For Instance, alleged contradictions within a Christian conception of God by themselves do not serve as evidence for wide atheism, but presumably, reasons that are adequate to show that there is no omni-God would be sufficient to show that there is no Islamic God.

Some of the ambiguity and controversy involved in defining atheism arises from difficulty in reaching a consensus for the definitions of words like deity and god. The plurality of wildly different conceptions of God and deities leads to differing ideas regarding atheism’s applicability. The ancient Romans accused Christians of being atheists for not worshiping the pagan deities. Gradually, this view fell into disfavour as theism came to be understood as encompassing belief in any divinity.  With respect to the range of phenomena being rejected, atheism may counter anything from the existence of a deity, to the existence of any spiritual, supernatural, or transcendental concepts, such as those of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Taoism.

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Atheism (from the Greek a-, meaning “without”, and theos, meaning “god”) is the absence of belief in the existence of gods. For the definition of atheism, the terms “God” and “a god” are used interchangeably as there is no difference between a monotheistic deity and a polytheistic pantheon of deities when it comes to complete disbelief in them. Most atheists also do not believe in anything supernatural or paranormal (someone like this would be considered a naturalist, or even a materialist). Atheism, as defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and other philosophy reference works, is the denial of the existence of God. Paul Edwards, who was a prominent atheist and editor of the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, defined an atheist as “a person who maintains that there is no God.” Beginning in the latter portion of the 20th century and continuing beyond, many agnostics and atheists have argued that the definition of atheism should be a lack of belief in God or gods. Atheism is, in the broadest sense, the absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is the rejection of belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities.  Atheism is contrasted with theism, which, in its most general form, is the belief that at least one deity exists.

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The etymological root for the word atheism originated before the 5th century BCE from the ancient Greek ἄθεος (atheos), meaning “without god(s)”. In antiquity it had multiple uses as a pejorative term applied to those thought to reject the gods worshiped by the larger society, those who were forsaken by the gods or those who had no commitment to belief in the gods. The term denoted a social category created by orthodox religionists into which those who did not share their religious beliefs were placed. The actual term atheism emerged first in the 16th century. With the spread of freethought, skeptical inquiry, and subsequent increase in criticism of religion, application of the term narrowed in scope. The first individuals to identify themselves using the word atheist lived in the 18th century during the Age of Enlightenment. The French Revolution, noted for its “unprecedented atheism,” witnessed the first major political movement in history to advocate for the supremacy of human reason. The French Revolution can be described as the first period where atheism became implemented politically.

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Arguments for atheism range from the philosophical to social and historical approaches. Rationales for not believing in deities include arguments that there is a lack of empirical evidence, the problem of evil, the argument from inconsistent revelations, the rejection of concepts that cannot be falsified, and the argument from nonbelief. Nonbelievers contend that atheism is a more parsimonious position than theism and that everyone is born without beliefs in deities; therefore, they argue that the burden of proof lies not on the atheist to disprove the existence of gods but on the theist to provide a rationale for theism. Although some atheists have adopted secular philosophies (e.g. secular humanism), there is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which all atheists adhere.

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Some Basic Tenets of Atheism:

-There is no God or devil.

-There is no supernatural realm.

-Miracles cannot occur.

-There is no such thing as sin as a violation of God’s will.

-Generally, the universe is materialistic and measurable.

-Man is material.

-Generally, evolution is considered a scientific fact.

-Ethics and morals are relative.

Please note that not all atheists accept all of these tenets.  The only absolute common one to which they hold is that they do not believe in a God or gods.

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Since conceptions of atheism vary, accurate estimations of current numbers of atheists are difficult. According to global Win-Gallup International studies, 13% of respondents were “convinced atheists” in 2012, 11% were “convinced atheists” in 2015, and in 2017 9% were “convinced atheists”. However, other researchers have advised caution with WIN/Gallup figures since other surveys which have used the same wording for decades and have a bigger sample size have consistently reached lower figures.  An older survey by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 2004 recorded atheists as comprising 8% of the world’s population. Other older estimates have indicated that atheists comprise 2% of the world’s population, while the irreligious add a further 12%. According to these polls, Europe and East Asia are the regions with the highest rates of atheism. In 2015, 61% of people in China reported that they were atheists. The figures for a 2010 Eurobarometer survey in the European Union (EU) reported that 20% of the EU population claimed not to believe in “any sort of spirit, God or life force”.

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The atomic whirl:

The atomic whirl is the logo of the American Atheists, and has come to be used as a symbol of atheism in general.  The Atomic Whirl is based on the well-known Rutherford model of the atom, showing the orbital paths of electrons around the central nucleus. The symbol is used by the American Atheists organization to symbolize that “only through the use of scientific analysis and free, open inquiry can humankind reach out for a better life.” The lower part of the central loop is left open or “broken” to represent the fact that atheists accept that while they rely on the scientific method, they are in essence, searching for the answers, and in some cases, further questions. This central loop forms an “A” which represents the atheists. American Atheists has a copyright on the symbol.

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What do Atheists believe?

Atheists believe that there is no proof or evidence for the existence of gods, and they see no need for, or use for, gods. They generally believe that the universe, the Earth and life on Earth evolved by perfectly natural processes, and see no evidence of intervention or guidance by a supernatural entity. In fact, most atheists consider any paranormal belief systems (such as astrology, clairvoyance, spiritualism, etc.) as at best useless, and at times positively dangerous. They might further argue that religions have often shown themselves to be intolerant and bigoted, have impeded scientific and social progress, have caused significant strife and bloodshed, and have never served mankind in a good way.

Atheists tend instead towards secular philosophies such as humanism, rationalism and naturalism. Atheism is generally based on a philosophy of naturalism, which holds that only natural phenomena exist and that there are no supernatural forces, or materialism (also known as physicalism), which holds that the world and the universe contain only material or physical objects, such as can be described by the physical sciences of physics, chemistry and biology. Very few, however, would take this to the philosophical extreme of “eliminative materialism” and deny the existence of minds, thoughts, ideas, etc.

Many atheists think that the question “what is the meaning of life?” is just as silly as “what is the meaning of a cup of coffee”, and do not believe that life has any meaning or purpose, nor that it requires one: it simply is. Others find meaning in the choices they make in life (be it political reform, charitable work, relationships, etc.) rather than in the promise of a hypothetical life after death. To an atheist, the knowledge that we have only one life makes it all the more precious and ensures a life-affirming, life-enhancing attitude, untainted with wishful thinking, self-delusion or self-pity.

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Who Are Atheists?

People become atheists for a variety of reasons. In general, atheists do not lack belief because of ignorance or denial, but are non-believing through choice. For some, atheism may be an act of rebellion against a religious upbringing, but usually it results from independent thinking and reasoned skepticism. Many have spent time studying one or more religions, often quite thoroughly, and have made a carefully considered decision to reject them. A 2010 American study has shown that atheists are actually distinctly better informed about religion than people who consider themselves religious (closely followed by agnostics, with Catholics and Protestants firmly at the bottom of the list). A good proportion (but by no means all) become atheists because religion just did not work for them or seem irrelevant to their lives, because their questioning of the core beliefs of religion have left them unsatisfied, or because they have come to the conclusion that religious convictions are fundamentally incompatible with their own observations.

However, it should be noted that atheism can encompass a whole range of views, and there is no one ideology or set of behaviours to which all atheists adhere. An individual atheist may deny anything from the existence of a specific deity, to the existence of any gods at all, to the existence of any spiritual, supernatural or transcendental concepts, such as those of Hinduism and Buddhism.

There are a small but vocal number of what might be called militant atheists who would like to see all forms of religious belief completely eradicated. In addition to the convictions of moderate atheists, they would also claim that religion is demonstrably false and, furthermore, usually or always harmful or dangerous. Most open-minded atheists and humanists are opposed to such militant views, considering them equivalent to religious fundamentalism, and more likely to give atheism a bad reputation than to further its cause.

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Pro-God and anti-God atheism:

Perhaps an even more interesting distinction is between pro-God atheism and anti-God atheism. A pro-God atheist like John Schellenberg (who coined the term) is someone who in some real sense loves God or at least the idea of God, who tries very hard to imagine what sorts of wonderful worlds such a being might create (instead of just assuming that such a being would create a world something like the world we observe), and who (at least partly) for that very reason believes that God does not exist. Such an atheist might be sympathetic to the following sentiments:

It is an insult to God to believe in God. For on the one hand it is to suppose that he has perpetrated acts of incalculable cruelty. On the other hand, it is to suppose that he has perversely given his human creatures an instrument—their intellect—which must inevitably lead them, if they are dispassionate and honest, to deny his existence. It is tempting to conclude that if he exists, it is the atheists and agnostics that he loves best, among those with any pretensions to education. For they are the ones who have taken him most seriously.  By contrast, anti-God atheists like Thomas Nagel (1997: 130–131) find the whole idea of a God offensive and hence not only believe but also hope very much that no such being exists. Nagel is often called an “antitheist” (e.g., Kahane 2011), but that term is purposely avoided here, as it has many different senses (Kahane 2011: note 9). Also, in none of those senses is one required to be an atheist in order to be an antitheist, so antitheism is not a variety of atheism.

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Atheism and supernatural or paranormal beliefs:

Atheism and skepticism complement each other but are not synonymous. While most atheists are skeptics, not all are, and atheists are often quite willing to believe in things that they consider more likely than the existence of God (and on the other side of the coin, many theists are skeptical about psychic powers, aliens, Bigfoot, and so on). However, many vocal atheists tend to be skeptics who actively refute the existence of what could be considered “supernatural” phenomenon, as well as pseudoscientific claims.  Lack of belief in an afterlife is not a requirement of atheism (many atheists believe that the afterlife can exist as a scientific phenomenon, not spiritual), but since atheism is strongly correlated with skepticism and free-thought in general and people who, for whatever reason, don’t believe in the supernatural are usually atheists, the two tend to coincide. This does not mean that atheists believe in The Nothing after Death; rather, those who don’t believe in an afterlife or reincarnation view life as an event, like a fire, that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Whatever is left of a person after they die does not really resemble a living person, any more than a pile of ashes resembles a fire.

Atheism being strongly correlated with skepticism might be true for the US or other countries with a large religious majority, but it certainly doesn’t apply to countries with an atheistic majority or large minority. In European areas like Scandinavia, (former) East Germany, the Czech Republic, etc., lots of people just grew up as atheists and believe in all kinds of superstition, astrology, pseudo-scientific stuff and New Age mysticism.

Actual bona-fide miracles occurring (e.g. raising the dead, “impossible” healing of sickness or injury, etc.) would not be automatic proof that the God is “real” in the Biblical sense. Assuming for the moment that such miracles occur, it’s also possible that they are unusual yet natural happenings in our universe propelled by a mechanism we do not yet understand, or that the beings that style themselves as gods are another kind of life form that chooses to interact with us by posing as gods for some reason. Interestingly, for a long period of history, the investigation of so called “miracles” and the discovery of natural explanations for these phenomena was considered an affirmation of faith (as in, “Hey, look how God made this amazing thing we thought was impossible actually happen without leaving any direct fingerprints”).

Atheists no not close their minds and unfairly dismiss all supernatural claims without consideration: A common mantra is “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” If you make a convincing argument for the universe having a “first cause”, an atheist might ask you how you know that that cause was intelligent, that it still exists now, and so on. To most atheists, declaring that something is beyond the reach of science is not only obscenely arrogant (just because you can’t detect it doesn’t mean nobody can), it also disarms you of any objective means to know.  Most atheists dismiss claims of the supernatural because of the lack of evidence. Furthermore, the majority of atheists, especially the truly skeptical, will admit that their beliefs would change if appropriate evidence were discovered.

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Is Atheism is an Ideology?

An ideology is a body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group. There are two key elements necessary for an ideology: it must be a group of ideas or beliefs, and this group must provide guidance. Neither is true of atheism. First, atheism is by itself just the absence of belief in gods; it’s not even a single belief, much less a body of beliefs. Second, atheism by itself offers no guidance on moral, social, or political matters.

Why do atheists insist that atheism is not an ideology?

  1. Because, if it were an ideology, there would be any number of ideological tenets that those who follow it subscribe to. There aren’t.
  2. Because lack of a belief in any god or god is the antithesis of ideological belief.
  3. Theism is an ideology. A-theism (not theism) is not.
  4. Theists know their gods primarily through the ideology of their religion. They assume atheists follow some sort of counter ideology in order not to believe in the god of their religion. But, in fact, the ideology of any religion is irrelevant to one who has no belief in any god or gods, i.e. an atheist.

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Religious yet atheist:

There’s one huge problem with the statistics favored by the media. They are based on answers to questions which are, at heart, binary: are you a religious person or an atheist? Even in the surveys which allow you to be in-between or neither, those two points are presented as contrasts: and that’s where the major problem lies.

A system in which “religious” and “atheist” are presented as opposites may make sense in 2015 in a pub debate in London or a panel discussion in the United States. But it makes none at all in Asia. The most popular codes of belief in the region lead people to be atheists as a key part of being religious. (Definition of “atheist” in the most popular way is “people who don’t believe in God”.) In Asia, we find Buddhists, Taoists, Jainists and Confucians, all representing huge numbers of people, showing up for gatherings to mark World Religion Day—yet all these would be counted as atheists under many systems of analysis. For members of groups which follow these world-views, there is no supreme being who goes under names such as God, Allah, or the Force. Some have no deities at all, and are clearly atheistic in tone. Yet are these individuals religious? Look at the Jainist in his robes and beads, or the Confucian, enthusiastically joining in with the group prayer at a World Religion Day meeting, and most people would say: yes, definitely. (The major schools of Hinduism also include groups who specifically consider themselves atheistic, as a key belief of their religious practice.)

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Running contradictions:

In all the surveys, the number of atheists is relatively small, perhaps surprisingly so, considering their enormous prominence in media debates and on the internet, where they often feel like the majority. (This may be partly due to confusion between atheism and secularism, which are not the same thing: people often forget that the separation of church and state, and the spread of secularism were historical movements led by Christians, not atheists.) When we take a closer look, we find puzzling data that shrinks that small number of atheists further. In one of the most comprehensive US surveys, 38% of atheists and agnostics went on to say that they did believe in a higher consciousness. And 14% of people who identified themselves as atheists added that they believed specifically in God or a universal spirit. That percentage included 5% who said they were “absolutely certain” that God or a universal spirit existed.

Confused? Hold on, we’re just getting started. Of the atheists, “a quarter (26%) say they think of themselves as spiritual people, and 3% consider themselves religious people,” says Michael Lipka of the Pew Research Centre.  So a proportion of people listed as atheists are religious people who are more sure of a deity’s existence than some of the people listed as believers! A further puzzle: In that US survey, more people (7%) say they do not believe in God or a universal spirit than say they are atheist (2.4%). So some people listed as believers are also non-believers. Many media outlets repeatedly group the nons with the atheists to justify headlines on the rise of atheism. This is clearly unsafe. The one thing we know for sure about the unaffiliated is that they have chosen not to tick the box that identifies them as atheists. Other journalists choose to use the word “irreligious”, although this is misleading: the word does not have the same meaning or associations as “unaffiliated”. The Pew Forum’s 2007 US Religious Landscape Survey revealed that 42% of the unaffiliated pray at least once a month, and 41% considered religion to be somewhat or very important in their lives. Those are not small percentages.

It’s clear that to many people, the concepts of atheism and non-belief in God come across as only tangentially connected, if related at all. It is very hard to escape the conclusion that the non-binary, non-opposite system that applies to Asia also applies to the Western world. If you position religion and atheism as opposites, you’re asking the wrong questions. Humanity’s chosen world views are far more complex than the summaries in popular media indicate.

In a nutshell:

The difficulty in attaining an unequivocal definition of atheism reflects the complexity and diversity of its historical expressions and its multiple interpretations.

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Personality profiles and social trends of atheists:

A study on global religiosity, secularity, and well-being notes that it is unlikely that most atheists and agnostics base their decision to not believe in the gods on a careful, rational analysis of philosophical and scientific arguments since science testing scores in societies where atheism or theism is widespread, are just as poor and such societies have widespread supernatural beliefs besides gods. Reviewing psychological studies on atheists, Miguel Farias, noted that studies concluding that analytical thinking leads to lower religious belief “do not imply that that atheists are more conscious or reflective of their own beliefs, or that atheism is the outcome of a conscious refutation of previously held religious beliefs” since they too have variant beliefs such as in conspiracy theories of the naturalistic variety. In terms of apostasy, a greater proportion of people who leave religion, do so for motivational rather than rational reasons and the majority of deconversions occur in adolescence and young adulthood when one is emotionally volatile. Furthermore, Farias notes that atheists are indistinguishable from New Age individuals or Gnostics since there are commonalities such as being individualistic, non-conformist, liberal, and valuing hedonism and sensation. According to Phil Zuckerman, the majority of atheists and other secular people who were raised with a religion, leave their religion and beliefs in their late teens or early twenties while a smaller proportion do so at a mature age.

A study on personality and religiosity found that members of secular organizations (like the international Center for Inquiry) have similar personality profiles to members of religious groups. This study found that members of secular organizations are very likely to label themselves primarily as “atheists”, but also very likely to consider themselves humanists. It was also found that secular group members show no significant differences in their negative or positive affect. The surveyed individuals also had similar profiles for conscientiousness (discipline or impulse control, and acting on values like “pursuit of truth”). Secular group members tended to be less agreeable (e.g. more likely to hold unpopular, socially challenging views), as well as more open minded (e.g. more likely to consider new ideas) than members of religious groups. Luke Galen, a personality researcher, writes “Many previously reported characteristics associated with religiosity are a function not of belief itself, but of strong convictions and group identification.” Catherine Caldwell-Harris notes that “non-believers” are interested in social justice concerns and posits that this is due to their lack of belief in an afterlife, leading to a focus on what can be fixed here and now. Another study by Caldwell-Harris describes atheists as being capable of experiencing awe, which she states debunks stereotypes of atheists as “cynical and joyless”. A 2014 study created six different personality profiles of ‘types’ of nonbelievers and compared them to Big Five personality traits. In countries which have high levels of atheism such as Scandinavian nations, atheist organizations there generally have very low membership and only those that have links to a political party or offer legalized rituals have some noticeable membership.

According to William Bainbridge’s international study, atheism is common among people whose interpersonal social obligations are weak and is also connected to lower fertility rates in advanced industrial nations.  In a global study on atheism, sociologist Phil Zuckerman noted that countries with higher levels of atheism also had the highest suicide rates compared to countries with lower levels of atheism. He concludes that correlation does not necessarily indicate causation in either case. A study on depression and suicide suggested that those without a religious affiliation have a higher suicide attempt rates than those with a religious affiliation. A study into mental well-being in religious and non-religious people found that mental well-being for both religious people and non-religious people hinged on the certainty of their belief, and that previous studies had not controlled for the effect of belonging to a group when studying churchgoers. Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi regarded atheists in Western society to be “much more likely to be a man, married, with higher education”, and regarded the personality of atheists to be “less authoritarian and suggestible, less dogmatic, less prejudiced, more tolerant of others, law-abiding, compassionate, conscientious, and well educated. They are of high intelligence, and many are committed to the intellectual and scholarly life”. A review of the literature found that being non-religious did not necessarily entail poorer mental health.

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Are there atheists in foxholes?

In an attempt to discredit atheism, theists will sometimes claim “There are no atheists in foxholes.” The statement “There are no atheists in foxholes” is an aphorism used to argue that in times of extreme stress or fear, such as during war (“in foxholes”), all people will believe in, or hope for, a higher power (and there are therefore no atheists).  The purpose of this argument appears to be similar to that of fictitious atheist deathbed conversion stories (stories invented by theists claiming that famous atheists suddenly professed belief in God before their death). These arguments seem to imply that when atheists are faced with imminent death, many decide that they do not like the consequences of an atheistic worldview, and therefore will become theists just before their death. However, much like the discredited atheist deathbed conversion stories, this argument is also incorrect.

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Atheism+

Atheism Plus (also rendered Atheism+) was a movement proposed in 2012 by blogger Jen McCreight. Its original definition was rather nebulous, but in general, it encouraged progressive atheists to move beyond the question of (non-)belief and to address additional issues, including critical thinking, skepticism, social justice, feminism, anti-racism, and combating homophobia and transphobia.  The idea originated as a reaction to the nastiness flung about during a controversy over (sexual) harassment policies at atheist/skeptical conferences,

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History of atheism:

While the earliest-found usage of the term atheism is in 16th-century France, ideas that would be recognized today as atheistic are documented from the Vedic period and the classical antiquity.

Early Indic religion:

Atheistic schools are found in early Indian thought and have existed from the times of the historical Vedic religion. Among the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, Samkhya, the oldest philosophical school of thought, does not accept God, and the early Mimamsa also rejected the notion of God. The thoroughly materialistic and anti-theistic philosophical Cārvāka (or Lokāyata) school that originated in India around the 6th century BCE is probably the most explicitly atheistic school of philosophy in India, similar to the Greek Cyrenaic school. The rejection of a personal creator God is also seen in Jainism and Buddhism in India.

Classical antiquity:

Western atheism has its roots in pre-Socratic Greek philosophy, but atheism in the modern sense was nonexistent or extremely rare in ancient Greece. Pre-Socratic Atomists such as Democritus attempted to explain the world in a purely materialistic way and interpreted religion as a human reaction to natural phenomena, but did not explicitly deny the gods’ existence.  In the late fifth century BCE, the Greek lyric poet Diagoras of Melos was sentenced to death in Athens under the charge of being a “godless person” after he made fun of the Eleusinian Mysteries but he fled the city to escape punishment. Later writers have cited Diagoras as the “first atheist”, but he was probably not an atheist in the modern sense of the word.

The Athenian public associated Socrates (c. 470–399 BCE) with the trends in pre-Socratic philosophy towards naturalistic inquiry and the rejection of divine explanations for phenomena. Aristophanes’ comic play The Clouds (performed 423 BCE) portrays Socrates as teaching his students that the traditional Greek deities do not exist. Socrates was later tried and executed under the charge of not believing in the gods of the state and instead worshipping foreign gods. Socrates himself vehemently denied the charges of atheism at his trial and all the surviving sources about him indicate that he was a very devout man, who prayed to the rising sun and believed that the oracle at Delphi spoke the word of Apollo.

The most important Greek thinker in the development of atheism was Epicurus (c. 300 BCE). Drawing on the ideas of Democritus and the Atomists, he espoused a materialistic philosophy according to which the universe was governed by the laws of chance without the need for divine intervention. Although Epicurus still maintained that the gods existed, he believed that they were uninterested in human affairs.

The meaning of “atheist” changed over the course of classical antiquity. Early Christians were widely reviled as “atheists” because they did not believe in the existence of the Graeco-Roman deities. During the Roman Empire, Christians were executed for their rejection of the Roman gods in general and Emperor-worship in particular. When Christianity became the state religion of Rome under Theodosius I in 381, heresy became a punishable offense.

Early Middle Ages to the Renaissance:

During the Early Middle Ages, the Islamic world experienced a Golden Age. Along with advances in science and philosophy, Arab and Persian lands produced outspoken rationalists and atheists, including Muhammad al Warraq (fl. 9th century), Ibn al-Rawandi (827–911), Al-Razi (854–925), and Al-Maʿarri (973–1058). Al-Ma’arri wrote and taught that religion itself was a “fable invented by the ancients” and that humans were “of two sorts: those with brains, but no religion, and those with religion, but no brains.” Despite their being relatively prolific writers, little of their work survives, mainly being preserved through quotations and excerpts in later works by Muslim apologists attempting to refute them. Other prominent Golden Age scholars have been associated with rationalist thought and atheism as well, although the current intellectual atmosphere in the Islamic world, and the scant evidence that survives from the era, make this point a contentious one today.

In Europe, the espousal of atheistic views was rare during the Early Middle Ages and Middle Ages; metaphysics and theology were the dominant interests pertaining to religion. There were, however, movements within this period that furthered heterodox conceptions of the Christian god, including differing views of the nature, transcendence, and knowability of God. Individuals and groups such as Johannes Scotus Eriugena, David of Dinant, Amalric of Bena, and the Brethren of the Free Spirit maintained Christian viewpoints with pantheistic tendencies. Nicholas of Cusa held to a form of fideism he called docta ignorantia (“learned ignorance”), asserting that God is beyond human categorization, and thus our knowledge of him is limited to conjecture. William of Ockham inspired anti-metaphysical tendencies with his nominalistic limitation of human knowledge to singular objects, and asserted that the divine essence could not be intuitively or rationally apprehended by human intellect. Followers of Ockham, such as John of Mirecourt and Nicholas of Autrecourt furthered this view. The resulting division between faith and reason influenced later radical and reformist theologians such as John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, and Martin Luther. The Renaissance did much to expand the scope of free thought and skeptical inquiry. Individuals such as Leonardo da Vinci sought experimentation as a means of explanation, and opposed arguments from religious authority. Other critics of religion and the Church during this time included Niccolò Machiavelli, Bonaventure des Périers, Michel de Montaigne, and François Rabelais.

Early modern period:

During the Middle Ages, Scholasticism and orthodoxy in religious thought was at its height, and Atheism was a very uncommon, even dangerous, doctrine, although William of Ockham went so far as to assert that the divine essence could not be intuitively or rationally apprehended by human intellect. By the time of the Renaissance (15th – 16th Centuries), more skeptical inquiry was beginning and Niccolò Machiavelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Bonaventure des Périers and François Rabelais all criticized religion and the Church during this time. Deism gained influence in France, Prussia, and England. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza was “probably the first well known ‘semi-atheist’ to announce himself in a Christian land in the modern era”, according to Blainey. Spinoza believed that natural laws explained the workings of the universe. In 1661 he published his Short Treatise on God. In 17th and 18th Century Europe, Deism increased in popularity and criticism of Christianity became increasingly frequent, but it was only towards the end of the 18th Century that Atheism began to be openly espoused by individuals such as Jean Meslier and Baron d’Holbach, and the Empiricist David Hume began to undermine the metaphysical basis of natural theology.  By the mid-19th Century, many prominent German philosophers (including Ludwig Feuerbach, Arthur Schopenhauer, Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche) were denying the existence of deities and were strongly critical of religion. In the 20th Century, atheistic thought found recognition in a wide variety of other broader philosophies, such as Existentialism, Objectivism, Humanism, Nihilism, Logical Positivism and Marxism, as well as the Analytic Philosophy, Structuralism, Naturalism and Nominalism movements they gave rise to. Bertrand Russell emphatically rejected belief in God, and Ludwig Wittgenstein and A. J. Ayer, in their different ways, asserted the unverifiability and meaninglessness of religious statements.

New Atheism is a social and political movement that began in the early 2000s in favour of atheism and secularism. It has been largely promoted by a handful of popular radical atheist writers, including the so-called “Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse”: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett . The movement advocates the view that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises”.

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Some of the Most Brilliant Atheists of All Time:

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Democritus:

Democritus was an ancient Greek philosopher, the most prolific and influential of the pre-Socratics and whose atomic theory is regarded as the intellectual culmination of early Greek thought. For this atomic theory, which echoes eerily the theoretical formulations of modern physicists, he is sometimes called the “father of modern science.” He was well known to Aristotle, and a thorn in the side to Plato – who advised that all of Democritus’ works be burned. A cheerful and popular man with the citizenry for his uncanny ability to predict events, his was known among his fans as the “Laughing Philosopher,” a title that may well have referred more to his scoffing rejection of assigning to gods the mechanistic operations of nature itself. His cosmology and atomic theory held that the world was spheroid, that there were many worlds and many suns, and that all things manifest in nature were comprised of atoms bound together. There are varying accounts of his age at death, ranging from a ripe 90 all the way to 109 years.

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Epicurus:

Born in 341 BCE in Athens, Epicurus established the school of philosophy known as Epicureanism, and was a follower of Democritus even though his own philosophy denied the influence of strong determinism and often denounced other philosophies as confused. He was an important figure in the early development of the scientific methodology, insisting that nothing which cannot be tested through direct observation and defended through logical deduction should be believed. Epicurus put forward the theory of “materialism”: The only things that exist are bodies and the space between them. Epicurus taught that the soul is also made of material objects, and so when the body dies the soul dies with it. There is no afterlife. Epicurus thought that gods might exist, but if they did, they did not have anything to do with human beings. For Epicurus the purpose of philosophy was to attain peace of mind and a happy life, freedom from fear and absence of pain. He considered pleasure and pain the measures of that which is good or evil. He insisted that there were no gods to reward or punish humans after death, that the universe is infinite and eternal, and that all things are ultimately material in nature. Epicurus himself was never able to escape a life of pain or a painful death, as he suffered greatly from kidney stones and died at the age of 72 of complications from that ailment.

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Andrew Carnegie:

Andrew Carnegie [1835-1919] was a noted American industrialist, businessman and philanthropist. A Scottish-born immigrant, he established the Carnegie Steel Company in Pittsburgh and later merged it with the Federal Steel Company to become U.S. Steel. He is regarded as the second richest man in history, and he gave most of his steel and railroad fortune away to establish libraries, schools and universities all over America. He limited himself to an income of $50,000 per year, everything else went into good works. He wrote many books on the subjects of wealth and its responsibilities, on social issues and on political philosophy. He self-identified as a positivist, and kept away from organized religion due to his distaste of sectarianism. Carnegie preferred naturalism and science, saying in his autobiography that, “not only had I got rid of the theology and the supernatural, but I had found the truth of evolution.”

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Ivan Pavlov:

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov [1849-1936] was a Russian physiologist, psychologist and physician. He won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1904 for research on the digestive system. It was his investigation of the saliva of dogs that first led him to notice that the animals salivated more when they expected food, a phenomenon he termed “psychic secretion.” He was particularly interested in studying conditioned behaviors as an experimental model of the induction of neuroses. His approach became known as “behaviorism,” and after his death his work was extended by William Sargant and others in an attempt to develop a systematic method for brainwashing and implantation of false memories. Pavlov died in Leningrad, his laboratory in St. Petersburg was carefully preserved by the Soviet government as a museum. He had one of his students attend him on his deathbed to record the circumstances of his dying, as if it were just another psychological experiment.

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Sigmund Freud:

Born Sigismund Schlomo Freud [1856-1939], Freud was an Austrian psychiatrist founded the psychoanalytic school of psychology. Using his theories of the unconscious mind and defense mechanisms of repression, his psychoanalysis sought to cure sufferers of psychopathology through a dialogue between the patient and his psychoanalyst. He had an elaborate system for interpretation of dreams as indicators of unconscious desires, and did early neurological research on cerebral palsy. Despite his ideas falling out of favor or being modified in later years, his methodology and theoretics continue to exert influence in the humanities and some social sciences. Freud’s family escaped after Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938 and moved to London. He suffered more than 30 operations for oral cancer in his late life, and convinced his physician friend Max Schur to assist his suicide in 1939. His philosophical writings established his strong advocacy for an atheistic world view, and he was eulogized as “the atheist’s touchstone” for the 20th century.

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Albert Einstein:

Beyond his scientific contributions, he was known as a peacemaker and civil-rights advocate: he was one of the first to warn the world of the dangers of Nazism, joined anti-lynching campaigns, publicly opposed McCarthyism, and called for nuclear disarmament worldwide. Later in life, he was offered the presidency of Israel but turned it down, saying that he was unqualified. Einstein famously made statements like “God does not play dice with the universe” that have inspired religious apologists to try to claim him as their own, but on other occasions, he made it clear that this was nothing but poetic metaphor. He made his views known in letters, writing, for example: “I do not believe in a personal god and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.” On another occasion, he wrote, “the word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”

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Bertrand Russell:

Bertrand Arthur William Russell [1872-1970], 3rd Earl of Russell, was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, pacifist and social activist. Russell led the revolt against idealism in the early 20th century and is considered along with Wittgenstein and Frege a founder of analytic philosophy, which considers formal logic and science as the principal tools of philosophy. Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1950. Russell was not fond of organized religion, but expressed some difficulty in defining himself as an agnostic or an atheist. In his 1949 speech, “Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic?” Russell admitted that he could not prove the non-existence of God any more than he could prove the non-existence of the Homeric gods. But in his autobiography he stated, “At the age of eighteen, …I read Mill’s Autobiography, where I found a sentence to the effect that his father taught him the question “Who made me?” cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question “Who made God?” This led me to abandon the “First Cause” argument, and to become an atheist.”

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Linus Pauling:

Linus Carl Pauling [1901-1994] was one of the most influential chemists in history as well as one of the most important scientists of the 20th century – or, according to Gautam Desiraju who wrote the Millennium Essay in the journal Nature, one of the greatest thinkers and visionaries of the last thousand years. One of only 4 individuals ever to have won solo Nobel Prizes in separate and unrelated fields – for chemistry in 1954, and the Nobel Peace Prize for his tireless campaign against atmospheric nuclear bomb testing in 1962. His activities in favor of pacifism and against nuclear weapons earned him an appearance before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, which explicitly accused him of being in league with the Communists. Pauling’s wife Ava Hellen, whom he married in 1917, was a pacifist and peace activist who got him involved in the crusade against nuclear weapons and atmospheric bomb testing. He had been raised Lutheran and later joined the Unitarian Universalist Church, but publicly declared his personal atheism two years before his death of prostate cancer at the age of 93.

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Paul Dirac:

Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac [1902-1984] was a British theoretical physicist who contributed to the early development of quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics [QED]. He shared the 1933 Nobel Prize in physics with Erwin Schrodinger, formulated what became known as the Dirac equation, and held the Cambridge Lucasian Chair in mathematics established by Sir Isaac Newton and last held by Stephen Hawking. Dirac was noted for his personal humility, refusing to call his contributions to physics by his own name, and for his somewhat Edwardian sense of social propriety. He married Margrit, the sister of fellow Nobel laureate Eugene Wigner, in 1937. He adopted her two children and the couple had two more. While he once said that “God used beautiful mathematics in creating the world,” his personal views on religion were far less expansive. Wolfgang Pauli once described Dirac’s first commandment concerning religion as, “God does not exist and Paul Dirac is his prophet.”

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Ayn Rand:

Ayn Rand [1905-1982] was a Russian-born writer who emigrated to the U.S. in 1925. Her first play, Night of January 16th, was produced in Hollywood and then on Broadway. Her autobiographical and anti-Soviet novel We the Living, was published in 1936. Best known for her sweeping intellectual masterpiece Atlas Shrugged, the fiction mystery allowed her to fully develop her philosophy of objectivism. For the rest of her life Rand lectured and wrote about objectivism, which she termed “a philosophy for living on earth.” All of the books Rand published during her lifetime are still in print, and her philosophy is still taught at many major universities as one of the most important philosophical movements in the modern world. Objectivism is particularly prized by dedicated capitalists and economists and underpins much of the wider free-thought movement.

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Katherine Hepburn:

Katherine Houghton Hepburn [1907-2003] was an acclaimed actress in film, television and stage for 73 years of her long life. She received 12 Academy Award nominations for Best Actress in a film, and still holds the record with four wins. In 1999 the American Film Institute ranked Hepburn as cinema history’s greatest female star. A child of New England privilege with a genealogical heritage tracing back to Louis IX of France, she received her degree in history and philosophy from Bryn Mawr despite a record of breaking curfew, smoking and skinny dipping in the fountain. She married socialite businessman Ludlow Ogden Smith in 1928, but divorced six years later. Despite several romances, the love of her live was Spencer Tracy, with whom she made nine movies. In a 1973 interview on The Dick Cavett Show Hepburn said that while she agreed with Christian principles and thought highly of Jesus Christ, she had neither personal religious beliefs nor any belief in an afterlife. “I am an atheist and that’s it. I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people.”

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Jacques Monod:

Jacques Lucien Monod [1910-1976] was a French biologist who contributed greatly to the understanding of the Lac operon as a regulator of gene transcription in cells, suggested the existence of mRNA molecules in the process of protein synthesis, and further contributed to the field of enzymology. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1965. He married archeologist and orientalist Odette Bruhl in 1938, they had twin sons, Oliver and Phillippe, one of whom became a geologist, the other a physicist. Monod wrote the book Chance and Necessity in 1970, which became a popular primer on the relationship between the roles of random chance and adaptation in biological evolution and provided much ammunition to the atheist community by proposing that the natural sciences revealed an entirely purposeless world that undermines the traditional claims of the world’s religions. His views also contributed to the development of the idea of “Memes” that Richard Dawkins made famous in his writings.

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Alan Turing:

Alan Mathison Turing [1912-1954] was a mathematician, logician, computer scientist and cryptanalyst from England. He displayed distinct signs of genius early in his life, solving advanced problems without having studied elementary calculus. At the age of 16 he encountered Einstein’s work and extrapolated it to question Newton’s laws of motion from a text in which this challenge was not made explicit. Perhaps his most momentous achievement was his 1936 paper reformulating Kurt Godel’s results on the limits of proof and computation, replacing Godel’s arithmetic-based formal language with what are now known as Turing machines – formal and simple devices. It was the death of Turing’s first love in their last year at Sherborne from complications of bovine tuberculosis (contracted from drinking infected milk as a boy) that shattered Turing’s religious faith. He became an atheist with a firm conviction that all phenomena must be materialistic in nature.

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Francis Crick:

Francis Harry Compton Crick [1916-2004] is best known as the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. He first coined the term “central dogma” to describe the flow of genetic information in cells as a one way street – DNA to RNA to protein. His primary interests encompassed two fundamental problems in biology. How non-living molecules become living organisms, and how the human brain creates a conscious mind. On the matter of religion, Crick once said, “Christianity may be okay between consenting adults in private, but should not be taught to young children.” In his book Of Molecules and Men he expressed his strong views on the relationship between science and religion. Those views continued to play a role in his work when he transitioned from molecular biology into theoretical neuroscience.

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Richard Feynman:

Richard Phillips Feynman [1918-1988] contributed much to the development of quantum mechanics, including what became known as Feynman diagrams, the path integral formulation, the theory of quantum electrodynamics [QED], the physics supercooled liquid helium’s superfluidity, and the parton model of particle physics. He won the Nobel Prize in 1965 for QED and became one of the best known scientists in the world through his popular books and lectures about physics and about his own storied life. Among his colleagues he was perhaps better known as a beatnik and clown, always thinking up clever pranks or juggling or sitting in with any impromptu band playing bongos. Some of his other interests were painting, biology, Mayan hieroglyphics and lock-picking. He was dubbed the “Great Explainer” for two masterful lecture series on physics at Cal Tech (which were later turned into the books Six Easy Pieces and Six Not So Easy Pieces. He developed two rare forms of cancer late in his life, complaining that, “I’d hate to die twice. It’s so boring.” In the end, he died after surgery for only one of them.

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Noam Chomsky:

Avram Noam Chomsky [b. 1928] is one of the most notable American philosophers of any age. Professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT, and is considered a father of modern linguistics. Also a prolific writer, he has also become famous for being an outspoken political dissident, anarchist, humanist freethinker and libertarian socialist. Beginning with his 1959 critique of B.F. Skinner’s behaviorist theory of language, Chomsky has iterated and refined his own theory of linguistics as a branch of cognitive psychology. This view drew much criticism from behaviorists, particularly his hypothesis that humans share an innate linguistic capability. On his views of religion, Chomsky said in a Common Sense interview in 2002, “…if you ask me whether or not I’m an atheist, I wouldn’t even answer. I would first want an explanation of what it is that I’m supposed not to believe in, and I’ve never seen an explanation.”

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James D. Watson:

James Dewey Watson [b. 1928] received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1962 as co-discoverer along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins of the molecular structure of DNA. Watson began his Ph.D. research with Salvador Luria, who later earned his own Nobel for work with Max Delbruck on phages. It was from this association with the leaders of the “Phage Group” of molecular biologists that he became involved in the search for the nature of genes. He earned that Ph.D. in zoology from Indiana University at the age of 22. Watson was politically active in opposition to the war in Vietnam and nuclear proliferation, active in environmentalism. When asked by a student if he believed in God, Watson answered, “Oh, no. Absolutely not… The biggest advantage to believing in God is you don’t have to understand anything, no physics, no biology. I wanted to understand.”

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Steven Weinberg:

Steven Weinberg [b. 1933] is an American physicist best known for his work on unification of electromagnetism and the weak force, for which he shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 1979. It was as a visiting professor at MIT in 1967 that he first proposed his electroweak unification theory, which predicted the existence of the Z boson and the existence of a mechanism of mass later known as the Higgs boson. In 1973 he proposed a modification of the Standard Model of physics did not predict the Higgs, but there is as yet no consensus. Weinberg has been prominent in the science vs. religion ‘culture wars’. His popular science books and articles combine explaining science in the added context of history, philosophy of science, and atheism. In a 1999 speech in Washington, D.C., he said, “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.”

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Carl Sagan:

Carl Edward Sagan [1934-1996] was an American astronomer, astrochemist, and successful popularizer of science. Sagan was connected to the American space program from the beginning, working as an advisor to NASA from the 1950s. He contributed to many of the robotic missions that explored the solar system and arranged experiments to be conducted during manned moon missions. He designed the gold plaque attached to the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft, a message that could be understood by an extra-terrestrial intelligence that encountered it. Sagan was an outspoken opponent of nuclear weapons and starred in the popular PBS television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. Noted as a skeptic who advocated for humanist ideals, the public considered him an atheist. Sagan called himself an agnostic instead, explaining that “an atheist has to know a lot more than I know” in order to make a positive assertion that no deity exists.

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Richard Dawkins:

Clinton Richard Dawkins [b. 1941] is the most prominent scientific atheist in the world today, and was the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford until his retirement in 2008. Dawkins’ particular brilliance is not so much reflected in radical discoveries in his field of biology, but in his popular science writings like his books The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype. He has been called “Darwin’s Rottweiler” in the press for his strong support of evolution by natural selection. He has also written against creationism in the book The Blind Watchmaker and against theism in A Devil’s Chaplain and The God Delusion, both popular best-sellers. An engaging and energetic speaker, Dawkins promotes atheism as senior editor and columnist for the Council for Secular Humanism’s Free Inquiry magazine, and as a member of the editorial board of Skeptic magazine since it was founded. In 2006 Dawkins founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and in 2007 founded the atheist “Out” campaign, and in 2008 he supported the Atheist Bus Campaign, Britain’s first atheist advertising blitz.

In his scientific work, Dawkins is mostly known for his gene-centred reformulation of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. In his book, The Selfish Gene (1976), he argues that it is not groups or organisms that adapt and evolve, but individual genes. Dawkins argued that, at gene level, adaptation does not serve any “altruistic” purpose; each living organism’s body is just a survival machine for its genes. In that same book, he developed the concept of a meme – the cultural and behavioural counterpart of a gene. Whilst the selfish gene theory is one of the most significant concepts of his scientific work, Dawkins is also very well-known for his openly anti-religious views and his anti-creationist stance.

In The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence. He is sympathetic to Robert Pirsig’s statement in Lila (1991) that “when one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion.”  With many examples, he explains that one does not need religion to be moral and that the roots of religion and of morality can be explained in non-religious terms. One of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.  Dawkins identifies himself repeatedly as an atheist, while also pointing out that, in a sense, he is also agnostic, though “only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden”.

Dawkins writes that The God Delusion contains four “consciousness-raising” messages:

  1. Atheists can be happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.
  2. Natural selection and similar scientific theories are superior to a “God hypothesis”—the illusion of intelligent design—in explaining the living world and the cosmos.
  3. Children should not be labelled by their parents’ religion. Terms like “Catholic child” or “Muslim child” should make people cringe.
  4. Atheists should be proud, not apologetic, because atheism is evidence of a healthy, independent mind.

Some scientists criticise Dawkins:

The common criticism is that Dawkins is too strong in his criticism of religion, and one nonreligious professor of biology referred to him as a “fundamental atheist”.  He feels compelled to take the evidence way beyond that which other scientists would regard as possible. Another described his work as a “crusade, basically”. One nonreligious physicist said that Dawkins is “much too strong about the way he denies religion. As a scientist, you’ve got to be very open, and I’m open to people’s belief in religion … I don’t think we’re in a position to deny anything unless it’s something which is within the scope of science to deny … I think as a scientist you should be open to it … It doesn’t end up encroaching for me because I think there’s quite a space between the two.”

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Stephen Hawking:

Stephen William Hawking [1942- 2018] is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, a position once held by Sir Isaac Newton. He is recognized as one of the most creatively intelligent people of the modern scientific age, best known his contributions to the fields of cosmology, quantum gravity and general relativity, as well as for his best-selling popular science books. He developed ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in graduate school in Cambridge and has survived with the condition longer than was thought possible. He has almost no neuromuscular control and must communicate via a speech synthesizer. Hawking sometimes comes across quite like a deist in his popular writings, particularly in the book, A Brief History of Time, in which most of the questions posed of the universe also echo questions traditionally asked of God. In that book Hawking expounded upon his “no boundary” model by stating, “If the no boundary proposal is correct, He [God] had no freedom at all to choose initial conditions.”. While he does not publicly profess atheism, Hawking does profess agnosticism.

British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking schmoozed with Popes during his lifetime, even though he was an avowed atheist. The famous scientist was often asked to explain his views on faith and God. During interviews, he explained his belief that there was no need for a creator. He said during an interview with El Mundo in 2014: “Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”  “I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science,” he said. “The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.” “One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist. But science makes God unnecessary. … The laws of physics can explain the universe without the need for a creator.” He also explained throughout his life his thoughts on a possible afterlife, saying, “I believe the simplest explanation is, there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization that there probably is no heaven and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that, I am extremely grateful.” In 2011, his comments to the Guardian explained his stance further: “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

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Steven Pinker:

Steven Arthur Pinker [b. 1954] is an experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist best known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind. He is also known for his controversial positions on issues like eugenics and euthanasia. He is a best-selling author of popular science books as well as a popular speaker. He describes the human mind as a sort of Swiss Army knife that comes with specialized tools designed to deal with problems our Pleistocene ancestors encountered. Pinker’s works on how children acquire language echoes Noam Chomsky’s work on language as an innate faculty of mind. Pinker argues that many other human mental faculties are adaptive in an evolutionary sense and can be understood best from that angle. Born into the Jewish community in Montreal, he became an atheist at the age of 13 but remains a “cultural Jew.”

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Mark Zuckerberg:

Mark Elliot Zuckerberg [b. 1984] is an American computer programmer named by Time Magazine as one of the World’s Most Influential People in 2008 for his development of the internet application Facebook. While attending Phillips Exeter Academy he developed an AI program called Synapse that both Microsoft and AOL attempted to purchase as part of recruitment efforts, but he determined to attend Harvard instead. Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his Harvard dorm room in 2004. It spread to other universities with the help of his roommate Dustin Moskovitz. Despite some controversy over the platform and a lawsuit over the ConnectU application which was later dismissed, Zuckerman sold a 1.6% stake in Facebook to Microsoft, which had a $15 billion market value at the time according to Forbes. He was born into the Jewish tradition, yet self-identifies as an atheist.

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Atheist philosophers:

Axiological, or constructive, atheism rejects the existence of gods in favor of a “higher absolute”, such as humanity. This form of atheism favors humanity as the absolute source of ethics and values, and permits individuals to resolve moral problems without resorting to God. Marx and Freud used this argument to convey messages of liberation, full-development, and unfettered happiness.  One of the most common criticisms of atheism has been to the contrary: that denying the existence of a god either leads to moral relativism and leaves one with no moral or ethical foundation, or renders life meaningless and miserable. Blaise Pascal argued this view in his Pensées.  French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre identified himself as a representative of an “atheist existentialism” concerned less with denying the existence of God than with establishing that “man needs … to find himself again and to understand that nothing can save him from himself, not even a valid proof of the existence of God.”  Sartre said a corollary of his atheism was that “if God does not exist, there is at least one being in whom existence precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be defined by any concept, and … this being is man.”  The practical consequence of this atheism was described by Sartre as meaning that there are no a priori rules or absolute values that can be invoked to govern human conduct, and that humans are “condemned” to invent these for themselves, making “man” absolutely “responsible for everything he does”.  The majority of contemporary philosophers are atheists, but not all of them. Bas van Fraassen, Michael Dummett, Elizabeth Anscombe, Saul Kripke, Hilary Putnam and Greg Restall are all prominent philosophers, some alive some recently dead, who practiced a religion. All of them produced work widely respected by other philosophers that is not apologetic in nature. Then there are philosophers like Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga who are primarily known for their philosophical defences of religious belief.

Why are most philosophers’ atheists or agnostics?

Because philosophy is all about reasoning about the nature of reality. In one of the largest polls to date, 72% of philosophers identified themselves as atheists.

What is it about their field of study and personal experience that lead them to atheism or agnosticism?

The rejection of faith as a valid means of assessing reality. Faith is believing something when you have no verifiable justification to do so. That attitude can & does lead people to believe absolutely anything at all.

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Atheist bus campaign [see title photo]:

The atheist bus campaign is a project in the United Kingdom to put atheist slogans on buses. It is backed by the British Humanist Association. The main campaign ran in 2008 and 2009. Its style has been copied and expanded upon to produce other slogans and campaigns aimed at raising awareness of atheism – and that it’s okay to not believe.  The campaign started when journalist and blogger Ariane Sherine saw an advertisement on a bus claiming that salvation only came from Jesus. She almost immediately wrote an article about it in The Guardian, wondering why people could get away with advertising religious messages without any evidence, while if someone was to proclaim that “a lion is loose in London” without evidence it would be frowned upon greatly. After an initial attempt to start an “atheist campaign” in July 2008 fell slightly flat, she restarted it via a Facebook group and quickly received thousands of pounds in donations. The campaign ran in late 2008 and early 2009, with billboards and buses showing the slogan and it taking off across the internet. It attracted criticism primarily from Christian pressure groups such as Christian Voice, led by Stephen Green, previously best known as the man who attempted to ban Jerry Springer: The Opera on grounds of blasphemy. As if to prove that the American religious nuts didn’t hold a monopoly on intolerance and hatred of people who don’t hold similar beliefs, Green was quoted as saying “Bendy-buses, like atheism, are a danger to the public at large”.

The slogan, in nice friendly colours, reads:

THERE’S PROBABLY NO GOD.

NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE.

There have been press reports that some atheists wanted a stronger or more explicit message, or that the word “probably” was only used to keep the advertising standards people happy. However, when talking about the slogan the organiser, Ariane Sherine, strongly defended it saying: There’s another reason I’m keen on the “probably”: it means the slogan is more accurate, as even though there’s no scientific evidence at all for God’s existence, it’s also impossible to prove that God doesn’t exist (or that anything doesn’t).

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First atheist monument on government property unveiled in 2013:

The clash of ideas first came to light in Starke when New Jersey-based nonprofit American Atheists, along with a local resident, sued the county in 2005 for a lighted cross that used to perch on top of a water tower. It was removed in 2007. Then, in 2012, a local Christian men’s group paid about $20,000 to install the Ten Commandments monument at the courthouse, according to American Atheists. It caught the attention of the group and sparked a lawsuit, which led to a series of negotiations with Bradford County government, which ended in the agreement to erect a second monument presenting an alternative viewpoint.  Chandler Allen, 10, of Orlando, was the first to sit on the newly revealed atheist monument outside the Bradford County Courthouse.

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Types of Atheism and Related Terms:

Various forms or sub-categories of atheism can be identified, and there are several other related terms which should be distinguished:

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Practical and Theoretical Atheism:

The broadest demarcation of atheistic rationale is between theoretical and practical (or pragmatic) atheism. The different forms of theoretical atheism each derive from a particular rationale or philosophical argument, and explicitly posit arguments against the existence of gods, responding to common theistic arguments (such as the Argument from Design or Pascal’s Wager, for example).

Practical atheism, on the other hand, requires no specific argument, and can encompass mere indifference to, or ignorance of, the idea of gods. Practical atheists live their lives as if there were no gods, and explain natural phenomena without resorting to the divine. Thus, they do not necessarily deny the existence of gods, but considered them unnecessary or useless, neither providing purpose to life, nor influencing everyday events.

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Implicit and Explicit Atheism:

Implicit atheism refers to the absence of theistic belief without any conscious rejection of it. An implicit atheist has not thought about belief in gods, and so can be described as being implicitly without a belief in gods. This broad definition would therefore include newborn babies and other people who have never been exposed to theistic ideas. This is a relatively recent conception, and prior to the 19th Century the existence of God was so universally accepted in the western world that it was just taken for granted that all people believe in God from birth.

Explicit atheism, on the other hand, refers to the more common definition of conscious disbelief in deities. An explicit atheist has been exposed to the idea of a god or gods and has actively chose to reject it, either by eschewing belief in gods (weak atheism), or by going further and concluding that gods do not exist (strong atheism).

And another pair of terms can be used for explicit atheists:

  • Gnostic atheists are those who are sure that no gods exist of any type. They have examined the philosophical arguments against god, and conclude that it is a self-contradictory or impossible concept.
  • Agnostic atheists are those who do not think that god(s) exist, but, who do not think it is possible to completely disprove their possibility. Many of these atheists simply haven’t given much thought to it, and are unconvinced by the arguments they have heard so far that god(s) exist.

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Strong (Positive, hard) and Weak (Negative, soft) Atheism:

Philosophers such as Antony Flew and Michael Martin have contrasted positive (strong/hard) atheism with negative (weak/soft) atheism. Positive atheism is the explicit affirmation that gods do not exist. Negative atheism includes all other forms of non-theism. According to this categorization, anyone who is not a theist is either a negative or a positive atheist. The terms weak and strong are relatively recent, while the terms negative and positive atheism are of older origin, having been used (in slightly different ways) in the philosophical literature and in Catholic apologetics. Under this demarcation of atheism, most agnostics qualify as negative atheists.

While Martin, for example, asserts that agnosticism entails negative atheism, many agnostics see their view as distinct from atheism, which they may consider no more justified than theism or requiring an equal conviction. The assertion of unattainability of knowledge for or against the existence of gods is sometimes seen as an indication that atheism requires a leap of faith.  Common atheist responses to this argument include that unproven religious propositions deserve as much disbelief as all other unproven propositions, and that the unprovability of a god’s existence does not imply equal probability of either possibility.  Australian philosopher J. J. C. Smart even argues that “sometimes a person who is really an atheist may describe herself, even passionately, as an agnostic because of unreasonable generalized philosophical skepticism which would preclude us from saying that we know anything whatever, except perhaps the truths of mathematics and formal logic.” Consequently, some atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins prefer distinguishing theist, agnostic and atheist positions along a spectrum of theistic probability—the likelihood that each assigns to the statement “God exists”.

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The Spectrum of Theistic Probability:

As with many facets of life, theism and atheism lie on a spectrum rather than a strict binary. Richard Dawkins popularized the idea of a spectrum of theistic probability in his book, The God Delusion. In it, there are actually seven positions to hold:

According to Dawkins, position six is more common than seven among atheists. If you were to rate your beliefs on the Dawkins scale, where would you classify yourself?

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Figure below shows relationship between the definitions of weak/strong and implicit/explicit atheism.

Explicit strong/positive/hard atheists (in purple on the right) assert that “at least one deity exists” is a false statement.

Explicit weak/negative/soft atheists (in blue on the right) reject or eschew belief that any deities exist without actually asserting that “at least one deity exists” is a false statement.

Implicit weak/negative atheists (in blue on the left), according to authors such as George H. Smith, would include people (such as young children and some agnostics) who do not believe in a deity but have not explicitly rejected such belief.

Obviously Implicit strong/positive/hard atheism does not exist.

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Figure below shows relationship between atheism, antitheism, theism, deism and pantheism.

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Agnosticism:

It is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty. This is what Agnosticism asserts; and, in my opinion, it is all that is essential to Agnosticism.

-Thomas Huxley (1889)

Agnosticism is the philosophical view that the truth or otherwise of certain metaphysical claims regarding theology, the afterlife or the existence of deities, spiritual beings or even ultimate reality are unknown, or even unknowable. Thus, an agnostic believes that there can be no proof either that God exists or that God does not exist, or alternatively that, if such a proof is in fact possible, it has not yet come to light.

Agnosticism is not in itself a religious declaration, and an agnostic may also be a theist or an atheist. It is compatible with most theistic positions (an agnostic theist may choose to believe that a God exists, even if convinced that the existence of such a god is inherently unknowable).

Agnosticism can in turn be subdivided into several sub-categories, such as weak and strong agnosticism, apathetic agnosticism, religious agnosticism and ignosticism (the view that the existence of a deity is meaningless or empirically untestable, and the term “god” itself is meaningless).

Some authors distinguish theist, agnostic and atheist positions by the probability assigned to the statement “God exists”, thus seeing agnosticism as just a position on a continuum between theism and atheism.

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In theory, agnosticism is compatible with all but the most dogmatic of religious faiths, but in practice most agnostics are perceived as godless. Agnostics believe that while there is insufficient evidence to prove that there is a god, believing that there is not a god also requires a leap of faith (similar to any religious conviction) that lacks sufficient evidence. Simply put, agnosticism merely asserts that we lack the knowledge to determine whether or not God exists — in a sense, it differs from more explicit atheism by being a position based on a lack of knowledge, rather than a lack of belief. True agnostics would actually not fit on a hypothetical scale between theism and atheism as they would say the argument is unanswerable and could result in anything, almost like Schrödinger’s cat but where the box can never be opened.

Most agnostics, however, can additionally be categorised depending on how their beliefs work out in practice, whether they’re more atheistic or theistic. Agnostics may live and act as if there is no God and that no religion is correct, but shy away from the title “atheist” because of the expression of certainty implied. On the other hand, someone may consider themselves spiritual but not religious, or perhaps even nominally follow a religion, but identify as an agnostic in order to convey an honest doubt about the reality of it all.

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Explaining Agnosticism

The word “agnostic” comes from Greek roots meaning “without knowledge.” One could be agnostic about many things, but it’s most commonly used in the context of religious belief. When it comes to belief in a deity, there are two basic stances to take: either you can believe that God exists, or you can disbelieve. When you further examine those options, though, there are four stances to choose from, depending upon knowledge:

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The misconception of agnosticism presumes that atheism and theism are diametrically opposed extremes, and that agnosticism is a sort of middle ground between them. There are at least a couple of things wrong with this.

First, neither theism nor atheism explicitly entails extreme, absolutely certain belief in anything. Most theists do not proclaim 100% certainty, and there is no single atheist who is absolutely certain that no gods exist. Though, the stats suggest that theism within the general population is more often than not accompanied with absolute certainty.

Second, gnosticism deals with a separate issue from theism. Theism is concerned with belief, whereas gnosticism is concerned with knowledge.  So atheism does not necessarily entail 100% certainty that no gods exist, neither does theism necessarily entail 100% certainty that one or more gods do exist. We have to categorize the distinction between belief and knowledge:

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Friendly atheist:

Another subcategory of atheism is “friendly atheism”, which William Rowe (1979) defines as the position that, although God does not exist, some (intellectually sophisticated) people are justified in believing that God exists. Rowe, a friendly atheist himself, contrasts friendly atheism with unfriendly atheism and indifferent atheism. Unfriendly atheism is the view that atheism is true and that no (sophisticated) theistic belief is justified. In spite of its highly misleading name, this view might be held by the friendliest, most open-minded and religiously tolerant person imaginable. Finally, although Rowe refers to “indifferent atheism” as a “position”, it is not a proposition but instead a psychological state, specifically, the state of being an atheist who is neither friendly nor unfriendly—that is, who neither believes that friendly atheism is true nor believes that unfriendly atheism is true.

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Other types of atheists:

A closet atheist has not yet revealed his disbelief to most people.

An open atheist has revealed his disbelief to most people.

A passive atheist doesn’t believe in god but doesn’t try to influence the world in favor of atheism.

An evangelical atheist tries to persuade others to give up theistic belief.

An active atheist labors on behalf of causes that specifically benefit atheists (but not necessarily just atheists). For example, he strives against discrimination toward atheists, or he strives in favor of separation of church and state.

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Opposition to the term “atheism”:

One difficulty with the term “atheism” is that it defines what its adherents do not believe in, rather than in what they do believe in. The lack of positive statements of belief has led to the fact that there is really no overarching organisation that speaks for atheists (some would regard this as a good thing, keeping atheism from becoming an organised religion) and has led to the comparison that organising atheists is like “herding cats”, i.e., impossible. It is possible that the only thing which does really unite atheists is a lack of belief in gods; thus an overarching organisation to represent them would be physically impossible.

Primarily because of the prevalence of extreme discrimination against atheists, people have tried to come up with more positive terms or campaigns to get the godless philosophy noticed and respected. This allows atheists to feel more united and happy with their beliefs (or lack of), but has also led to organisations that will help them in situations, such as legal cases, where individuals couldn’t do it on their own. The most prominent examples are:

  1. The Brights movement:

The Brights Movement describes “brights” as follows:

  • A bright is a person who has a naturalistic worldview.
  • A bright’s worldview is free of supernatural and mystical elements.
  • The ethics and actions of a bright are based on a naturalistic worldview or humanism.

As a consequence “The Brights Movement” is naturally open to anyone who has a rationalistic or naturalistic worldview. It is essentially an attempted re-branding of atheism, with a silly and somewhat embarrassing name intended to give atheism a positive spin.  The “Brights Movement” describes itself as being composed of people with a naturalistic world-view, though its name might be self-defeating on the “helping make the godless more respected” side.

  1. Freethought:

Freethought or Freethinking is a general philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition or any other dogma.  As applied to religion, freethinkers generally hold that (given the presently known facts, established scientific theories and logical principles) there is insufficient evidence to support the existence of supernatural phenomena such as gods and deities.

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Unitarian Universalism:

Unitarian Universalism is not an atheist movement, but a religious movement into which some atheists may comfortably fit.  The movement proclaims the importance of individual freedom of belief, and it includes members from a wide spectrum of beliefs. Unitarianism and Universalism began in the 18th century as a reaction against some Christian doctrines. The movements joined together in 1961. The movement does not have an official definition of God, but allows members to “develop individual concepts of God that are meaningful to them.” Members are entirely free to “reject the term and concept altogether.”

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Secular Humanism:

Secular humanism is a humanist philosophy that espouses reason, ethics and justice, and specifically rejects the supernatural and the spiritual as the basis of moral reflection and decision-making. It is a life stance that focuses on the way human beings can lead good, happy and functional lives, and attempts to present a more positive attitude to the world than merely the absence of belief, largely centred on human experience, thought and hopes. Secular humanists are generally non-theists, and typically describe themselves as non-religious. They do not rely on gods or other supernatural forces to solve their problems or to provide guidance for their conduct, but rely instead on the application of reason, the lessons of history and personal experience to form an ethical/moral foundation and to create meaning in life. They look to the methodology of science as the most reliable source of information about what is factual or true about the universe. They typically advocate freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion, the strict separation of church and state, the abolition of tax exemptions for religious institutions, the abolition of sectarian religious education in public schools, zero funding for private religious schools, and the freeing of the legal system from religious constraints.

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“Cultural” Atheism:

A recent form of atheism is that which we could define as the “atheism of culture.” Its premises are again based on the anthropocentric position of Feuerbach: God is the mirror of man, from which it follows that homo homini Deus est. The truth of the religious cult would therefore be culture, now understood not as a natural opening up to the life of the spirit and an expression of its manifestations, but rather and foremost a mere deciphering and demystification of religious illusion. Anthropology here becomes the truth of theology, and culture the truth of religion, in a theoretical perspective in which atheism presents itself as culture, and culture as religion -since culture is essentially critical of religious illusion. Culture ceases to be the transcendent expression and a spiritual request, and it takes the role of a “religious” answer to human questions about the human being. According to various theorists of culture, the enormous influence of human sciences (anthropology, ethnology, sociology, psychoanalysis, etc.), from the 19th century onwards has often implied this form of atheism.

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Militant atheism:

A militant atheist uses violence to promote atheism or destroy religion. (Often, the term “militant atheist” is misapplied to non-violent evangelical atheists like Richard Dawkins. But to preserve the parallel with the “militant Christian” who bombs abortion clinics or the “militant Muslim” suicide bomber, many prefer the definition of “militant atheist” that assumes acts of violence.). Militant atheism is a term applied to atheism which is hostile towards religion.  Militant atheists have a desire to propagate the doctrine, and differ from moderate atheists because they hold religion to be harmful.  Militant atheism was an integral part of the materialism of Marxism-Leninism, and significant in the French Revolution, atheist states such as the Soviet Union, and Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

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New atheism:

The early years of the twenty-first century thrust issues around religion to the forefront of public and political debate. One of the defining features of this was the emergence of a more activist form of atheism, known as the ‘new atheism’, which sought to openly challenge and criticise religious beliefs and to promote the virtues of reason, rationality and science. Fuelled by a series of best-selling publications, and accompanied by high levels of media interest, new atheism soon became something of a cultural phenomenon. “New Atheism” is the name that has been given to a movement among some early-21st-century atheist writers who have advocated the view that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.” The movement is commonly associated with Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Victor J. Stenger, Christopher Hitchens, and to some extent Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  Several best-selling books by these authors, published between 2004 and 2007, form the basis for much of the discussion of “New” Atheism. If atheism is usually and best understood in philosophy as the metaphysical claim that God does not exist, then what, one might wonder, should philosophers do with the popular term, “New Atheism”? Philosophers write articles on and have devoted journal issues (French & Wettstein 2013) to the New Atheism, but there is nothing close to a consensus on how that term should be defined. Fortunately, there is no real need for one, because the term “New Atheism” does not pick out some distinctive philosophical position or phenomenon.

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The “Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse” (clockwise from top left): Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris.

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Further, one might question what is new about the New Atheism. The specific criticisms of religion and of arguments used to defend religion are not new. For example, an arguably more sophisticated and convincing version of Dawkins’ central atheistic argument can be found in Hume’s Dialogues (Wielenberg 2009). Also, while Dennett (2006) makes a passionate call for the scientific study of religion as a natural phenomenon, such study existed long before this call. Indeed, even the cognitive science of religion was well established by the 1990s, and the anthropology of religion can be traced back at least to the nineteenth century. Shifting from content to style, many are surprised by the militancy of some New Atheists, but there were plenty of aggressive atheists who were quite disrespectful to religion long before Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens. (Dennett is not especially militant.) Finally, the stereotype that New Atheism is religious or quasi-religious or ideological in some unprecedented way is clearly a false one and one that New Atheists reject. (For elaboration of these points, see Zenk 2013.)

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There is a growing intensity among atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens (the four horsemen of the new atheism) and others who believe that materialism is the ultimate reality. Their writings are passionately opposed to promoting theism and specifically, Christianity. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga states there are three reasons why philosophers accept materialism. “First, some materialists argue that dualism (the thought that a human being is an immaterial self) is incoherent. Second, naturalism entails that there are no immaterial souls. Third, materialism will ordinarily endorse Darwinian evolution.”

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Atheism 2.0:

It’s to distinguish it from the modern incarnation of atheism, which was promulgated by people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens that really made the central aspect of atheism the question of whether one did or didn’t believe. The New Atheists argue that God doesn’t exist while Atheism 2.0 assumes that God doesn’t exist. Those are two very different approaches and it remains to be seen which one Gen Z will gravitate towards.

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Different Kinds of Atheists
Lacks belief
in a god or gods
Does not believe
in a god or gods
Knows there
is no god
Does not know
if there is a god
Affirms the
Super-natural
Tries to convince
others against
god belief
Religion is harmful Hum-anist Evol-ution Mater-ialist/
Natur-alist
Primacy of reason
Agnostic Atheist X X X x x x
Anti-theist X x X x x x x x
Evangelistic atheist X x X x x x x
Freethinker atheist x X x x x x X
New atheist X X X X X x X X
Non-theist X x x x x x
Passive Atheist X X x x x x
Strong Atheist X X X x x x x X
Supernatural Atheist X X x x X x x x
Weak Atheist X X X x

A large X means the person is stronger in that position.

A small x means the person may or may not hold to that position.

A blank square means that it generally does not apply.

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John Gray, the renowned English philosopher has written a new book called Seven Types of Atheism, revealing the surprising variety of perspectives among irreligionists. It also explores some of the odd assumptions we make about ourselves and the world once we’ve decided to throw the idea of God in the garbage. John Gray has no intention of converting anybody. But his Seven Types of Atheism is a searching and helpful taxonomy of unbelief. By carefully disentangling the different ways atheism works, and the different reasons why people find it compelling, he has done a great service not just for atheists who want to be understood but also for Christians who want to understand.

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Why atheism:

There are perhaps as many reasons for being an atheist as there are atheists. That means the road to atheism tends to be very personal and individual, based upon the specific circumstances of a person’s life, experiences, and attitudes. Nevertheless, it is possible to describe some general similarities which tend to be common among quite a few atheists, particularly atheists in the West. It is, however, important to remember that nothing in these general descriptions is necessarily common to all atheists, and even when atheists do share characteristics, it cannot be assumed that they are shared to the same degree. A particular reason might play a very large role for one atheist, a very small role for another, and absolutely no role whatsoever for a third. You can reasonably assume that these generalities may be true, but to find out if they are true and how true, it is necessary to ask.

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We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty humans, and then blames them for His own mistakes.

-Eugene Wesley Roddenberry

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Higher education, travel and the Internet all contribute to our awareness of a bigger world with bigger concepts than the cultural superstitions in which we were raised.  Religion is factually wrong. As a result, religion lives on ignorance of facts. The reason people are giving up on mythology is the Internet, and the access to information it represents. When religion can exist in a bubble, the lies it pushes cannot be challenged. But when there is a wealth of information at the fingertips of every believer, those lies can be refuted easily, from multiple sources and multiple perspectives. This is why religion is waning, this is why it will continue to wane and this is why it is waning primarily in millennial who are most likely to spend lots of time on the Internet. Some of it is because people have too often been “Bad with God.” But also, people are learning more about science, and having their minds opened by meeting people all of faiths and none in our more diverse society.

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Reasons for non-belief:

People are atheist for many reasons, among them:

  • They find insufficient evidence to support any religion.
  • They think that religion is nonsensical.
  • They once had a religion and have lost faith in it.
  • They live in a non-religious culture.
  • Religion doesn’t interest them.
  • Religion doesn’t seem relevant to their lives.
  • Religions seem to have done a lot of harm in the world.
  • The world is such a bad place that there can’t be a God.

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Religious varieties and intolerance:

One common reason for atheism is contact with a variety of religions. It isn’t unusual for an atheist to have been raised in a religious household and to have grown up living with the assumption that their religious tradition represented the One True Faith in the One True God. However, after learning more about other religious traditions, this same person may adopt a much more critical attitude towards their own religion and even religion generally, eventually coming to reject not only it but also belief in the existence of any gods. Muslims believe that there is only one God Allah and all other Gods are false. Similarly Christians and Hindus believe in their Gods but disbelieve other Gods. This makes some disbelieve any God and becomes atheists. One of the major intellectual issues regarding disenchantment with religion is the fact that most world religions insist that all other faiths are wrong. While some moderate believers may like to take a stance that “all religions are right, they’re just different interpretations”, it’s undeniable that heresy and apostasy are looked down upon very harshly in many faiths. This suggests the possibility that no religion is right, and further suggests that, because the vast majority of believers in any faith are born into it, being a member of the “correct” group or “the elect” is merely an accident of birth in most cases. There is also historical evidence that organized religion, while professing a peaceful moral code, is often the basis for exclusion and war as well as a method to motivate people in political conflicts. The enmity among different religions and even among sects within the same religion adds credibility to this idea.

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Bad Experiences:

Another possible reason for atheism may originate in bad experiences with a religion. A person might grow up with or convert to a religious faith which they eventually find to. The consequence of this for many is to become critical of that religion, but in some cases, a person may become critical of all religions and, as with the previous explanation, even critical of belief in the existence of gods.

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Increasing level of Education and Information:

Society as a whole is more educated than it was say 100 years ago. Information on the other hand is rather cheaply and easily available than it was say 20 years ago. While it may not be generalized, as we know many highly educated people are also religious – but from an atheist point of view – as we become more educated, we do tend to become more analytical and rational than an average uneducated person. We develop our own reasoning to accept or reject a certain theory rather than taking things at their face value. Couple this with easily available information available over internet and now at our fingertips via mobile apps, it is easier than ever to verify something and have an opinion on something. Gone are the days, when you were simply told and you had to spend some good time and your energy to verify that. At those times, people tended to believe more of what was said to them.

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More nuclear family structure:

If you lived in a closely knit joint family kind of structure, then chances were more than you also carried the religious ideologies and beliefs of your elders to a greater extent. There would be so many people to influence and inculcate their existing religious beliefs on you and lay a foundation for you to follow the same path. With family structure breaking down like never before – men and women become independent thinkers and have better chances to reason on their own and less chances of getting influenced and hence carry the religious beliefs of their own parents/grandparents.

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Science:

Science is, basically, a method of looking at the material world and through observation, hypothesis, and experimentation, it develops theories on how things work. With the knowledge thus gained, we have such benefits as computers, airplanes, medicines, etc.  Many atheists find their way to disbelief through science. Over the centuries science has come to offer explanations of aspects of our word which were once the exclusive domain of religion. Because scientific explanations have been more productive than religious or theistic explanations, the ability of religion to demand allegiance has weakened. As a result, some people have come to entirely reject not only religion but also belief in the existence of a god. For them, gods are useless as an explanation for any feature of the universe and provide nothing worth investigating.

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Philosophical Arguments:

There are also philosophical arguments which many regard as successful in disproving most of the common conceptions of gods. For example, many atheists think that the Argument from Evil renders belief in an omniscient and omnipotent god completely irrational and unreasonable. Although gods without such attributes are not disproven, there is also an absence of any good reasons to believe in such gods. Without good reason, belief is either impossible or simply not worth having.

This is how one prominent philosopher A. J. Ayer put it:

We say that a sentence is factually significant to any given person, if and only if, he knows how to verify the proposition which it purports to express – that is, if he knows what observations would lead him, under certain conditions, to accept the proposition as being true, or reject is as being false. Ayer actually preferred a weaker version of the theory, because since no empirical proof could be totally conclusive, almost every statement about the world would have to be regarded as meaningless. A proposition is said to be verifiable, in the strong sense of the term, if, and only if, its truth could be conclusively established in experience. But it is verifiable, in the weak sense, if it is possible for experience to render it probable.

And this led Ayer to dispose of the God question rather brusquely:

…There can be no way of proving that the existence of a god…is even probable. For if the existence of such a god were probable, then the proposition that he existed would be an empirical hypothesis. And in that case it would be possible to deduce from it, and other empirical hypotheses, certain experiential propositions which were not deducible from those other hypotheses alone. But in fact this is not possible…For to say that “God Exists” is to make a metaphysical utterance which cannot be either true or false.

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Hypocrisy:

There is hypocrisy of professed believers and religious leaders who exhort their followers to help the poor, love their neighbors and behave morally but become wealthy through donations to the church and carry love for certain neighbors to an immoral extreme as defined by their own professed religious beliefs, and the contradiction between talk of a loving god and a world in which children starve to death and innocent people are tortured and killed.

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Fundamentalism:

Issues with religion may arise due to the nature of fundamentalists – insisting that their holy texts are literally true. This leads to attempts by such fundamentalists to undermine education by censoring scientific knowledge that seems to contradict their beliefs. Intelligent design is a prominent case of this. Often this doesn’t sit well with moderate believers and especially those who may be on the verge of losing their faith, especially when the evidence provided by daily experience suggests that there may be no events that cannot be explained by common sense and scientific study.

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Reasons focussing on lack of evidence:

It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

-W. K. Clifford (1879)

Many people are atheists because they think there is no evidence for God’s existence – or at least no reliable evidence. They argue that a person should only believe in things for which they have good evidence. If it is to be established that there is a God, then we have to have good grounds for believing that this is indeed so. Until and unless some such grounds are produced we have literally no reason at all for believing; and in that situation the only reasonable posture must be that of either the negative atheist or the agnostic. So the onus of proof has to rest on the proposition. Theist must prove that God exists and show evidence. Atheists argue that because everything in the universe can be explained in a satisfactory way without using God as part of the explanation, then there is no point in saying that God exists. The argument is based on a philosophical idea called Occam’s Razor, popularised by William of Occam in the 14th century. In Latin it goes Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate or in English… “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily”. This is usually simplified to say that the simplest answer is the best answer. Therefore atheists might argue that since the entire universe, and all of creation can be explained by evolution and scientific cosmology, we don’t need the existence of another entity called God. Therefore God doesn’t exist.

There are a number of traditional arguments used to prove that God exists; however, none of them convinces atheists. Here they are:

-The Argument from Design

The universe is such a beautiful and orderly thing that it must have been designed. Only God could have designed it. Therefore since the universe exists, God must exist. An atheist might refute this by saying that, actually, the universe is not particularly beautiful and orderly. And even if it was, why should there be a designer? And modern science shows that most of the natural things we think of as designed are just the products of processes like evolution.

-The First Cause Argument

Everything that happens has a cause. Therefore the universe must have had a cause. That cause must have been God. Therefore since the universe exists, God must exist in order to have caused it to exist. An atheist might respond by asking what caused God. (And what caused the cause of God, and so on.) The argument might proceed that if God didn’t need a cause, then maybe the universe didn’t need a cause either. If God was already perfect before he created the universe, why did he create it? How did it benefit him? Why would he bother? And if the universe was caused, perhaps something other than God caused it?

-The Argument from Evil

The existence of evil seems inconsistent with the existence of a God who is wholly good, and can do anything.

The argument goes like this:

Most religions say that God is completely good, knows everything, and is all-powerful. But the world is full of wickedness and bad things keep happening. This can only happen if…

  • God is unwilling to prevent evil, in which case he is not good or
  • God doesn’t know about evil, in which case he does not know everything or
  • God can’t prevent evil, in which case he is not all powerful or
  • Some combination of the above

And so there is no being that is completely good, knows everything, and is all powerful. And so, there is no God.

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Emile Durkheim:

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), a French sociologist, thought that religion was something produced by human society, and had nothing supernatural about it.

Religious force is nothing other than the collective and anonymous force of the clan.

-Durkheim

He believed that religion existed, but he did not agree that the reality that lay behind it was the same reality that believers thought existed. Religion helped people to form close knit groups, in which they could find a place in society. Religious rituals created mental states in those taking part which were helpful to the group. To put it another way; religious rituals do not do anything other than strengthen the beliefs of the group taking part and reinforce the collective consciousness.

Religion fulfilled the functions of:

  • Giving a meaning and purpose to life
  • Binding people together in groups
  • Supporting the moral code of the group
  • Supporting the social code of the group

Durkheim thought that this was enough to give people a feeling that there was something supernatural going on.

Since it is in spiritual ways that social pressure exercises itself, it could not fail to give men the idea that outside themselves there exist one or several powers, both moral and, at the same time, efficacious, upon which they depend. Durkheim said that religious beliefs divided experiences into the profane and the sacred – the profane were the routine experiences of everyday life, while the sacred were beyond the everyday and likely to inspire reverence. Objects could become sacred, not because of any inherent supernatural resonance but because the group fixed certain ‘collective ideals’ on an object.

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Political Backlash (Values Conflict):

Offered initially by Hout and Fischer in a 2002 paper, this view implies that the increase in atheists is likely part of the larger increase in those who have “No Religion”, referred to as the “Nones”. Because they find that the shift from a religious preference to no religious preference does not characterize political conservatives, but only political moderates and liberals, they offer that the larger shift to no religion is a political response to the Religious Right. Robert Putnam  noted in his co-authored volume American Grace that a values conflict that emerged across 1960 to 1990 is responsible for multiple “shocks” across American society that result in the rise of the Nones as well; these shocks, in this case, are centered on conflict over social values, particularly as they relate to sex, sexuality, and drug use. Hout and Fischer also refer to delays in marriage. One of the conventional pieces of wisdom in the sociology of religion is that data often show a “return” to religion or church for those young couples who bear children; this is referred to as a “life cycle” effect and depends upon demography. Because modern American populations are putting off marriage and childbearing until later, we are seeing a lag with respect to return to religion. However, taking the political backlash into account, it is possible that more and more people will not return to religion or the church even after marrying and having children, as the lag means them spending more time outside of institutionalized religion.

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Broad Social Disengagement:

In 2001, Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam published Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. His central thesis meant to show the key indicators of the strength of American community and civil life had weakened over time (e.g. number of social ties to other people).  In 2005, sociologist William Bainbridge published an article examining the social ties of atheists. His abstract read:

Data from a large, four-language web-based questionnaire, supplemented with data from the General Social Survey, allow us to explore possible sources of Atheism, notably the hypothesis that lack of social obligations encourages disbelief in God. The analysis is rooted in the compensator theory of religion, first proposed twenty-five years ago, but it incorporates a recent addition: the distinction between primary and secondary compensation. Social obligations make secondary compensation important, because it substitutes a compensator for a reward that a person is obligated to provide to another person. The data show that Atheism is indeed more common among people whose social obligations are weak. The analysis also traces connections between Atheism and the demographic fertility collapse that has been occurring in most advanced industrial nations, suggesting that secularization might best be understood in the context of declining social obligations.

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Existential security:

In 2004, Norris and Inglehart published Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide, which introduced what came to be known as the Existential Security Thesis. The linchpin observation made from this book was that the countries which tended to perform well on indices of societal well-being also tended to be lower down on religiosity spectrums, and vice versa (i.e. poor societal well-being, high religiosity). The security axiom reflects the idea that “societies around the world differ greatly in their levels of economic and human development and socioeconomic equality—and consequently, in the extent to which they provide their people with a sense of existential security” (Norris and Inglehart, 2004, p.217). Facing more illness, disease, higher child mortality rates, political unrest, and providing less education, for example, marks these societies. The divide between rich and poor countries continues to increase. Thus, countries with less security will have more of a need for religion. The authors summarize their overall secularization argument: “The theory … argues that the erosion of religious values, beliefs, and practices is shaped by long-term changes in existential security, a process linked with human development and socioeconomic equality, and with each society’s cultural legacy and religious traditions” (Norris and Inglehart, 2004, p.53).

Countries with the best standard of living are turning atheist. That shift offers a glimpse into the world’s future. The view that religious belief will give way to atheism is known as the secularization thesis. The specific version is known as the existential security hypothesis. The basic idea is that as people become more affluent, they are less worried about lacking for basic necessities, or dying early from violence or disease. In other words they are secure in their own existence. They do not feel the need to appeal to supernatural entities to calm their fears and insecurities. The notion that improving living conditions are associated with a decline in religion is supported by a mountain of evidence.

That does not prevent some serious scholars, like political scientist Eric Kaufmann, from making the opposite case that religious fundamentalists will outbreed the rest of us. Author and political scientist Eric Kauffman explained this line of thought in his 2010 book “Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?” He uses demographic data to make a case that religious people will in fact be ascendant in coming decades. “Kaufmann shows that the more religious people are, regardless of income, faith tradition or education, the more children they have,” a description of the book states, concluding that, “The cumulative effect of immigration and religious fertility will be to reverse the secularisation process in the West.” Despite the much-touted rise of atheism among some segments of the world’s population in recent years, as of 2012 only 13 percent of people identified themselves as atheists in a WIN-Gallup International poll.

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Internet Use:

The internet has changed many things, including the world of atheists and other nontheists. Prior to the advent of the internet, such people were relatively isolated, possibly able to find a few books such as Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian” at the local library, but with little material to stimulate any incipient irreligion unless they lived in major centres. It is likely the internet, even more than works by Dawkins, Hitchens, and the others or, rather, the interaction between the two that has created what has been called, for better or worse, the “new atheism.” Much has been written about the characteristics of the new atheists and much of this has been based on the writings of a few highly visible atheists. Little is known about the depth or breadth of such views. In addition to the direct effects of such writings, it is the chatter on the internet about such books and the rise of atheist blogs such as Atheist Planet, Pharyngula, and many others that is creating a sense of community among nonbelievers, doubters, and sceptics. And then there is Downey’s popular paper about the relationship between Internet use and no religion, which would show how Internet use contributes to a decline in religious affiliation, although this is very likely not a direct effect on disaffiliation itself but co-occurs with other factors that perhaps are. Smith and Cimino’s 2012 article also discusses specifically the role of the Internet, online atheist communities, activism, and identity formation. Paul McClure finds that “internet use is associated with increases in being religiously unaffiliated and decreases in religious exclusivism. At the same time, I find that television viewing is linked to decreases in religious attendance and other time-related religious activities, but these outcomes are not impacted by Internet use. To explain these disparate findings, I argue that the Internet is fundamentally different from previous technologies like television and thus impacts religious beliefs and belonging but not time-related religious activities.”

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Phil Zuckerman’s view:

Phil Zuckerman has produced some work worthy of consideration. Notably, apostasy and “no religion” are not to be equated with atheism per se, however, some apostates do go on to become atheists.  Zuckerman (2011, chapter 10, pp. 151-169) interviewed 87 apostates (individuals who had left or rejected their previous religious tradition or affiliation but who may or may not have become atheists/agnostics), some of whom eventually became atheists, and pinpointed “the nine most typical, most pervasive, or most often mentioned reasons given by apostates in accounting for their rejection of religion (p. 153). These reasons broadly fell into the following categories: parents; education; misfortune; other cultures/other religions; friends, colleagues, lovers; politics; sex; Satan and hell; and malfeasance of religious associates. Zuckerman, adding the caveat that “reasons are not necessarily causes”, distinguishes between subjective reasons and objective causes; that is, any one of the various factors may increase the likelihood of apostasy but would not be, in and of itself, a cause for the rejection of one’s religion. He concludes that “a variety of life circumstances, personal experiences, and/or social dynamics” underlie the likelihood of apostasy.

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Richard Flory had a piece in Observer, about factors driving the nonreligious rise.

To summarize:

First, traditional authority structures, including religious ones, have been flattened through access to knowledge. As a result, everyone and no one is an authority, which reduces the need for traditional authorities of any sort.

Second, fewer Americans view important social institutions – such as religious organizations, corporations and government – as having a positive impact in society.

Third, religion has a bad brand. From sex scandals across different religious traditions to the increasing association between evangelical Christianity and the political right, religion per se has taken a beating.

Fourth, increasing competition for people’s attention from work, family responsibilities, social media and other activities means that religion loses out to more pressing commitments.

Finally, personal choice is a bedrock feature of American culture. Individuals choose professional affiliations, diets, club memberships and myriad other associations, with religion being one more affiliation that is “chosen” by adherents.

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Default position:

This last point is in many ways the most important. Disbelief is the default position — no one is born having a belief. Beliefs are acquired through culture and education. It is not ultimately up to the atheist to justify atheism; rather, it is up to the theist to explain why belief in a god is reasonable. In the absence of such an explanation, theism should be regarded as irrelevant at best, but more likely irrational.

Thus, a better question than “why are people atheists” would perhaps be “why are people theists?”

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Discrimination against atheists:

Discrimination against atheists, both at present and historically, includes the persecution of those identifying themselves or labelled by others as atheists, as well as the discrimination against them. Discrimination against atheists may also refer to and comprise the negative attitudes towards, prejudice, hostility, hatred, fear, and/or intolerance towards atheists and/or atheism. Because atheism can be defined in various ways, those discriminated against or persecuted on the grounds of being atheists might not have been considered atheists in a different time or place. 13 Muslim countries officially punish atheism or apostasy by death, while “the overwhelming majority” of the 192 United Nation member countries “at best discriminate against citizens who have no belief in a god and at worst can jail them for offences dubbed blasphemy”.

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Apostasy:

Apostasy is the formal disaffiliation from, or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person. It can also be defined within the broader context of embracing an opinion contrary to one’s previous beliefs.  One who commits apostasy is known as an apostate. Committing apostasy is called apostatizing. The term apostasy is used by sociologists to mean renunciation and criticism of, or opposition to, a person’s former religion, in a technical sense and without pejorative connotation.  The term is occasionally also used metaphorically to refer to renunciation of a non-religious belief or cause, such as a political party, brain trust, or a sports team.  Apostasy is generally not a self-definition: few former believers call themselves apostates because of the negative connotation of the term.

Many religious groups and some states punish apostates; this may be the official policy of the religious group or may simply be the voluntary action of its members. Such punishment may include shunning, excommunication, verbal abuse, physical violence, or even execution. Examples of punishment by death for apostates can be seen under the Sharia law found in certain Islamic countries. As of 2014, about a quarter of the world’s countries and territories (26%) had anti-blasphemy laws or policies, of which 13 nations, all Muslim majority have death penalty for apostasy.

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Blasphemy:

Blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence to a deity, or sacred things, or toward something considered sacred or inviolable. Some religions consider blasphemy to be a religious crime. As of 2012, anti-blasphemy laws existed in 32 countries, while 87 nations had hate speech laws that covered defamation of religion and public expression of hate against a religious group. Anti-blasphemy laws are particularly common in Muslim-majority nations, such as those in the Middle East and North Africa, although they are also present in some Asian and European countries.

Blasphemy in western countries:

In line with their words, several possibly unexpected nations come out rather badly on the scale of five classifications — which range upward in severity from “Free and Equal”, through “Mostly Satisfactory”, “Systemic Discrimination”, “Severe Discrimination”, to “Grave Violations”. Four western countries are rated “Severe” because they can jail people for breaking laws prohibiting ‘blasphemy’ and other free speech on religion. Those countries are Iceland (a sentence of jail for up to 3 months), Denmark (up to 4 months), New Zealand (up to a year), Poland (up to two years), Germany (up to three years) and Greece (up to three years). Jail time could be handed to someone who simply “blasphemes God” in the case of Greece, or “insults the content of other’s religious faith” in the case of Germany.

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Atheists face death in 13 countries and global discrimination: 2013 study:

The study, The Freethought Report 2013, was issued by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), a global body uniting atheists, agnostics and other religious skeptics, to mark United Nations’ Human Rights Day.  In 13 countries around the world, all of them Muslim, people who openly espouse atheism or reject the official state religion of Islam face execution under the law, according to this detailed study.  And beyond the Islamic nations, even some of the West’s apparently most democratic governments at best discriminate against citizens who have no belief in a god and at worst can jail them for offences dubbed blasphemy. This report shows that the overwhelming majority of countries fail to respect the rights of atheists and freethinkers although they have signed U.N agreements to treat all citizens equally. The study covered all 192 member states in the world body and involved lawyers and human rights experts looking at statute books, court records and media accounts to establish the global situation.

Countries where death, often by public beheading, is the punishment for either blasphemy or apostasy include Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen; although renouncing belief or switching to another religion is protected under U.N. accords.  Across the world, the report said, “there are laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, revoke their citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prevent them working for the state….” Criticism of religious faith or even academic study of the origins of religions is frequently treated as a crime and can be equated to the capital offence of blasphemy, it asserted.

In Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin and North America, countries which identify themselves secular give privileges to or favor Christian churches in providing education and other public services, the IHEU said.  In Greece and Russia, the Orthodox Church is fiercely protected from criticism and is given pride of place on state occasions, while in Britain bishops of the Church of England have automatic seats in the upper house of parliament.  While freedom of religion and speech is protected in the United States, the report said, a social and political climate prevails “in which atheists and the non-religious are made to feel like lesser Americans, or non-Americans.”  In at least seven U.S. states, constitutional provisions are in place that bar atheists from public office and one state, Arkansas, has a law that bars an atheist from testifying as a witness at a trial, the report said.

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Prejudice against atheist:

Religion has long been seen as a precondition for moral living, leading to the marginalization and persecution of individuals denigrated as atheists (Jacoby, 2004). In his Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke explained: ―…Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the Being of a God. Promises, Covenants, and Oaths, which are the Bonds of Humane Society, can have no hold upon an Atheist. (1983/1689, p. 51). These sentiments have prevailed throughout history and still resonate today throughout most of the world. In a contemporary poll, only 45% of American respondents said that they would vote for a qualified atheist presidential candidate—the lowest percentage of several hypothetical minority candidates and the only who could not garner a majority vote (Jones, 2007). In contrast, overwhelming majorities expressed willingness to vote for African-American, Jewish, and female candidates. Similarly, Americans rated atheists as the group that least agrees with their vision of America, and the group that they would most disapprove of their children marrying (Edgell, Gerteis, & Hartmann, 2006). This antipathy is striking because atheists are not a coherent, visible, or powerful social group (Dawkins, 2006). Nonetheless, atheists are quite numerous. According to the most comprehensive estimate to date, there are more than half of a billion atheists in the world (defined as people who do not believe in God; Zuckerman, 2007), meaning that anti-atheist prejudice has the potential to affect a substantial number of people. Although prejudice has been a central topic of social psychology for decades, most of this research has been along racial, ethnic, and gender lines. Despite its prevalence and peculiarity, little is known about the social psychology of anti-atheist prejudice.

Statistically, atheists are held in poor regard across the globe. Non-atheists, and possibly even fellow atheists, seem to implicitly view atheists as prone to exhibit immoral behaviors ranging from mass murder to not paying at a restaurant.  In addition, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center publication, 15% of French people, 45% of Americans, and 99% of Indonesians explicitly believe that a person must believe in God to be moral. Pew furthermore noted that, in a U.S. poll, atheists and Muslims tied for the lowest rating among the major religious demographics on a “feeling thermometer”.

Is the widespread dislike, disapproval of, and general negativity towards atheists warranted, or is it a case of unsubstantiated prejudice? Maybe secular, non-believing men and women aren’t so unsavory, wicked, or despicable after all. Perhaps, there are some positive attributes correlated with secularity, such as lower levels of prejudice and ethnocentrism, or greater support for gender equality. And maybe societies with higher percentages of secular people are actually more healthy, humane, and happy than those with higher percentages of religious people.

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Misconceptions about atheists:

Fundamentalist Christians have a penchant for revising history to suggest that the bad acts of atheists are due to lack of belief in a god (usually the Christian God). Attempts by fundamentalist Christians to associate Hitler, Stalin, and any number of terrible characters with atheism indulge the association fallacy and would be laughably trivial were the smear not so effective at influencing uncritical thinkers. The mistrust of atheism is often accompanied by snarl words, straw man arguments and various other myths and legends in order to denigrate the idea of disbelief in established gods. Several polls indicate that the term “atheism” has acquired such an extraordinary stigma in the United States that being an atheist is now a perfect impediment to a career in politics (in a way that being black, Muslim or homosexual is not). Atheists are often imagined to be intolerant, immoral, depressed, blind to the beauty of nature and dogmatically closed to evidence of the supernatural. Even John Locke, one of the great patriarchs of the Enlightenment, believed that atheism was “not at all to be tolerated” because, he said, “promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human societies, can have no hold upon an atheist.” That was more than 300 years ago. But in the United States today, little seems to have changed. A remarkable 87% of the population claims “never to doubt” the existence of God; fewer than 10% identify themselves as atheists — and their reputation appears to be deteriorating. Given that we know that atheists are often among the most intelligent and scientifically literate people in any society, it seems important to clear misconceptions that prevent them from playing a larger role in the world.

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Atheists are:

Not all Communists. However, many Communists are Atheists. Communism is primarily a political and economic belief system. Atheism is disbelief in God or deity. The two are not necessarily related.

Not all Satanists. Most Satanists view themselves as Agnostics or Atheists; they look upon Satan as a symbol, not as a living entity with a personality.

Not all homosexuals or bisexuals. However a small minority of people with a minority sexual orientation are Atheists.

Not all anarchists. However, some anarchists are Atheists. Again, anarchism is a political belief system whereas Atheism is disbelief in God or deity.

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Some misconceptions about atheism that should be addressed are as follows:

  1. Atheism as an organized religion:

Atheism is a religion in the same way as ‘off’ is a television station.

-Ben Emerson

One of the widest misconceptions, often used as a strong criticism, is that atheism is a religion. However, while there are secular religions, atheism is most commonly defined as “no religion.” To expand the definition of “religion” to include atheism would thus destroy any use the word “religion” would have in describing anything. It is quite often pointed out that if atheism is a religion it would be akin to stating that the act of not collecting stamps is a hobby, or that being unemployed is an occupation. Following from this, atheists do not worship Charles Darwin or any other individual. Although some think that atheism requires evolution to be a complete worldview, there is no worship of anything or anyone in atheism, and acceptance of evolution isn’t exclusive to atheists — for that matter there is no necessity for an atheist to accept the evidence for evolution (Stalin is a good example: he rejected Darwinian evolution, promoting Lysenkoism instead, and he consistently purged evolution biologists in favor of Lysenkoists). By definition, if atheists worshiped Darwin as a god, they wouldn’t be atheists.

A new movement of atheist churches appears to be developing (such as Sunday Assembly and Oasis), but what they do is not worship; rather, they are places where like-minded people get together on Sunday mornings to have fun, celebrate life and whatever. This is a relatively new phenomenon, and its prospects for the future are unclear. Atheists, as a whole, are not a unified group, so accusation that “atheists” are doing x, y and z hold little water. In fact, a disaffection with organized religion, and the potential for groupthink, is what causes many believers to abandon faith and come out as atheists. It doesn’t follow that such individuals would happily join another organised group. Debate within the atheistic community is robust — debates even about whether there is even an “atheistic community” at all, for instance — and the fact that this debate exists presupposes no dogmatic mandate (or at least not a widely followed one) from an organized group. It does follow from this lack of organisation that there is no atheist equivalent of the Bible, Quran, or other holy text. There are, of course, atheist writings, but one does not need to adhere to opinions held by, say, Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens to be considered an atheist. Some atheists will actively oppose what these kinds of authors do and say. In fact, some atheists wish they could believe.

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  1. Atheists just hate God:

Believers sometimes denigrate atheists on the grounds that they “hate God.” This, however, makes no sense. People who make such assertive claims towards atheists are confusing atheism with misotheism or anti-theism.

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  1. Atheists have no morals:

What I’m asking you to entertain is that there is nothing we need to believe on insufficient evidence in order to have deeply ethical and spiritual lives.

-Sam Harris

Morality is one of the larger issues facing the world, and many religions and believers openly express the notion that they have the monopoly on deciding, explaining, and enforcing moral judgments. Many religious people will assume that since morals rise from (their) god, without (their) god one cannot have morals. Contrary to the claims of such people, “no gods” does not equal “no morality.” There are strong humanistic, cultural, and genetic rationales for the existence of morality and ethical behavior, and many people, not just atheists, recognize this fact. Some atheist groups are doing charitable work traditionally done by religious organizations like funding scholarships as an alternative to faith based scholarships and at least one atheist group volunteers to do environmental protection work.

Indeed, it could be argued that accusing atheists of having no morals is sometimes a psychological projection from people who have themselves not developed healthy intrinsic moral sensibilities and responses, and for whom, theoretically (and sometimes by their own admission), an external written code such as that in the Bible is the only thing stopping them from being a psychopathic criminal. As an adage quoted by blogger Valerie Tarico goes: “If you can’t tell right from wrong without appealing to an authority or a sacred text, what you lack is not religion but compassion.” There have been attempts by psychologists and social scientists to investigate whether atheists are more or less moral than religious believers. Many of these experiments have been inconclusive, finding no difference.  A study of almost 1200 children published in 2015 found children raised in religious households were less altruistic than those from non-religious households.

If a person doesn’t already understand that cruelty is wrong, he won’t discover this by reading the Bible or the Quran- as these books are bursting with celebrations of cruelty, both human and divine. We do not get our morality from religion. We decide what is good in our good books by recourse to moral intuitions that are (at some level) hard-wired in us and that have been refined by thousands of years of thinking about the causes and possibilities of human happiness. We have made considerable moral progress over the years, and we didn’t make this progress by reading the Bible or the Quran more closely. Both books condone the practice of slavery — and yet every civilized human being now recognizes that slavery is an abomination. Whatever is good in scripture — like the golden rule — can be valued for its ethical wisdom without our believing that it was handed down to us by the creator of the universe.

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  1. Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in human history:

People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable. In the US, where criticism of atheism is common, it often works well for politicians and evangelists to compare atheism to the “evils” of communism, or even to Communism itself. These “evils” are not inextricably fused with the values of atheism in reality. Although most orthodox Marxists are atheists (Marxism treats religion as a “false consciousness” that needs to be eliminated), the atrocities wrought by Stalin and others were not on account of their being atheists, but on account of their being totalitarians and authoritarians. Additionally, there have been many anti-communists who were atheists or agnostics, such as Ayn Rand and the computer pioneer John von Neumann. In North Korea, one of the only 5 countries where communism still exists (the others being China, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba), it is mandatory to believe that the Kim-dynasty consists of supreme omnipotent deities.

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  1. Misconceptions of definition of atheism:

Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious. In fact, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a “non-astrologer” or a “non-alchemist.” We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.

-Sam Harris

Atheism and agnosticism are not entirely mutually exclusive, and atheists are not “actually agnostic because no one can ever know whether God exists.” This is a highly contested point among religious believers and atheistic philosophers alike, as most, if not all, thinking atheists would happily change their minds given the right evidence, and thus could be considered “agnostic” in this sense. However, this conflates the ideas of belief and knowledge. Atheism is a statement of a lack of belief, and not a lack of knowledge – which is often accepted on all sides of the theistic debate. Atheism takes the position that it is rational to think that gods don’t exist, based on logic and lack of evidence. Agnostics, on the other hand, state that the lack of knowledge cannot inform their opinion at all. There are agnostic atheists, who can be either weak or strong. It is at least logically possible for a theist to be an agnostic (e.g., “I believe in XYZ deities, but cannot prove this with evidence, and acknowledge and embrace that my belief is rooted in faith”)—but it is markedly difficult to find anyone who will fess up to such a position.

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  1. Atheists believe that life is meaningless:

On the contrary, religious people often worry that life is meaningless and imagine that it can only be redeemed by the promise of eternal happiness beyond the grave. Atheists tend to be quite sure that life is precious. Life is imbued with meaning by being really and fully lived. Our relationships with those we love are meaningful now; they need not last forever to be made so. Atheists tend to find this fear of meaninglessness … well … meaningless.

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  1. Atheism is dogmatic:

Jews, Christians and Muslims claim that their scriptures are so prescient of humanity’s needs that they could only have been written under the direction of an omniscient deity. An atheist is simply a person who has considered this claim, read the books and found the claim to be implausible. One doesn’t have to take anything on faith, or be otherwise dogmatic, to reject unjustified religious beliefs. As the historian Stephen Henry Roberts (1901-71) once said: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

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  1. Atheists are arrogant:

When scientists don’t know something — like why the universe came into being or how the first self-replicating molecules formed — they admit it. Pretending to know things one doesn’t know is a profound liability in science. And yet it is the life-blood of faith-based religion. One of the monumental ironies of religious discourse can be found in the frequency with which people of faith praise themselves for their humility, while claiming to know facts about cosmology, chemistry and biology that no scientist knows. When considering questions about the nature of the cosmos and our place within it, atheists tend to draw their opinions from science. This isn’t arrogance; it is intellectual honesty.

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  1. Atheists are closed to spiritual experience:

There is nothing that prevents an atheist from experiencing love, ecstasy, rapture and awe; atheists can value these experiences and seek them regularly. What atheists don’t tend to do is make unjustified (and unjustifiable) claims about the nature of reality on the basis of such experiences. There is no question that some Christians have transformed their lives for the better by reading the Bible and praying to Jesus. What does this prove? It proves that certain disciplines of attention and codes of conduct can have a profound effect upon the human mind. Do the positive experiences of Christians suggest that Jesus is the sole savior of humanity? Not even remotely — because Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists regularly have similar experiences. There is, in fact, not a Christian on this Earth who can be certain that Jesus even wore a beard, much less that he was born of a virgin or rose from the dead. These are just not the sort of claims that spiritual experience can authenticate.

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  1. Atheists believe that there is nothing beyond human life and human understanding:

Atheists are free to admit the limits of human understanding in a way that religious people are not. It is obvious that we do not fully understand the universe; but it is even more obvious that neither the Bible nor the Quran reflects our best understanding of it. We do not know whether there is complex life elsewhere in the cosmos, but there might be. If there is, such beings could have developed an understanding of nature’s laws that vastly exceeds our own. Atheists can freely entertain such possibilities. They also can admit that if brilliant extra-terrestrials exist, the contents of the Bible and the Quran will be even less impressive to them than they are to human atheists. From the atheist point of view, the world’s religions utterly trivialize the real beauty and immensity of the universe. One doesn’t have to accept anything on insufficient evidence to make such an observation.

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  1. Atheists ignore the fact that religion is extremely beneficial to society:

Those who emphasize the good effects of religion never seem to realize that such effects fail to demonstrate the truth of any religious doctrine. This is why we have terms such as “wishful thinking” and “self-deception.” There is a profound distinction between a consoling delusion and the truth. In any case, the good effects of religion can surely be disputed. In most cases, it seems that religion gives people bad reasons to behave well, when good reasons are actually available. Ask yourself, which is more moral, helping the poor out of concern for their suffering, or doing so because you think the creator of the universe wants you to do it, will reward you for doing it or will punish you for not doing it?

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Legality and constitutionality of atheism:

Countries where Atheism is illegal:

  • 13 countries where Atheists can be executed (Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Soalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen)
  • In a few other countries, Atheists and Humanists have been murdered by religious extremists; in some cases, the police do not bother to thoroughly investigate the crimes.
  • 4 countries where Atheists can be imprisoned: (Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Malaysia)
  • One country where Atheists have reduced freedom of expression (Laos)

In a number of other countries, the death penalty is not a formal punishment on statute books but atheists and humanists have been murdered by religious extremists on account of their beliefs. In countries including India and Bangladesh, police have been accused of condoning these murders by failing to investigate them properly. At least three atheist bloggers have been hacked to death in Bangladesh after penning posts advocating that scientific proof should inform opinion above religious beliefs.

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Is it true that no Indian can be legally atheist under the Indian Constitution?

No, this is not right.

-Article 25 of the Constitution of India says that all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion.

-Freedom of conscience is the inner freedom of the individual to mould his relation with God or creatures in whatever way he desires. So he has the option of not believing in God.

-The recently released 2011 religious census data clearly mentions that there are 0.2 percent of people with ‘no religion ‘, which further proves the above point.

-Hinduism is a religion which says that you don’t have to necessarily believe in God. You may be an atheist and still be as equal a Hindu as the theists. If you believe in the basic philosophy of Hinduism (which is not the belief in God, of course), you are a Hindu. Patanjali’s Yoga supports duality. You can reach your true self by either having faith in God or even without God. Patanjali says God is one of the many ways to reach the ultimate but it is not necessary to believe in God to reach your destination.

Freedom of conscience encompasses within itself the freedom to be an atheist. It is also one of the facets of Secularism. This has been confirmed by the Indian Supreme Court in the case St. Xaviers College v. State of Gujarat where explaining the secular character of the Indian Constitution, the Court said:

“Secularism is neither anti-God nor pro-God; it treats alike the devout, the antagonistic and the atheist.”

And to dig deeper into the issue, the Constituent Assembly Debates make the most interesting read. Most notably, the debate on 17th October, 1949 where an amendment to the Preamble in the present form was moved by H.V. Kamath who proposed the inclusion of words “in the name of God” before “We the people” in the draft text. This amendment was rejected as most of the members felt that this would amount to compulsion in the matter of faith, which included faith of non-believers as well.

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Legal status of atheism:

Legal treatment of atheism has in the past and continues to vary tremendously across different jurisdictions. Three major types of national regime exist: state atheism, where atheism is supported by the government; state religion, where a specific religion or sect is supported by the state, and a secular state which supports neither. Most ancient civilizations (from city-states to empires) had state religions; most modern countries are secular. State atheism is currently practiced in China and Vietnam, but unlike the strongly enforced bans on religious worship in the early Soviet Union and after the Communist Revolution in China, freedom of religion is currently established by law in both China and Vietnam, and respected in practice to some degree. The minority of modern countries with state religions have established interpretations of either Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism.

Countries with state religions range from those with extremely tolerant laws, like the United Kingdom, to those where the police enforce daily prayer, like Saudi Arabia. Under the millet system of the Ottoman Empire, separate systems of family law are enforced by religious authorities for their separate communities. This system was inherited by and is still in use to various degrees in various Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and Greece (for religious minorities). Similar separate systems are used in India, Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh. These systems sometimes create legal problems for atheists and couples of different religions. Atheists may be forced to declare an approved religion, or may be assigned one based on their ethnicity.

Even in counties where freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution or other fundamental law, practices or beliefs of a specific religion might be reflected in ostensibly secular codes. For example, blue laws in some Christian countries have enforced certain observances of the Sabbath on Sunday, for example by banning alcohol sales or forcing businesses to close. Laws surrounding nudity, pornography, abortion, contraception, homosexuality, gambling, alcohol, tobacco often track religious sensibilities, though some argue that these are cultural rather than religious prohibitions, though there may be an influence of religious thinking on culture. Major early transitions from state religions to secular states in Western Christiandom were noted in Colonial North America, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution. Prohibitions against state support for any particular religion or against required participation are not always enforced, particularly early in this transition process, and local laws in strongly religious communities may conflict with higher-level law. For example, official school prayer was allowed in the United States until 1962. Freedom of religion was affirmed in nearly all countries in 1966 by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Despite having no state religion, the German government collects religious taxes for the constituents of several religions; the fee for leaving a religious body has been challenged by atheists.

Some states, regardless of state endorsement of a religion, protect major religions against insult (which may include profession of atheism or criticism of religion by atheists), including Indonesia. Other religious crimes which may cause legal problems for atheists include heresy, blasphemy, and apostasy.

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Could an atheist be a valid witness in a court trial? A witness is asked to promise to tell the truth “so help me God”. If he doesn’t believe in God, how can his testimony be considered valid?

In a place called  Shimoga about 200 kms from Mangalore an atheist refused to take oath in  the name of god and was hauled up for contempt of court. He appealed to the High Court which set aside that and came down heavily on the judge for trying to impose his religious beliefs on a witness. If a Hindu were to be asked to swear by the Quran or a Christian by the Gita, there would be riots. But no one is bothered about the feelings of non-believers! In order to spare people from taking oaths on a variety of sacred books, in some courts a placard is hung in the witness box that reads “I swear on the name of god that what I say is the truth and nothing but the truth”. This is supposed to be a secular form of oath.

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Six US states have laws on the books that prohibit atheists from holding public office. This despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling — Torcaso v. Watkins (1961) — that prohibits discrimination against atheist officeholders.  These states are:

Arkansas

Maryland

North Carolina

South Carolina

Tennessee

Texas

The Constitution of Texas, and those of a few other states — as originally written — allowed Atheists to be discriminated against in employment, jury selection, and public office. Fortunately for religious minorities, these sections of individual state Constitutions have been nullified by subsequent provisions in the federal Constitution. However, they remain included in the wording of the Constitution.  On December 16, 2016, President Barack Obama signed H.R. 1150, an amendment to the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act. It includes protections for “non-theistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess or practice any religion at all.”

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US supreme court on atheism:

“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or nonattendance ” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, majority opinion; Everson v. Board of Education 330 U.S. 1 (1947) 6

Has the U.S. Supreme Court recognized atheism as equivalent to a ‘religion’?

Essentially the Court has ruled that non-believers are afforded the same rights and protections as believers. The Supreme Court has recognized atheism as equivalent to a religion for purposes of the First Amendment on numerous occasions, most recently in McCreary County, Ky. v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky., 545U.S. 844, 125 S.Ct. 2722, 162 L.Ed.2d 729 (2005).

The Seventh Judicial Circuit of the Court of Appeals of the United States held that atheism is a religion. Therefore, it cannot be promoted by a public school. Currently, public schools are often unwittingly promoting atheism through a dogmatic and uncritical teaching of materialistic theories of origins.

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Arguments for existence of God:

The existence of God is a subject of debate in the philosophy of religion and popular culture.  A wide variety of arguments for and against the existence of God can be categorized as metaphysical, logical, empirical, or subjective. In philosophical terms, the question of the existence of God involves the disciplines of epistemology (the nature and scope of knowledge) and ontology (study of the nature of being, existence, or reality) and the theory of value (since some definitions of God include “perfection”).

The Western tradition of philosophical discussion of the existence of God began with Plato and Aristotle, who made arguments that would now be categorized as cosmological. Other arguments for the existence of God have been proposed by St. Anselm, who formulated the first ontological argument; Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Thomas Aquinas, who presented their own versions of the cosmological argument (the kalam argument and the first way, respectively); René Descartes, who said that the existence of a benevolent God is logically necessary for the evidence of the senses to be meaningful. John Calvin argued for a sensus divinitatis, which gives each human a knowledge of God’s existence.

Philosophers who have provided arguments against the existence of God include Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell. In modern culture, the question of God’s existence has been discussed by scientists such as Stephen Hawking, Francis Collins, Lawrence M. Krauss, Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson and John Lennox, as well as philosophers including Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Rebecca Goldstein, A. C. Grayling, Daniel Dennett, Edward Feser, David Bentley Hart, Reza Aslan and Sam Harris.

Scientists follow the scientific method, within which theories must be verifiable by physical experiment. The majority of prominent conceptions of God explicitly or effectively posit a being which is not testable either by proof or disproof. On these basis, the question regarding the existence of God, one for which evidence cannot be tested, may lie outside the purview of modern science by definition. The Catholic Church maintains that knowledge of the existence of God is the “natural light of human reason”. Fideists maintain that belief in the existence of God may not be amenable to demonstration or refutation, but rests on faith alone.  Atheists view arguments for the existence of God as insufficient, mistaken or weighing less in comparison to arguments against whereas some religions, such as Buddhism, are not concerned with the existence of gods at all and yet other religions, such as Jainism, reject the possibility of a creator deity.

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Does God exist?

This is one of the most important questions a person can consider. Your belief in the existence of God has enormous implications on your views of life, humanity, morality, and destiny.  C. S. Lewis once remarked that God is not the sort of thing one can be moderately interested in. After all, if God does not exist, there’s no reason to be interested in God at all. On the other hand, if God does exist, then this is of paramount interest, and our ultimate concern ought to be how to be properly related to this being upon whom we depend moment by moment for our very existence. Even atheist philosophers like Sartre and Camus—who have thought very seriously about this problem—admit that the existence of God makes a tremendous difference for man.

Dr. Craig offers several reasons why life would be meaningless without God:

If God does not exist, life is ultimately meaningless. If your life is doomed to end in death, then ultimately it does not matter how you live. In the end it makes no ultimate difference whether you existed or not. Sure, your life might have a relative significance in that you influenced others or affected the course of history. But ultimately mankind is doomed to perish in the heat death of the universe. Ultimately it makes no difference who you are or what you do. Your life is inconsequential. Thus, the contributions of the scientist to the advance of human knowledge, the research of the doctor to alleviate pain and suffering, the efforts of the diplomat to secure peace in the world, the sacrifices of good people everywhere to better the lot of the human race—ultimately all these come to nothing. If God does not exist, then we must ultimately live without hope. If there is no God, then there is ultimately no hope for deliverance from the shortcomings of our finite existence. For example, there is no hope for deliverance from evil. Although many people ask how God could create a world involving so much evil, by far most of the suffering in the world is due to man’s own inhumanity to man. The horror of two world wars during the last century effectively destroyed the 19th century’s naive optimism about human progress. If God does not exist, then we are locked without hope in a world filled with gratuitous and unredeemed suffering, and there is no hope for deliverance from evil. Also if there is no God, there is no hope of deliverance from aging, disease, and death. On the other hand, if God does exist, then not only is there meaning and hope, but there is also the possibility of coming to know God and His love personally. Clearly, if God exists, it makes not only a tremendous difference for mankind in general, but it could make a life-changing difference for you as well.

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Pascal’s wager argument in favour of belief in God:

It’s a well-known logical argument why you should believe in God, even if there’s a strong chance that it might not be true. Simply put, the argument is that you should believe in God just because there’s a chance that you might go to heaven and avoid hell. Blaise Pascal, a philosopher and mathematician in the 17th century, first formally put the argument forth. He is considered the founder of probability and he made other significant contributions. There’s also a programming language named after him. Pascal’s wager, in a nutshell, is this. No one knows for certain whether God exists. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. It’s a gamble whether you believe in him or not. So let’s treat it like a gamble, says Pascal, and look at the odds. He described the payoff of this gamble like so. If you choose to believe in God, and you happen to be right, then the reward is infinity: eternal bliss in heaven. However, if you are wrong, then you lose nothing at all. On the other hand, if you choose not to believe in God, and you’re right, you gain nothing (in either of the previous two cases, you just die and that’s the end). But if you are wrong, your payoff is negative infinity: eternal suffering in hell. Now here’s the main thrust of the wager. Since the chance of God existing is unknown, but the payoff/punishment scheme is infinitely in favor of believing in God, just on the small chance that he might exist, you’d better believe. It’s the only wager that makes sense.

Reasons for not agreeing with Pascal’s wager argument:

In the case where God does not exist, there really is a clear advantage to not believing. In other words, the payoff is not zero. For one thing, if you go through life believing untruth, that is a bad thing in itself and serious believers spend a lot of their time in church/temple/mosque, and contribute a lot of money as well. Also, if you can accept Pascal’s wager as a realistic reason to believe, that leads you to a point where you have no choice but to believe just about everything on the same grounds, for example UFOs. You don’t believe just any claim about anything just because somebody tells you they’re true and because there’s a chance you might be wrong. You have to apply your mind!

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Design/watchmaker argument in favour of belief in God:

There are many arguments advanced that attempt to infer a God’s existence by the alleged evidences of intelligent design in nature. All are deeply flawed in that they commit the fallacy of first presupposing design in order to prove a designer, putting the cart before the horse. One of the most popular of these is the watchmaker argument, first advanced by theologian William Paley in 1802. Basically it goes like this. If you’re walking through the forest/along a beach/wherever, and you see a watch lying on the ground, you could pick it up and tell just by looking at it that the watch could not have just materialized there out of nothingness for no reason at all. Clearly this is a highly intricate piece of machinery, deliberately created and manufactured for a purpose. From here, the argument points out that since organisms in nature exhibit just as much complexity in their makeup as this watch, it is reasonable to assume that nature is the work of deliberate design too.

And this is the first and most obvious problem with the watchmaker argument: it is nothing more than an assumption, based upon an appearance of order. The appearance of order in nature is not alone sufficient justification for assuming that this order is the result of purposeful, intelligent design by a supernatural but most of the sciences have shown us that there are practical, mechanistic explanations for how and why things work in nature the way they do. In order to mount a convincing argument that things in nature require a Divine Creator to explain them, theists must first demonstrate that it is impossible to explain them in any other way, and such design arguments as the watchmaker argument fail to do this.

Viewed another way, the structure of the watchmaker argument is self-refuting. The hypothetical person noticing the hypothetical watch on the hypothetical beach thinks it looks designed…but compared to what? In order for one to recognize design, one must have a concept of non-design as a frame of reference to work from. So if the watch looks designed compared to its natural surroundings, then that clearly implies those natural surroundings were not, in fact, designed, though they may exhibit the appearance of order.

Even if one were, for the sake of discussion, to take the watchmaker argument seriously, it would still not be a strong argument that the designer inferred by the comparison of watch-to-nature bears any resemblance to the God. For one thing, no watch is made by a single person these days; they are usually made by factories employing thousands of workers. And the factories that make watches are not the same factories that make chairs, cups and computers. So why assume that nature, with all its dazzling variety, must be the work of only one designer? At best, the watchmaker argument can be said to be an argument for polytheism, or a highly clever and advanced race of aliens who have figured out how to make solar systems and planets.

Still another refutation along these lines is that watches do evolve. The modern digital watch was not dreamed up in every detail by anyone in the modern day. It evolved from older watches, which evolved from analog watches, which evolved from hourglasses, sundials and other time-keeping methods. Each step in the “evolution” of the watch was achieved by people thinking about older designs and coming up with new ways to improve them. So if the analogy is going to work, it’s going to have to allow at minimum for God experimenting and modifying his design through an evolutionary process and selection. This is important when you consider that many creationists try to use this argument to refute evolution.

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The Kalam Cosmological argument (widely accepted in professional philosophy and logic communities) states that:

  1. Everything that began to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Time and space came into existence at the singularity. Since there was a cause to bring the universe into existence, it has to be a cause that is outside of time and space. As a result, the cause is both immaterial and transcendent. This is God.

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A life-permitting universe requires that cosmology and physics are exactly tuned to support life. This concept is called “the Anthropic Principle.” We currently understand that there are about 35 parameters that are perfectly harmonized to support life on our planet. These parameters must all be set within a very narrow range to support life. The probability of these 35 attributes being set at the correctly to support life is very low. Some examples of these parameters include:

  • The unique properties of water
  • Earth’s atmosphere (nitrogen, oxygen, and small amounts of other gases)
  • Earth’s reflectivity or “albedo”
  • Earth’s magnetic field
  • Earth’s place in the solar system
  • Our solar system’s place in the galaxy
  • The color of our sun
  • The force of gravity
  • The density of matter must equal the critical density needed to prevent the Big Crunch
  • The earth must be angled in its orbit perfectly to prevent temperature extremes.
  • Our moon must be its exact size to support the earth’s orbit.
  • The rate of universe expansion (cosmological constant).

This fine tuning requires a fine tuner. This is God.

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Theists argue that morality proves existence of God.

Morality did not evolve physiologically by chemical or biological evolution. Morality requires a transcendent measure. Atheists pretend that God does not exist by using the intellectual arguments of science while the root cause of their opposition to confessing God’s existence is moral. By pretending that God doesn’t exist, the atheist deludes himself into thinking that he is not morally accountable to the God that created him. Evolutionary ethicists state that there is no free will; we are the products of time and chance. There is no concept of right or wrong or ought in DNA. If our morality is evolved, who can say that torturing children for fun is wrong? Who can say that the Nazis were wrong in killing Jews? Evolutionists must say they are just doing what their genes programmed them to do. If evolutionary ethics were true, how do you explain acts of courage, valor, and sacrifice that appear noble but would not lead to reproduction (they die in battle for example). If evolutionary ethics and morality were true, the biggest, strongest, and smartest would do anything to advance their cause. This has happened occasionally with horrors such as eugenics, Nazi Germany, and other examples of genocide, etc. If everyone chose their own morality, there would be chaos and evil rampant with no punishment and no justice.

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God is the answer of questions that we cannot answer.

  1. The universe had a start – what caused it?

Scientists are convinced that our universe began with one enormous explosion of energy and light, which we now call the Big Bang. This was the singular start to everything that exists: the beginning of the universe, the start of space, and even the initial start of time itself. Astrophysicist Robert Jastrow, a self-described agnostic, stated, “The seed of everything that has happened in the Universe was planted in that first instant; every star, every planet and every living creature in the Universe came into being as a result of events that were set in motion in the moment of the cosmic explosion…The Universe flashed into being, and we cannot find out what caused that to happen.” Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in Physics, said at the moment of this explosion, “the universe was about a hundred thousand million degrees Centigrade…and the universe was filled with light.” The universe has not always existed. It had a start…what caused that? Scientists have no explanation for the sudden explosion of light and matter.

  1. The universe operates by uniform laws of nature. Why does it?

Much of life may seem uncertain, but look at what we can count on day after day: gravity remains consistent, a hot cup of coffee left on a counter will get cold, the earth rotates in the same 24 hours, and the speed of light doesn’t change — on earth or in galaxies far from us. How it that we can identify is laws of nature that never change? Why is the universe so orderly, so reliable? “The greatest scientists have been struck by how strange this is. There is no logical necessity for a universe that obeys rules, let alone one that abides by the rules of mathematics. This astonishment springs from the recognition that the universe doesn’t have to behave this way. It is easy to imagine a universe in which conditions change unpredictably from instant to instant, or even a universe in which things pop in and out of existence.” Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winner for quantum electrodynamics, said, “Why nature is mathematical is a mystery…The fact that there are rules at all is a kind of miracle.”

  1. The DNA code informs, programs a cell’s behavior. Who constructed DNA codes?

All instruction, all teaching, all training comes with intent. Someone who writes an instruction manual does so with purpose. Did you know that in every cell of our bodies there exists a very detailed instruction code, much like a miniature computer program? As you may know, a computer program is made up of ones and zeros, like this: 110010101011000. The way they are arranged tell the computer program what to do. The DNA code in each of our cells is very similar. It’s made up of four chemicals that scientists abbreviate as A, T, G, and C. These are arranged in the human cell like this: CGTGTGACTCGCTCCTGAT and so on. There are three billion of these letters in every human cell coming from each parent!! Well, just like you can program your phone to beep for specific reasons, DNA instructs the cell. DNA is a three-billion-lettered program telling the cell to act in a certain way. It is a full instruction manual. Why is this so amazing? One has to ask….how did this information program wind up in each human cell? These are not just chemicals. These are chemicals that instruct, that code in a very detailed way exactly how the person’s body should develop. Natural, biological causes are completely lacking as an explanation when programmed information is involved. You cannot find instruction, precise information like this, without someone intentionally constructing it. Advances in molecular biology have revealed vast amounts of information encoded in each and every living cell, and molecular biologists have discovered thousands upon thousands of exquisitely designed machines at the molecular level. Information requires intelligence and design requires a designer. Biochemists and mathematicians have calculated the odds against life arising from non-life naturally via unintelligent processes. The odds are astronomical.  If life did not arise by chance, how did it arise?

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Arguments against God’s existence i.e. arguments for atheism:

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Figure below shows cycle of faith where theists and atheists consider arguments in favour or against their positions:

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The term “atheist” describes a person who does not believe that God or a divine being exists.  Worldwide there may be as many as a billion atheists, although social stigma, political pressure, and intolerance make accurate polling difficult. For the most part, atheists have presumed that the most reasonable conclusions are the ones that have the best evidential support.  And they have argued that the evidence in favor of God’s existence is too weak, or the arguments in favor of concluding there is no God are more compelling.  Traditionally the arguments for God’s existence have fallen into several families: ontological, teleological, and cosmological arguments, miracles, and prudential justifications.  Arguments for the non-existence of God are deductive or inductive.  Deductive arguments for the non-existence of God are either single or multiple property disproofs that allege that there are logical or conceptual problems with one or several properties that are essential to any being worthy of the title “God.” Inductive arguments typically present empirical evidence that is employed to argue that God’s existence is improbable or unreasonable.  Briefly stated, the main arguments are:  God’s non-existence is analogous to the non-existence of Santa Claus. The existence of widespread human and non-human suffering is incompatible with an all-powerful, all knowing, all good being. Discoveries about the origins and nature of the universe, and about the evolution of life on Earth make the God hypothesis an unlikely explanation.  Widespread non-belief and the lack of compelling evidence show that a God who seeks belief in humans does not exist. Another approach, atheistic noncognitivism, denies that God talk is even meaningful or has any propositional content that can be evaluated in terms of truth or falsity. Rather, religious speech acts are better viewed as a complicated sort of emoting or expression of spiritual passion.  Inductive and deductive approaches are cognitivistic in that they accept that claims about God have meaningful content and can be determined to be true or false.  Broad considerations from science that support naturalism, or the view that all and only physical entities and causes exist, have also led many to the atheism conclusion.

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Atheism is the rejection of theism: a‐theism. Atheists maintain some or all of the following claims: that theism is false; that theism is unbelievable; that theism is rationally unacceptable; that theism is morally unacceptable. Among arguments for atheism, there are arguments that are direct, indirect, and comparative. Direct arguments for atheism aim to show that theism fails on its own terms: theism is meaningless, or incoherent, or internally inconsistent, or impossible, or inconsistent with known fact, or improbable given known fact, or less likely than not given known fact, or morally repugnant, and so forth. Indirect arguments for atheism depend upon direct arguments for something else. Consider naturalism. Naturalism and theism are jointly inconsistent: they cannot both be true. Direct arguments for naturalism—arguments for the claim that naturalism is true, or rationally required, or morally required—are arguments for atheism. Comparative arguments for atheism are arguments for the theoretical superiority of something else to theism. Consider naturalism. An argument for the theoretical superiority of naturalism to theism is, an argument for atheism, even though such an argument need not aim to establish that naturalism is true, or rationally required, or morally required.

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The Santa Claus Argument:

Martin (1990) offers this general principle to describe the criteria that render the belief, “X does not exist” justified:

A person is justified in believing that X does not exist if

(1)  all the available evidence used to support the view that X exists is shown to be inadequate; and

(2)  X is the sort of entity that, if X exists, then there is a presumption that would be evidence adequate to support the view that X exists; and

(3)  this presumption has not been defeated although serious efforts have been made to do so; and

(4)  the area where evidence would appear, if there were any, has been comprehensively examined; and

(5)  there are no acceptable beneficial reasons to believe that X exists.

Many of the major works in philosophical atheism that address the full range of recent arguments for God’s existence (Gale 1991, Mackie 1982, Martin 1990, Sobel 2004, Everitt 2004, and Weisberger 1999) can be seen as providing evidence to satisfy the first, fourth and fifth conditions.  A substantial body of articles with narrower scope can also be understood to play this role in justifying atheism.  A large group of discussions of Pascal’s Wager and related prudential justifications in the literature can also be seen as relevant to the satisfaction of the fifth condition. One of the interesting and important questions in the epistemology of philosophy of religion has been whether the second and third conditions are satisfied concerning God.  If there were a God, how and in what ways would we expect him to show in the world?  Empirically?  Conceptually?  Would he be hidden?  Martin argues, and many others have accepted implicitly or explicitly, that God is the sort of thing that would manifest in some discernible fashion to our inquiries.   Martin concludes, therefore, that God satisfied all of the conditions, so, positive narrow atheism is justified.

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Cosmological argument:

Questions about the origins of the universe and cosmology have been the focus for many inductive atheism arguments.  We can distinguish four recent views about God and the cosmos as seen in the figure below:

  1. Naturalism:

On naturalistic view, the Big Bang occurred approximately 13.7 billion years ago, the Earth formed out of cosmic matter about 4.6 billion years ago, and life forms on Earth, unaided by any supernatural forces about 4 billion years ago.  Various physical (non-God) hypotheses are currently being explored about the cause or explanation of the Big Bang such as the Hartle-Hawking no-boundary condition model, brane cosmology models, string theoretic models, ekpyrotic models, cyclic models, chaotic inflation, and so on.

  1. Big Bang Theism:

It is the view that God caused the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.

  1. Intelligent Design Theism:

There are many variations, but most often the view is that God created the universe, perhaps with the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago, and then beginning with the appearance of life 4 billion years ago.  God supernaturally guided the formation and development of life into the forms we see today.

  1. Creationism:

Finally, there is a group of people who for the most part denies the occurrence of the Big Bang and of evolution altogether; God created the universe, the Earth, and all of the life on Earth in its more or less present form 6,000-10,000 years ago.

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Taking a broad view, many atheists have concluded that neither Big Bang Theism, Intelligent Design Theism, nor Creationism is the most reasonable description of the history of the universe.  Before the theory of evolution and recent developments in modern astronomy, a view wherein God did not play a large role in the creation and unfolding of the cosmos would have been hard to justify.  Now, internal problems with those views and the evidence from cosmology and biology indicate that naturalism is the best explanation.  Justifications for Big Bang Theism have focused on modern versions of the Cosmological and Kalam arguments.  Since everything that comes into being must have a cause, including the universe, then God was the cause of the Big Bang. (Craig 1995) The objections to these arguments have been numerous and vigorously argued.  Critics have challenged the inference to a supernatural cause to fill gaps in the natural account, as well as the inferences that the first cause must be a single, personal, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good being.  It is not clear that any of the properties of God as classically conceived in orthodox monotheism can be inferred from what we know about the Big Bang without first accepting a number of theistic assumptions.  Infinite power and knowledge do not appear to be required to bring about a Big Bang—what if our Big Bang was the only act that a being could perform?  There appears to be consensus that infinite goodness or moral perfection cannot be inferred as a necessary part of the cause of the Big Bang—theists have focused their efforts in the problem of evil, discussions just attempting to prove that it is possible that God is infinitely good given the state of the world.  Big Bang Theism would need to show that no other sort of cause besides a morally perfect one could explain the universe we find ourselves in.  Critics have also doubted whether we can know that some supernatural force that caused the Big Bang is still in existence now or is the same entity as identified and worshipped in any particular religious tradition.  Even if major concessions are granted in the cosmological argument, all that it would seem to suggest is that there was a first cause or causes, but widely accepted arguments from that first cause or causes to the fully articulated God of Christianity or Islam, for instance, have not been forthcoming.

In some cases, atheists have taken the argument a step further.  They have offered cosmological arguments for the nonexistence of God on the basis of considerations from physics, astronomy, and subatomic theory.  These arguments are quite technical, so these remarks will be cursory.  God, if he exists, knowing all and having all power, would only employ those means to his ends that are rational, effective, efficient, and optimal.  If God were the creator, then he was the cause of the Big Bang, but cosmological atheists have argued that the singularity that produced the Big Bang and events that unfold thereafter preclude a rational divine agent from achieving particular ends with the Big Bang as the means.  The Big Bang would not have been the route God would have chosen to this world as a result.  (Stenger 2007, Smith 1993, Everitt 2004.)

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Universe moves by itself, says Sean Carroll.

Many theists believe that some of the strongest arguments for God rely on the logical need for a First Cause of the universe (or First Mover, depending on which argument you use.) This sort of argument goes back at least to Aristotle, who thousands of years ago suggested that, “Everything that is in motion must be moved by something” (and by motion he meant any change whatsoever, not just locomotion, or spatial change). However, physicist Sean Carroll thinks Aristotle had it wrong. In one of the earliest chapters in his new book, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016), Carroll explains why. His reason? “The whole structure of Aristotle’s argument for an unmoved mover rests on his idea that motions require causes. Once we know about conservation of momentum, that idea loses steam”. To put it another way, Carroll believes that the conservation of momentum debunks the idea of causality, the principle that all actions are determined by causes.

Carroll admits that it does seem to us, in our everyday experience, that things don’t “just happen”—something works to cause them, to bring them about.

Carroll’s attempt to refute the principle of causality, and thus the universe’s need for a First Cause, fails because he doesn’t distinguish between different types of causality, such as initial or sustaining causes. He in essence suggests that since things in motion may not require sustaining causes, then they don’t need any causal explanations. Carroll makes a similar mistake when he concludes, “The universe doesn’t need a push; it can just keep going!”. The problem is that, once again, this mixes up two different forms of causality. The first part of his claim concerns how or whether the universe began, whether it had an initial cause to “push” it into existence. The second part concerns how the universe continues existing after it comes into existence, whether or not it has a sustaining cause to “keep [it] going.” The two questions are not identical. Regardless, Carroll offers no convincing reasons to accept either idea, that the universe “doesn’t need a push” or that it can “just keep going” without any sustaining cause.

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Teleological Arguments:

In William Paley’s famous analysis, he argues by analogy that the presence of order in the universe, like the features we find in a watch, are indicative of the existence of a designer who is responsible for the artifact.  Many authors—David Hume (1935), Wesley Salmon (1978), Michael Martin (1990)—have argued that a better case can be made for the nonexistence of God from the evidence. Salmon, giving a modern Bayesian version of an argument that begins with Hume, argues that the likelihood that the ordered universe was created by intelligence is very low.  In general, instances of biologically or mechanically caused generation without intelligence are far more common than instances of creation from intelligence.  Furthermore, the probability that something that is generated by a biological or mechanical cause will exhibit order is quite high.  Among those things that are designed, the probability that they exhibit order may be quite high, but that is not the same as asserting that among the things that exhibit order the probability that they were designed is high.  Among dogs, the incidence of fur may be high, but it is not true that among furred things the incidence of dogs is high.  Furthermore, intelligent design and careful planning very frequently produces disorder—war, industrial pollution, insecticides, and so on. So we can conclude that the probability that an unspecified entity (like the universe), which came into being and exhibits order, was produced by intelligent design is very low and that the empirical evidence indicates that there was no designer.

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Logical arguments:

‘If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide to prove that they should value it? If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic?’

-Sam Harris

Logical arguments for atheism attempt to show that the concept of God is self-contradictory or logically inconsistent with some known fact. In the jargon of the philosophy of religion, the former type of logical arguments are sometimes called incompatible-properties arguments. These arguments attempt to demonstrate a contradiction in the concept of God. If an argument of this type were successful, it would mean that the existence of God is impossible; there is a 0% probability that God exists.  Logical arguments try to show that God cannot possibly exist (at least as described). Barring any escape hatch arguments like God did it, some properties of God are not compatible with each other or known facts about the world, and thus a creator-god cannot be a logically consistent and existent entity. These arguments are heavily dependent on the use of common descriptions of the Abrahamic God as a target: things such as omnipotence, omnipresence, and omnibenevolence. As a result, they are not as useful in trying to refute the claims of, say, neopaganism, and are also vulnerable to the tactic of moving the goalposts by changing the descriptions of God. The omnipotence paradox postulates that true omnipotence is not logically possible or not compatible with omniscience. This is primarily a logical argument based on the general question of whether an omnipotent being could limit its own power – if yes, it would cease to be omnipotent; if no, it wouldn’t be omnipotent in the first place. Hence the paradox that shows, through contradiction, that God cannot exist as usually described.

Other logical arguments try to prove that god is not compatible with our scientific knowledge of reality. The Problem of evil states that a good god wouldn’t permit gratuitous evil, yet such evil occurs, so a good god does not exist. The argument from design is often given as proof of a creator, but it raises the following logical question: if the world is so complex that it must have had a creator, then the creator must be at least as complex and must therefore have a creator, and this would have to have had a more complex creator ad infinitum. Also, the argument from design does not offer evidence for any specific religion; while it could be taken as support for the existence of a god or gods, it doesn’t argue for the Christian God any more than, say, the Hindu pantheon. While believers hasten to point out that their gods don’t need to follow logic, let alone the known laws of physics, this is really a case of special pleading and doesn’t so much prove anything itself. Atheists therefore tend to reject these counters to the logical arguments as they mostly beg the question of a creator’s existence and, very arbitrarily, plead that a creator can be exempt from the same logic that was used to “prove” its existence.

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Evidential arguments:

‘I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs’.

-Sam Harris

At the root of the worldview of most atheists is evidence, and atheists point out that sufficient evidence for the existence of gods is currently very lacking, and thus there is no reason to believe in them. Evidential arguments are less ambitious than logical arguments because, rather than proving that there is reason not to believe in a god, they show that there is no reason to believe in a god. It is important to remember that what constitutes sufficient evidence can be quite subjective, although rationalism and science do offer some standardization. Various “holy books” exist that testify to the existence of gods, and claim that alleged miracles and personal experiences all constitute evidence in favor of the existence of a god character of some sort. However, atheists reject these as insufficient because the naturalistic explanations behind them (tracing authors of the holy texts, psychological experiments, and scientific experiments to explain experiences, and so on) are more plausible – indeed, the very existence of plausible naturalistic explanations renders the supernatural explanations obsolete. In addition these books make claims for a variety of faiths, so to accept the Bible’s stories as evidence, one would also have to accept as evidence the miracle stories from other religions’ holy books. Atheists often cite evidence that processes attributed to a god might also occur naturally as evidential arguments. If evolution and the big bang are true, then why would a creator god have needed them?  Occam’s razor makes theistic explanations less compelling.

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Experiential arguments:

Many atheists argue to the born-again Christian who “just knows” that God exists, that the day-to-day experience of the atheist demonstrates quite clearly that God does not. This is because they have an image in their heads of what this “God” would have to look like, viz., an entity in the vein of the God of the Old Testament who runs around zapping entire cities, turning people into pillars of salt, and generally answering people’s prayers in flashes of fire and brimstone — or, answering prayers for the victory of a given football team — but not answering those made on behalf of starving children in the third world.

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Epistemological arguments:

Various arguments claim that people cannot know God or determine the existence of God (arguably equivalent to Agnosticism). The rationalistic agnosticism of Kant only accepts knowledge deduced with human rationality, and holds that gods are not discernible as a matter of principle, and therefore cannot be known to exist. Skepticism asserts that certainty about anything is impossible, so one can never know the existence of God. Logical Positivism asserts the meaninglessness or unintelligibility of basic terms such as “God” and statements such as “God is all-powerful”. Non-cognitivism holds that the statement “God exists” does not express a proposition and is therefore nonsensical or cognitively meaningless.

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A Sympathetic Critique of a Socratic Argument for Atheism (2017) by Stephen Sullivan:

Does God command what is morally right because it is right, or is it right because God commands it? If God commands what is right because it is right, then rightness appears to be determined by moral standards that are independent of God’s commands, and that God himself is morally required to obey, calling into question his status as Supreme Being. On the other hand, if what is right is right because God commands it, then there are no moral constraints on what God commands, rendering morality completely arbitrary: even horrific actions would be deemed right. This modernized Euthyphro dilemma can be converted into an argument against the existence of the God of traditional monotheism, a sovereign creator. Although this Socratic argument does not refute God’s existence as a Supreme Being, it nevertheless underscores a serious challenge to theists who argue that morality requires the truth of theism.

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The “Atheism vs. Theism” debate has been a fixture in Western culture for the last few hundred years. Remarkably, the same issues repeat themselves over and over again. In a nutshell, the Atheism vs. Theism debate comes down to the following:

The Atheist’s Response to the Theist:

  1. God doesn’t exist because science explains the cosmos without him.
  2. Even if a finely-tuned cosmos and/or complex life suggest a first cause/designer, there’s too much pain and suffering in the world to believe in the God.
  3. Bible is myth and legend.
  4. A moral life doesn’t require God, anyway.

The Theist’s Response to the Atheist:

  1. Science affirms that the finely-tuned cosmos was created out of nothing.
  2. Life’s order, design, and complexity require an Intelligent Designer, and our response to pain and suffering is relative to our knowledge of right and wrong/good and evil in a fallen world.
  3. Bible is trustworthy based on history, science, archaeology, manuscripts, and prophecy.
  4. True morality requires a transcendent standard — God.

This is the essence of the Atheism vs. Theism debate. Although the theological, philosophical, and scientific controversies might appear vast and intimidating at first, they really boil down to these four foundational arguments. Once you feel comfortable with these key areas in the Atheism vs. Theism debate, there’s not much that will surprise you.

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Responses to Common Theist Arguments by Armin Navabi:

  1. “Science can’t explain the complexity and order of life; God must have designed it to be this way.”

First, when considering this position, it’s important to recognize the difference between complexity and design. Complexity itself does not require an intelligent creator. It’s easy to impose a design upon things that exist by chance or developed through a natural process like evolution. To an extent, this argument gains traction because of wide misunderstanding of science and especially evolution. Everything in the universe conforms to certain simple scientific rules that have been repeated over billions of years. While this can be awe-inspiring, it by no means suggests a creator. Failure to understand the scientific principles guiding the creation and development of the universe does not mean that a deity must exist to explain the natural world.

  1. “God’s existence is proven by scripture.”

This argument presupposes its premise. People believe in scripture and place value in the words because they already believe in the religious principles the text describes. There is no inherent value to the Bible, Quran or any other religious text; these documents are not self-authenticating in any way. In fact, many factual inaccuracies and inconsistencies can be found within religious texts themselves. For example, the Bible contains two separate creation stories, each of which provides a very different explanation. Similarly, there is no historical, archaeological or scientific evidence to support many of the stories in the Bible and the Quran. Ultimately, religious texts are infinitely fallible because they are man-made products of whimsy, poetry, mythology and some history woven together into a new whole. The texts in the Bible have been gathered from many oral sources over thousands of years and compiled arbitrarily into a single document; it’s hardly surprising that the narrative would be so inconsistent. Other religious texts have similarly convoluted histories. Aside from the problems with individual texts, there’s also the obvious issue that the very presence of multiple scriptures negates the authenticity of any single religious document. It’s impossible for every religious book to be true; it’s highly presumptuous to assume that one’s own preferred scripture is the single “true” scripture while all the others are false accounts. It’s far more likely that every religious book is equally fallible and unreliable.

  1. “Some unexplained events are miraculous, and these miracles prove the existence of God.”

A miracle is typically understood as an extraordinary event or happening that is explained as being the work of a divine agency and having a supernatural origin. However, before miracles can be used as irrefutable proof of God’s existence, the cause or origin of so-called miracles must be proven. There is currently no evidence to suggest that miracles truly exist. In reality, there are several underlying explanations behind most miracles, for example:

— The event is statistically unlikely, and its unlikeliness has caused some people to attribute significance to it. For example, some cultures believe that all-white animals are miraculous or somehow magical. However, science has proven that albinism is a perfectly normal genetic condition that happens to be rarer than other forms of pigmentation. Similarly, a single person surviving a natural disaster is no more miraculous than a single person winning the lottery; it’s simply an unlikely random occurrence.

— The event has a scientific cause that is not immediately apparent or understood but is later identified. Many natural phenomena were once viewed as miraculous. After science demonstrated the reason behind previously incomprehensible things, like aurora borealis, earthquakes and hot springs, they stopped seeming like the actions of a mysterious deity.

— The event was inherently meaningless, but meaning and significance was attributed after the fact. In science, hearsay and anecdotal evidence are not sufficient to prove something. Each time a “miracle” occurs, it’s easy to see magical thinking, misattribution and other human errors at work. For example, if a child is ill in the hospital, a family member might pray for his recovery. If that child does recover, the praying relative will attribute this to the power of prayer, not to any medical innovations, immunological responses or sheer power of chance. It’s curious to note that the miracles performed by an “all-loving” and benevolent God so often involve sparing a handful of people from a tragic accident, devastating disaster or deadly disease. God is rarely held accountable by believers for all of the deaths that occur when people are not saved by a “miracle.” On the whole, the tiny percentage of “miraculous” recoveries would be greater evidence of a deity’s arbitrary cruelty than his benevolence, but this is never something believers seem comfortable discussing.

  1. “Morality stems from God, and without God, we could not be good people.”

So-called “moral” behaviors, such as altruism and reciprocity, are not inherently human. In the natural world, they can be observed in a variety of animal species, especially social animals. Science shows that such behavior has an evolutionary benefit: creatures who learn to interact well with their kin will have a stronger likelihood of survival and passing on their genes. All of this means that, from a scientific viewpoint, morality does not stem from God. Instead, it has its roots in brain chemicals and is supported by strong cultural conditioning. Parents pass their morals along to their children, and individuals take social cues regarding “right” and “wrong” behaviors from friends, family, media influence and more. Religious texts are just an attempt to codify acceptable behaviors into a set of laws. Unfortunately, these rules can quickly become outdated, irrelevant and even painfully arbitrary. It’s fashionable for religious people to claim that atheists are immoral hedonists, but a quick survey of real people shows that to be false. By and large, atheists are no less moral than any other group of people.

  1. “Belief in God would not be so widespread if God didn’t exist.”

This type of claim is called an “argumentum ad populum” or “appeal to the majority,” and it’s simply not true. Many beliefs are popular or widely held without being true, and things that are true exist whether anyone believes in them or not. Alchemy, at one time, was extremely popular and widespread, but few people today would seriously claim that lead could be transmuted into gold. There are similarly few people who still believe that the earth is flat or the center of the universe despite those also being very popular beliefs at one time. Furthermore, the widespread nature of religion says little about the veracity of any given religious belief. While it’s true that many cultures around the world all hold religious beliefs, those beliefs themselves are widely variable and often at odds with each other. When every religion states that it is the one true path to salvation, it by necessity claims that all others are false. If religion were true by virtue of widespread belief, it would certainly make more sense for all people to at least believe the same thing.

  1. “God answers prayers; therefore, he must be real.”

Just as miracles are impossible to prove without resorting to unreliable anecdotes, the power of prayer is certainly not supported by science. Belief in prayer relies on confirmation bias. Essentially, people remember the times that prayer seemed to “work” but conveniently forget the many occasions that they prayed and saw no response or received the opposite result of what they’d wanted. These unwanted results are often ignored completely or rationalized away. Prayer is a type of magical thinking. Its appeal is undeniable; it feels empowering and makes individuals feel as though they have a measure of control over the world around them. But there is simply no evidence that prayers are anything more than a placebo. And unlike many placebos, prayer can actually be harmful. The “power of prayer” is one of the most insidious and even harmful beliefs proffered by religion. When faced with any sort of tragedy or misfortune, prayer is one of the least helpful responses imaginable. When tragedy strikes, prayer may make people feel better, but it doesn’t actually help the victims. Donating blood, giving money to the Red Cross or volunteering with a relief organization would all be far more beneficial than praying to the same hypothetical deity who ostensibly caused the disaster in the first place.

  1. “I feel a personal relationship to God, so I know that he is real.”

Such personal testimonies are difficult to refute because they are completely subjective. They’re also impossible to prove for the same reason. When individuals report a private revelation or communication with God, it’s never about factual information that could be confirmed or denied. These religious experiences are always personal and emotional, which makes them count as nothing more than anecdotal “evidence”. The human brain has evolved to be particularly sensitive to patterns and causality. It’s so effective at this, in fact, that people often see a pattern or purpose in things that are actually random. This is why it’s easy to identify objects or faces in the clouds, for example, or why white noise can be interpreted to resemble human speech. This same sensitivity can make random or unrelated events seem like the presence of God, especially if the person experiencing them has a predisposition toward wanting those beliefs to be true. In other cases, a religious experience can be triggered by any number of outside forces, including drug use or mental illness. Indeed, many people in multiple cultures have experienced similar symptoms but variously attributed them to a variety of different sources, both religious and secular.

  1. “It’s safer to believe in God than be wrong and go to Hell.”

This concept, called Pascal’s Wager, does not actually support religious beliefs. Instead, it acts as a way to coerce belief out of unwilling participants. The logic goes something like this: if I believe in God and am wrong, then nothing bad will happen. But if I renounce God and am wrong, I will be punished in Hell. There are several problems with this line of reasoning:

— Religions are inconsistent. In order for Pascal’s Wager to work, the believer would need some assurance that believing in God would, in fact, save him from punishment. When multiple religions exist with conflicting messages, however, this is impossible. What if you choose to believe in the wrong God and go to Hell anyway?

— A truly benevolent God would not punish his creations simply because they did not believe in him. God could just as easily reward his creations for being skeptical. Because there is no way to ascertain what a deity’s motives might be, there’s no way to know that Pascal’s Wager would even work.

— If a person believes in God only out of fear of punishment, that belief would be thin and false. Surely an omniscient deity could see through that act and choose to reward only true believers.

  1. “I have faith; I don’t need facts. I just want to believe.”

This argument would be perfectly valid if the believer was willing to concede that their God is a social construction or metaphorical concept. Most believers aren’t comfortable with that, though, and faith simply does not stand up in the face of scientific scrutiny. Believing in something does not make it true. Truth is not subjective or democratic. It does not need belief to make it work. Gravity, for example, works the same whether you have faith in it or not. You do not need to choose to believe in gravity because it’s an immutable fact of the universe. Faith is often lauded as a positive quality, but it is, in fact, very intellectually lazy. Faith precludes scientific thinking and the natural wonder of discovery; it stops people from searching for answers to questions about the real world. Faith is little more than the glorification of wilful ignorance.

  1. “There’s no evidence that God doesn’t exist.”

This argument is often offered as a last line of defense in religious debates, and the person posing it might feel very clever coming up with it. However, the premise of the argument is both flawed and ridiculous. The failure to disprove something does not constitute proof of its existence. The burden of proof is always on the person making a claim, especially in cases where the claims are unsupported or unfalsifiable. With no enduring evidence that a God exists, there is simply no reason to believe in a deity, even if it’s not possible to irrefutably disprove his existence. Many thought experiments have been created to show the absurdity of these claims, such as the Invisible Pink Unicorn, Carl Sagan’s “The Dragon in My Garage,” Russell’s Teapot or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. All of which are absurd claims without evidence and yet impossible to disprove. Familiarizing yourself with these thought experiments can give you a clear picture of exactly why the burden of proof should always be on the person making a claim.

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Human Suffering and the Denial of God:

It must not be forgotten that contemporary atheism is shaped above all as reaction to the scandal of evil in the world. “God and Birkenhau cannot go together,” wrote Elie Wiesel, an Auschwitz survivor. “How to reconcile the Creator with the destruction by fire of one million Jewish children? I have read the answers, the hypotheses, I have read the theological solution offered: the question remains question. As for answers, there are none; there ought to be none” (E. Wiesel, Foreword, in Jews and Christians after the Holocaust, edited by A.J. Peck, Philadelphia 1982). The suffering of the innocent has been and still is the hardest difficulty for belief in God: “Why am I suffering? This is the rock of atheism,” says Georg Büchner in his drama Danton’s Death. Faced with the agony of a 12-year old boy, Doctor Rieux’s reply to Father Paneloux in The Plague of Camus is: “No, Father, I have another idea of love. And I will refuse forever to love a creation in which innocent children are tortured.” Dostoevskij puts a similar phrase in the mouth of Ivan Karamazov: “But here, however are the children, and what am I going to do with them? […]. If everyone must suffer in order with their suffering to purchase eternal harmony, what do young children have to do with it, tell me, please? […]. I do not want harmony, out of a love for mankind I do not want it […]. It isn’t God I don’t accept, Alyosha, it’s just his ticket that I most respectfully return to him” (tr. by D. McDuff, London 1993, pp. 280-282).

In Night, Elie Wiesel recalls the hanging of a child: “For more than half an hour he was agonizing before our eyes, fighting between the life and the death.” The prisoners ask themselves: “Where is God, the good God?”. Where is the goodness of God in the face of the suffering of an innocent child? Wiesel does not reply, like Camus, with a “revolt” nor, like Ivan Karamazov, with the refusal to understand, but with the attempt of a religious intuition, capable of reading a deeper truth in the face of God. “Where is, then, God? –Wiesel continues in his essay Night– I heard a voice inner to me answering: “Where is He? He is there, hanging.” It is God that is hanged, God that suffers with us and in us. For Wiesel, this is the only answer to the absence and silence of God, that, just as in the Book of Job, have made vain the answers of the metaphysical theodicy to the issues of suffering and evil.

For Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), if a metaphysical psychoanalysis of the modern world were made, one would discover that at the core of its revolt against God, and then of its indifference, there is a “Zeus-like” image of divinity, impassive in the face of the suffering of its creatures. The mystery of evil and suffering is, with all its sharp spikes, within the heart of man “in revolt,” as a sort of spiritual despair which move humans apart from God and sometimes push them against him. Many Christians, writes the French thinker, “on the one hand have in their heads a vague idea […] that God is Love, and on the other hand think that He is not like a Father […], but like an Emperor of this world: a Tyrant-Dramatist who would himself be the first to commit all the world’s sins and the one responsible for all world’s misery, for the concession of erring that would precede our errors, a misery to which he would abandon his creatures, from the very beginning, leaving them to their own devices” (J. Maritain, Approches sans entraves, Paris 1973, pp. 85-86).

Raïssa Maritain confirms in some way the intuition of Wiesel –that the suffering of the innocent is understandable only in the light of a God that suffers in the suffering of man. “Neither theology, nor Aristotle admit this union of suffering and happiness… But our God is a crucified God; the happiness of whom he cannot be deprived, has not prevented him fearing, moaning, or sweating blood in inexpressible agony, nor to complain on the cross, nor to feel abandoned!” For this, Raïssa concludes, “there needs to be something in the impenetrable Essence which corresponds to our reality, without sin, and the succession of human torments is nothing other than a dark reflection of the inexpressible contrasts of light […]. These ‘inexpressible contrasts of light,’ this kind of glory of suffering, that perhaps here correspond on the earth to the suffering of the innocent, the tears of children, certain excesses of humiliation and misery that the heart almost cannot accept without scandal; and that, when the figure of this enigmatic world has passed away, will appear at the top of the Beatitudes” (Les Grandes Amitiés , Paris 1966, pp. 168-169).

In Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1994), John Paul II also faces the problem of evil and its “justification” in the face of non-belief. The reply that God gives to human suffering is not an answer of a theoretical and merely conceptual character, but rather that of a truth that becomes a person, and shows, in the scandalous reality of a God that suffers, God’s solidarity with the suffering of every human being. “How could God have permitted so many wars, concentration camps, the Holocaust? Is the God who allows all this still truly Love, as Saint John proclaims in his First Letter? Indeed, is He just with respect to His creatures? Doesn’t He place too many burdens on the shoulders of individuals?

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Arguments against God in Hindu religion:

According to Markandey Katju, former Chairman of the Press Council of India and former judge of the Supreme Court of India, “…there are six classical systems of Indian philosophy, Nyaya, Vaisheshik, Sankya, Yoga, Purva Mimansa and Uttar Mimansa, and three non-classical systems, Buddhism, Jainism and Charvak. Out of these nine systems eight of them are atheistic as there is no place for God in them. Only the ninth one, that is Uttar Mimansa, which is also called Vedanta, has a place for God in it.”

Mimamsas argued that there was no need to postulate a maker for the world, just as there was no need for an author to compose the Vedas or a God to validate the rituals. They further thought that the Gods named in the Vedas had no physical existence apart from the mantras that speak their names. In this regard, the power of the mantras was what was seen as the power of Gods. Mimamsas reasoned that an incorporeal God could not author the Vedas, for he would not have the organs of speech to utter words. An embodied God could not author the Vedas because such a God would be subject to the natural limitations of sensory knowledge and therefore, would not be able to produce supernatural revelations like the Vedas.

Samkhya gave the following arguments against the idea of an eternal, self-caused, creator God:

  • If the existence of karma is assumed, the proposition of God as a moral governor of the universe is unnecessary. For, if God enforces the consequences of actions then he can do so without karma. If however, he is assumed to be within the law of karma, then karma itself would be the giver of consequences and there would be no need of a God.
  • Even if karma is denied, God still cannot be the enforcer of consequences. Because the motives of an enforcer God would be either egoistic or altruistic. Now, God’s motives cannot be assumed to be altruistic because an altruistic God would not create a world so full of suffering. If his motives are assumed to be egoistic, then God must be thought to have desire, as agency or authority cannot be established in the absence of desire. However, assuming that God has desire would contradict God’s eternal freedom which necessitates no compulsion in actions. Moreover, desire, according to Samkhya, is an attribute of prakriti and cannot be thought to grow in God. The testimony of the Vedas, according to Samkhya, also confirms this notion.
  • Despite arguments to the contrary, if God is still assumed to contain unfulfilled desires, this would cause him to suffer pain and other similar human experiences. Such a worldly God would be no better than Samkhya’s notion of higher self.
  • Furthermore, there is no proof of the existence of God. He is not the object of perception, there exists no general proposition that can prove him by inference and the testimony of the Vedas speak of prakriti as the origin of the world, not God.

Therefore, Samkhya maintained not only that the various cosmological, ontological and teleological arguments could not prove God, but that God as normally understood–an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent creator who is free from suffering–cannot exist.

Notable Hindu atheists:

  • Brahmananda Swami Sivayogi was an atheist and rationalist who founded the organization Ananda Mahasabha.
  • Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the president of Hindu Mahasabha, described himself as a Hindu atheist.
  • Shreela Flather, Baroness Flather of Windsor and Maidenhead, the first Hindu woman in British politics. She has described herself as a “Hindu atheist”. Broadly, she is an atheist with affinity to secular aspects of Hindu culture such as dress and diet.

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Death of God theology:

Death of God theology refers to a range of ideas by various theologians and philosophers that try to account for the rise of secularity and abandonment of traditional beliefs in God. They posit that God has either ceased to exist or in some way accounted for such a belief.

“God is dead”: what Nietzsche really meant:

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a German philosopher, cultural critic, poet, philologist, and Latin and Greek scholar whose work has exerted a profound influence on Western philosophy and modern intellectual history. It’s been 135 years since Friedrich Nietzsche declared: “God is Dead” (or Gott ist tot, in German), giving philosophy students a collective headache that’s lasted from the 19th century until today. It is, perhaps, one of the best known statements in all of philosophy, well known even to those who have never picked up a copy of The Gay Science, the book from which it originates. But do we know exactly what he meant? Or perhaps more importantly, what it means for us?  Nietzsche was an atheist for his adult life and didn’t mean that there was a God who had actually died, rather that our idea of one had. After the Enlightenment, the idea of a universe that was governed by physical laws and not by divine providence was now reality. Philosophy had shown that governments no longer needed to be organized around the idea of divine right to be legitimate, but rather by the consent or rationality of the governed — that large and consistent moral theories could exist without reference to God. This was a tremendous event. Europe no longer needed God as the source for all morality, value, or order in the universe; philosophy and science were capable of doing that for us. This increasing secularization of thought in the West led the philosopher to realize that not only was God dead but that human beings had killed him with their scientific revolution, their desire to better understand the world.

Modernist and popular philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche believed that God was simply dead culturally. Concerned with his perception of religion as a corrupt and ugly social manifestation, he saw adherence to religious institutions as detrimental to society. Nietzsche’s solution was to accept the growing common view that God – if he exists at all – is likely uninvolved in the world. For Nietzsche, the salvation of society was to accept modernist views in social and material innovation. Through the social and technological progression of human kind, people would find liberation beyond dogma and belief. While this view was not a new perspective, it had elements of the philosophical contemporaries before Nietzsche, such as David Hume who asserted that philosophers could only speak to that which is observable by the senses. Nietzsche’s view was what he termed the “superman” of moving forward. While his writings occurred prior to Freud and the advent of Psychology, as well as two world wars, Nietzsche’s position assumed that society’s enlightenment was a product of social and material evolution. Religion served as a socially developmental impasse for Nietzsche. To be a non-believer was to be one who recognized the positivist values of science and reason beyond the unempirical nature of religious view. Nietzsche was an advocate for social change. To be an atheist in his mind was to be forward thinking and socially aware – addressing the repressed human nature and experience. Such observations of the repressed human nature had implications for later Freudian theory.

Almost 100 years later, Nietzsche’s theories emerged during the 1960s within the God-is-dead theological movement also known as Radical Theology (also known as Christian Atheism). Death of God theology refers to a range of ideas by various theologians and philosophers that try to account for the rise of secularity and abandonment of traditional beliefs in God. They posit that God has either ceased to exist or in some way accounted for such a belief. Although theologians since Friedrich Nietzsche have occasionally used the phrase “God is dead” to reflect increasing unbelief in God, the concept rose to prominence in the late 1950s and 1960s, before waning again. The Death of God movement is sometimes technically referred to as theothanatology, deriving from the Greek theos (God) and thanatos (death). The main proponents of this radical theology included the Christian theologians Gabriel Vahanian, Paul Van Buren, William Hamilton, John Robinson, Thomas J. J. Altizer, Mark C. Taylor, John D. Caputo, Peter Rollins, and the rabbi Richard L. Rubenstein.  While the movement was primarily short lived and centralized within the counter-cultural radicalism, it lacked unified expression and was centralized to particular charismatic personalities of the 20th century. The phrase “God is dead” was more of a representative term for a growing social perception of God’s absence from direct human experience. For some theological positions, God was not dead but simply removed from discourse due to lack of experiential and sensory material representation (Žižek, 2009). Theologians like Paul Tillich believed discourse was so limited in the explanation of God that by attempting to classify and describe God, one was simply denying his existence through the verbally representative exercise.

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Time magazine cover:

 

The cover of the April 8, 1966 edition of Time magazine asked the question “Is God Dead?” and the accompanying article addressed growing atheism in America at the time, as well as the growing popularity of Death of God theology. The publication of the article immediately led to a public backlash. Editorial pages of newspapers received numerous letters from angry readers, and clergymen vehemently protested the content of the article. Even though the article itself explored the theological and philosophical issues in depth, “many people…were too quick to judge the magazine by its cover and denounced Time as a haven of godlessness”. For Time the issue caused around 3,500 letters to the editor—the largest number of responses to any one story in the history of the magazine. Reader criticism was targeted at Thomas J. J. Altizer in particular. Altizer left Emory in 1968, and by the end of the decade the “death of God” movement had lost much of its momentum. In its issue of December 26, 1969, Time ran a follow-up cover story asking, “Is God Coming Back to Life”?

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Demographics of atheism:

Accurate demographics of atheism are difficult to obtain since conceptions of atheism vary across different cultures and languages from being an active concept to being unimportant or not developed. Atheism is a term that is deeply steeped in cultural, social, and personal interpretation. Loosely it means someone without god, though in many Western circles it means someone who has rejected supernatural claims in general and god(s) specifically, on the basis that there is no scientific evidence supporting the existence of such things. It is difficult to quantify the number of atheists in the world. Respondents to religious-belief polls may define “atheism” differently or draw different distinctions between atheism, non-religious beliefs, and non-theistic religious and spiritual beliefs.  A Hindu atheist would declare oneself as a Hindu, although also being an atheist at the same time. In global studies, the number of people without a religion is usually higher than the number of people without a belief in a deity and the number of people who agree with statements on lacking a belief in a deity is usually higher than the number of people who self-identify as “atheists”. According to sociologist Phil Zuckerman, broad estimates of those who have an absence of belief in a deity range from 500 to 750 million people worldwide. Other estimates state that there are 200 million to 240 million self-identified atheists worldwide, with China and Russia being major contributors to those figures.  According to sociologists Ariela Keysar and Juhem Navarro-Rivera’s review of numerous global studies on atheism, there are 450 to 500 million positive atheists and agnostics worldwide (7% of the world’s population), with China having the most atheists in the world (200 million convinced atheists). Of the global atheist and non-religious population, 76% reside in Asia and the Pacific, while the remainder reside in Europe (12%), North America (5%), Latin America and the Caribbean (4%), sub-Saharan Africa (2%) and the Middle East and North Africa (less than 1%). The prevalence of atheism in Africa and South America typically falls below 10%.  According to the Pew Research Center’s 2012 global study of 230 countries and territories, 16% of the world’s population is not affiliated with a religion, while 84% are affiliated.  Furthermore, the global study noted that many of the unaffiliated, which include atheists and agnostics, still have various religious beliefs and practices. According to a 2012 WIN-Gallup International poll, 13% of the world identifies as “atheist”, 23% identifies as “not religious”, and 59% identifies as “religious”; these results were 3% more “atheist”, 9% less “religious”, and 6% more “non-religious” than 2005. Of note, in the United States 13% fewer people identified as “religious”. According to this poll, the top 10 religious populations are in: Ghana, Nigeria, Armenia, Fiji, Macedonia, Romania, Iraq, Kenya, Peru and Brazil. The top 10 countries experiencing a decline in religiosity since 2005 include: Vietnam, Switzerland, France, South Africa, Iceland, Ecuador, United States, Canada, Austria and Germany. This poll also shows that those who are “college educated are 16 percent less religious than those without secondary education.”  According to the 2012 WIN/Gallup International Survey, the number of atheists is on the rise across the world, with religiosity generally declining. However, other global studies have indicated that global atheism may be in decline due to irreligious countries having the lowest birth rates in the world and religious countries having higher birth rates in general. A Pew 2015 global projection study for religion and nonreligion projects that between 2010 and 2050 there will some initial increases of the unaffiliated followed by a decline by 2050 due to lower global fertility rates among this demographic.

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World non-religious population by percentage, Dentsu Institute (2006) and Zuckerman (2005):

Figure above shows proportion (percentage) of atheists and agnostics around the world.

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Geographic distribution of atheism:

Though atheists are in the minority in most countries, they are relatively common in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, East Asia and present communist states. It is difficult to determine actual atheist numbers. Furthermore, the conflation of terms such as atheist, agnostic, non-religious and non-theist add to confusion among poll data. There are four countries in Asia where the unaffiliated make up a majority of the population: North Korea (71%), Japan (57%), Hong Kong (56%), and China (52%).  In the United States, atheists and secular people are most heavily concentrated on the West Coast and in the Northeast, and are least abundant in the South (Killen and Silk 2004; Kosmin and Keysar 2009).

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Convinced atheists:

According to global Win-Gallup International studies, 13% of respondents were “convinced atheists” in 2012, 11% were “convinced atheists” in 2015, and in 2017 9% were “convinced atheists”. As of 2012, the top 10 surveyed countries with people who viewed themselves as “convinced atheists” were China (47%), Japan (31%), the Czech Republic (30%), France (29%), South Korea (15%), Germany (15%), Netherlands (14%), Austria (10%), Iceland (10%), Australia (10%), and the Republic of Ireland (10%).

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Atheism in Europe:

Figure above shows percentage of people in various European countries who said: “I don’t believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force.” in 2010.  According to the 2010 Eurobarometer Poll, the percentage of those polled who agreed with the statement “you don’t believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force” varied from a high percentage in France (40%), Czech Republic (37%), Sweden (34%), Netherlands (30%), and Estonia (29%); medium-high percentage in Germany (27%), Belgium (27%), UK (25%); to very low in Poland (5%), Greece (4%), Cyprus (3%), Malta (2%), and Romania (1%), with the European Union as a whole at 20%. In a 2012 Eurobarometer poll on discrimination in the European Union, 16% of those polled considered themselves non-believers/agnostics and 7% considered themselves atheists. According to a Pew Research Center survey in 2012 religiously unaffiliated (including agnostics and atheists) make up about 18% of Europeans. According to the same survey, the religiously unaffiliated are the majority of the population only in two European countries: Czech Republic (75%) and Estonia (60%). In 2017 majority of Britons follow no religion and only 15% call themselves Anglicans.

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Atheism in United States:

According to the World Values Survey, 4.4% of Americans self-identified as atheists in 2014. However, the same survey showed that 11.1% of all respondents stated “no” when asked if they believed in God. In 1984, these same figures were 1.1% and 2.2%, respectively. According to a 2014 report by the Pew Research Center, 3.1% of the US adult population identify as atheist, up from 1.6% in 2007; and within the religiously unaffiliated (or “no religion”) demographic, atheists made up 13.6%. According to the 2015 General Sociological Survey the number of atheists and agnostics in the US has remained relatively flat in the past 23 years since in 1991 only 2% identified as atheist and 4% identified as agnostic and in 2014 only 3% identified as atheists and 5% identified as agnostics. According to the Win-Gallup International polls, those who self-identified as religious person were at 73% in 2005, 60% in 2012, and 56% in 2015 and 2017. In the 2012 poll, 30% were not a religious person and an additional 5% identified as an atheist. In the 2017 poll, 32% were not a religious person and an additional 7% identified as atheist. However, researchers have advised caution with WIN/Gallup International figures since other surveys which have used the same wording for decades and have bigger sample sizes, have consistently reached higher religiosity figures.

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Atheism in Arab world:

In recent years, the profile of atheism has risen substantially in the Arab world. In major cities across the region, such as Cairo, atheists have been organizing in cafés and social media, despite regular crackdowns from authoritarian governments.  A 2012 poll by Gallup International revealed that 5% of Saudis considered themselves to be “convinced atheists.”  However, very few young people in the Arab world have atheists in their circle of friends or acquaintances. According to one study, less than 1% did in Morocco, Egypt, Saudia Arabia, or Jordan; only 3% to 7% in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Palestine.  When asked whether they have “seen or heard traces of atheism in [their] locality, community, and society” only about 3% to 8% responded yes in all the countries surveyed. The only exception was the UAE, with 51%.

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‘No Religion’ is World’s Third-Largest group after Christians, Muslims according to 2012 Pew Study:

The study estimated Christianity was the largest faith at 2.2 billion adherents or 31.5 percent of the world’s population. The Roman Catholic Church makes up 50 percent of that total, with Protestants — including Anglicans and non-denominational churches — at 37 percent and Orthodox at 12 percent. There are about 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, or 23 percent of the global population. The overwhelming majority (87-90 percent) are Sunnis, about 10-13 percent are Shia Muslims. Among the 1.1 billion unaffiliated people around the world, over 700 million, or 62 percent of them, live in China alone, where they make up 52.2 percent of the Chinese population. Japan comes next with the second largest unaffiliated population in the world with 72 million, or 57 percent of the national population. After that comes the United States, 51 million people — 16.4 percent of all Americans — said they have no link to an established faith. The study said that 97 percent of the world’s Hindus, 87 percent of its Christians and 73 percent of its Muslims lived in countries where they were a large to overwhelming majority. Christians make up the majority in 157 countries and Muslims in 49, including 19 of the 20 states in the Middle East and North Africa, with the exception of Israel. By contrast, Hindus are in the majority only in India, Nepal and Mauritius. Many of the religiously unaffiliated do hold religious or spiritual beliefs. Jews are the most likely to be irreligious (Rebhun and Levy 2006), for  as Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi (2007) notes, ‘‘modern Jews are highly secularized, scoring low on every measure of religious belief and participation in every known study.’’

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Youth and atheism:

In most countries surveyed, majorities consider religion an essential part of their lives. However, younger people are generally less likely to say religion is very important to them. This is especially true in Western Europe, where relatively few young people say religion plays a key role in their lives, but the same pattern can be found in other countries around the world as well, including the United States.

Atheists tend to be young (Lambert 2004; Hayes 2000). Keysar (2007) reports that one-third of American atheists are under 25 years old, and half are under age 30. Kosmin and Keysar (2006) found that 23 percent of Americans between ages 18–34 describe themselves as secular or somewhat secular, but only 10 percent of Americans over age 65 did so. Voas and Day (2007) report that 63 percent of British young adults (age 18–24) claim to belong to no religion, while only 22 percent of British people over age 65 identify as such.

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Gender and atheism:

In addition to an age gap, there is also a significant gender gap in most nations over religion’s importance. Women are consistently more likely than men to describe religion as very important to them. The largest gender gap on the survey appears in the U.S., where 65% of women consider religion very important, compared with just 44% of men.

Studies indicate that women in the Western World tend to be more religious than men. Surveys throughout the world and other data indicate that women are less inclined to be atheists. In 2016, Atheist Alliance International (AAI) conducted an annually reoccurring atheist census project and found: “At the time of writing, the Atheist Census Project recorded that on average worldwide 73.2% of respondents were male. The result is consistent with other research… As such, the focus of many scholarly papers has been on seeking to explain this persistent observation”.

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Atheism and Wealth:

Generally, there is a clear relationship between wealth and religiosity: in rich nations fewer people view religion as important than in poor nations. In the current survey, people who live in the poorest nations almost unanimously say religion is important to them, while the citizens of Western Europe and other wealthy nations tend to say it plays a less significant role. However, Americans – who tend to be religious despite their country’s wealth – continue to be a major exception to this pattern.

Studies have shown that groups with more income have significantly more atheists. A 2012 WIN-Gallup International poll found that people in the highest quintile of income were 17% less likely to describe themselves as religious than the bottom quintile. This is likely because those with more education tend to have higher incomes.

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Importance of Religion:

Majorities say religion is very or somewhat important in their personal lives in 17 of the 23 nations where the question was asked in Pew survey 2008. In 14 countries, more than three three-quarters of those surveyed say that religion is important and in eight countries it is more than 90%.

Muslim respondents consistently rate religion an important part of their lives.

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Atheism and Education:

Higher education is positively correlated with atheism, agnosticism, and secularity (Baker 2008; Sherkat 2008, 2003; Johnson 1997; Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi 1975). For example, 42 percent of Americans claiming to have ‘‘no religion’’, 32 percent of American atheists, and 42 percent of American agnostics have graduated from college – all higher than the percentage of college graduates in the general American adult population, which is 27 percent (Kosmin 2008; Keysar 2007). Attending college as well as graduate school – and having an ‘‘intellectual orientation’’ – are also significant predictors of who will reject or abandon their religion at some point in their life (Beit-Hallahmi 2007; Altemeyer2009; Hayes 2000, 1995a; Sherkat and Ellison 1991; McAllister 1998; Altemeyer

and Hunsberger 1997; Hadaway and Roof 1988). Furthering the link between education ⁄ intellectualism and secularity, recent studies have found that secular people score markedly higher on tests of verbal ability and verbal sophistication when compared religious people (Sherkat 2006), and secular people also score markedly higher on indicators of scientific proficiency than religious people (Sherkat 2009). And Larson and Witham (1997, 1998) found that among the members of the United States National Academy of Sciences, only 7 percent claimed to believe in a personal God and only 8 percent believed in immortality, and Ecklund and Scheitle (2007) report that professors at America’s top universities are far more likely to be atheists than the general American population.

The Programme for International Student Assessment notes that the best education is present in China and Singapore, while the poorest is present in Peru, Colombia, Qatar and Indonesia. China is noted for having an atheist majority and Singapore is noted for having a religious majority of Buddhists. Peru and Colombia have an overwhelming religious Catholic Christian majority and Qatar and Indonesia have an overwhelming religious Islamic majority. Clearly differing cultures and focuses within those religions influence these circumstances, but the presence of such a clear trend also suggests a given society’s focus on religious teaching may have a strong effect of its own.

A survey conducted by the Times of India in 2015 revealed that 22% of IIT-Bombay graduates do not believe in the existence of God, while another 30% do not know. According to a Harvard survey, there are more atheists and agnostics entering Harvard University, one of the top ranked schools in America, than Catholics and Protestants. According to the same study, atheists and agnostics also make up a much higher percentage of the students than the general public. This may suggest that the more intelligent subjects are more unlikely to believe in god or supernatural powers. An alternative interpretation is that having completed the kind of education that makes you likely to do well in IQ tests is also likely to have either divested you of religiosity or at least made you less susceptible to the kind of beliefs in a personal god which characterise Christian fundamentalism. Yet another possibility is that those with more education are simply more likely to have thought seriously about religion and scrutinized the things they were brought up to believe; the higher intelligence among atheists may simply be because those who achieve high levels of education tend to be smarter than average (meaning that it’s not so much that smart people are atheists as that atheists tend to be smart people).

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Atheism, race and sexuality:

The Pew Research Center (2014) reports that in the US, whites continue to be more likely than both blacks and Hispanics to identify as religiously unaffiliated; 24% of whites say they have no religion, compared with 20% of Hispanics and 18% of blacks. But the religiously unaffiliated have grown (and Christians have declined) as a share of the population within all three of these racial and ethnic groups.

African American atheists are a small minority (2% of the American population) facing severe prejudice.

‘In most African-American communities, it is more acceptable to be a criminal who goes to church on Sunday, while selling drugs to kids all week, than to be an atheist who … contributes to society and supports his family’.

-Author James White

Among respondents who identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, fully 41% are religiously unaffiliated, and fewer than half (48%) describe themselves as Christians. Lesbians and homosexual men are about twice as likely to become apostates than heterosexual men and women (Sherkat 2002).

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Is Atheism on the rise?

Yes and no.

The overall numbers of atheists and non-believers are most decidedly increasing, and atheists compose a larger percentage of the population in most Western countries, China and East Asia. However, as a percentage of the overall world population, atheists are stagnating or likely decreasing. This is due to the fact that atheism is most popular in Western nations, China and East Asia where population levels are largely stagnating or even declining, whereas the majority of the world’s population growth is in nations where atheism is not only unpopular, but often illegal or dangerous to be, and the overwhelming majority of those populations are religious.

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Atheism on the rise around the globe, a 2012 study:

Atheism is on the rise in the United States and elsewhere while religiosity is declining, according to a new worldwide poll. “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism,” conducted by WIN-Gallup International headquartered in Switzerland, found that the number of Americans who say they are “religious” dropped from 73 percent in 2005 – when the poll was last conducted – to 60 percent. Those who said they were “convinced” atheists rose from 1 to 5 percent. And 33 percent of the people polled said that they don’t consider themselves as a “religious person.”

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Atheists at risk of dying out due to belief in contraception, a 2017study claims:

A new study has suggested that atheism is doomed because religious people have higher rates of reproduction. Due to their lack of belief in contraception, religious believers are having more children than atheists, which could ultimately result in the end of atheism, the study suggests. The findings fly in the face of popular discourse – and scientists’ predictions – which implies fewer and fewer people are religious nowadays. “It is ironical that effective birth control methods were developed primarily by secularists, and that these methods are serving to slowly diminish the proportional representation of secularists in forthcoming generations,” the researchers said. According to cross cultural studies, secularism is expected to decline throughout the 21st century since religion and fertility are positively related, while secularism and fertility are negatively related.

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Closet atheists:

A Study contends there are twice as many Atheists in America in 2017 as Polls show:

This study suggests many non-believers may uncomfortable telling a pollster they don’t believe in God.

About 10 percent of Americans say they do not believe in God, and this figure has been slowly creeping up over the decades. But maybe this isn’t the whole story. University of Kentucky psychologists Will Gervais and Maxine Najle have long suspected that a lot of atheists aren’t showing up in these polls. The reason: Even in our increasingly secular society, there’s still a lot of stigma around not believing in God. So when a stranger conducting a poll calls and asks the question, it may be uncomfortable for many to answer truthfully. Gervais and Najle recently conducted a new analysis on the prevalence of atheists in America. And they conclude the number of people who do not believe in God may be even double that counted by these polling firms.  “There’s a lot of atheists in the closet,” Gervais says. “And … if they knew there are lots of people just like them out there, that could potentially promote more tolerance.”

Study after study has shown that most people (even other atheists) believe atheists are less moral. “We’ll give participants a little vignette, a story about someone doing something immoral, and probe their intuition about who they think the perpetrator was,” Gervais says. “And time and time again, people intuitively assume whoever is out there doing immoral stuff doesn’t believe in God.”  So it would make sense that when Pew or Gallup calls, people who don’t believe in God may be reluctant to say so. “We shouldn’t expect people to give a stranger over the phone an honest answer to that question,” Gervais says. So Gervais and Najle designed a test to find these “closet atheists.” Their results were recently published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Gervais and Najle set up a very subtle test. They sent a nationally representative poll to 2,000 Americans, who were randomly assigned to two conditions.  The first condition asked participants to read through a bunch of statements like, “I am a vegetarian,” “I own a dog,” and, “I have a dishwasher in my kitchen.” All the participants had to do was simply write down the number of statements that were true for them.  The value of this method is that participants don’t have to directly say, “I am a vegetarian,” or, “I’m a dog owner” — they only have to acknowledge the number of statements that apply to them. That alone should zero out any embarrassment or hesitance to admit to a particular item. That’s important because the other 1,000 or so participants saw the exact same list — but with one statement added: “I believe in God.”  By comparing the responses between the two groups, Gervais and Najle could then estimate how many people don’t believe in God. (Because both groups of 1,000 poll takers should, in theory, have the same number of vegetarians, dog owners, and so on in each group, any increases in the number of agreed-to statements from the first group to the second should be reflective of the number of people who don’t believe in God.) One thing is clear from the results: Much more than 10 or 11 percent of the country (as assessed in Gallup and Pew polling) does not believe in God. “We can say with a 99 percent probability that it’s higher than [11 percent],” said Gervais.  His best estimate: Around 26 percent of Americans don’t believe in God. “According to our samples, about 1 in 3 atheists in our country don’t feel comfortable disclosing their lack of belief.”

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Atheism doubles among Generation Z, a 2018 study:

Generation Z or Gen Z (also known as the iGeneration, Homeland Generation, Centennials and Post-Millennials) is the demographic cohort after the Millennials (Generation Y). Currently, there are numerous additional competing names used in connection with them in the media. There are no precise dates for when this cohort starts or ends, but demographers and researchers typically use the mid-1990s to mid-2000s as starting birth years. At the present time, there is little consensus regarding ending birth years.  Most of Generation Z have used the Internet since a young age, and they are generally comfortable with technology and with interacting on social media. More than any other generation before them, Gen Z does not assert a religious identity. They might be drawn to things spiritual, but with a vastly different starting point from previous generations, many of whom received a basic education on the Bible and Christianity. And it shows: The percentage of Gen Z that identifies as atheist is double that of the U.S. adult population.  For Gen Z, “atheist” is no longer a dirty word: The percentage of teens who identify as such is double that of the general population (13% vs. 6% of all adults) according to this study.

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Artificial Intelligence shows policy to integrate religious refugees, secularisation and decipher religious violence, a 2018 study:

Imagine you’re the president of a European country. You’re slated to take in 50,000 refugees from the Middle East this year. Most of them are very religious, while most of your population is very secular. You want to integrate the newcomers seamlessly, minimizing the risk of economic malaise or violence, but you have limited resources. One of your advisers tells you to invest in the refugees’ education; another says providing job is the key; yet another insists the most important thing is giving the youth opportunities to socialize with local kids. What do you do?

Well, you make your best guess and hope the policy you chose works out. But it might not. Even a policy that yielded great results in another place or time may fail miserably in your particular country under its present circumstances. If that happens, you might find yourself wishing you could hit a giant reset button and run the whole experiment over again, this time choosing a different policy. But of course, you can’t experiment like that, not with real people.

You can, however, experiment like that with virtual people. And that’s exactly what the Modeling Religion Project does. An international team of computer scientists, philosophers, religion scholars, and others are collaborating to build computer models that they populate with thousands of virtual people, or “agents.” As the agents interact with each other and with shifting conditions in their artificial environment, their attributes and beliefs—levels of economic security, of education, of religiosity, and so on—can change. At the outset, the researchers program the agents to mimic the attributes and beliefs of a real country’s population using survey data from that country. They also “train” the model on a set of empirically validated social-science rules about how humans tend to interact under various pressures. And then they experiment: Add in 50,000 newcomers, say, and invest heavily in education. How does the artificial society change? The model tells you. Don’t like it? Just hit that reset button and try a different policy. The goal of the project is to give politicians an empirical tool that will help them assess competing policy options so they can choose the most effective one. It’s a noble idea: If leaders can use artificial intelligence to predict which policy will produce the best outcome, maybe we’ll end up with a healthier and happier world. But it’s also a dangerous idea: What’s “best” is in the eye of the beholder, after all.

“Because all our models are transparent and the code is always online,” said LeRon Shults, who teaches philosophy and theology at the University of Agder in Norway, “if someone wanted to make people more in-group-y, more anxious about protecting their rights and their group from the threat of others, then they could use the model to [figure out how to] ratchet up anxiety.” The Modeling Religion Project—which has collaborators at Boston’s Center for Mind and Culture, and the Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center, as well as the University of Agder—has been running for the past three years, with funding from the John Templeton Foundation. It wrapped up recently. But it’s already spawned several spin-off projects.

The one that focuses most on refugees, Modeling Religion in Norway (MODRN), is still in its early phases. Led by Shults, it’s funded primarily by the Research Council of Norway, which is counting on the model to offer useful advice on how the Norwegian government can best integrate refugees. Norway is an ideal place to do this research, not only because it’s currently struggling to integrate Syrians, but also because the country has gathered massive data sets on its population. By using them to calibrate his model, Shults can get more accurate and fine-grained predictions, simulating what will happen in a specific city and even a specific neighbourhood.

Another project, Forecasting Religiosity and Existential Security with an Agent-Based Model, examines questions about nonbelief: Why aren’t there more atheists? Why is America secularizing at a slower rate than Western Europe? Which conditions would speed up the process of secularization—or, conversely, make a population more religious? Shults’s team tackled these questions using data from the International Social Survey Program conducted between 1991 and 1998. They initialized the model in 1998 and then allowed it to run all the way through 2008. “We were able to predict from that 1998 data—in 22 different countries in Europe, and Japan—whether and how belief in heaven and hell, belief in God, and religious attendance would go up and down over a 10-year period. We were able to predict this in some cases up to three times more accurately than linear regression analysis,” Shults said, referring to a general-purpose method of prediction that prior to the team’s work was the best alternative.

Using a separate model, Future of Religion and Secular Transitions (FOREST), the team found that people tend to secularize when four factors are present: existential security (you have enough money and food), personal freedom (you’re free to choose whether to believe or not), pluralism (you have a welcoming attitude to diversity), and education (you’ve got some training in the sciences and humanities). If even one of these factors is absent, the whole secularization process slows down. This, they believe, is why the U.S. is secularizing at a slower rate than Western and Northern Europe. “The U.S. has found ways to limit the effects of education by keeping it local, and in private schools, anything can happen,” said Shults’s collaborator, Wesley Wildman, a professor of philosophy and ethics at Boston University. “Lately, there’s been encouragement from the highest levels of government to take a less than welcoming cultural attitude to pluralism. These are forms of resistance to secularization.”

Another project, Mutually Escalating Religious Violence (MERV), aims to identify which conditions make xenophobic anxiety between two different religious groups likely to spiral out of control. As they built this model, the team brought in an outside expert: Monica Toft, an international-relations scholar with no experience in computational modelling but a wealth of expertise in religious extremism. “They brought me in so I could do a reality check—like, do the [social-science] assumptions behind this model make sense? And then to evaluate whether this tracks with case studies in reality. I was a little skeptical with this stuff. But I think what surprised me was how well it modelled onto the Gujarat case.” She was referring to the 2002 riots that erupted in the Indian state of Gujarat: three bloody days during which Muslims and Hindus clashed violently, resulting in many deaths on both sides. “When I started looking at the data, I knew the case of Gujarat and what happened there. It matched the model perfectly. It was really exciting” said Toft.  MERV shows that mutually escalating violence is likeliest to occur if there’s a small disparity in size between the majority and minority groups (less than a 70/30 split) and if agents experience out-group members as social and contagion threats (they worry that others will be invasive or infectious). It’s much less likely to occur if there’s a large disparity in size or if the threats agents are experiencing are mostly related to predators or natural hazards. This might sound intuitive, but having quantitative, empirical data to support social-science hypotheses can help convince policymakers of when and how to act if they want to prevent future outbreaks of violence. And once a model has been shown to track with real-world historical examples, scientists can more plausibly argue that it will yield a trustworthy recommendation when it’s fed new situations. Asked what MERV has to offer us, Toft said, “We can stop these dynamics. We do not need to allow them to spiral out of control.”

These computer models have ethical complications. Wildman said, “These models are equal-opportunity insight generators. If you want to go militaristic, then these models tell you what the targets should be.” When you build a model, you can accidentally produce recommendations that you weren’t intending. Years ago, Wildman built a model to figure out what makes some extremist groups survive and thrive while others disintegrate. It turned out one of the most important factors is a highly charismatic leader who personally practices what he preaches. “This immediately implied an assassination criterion,” he said. “It’s basically, leave the groups alone when the leaders are less consistent, [but] kill the leaders of groups that have those specific qualities. It was a shock to discover this dropping out of the model. I feel deeply uncomfortable that one of my models accidentally produced a criterion for killing religious leaders.”

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Atheism and science:

Early modern atheism developed in the 17th century and Winfried Schroeder, a historian of atheism, has noted that science during this time did not strengthen the case for atheism. In the 18th century, Denis Diderot argued that atheism was less scientific than metaphysics. Prior to Charles Darwin, the findings of biology did not play a major part in the atheist’s arguments since in the earliest avowedly atheist texts atheists were embarrassed to an appeal to chance against the available arguments for design. As Schroeder has noted, throughout the 17th and 18th centuries theists excelled atheists in their ability to make contributions to the serious study of biological processes. In the time of the Enlightenment, mechanical philosophy was developed by Christians such as Isaac Newton, René Descartes, Robert Boyle and Pierre Gassendi who saw a self-sustained and autonomous universe as an intrinsically Christian belief. The mechanical world was seen as providing strong evidence against atheism since nature had evidence of order and providence, instead of chaos and spontaneity.  However, since the 19th century both atheists and theists have said that science supports their worldviews. Historian of science John Henry has noted that before the 19th century science was generally cited to support many theological positions. However, materialist theories in natural philosophy became more prominent from the 17th century onwards, giving more room for atheism to develop. Since the 19th century, science has been employed in both theistic and atheistic cultures, depending on the prevailing popular beliefs.

In reviewing the rise of modern science, Taner Edis notes that science does work without atheism and that atheism largely remains a position that is adopted for philosophical or ethical, rather than scientific reasons. The history of atheism is heavily invested in the philosophy of religion and this has resulted in atheism being weakly tied to other branches of philosophy and almost completely disconnected from science which means that it risks becoming stagnant and completely irrelevant to science. Sociologist Steve Fuller wrote: “Atheism as a positive doctrine has done precious little for science”. He notes: “More generally, Atheism has not figured as a force in the history of science not because it has been suppressed but because whenever it has been expressed, it has not specifically encouraged the pursuit of science”.

Massimo Pigliucci noted that the Soviet Union had adopted an atheist ideology called Lysenkoism, which rejected Mendelian genetics and Darwinian evolution as capitalist propaganda, which was in sync with Stalin’s dialectic materialism and ultimately impeded biological and agricultural research for many years, including the exiling and deaths of many valuable scientists. This part of history has symmetries with other ideologically driven ideas such as intelligent design, though in both cases religion and atheism are not the main cause, but blind commitments to worldviews. Lysenkoism reigned over Soviet science since the 1920s to the early 1960s where genetics was proclaimed a pseudoscience for more than 30 years despite significant advances in genetics in earlier years. It relied on Lamarckian views and rejected concepts such as genes and chromosomes and proponents claimed to have discovered that rye could transform into wheat and wheat into barley and that natural cooperation was observed in nature as opposed to natural selection. Ultimately, Lysenkoism failed to deliver on its promises in agricultural yields and had unfortunate consequences such as the arresting, firing, or execution of 3,000 biologists due to attempts from Lysenko to suppress opposition to his theory.

According to historian Geoffrey Blainey, in recent centuries literalist biblical accounts of creation were undermined by scientific discoveries in geology and biology, leading various thinkers to question the idea that God created the universe at all.  However, he also notes: “Other scholars replied that the universe was so astonishing, so systematic, and so varied that it must have a divine maker. Criticisms of the accuracy of the Book of Genesis were therefore illuminating, but minor”. Some philosophers, such as Alvin Plantinga, have argued the universe was fine-tuned for life. Atheists have sometimes responded by referring to the anthropic principle.

Physicist Karl W. Giberson and philosopher of science Mariano Artigas reviewed the views of some notable atheist scientists such as Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Stephen Hawking, Steven Weinberg and E. O. Wilson which have engaged popular writing which include commentary on what science is, society and religion for the lay public. Giberson and Artigas note that though such authors provide insights from their fields, they often misinform the public by engaging in non-scientific commentary on society, religion and meaning under the guise of non-existent scientific authority and no scientific evidence. Some impressions these six authors make that are erroneous and false include: science is mainly about origins and that most scientists work in some aspect of either cosmic or biological evolution, scientists are either agnostic or atheistic and science is incompatible and even hostile to religion. To these impressions, Giberson and Artigas note that the overwhelming majority of science articles in any journal in any field have nothing to with origins because most research is funded by taxpayers or private corporations so ultimately practical research that benefit people, the environment, health and technology are the core focus of science; significant portions of scientists are religious and spiritual; and the majority of scientists are not hostile to religion since no scientific organization has any stance that is critical to religion, the scientific community is diverse in terms of worldviews and there is no collective opinion on religion.

Primatologist Frans de Waal has criticized atheists for often presenting science and religion to audiences in a simplistic and false view of conflict, thereby propagating a myth that has been dispelled by history. He notes that there are dogmatic parallels between atheists and some religious people in terms of how they argue about many issues.  Evolutionary biologist Kenneth R. Miller has argued that when scientists make claims on science and theism or atheism, they are not arguing scientifically at all and are stepping beyond the scope of science into discourses of meaning and purpose. What he finds particularly odd and unjustified is in how atheists often come to invoke scientific authority on their non-scientific philosophical conclusions like there being no point or no meaning to the universe as the only viable option when the scientific method and science never have had any way of addressing questions of meaning or lack of meaning, or the existence or non-existence of God in the first place. Atheists do the same thing theists do on issues not pertaining to science like questions on God and meaning.

Theologian scientist Alister McGrath points out that atheists have misused biology in terms of both evolution as “Darwinism” and Darwin himself, in their “atheist apologetics” in order to propagate and defend their worldviews. He notes that in atheist writings there is often an implicit appeal to an outdated “conflict” model of science and religion which has been discredited by historical scholarship, there is a tendency to go beyond science to make non-scientific claims like lack of purpose and characterizing Darwin as if he was an atheist and his ideas as promoting atheism. McGrath notes that Darwin never called himself an atheist nor did he and other early advocates of evolution see his ideas as propagating atheism and that numerous contributors to evolutionary biology were Christians.

Oxford Professor of Mathematics John Lennox has written that the issues one hears about science and religion have nothing to do with science, but are merely about theism and atheism because top level scientists abound on both sides. Furthermore, he criticizes atheists who argue from scientism because sometimes it results in dismissals of things like philosophy based on ignorance of what philosophy entails and the limits of science. He also notes that atheist scientists in trying to avoid the visible evidence for God ascribe creative power to less credible candidates like mass and energy, the laws of nature and theories of those laws. Lennox notes that theories that Hawking appeals to such as the multiverse are speculative and untestable and thus do not amount to science.

Physicist Paul Davies of Arizona State University has written that the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place: “Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way”. John Lennox has argued that science itself sits more comfortably with theism than with atheism and “as a scientist I would say… where did modern science come from? It didn’t come from atheism… modern science arose in the 16th and 17th centuries in Western Europe, and of course people ask why did it happen there and then, and the general consensus which is often called Merton’s Thesis is, to quote CS Lewis who formulated it better than anybody I know… ‘Men became scientific. Why? Because they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.’ In other words, it was belief in God that was the motor that drove modern science”.

Francis Collins, the American physician and geneticist who lead the Human Genome Project, argues that theism is more rational than atheism. Collins also found Lewis persuasive and after reading Mere Christianity came to believe that a rational person would be more likely to believe in a god. Collins argues: “How is it that we, and all other members of our species, unique in the animal kingdom, know what’s right and what’s wrong… I reject the idea that that is an evolutionary consequence, because that moral law sometimes tells us that the right thing to do is very self-destructive. If I’m walking down the riverbank, and a man is drowning, even if I don’t know how to swim very well, I feel this urge that the right thing to do is to try to save that person. Evolution would tell me exactly the opposite: preserve your DNA. Who cares about the guy who’s drowning? He’s one of the weaker ones, let him go. It’s your DNA that needs to survive. And yet that’s not what’s written within me”. Dawkins addresses this criticism by showing that the evolutionary process can account for the development of altruistic traits in organisms. However, molecular biologist Kenneth R. Miller argues that Dawkin’s conception of evolution and morality is a misunderstanding of sociobiology since though evolution would have provided the biological drives and desires we have, it does not tell us what is good or right or wrong or moral.

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Scientism:

The term scientism generally points to the cosmetic application of science in unwarranted situations not amenable to application of the scientific method or similar scientific standards.  More generally, scientism is often interpreted as science applied “in excess”. The term scientism has two senses:

  1. The improper usage of science or scientific claims. This usage applies equally in contexts where science might not apply, such as when the topic is perceived as beyond the scope of scientific inquiry, and in contexts where there is insufficient empirical evidence to justify a scientific conclusion.
  2. The belief that the methods of natural science, or the categories and things recognized in natural science, form the only proper elements in any philosophical or other inquiry, or that science, and only science, describes the world as it is in itself, independent of perspective with a concomitant elimination of the psychological [and spiritual] dimensions of experience. Tom Sorell provides this definition: “Scientism is a matter of putting too high a value on natural science in comparison with other branches of learning or culture.” Philosophers such as Alexander Rosenberg have also adopted “scientism” as a name for the view that science is the only reliable source of knowledge.

Science has always been—and always will be—used by all sorts of people with different values. Many people have used scientism—the attempt to turn a bundle of scientific methods into a kind of gospel—to justify racism, imperialism, or even genocide. It tends to embrace the dominant values of the time. People can’t explain why science should embrace liberal values, though the assumption is often there nowadays. There’s nothing in science that tells you to be kind or help the poor. Science is a set of methods—it tries to explain practical things. But it can’t dictate values.

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Does Scientific Atheism exist?

From the inheritance of the exaltation of Reason brought about by the Enlightenment throughout the 19th century and for a good part of the 20th century, progressively we see the common belief that science and its progress constitutes one of the most important causes of modern and contemporary atheism. In particular, two areas for discussion are highlighted: the first is questioning whether scientific thought, in order to remain faithful to itself, should in some way postulate atheism as a condition of a true awareness; the second concerns the idea that technical-scientific progress could substitute the demands and expectations whose answers human beings were used to ask to God. If the latter area has brought about the debate on humanistic and secularising meaning of progress, the former, methodological in character, has instead collected the confluence of two important streams of thought: reductionism (in the physical-biological level), that privileged analysis as primary methodology to know nature, and analytical philosophy (in the logic-mathematical level), that connected knowledge itself to precise rules of language.

If atheism is present in the world of science, it is not there as a specific factor of scientific knowledge, but, rather, as the existential situation of some people who make science; nor this existential situation is dictated necessarily by that knowledge. It does not seem suitable to speak, in the strictest sense, of “scientific atheism,” although the adjective “scientific” has been historically used underlying its atheist meaning and, not by chance, as a precise qualifier for “materialism.” Actually, atheism in science takes the qualifier of “scientism,” but not all scientists are “scientist” (that is, people who endorse scientism). Nor are all “scientists” researchers in science, although it is commonly thought that the two overlap, and that science is today in a position to answer questions that were religious ones in the past. In reality, it is more pertinent to state that contemporary science seems to have favored religious questions to rise again in our culture, and without necessarily responding to them in an atheistic fashion. However, scientists’ reflections, especially those presented in science popularization, should avoid shaping inappropriate or even false images of God, that end up conditioning the debate between belief and unbelief. Sociological inquiries on belief among scientists show contrasting indicators, often difficult to interpret: in any case, a certain consensus exists on the fact that science does not have to be considered a factor in the growth in atheism, nor is the activity of the scientist synonymous with postulatory atheism.

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Atheism in scientists:

There are religious organizations that claim only 50% of scientists are atheists because they include people like computer programmers, architects and electrical engineers as “scientists”. Instead let’s look at the membership of the NSF (National Science Foundation), who are the most respected actual scientists in the nation. Of these, 78% are professed atheists with virtually all of the rest being agnostics or declining to answer the question, with “very few actual believers” – and this is according to an article in Nature, a peer-reviewed scientific journal. However, when we only count biologists, then we get 93% are atheists. Still, the number is undoubtedly higher because this survey was done several years ago and the numbers have been increasing steadily for a long time.

Does becoming a scientist necessarily leads to loss of religion?

You are given a certain set of clues and evidence.  From that you must derive a hypothesis and a conclusion. Religion, any religion, does not provide that empirical evidence even to begin with.  It does not give you researchable points where you can implement your own diagnosis to attain feedback.  However, points arguing against religions do. No threat was greater to belief in the divine than the process of Evolution.  When you start thinking that God did not actually create you but something much before you and you were just a by-product, God’s importance depletes a little bit. When you realize that a chimpanzee has 48 chromosomes (24 pairs), humans have 46 (23 pairs), and someone with Down syndrome has 47 (23 pairs with one extra), you start understanding the concept of DNA and evolution and start questioning what your Holy Book says. When you comprehend how hydrogen atoms and gravity over the course of billions of years can create everything else we see in our Universe, God just doesn’t seem to matter anymore. If you’re a banker, lawyer or a church priest, you probably won’t come across most of the things stated above. If you are a scientist, the stuff above will probably come at you with libraries of evidence. Your brain is used to evolve knowledge by now, and you won’t believe in things that ask you to believe because someone said so.

Counterview:

A survey conducted between 2005 and 2007 by Elaine Howard Ecklund of University at Buffalo, The State University of New York of 1,646 natural and social science professors at 21 US research universities found that, in terms of belief in God or a higher power, more than 60% expressed either disbelief or agnosticism and more than 30% expressed belief. More specifically, nearly 34% answered “I do not believe in God” and about 30% answered “I do not know if there is a God and there is no way to find out.”  In the same study, 28% said they believed in God and 8% believed in a higher power that was not God. Ecklund stated that scientists were often able to consider themselves spiritual without religion or belief in god. Ecklund and Scheitle concluded, from their study, that the individuals from non-religious backgrounds disproportionately had self-selected into scientific professions and that the assumption that becoming a scientist necessarily leads to loss of religion is untenable since the study did not strongly support the idea that scientists had dropped religious identities due to their scientific training. Instead, factors such as upbringing, age, and family size were significant influences on religious identification since those who had religious upbringing were more likely to be religious and those who had a non-religious upbringing were more likely to not be religious. The authors also found little difference in religiosity between social and natural scientists.

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Scientific proof of God:

What was before the Big Bang?

There are two simple answers:

  1. According to current science, there was nothing before, as time and space did not exist.
  2. We don’t know.

Who has the Burden of Proof?

‘It is time that we admitted that faith is nothing more than the license religious people give one another to keep believing when reasons fail’.

-Sam Harris

Arguments related to the burden of proof deal with whether atheists must disprove theism or theists must prove theism. Conventionally, the burden of proof lies with someone proposing a positive idea – or as Karl Popper fans would put it, those who are proposing something falsifiable. By this standard, atheists have no need to prove anything, and just need to render arguments for the existence of God as non-compelling. However, the ubiquity of religion in society and history has often shifted the burden of proof to atheists, who must subsequently prove a negative.  You guys believe there is no God, but you can’t prove that there isn’t. So being an atheist obviously requires at least as much faith as being a Christian. This assumption is rooted in the elementary logical fallacy that two opposite things–belief and disbelief–are actually the same thing. A basic tenet of logic is that anyone making a positive claim bears the burden of proof for that claim. For example, in a court of law the lawyers for the prosecution bear the burden of proof, because they are making the positive claim that the defendant has committed a crime. The burden of proof is always on the person making the claim. In the case of religion, it is the theist and not the atheist who must show proof. The famous example of this is Russell’s Teapot. It was dreamed up by the philosopher Betrand Russell (1872–1970). In order to demonstrate who has the burden of proof in a debate, he claimed that there was a teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars. Who should have to show proof—Russell or the person who did not believe his claim? Everyone would agree that Russell was the one who needed to provide proof. It is the same with God as it is with teapots. It is, of course, impossible to prove that something does not exist because there is always the possibility that new evidence will turn up. Consequently, it is impossible to prove a negative. However, we can disprove a positive statement if we cannot find evidence to support it. Consequently, in a debate between an atheist and a theist, the atheist will show how the theist has not been able to prove that God exists by refuting the claims and the “evidence” that the theist presents.

All scientists begin with the null hypothesis which is that something does not exist. They then conduct their experiments to try to prove that it does exist. If they are successful in their proof, they express their conclusion as a probability–they usually need a 95% or better probability to reject the null hypothesis. The probability that God exists is so close to 0% that you can confidently say you are an atheist without needing to qualify it by adding the adjective “agnostic” to atheist. According to Richard Dawkins, “Not only is science corrosive to religion; religion is corrosive to science. It teaches people to be satisfied with trivial, supernatural non-explanations and blinds them to the wonderful real explanations that we have within our grasp. It teaches them to accept authority, revelation and faith instead of always insisting on evidence.”

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Are religion and science compatible?

The relationship between religion and science is the subject of continued debate in philosophy and theology. To what extent are religion and science compatible? Are religious beliefs sometimes conducive to science, or do they inevitably pose obstacles to scientific inquiry?  Even though some religious believers see themselves as facing an assault, science is not intentionally targeting them. Religion and science are mutually exclusive philosophies that are seeking to answer the same questions. Just as the Pauli Exclusion Principle tells us that no two particles can occupy the same quantum state; religion and science are similarly prevented from occupying the same epistemological space. There is no requirement or overwhelming desire in science to destroy religion. The only will is to answer questions about the unknown. However, religions have addressed these questions poorly in the past, causing millions of people to become emotionally invested in the veracity of their answers. This has made religion into an inevitable and unintentional casualty of scientific progress.  Religion cannot cure a single disease.  It cannot usefully explain a single physical fact: not where humans came from, not where life came from, not where the universe came from.  Religion cannot explain volcanoes, earthquakes, thunderstorms, hurricanes, epidemics, allergies, birth defects, diseases, . . . nothing. Religion cannot usefully explain a single thing. Science, however, explains all these and a lot more.

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According to Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C and Avelina Espinosa, the historical conflict between evolution and religion is intrinsic to the incompatibility between scientific rationalism/empiricism and the belief in supernatural causation. According to Jerry Coyne, views on evolution and levels of religiosity in some countries, along with the existence of books explaining reconciliation between evolution and religion, indicate that people have trouble in believing both at the same time, thus implying incompatibility.  According to Neil deGrasse Tyson, the central difference between the nature of science and religion is that the claims of science rely on experimental verification, while the claims of religions rely on faith, and these are irreconcilable approaches to knowing. Because of this both are incompatible as currently practiced and the debate of compatibility or incompatibility will be eternal.  Philosopher and physicist Victor J. Stenger’s view is that science and religion are incompatible due to conflicts between approaches of knowing and the availability of alternative plausible natural explanations for phenomena that is usually explained in religious contexts. Richard Dawkins is hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise. According to Dawkins, religion “subverts science and saps the intellect”. He believes that when science teachers attempt to expound on evolution, there is hostility aimed towards them by parents who are skeptical because they believe it conflicts with their religious beliefs, that even some textbooks have had the word ‘evolution’ systematically removed.  According to Sean M. Carroll, since religion makes claims that are not compatible with science, such as supernatural events, therefore both are incompatible.

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Several typologies characterize the interaction between science and religion. For example, Mikael Stenmark (2004) distinguishes between three views: the independence view (no overlap between science and religion), the contact view (some overlap between the fields), and a union of the domains of science and religion; within those views he recognizes further subdivisions, e.g., the contact can be in the form of conflict or harmony. The most influential model of the relationships between science and religion remains Barbour’s (2000): conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration. Subsequent authors, as well as Barbour himself, have refined and amended this taxonomy. However, others (e.g., Cantor and Kenny 2001) have argued that it is not useful to understand past interactions between both fields. For one thing, it focuses on the cognitive content of religions at the expense of other aspects, such as rituals and social structures. Moreover, there is no clear definition of what conflict means (evidential or logical). The model is not as philosophically sophisticated as some of its successors, such as Stenmark’s (2004).

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A modern view, described by Stephen Jay Gould as “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA), is that science and religion deal with fundamentally separate aspects of human experience and so, when each stays within its own domain, they co-exist peacefully. While Gould spoke of independence from the perspective of science, W. T. Stace viewed independence from the perspective of the philosophy of religion. Stace felt that science and religion, when each is viewed in its own domain, are both consistent and complete.  The USA’s National Academy of Science supports the view that science and religion are independent. Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to put science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.  Scientific and theological perspectives often coexist peacefully. Christians and some non-Christian religions have historically integrated well with scientific ideas, as in the ancient Egyptian technological mastery applied to monotheistic ends, the flourishing of logic and mathematics under Hinduism and Buddhism, and the scientific advances made by Muslim scholars during the Ottoman empire. Even many 19th-century Christian communities welcomed scientists who claimed that science was not at all concerned with discovering the ultimate nature of reality.

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Can Science test Supernatural Worldviews? A 2007 paper:

Several prominent scientists, philosophers, and scientific institutions have argued that science cannot test supernatural worldviews on the grounds that (1) science presupposes a naturalistic worldview (Naturalism) or that (2) claims involving supernatural phenomena are inherently beyond the scope of scientific investigation. The present paper argues that these assumptions are questionable and that indeed science can test supernatural claims. While scientific evidence may ultimately support a naturalistic worldview, science does not presuppose Naturalism as an a priori commitment, and supernatural claims are amenable to scientific evaluation. This conclusion challenges the rationale behind a recent judicial ruling in the United States concerning the teaching of “Intelligent Design” in public schools as an alternative to evolution and the official statements of two major scientific institutions that exert a substantial influence on science educational policies in the United States. The recent court ruling in the United States against the teaching of “Intelligent Design” (ID) as an alternative to evolution in biology classes (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District; Jones, 2005) has sparked public interest and has been hailed as a victory by the scientific community. One of the reasons given for the verdict is the notion that science is limited strictly to the study of natural phenomena and therefore that ID and other claims involving supernatural phenomena are outside the proper domain of scientific investigation. Given that science does have implications concerning the probable truth of supernatural worldviews, claims should not be excluded a priori from science education simply because they might be characterized as supernatural, paranormal, or religious. Rather, claims should be excluded from science education when the evidence does not support them, regardless of whether they are designated as ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural’.

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Is atheism natural or acquired?

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Scientists investigate if atheists’ brains are missing a ‘God Spot’, a 2010 study:

The widespread idea that human brains have a special area that governs spiritual belief – a “God Spot” – has been disputed by scientists such as Jordan Grafman, a neuropsychologist at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Md. Doing brain imagining on believers while they prayed and meditated, he found that the areas of the brain involved were the expected areas of memory and feeling; no special section was suddenly activated. “Maybe we are special in the eyes of God, but God didn’t place anything special in our brains – at least as far as we can see,” Dr. Grafman says. “Religious belief and behaviour are a hallmark of human life, with no accepted animal equivalent, and found in all cultures,” said Professor Jordan Grafman. “Our results are unique in demonstrating that specific components of religious belief are mediated by well-known brain networks, and they support contemporary psychological theories that ground religious belief within evolutionary-adaptive cognitive functions.” Researchers found that people of different religious persuasions and beliefs, as well as atheists, all tended to use the same electrical circuits in the brain to solve a perceived moral conundrum – and the same circuits were used when religiously-inclined people dealt with issues related to God. The study found that several areas of the brain are involved in religious belief, one within the frontal lobes of the cortex – which are unique to humans – and another in the more evolutionary-ancient regions deeper inside the brain, which humans share with apes and other primates. Other studies have shown that beliefs about God, for or against, originate in the same part of the brain. Only the interpretation of information is different. In Rorschach ink-blot studies, for instance, believers tended to see images that weren’t there and non-believers tended to miss images that were present.

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Nature is purposefully created, a cognitive bias in 2015 study:

Do non-religious adults despite their explicit disavowal of religious beliefs have a tacit tendency to view nature as purposefully created by some being? This question was explored in three online studies using a speeded judgment procedure, which assessed disbelievers in two different Western cultures (United States and Finland). Despite strong performance on control trials, across all three studies non-religious individuals displayed a default bias to increasingly judge pictures of natural phenomena as purposefully made by some being under processing constraints. Personal beliefs in the supernatural agency of nature consistently predicted this tendency. However, beliefs in nature as purposefully made by some being persisted even when such secular agency beliefs were controlled. These results suggest that the tendency to view nature as designed is rooted in evolved cognitive biases as well as cultural socialization. Understanding nature as created is rooted in everyday cognitive biases.

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Disbelieve it or not, ancient history suggests that atheism is as natural to humans as religion:

Battling The Gods, a book by Tim Whitmarsh in 2015:

People in the ancient world did not always believe in the gods, casting doubt on the idea that religious belief is a “default setting” for humans. Early societies were far more capable than many since of containing atheism within the spectrum of what they considered normal.  Despite being written out of large parts of history, atheists thrived in the polytheistic societies of the ancient world – raising considerable doubts about whether humans really are “wired” for religion. This claim is the central proposition of a new book by Tim Whitmarsh, Professor of Greek Culture and a Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge. In it, he suggests that atheism – which is typically seen as a modern phenomenon – was not just common in ancient Greece and pre-Christian Rome, but probably flourished more in those societies than in most civilisations since. As a result, the study challenges two assumptions that prop up current debates between atheists and believers: Firstly, the idea that atheism is a modern point of view, and second, the idea of “religious universalism” – that humans are naturally predisposed, or “wired”, to believe in gods. The book, entitled Battling The Gods, was launched in Cambridge in 2015. “We tend to see atheism as an idea that has only recently emerged in secular Western societies,” Whitmarsh said. “The rhetoric used to describe it is hyper-modern. In fact, early societies were far more capable than many since of containing atheism within the spectrum of what they considered normal.” “Rather than making judgements based on scientific reason, these early atheists were making what seem to be universal objections about the paradoxical nature of religion – the fact that it asks you to accept things that aren’t intuitively there in your world. The fact that this was happening thousands of years ago suggest that forms of disbelief can exist in all cultures, and probably always have.”

The book argues that disbelief is actually “as old as the hills”. Early examples, such as the atheistic writings of Xenophanes of Colophon (c.570-475 BCE) are contemporary with Second Temple-era Judaism, and significantly predate Christianity and Islam. Even Plato, writing in the 4th Century BCE, said that contemporary non-believers were “not the first to have had this view about the gods.”  Because atheism’s ancient history has largely gone unwritten, however, Whitmarsh suggests that it is also absent from both sides of the current monotheist/atheist debate.  While atheists depict religion as something from an earlier, more primitive stage of human development, the idea of religious universalism is also built partly on the notion that early societies were religious by nature because to believe in god is an inherent, “default setting” for humans. Neither perspective is true, Whitmarsh suggests: “Believers talk about atheism as if it’s a pathology of a particularly odd phase of modern Western culture that will pass, but if you ask someone to think hard, clearly people also thought this way in antiquity.” His book surveys one thousand years of ancient history to prove the point, teasing out the various forms of disbelief expressed by philosophical movements, writers and public figures. These were made possible in particular by the fundamental diversity of polytheistic Greek societies. Between 650 and 323 BCE, Greece had an estimated 1,200 separate city states, each with its own customs, traditions and governance. Religion expressed this variety, as a matter of private cults, village rituals and city festivals dedicated to numerous divine entities. This meant that there was no such thing as religious orthodoxy. The closest the Greeks got to a unifying sacred text were Homer’s epics, which offered no coherent moral vision of the gods, and indeed often portrayed them as immoral. Similarly, there was no specialised clergy telling people how to live: “The idea of a priest telling you what to do was alien to the Greek world,” Whitmarsh said. As a result, while some people viewed atheism as mistaken, it was rarely seen as morally wrong. In fact, it was usually tolerated as one of a number of viewpoints that people could adopt on the subject of the gods. Only occasionally was it actively legislated against, such as in Athens during the 5th Century BCE, when Socrates was executed for “not recognising the gods of the city.”

While atheism came in various shapes and sizes, Whitmarsh also argues that there were strong continuities across the generations. Ancient atheists struggled with fundamentals that many people still question today – such as how to deal with the problem of evil, and how to explain aspects of religion which seem implausible. These themes extend from the work of early thinkers – like Anaximander and Anaximenes, who tried to explain why phenomena such as thunder and earthquakes actually had nothing to do with the gods – through to famous writers like Euripides, whose plays openly criticised divine causality. Perhaps the most famous group of atheists in the ancient world, the Epicureans, argued that there was no such thing as predestination and rejected the idea that the gods had any control over human life.

The age of ancient atheism ended, Whitmarsh suggests, because the polytheistic societies that generally tolerated it were replaced by monotheistic imperial forces that demanded an acceptance of one, “true” God. Rome’s adoption of Christianity in the 4th Century CE was, he says, “seismic”, because it used religious absolutism to hold the Empire together. Most of the later Roman Empire’s ideological energy was expended fighting supposedly heretical beliefs – often other forms of Christianity. In a decree of 380, Emperor Theodosius I even drew a distinction between Catholics, and everyone else – whom he classed as dementes vesanosque (“demented lunatics”). Such rulings left no room for disbelief. Whitmarsh stresses that his study is not designed to prove, or disprove, the truth of atheism itself. On the book’s first page, however, he adds: “I do, however, have a strong conviction – that has hardened in the course of researching and writing this book – that cultural and religious pluralism, and free debate, are indispensable to the good life.”

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Atheists are more likely to be left handed, a 2017 study finds:

The research was carried out by identifying people who were either left handed or had autism or schizophrenia and examining whether they were more or less likely to be religious.  It found that there was a “weak but significant” association between left-handedness and being non-religious, and a stronger one between autism and being non-religious.  The study suggests that religious people have fewer genetic mutations and are therefore less likely to be left handed or have conditions such as autism or schizophrenia.

British academic Edward Dutton, a professor at Oulu University, Finland, said that in pre-industrial times religiosity was passed on like other genetic attributes because it was associated with greater stability, mental health and better social behaviour.  But modern science means many people who would not previously have survived are making it to adulthood and reproducing – leading to a greater incidence of atheism.  Lack of belief in God is connected to genetic mutations which cause attributes such as left-handedness or autism, the paper argues. Some studies have previously established that around 40 per cent of someone’s religiousness is determined genetically.

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Analytical and social networking of brain, a 2017 Study:

Science and religion are fighting it out in your brain, not just in a metaphorical sense, but in a real, physical altercation. That’s the conclusion drawn by researchers from Case Western Reserve University and Babson College.

They found that people who believe in a god, or some spiritual essence, suppress the brain network for analytical thinking and instead engage the empathetic network. “When there’s a question of faith, from the analytic point of view, it may seem absurd,” said the research team’s leader Professor Tony Jack. “But, from what we understand about the brain, the leap of faith to belief in the supernatural amounts to pushing aside the critical/analytical way of thinking to help us achieve greater social and emotional insight.” It suggests that religious individuals may cling to certain beliefs, especially those which seem at odds with analytic reasoning, because those beliefs resonate with their moral sentiments.  The researchers conducted eight experiments, each one with 159 to 527 adults, and found a correlation that the more empathetic person was more likely religious. This also fits with a previous finding that women tend to be more religious or spiritual than men, which can now be explained by their stronger tendency towards empathy. On the flip side of that, atheists were found to have less empathy. Atheists are unlikely to be ruled by emotion. The researchers also concluded (probably controversially) that religious people tend to be not as smart, or perhaps intelligence is not as important a characteristic to them. “Our studies confirmed that statistical relationship, but at the same time showed that people with faith are more prosocial and empathic,” said Richard Boyatzis, a Case Western University Reserve Professor.

The research is based on the previous fMRI study by the team that showed the human brain having an analytical network of neurons that allowed for critical thought in opposition to a social network that enabled empathy. Since humans are wired to use both networks, a math problem or an ethics question would trigger one of the networks while suppressing the other.  According to Jack, “that may be the key to why beliefs in the supernatural exist throughout the history of cultures. It appeals to an essentially nonmaterial way of understanding the world and our place in it.” Does the study mean that if you are religious, you cannot be a scientist? Of course not, as many famous scientists who have practiced religion can attest. “Far from always conflicting with science, under the right circumstances religious belief may positively promote scientific creativity and insight,” Jack points out. He corroborates this by pointing to “100 Years of Nobel Prizes,” a book by Baruch Aba Shalev, which posits that nearly 90 percent of Nobel Laureates were religious.

The key is to know when to take that leap of faith or when to put your analytical part of the brain to work. Jack shares that “Religion has no place telling us about the physical structure of the world; that’s the business of science. Science should inform our ethical reasoning, but it cannot determine what is ethical or tell us how we should construct meaning and purpose in our lives.”  Richard Boyatzis hopes that their study can help moderate how we approach the supposed battle of science and religion.  “Because the networks suppress each other, they may create two extremes,” he said. “Recognizing that this is how the brain operates, maybe we can create more reason and balance in the national conversations involving science and religion.”

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Atheism and rationalism:

In philosophy, rationalism is the epistemological view that “regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge” or “any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification”.  More formally, rationalism is defined as a methodology or a theory “in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive”. In an old controversy, rationalism was opposed to empiricism, where the rationalists believed that reality has an intrinsically logical structure. Because of this, the rationalists argued that certain truths exist and that the intellect can directly grasp these truths. That is to say, rationalists asserted that certain rational principles exist in logic, mathematics, ethics, and metaphysics that are so fundamentally true that denying them causes one to fall into contradiction. The rationalists had such a high confidence in reason that empirical proof and physical evidence were regarded as unnecessary to ascertain certain truths – in other words, “there are significant ways in which our concepts and knowledge are gained independently of sense experience”.  Different degrees of emphasis on this method or theory lead to a range of rationalist standpoints, from the moderate position “that reason has precedence over other ways of acquiring knowledge” to the more extreme position that reason is “the unique path to knowledge”. Given a pre-modern understanding of reason, rationalism is identical to philosophy, the Socratic life of inquiry, or the zetetic (skeptical) clear interpretation of authority (open to the underlying or essential cause of things as they appear to our sense of certainty). In recent decades, Leo Strauss sought to revive “Classical Political Rationalism” as a discipline that understands the task of reasoning, not as foundational, but as maieutic.  In politics, rationalism, since the Enlightenment, historically emphasized a “politics of reason” centered upon rational choice, utilitarianism, secularism, and irreligion – the latter aspect’s antitheism later softened by politic adoption of pluralistic rationalist methods practicable regardless of religious or irreligious ideology.  In this regard, the philosopher John Cottingham noted how rationalism, a methodology, became socially conflated with atheism, a worldview:  In the past, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, the term ‘rationalist’ was often used to refer to free thinkers of an anti-clerical and anti-religious outlook, and for a time the word acquired a distinctly pejorative force (thus in 1670 Sanderson spoke disparagingly of ‘a mere rationalist, that is to say in plain English an atheist of the late edition…’). The use of the label ‘rationalist’ to characterize a world outlook which has no place for the supernatural is becoming less popular today; terms like ‘humanist’ or ‘materialist’ seem largely to have taken its place. But the old usage still survives.

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Rationalism is an approach to life based on reason and evidence. Rationalism encourages ethical and philosophical ideas that can be tested by experience and rejects authority that cannot be proved by experience. Because rationalism encourages people to think for themselves, rationalists have many different and diverse ideas and continue in a tradition from the nineteenth century known as freethought. Almost all rationalists are atheists or agnostics. There has been a long link between rationalism and scientific method. There is also a long tradition of philosophers who have approached philosophical and ethical questions from a rationalist perspective. Bertrand Russell’s “The Faith of a Rationalist” is an example of a rationalist approach to religious belief.

Most rationalists would agree that:

  • There is no evidence for any arbitrary supernatural authority e.g. God or Gods.
  • The best explanation so far for why the natural world looks the way it does is the theory of evolution first put forward by Charles Darwin.
  • All human beings should have fundamental rights. Some rationalists and humanists go further and argue that animals should also have rights as they are living, sensate beings.
  • Society is should be an “open society”, where each individual is able to live “freely and equally practise their chosen life stance, and in which human potential is realised to the benefit of the individual and the community at large.”

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Faith and rationality:

Faith and rationality are two ideologies that exist in varying degrees of conflict or compatibility. Rationality is based on reason or facts. Faith is belief in inspiration, revelation, or authority. The word faith sometimes refers to a belief that is held with lack of reason or evidence, a belief that is held in spite of or against reason or evidence, or it can refer to belief based upon a degree of evidential warrant. Although the words faith and belief are sometimes erroneously conflated and used as synonyms, faith properly refers to a particular type (or subset) of belief, as defined above.

Broadly speaking, there are two categories of views regarding the relationship between faith and rationality:

  1. Rationalism holds that truth should be determined by reason and factual analysis, rather than faith, dogma, tradition or religious teaching.
  2. Fideism holds that faith is necessary, and that beliefs may be held without any evidence or reason and even in conflict with evidence and reason.

The Catholic Church has taught that true faith and correct reason can and must work together, and, viewed properly, can never be in conflict with one another, as both have their origin in God, as stated in the Papal encyclical letter issued by Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (“[On] Faith and Reason”).

Relationship between faith and reason:

From at least the days of the Greek Philosophers, the relationship between faith and reason has been hotly debated. Plato argued that knowledge is simply memory of the eternal. Aristotle set down rules by which knowledge could be discovered by reason. Rationalists point out that many people hold irrational beliefs, for many reasons. There may be evolutionary causes for irrational beliefs — irrational beliefs may increase our ability to survive and reproduce. Or, according to Pascal’s Wager, it may be to our advantage to have faith, because faith may promise infinite rewards, while the rewards of reason are seen by many as finite. One more reason for irrational beliefs can perhaps be explained by operant conditioning. For example, in one study by B. F. Skinner in 1948, pigeons were awarded grain at regular time intervals regardless of their behaviour. The result was that each of pigeons developed their own idiosyncratic response which had become associated with the consequence of receiving grain. Believers in faith — for example those who believe salvation is possible through faith alone — frequently suggest that everyone holds beliefs arrived at by faith, not reason. The belief that the universe is a sensible place and that our minds allow us to arrive at correct conclusions about it, is a belief we hold through faith. Rationalists contend that this is arrived at because they have observed the world being consistent and sensible, not because they have faith that it is.

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What’s the meaning of life, without gods or an afterlife?

The meaning of life has been pondered over for thousands of years, and may well be the question central to all philosophy. It’s difficult to convey the answer in a few short paragraphs; indeed there may be no one answer. So this, at least, is a very brief guide to a rationalist interpretation of the question and its various answers.

Rationalism tells us that, in all probability, what awaits us after death is pretty much what we experienced before birth: a total lack of any awareness. No one alive today was aware during the 19th Century, just as no one alive today will be aware in the 22nd Century (ignoring any such conjecture of “immortality” being so close that the first immortal has already been born). This is a pretty scary thought for most people, as most people tend to quite like being alive and aware, and well, death sucks. If you are going to die, it helps focus the mind on what we want to achieve in the now. If one assumes that your current awareness is all that you will experience and that it is far from permanent, it makes it more special, and makes every second something to be relished and cherished. This allows a great flexibility and potential for people to discover their own meanings for why they’re here, or even ignore the question entirely, treating it as irrelevant or just the wrong question to ask. An afterlife, on the other hand, actively diminishes the value we put on life as we see it now (since attention is focused on following a religion’s instructions for how to reach the positive afterlife and avoid the negative one), despite how comforting it is to believe that consciousness can transcend the temporary nature of life.

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Atheism and Morality:

The influential deist philosopher Voltaire criticised established religion to a wide audience, but conceded a fear of the disappearance of the idea of God: “After the French Revolution and its outbursts of atheism, Voltaire was widely condemned as one of the causes”, wrote Geoffrey Blainey. “Nonetheless, his writings did concede that fear of God was an essential policeman in a disorderly world: ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him’, wrote Voltaire”.  Atheists such as biologist and popular author Richard Dawkins have proposed that human morality is a result of evolutionary, sociobiological history. He proposes that the “moral zeitgeist” helps describe how moral imperatives and values naturalistically evolve over time from biological and cultural origins. Evolutionary biologist Kenneth R. Miller notes that such a conception of evolution and morality is a misunderstanding of sociobiology and at worst it is an attempt to abolish any meaningful system of morality since though evolution would have provided the biological drives and desires we have, it does not tell us what is good or right or wrong or moral. Critics assert that natural law provides a foundation on which people may build moral rules to guide their choices and regulate society, but does not provide as strong a basis for moral behavior as a morality that is based in religion. Douglas Wilson, an evangelical theologian, argues that while atheists can behave morally, belief is necessary for an individual “to give a rational and coherent account” of why they are obligated to lead a morally responsible life. Wilson says that atheism is unable to “give an account of why one deed should be seen as good and another as evil”. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, outgoing Archbishop of Westminster, expressed this position by describing a lack of faith as “the greatest of evils” and blamed atheism for war and destruction, implying that it was a “greater evil even than sin itself”.  Dr. Paul Copan wrote: “…the existence of a personal God is crucial for a coherent understanding of objective morality.” Under an atheist worldview, there is no logical basis for objective morality or ultimate meaning and purpose.  Nietzsche had reflected more deeply than any of his contemporaries on the implications of godlessness and come to the conclusion that a fatal contradiction lay at the heart of modern theological enterprise: it thought that Christian morality, which it wished to preserve, was independent of Christian dogma, which it rejected. This, in Nietzsche’s mind, was an absurdity. It amounted to nothing less than dismissing the architect while trying to keep the building or getting rid of the lawgiver while claiming the protection of the law.

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Religion and Morality:

Is religion the bedrock of morality? On the one hand, religion is linked to a variety of positive outcomes, including prosocial behavior, volunteerism, honesty, and an ability to resist temptation. Religions may have been instrumental in the development of moral communities that foster cooperation. On the other hand, moral judgments rely heavily on intuitions that emerge early in development and may be shared with close primate relatives. These moral intuitions may suggest the operation of a universal moral grammar that is robust across differences in religion. Although scientific opinion on the relationship between religion and morality is somewhat ambiguous, popular opinion seemingly is not. Most Americans report that belief in God is an integral component of morality, a sentiment echoed at least as strongly in most countries worldwide. A perceived intimate connection between religion and morality may engender widespread reactions of exclusion, distrust, and disgust towards atheists around the world.

An assumed causal relationship between religion and morality has the potential to influence the intuitive assumptions that often underlie stereotyping and prejudice. People readily form intuitive representations of a person’s likely group memberships given only minimal information about that person. To the extent that people view morality as deriving from religious belief, then information about a person’s moral conduct may be intuitively viewed as diagnostic of that person’s religious beliefs. In other words, to an observer who thinks that religion enables people to inhibit immoral behavior, learning that an agent engages in immoral behavior may be sufficient to lead the observer to intuitively infer that the agent is not religious. Thus, reactions to descriptions of immoral behavior can shed light on people’s intuitions regarding the role of religious belief in morality.

An intuitive connection between religion and morality may also help explain the prevalence of negative perceptions of atheists. Atheists are routinely excluded in the U.S.A. In the context of many classic approaches to prejudice and stereotyping, this is a puzzling form of antipathy. Atheists do not constitute a cohesive or powerful group (if, indeed, they can even meaningfully be thought of as a group), and classic intergroup dynamics do not appear to adequately explain negative perceptions of atheists. In addition, perceptions of warmth and competence do not explain why atheists are perceived even more negatively than other groups similar in this regard. Initial research highlights distrust as one key component in anti-atheist prejudice. Religions may have been instrumental in the cultural evolution of large-scale human cooperation by binding people into moral communities. However, a moral community is defined as much by those included within it as by those excluded from it.

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Morality requires religious tenets:

According to Greg Epstein, “the idea that we can’t be ‘good without God’ ” has been with us for nearly 2,000 years. Others suggest this idea goes back further; for example in Psalm 14 of the Hebrew Bible which according to Hermann Gunkel date to the exile period of approximately 580 BCE. It states, “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good … not even one.” Friedrich Nietzsche famously declared God is Dead but also warned “When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident…Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole.”  This idea is still present today. “Many today … argue that religious beliefs are necessary to provide moral guidance and standards of virtuous conduct in an otherwise corrupt, materialistic, and degenerate world.” For example, Christian writer and medievalist C. S. Lewis made the argument in his popular book Mere Christianity that if a supernatural, objective standard of right and wrong does not exist outside of the natural world, then right and wrong becomes mired in the is-ought problem. Thus, he wrote, preferences for one moral standard over another become as inherently indefensible and arbitrary as preferring a certain flavor of food over another or choosing to drive on a certain side of a road. In the same vein, Christian theologian Ron Rhodes has remarked that “it is impossible to distinguish evil from good unless one has an infinite reference point which is absolutely good.” Peter Singer states that, “Traditionally, the more important link between religion and ethics was that religion was thought to provide a reason for doing what is right, the reason being that those who are virtuous will be rewarded by an eternity of bliss while the rest roast in hell.”   Proponents of theism argue that without a God or gods it is impossible to justify moral behavior on metaphysical grounds and thus to make a coherent case for abiding by moral standards. C. S. Lewis makes such an argument in Mere Christianity. Peter Robinson, a political author and commentator with Stanford’s Hoover Institution, has commented that, if an inner moral conscience is just another adaptive or evolved feeling in the human mind like simple emotional urges, then no inherent reason exists to consider morality as over and above other urges. According to Thomas Dixon, “Religions certainly do provide a framework within which people can learn the difference between right and wrong.”

The Barna Group found that atheists and agnostics in America were more likely, than theists in America, to look upon the following behaviors as morally acceptable: illegal drug use; excessive drinking; sexual relationships outside of marriage; abortion; cohabitating with someone of opposite sex outside of marriage; Profanity; gambling; pornography and obscene sexual behavior; and engaging in homosexuality/bisexuality.

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Morality does not rely on religion:

“A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death.”

-Albert Einstein

Various commentators have stated that morality does not require religion as a guide. The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics states that, “it is not hard to imagine a society of people that has no religion but has a morality, as well as a legal system, just because it says that people cannot live together without rules against killing, etc., and that it is not desirable for these all to be legally enforced. There have also certainly been people who have had a morality but no religious beliefs.”  Bernard Williams, an English philosopher, stated that the secular “utilitarian outlook”—a popular ethical position wherein the morally right action is defined as that action which effects the greatest amount of happiness or pleasure for the greatest number of people—is “non-transcendental, and makes no appeal outside human life, in particular not to religious considerations.” Williams also argued that, “Either one’s motives for following the moral word of God are moral motives, or they are not. If they are, then one is already equipped with moral motivations, and the introduction of God adds nothing extra. But if they are not moral motives, then they will be motives of such a kind that they cannot appropriately motivate morality at all … we reach the conclusion that any appeal to God in this connection either adds to nothing at all, or it adds the wrong sort of thing.”

Socrates’ “Euthyphro dilemma” is often considered one of the earliest refutations of the idea that morality requires religion. This line of reasoning is described by Peter Singer:

“Some theists say that ethics cannot do without religion because the very meaning of ‘good’ is nothing other than ‘what God approves’. Plato refuted a similar claim more than two thousand years ago by arguing that if the gods approve of some actions it must be because those actions are good, in which case it cannot be the gods’ approval that makes them good. The alternative view makes divine approval entirely arbitrary: if the gods had happened to approve of torture and disapprove of helping our neighbors, torture would have been good and helping our neighbors bad. Some modern theists have attempted to extricate themselves from this type of dilemma by maintaining that God is good and so could not possibly approve of torture; but these theists are caught in a trap of their own making, for what can they possibly mean by the assertion that God is good? That God is approved of by God?”

Greg Epstein, a Humanist chaplain at Harvard University, dismisses the question of whether God is needed to be good “because that question does not need to be answered—it needs to be rejected outright,” adding, “To suggest that one can’t be good without belief in God is not just an opinion … it is a prejudice. It may even be discrimination.” This is in line with the Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics which states that religion and morality “are to be defined differently and have no definitional connections with each other. Conceptually and in principle, morality and a religious value system are two distinct kinds of value systems or action guides.”  Others share this view. Singer states that morality “is not something intelligible only in the context of religion”. Atheistic philosopher Julian Baggini stated that “there is nothing to stop atheists believing in morality, a meaning for life, or human goodness. Atheism is only intrinsically negative when it comes to belief about God. It is as capable of a positive view of other aspects of life as any other belief.” He also states that “Morality is more than possible without God, it is entirely independent of him. That means atheists are not only more than capable of leading moral lives, they may even be able to lead more moral lives than religious believers who confuse divine law and punishment with right and wrong.

Popular atheist author and Vanity Fair writer Christopher Hitchens remarked on the program Uncommon Knowledge:

“I think our knowledge of right and wrong is innate in us. Religion gets its morality from humans. We know that we can’t get along if we permit perjury, theft, murder, rape, all societies at all times, well before the advent of monarchies and certainly, have forbidden it… Socrates called his daemon, it was an inner voice that stopped him when he was trying to take advantage of someone… Why don’t we just assume that we do have some internal compass?”

Daniel Dennett says it is a “pernicious” myth that religion or God are needed for people to fulfil their desires to be good. However, he offers that secular and humanist groups are still learning how to organize effectively. Philosopher Daniel Dennett says that secular organizations need to learn more ‘marketing’ lessons from religion—and from effective secular organizations like the TED conferences. This is partly because Dennett says that the idea that people need God to be morally good is an extremely harmful, yet popular myth. He believes it is a falsehood that persists because churches are currently much better at organizing people to do morally good work. In Dennett’s words:

“What is particularly pernicious about it [the myth] is that it exploits a wonderful human trait; people want to be good. They want to lead good lives… So then along comes religions that say ‘Well you can’t be good without God’ to convince people that they have to do this. That may be the main motivation for people to take religions seriously—to try to take religions seriously, to try and establish an allegiance to the church—because they want to lead good lives.”

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Religion is a poor moral guide says Richard Dawkins:

‘The question, “What is right and what is wrong?” is a genuinely difficult question that science certainly cannot answer. Given a moral premise or a priori moral belief, the important and rigorous discipline of secular moral philosophy can pursue scientific or logical modes of reasoning to point up hidden implications of such beliefs, and hidden inconsistencies between them. But the absolute moral premises themselves must come from elsewhere, presumably from unargued conviction. Or, it might be hoped, from religion – meaning some combination of authority, revelation, tradition, and scripture. Unfortunately, the hope that religion might provide a bedrock, from which our otherwise sand-based morals can be derived, is a forlorn one. In practice, no civilized person uses Scripture as ultimate authority for moral reasoning. Instead, we pick and choose the nice bits of Scripture (like the Sermon on the Mount) and blithely ignore the nasty bits (like the obligation to stone adulteresses, execute apostates, and punish the grandchildren of offenders). The God of the Old Testament himself, with his pitilessly vengeful jealousy, his racism, sexism, and terrifying bloodlust, will not be adopted as a literal role model by anybody you or I would wish to know. Yes, of course it is unfair to judge the customs of an earlier era by the enlightened standards of our own. But that is precisely my point! Evidently, we have some alternative source of ultimate moral conviction that overrides Scripture when it suits us. That alternative source seems to be some kind of liberal consensus of decency and natural justice that changes over historical time, frequently under the influence of secular reformists. Admittedly, that doesn’t sound like bedrock. But in practice we, including the religious among us, give it higher priority than Scripture. In practice we more or less ignore Scripture, quoting it when it supports our liberal consensus, quietly forgetting it when it doesn’t. And wherever that liberal consensus comes from, it is available to all of us, whether we are religious or not. Similarly, great religious teachers like Jesus or Gautama Buddha may inspire us, by their good example, to adopt their personal moral convictions. But again we pick and choose among religious leaders, avoiding the bad examples of Jim Jones or Charles Manson, and we may choose good secular role models such as Nelson Mandela. Traditions too, however anciently followed, may be good or bad, and we use our secular judgment of decency and natural justice to decide which ones to follow, which to give up’.

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Popular atheist author and biologist Richard Dawkins, writing in The God Delusion, has stated that religious people have committed a wide variety of acts and held certain beliefs through history that are considered today to be morally repugnant. He has stated that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis held broadly Christian religious beliefs that inspired the Holocaust on account of antisemitic Christian doctrine, that Christians have traditionally imposed unfair restrictions on the legal and civil rights of women, and that Christians have condoned slavery of some form or description throughout most of Christianity’s history. Dawkins insists that, since Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Bible have changed over the span of history so that what was formerly seen as permissible is now seen as impermissible, it is intellectually dishonest for them to believe theism provides an absolute moral foundation apart from secular intuition. In addition, he argued that since Christians and other religious groups do not acknowledge the binding authority of all parts of their holy texts (e.g., The books of Exodus and Leviticus state that those who work on the Sabbath and those caught performing acts of homosexuality, respectively, were to be put to death.), they are already capable of distinguishing “right” from “wrong.”

To establish his case for morality apart from God, Dawkins needs to supply a satisfactory answer to two simple questions: What? and Why?

What would serve as the basis for our moral methodology? What criteria would we use to determine good from evil, right from wrong?

Why should we bother to be moral at all? What does it matter? What would our motivation be?

Dawkins answers the What with the Golden Rule.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12; Lk 6:31). The fact that this is a quote from sacred scripture is not overlooked by Dawkins. He argues that it is not necessary to believe in God in order to see the wisdom in the Golden Rule.  What Dawkins sees in the Golden Rule is empathy. This, he argues, should be the true basis for morality — our ability to empathize with others. Treat others the way you would like to be treated in any given situation. At a minimum, treating others the way we wish to be treated will keep us from acting like jerks towards each other. But more than that, the Golden Rule prompts us to be altruistic. We should help others in their time of need, because we ourselves would want others to help us if we were in a similar situation.

Darwin’s answer to Why of morality.

If there is no afterlife, no eternal reward or punishment, no divine justice, then why bother being good? What does it matter? Dawkins argues that human beings have evolved so that our brains release dopamine when we perform kind acts for others. Dopamine is a chemical that acts as a neurotransmitter in our brain and that plays a significant role in various reward-motivated behaviors. It triggers a feeling of pleasure when we are making love, gambling, or taking certain drugs. It is why certain behaviors so easily become addictive. Dawkins argues that being kind increases dopamine. We are biologically hard-wired for good moral behavior. In other words, our reason for upright moral behavior is that it makes us feel good.  If we are biologically hard-wired to be morally good, then why do so many people commit evil acts? The answer would have to be that they suffer from some chemical imbalance in the brain. Their moral wiring must be crossed. If this is the case, they can hardly be blamed for their behavior. They are only following their biology. A purely biological approach to morality has no room for the concepts of accountability and culpability.

In my view, already narrated in my theory of human’s good or bad behaviour, we are biologically hardwired for both good and bad moral behaviours by good and bad genes; and since bad situations are commonplace, people will behave badly as their bad genes are provided suitable environment to express. Sadly, most of ordinary humans have not allowed their neo-cortex to override behaviours driven by genes and environment. When some ordinary human indeed does so, he/she becomes extraordinary like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. There is duality at the heart of gene-culture co-evolution for expressing good or bad behaviour with the sole biological goal of survival and reproduction. Genes for good behaviour and genes for bad behaviour have evolved as adaptations necessary for survival and reproduction in different environmental situations by encoding reasoning circuits in our brain. The same basic adaptations that give rise to the most moving acts of empathy and altruism can also give rise, under certain situations, to genocide, torture and rape. This duality unknowingly operates within each one of us: the force that compels us to live by our values, give and receive love, and be a contributing member of the community; and the force that holds us back, sabotages our efforts, and repeatedly steers us toward bad choices.

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Evidential findings:

Cases can also be seen in nature of animals exhibiting behavior we might classify as “moral” without religious directives to guide them. These include “detailed studies of the complex systems of altruism and cooperation that operate among social insects” and “the posting of altruistic sentinels by some species of bird and mammal, who risk their own lives to warn the rest of the group of imminent danger.”

Greg Epstein states that “sociologists have recently begun to pay more attention to the fact that some of the world’s most secular countries, such as those in Scandinavia, are among the least violent, best educated, and most likely to care for the poor”. He adds that, “scientists are beginning to document, though religion may have benefits for the brain, so may secularism and Humanism.”

On April 26, 2012, the results of a study which tested their subjects’ pro-social sentiments were published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal in which non-religious people had higher scores showing that they were more inclined to show generosity in random acts of kindness, such as lending their possessions and offering a seat on a crowded bus or train. Religious people also had lower scores when it came to seeing how much compassion motivated participants to be charitable in other ways, such as in giving money or food to a homeless person and to non-believers.  But, global research done by Gallup between 2006 and 2008 on people from 145 countries give the opposite results. According to research, adherents of all the major world religions who attended religious services in the past week got higher rates of generosity such as donating money, volunteering, and helping a stranger than do their coreligionists who did not attend services (non-attenders).For the people who were nonreligious, but said that they attended religious services in the past week exhibited more generous behaviors than those who didn’t. Another global study by Gallup showed that highly religious people are more likely to help others in terms of donating money, volunteering, and helping strangers despite of having, on average, lower incomes than those who are less religious or nonreligious who reported higher incomes. In the research, it is said that cannot conclusively attribute these helping behaviors to the direct influence of religiosity, but that it is intuitive that religious people are more likely to engage in helping behaviors because values promoted by religions such as selflessness and generosity.

A number of studies have been conducted on the empirics of morality in various countries, and the overall relationship between faith and crime is unclear. A 2001 review of studies on this topic found “The existing evidence surrounding the effect of religion on crime is varied, contested, and inconclusive, and currently no persuasive answer exists as to the empirical relationship between religion and crime.”  Phil Zuckerman’s 2008 book, Society without God, notes that Denmark and Sweden, “which are probably the least religious countries in the world, and possibly in the history of the world”, enjoy “among the lowest violent crime rates in the world [and] the lowest levels of corruption in the world”. Dozens of studies have been conducted on this topic since the twentieth century. A 2005 study by Gregory S. Paul published in the Journal of Religion and Society stated that, “In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies,” and “In all secular developing democracies a centuries long-term trend has seen homicide rates drop to historical lows” with the exceptions being the United States (with a high religiosity level) and “theistic” Portugal. In a response, Gary Jensen builds on and refines Paul’s study. His conclusion is that a “complex relationship” exists between religiosity and homicide “with some dimensions of religiosity encouraging homicide and other dimensions discouraging it”.

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The Psychology of Unbelief: Does atheism threaten morality?

Atheism is said to pose a major threat to morality. Some theists claim that disbelief leads to moral relativism and undermines a major factor motivating prosocial behavior.  Many people worry that the faithless lack a moral rudder. Without God, morality loses its foundation. Is this concern really justified? Many philosophers will say it is not. It has been a common philosophical refrain since Plato wrote his dialogue the Euthyphro, which takes up the topic of piety, that morality cannot depend on divine decree.

Suppose “good” just meant “commanded by God”; it would follow that “God is good” means only that “God does what he commands,” which is faint praise. Belief in a benevolent God is substantive only if one believes that God acts in accordance with some independent moral standard. On this view, even theists should accept that morality is independent of religion. But what standard could do the trick? There have been two thousand years of work by philosophers (mostly theists) trying to answer this question. The two most famous answers owe to John Stuart Mill and Immanual Kant. Very roughly, Mill says that happiness is intrinsically good, so we should try to maximize happiness, and Kant says that it is rational to recognize the common dignity of all people, and irrational to pursue actions that would undermine our own interests if others were to act similarly.

Research suggests that the independence of morality and religion is actually widely recognized outside of academic philosophy, even among staunch theists. For example, developmental psychologist Larry Nucci interviewed highly religious children from a wide range of backgrounds (including Catholics, Mennonites, and Orthodox Jews), and he found that they were overwhelmingly likely to judge that stealing would be wrong even if God were to say that stealing is permissible. The Pew study also reveals that fewer than a third of Americans cite religion as the major source of their moral values, and more than half claim that practical experience and common sense are the major source.

The independence of morality and religion can also be characterized in evolutionary terms. Under the influence of Herbert Spencer’s Social Darwinism, it was once believed that evolution leads to selfishness, but this supposition was rejected decades ago. Evolutionists now think we evolved to be altruistic, because helping others can increase fitness (helping kin spreads our genes and helping strangers promotes beneficial reciprocity and cooperation). These evolutionary models enjoy some psychological support. Felix Warneken and Michael Tomasello have shown that 14 month-old infants exhibit helpful behavior, even in the absence of reward. And even if altruism were not innate, it might be a precondition on stable society, so it might emerge inevitably through the course of “cultural evolution.” A moral code of some kind is likely to emerge regardless of religious outlook. Indeed, the moral values of major religions may be products of cultural evolution. Of course, cultural evolution does not guarantee that every society will be peaceful or egalitarian. War and hierarchy seem to be features of most social systems, whether religiously grounded or not.

So far, all this is good news with respect to the atheist threat. But Atheists may be more prone to relativism and, perhaps, less prone to acting in accordance with widespread moral norms. Let’s begin with relativism. The Pew study found atheists are much less likely than theists to believe that there are “absolute standards of right and wrong.” 58% of atheists believe in such standards, as compared to 63% of Jews, 72% of Moslems, 78% of Catholics, and 81% of Protestants. These findings are consistent with a new paper by Princeton social psychologists Geoffrey Goodwin and John Darley. The authors found that grounding one’s ethical beliefs in the notion of a divine being predicts greater moral objectivism, and it was the only variable to do so. It must be noted that the majority of atheists are not relativists, but these studies do suggest that atheists are more prone to relativism than those who attribute morality to God. What about moral motivation? A recent book by Arthur Brooks, called Who Really Cares, has sparked controversy by arguing that religious people are more charitable than their irreligious counterparts.

Does atheism promote relativism and stinginess? Preliminary evidence suggests that the answer might be yes, at least to some degree. Is this a serious concern? Perhaps not. With respect to relativism, the atheist might say that false beliefs in moral absolutes are a recipe for trouble. Perhaps relativism could increase tolerance and international understanding. The challenge for the relativist is to identify constraints on tolerance. This is a place where some philosophy might come in handy, since philosophers have spent many centuries trying to identify secular foundations for morality. What about stinginess? Here one factor may have to do with the fact that religious institutions create conditions that promote charity. Religious institutions have pledge drives, run soup kitchens, pass around donation cups, raise awareness, and provide weekly reminders to give. They also create social pressure to be charitable, and they draw attention to self-sacrificing role models. Atheists need to work at creating an infrastructure that is conducive to charity. One good thing about the Brooks book is that it may make atheists conclude that they need to do more in order to overcome the accusation of being moral monsters. There is no reason to think that theological beliefs are a precondition for moral motivation – even theists admit that their own moral values and actions do not depend on God. But atheism typically involves a departure from institutions that grease the motivational gears, and that means atheists might want to find alternative institutional mechanisms for facilitating prosocial behavior. The upshot is that atheism does not undermine morality, but atheists’ conception of morality may depart from traditional theistic conceptions. Rather than condemning atheism, we might work to build institutions that promote charity more effectively among those who do not participate in organized religion, and we might try to develop secular foundations for morality to help guide people who do not consider God to be the source of moral rules. Both these efforts would serve atheists and theists alike.

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If everyone were atheist, wouldn’t people just do whatever they wanted, no matter who was harmed?

No. It is perfectly possible to act in a moral manner without interference from supernatural beings and it is arguably more noble to do so without their interference.  Regardless of religious beliefs, there are two main things that prevent most people from wilfully harming their fellow humans.

  1. First is empathy — “how would I feel if somebody did that to me?” This is a natural qualm which humanity developed a long time ago, probably as soon as we had evolved the consciousness to understand pleasure, pain and our abilities to inflict them on other people. It’s at the root of the Golden Rule, and, for most people, empathy for other members of society prevents them from wanting to engage in destructive behaviour. Despite being naturally greedy etc., humans also naturally have some innate sense of empathy. Research in biology, neuroscience, and psychology supports this idea. The study of the evolution of morality is demonstrating that empathic behavior is not unique to humans and that the “law of the jungle” doesn’t always mean dog-eat-dog.
  2. The second thing which prevents us from harmful behaviour is our knowledge or prediction of the consequences. This does not have to involve visualisations of Hell, since there are plenty of consequences here on Earth for antisocial behaviour. Depending on the level of the transgression, we may suffer embarrassment, the disappointment of those around us, punishment, possible attacks on us, setbacks in our life or career, etc. With these possible consequences in mind, we do not commit that crime, no matter how much we want to, or if we do, we suffer those consequences. In fact the basic laws—prohibitions of murder, rape, violence, theft, etc.—have actually been common in some form to virtually all societies, regardless of religious beliefs. This is because they are founded on the principles of empathy (treating others as we wish to be treated) and aim to maintain a stable and peaceful society, something that every government, and every member of society, has an interest in upholding, no matter what they may believe or not believe about invisible forces or life after death.

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Can we be moral without God?

We must begin by asking what it means to be moral. Consulting a dictionary won’t help much. You’ll find that morality is concerned with right and wrong behavior, which begs the question of what is right and wrong behavior?

The first point is, behavior can only be moral or immoral if it affects other humans. No matter how you treat a rock, your actions are neither morally right nor wrong. Actions have a moral dimension only when they affect other humans (or other sentient beings). Nor is a moral dimension attached to actions that are the result of chance or the natural world. For example, if lightning or a tsunami kills people, we do not say these events are morally wrong.

So morality must be about how humans are affected by human actions. But what is right and what is wrong? Some actions seem to be clear-cut. It would be perverse to argue that bathing your baby daughter in battery acid is morally right. No doubt, we could think of a long list of actions that are equally wrong. It would also be easy to make a list of actions that are unequivocally good.  Comparing the two lists allows us to generalize things that are morally wrong and to distinguish them from things that are morally right. Actions that unnecessarily cause suffering or harm to humans are morally wrong, and actions that contribute to human wellbeing are morally right. Once we have criteria for right and wrong, we can say that some actions, such as randomly hitting a person with a hammer, are objectively morally wrong and other actions are objectively morally right. This logic has two important implications: there are objective moral truths that can be discovered using reason (and science), and the process does not require belief in a god. God cannot be the source of objective morality. If objective morality exists, it exists independently of any gods. On the other hand, religion has led people to commit a long litany of horrendous crimes, from God’s command to Moses to slaughter the Midianites – men, women, boys, and non-virginal girls – through the Crusades, the Inquisition, innumerable conflicts between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and suicide bombers convinced that martyrdom will lead them to paradise.

Morality is one of the more complex issues in human behavior. Our morality governs how we act and treat each other so understanding and justifying the ideas behind our morals undoubtedly plays a huge part in philosophy. Some people, based on the fact that morality is complex, attribute it to higher powers, namely (their religion’s) God. Think about this for a moment: if someone says that all that is preventing them from stealing, lying, raping, and killing to reach whatever ends they want is the dictates of God (or their fear of Hell), can that person really be trusted? To be held to a view of morality only by an external force, implies that should that force be taken away, the individual would resort to immorality almost immediately. Rationalist or atheistic views of morality are defined otherwise, and often look to the history of humanity in not only deciding what is moral, but why we would think that. This removes any external factors, and allows us to make our own informed decisions, with an end result that is just as ethical as those who attribute their actions to God alone. More philosophically, the divine fiat idea doesn’t hold up. Is something bad because God says it is? Or did He just identify for us things that are bad? If so, what about the times when He violates His own dictates, such as the many people he kills (or ordered killed) in the Old Testament? And if he merely identified what was already good & bad, does that mean those things existed independently of him? But if not, then good and bad would be so arbitrarily at the whim of God, which hardly sounds right. Many would say well obviously, God wouldn’t do bad things because He’s all-good, but the aforementioned examples in the Bible contradict that assertion.

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Godless Morality experiment:

For the first time, research in the cognitive sciences, building on theoretical arguments emerging from moral philosophy, has made it possible to resolve the ancient dispute about the origin and nature of morality.

Consider the following three scenarios. For each, fill in the blank space with “obligatory,” “permissible,” or “forbidden.”

  1. A runaway boxcar is about to run over five people walking on the tracks. A railroad worker is standing next to a switch that can turn the boxcar onto a side track, killing one person, but allowing the five to survive. Flipping the switch is ______.
  2. You pass by a small child drowning in a shallow pond, and you are the only one around. If you pick up the child, she will survive and your pants will be ruined. Picking up the child is _______.
  3. Five people have just been rushed into a hospital in critical condition, each requiring an organ to survive. There is not enough time to request organs from outside the hospital, but there is a healthy person in the hospital’s waiting room. If the surgeon takes this person’s organs, he will die, but the five in critical care will survive. Taking the healthy person’s organs is _______.

If you judged case 1 as permissible, case 2 as obligatory, and case 3 as forbidden, then you are like the 1,500 subjects around the world who responded to these dilemmas on web-based moral sense test (http://moral.wjh.harvard.edu/). If morality is God’s word, atheists should judge these cases differently from religious people, and their responses should rely on different justifications. For example, because atheists supposedly lack a moral compass, they should be guided by pure self-interest and walk by the drowning child. But there were no statistically significant differences between subjects with or without religious backgrounds, with approximately 90% of subjects saying that it is permissible to flip the switch on the boxcar, 97% saying that it is obligatory to rescue the baby, and 97% saying that is forbidden to remove the healthy man’s organs. When asked to justify why some cases are permissible and others forbidden, subjects are either clueless or offer explanations that cannot account for the relevant differences. Importantly, those with a religious background are as clueless or incoherent as atheists. Thousands of people — varying widely in social background, age, education, religious affiliation and ethnicity — have taken the tests. The results indicate that “moral intuitions operate independently of religious background”, although religion may influence responses in a few highly specific cases.

Researchers do not wholly deny that religion is adaptive. They think that natural selection may have fine-tuned it, from an existing array of moral-determining cognitive functions, to optimize its benefits for cooperation. There is some evidence that religion promotes in-group altruism and self-sacrifice beyond that displayed by non-believers. By taking it as a given that religion is an evolved social behaviour rather than a matter of divine revelation, it tacitly adopts an atheistic framework.

These studies provide empirical support for the idea that, like other psychological faculties of the mind, including language and mathematics, we are endowed with a moral faculty that guides our intuitive judgments of right and wrong. These intuitions reflect the outcome of millions of years in which our ancestors have lived as social mammals, and are part of our common inheritance. Our evolved intuitions do not necessarily give us the right or consistent answers to moral dilemmas. What was good for our ancestors may not be good today. But insights into the changing moral landscape, in which issues like animal rights, abortion, euthanasia, and international aid have come to the fore, have not come from religion, but from careful reflection on humanity and what we consider a life well lived. In this respect, it is important for us to be aware of the universal set of moral intuitions so that we can reflect on them and, if we choose, act contrary to them. We can do this without blasphemy, because it is our own nature, not God, that is the source of our morality.

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Atheism and charity (altruism):

Concerning the issue of atheism and charity, charitable giving by atheists and agnostics in America is significantly less than by theists, according to a study by the Barna Group: “The typical no-faith American donated just $200 in  2006, which is more than seven times less than the amount contributed by the prototypical active-faith adult ($1500). Even when church-based giving is subtracted from the equation, active-faith adults donated twice as many dollars last year as did atheists and agnostics. In fact, while just 7% of active-faith adults failed to contribute any personal funds in 2006, that compares with 22% among the no-faith adults.”

A comprehensive study by Harvard University professor Robert Putnam found that religious people are more charitable than their irreligious counterparts. The study revealed that forty percent of worship service attending Americans volunteer regularly to help the poor and elderly as opposed to 15% of Americans who never attend services.  Moreover, religious individuals are more likely than non-religious individuals to volunteer for school and youth programs (36% vs. 15%), a neighborhood or civic group (26% vs. 13%), and for health care (21% vs. 13%). Arthur C. Brooks wrote in Policy Review regarding data collected in the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey (SCCBS) (data collected by in 2000 by researchers at universities throughout the United States and the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research):  “The differences in charity between secular and religious people are dramatic. Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent) and 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent). And, consistent with the findings of other writers, these data show that practicing a religion is more important than the actual religion itself in predicting charitable behavior. For example, among those who attend worship services regularly, 92 percent of Protestants give charitably, compared with 91 percent of Catholics, 91 percent of Jews, and 89 percent from other religions”.

A recent study published in the Annals of Family Medicine suggests that, despite what some may think, religiousness does not appear to have a significant effect on how much physicians care for the underserved.

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Although studies report that secular Americans donate less of their income to charitable causes than the religious (Regnerus et al. 1998), it should be noted that it is the most secular democracies on earth – such as Scandinavia – that donate the most money and supportive aid, per capita, to poorer nations (Center for Global Development, 2008). Furthermore, secular people are much more likely than religious people to vote for candidates and programs that redistribute wealth from the richer segments of society to the poorer segments through progressive taxation. Finally, Oliner and Oliner (1988) and Varese and Yaish (2000), in their studies of heroic altruism during the Holocaust, found that the more secular people were, the more likely they were to rescue and help persecuted Jews.

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Atheists were more likely to engage in acts of generosity out of compassion than believers, 2012 study:

Although charity is a tenet of any of the world’s major religions, atheists and agnostics were more likely driven to be generous out of compassion than the faithful, according to a study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science in 2012.  Researchers made this determination through a combination of analysis of national survey data, as well as two experiments wherein participants’ generosity toward strangers or the less fortunate was tested.  As University of California – Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer summarized the study’s results: “Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not. … The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns.”

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The Negative Association between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism across the World a 2015 study:

Prosocial behaviors are ubiquitous across societies. They emerge early in ontogeny and are shaped by interactions between genes and culture. Over the course of middle childhood, sharing approaches equality in distribution. Since 5.8 billion humans, representing 84% of the worldwide population, identify as religious, religion is arguably one prevalent facet of culture that influences the development and expression of prosociality. While it is generally accepted that religion contours people’s moral judgments and prosocial behavior, the relation between religiosity and morality is a contentious one. Here, authors assessed altruism and third-party evaluation of scenarios depicting interpersonal harm in 1,170 children aged between 5 and 12 years in six countries (Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey, USA, and South Africa), the religiousness of their household, and parent-reported child empathy and sensitivity to justice. Across all countries, parents in religious households reported that their children expressed more empathy and sensitivity for justice in everyday life than non-religious parents. However, religiousness was inversely predictive of children’s altruism and positively correlated with their punitive tendencies. Together these results reveal the similarity across countries in how religion negatively influences children’s altruism, challenging the view that religiosity facilitates prosocial behavior.

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People Intuitively Judge Immorality as Representative of Atheists, a 2014 study:

Scientific research yields inconsistent and contradictory evidence relating religion to moral judgments and outcomes, yet most people on earth nonetheless view belief in God (or gods) as central to morality, and many view atheists with suspicion and scorn. To evaluate intuitions regarding a causal link between religion and morality, this paper tested intuitive moral judgments of atheists and other groups. Across five experiments (N = 1,152), American participants intuitively judged a wide variety of immoral acts (e.g., serial murder, consensual incest, necrobestiality, cannibalism) as representative of atheists, but not of eleven other religious, ethnic, and cultural groups. Even atheist participants judged immoral acts as more representative of atheists than of other groups. These findings demonstrate a prevalent intuition that belief in God serves a necessary function in inhibiting immoral conduct, and may help explain persistent negative perceptions of atheists.

The above study was repeated globally as ‘Global evidence of extreme intuitive moral prejudice against atheists’. Preliminary work in the United States suggests that anti-atheist prejudice stems, in part, from deeply rooted intuitions about religion’s putatively necessary role in morality. However, the cross-cultural prevalence and magnitude — as well as intracultural demographic stability — of such intuitions, as manifested in intuitive associations of immorality with atheists, remain unclear. Here, authors quantify moral distrust of atheists by applying well-tested measures in a large global sample (N = 3,256; 13 diverse countries). Consistent with cultural evolutionary theories of religion and morality, people in most — but not all — of these countries viewed extreme moral violations as representative of atheists. Notably, anti-atheist prejudice was even evident among atheist participants around the world. The study showed that in 13 very different countries, people were more likely to think that a serial killer must be an atheist rather than a believer. These findings persisted even in highly secular countries such as Finland and China; they were also true even for people who reported zero belief in God. “Even as secularism reduces overt religiosity in many places, religion has apparently still left a deep and abiding mark on human moral intuitions,” study researcher Will Gervais, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky, wrote with his colleagues in the journal Nature Human Behaviour in 2017.

The researchers didn’t ask people directly for their views on atheists, because they were interested in more subtle, almost unconscious, attitudes. So they took advantage of something called the “conjunction fallacy.” This is the tendency of the mind to think that specific situations are more likely than general ones. In this case, 3,256 study participants from 13 different countries read a description of a man who tortured animals as a child and then became more and more violent in adulthood, eventually murdering five homeless people. Half of the participants were then asked whether this serial killer was more likely to be a teacher or a teacher who believes in God. The other half were asked whether he was more likely to be a teacher or a teacher who is a nonbeliever. Logically, “a teacher” is always the correct answer, because it’s the less specific choice and thus more likely to be applicable. But people tend to make snap judgments, such that when the additional information meshes with their biases, they pick the more specific choice. The specific choice that resonated with a description of a serial killer turned out to be “nonbeliever.” Overall, people were nearly twice as likely to make the error of choosing the more specific option when that option described an atheist. Fifty-eight percent of the people who chose either a “teacher” or a “teacher and nonbeliever” said the serial killer was a nonbeliever teacher, compared with only 30 percent who chose “teacher and believer” instead of “teacher” alone. The researchers repeated the study with different scenarios (such as skipping out on a dinner check) and even with crimes people might associate with religion. In the case of child molestation, for example, people were still more likely to think that the perpetrator was a priest who didn’t believe in God than a priest who did believe in God. “Participants intuitively assume that the perpetrators of immoral acts are probably atheists,” the researchers wrote. “These effects appeared across religiously diverse societies, including countries with Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim and nonreligious majorities.”

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Reminders of Secular Authority reduce Believers’ Distrust of Atheists: a study:

Atheists have long been distrusted, in part because they do not believe that a watchful, judging god monitors their behavior. However, secular institutions such as police, judges, and courts are also potent sources of social monitoring and prosocial behavior in large parts of the world. Reminders of such secular authority therefore could reduce believers’ distrust of atheists. As hypothesized, both watching a video about police effectiveness (Experiment 1) and subtly primed secular authority concepts (Experiments 2-3) reduced believers’ distrust of atheists. In addition, authors tested three distinct alternative explanations. Secular authority primes did not reduce general prejudice against outgroups (Experiment 1), specific functionally-relevant prejudice reactions such as viewing gays with disgust (Experiment 2), or general distrust of outgroups (Experiment 3). These studies contribute to theory regarding both the psychological bases of different prejudices and the psychological functions served by gods and governments.

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Religion does not determine your morality a 2018 study:

Clergy interprets scripture, and cultural practices and beliefs are passed down, many of which have little or nothing to do with the Bible, like the Catholic idea of having fish instead of meat on Friday a cultural tradition never mentioned in the Bible at all. Basically, people take or leave religious morality according to some internal moral compass they already have. They might even choose which church to go to, according to how well the teachings of that church match up with what they feel is right or wrong.  Some Christians convert to Buddhism or other religions based on what they think works for their beliefs.  In the modern Western world, some people feel free to choose the religion that feels right to them. Why might someone convert to Christianity from Buddhism, or become a Muslim? Often it’s because the new religion speaks to them in a way that the old one didn’t. We see that people can choose religious beliefs, churches and even whole religions based on the morality that they already have. And this is the morality that atheists have too.

Experimental evidence suggests that people’s opinion of what God thinks is right and wrong tracks what they believe is right and wrong, not the other way around.  Social psychologist Nicholas Epley and his colleagues surveyed religious believers about their moral beliefs and the moral beliefs of God. Not surprisingly, what people thought was right and wrong matched up pretty well with what they felt God’s morality was like.  Then Epley and his fellow researchers attempted to manipulate their participants’ moral beliefs with persuasive essays. If convinced, their moral opinion should then be different from God’s, right?  Wrong. When respondents were asked again what God thought, people reported that God agreed with their new opinion!  Therefore, people didn’t come to believe that God is wrong, they just updated their opinion on what God thinks. When you change someone’s moral beliefs, you also change their opinion on what God thinks. Yet most surveyed still clung to the illusion that they got their moral compass from what they think God believes is right and wrong.

If people are getting their morals from their conception of God, you’d think that contemplating God’s opinion might be more like thinking about someone else’s beliefs than thinking about your own.  But this isn’t the case. The same study also found that when you think about God’s beliefs, the part of your brain active when thinking about your own beliefs is more active than the part of your brain that is active when thinking about other people’s beliefs. In other words, when thinking about God’s beliefs, you’re (subconsciously) accessing your own beliefs.

So where do our morals come from, then, if not from religion? That’s a complicated question: There seem to be genetic as well as cultural components. These cultural components are influenced by religion, to be sure.  This equation happens even for atheists, who often take up the mores of their culture, which happens to have been influenced heavily by religions they don’t even ascribe to. So it’s not that religion does not affect morality, it’s just that morality also impacts religion.  Atheists don’t score differently than religious people when given moral dilemmas. Clearly, we all have morality.  Whether you’re religious or not, morality comes from the same place.

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Do people practice what they preach?

Social scientific research on the topic offers some intriguing results.  When researchers ask people to report on their own behaviors and attitudes, religious individuals claim to be more altruistic, compassionate, honest, civic and charitable than nonreligious ones. Even among twins, more religious siblings describe themselves are being more generous. But when we look at actual behavior, these differences are nowhere to be found. Researchers have now looked at multiple aspects of moral conduct, from charitable giving and cheating in exams to helping strangers in need and cooperating with anonymous others. In a classical experiment known as the “Good Samaritan Study,” researchers monitored who would stop to help an injured person lying in an alley. They found that religiosity played no role in helping behavior, even when participants were on their way to deliver a talk on the parable of the good Samaritan. This finding has now been confirmed in numerous laboratory and field studies. Overall, the results are clear: No matter how we define morality, religious people do not behave more morally than atheists, although they often say (and likely believe) that they do. On the other hand, religious reminders do have a documented effect on moral behavior. Studies conducted among American Christians, for example, have found that participants donated more money to charity and even watched less porn on Sundays. However, they compensated on both accounts during the rest of the week. As a result, there were no differences between religious and nonreligious participants on average. Likewise, a study conducted in Morocco found that whenever the Islamic call to prayer was publicly audible, locals contributed more money to charity. However, these effects were short-lived: Donations increased only within a few minutes of each call, and then dropped again. Numerous other studies have yielded similar results. People became more generous and cooperative when they found themselves in a place of worship.  Interestingly, one’s degree of religiosity does not seem to have a major effect in these experiments. In other words, the positive effects of religion depend on the situation, not the disposition.

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Atheism and secularism:

Secularism:

Secularism, promoted by secularists, is the belief that religion should be a private, personal, voluntary affair that does not impose upon other people. Public spaces and officialdom should therefore be religion-neutral. Secularism ensures that religions are treated fairly and that no bias exists for a particular religion, and also that non-religious folk such as Humanists are treated with equal respect. It is the only democratic way to proceed in a globalized world where populations are free to choose their own, varied, religions. Secularism is the philosophical position that our world and our behavior in it should be understood without the necessity of presupposing God. The term “secularism” was first used by G. J. Holyoake (1817–1906).  It “denotes a system which seeks to interpret and order life on principles taken solely from this world, without recourse to belief in God and a future life.”  However, secularism does not necessitate atheism since it is possible to believe in God’s existence, but also assume that our society should be run based on secular principles.

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Secularism is a principle that involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law. In other words, the two fundamental values of secularism demand the existence of some specific institutional structures. Moreover, the separation of church and state, and the neutrality among different conceptions of the good life are valuable only in so far as they allow to achieve a state of affairs in which the quality of respect and freedom of conscience hold. In studies of religion, modern democracies are generally recognized as secular. This is due to the near-complete freedom of religion (beliefs on religion generally are not subject to legal or social sanctions), and the lack of authority of religious leaders over political decisions. Nevertheless, it has been claimed that surveys done by Pew Research Center show Americans as generally being more comfortable with religion playing a major role in public life, while in Europe the impact of the church on public life is declining.

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Secularism is the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institution and religious dignitaries (the attainment of such is termed secularity). One manifestation of secularism is asserting the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, or, in a state declared to be neutral on matters of belief, from the imposition by government of religion or religious practices upon its people.  Another manifestation of secularism is the view that public activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be uninfluenced by religious beliefs or practices.  Secularism draws its intellectual roots from Greek and Roman philosophers such as Epicurus and Marcus Aurelius; from Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, Denis Diderot, Voltaire, Baruch Spinoza, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine; and from more recent freethinkers and atheists such as Robert Ingersoll, Bertrand Russell, and Christopher Hitchens. It shifts the focus from religion to other ‘temporal’ and ‘this-worldly’ things with emphasis on nature, reason, science, and development.

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Secular state:

A secular state is an idea pertaining to secularism, whereby a state is or purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. A secular state also claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and claims to avoid preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular religion/nonreligion over other religions/nonreligion. Secular states do not have a state religion (established religion) or equivalent, although the absence of a state religion does not necessarily mean that a state is fully secular; however, a true secular state should steadfastly maintain national governance without influence from religious factions and vice versa; i.e. Separation of church and state.  Secular states become secular either upon creation of the state (e.g. the United States of America), or upon secularization of the state (e.g. France or Nepal). Movements for laïcité in France and for the separation of church and state in the United States defined modern concepts of secularism. Historically, the process of secularizing states typically involves granting religious freedom, disestablishing state religions, stopping public funds being used for a religion, freeing the legal system from religious control, freeing up the education system, tolerating citizens who change religion or abstain from religion, and allowing political leadership to come to power regardless of their religious beliefs.

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Secularisation:

Secularisation is the process of things becoming more secular. Most of the Western world has seen this paradigm come to dominate politics and civil life, starting from the time of the Enlightenment. For example in 1864 the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) published a document as a hostile response to fledging secularisation, as growing tolerance for other religions and the growing power of democracy was challenging the RCC’s power to implement its doctrine in the countries of Europe. Secularization (or secularisation) is the transformation of a society from close identification and affiliation with religious values and institutions toward nonreligious values and secular institutions. The secularization thesis refers to the belief that as societies progress, particularly through modernization and rationalization, religion loses its authority in all aspects of social life and governance. Secularists propose that there is protection of religious freedom within a secular society that guarantees free speech, based on equitable laws that govern society.  In other words, neutrality and impartiality are presuppositions in a secularist view.

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Difference between Secularism and Atheism:

Secularism is a principle of separation between the government and religion. It does not believe in religion or its beliefs. The government separates itself from the religious notion of faith. Religion has no power to influence the decisions of the government taken for the improvement of the people and the state. Secularism gives power to the people to be free from all religious rules and teachings. It is not against religion, it is independent of it. Citizens in secularism are considered equal, despite of what their religion might be. People are encouraged for individual living. Secularism helps eliminate discrimination based on religion, this is said to add democracy by protecting the rights of religious minorities.

Atheism is the principle or belief that there is no God. Atheism is contrasted with theism, that believes that at least one deity exists. In atheism, there are many arguments which range from philosophy, social and history. There are Rationales, who do not believe in any supernatural deity. Some atheists have adopted secular philosophies; there is not one ideology or set of behaviors to which all atheists adhere. Many hold that atheism is a more frugal worldview than theism, and therefore the burden of proof lies not on the atheist to disprove the existence of God, but on the theist to provide an answer for existence of God.

Secularists are not atheists. Secularism is about separating church and state, not disbelief. Mixing it up with atheism serves only the right. American secularism has lost control of its identity and image. That’s because the equation secularism = atheism is rapidly gaining market share. It is increasingly employed in popular usage, political analysis, and even scholarly discourse. This formula is muscling out an infinitely more accurate understanding of secularism as a political philosophy about how the state should relate to organized religion. If this association prevails, if secularism simply becomes a synonym for atheism, then secularism in the United States will go out of business. Aside from being preposterously imprecise, the equation secularism = atheism gravely undermines the potential of secularism as a political movement. It leaves people of faith with little incentive to buy in and reduces secularism’s personnel to the size of the tiny American atheist movement.

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Political secularism is a force for good in three ways.

  1. Firstly, secularism protects everybody’s freedom of conscience and religion and belief, by staying neutral between them. Religious states promote religion. Atheist states promote atheism. Secular states promote neither.
  2. Secondly, secularism allows religious people to focus on preparing for whatever next world they believe in, based on applying faith to their beliefs about divine revelations, and it allows the State to focus on governing this world, applying reason to the best available evidence.
  3. Thirdly, secularism can combine with human rights standards as a foundation stone on which we can build a liberal democracy. This can in turn combat other threats from such ideologies as fascism and totalitarianism and communism and the unregulated free market.

The secular left consists of left-wing secularists who are able to exert their influence in many countries. They support “strict government secularism”. In some regions where the secular left has considerable influence, they are losing an increasing amount of their power. For example, in secular Europe right-wing nationalist political parties are growing.

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Secularism also has many practical advantages. The happiest countries are secular liberal democracies, including Scandinavian countries and northern European states. In general, secular countries have lower rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion. Studies published by social scientist Phil Zuckerman and others have shown that atheists and secularists are typically less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less closed-minded and less authoritarian; and more politically tolerant and more supportive of gender equality, women’s rights and gay rights. There is a pathway to secular rational values. The World Values Survey, conducted by social scientists, suggests that as individuals move from survival values to self-expression values, which is triggered by investments in health, education, communication technologies and democracy, societies move from traditional religious values to secular rational values.

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Atheism and humanism:

Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a god. Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfilment that aspire to the greater good of humanity. Humanists hold that ethics are consequential, to be judged by results. This is in contrast to so-called command ethics, in which right and wrong are defined in advance and attributed to divine authority. “No god will save us, we must save ourselves.” wrote Paul Kurtz in Humanist Manifesto II (1973). Humanists seek to develop and improve their ethical principles by examining the results they yield in the lives of real men and women.

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Humanism is an approach to life based on reason and our common humanity, recognising that moral values are properly founded on human nature and experience alone.

-Robert Ashby

While atheism is merely the absence of belief, humanism is a positive attitude to the world, centred on human experience, thought, and hopes. The British Humanist Association and The International Humanist and Ethical Union use similar emblems showing a stylised human figure reaching out to achieve its full potential. Humanists believe that human experience and rational thinking provide the only source of both knowledge and a moral code to live by. They reject the idea of knowledge ‘revealed’ to human beings by gods, or in special books. Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.

Most humanists would agree with the ideas below:

  • There are no supernatural beings.
  • The material universe is the only thing that exists.
  • Science provides the only reliable source of knowledge about this universe.
  • We only live this life – there is no after-life, and no such thing as reincarnation.
  • Human beings can live ethical and fulfilling lives without religious beliefs.
  • Human beings derive their moral code from the lessons of history, personal experience, and thought.

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Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism and empiricism) over acceptance of dogma or superstition. The meaning of the term humanism has fluctuated according to the successive intellectual movements which have identified with it. The term was coined by theologian Friedrich Niethammer at the beginning of the 19th century to refer to a system of education based on the study of classical literature (“classical humanism”). Generally, however, humanism refers to a perspective that affirms some notion of human freedom and progress.  In modern times, humanist movements are typically non-religious movements aligned with secularism, and today humanism typically refers to a nontheistic life stance centred on human agency and looking to science rather than revelation from a supernatural source to understand the world.

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Humanism is a non-religious ‘belief system’, a way of thinking about what it means to be a human being, and a ‘moral system’ about how to live our lives well. For Humanists, living our lives well means trying to increase human happiness and well-being in this world, and to help lessen suffering and unhappiness that is avoidable. We can all see people suffering and feel compassion for their suffering, and Humanists feel a responsibility to help in whatever way they can. This gives Humanists strong beliefs about what is good and right, and what is bad and wrong. As human beings, we can see what sorts of thinking and behaving cause happiness and suffering. We do this by using evidence from history and from our experience of what we see going on around us every day. We work out our beliefs about what is right and wrong, or good and bad, by using our reasoning powers. Humanists also think that we can use our reasoning power to work out for ourselves how to put our beliefs into action. This is not always easy because situations are complicated, so we need to think carefully about how to act to be sure that our actions have the results we want. This is where we can often learn from the thinking and experience of other human beings. Many people share these Humanist beliefs and ideas, even if they do not call themselves Humanists. Many religious people will agree with these ideas and beliefs too. But Humanism is different from most religious belief systems because Humanists do not have a faith. This means that Humanists do not believe in supernatural powers acting in this world. Humanists do not believe that there is a God who commands us to have certain beliefs or to live our lives in a certain way, and rewards or punishes us for what we have done or not done in this life. Humanists do not believe that we each have a soul that exists forever, nor that there is an after-life of either joy in Heaven or suffering in Hell as a result of how well we live this life. Instead, Humanists believe that this life is all we have, and that we should live it as well as we can. We should use our own understanding and feelings to deal with problems, in cooperation with and learning from others, because this is all the knowledge that we have and all that we can rely on. We should do this for the benefit of humanity, not because it will benefit us as individuals in the future.

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Many atheist Humanists are very critical of religion as superstition and delusion. However, many agnostic Humanists appreciate that religious belief can be of real value to individuals both in terms of their feelings and their purposes in life. These Humanists value the fact that many nations have a multi-cultural society made up of many faith groups, and they support each community’s right to maintain and practice their beliefs and ways of life. Even more important, they recognise and share the many human values that underpin the main religions. They see these as the basis for a dialogue with faith groups and between the faith groups themselves. But all Humanists find themselves in deep disagreement with religious believers about many of the ways that organised religion uses its power. As democrats, Humanists condemn the urge within many religions to convert and indoctrinate. They oppose fundamentalist thinking and the authoritarian and sometimes violent behaviour to which that leads. They reject the power that organised religions have to influence law making in many societies. They reject the notion in some religions that suffering is pre-ordained. In all these ways, Humanists believe that these aspects of religion do not respect the rights of others. However, on the same grounds Humanists are pleased to see the progress made in the Anglican Church in ordaining women priests and the (slower) progress towards acceptance of gay members of the clergy. These are developments that Humanists would seek to encourage in dialogue. Humanists are particularly concerned about the conflicts and misunderstandings created by different religious faiths in the past and the present day. These conflicting viewpoints lead to inter-communal violence, sponsorship of terrorism, civil war and often, in theocracies led by religious authorities, full scale warfare. So Humanists believe that inter-faith dialogue is essential to peace because it could lead to greater understanding and tolerance. Humanists believe that religious groups should explore the similarities between them and accept their differences. To promote this, Humanists seek a dialogue with faiths to help moderate the unforgiving aspects that emerge from concentration on religious differences, and to encourage the dialogue between faiths that seeks out the similarities in belief and behaviour that unites them as humane philosophies.

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Secular humanism vs. religious humanism:

Secular humanism is a philosophy or life stance that embraces human reason, ethics, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition as the basis of morality and decision making. Secular humanism posits that human beings are capable of being ethical and moral without religion or a god. It does not, however, assume that humans are either inherently evil or innately good, nor does it present humans as being superior to nature. Rather, the humanist life stance emphasizes the unique responsibility facing humanity and the ethical consequences of human decisions. Fundamental to the concept of secular humanism is the strongly held viewpoint that ideology—be it religious or political—must be thoroughly examined by each individual and not simply accepted or rejected on faith. Along with this, an essential part of secular humanism is a continually adapting search for truth, primarily through science and philosophy. Many secular humanists derive their moral codes from a philosophy of utilitarianism, ethical naturalism, or evolutionary ethics, and some advocate a science of morality.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is the world union of more than one hundred Humanist, rationalist, irreligious, atheistic, Bright, secular, Ethical Culture, and freethought organizations in more than 40 countries. The “Happy Human” is the official symbol of the IHEU as well as being regarded as a universally recognised symbol for those who call themselves Humanists. Secular humanist organizations are found in all parts of the world. Those who call themselves humanists are estimated to number between four and five million people worldwide.

Secular humanism is nonreligious, but it differs greatly from both atheism and religious humanism. Secular humanism and atheism are not identical. One can be an atheist and not a secular humanist or humanist. Indeed, some thinkers or activists who call themselves atheists explicitly reject humanist ethical values (for example, Stalin, Lenin, Nietzsche, and others). Nor is secular humanism the same thing as humanism by itself; it is surely sharply different from religious humanism. Secular humanism is not antireligious; it is simply nonreligious. There is a difference. Secular humanists are nontheists; they may be atheists, agnostics, or skeptics about the God question and/or immortality of the soul. The term secular should make it clear that secular humanists are not religious. In contrast, the term religious humanism is unfortunate. It has been used by some humanists to denote a kind of moral and æsthetic commitment to a set of ideals and practices; but this is most confusing. Often it serves to sneak in some quasi-spiritual and/or transcendental aspect of experience and practice, aping religion.

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Humanism vs. Atheism:

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Is it a contradiction of terms to be a Humanist but not an Atheist?

It depends on how you define your terms. The essence of humanism is a sense that humanity as a whole is more important than any of its subgroups. Basic to humanism is an attitude that starts with a sense of togetherness, a sympathy and a sharing, accompanied by a sense that you as an individual share responsibility for our collective future with all the rest of humanity. If you believe there is a God specifically dedicated to the protection or care of the group you happen to belong to, whether that group is defined by religion or race or whatever, and that your god supports your group as opposed to other groups, then you cannot be considered a true humanist. If you believe that there is a God up there someplace that you can invoke to alter specific things that are going to happen, then you are not a true humanist. You are in effect passing the buck to an entity whose existence is unverifiable. The humanist says, in effect, the buck stops here. If you don’t submit to either of those two beliefs, however, you can be a humanist in practice even if you choose to believe in some higher power. Some atheists might dispute this, they are being unnecessarily exclusive, and underrate the need for all of us to work together to combat the pernicious forces of the conservative religious types. Issues like the separation of church and state are very important, and non-believers need to work together with sensible believers to make sure we suffer no return to theocratic tyranny. As long as you recognize that human destiny is made here on earth, by us humans, and that we are solely responsible for what happens, whether you believe in God or don’t (atheism) is a matter of choice, and an individual seriously concerned with the future of humanity can go either way. True humanist welcome anybody who makes a positive contribution to humanity as a whole irrespective of belief in God.

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Atheism and nihilism:

Nihilism is the philosophical viewpoint that suggests the denial or lack of belief towards the reputedly meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.  Moral nihilists assert that there is no inherent morality, and that accepted moral values are abstractly contrived. Nihilism may also take epistemological, ontological, or metaphysical forms, meaning respectively that, in some aspect, knowledge is not possible, or reality does not actually exist.

Atheism is a broad ideology, embraced in part by many different branches of philosophy. One branch that was closely connected to the rise of atheism as a doctrine is existential nihilism. The original nihilists (like Friedrich Nietzsche) believed that all values were baseless. This meant that institutions like the Christian Church were trying to force subjective values over society, presumably to secure their own power. In reality, according to the nihilists, there are no universal moral truths.  Nihilism was eventually infused with the existentialist focus on individual experiences to create existential nihilism, a skeptical and pessimistic ideology that sees all existence as meaningless. Joy, sorrow, suffering, triumph and all other human experiences have no internal meaning or value, nor does life itself. This ideology was advanced by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who famously extolled that ”existence precedes essence”. In short, existence is real but we create meaning for it. Stripping away the illusion of meaning reveals the true baselessness of all morality and meaning.  The modern atheistic movement largely grew out of the works of Sartre and other similar philosophers. Nevertheless, atheism and existential nihilism can be very different doctrines and shouldn’t be immediately conflated. While both reject the concept of a divine authority that dictates a single set of moral values over the universe, they treat the concept of morality itself very differently.  Existential nihilists claim that there is no purpose to existence and that all morals are meaningless. In fact, any attempt to assign moral value to existence is an exercise in the absurd. That’s an idea that most atheists don’t agree with. While atheists reject the idea of an omnipotent being, most do not reject the concept of morality itself.

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Atheism and communism:

Marxism and religion:

The 19th century German thinker Karl Marx, the founder and primary theorist of Marxism, had an antithetical and complex attitude to religion, viewing it primarily as “the soul of soulless conditions”, the “opium of the people” that had been useful to the ruling classes since it gave the working classes false hope for millennia. At the same time, Marx saw religion as a form of protest by the working classes against their poor economic conditions and their alienation. Marx “saw religion, not just negatively as ‘the opium of the people,’ but positively as the ‘sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions.’ This helps us understand the mass appeal of the religious charlatans of the television screen, as well as the work of Liberation Theology in joining the soulfulness of religion to the energy of revolutionary movements in miserably poor countries”. Some recent scholarship has suggested that “opium of the people” is itself a dialectical metaphor, a “protest” and an “expression” of suffering.

Marx’s theoretical atheism is the consequence of three postulates:

1) metaphysical or dialectical materialism which considers matter as the supreme and unique cause of everything;

2) historical materialism, according to which the economic factor is the principal and decisive factor, and the economic structure is the carrying structure of all the other structures that compose society;

3) absolute humanism, which sets man at the summit of the cosmos: man is the supreme being.

Vladimir Lenin was highly critical of religion, saying that Atheism is a natural and inseparable part of Marxism, of the theory and practice of scientific socialism. Karl Marx saw religion as a tool of the ruling class to keep the working class in its place by giving false hope in an afterlife. However, he also saw it as a way the poor could protest against their conditions. Lenin saw religion as an impediment to human development. Marxist-Leninist Government like the Soviet Union and China were atheist states as a result. In the Marxist–Leninist interpretation of Marxist theory, primarily developed by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, religion is seen as retarding human development. Due to this, a number of Marxist–Leninist governments in the 20th century, such as the Soviet Union after Vladimir Lenin and the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong, implemented rules introducing state atheism.

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State atheism:

State atheism, according to Oxford University Press’s A Dictionary of Atheism, “is the name given to the incorporation of positive atheism or non-theism into political regimes, particularly associated with Soviet systems.” In contrast, a secular state purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. State atheism may refer to a government’s anti-clericalism, which opposes religious institutional power and influence in all aspects of public and political life, including the involvement of religion in the everyday life of the citizen.  The majority of Marxist–Leninist states followed similar policies from 1917. The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (1917–1991), and the Soviet Union (1922–1991) more broadly, had a long history of state atheism, whereby those seeking social success generally had to profess atheism and to stay away from houses of worship; this trend became especially militant during the middle Stalinist era from 1929 to 1939. The Soviet Union attempted to suppress public religious expression over wide areas of its influence, including places such as central Asia. Currently states such as China, North Korea and Vietnam are officially atheist.

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League of Militant Atheists:

The League of Militant Atheists was an atheistic and antireligious organization of workers and intelligentsia that developed in Soviet Russia under the influence of the ideological and cultural views and policies of the Soviet Communist Party from 1925 to 1947.  It consisted of party members, members of the Komsomol youth movement, those without specific political affiliation, workers and military veterans. The league embraced workers, peasants, students, and intelligentsia. It had its first affiliates at factories, plants, collective farms, and educational institutions. By the beginning of 1941 it had about 3.5 million members from 100 nationalities. It had about 96,000 offices across the country. Guided by Bolshevik principles of anti-religious propaganda and by the Party’s orders with regards to religion, the League aimed at exterminating religion in all its manifestations and forming an anti-religious scientific mindset among the workers. It propagated atheism and scientific achievements,  conducted “individual work” (a method of sending atheist tutors to meet with individual believers to convince them that gods do not exist); most of the peasantry was unimpressed, and even the party apparatus regarded the League as meddling and inefficient. The League’s slogan was “Struggle against religion is a struggle for socialism”, which was meant to tie in their atheist views with economy, politics, and culture. The league was a “nominally independent organization established by the Communist Party to promote atheism”. It published newspapers, journals, and other materials that lampooned religion; it sponsored lectures and films; it organized demonstrations and parades; it set up antireligious museums; and it led a concerted effort telling Soviet citizens that religious beliefs and practices were wrong and harmful, and that good citizens ought to embrace a scientific, atheistic worldview.

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All Communists may well be atheists, simply because their political system rarely exposes them to anything else. It does not follow that all atheists are Communists. Atheism is a view on the existence of the supernatural, not a political system. Some atheists favor some form of socialism. Many agree with the writings of Ayn Rand, who was a very strong supporter of both unbounded Capitalism and atheism. Many atheists are Libertarians and Democrats; fewer tend to be Republicans, but that is mostly because of their stance on church and state, not always because of their financial plans.

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Religious people often argue that communism is an atheistic system, and communism has killed millions of people. Therefore, atheism is dangerous. Stalin and Mao illustrate the point made by both Dostoyevsky and earlier John Locke: when God is excluded, then it is not surprising when morality itself is sacrificed in the process and chaos and horror is unleashed on the world.  However, this argument is logically fallacious and historically inaccurate. Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were all atheists. There is no denying that. Communism is responsible for the worst crimes in the 20th century. The Black Book of Communism estimates a death toll between 85 and 100 million. By far the most casualties were due to faulty bureaucracy, incompetent planning, and… an economic utopia detached from reality. State atheism did not kill these 100 million people. To get a realistic number of the direct casualties of aggressive state atheism, you need to consider church burning, killing religious figures only. Religious communities were indeed persecuted by communists.  The Soviet anti-religious campaign began in 1929. According to Wikipedia, 85.000 Orthodox priests were shot in 1937. The anti-religious enthusiasm dropped as a result of Operation Barbarossa (the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941). It is estimated that between 1917 and 1964, 50.000 monks have been executed. As you can see, we have numbers in the ten thousands here; a small number compared to the sum of all casualties (100 million) of the Soviet era. Seeking out political dissenters and suspected spies was simply more important than persecuting believers.  You cannot use communism as a general anti-atheist argument. Communism is a genocidal, militant ideology that became an atheist system for historical reasons. The Christian communist ideology could have prevailed, and they also believed in the major tenets of communism, excluding fervent anti-religious campaigns of course.  There are hardly any atheist today who promotes violence against religion. Chances are, if you ask an atheist whether churches should be destroyed and believers should be executed, he will give a definite no. Just because some psychopaths, who happened to be atheists, in the 20th century believed in a system that killed 100 million, does not mean atheists want to burn down churches or make anti-religion legislation.  The large majority of atheists are humanists. Most atheists believe in a secular state, that is, one where the state does not favor one religion over another. And of course, one can choose to not have a religion. So if a secular atheist becomes the head of state, he is not a threat to religion. He will simply not make legislation that favors one religion over another.

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Scientific atheism in communist state:

When one looks at how atheism was promoted [in the U.S.S.R.] and the actual tenets of scientific atheism, its unpopularity proves less confusing. First, the doctrine of scientific atheism was itself problematic. It confusingly claimed to be a science while abandoning scientific methods altogether. Actual scientists avoided the topic of religion and produced no work that could verify the science of atheism. Second, scientific atheism replicated religious ceremonies, rituals, and produced a new Communist sense of the sacred as an alternative to religion. This simply confused the population, many of whom mistook scientific atheism for a new religion and not an exit from religious belief altogether so that even those few who wanted to believe in the ideals of atheistic communism simply ended up praying to the gods of Lenin and Stalin. Finally, the messengers of scientific atheism themselves lacked credibility. Atheist proselytizers knew little about religion or science and their ignorance was apparent to their would-be converts…Nearly seven decades of anti-religious propaganda and atheist promotion could not secularize Russian society. Systems of belief, be they religious or atheistic, need to engage individuals in order to gain widespread acceptance. In the end, the attempt to force secularization in Soviet Russia was fundamentally insipid, the result of an atheistic monopoly that never questioned itself or addressed the concerns of its would-be converts.

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Atheism and Nazism:

There was a debate between Cardinal George Pell and Richard Dawkins, it was interesting that both men had perspectives on Nazism that were at once opposed and yet entirely congruent. Pell argued that Nazism and Stalinism were the “two great atheist movements of the last century.” Dawkins responded that while Stalin was an atheist, Hitler was not. However, they both agreed that Hitler represented the “personification of social Darwinism” (Pell) or that certain of what he tried to achieve arose “out of Darwinian natural selection” (Dawkins). People may not generally realise it, but the divergence of opinion between Pell and Dawkins reflects deep divisions among historians themselves as to what the Nazis believed about religion. Nazism itself was consistently a racial ideology, and Ian Kershaw noted in his definitive biography of Hitler that one of the few things we can be certain about is that from the start of his political career to the bitter end, Hitler adhered to “anti-Semitism based on race theory.” When we look to religion, however, there is little agreement. The three main schools of thought are that the Nazis adhered to neo-paganism, that their ideology itself formed a “political religion” or that they advocated a particular form of Christianity.

In one of the most complete speeches we have of Hitler’s from 1920, he argued that all Aryans built “cults of light” wherever they had founded civilisations in the world. Hitler included any use of the swastika (the Nazi sun-wheel) counting pagan runes in Europe, Hindu temples in India and Buddhist temples in Japan among such “cults of light.”

In the same speech he disparaged the Bible as too Jewish: “one thing is for certain, that no anti-Semite wrote it.” Yet at the end of August 1920, he argued the Nazis “supported every Christian activity” and promoted Nazism as a “gospel of German revitalisation.” This latter statement and its ilk have led to the argument that Nazism itself was a “political religion,” drawing people into a movement of political faith through the use of rallies and rituals that created a secular kind of liturgical experience. During the period of his ascent to power, Hitler needed the support of the German people mostly Christian, mostly Lutheran and he occasionally used boilerplate rhetoric such as I am doing the Lords work to try and secure this. One should not confuse political opportunism with personal conviction. Not surprisingly, Hitler invoked Christ’s death at the hands of the Jews in order to solicit Christian support for his racial anti-Semitic agenda. Was Hitler an atheist? Probably not. But it remains very difficult to ascertain his personal religious beliefs, and the debate rages on. He was an astute propagandist, which makes distinguishing rhetoric from reality all the more difficult. What historians continually confirm is that Hitler developed an absolute faith in two things: an extreme form of nationalism, and himself.

‘I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so’.

-Adolf Hitler (1941)

The characterization of Hitler as an atheist is problematic in the first place, as he repeatedly claimed to be a Christian, while also labelling it a scourge and a disease. However, Hitler in particular, even more than the other despots mentioned, elevated concepts such as blood, soil and nation to quasi-religious status, and he ruled (as did Franco in Spain and Mussolini in Italy) with the open support of the Catholic and Protestant churches of Germany. The history of Christian anti-Semitism throughout Europe since the time of Constantine provided the backdrop to, and to some extent the mindset for, the horrors of the Holocaust. Certainly, there is nothing particularly atheistic about fascist ideology or practice.

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Benefits of atheism:

Although the exact number is hard to pin down, an estimated 13% of the world identifies as atheist. While believing or not believing in a God is a complex personal choice, there is a growing body of evidence that points to certain benefits of being an atheist. Being a theist has its own great advantages, but here are some of the reasons being an atheist could be beneficial (not necessarily in order of importance):

  1. Free of controversial facts:

Every religion has some facts included in their sacred books that lead to controversy unless the person gives up reasoning and accepts just what the book has to say. Atheists are free of these confusions. They do not have to fight their own religious concepts to make them accept that theirs is the most supreme form of religion in the whole world. No gory details of what would happen if you don’t pray is one of best advantages that atheists get to live with.

  1. Not forced to follow traditions:

If you don’t believe in what religion has to say, you are eventually free of being coerced to follow traditions that are totally weird and lack any explanation. You no longer need to explain why you do not want to partake in certain traditions that may be outdated or include customary practices that are not right from your point of view. You can go to occasions that you like while totally avoid those that you despise.

  1. You are not being judged:

Atheists find it really blissful for not having to worry about your privacy being invaded by an invisible someone who keeps an eye on whatever you are doing and thinking and totally judging you for it. Keeping morals intact, you are totally free to do whatever you want to do without having to worry about two little fellows writing your books of good deeds and sins.

  1. No Antiquated Dogma:

Atheists do not need to follow antiquated and sometimes inconsistent dogma including beliefs, doctrines, moralities, rules, and laws.

  1. More Logical:

Atheism tends to be much more logical with their beliefs and morality, thus atheists are more willing to re-evaluate and change their beliefs and morality with respects to new information, knowledge, and experiences.

  1. More Freedom:

Similarly to the previous advantage, atheism has more freedom of thought and action, even when they are counter culture. This is because most religions tend to limit freedom of thought and action to better control their followers. Furthermore, without fear of punishment (especially eternal punishment) from a higher power, atheists are even more freely able to explore their choices in life.

  1. More Personal Time:

Atheists are not required to attend religious ceremonies, especially if they are periodic and lengthy. This includes durations of prayer and time of worship, such as Sabbath (Saturday or Sunday).

  1. Happiness:

Scandinavian countries tend to be the least religious countries of the Western world and yet are consistently ranked the highest in the polls that measure a happiness index. Many factors go into such ratings, like economics, life expectancy, healthcare, social safety nets, and the transparency of the government, but it’s hard not to notice a potential correlation between atheism and happiness.

  1. Intelligence:

Atheists tend to have higher IQs and have been shown to generally be more intelligent than religious people. Intelligent people also tend to spend more time in school, which in turn leads to greater success professionally.

  1. Better jobs:

This follows from the previous reason – more intelligent people tend to do better in the workplace. The same studies that have shown higher level of IQs for atheists, also equated that with getting higher-level jobs and higher pay.

  1. Self-esteem and self-reliance:

These are two sides of the same coin.  Atheists are not being told that they are guilty and sinful, as is the case with many religious teachings. This leads to higher self-esteem and a feeling of control over life’s events. As atheists do not expect a deity to help them solve a problem, they will address it personally and directly. The increased self-reliance can have a positive effect on their own lives, but also on the lives of others. When there’s no wheel of life, reincarnation, heaven or hell, the responsibility for made choices lies with individuals.

  1. Progress:

Atheists tend to value scientific discovery more and are less likely to stand in the way of scientific progress as has often happened for religious reasons. An atheistic society is more rational and science-oriented.

  1. Health:

Atheists believe in science and would not stand in the way of medical treatments on religious grounds. While there have been studies that showed the mental and physical health benefits of being a believer, there have also been recent studies that showed no significant difference in the mental health of religious and non-religious people. In fact, it can be argued that having strong self-esteem and better economic status would make atheists healthier.

  1. Peacefulness:

Atheists do not start wars or commit acts of terrorism for religious reasons, just to prove their deity is the correct one. On the other hand, Marxist-Leninist atheism at the core of communism has certainly given atheism a bad name, but it’s not necessarily an argument that it was atheism itself that led to the repressions and killings. There were complex historical, social and economic reasons for that. Atheists tend to not kill others for the sake of atheism.

  1. Scepticism:

Atheists are generally skeptical and tend to look at issues from a rational, often scientific standpoint that demands proof. For an atheist, elements of reality are observable and can be tested.

  1. Better sex:

There have been studies that showed atheists having better sex lives than religious people simply due to not feeling guilty about it. Guilt about sex is certainly a strong feature of some of the world’s religions and the political discourses they generate (particularly in the US). There are also studies out that show a greater satisfaction with sex among the believers, but as it’s also not something they should really focus on and discuss (according to religious tenets), it’s hard to know where their responses are coming from.

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Psychological benefits of atheism over theism:

If you deny the existence of an omnipotent, omnipresent, benevolent God, and regardless of your position on naturalism, you would expect the world to look like it does. The universe, or universes, general existence, nature, its indifference and its chasm of mental agency allows you to reconcile the apparent fact that you cannot blame nature for outcomes it has no conscious choice over. Natural existence is indifferent to what is in the grand schemes of things petty social affairs carried out by one form of advanced animal species on one planet. Natural existence is not conscious and therefore not consciously responsible for the mind blowing cruelty and suffering of any biological organisms found anywhere in the universe.  In the face of this, the theist has an illogical contradiction to surmount. Not only does he argue the existence of a creator – itself deeply problematic in metaphysical terms but a loving one too. The latter is even harder to justify than the first argument from creation. Justifying evil in a form of existence wholly controlled by a loving God tends to be cashed out in terms of the argument that we cannot have love without evil and suffering; that we cannot know good without evil but if God is perfect he has failed to evoke a master plan that allows us to have good innately in itself without evil and in this respect God can keep his supposed master plan which is apparently perfect but yet untenable to mere mortals.

As you can see the atheist here is free of all tension and cognitive dissonance. Malevolence and illness in the world is more simply and rationally explained in light of atheism. As a consequence they also don’t have to doubt God’s seemingly bizarre and erroneous intentions such as why must we suffer? Does God punish through suffering? Why not skip mortal existence and go straight to the eternal afterlife? Such mental unrest leads to another point where the atheist’s position is far more therapeutic than the theistic position and this is in terms of liberty, responsibility and control. This is because they are free from a sadomasochistic God who they should fear but also love. Atheists can also live their life as they want without fear of being punished for misdemeanors or acts of hedonism. Where terrible crimes are conducted, humanity as a collective is forced to look at itself, understand the potential malevolence of human kind and seek remedy, prevention and progress where possible.

With rationality, self-ownership and liberty to purse multiple avenues humans are also free to discover more about themselves and the world around them; just ask Galileo but unfortunately theist can’t. Both the natural and social sciences have made considerable strides because we have endeavored to go into areas outside theism. Rationality and logic in philosophy has produced great arguments because there is no necessary religious restriction and in the world of natural science the scientific method has produced medicine which is far more useful than proverbial and erratic superstition.

When it comes to the atheistic worldview, logic, rationality, empirical demonstration or just simple philosophical argumentation, being an atheist provides very little cognitive dissonance in comparison to theism. Moreover the effects of this general cognitive operation not only means that we can look at social and natural phenomena in new ways that previously looked baffling under theism but also explore avenues that bring us new knowledge and rational explanation not found in theism. For these reasons, and perhaps many others that atheists themselves have found, the psychological benefits of atheism are rather staggering in comparison to theism.

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Disadvantages of atheism:

  1. No fear of God:

Atheists reject morality that is based on the ground of punishment for evil deeds and rewards for good deeds. They do not fear being answerable to anyone for the unintentional hurt they could cause to anyone. There is no guilt or repentance for they believe in moving on and then restarting afresh even if the transgression they pulled out could have hurt someone’s emotional being.

  1. They don’t look for meanings:

Atheists are sometimes so satisfied with their logical explanations that they tend to overlook meaningful but indistinct signs of nature. They lack inspiration towards good causes that are usually bound by the idea of sowing good and reaping good. They do not consider the idea of looking beyond the facts and faces towards what lies beneath them. This makes them insensitive to deeper meanings of life which is not always accepted by the society.

  1. Hopelessness for afterlife:

If you are not a believer, you have to be hopeless about life after death. Losing your dear ones to a tragic event is usually coped by people when they get hope for seeing them one day, afterlife maybe or in a different world. Atheists are left hopeless when they lose a dear one. It feels like the end of togetherness for them. Whatever relation they shared with the gone person seems to meet a dead end at that very moment. Hope is what keeps people going which makes it understandable why atheists could find this a big disadvantage.

  1. Condemned:

Religious groups, extremists mostly, condemn atheists and detest them as if they are a plague to the society. They are harshly judged for a complete lack of morality and are thought to be evildoers with no sense of guilt to make them repent and find enlightenment or redeeming qualities. While these might not be true, yet atheists are made to face the atrocities of religious groups in most of the countries.

  1. No Destiny means Responsibility:

Without religion, there is no possibility of a predetermined destiny, therefore individuals are responsible for their actions and future.

  1. Belonging and Traditions:

Atheism can, but not necessarily, mean the lack of belonging to a support group and traditions. There are plenty of non-religious groups that atheists can join and atheists can still partake religious traditions such as Christmas, thus atheism does not necessarily mean the lack of belonging or traditions.

  1. Everyone thinks Atheists are Immoral.

Let’s start with the fact that everyone apparently thinks atheists are the scum of the Earth, according to many surveys. In one such study which polled Canadians and Americans, participants were asked to imagine a hit-and-run driver fleeing after hitting a parked car, then later finding a wallet and stealing all the money. What an evil person. They then asked participants if said evil was more likely to be a teacher, an atheist teacher, or a rapist teacher. Yes, people suspected the driver of being an atheist over a rapist.

  1. Atheism is still Political Suicide:

About 37 percent of people in America would be less likely to vote for a politician who’d had an affair, and 41 percent would be less likely to vote for one who’d had financial problems, but 51 percent would be less likely to vote for an atheist. A bankrupt philanderer could become president if he claimed to be Christian.  A Gallup poll suggests that 58 percent of Americans would be willing to vote for an atheist candidate, and while that number sounds promising, the polls also show that only a socialist would have less support, at 47 percent, and a Muslim candidate would have 60 percent support, while a gay candidate comes in at 74 percent.

  1. Atheists are more prone to Addiction.

Studies of both Swiss and Mexican / Mexican American youth have shown that those who have a religious affiliation benefit from a protective effect when it comes to substance abuse. Religiosity is associated with less use of alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana.  Numerous studies show that if a religious or spiritual community expresses direct prohibitions and limitations against use or abuse, the followers are probably going to go along. This may not just be about fearing eternal hellfire; it could also be that simply having a community of like-minded people provides a sense of acceptance and belonging.

  1. Atheists might die sooner?

There’s evidence to suggest that religious people who regularly attend church have a longer lifespan than atheist. A study of 75,000 middle-aged nurses in the United States showed that participants who regularly attended church services over a 20-year period, as in once a week, had a 33 percent lower risk of dying during the study period than those who didn’t.  The thing to keep in mind with this research is that it isn’t exclusively faith that’s keeping anyone alive. The same data shows that countries that are much more religious overall, such as places in Sub-Saharan Africa, still have much higher mortality rates than the U.S. Conversely, more secular nations like Japan have higher life expectancy overall.

  1. Less religious nations actually have higher suicide rates.

Obviously an effect of depression, Atheists have more suicide rates and that’s bad!

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The rise of Arab atheism:

Across the Middle East, governments are cracking down on non-belief. But Arab atheists are becoming more visible.

-Brian Whitaker 2015

Religious disbelief is viewed with alarm in most Arab countries. Two government ministries in Egypt have been ordered to produce a national plan to “confront and eliminate” atheism. In Saudi Arabia, the most recent anti-terrorism law classifies “calling for atheist thought” as a terrorist offence. This hounding of non-believers might seem especially strange at a time when concerns are high about those who kill in the name of religion, but Arab societies have a general aversion to nonconformity, and the regimes that rule them often promote an official version of Islam that suits their political needs. Thus both jihadism and atheism – though very different in character – are viewed as forms of social or political deviance, with fears raised in the Arab media that those who reject God and religion will bring chaos and immorality if their ideas gain a foothold. In six Arab countries – Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen – apostasy is punishable by death. There have been no executions in recent years, but people deemed to have “insulted” religion, often in trivial ways, can face long prison sentences.

In Egypt, where the military chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi seized power in 2013, ousting an Islamist president, the new regime has been simultaneously cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, suspected religious extremists and atheists. Among other things, a café in Cairo which was allegedly frequented by atheists has been shut down and a college librarian who talked about humanism in a TV programme is facing dismissal from his job and may go on trial for “promoting atheistic ideas”. Arab atheists are becoming more visible, largely due to social media. There is also a perception that their numbers are growing. In 2012 a poll by WIN/Gallup International that looked at religion in 57 countries caused particular alarm in Saudi Arabia, which, as the birthplace of Islam, claims to be the holiest of the Arab countries. Of those interviewed there, 19 per cent said they were not religious and 5 per cent described themselves as convinced atheists.

In Egypt, the emergence of an atheist “menace” fits the government’s political narrative. It is presented as an unfortunate result of 12 months’ misrule by the Muslim Brotherhood. In a similar vein, some analysts have suggested that ISIS, while attracting some Muslims to fight, is driving others away from Islam. There is very little evidence to support such theories. Atheists, after all, disagree with religion in general, not simply with the more outlandish forms of it. The problematic aspects of Islam, as expressed by those who leave the faith, tend to be rather different from those highlighted in western media.

Last year, researcher tried to find out why some Arabs turn to atheism. Nobody mentioned terrorism as a major factor. Those who abandoned Islam did so because they rejected basic tenets of the faith, mainly as taught to them in schools and by government-approved clerics. In interviews, they mostly described a gradual progression away from religion, sometimes spread over years; there was no sudden “road to unbelief” moment of conversion to atheism. Typically, it began with a niggling question about some aspect of religious teaching that struck them as illogical, and often they had hoped to resolve these discrepancies to have a better understanding of their faith. The issue most often cited by Arabs as their first step on the road to disbelief was the apparent unfairness of divine justice. The picture they had acquired was of an irascible and sometimes irrational deity who behaves in much the same way as an Arab dictator or an old-fashioned family patriarch – an anthropomorphic figure who makes arbitrary decisions and seems eager to punish people at the slightest opportunity. Dire warnings, constantly repeated in the Quran, of what would happen to non-believers had clearly made a strong impression on them in childhood. “The idea of eternal hell was very disturbing to me,” said Mohammed Ramadan, an Egyptian. “I was nine when I asked my parents why would God punish us for ever when we live for an average of only 70 years.”

A Saudi who is known on Twitter as “Arab Atheist” was troubled by the question of why seemingly decent non-Muslims should be punished by God. Arriving in the US to study at a Jesuit college, he began to realise “how similar all religions are” in their basic teachings. “In Islam,” he said, “we are taught that all non-Muslims are going to hell. I had Jewish neighbours who were the kindest and sweetest couple and it made me wonder, why should they go to hell? And suddenly Islam started to crumble in my eyes.”  Waleed al-Husseini, from the Palestinian town of Qalqilya, grew up in what he describes as a normal Muslim family but in secondary school he started asking “questions like whether we are free to choose or not”. Without realising it at the time, he had stumbled into a debate about free will and predestination that has exercised the minds of theologians – Christian as well as Muslim – for centuries. Husseini put his questions to a teacher at school. “The teacher said it’s haram [forbidden] to ask about that,” he recalled. “I didn’t have an answer so I went to an imam in Qalqilya and I got the same reply.” This kind of response is familiar in authoritarian societies and is described by many other Arabs who have abandoned religion. By prompting them to look further afield for answers, it has probably set many young Muslims on the road to disbelief. With his curiosity aroused, Husseini embarked on his own research. “I went to the library in my school and the public library in my city. You can find many things there about religion but not about criticisms of religion,” he said. “I spent around four years searching because when I started with this issue I discovered more and more. Step by step I moved away from religion until I left Islam in my first year at university.”

Given the way Islam is often invoked to justify gender inequality – the discriminatory inheritance rules, for example, and subordination under the guise of female “modesty” – it might be argued that women in the Middle East have more reasons than men for abandoning religion. Some certainly do rebel and leave, but social conditions created by the patriarchal system make it difficult for others even to contemplate doing so. For vast numbers of Arab women, choosing between belief and non-belief is not a realistic option. Nabila from Bahrain explained: “There is a lot of pressure on women to conform. For instance, something as simple as finding a partner or getting into a relationship. Everything is counted, everything is watched.”

The popular association of atheism with immorality is a particular deterrent for women who have religious doubts, since in Arab society they are expected to be “virtuous” in order to marry. “It is difficult to come out as an atheist because society immediately considers you to be a person without moral values or ethics. This affects girls the most,” the administrator of the “Arab Atheists” Facebook page noted. “We have had to remove names of female members from the page to protect them from families and society.” Social pressures of this kind are obviously not the only reason why many women still cling to religion. For those who feel oppressed it can also provide a “comfort factor”, creating a paradoxical situation in which women may be simultaneously subjugated and sustained by their faith.

One striking difference between Arab non-believers and those in the West is that scientific arguments about evolution and the origins of the universe, a major part of Western atheist discourse, play only a minor role in Arabs’ drift away from religion – at least in the earlier stages. Generally, their initial questioning is not so much about the possibility (or otherwise) of God’s existence as about whether God could exist in the form described by organised religions. A few, while rejecting the God of Islam, maintain a vague belief in a deity or express a yearning for “spirituality”. In different circumstances, some might have explored other belief systems or “New Age” religion but the opportunities are severely restricted in the Middle East. Most Muslim countries tolerate Christianity and Judaism up to a point, referring to them as the “heavenly” religions, but others are not usually recognised or allowed – though they may be practised surreptitiously. In Kuwait, there are yoga classes and “healing centres” run by Buddhists but they don’t advertise their religious connections.

Some Muslims also make a tactical decision not to break with religion completely, presenting themselves as secularists, “progressive” Muslims or Muslim “reformers”. They feel that more can be achieved by challenging oppressive religious practices than by questioning the existence of God, since they are unlikely to be listened to if they are known to be atheists. Of course, not all progressive Muslims are secret non-believers – many are genuinely religious – but Ghassan Abdullah of Birzeit University, who has studied the work of a score of 20th-century “secular” Arab thinkers, believes that “a high proportion” of them were in fact atheists, or at least “did not subscribe to the idea of a God in the sky”. Several of them had said so privately, he added. “Writing critically about religion in the Arab world is not easy or safe,” Abdullah explained, but “as readers of rationalists in Arabic, we develop a sense of what such writers mean when they use certain ways of expressing their thoughts, and can guess their positions that they cannot declare openly.”

The Deen Research Center, which describes itself as a “modern Islamic thinktank”, is one example of an organisation that radically reinterprets scripture and steers very close to atheism while still claiming membership of the Muslim faith. “We believe the Quran rejects all forms of superstition, blind worship, discrimination, oppression, aggression, autocracy, theocracy, oppressive tradition and anti-scientism,” it says on its website. The website also stops just short of outright atheism by redefining God: “We do not believe in a god as seen by the mainstream within the religions. We believe in a god, or rather a force that is beyond comprehension, has no form or position, nor has any personal gains in the results of the universe but also does not play with humans as a despotic king or a dictator. We do not believe in ideas of salvational worship or the supernatural.”

While there’s little doubt that an Islamic reformation would benefit the Middle East socially and politically, atheists cannot advocate this without sacrificing their principles. Progressive versions of Islam generally view the Quran in its historical context, arguing that rules which applied in the time of the Prophet can be reinterpreted today in the light of changing circumstances – but that involves accepting the Quran as the supreme scriptural authority. The status of the Quran is a particularly important issue for both followers and opponents of Islam. Whereas Christians usually consider the Bible as divinely inspired but written by humans, the Quran is claimed to be the actual words of God, as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic). For atheists from a Muslim background, disputing the authenticity of the Quran and the Prophet often seems more relevant than questioning God – and there is a long tradition of doing so. Two notable figures of the ninth and tenth centuries, Ibn al-Rawandi and Abu Bakr al-Razi (both Persian), have often been labelled as atheists, though it would be more accurate to describe them as anti-prophetic rationalists. They were not concerned with whether God exists (and had little scientific knowledge on which to build a case) but they were very sceptical about prophets, including Muhammad. With various people claiming to be prophets and often contradicting each other, logic suggested they couldn’t all have a hotline to God. So the question was which of them – if any – were genuine.

Then, as now, the arguments of non-believers tended to rely on irrationality in religious doctrine rather than questioning the evidence for God’s existence. This is where atheist reactions to Islam and to Christianity diverge.

Although there is a long history of conflicts between science and Christianity, Muslims have not generally regarded scientific discoveries as a threat. The famous occasion in 1633 when Italian scientist Galileo Galilei was forced by the Roman Catholic Church to recant his “heretical” belief that the earth revolves around the sun has no Islamic equivalent. Muslims’ historical eagerness to engage with science was connected to their faith. Astronomy was of particular interest since they used a lunar calendar, and needed to ascertain the direction of Mecca when praying.

Publication of Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species in 1859 drew a mixed response from Muslims. Some, including the Grand Mufti of Egypt, relished the problems that Darwin’s theory caused for Christianity, arguing that Islam was relatively free from conflicts over science and thus more capable of taking things in its stride. Today, Muslim opposition to Darwinism is growing, probably due to the trend towards religious conservatism and literal interpretations of scripture since the 1970s. As a result, evolution is an area where Arab schools, universities and media tread warily for fear of provoking complaints.

In the Middle East the God question is far more than a matter for intellectual debate. Because politics and religion are so closely entwined, challenging religion can mean challenging the politics too. Most Arab regimes use religious credentials to compensate for their lack of electoral legitimacy, adopting and promoting whatever version of Islam assists their self-preservation. The Ba’athist regime in Syria, for example – despite having secular leanings – invented its own monolithic brand of Islam which basically denied the existence of sectarian differences and didn’t allow people to talk about them openly. This helped to disguise the fact that members of the minority Alawite sect held dominant positions within the regime – in a country with a large Sunni majority. In the most extreme case, Saudi Arabia, it is impossible to be openly atheist without opposing the political system too. The kingdom’s Basic Law (the equivalent of a constitution) states that “government in Saudi Arabia derives power from the Holy Quran and the Prophet’s tradition” and adds that Saudi society is “based on the principle of adherence to God’s command”. At present, Arabs who reject religion are too small in numbers to pose an actual threat to these regimes but the regimes would like to keep it that way. Their fears, absurd as it might seem to outsiders, are not without foundation. Growth of atheism in Arab world means defeat of authoritarian rulers who have mixed up Islam and politics to keep power in their hands.

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Conflict between atheism and theism:

Are atheists anti-religious? This false belief stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what atheism and religion are. Atheism is not in any way shape or form related to an opinion about religion. It is simply the assertion that god does not exist, nothing more and nothing less. Religion is a broad category that encompasses traditions which include supernatural belief and those that do not. From a sociological perspective, the sudden rise in anti-theism since 2004 is somewhat confusing. Before 2004, it seemed that the biggest “enemy” of theism was indifference to religion, “a-religion” so to speak. This went so far that the former president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture noted that: The Church today is confronted more by indifference and practical unbelief than with atheism. Atheism is in recline throughout the world, but indifference and unbelief develop in cultural milieus marked by secularism. It is no longer a question of a public affirmation of atheism, with the exception of a few countries, but of a diffuse presence, almost omnipresent, in the culture. (Poupard, 2004) After 2004, however, we’ve seen a spike in the sales of “atheist” literature such as books like “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins, and increased tension between theists and atheists. What has caused this change? In America, it seems that this development is in part caused by an increased media presence of atheism and also theism, which leads people to have a higher interest in the matter of religion (Bullivant, 2010). Outside of these recent developments, there is an empirically supported theory known as the “de-privatization theory”, which explains under which circumstances unbelief turns from a-religion, which is indifferent and passive, to anti-religion, which is hostile and assertive (Ribberink, Achterberg, & Houtman, 2013). In this model, the circumstances in which one turns to non-belief are important. Why is this important? Well, in the past, many people have assumed that rationality in itself would be enough to explain why people turn against religion. This “rationalization theory”, however, leads to completely opposite conclusions about the circumstances under which anti-religious sentiment is highest. As this has no empirical support, we need to assume that “rational” thought alone is not enough to explain why there is hostility towards religion. Back to the de-privatization theory. This theory states that anti-religion is the result of circumstances in which a-religion is seen as deviant, that means behavior which breaks with social values. Consequently, in societies with high religious presence, anti-religion is also highest. This is because atheists in highly religious societies need to actively perform their non-religion in order to be perceived as such. Simply put: If you don’t tell anyone that you are an atheist, people will just assume you are a theist. This explains, for example, why hostile atheism is comparatively strong in the United States instead of in, say, Germany or Great Britain. Notice that this development is just as strong the other way around – if belief is itself considered deviant, it may be just as strongly “anti-anti-theist”. Understanding why there is conflict between theists and anti-theists is in this sense much less a question of who is “right” or “wrong”; it is about how the majority reacts to one believing in something else, or nothing at all. As with many things, once again, however, it is the context that matters most. Compare this to the rationalization theory, according to which a greater presence of non-religion should lead to greater anti-theism. If anti-theism is only about rational thought, greater access to information should thus result in greater anti-theism.

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Atheist’s criticisms of religion:

The bad:

Not all atheists are hostile to religion, but many do think that religion is bad. Here are some of their reasons:

  • Religion gets people to believe something untrue.
  • Religion makes people base the way they run their lives on a falsehood.
  • Religion stops people thinking in a rational and objective way.
  • Religion forces people to rely on outside authority, rather than becoming self-reliant.
  • Religion imposes irrational rules of good and bad behaviour.
  • Religion divides people, and is a cause of conflict and war.
  • The hierarchical structure of most religions is anti-democratic, and thus offends basic human rights.
  • Religion doesn’t give equal treatment to women and gay people, and thus offends basic human rights.
  • Religion obstructs scientific research.
  • Religion wastes time and money.

The good:

Most atheists willingly concede there are some good things about religion, such as:

  • Religious art and music
  • Religious charities and good works
  • Much religious wisdom and scripture
  • Human fellowship and togetherness

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Despite their emphasis on reason, evidence and a desire to see through false truth claims, many atheists hold surprisingly ill-informed beliefs about religion. Many of these myths go unquestioned simply because they serve the purpose of discrediting religion at large. They allow for the construction of a straw man i.e. a distorted and simplistic representation of religion which can be easily attacked, summarily dismissed and ridiculed. Others who genuinely believe these false claims merely have a limited understanding of the ideas involved and have never thoroughly examined them. Sam Harris states that moderates are “in large part responsible for the religious conflict in our world” and “religious tolerance–born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God–is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.” And Richard Dawkins states, “The teachings of ‘moderate’ religion, though not extremist in themselves, are an open invitation to extremism.” Christopher Hitchens has called liberation theology “sinister nonsense” and compared the liberal Unitarian tradition to rats and vermin. The claim “to be religious is to be a theist” seems to be a difficult myth for some atheists to abandon. Many seem content with this intellectually inaccurate definition of religion. However there are variety of traditions that don’t require belief in any god, miracles or supernatural entities including Taoism, Jainism, Confucianism and Buddhism. Unitarian Universalism doesn’t require belief in any divinity either. And of course there are non-theists such as deists, pantheists and panentheists who are practicing members of Christianity, Judaism and Islam as well as other progressive traditions. There are many Christians who don’t literally believe the stories of the Bible. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of them. Thomas Jefferson, as well as other “founding fathers” are prominent examples of deists within American history. Jefferson created his own Bible in which he removed all references to miracles and supernatural claims.

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A common way for atheists to denounce religion is to simply list all of the horrors that have been done in the name of religion and then say, “Look how awful religion is!” Religion becomes synonymous with all of the bad things done by religious people. But is religion the cause of bad behavior or simply a mitigating factor? Christopher Hitchens provides some surprising insight: “What’s innate in our species isn’t the fault of religion. But the bad things that are innate in our species are strengthened by religion and sanctified by it… So religion is a very powerful re-enforcer of our backward, clannish, tribal element. But you can’t say it’s the cause of it. To the contrary, it’s the product of it.”  This point is very important because it focuses the attention on the real source of bad behavior which is human nature, not religion. Understanding this is important when defending against attempts to dismiss religion because of the bad things done in its name. Certainly, religion plays a role in conflicts but it is just one factor among many such as ideological, political and sociological ones. If religion were the cause of bad behavior getting rid of it would simply make all divisiveness and conflict disappear. But of course this would not be the case. And, if religion were to be eliminated other forms of associations with the same group dynamics and dangers would arise. Religion is like a knife which can be used by a surgeon to save lives or as a dagger to kill someone.

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Are all religions equally crazy?  All religions are out of touch with reality. All religions are implausible, based on cognitive biases, and unsupported by any good evidence whatsoever. All of them ultimately rely on faith — i.e., an irrational attachment to a pre-existing idea regardless of any evidence that contradicts it — as the core foundation of their belief. All of them contort, ignore, or deny reality in order to maintain their attachment to their faith. This conclusion is simply false as it leaves no room for religious people who are tolerant, non-believers or those who view religion metaphorically. Writing an article that concludes all religions are equally crazy is like saying that all Americans are nationalists and imperialists and then pointing to the part of the population that supports U.S. wars.

Where is the evidence that many of these atheists can make any meaningful distinctions between religions? It’s one thing to make the claim but where is the recognition of humanistic, non-literal and progressive religious traditions? Hitchens calls Unitarianism rats and vermin. Christina calls all religions equally crazy. Dawkins says the teachings of moderate religion lead to extremism. Harris claims that moderates are responsible for much of the conflict in the world. If there were any serious attempts to show they know the difference between religions, these leaders in the movement would have exhibited it by now. But time and time again all we get from these prominent atheists something akin to “all religions are equally crazy.”

We can move beyond the religion = crazy OR atheism = dangerous dichotomy that so dominates today. Genuine dialogue between the religious and non-religious is possible.  Theists and atheists certainly won’t agree on everything, but in the end all parties should leave more knowledgeable and better prepared to deal with the way religion impacts our everyday lives and the global sphere.

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Figure below shows areas of convergence where values can be found in all major views:

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Is Atheism a Religion?

Atheism is not in itself a religion. It does not involve any kind of worship, rituals, faith, prayers, etc., and it has no spiritual leader and no sacred text. Most atheists never join any kind of atheist organization (although they do exist). Some atheist and humanist organizations do offer secular rituals for common events such as namings, weddings and funerals (with the intention of giving them meaning and significance without any religious content), but these are relatively rare and not mainstream events. Atheism is not necessarily anti-religious either, and atheists in general do not dislike or outright hate theists (although they may be vehemently opposed to their views). Most atheists would willingly concede there are, or have been, some good things about religion, such as religious art and music, religious charities and good works, some religious wisdom and scripture, and the human fellowship and togetherness that religion often fosters. Atheists are no more required to be hostile to the religious than Christians or Jews are required to be hostile to Hindus or Muslims. Nor, on the whole, will they attempt to “convert” others, although they may well defend their own positions vigorously if challenged. There are even some, like Alain de Botton for example, who try to find a middle way between religion and fundamentalist atheism, and who look for ways to preserve some of the finer elements of religion – such as its art and architecture, its spirit of community and its concept of humility – without involving the idea of a transcendent being or God. De Botton has even (albeit playfully, and not entirely seriously) suggested the idea of temples for atheists.

Atheism is not even necessarily equivalent to irreligion, although the majority of atheists are also irreligious, in the sense that they do not practice any religion. Some religious and spiritual belief systems that do not actively advocate belief in gods (such as some forms of Buddhism, for example) could be described as atheistic, and several other religions, including Confucianism, Taoism and Jainism, either do not include belief in a personal god as a tenet of the religion, or actively teach non-theism. There are even sects of Christian Atheists (who reject the God of Christianity but follow the teachings of Jesus) and Jewish Atheists (who emphasize Jewish culture and history, rather than belief in a God, as the sources of Jewish identity). Unitarian Universalism is an example of a religious (Christian) movement into which some atheists may comfortably fit, should they feel the need.

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Atheism, religion and spirituality:

Atheism is not mutually exclusive with respect to some religious and spiritual belief systems, including Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Syntheism, Raëlism,  and Neopagan movements such as Wicca.  Āstika schools in Hinduism hold atheism to be a valid path to moksha, but extremely difficult, for the atheist cannot expect any help from the divine on their journey.  Jainism believes the universe is eternal and has no need for a creator deity, however Tirthankaras are revered that can transcend space and time and have more power than the god Indra.  Secular Buddhism does not advocate belief in gods. Early Buddhism was atheistic as Gautama Buddha’s path involved no mention of gods. Later conceptions of Buddhism consider Buddha himself a god, suggest adherents can attain godhood, and revere Bodhisattvas and Eternal Buddha.

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Spiritual but not religious:

“Spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) also known as “Spiritual but not affiliated” (SBNA) is a popular phrase and initialism used to self-identify a life stance of spirituality that takes issue with organized religion as the sole or most valuable means of furthering spiritual growth. Historically, the words religious and spiritual have been used synonymously to describe all the various aspects of the concept of religion, but in contemporary usage spirituality has often been associated with the interior life of the individual, placing an emphasis upon the well-being of the “mind-body-spirit”, while religion refers to organizational or communal dimensions.

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How does an atheist reconcile “spirituality” with a stark, reason-based philosophy?

Is it possible to be spiritual without being religious, or believing in deities?

Spirituality, as opposed to religion, is rooted in the notion that there is an immaterial reality—energy, for example—which is experienced as a result of our own existence, or being. Spirituality is not a belief in physical beings, like gods or goddesses, but a state of being in connection with something larger than oneself both immanently and transcendentally. A spiritual life doesn’t require deities nor does it require adhering to a specific religious belief system. It’s possible for an atheist to view god as a non-deity, especially if god is conceived of as energy, and energy as spirit. Atheists do not reject the notion that there is an immaterial reality (like energy), but they do reject belief in physical beings with supernatural powers. Atheists, like scientists reject religious dogma, superstition, and the pseudo-sciences practiced in more than 4,000 religious traditions worldwide—including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Most people practicing a spiritual life seek to intimately understand how our own “being” is deeply related to the totality of existence. In other words, we are far more than just our physical form. As more and more people become aware of the interconnected nature of our being, our experience of life becomes both immanent and transcendental-the essence of a spiritual experience. The experience is immanent because it is directly experienced at the precise moment we become conscious of ourselves as being a part of a larger whole. It is transcendental because the moment our awareness shifts from the self to our interconnectedness, we transcend the solipsistic notion of the self and become conscious of that which is greater than I am. The truth of what anything is, and who we are, boils down to an elegant fact: we are all energy, radiating our own unique energy signature. We are all spirit, radiating our own unique spiritual signature in a universe that consists wholly of energy.

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Spiritual atheism:

Spiritual Atheism is now part of the common philosophical classification system:

1) Those who believe in the existence of an entity external to the universe that supposedly created and rules the universe are classified as Theists.

2) Those who do NOT believe in the existence of an entity external to the universe that supposedly created and rules the universe are classified as Atheists.

3) Those who do NOT believe in the existence of an entity external to the universe that supposedly created and rules the universe, but do recognize the inter-connectedness and one-ness of the infinite and eternal universe, are classified as Spiritual Atheists.

4) Those who are undecided about the existence of an entity external to the universe that supposedly created and rules the universe are classified as Agnostics.

Spiritual Atheism is NOT a religion or a philosophy! Instead, it is a critical addition to the common God-based philosophical classification system.

THEISM

Christianity
Islam
Judaism

ATHEISM

Humanism
Naturalism
Ayn Rand’s Objectivism
Anton LeVey’s Satanism

SPIRITUAL ATHEISM

Buddhism
Non-literal Christianity
Non-literal Islam
Jainism
Non-literal Judaism
Non-literal Theism
Hinduism
New Age
Paganism
Pantheism
Panentheism
Spiritual Humanism
Spiritual Naturalism
Taoism
Wicca

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Author claims ‘Atheism will replace Religion’ by 2041:

Economic security a characteristic of ‘Godless’ Countries:

A Cross-National Test of the Uncertainty Hypothesis of Religious Belief a 2011 study:

According to the uncertainty hypothesis, religion helps people cope psychologically with dangerous or unpredictable situations. Conversely, with greater control over the external environment due to economic development and technological advances, religious belief is predicted to decline (the existential security hypothesis). The author predicts that religious belief would decline in economically developed countries where there is greater existential security, including income security (income equality and redistribution via welfare states) and improved health. These predictions are tested in regression analyses of 137 countries that partialed out the effects of Communism and Islamic religion both of which affect the incidence of reported nonbelief. Findings show that disbelief in God increased with economic development (measured by lower agricultural employment and third-level enrollment). Findings further show that disbelief also increased with income security (low Gini coefficient, high personal taxation tapping the welfare state) and with health security (low pathogen prevalence). Results show that religious belief declines as existential security increases, consistent with the uncertainty hypothesis.

In a controversial new study, author Nigel Barber claims that atheism will replace religion by 2041 as a result of rising living standards worldwide. The bold assertion, which Barber introduced in a recent e-book titled “Why Atheism Will Replace Religion,” arose from a series of projections the bio-psychologist makes based on a study.

“Atheists are more likely to be college-educated people who live in cities, and they are highly concentrated in the social democracies of Europe,” Barber wrote in an article in Psychology Today. “Atheism thus blossoms amid affluence, where most people feel economically secure.” Barber continues in this vein, writing that his prediction that a majority of people will reject religion in favor of atheism by 2041 is also rooted in the rise of the “welfare state” across the globe. “In my new study of 137 countries, I also found that atheism increases for countries with a well-developed welfare state (as indexed by high taxation rates),” he writes. “Moreover, countries with a more equal distribution of income had more atheists.”  It’s quite a leap of logic to suggest that rising financial security will lead inexorably to a rejection of religion, and a number of thought leaders have in fact drawn the opposite conclusion, predicting that religious beliefs will enjoy a resurgence as the world continues to develop.

Barber claims that outside of the “possible exception” of the United States, “… citizens of countries that enjoy the best standard of living are the least likely to believe in God or see religion as very important in their daily lives.”

He asserts, “Religion may have been useful to humans for tens of thousands of millennia thanks to its role in coping with stress and uncertainty” but it has outlived its usefulness because successful countries are turning away from religion. “I argue that their citizens’ lives are so comfortable and secure that they no longer need religious rituals to help them cope with anxiety. The key factors that make people feel secure include: relative affluence; good health and long life expectancy; economic security; and social trust; all of which are characteristics of ‘godless’ countries.”

His claims are based on findings from a study. After analyzing 137 countries “that partialed out the effects of Communism and Islamic religion both of which affect the incidence of reported nonbelief,” Barber concludes in his study, “A Cross-National Test of the Uncertainty Hypothesis of Religious Belief,” that increasing economic and income security, higher taxation and a welfare state lead to “disbelief,” and is replaced by residents “trusting their neighbors and participating in civic organizations,” opposed to religious activities. “When one compares countries around the world, the happiest countries are not the most religious ones,” he writes. “Countries where most people are rendered miserable by poverty, hunger, and disease, are the very ones where religious belief is at its strongest.”

In an article published in Psychology Today, Barber notes: “In sub-Saharan Africa there is almost no atheism. Belief in God declines in more developed countries and atheism is concentrated in Europe in countries such as Sweden (64 percent nonbelievers), Denmark (48 percent), France (44 percent) and Germany (42 percent). In contrast, the incidence of atheism in most sub-Saharan countries is below 1 percent.”

Barber maintains that a majority of people worldwide will reject religion by 2041 in his article.  The question of why economically developed countries turn to atheism has been batted around by anthropologists for about eighty years. Anthropologist James Fraser proposed that scientific prediction and control of nature supplants religion as a means of controlling uncertainty in our lives. This hunch is supported by data showing that the more educated countries have higher levels of non-belief and there are strong correlations between atheism and intelligence. Atheists are more likely to be college-educated people who live in cities and they are highly concentrated in the social democracies of Europe. Atheism thus blossoms amid affluence where most people feel economically secure.  But why?

It seems that people turn to religion as a salve for the difficulties and uncertainties of their lives. In social democracies, there is less fear and uncertainty about the future because social welfare programs provide a safety net and better health care means that fewer people can expect to die young. People who are less vulnerable to the hostile forces of nature feel more in control of their lives and less in need of religion. In addition to being the opium of the people (as Karl Marx contemptuously phrased it), religion may also promote fertility, particularly by promoting marriage, according to copious data reviewed by Sanderson (2008). Large families are preferred in agricultural countries as a source of free labor. In developed “atheist” countries, women have exceptionally small families and do not need religion helping them to raise large families. Even the psychological functions of religion face stiff competition today. In modern societies, when people experience psychological difficulties they turn to their doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. They want a scientific fix and prefer the real psychotropic medicines dished out by physicians to the metaphorical opiates offered by religion. Moreover, sport psychologists find that sports spectatorship provides much the same kind of social, and spiritual, benefits as people obtain from church membership. This makes the case that sports is replacing religion. The reasons that churches lose ground in developed countries can be summarized in market terms. First, with better science, and with government safety nets, and smaller families, there is less fear and uncertainty in people’s daily lives and hence less of a market for religion. At the same time many alternative products are being offered, such as psychotropic medicines and electronic entertainment that have fewer strings attached and that do not require slavish conformity to unscientific beliefs. Only time will reveal what the future holds for religion and atheism throughout the world.

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Will religion ever disappear?

A growing number of people, millions worldwide, say they believe that life definitively ends at death – that there is no God, no afterlife and no divine plan. And it’s an outlook that could be gaining momentum – despite its lack of cheer. In some countries, openly acknowledged atheism has never been more popular. “There’s absolutely more atheists around today than ever before, both in sheer numbers and as a percentage of humanity,” says Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, and author of Living the Secular Life.  Assuming global trends continue might religion someday disappear entirely? It’s impossible to predict the future, but examining what we know about religion – including why it evolved in the first place, and why some people chose to believe in it and others abandon it – can hint at how our relationship with the divine might play out in decades or centuries to come.

Scholars are still trying to tease out the complex factors that drive an individual or a nation toward atheism, but there are a few commonalities. Part of religion’s appeal is that it offers security in an uncertain world. So not surprisingly, nations that report the highest rates of atheism tend to be those that provide their citizens with relatively high economic, political and existential stability. “Security in society seems to diminish religious belief,” Zuckerman says. Capitalism, access to technology and education also seems to correlate with a corrosion of religiosity in some populations, he adds. Japan, the UK, Canada, South Korea, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, France and Uruguay (where the majority of citizens have European roots) are all places where religion was important just a century or so ago, but that now report some of the lowest belief rates in the world. These countries feature strong educational and social security systems, low inequality and are all relatively wealthy. “Basically, people are less scared about what might befall them,” says Quentin Atkinson, a psychologist at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Yet decline in belief seems to be occurring across the board, including in places that are still strongly religious, such as Brazil, Jamaica and Ireland. “Very few societies are more religious today than they were 40 or 50 years ago,” Zuckerman says. “The only exception might be Iran, but that’s tricky because secular people might be hiding their beliefs.”

Existential security is more fallible than it seems. In a moment, everything can change: a drunk driver can kill a loved one; a tornado can destroy a town; a doctor can issue a terminal diagnosis. As climate change wreaks havoc on the world in coming years and natural resources potentially grow scarce, then suffering and hardship could fuel religiosity. People want to escape suffering, but if they can’t get out of it, they want to find meaning. For some reason, religion seems to give meaning to suffering – much more so than any secular ideal or belief that we know of. This phenomenon constantly plays out in hospital rooms and disaster zones around the world. In 2011, for example, a massive earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand – a highly secular society. There was a sudden spike of religiosity in the people who experienced that event, but the rest of the country remained as secular as ever. While exceptions to this rule do exist – religion in Japan plummeted following World War II, for instance – for the most part, Zuckerman says, we adhere by the Christchurch model. “If experiencing something terrible caused all people to become atheists, then we’d all be atheists,” he says.

But even if the world’s troubles were miraculously solved and we all led peaceful lives in equity, religion would probably still be around. This is because a god-shaped hole seems to exist in our species’ neuropsychology, thanks to a quirk of our evolution. Understanding this requires a delve into “dual process theory”. This psychological staple states that we have two very basic forms of thought: System 1 and System 2. System 2 evolved relatively recently. It’s the voice in our head – the narrator who never seems to shut up – that enables us to plan and think logically.

System 1, on the other hand, is intuitive, instinctual and automatic. These capabilities regularly develop in humans, regardless of where they are born. They are survival mechanisms. System 1 bestows us with an innate revulsion of rotting meat, allows us to speak our native language without thinking about it and gives babies the ability to recognise parents and distinguish between living and nonliving objects. It makes us prone to looking for patterns to better understand our world, and to seek meaning for seemingly random events like natural disasters or the death of loved ones. In addition to helping us navigate the dangers of the world and find a mate, some scholars think that System 1 also enabled religions to evolve and perpetuate. System 1, for example, makes us instinctually primed to see life forces – a phenomenon called hypersensitive agency detection – everywhere we go, regardless of whether they’re there or not. Millennia ago, that tendency probably helped us avoid concealed danger, such as lions crouched in the grass or venomous snakes concealed in the bush. But it also made us vulnerable to inferring the existence of invisible agents – whether they took the form of a benevolent god watching over us, an unappeased ancestor punishing us with a drought or a monster lurking in the shadows. Similarly, System 1 encourages us to see things dualistically, meaning we have trouble thinking of the mind and body as a single unit. This tendency emerges quite early: young children, regardless of their cultural background, are inclined to believe that they have an immortal soul – that their essence or personhood existed somewhere prior to their birth, and will always continue to exist. This disposition easily assimilates into many existing religions, or – with a bit of creativity – lends itself to devising original constructs. For all of these reasons, many scholars believe that religion arose as “a byproduct of our cognitive disposition”, says Robert McCauley, director of the Center for Mind, Brain and Culture at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and author of Why Religion Is Natural and Science Is Not. “Religions are cultural arrangements that evolved to engage and exploit these natural capacities in humans.”  Atheists must fight against all of that cultural and evolutionary baggage. Human beings naturally want to believe that they are a part of something bigger, that life isn’t completely futile. Our minds crave purpose and explanation. “With education, exposure to science and critical thinking, people might stop trusting their intuitions,” Norenzayan says. “But the intuitions are there.”

On the other hand, science – the system of choice that many atheists and non-believers look to for understanding the natural world – is not an easy cognitive pill to swallow. Science is about correcting System 1 biases, McCauley says. We must accept that the Earth spins, even though we never experience that sensation for ourselves. We must embrace the idea that evolution is utterly indifferent and that there is no ultimate design or purpose to the Universe, even though our intuition tells us differently. We also find it difficult to admit that we are wrong, to resist our own biases and to accept that truth as we understand it is ever changing as new empirical data are gathered and tested – all staples of science. “Science is cognitively unnatural – it’s difficult,” McCauley says. “Religion, on the other hand, is mostly something we don’t even have to learn because we already know it.” “There’s evidence that religious thought is the path of least resistance,” Barrett adds. “You’d have to fundamentally change something about our humanity to get rid of religion.” This biological sticking point probably explains the fact that, although 20% of Americans are not affiliated with a church, 68% of them say that they still believe in God and 37% describe themselves as spiritual. Even without organised religion, they believe that some greater being or life force guides the world.

Similarly, many around the world who explicitly say they don’t believe in a god still harbour superstitious tendencies, like belief in ghosts, astrology, karma, telepathy or reincarnation. “In Scandinavia, most people say they don’t believe in God, but paranormal and superstitious beliefs tend to be higher than you’d think,” Norenzayan says. Additionally, non-believers often lean on what could be interpreted as religious proxies – sports teams, yoga, professional institutions, Mother Nature and more – to guide their values in life. As a testament to this, witchcraft is gaining popularity in the US, and paganism seems to be the fastest growing religion in the UK. Religious experiences for non-believers can also manifest in other, more bizarre ways. Anthropologist Ryan Hornbeck, also at the Thrive Center for Human Development, found evidence that the World of Warcraft is assuming spiritual importance for some players in China, for example. “WoW seems to be offering opportunities to develop certain moral traits that regular life in contemporary society doesn’t afford,” Barrett says. “People seem to have this conceptual space for religious thought, which – if it’s not filled by religion – bubbles up in surprising ways.”

What’s more, religion promotes group cohesion and cooperation. The threat of an all-powerful God (or gods) watching for anyone who steps out of line likely helped to keep order in ancient societies. “This is the supernatural punishment hypothesis,” Atkinson says. “If everyone believes that the punishment is real, then that can be functional to groups.” And again, insecurity and suffering in a population may play a role here, by helping to encourage religions with stricter moral codes. In a recent analysis of religious belief systems of nearly 600 traditional societies from around the world, Joseph Bulbulia at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand and his colleagues found that those places with harsher weather or that are more prone to natural disasters were more likely to develop moralising gods. Why? Helpful neighbours could mean the difference between life and death. In this context, religion evolved as a valuable public utility. “When we see something so pervasive, something that emerges so quickly developmentally and remains persistent across cultures, then it makes sense that the leading explanation is that it served a cooperative function,” says Bulbulia.

Finally, there’s also some simple mathematics behind religion’s knack for prevailing. Across cultures, people who are more religious also tend to have more children than people who are not. “There’s very strong evidence for this,” Norenzayan says. “Even among religious people, the more fundamentalist ones usually have higher fertility rates than the more liberal ones.” Add to that the fact that children typically follow their parents’ lead when it comes to whether or not they become religious adults themselves, and a completely secularised world seems ever more unlikely.

For all of these reasons – psychological, neurological, historical, cultural and logistical – experts guess that religion will probably never go away. Religion, whether it’s maintained through fear or love, is highly successful at perpetuating itself. If not, it would no longer be with us. And even if we lose sight of the Christian, Muslim and Hindu gods and all the rest, superstitions and spiritualism will almost certainly still prevail. More formal religious systems, meanwhile, would likely only be a natural disaster or two away. “Even the best secular government can’t protect you from everything,” says McCauley. As soon as we found ourselves facing an ecological crisis, a global nuclear war or an impending comet collision, the gods would emerge. “Humans need comfort in the face of pain and suffering, and many need to think that there’s something more after this life, that they’re loved by an invisible being,” Zuckerman says. “There will always be people who believe, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they remain the majority.”

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Atheism and crime:

One of the first questions Atheists are asked by true believers and doubters alike is, “If you don’t believe in God, there’s nothing to prevent you from committing crimes, is there? Without the fear of hell-fire and eternal damnation, you can do anything you like, can’t you?” It is hard to believe that even intelligent and educated people could hold such an opinion, but they do! The answer to the questions posed above is, of course, “Absolutely not!” The behavior of Atheists is subject to the same rules of sociology, psychology, and neurophysiology that govern the behavior of all members of our species, religionists included. Moreover, despite protestations to the contrary, we may assert as a general rule that when religionists practice ethical behavior, it isn’t really due to their fear of hell-fire and damnation, nor is it due to their hopes of heaven. Ethical behavior – regardless of who the practitioner may be – results always from the same causes and is regulated by the same forces, and has nothing to do with the presence or absence of religious belief.

As human beings, we are social animals. Our sociality is the result of evolution, not choice. Natural selection has equipped us with nervous systems which are peculiarly sensitive to the emotional status of our fellows. Among our kind, emotions are contagious, and it is only the rare psychopathic mutants among us who can be happy in the midst of a sad society. It is in our nature to be happy in the midst of happiness, sad in the midst of sadness. It is in our nature, fortunately, to seek happiness for our fellows at the same time as we seek it for ourselves. Our happiness is greater when it is shared.

The young chimpanzee does not need an oracle to tell it to honor its mother and to refrain from killing its brothers and sisters. Of course, family squabbles and even murder have been observed in ape societies, but such behaviors are exceptions, not the norm. So too it is in human societies, everywhere and at all times. The African apes – whose genes are ninety-five percent identical to ours – go about their lives as social animals, cooperating in the living of life, entirely without the benefit of clergy and without the commandments of religious texts. It is further cheering to learn that sociobiologists have even observed altruistic behavior among troops of baboons. More than once, in troops attacked by leopards, aged, post reproduction-age males have been observed to linger at the rear of the escaping troop and to engage the leopard in what often amounts to a suicidal fight. As the old male delays the leopard’s pursuit by sacrificing his very life, the females and young escape and live to fulfil their several destinies. The heroism which we see acted out, from time to time, by our fellow men and women, is far older than their religions. Long before the gods were created by the fear-filled minds of our less courageous ancestors, heroism and acts of self-sacrificing love existed. They did not require a supernatural excuse then, nor do they require one now.

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In many people’s minds – and as expressed so clearly in Psalm 14 cited at the outset of this article – atheism is equated with lawlessness and wickedness, while religion is equated with morality and law-abiding behavior. Does social science support this position? Although some studies have found that religion does inhibit criminal behavior (Baier and Wright 2001; Powell 1997; Bainbridge 1989; Elifson et al. 1983; Peek et al. 1985) others have actually found that religiosity does not have a significant effect on inhibiting criminal behavior (Cochran et al. 1994; Evans et al. 1996; Hood et al. 1996). ‘‘The claim that atheists are somehow more likely to be immoral,’’ asserts Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi (2007, 306), ‘‘has long been disproven by systematic studies.’’ Admittedly, when it comes to underage alcohol consumption or illegal drug use, secular people do break the law more than religious people (Benson 1992; Gorsuch 1995; Hood et al. 1996; Stark and Bainbridge 1996). But when it comes to more serious or violent crimes, such as murder, there is simply no evidence suggesting that atheist and secular people are more likely to commit such crimes than religious people. After all, America’s bulging prisons are not full of atheists; according to Golumbaski (1997), only 0.2 percent of prisoners in the USA are atheists – a major underrepresentation.

If religion, prayer, or God-belief hindered criminal behavior, and secularity or atheism fostered lawlessness, we would expect to find the most religious nations having the lowest murder rates and the least religious nations having the highest. But we find just the opposite. Murder rates are actually lower in more secular nations and higher in more religious nations where belief in God is deep and widespread (Jensen 2006; Paul 2005; Fajnzylber et al. 2002; Fox and Levin 2000). And within America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates tend to be among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon (Ellison et al. 2003; Death Penalty Information Center, 2008). Furthermore, although there are some notable exceptions, rates of most violent crimes tend to be lower in the less religious states and higher in the most religious states (United States Census Bureau, 2006). Finally, of the top 50 safest cities in the world, nearly all are in relatively non-religious countries, and of the eight cities within the United States that make the safest-city list, nearly all are located in the least religious regions of the country (Mercer Survey, 2008).

Yes, some research suggested that criminal activity is lower in societies in which most of its people’s religious beliefs incorporate fear of punishment for crimes in the afterlife.  Similarly, undergraduate students were less likely to cheat at exams when they believed in a punishing god versus a benevolent one.

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With 17% US population not identifying with any religion, recent data shows that they only make up 0.07% of prison population as reported by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The proportion of Catholics in prison is about on par with their makeup in the general population, Muslims are over-represented in prison, and Protestants appear to be under-represented though you really have to look at individual denominations to get a clearer picture of what’s happening. Atheists are between 10 to 20 times as unlikely to commit a crime (or to be in prison anyway) than the average member of the population. Both in absolute numbers, and in proportion to their share of the population, there are fewer atheists among convicted criminals than theists. This is probably because atheists tend to be more affluent and better educated than theists, both factors which reduce one’s likelihood committing or of being convicted of a crime. Religiosity and poverty are highly correlated, so too are poverty and crime. This probably explains what you’re describing more than anything else does. People tend to focus on few spectacular mass murdering dictators (Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao) who were atheists to prop their claim that atheists should be eradicated. But they leave out the whole history full of people who did murdering for religion.

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Since the field of criminology got started and data were collected of the religious affiliation of criminal offenders, the fact that the unaffiliated and the nonreligious had the lowest crime rates has been noted (von Hentig, H. 1948. The Criminal and His Victim. Yale University Press.). According to von Hentig, being unaffiliated is the best predictor of law-abiding behavior. There is no reason to doubt the validity of this generalization today:

-Rates of self-reported atheism:

United States 4%

Italy 7%

Portugal 12%

Sweden 85%

Denmark 80%

Norway 72%

Japanese 65%

-Country Prisoners per 100,000 population:

United States 716

Portugal 134

Italy 108

Norway 71

Sweden 67

Denmark 68

Japan 54

-Countries by intentional homicide rate per year per 100,000 inhabitants:

United States 4.7

Portugal 1.2

Italy 0.9

Sweden 1.0

Norway 0.6

Denmark 0.9

Japan 0.4

The obvious comparison is between the United States, which is unusually religious for an industrialized nation, and Europe, which over the past century has become increasingly secular. Obviously European morality does not appear to be on the verge of collapse. The Europa’s murder rate is much lower, as is the number of people in prison.

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Is atheism responsible for some of the greatest crimes of history?

People of faith regularly claim that atheism is responsible for some of the most appalling crimes of the 20th century. Although it is true that the regimes of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were irreligious to varying degrees, they were not especially rational. In fact, their public pronouncements were little more than litanies of delusion—delusions about economics, national identity, the march of history or the moral dangers of intellectualism.  While Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot were almost certainly atheists, the important point is that it was not their lack of belief in a god which drove them and motivated them. The fanatical and uncompromising political, economic and nationalistic dogmas which animated them were not the product of any religious belief (or lack thereof), but political beliefs taken to excess. Thus, while Stalin and Mao happened to be atheists, they did not do their deeds in the name of atheism, but in the name of their own dogmatic variant of Marxism. Some would claim that communism with its extreme dogmatism and reliance on personality cults, are actually themselves like a kind of religion. In the warped communism of Stalin and Mao, the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God of Christianity was essentially replaced with the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God of the State.

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Irreligion, race and domestic violence:

The abstract for the 2007 article in the journal Violence Against Women entitled Race/Ethnicity, Religious Involvement, and Domestic Violence indicated:

“The authors explored the relationship between religious involvement and intimate partner violence by analyzing data from the first wave of the National Survey of Families and Households. They found that: (a) religious involvement is correlated with reduced levels of domestic violence; (b) levels of domestic violence vary by race/ethnicity; (c) the effects of religious involvement on domestic violence vary by race/ethnicity; and (d) religious involvement, specifically church attendance, protects against domestic violence, and this protective effect is stronger for African American men and women and for Hispanic men, groups that, for a variety of reasons, experience elevated risk for this type of violence.

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Predominantly Atheist Countries have Lowest Crime Rate according to a Study in 2018:

Recently a ground-breaking study on religious belief and social well-being was published in the Journal of Religion & Society. Comparing 18 prosperous democracies from the U.S. to New Zealand, author Gregory S Paul quietly demolished the myth that faith strengthens society. Drawing on a wide range of studies to cross-match faith – measured by belief in God and acceptance of evolution – with homicide and sexual behavior, Paul found that secular societies have lower rates of violence and teenage pregnancy than societies where many people profess belief in God.  Top of the class, in both atheism and good behavior, come the Japanese. Over eighty percent accept evolution and fewer than ten percent are certain that God exists. Despite its size – over a hundred million people – Japan is one of the least crime-prone countries in the world. It also has the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy of any developed nation.  Next in line are the Norwegians, British, Germans and Dutch. At least sixty percent accept evolution as a fact and fewer than one in three are convinced that there is a deity. There is little teenage pregnancy, although the Brits, with over 40 pregnancies per 1,000 girls a year, do twice as badly as the others. Homicide rates are also low — around 1-2 victims per 100,000 people a year.  At the other end of the scale comes America. Over 50 percent of Americans believe in God, and only 40 percent accept some form of evolution (many believe it had a helping hand from the Deity). The U.S. has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy and homicide rates are at least five times greater than in Europe and ten times higher than in Japan.  All this information points to a strong correlation between faith and antisocial behavior — a correlation so strong that there is good reason to suppose that religious belief does more harm than good.

At first glance that is a preposterous suggestion, given that religions preach non-violence and sexual restraint. However, close inspection reveals a different story. Faith tends to weaken rather than strengthen people’s ability to participate in society. That makes it less likely they will respect social customs and laws.  All believers learn that God holds them responsible for their actions. So far so good, but for many, belief absolves them of all other responsibilities. Consciously or subconsciously, those who are “born again” or “chosen” have diminished respect for others who do not share their sect or their faith. Convinced that only the Bible offers “truth”, they lose their intellectual curiosity and their ability to reason. Their priority becomes not the world they live in but themselves. The more people prioritize themselves rather than those around them, the weaker society becomes and the greater the likelihood of antisocial behavior. Hence gun laws which encourage Americans to see each other not as fellow human beings who deserve protection, but as potential aggressors who deserve to die. And hence a health care system which looks after the wealthy rather than the ill.  As for sex… Faith encourages ignorance rather than responsible behavior. In other countries, sex education includes contraception, reducing the risk of unwanted pregnancies. Such an approach recognizes that young people have the right to make their own choices and helps them make decisions that benefit society as a whole. In America faith-driven abstinence programs deny them that right — “As a Christian I will only help you if you do what I say”. The result is soaring rates of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.  Abstinence programs rest on the same weak intellectual foundation as creationism and intelligent design. Faith discourages unprejudiced analysis. Reasoning is subverted to rationalization that supports rather than questions assumptions. The result is a self-contained system that maintains an internal logic, no matter how absurd to outside observers.

The constitutional wall that theoretically separates church and state is irrelevant. Religion has overwhelmed the nation to permeate all public discussion. Look no further than Gary Bauer, a man who in any other western nation would be dismissed as a fanatic and who in America is interviewed deferentially on prime time television.  Despite all its fine words, religion has brought in its wake little more than violence, prejudice and sexual disease. True morality is found elsewhere. As UK Guardian columnist George Monbiot concluded in his review of Gregory Paul’s study, “if you want people to behave as Christians advocate, you should tell them that God does not exist.”

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Religion and violence:

I do not believe that ‘religion has nothing to do with terrorism and terrorists have no religion’.  Religion is used by terrorists to kill innocents as religion provides them moral legitimacy and a cover up. In addition to spiritual reward of transcendence, religion may also offer benefits in the afterlife that can hardly be matched in this world. The change desired by religious terrorists is so badly needed that failure to achieve change is seen as a worse outcome than the deaths of civilians.

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Religion as a Source of Violence:

“…kill the idolaters wherever you find them” (Quran 9:5)

“… utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass”. (1 Samuel 15:3)

How can we tell what elements of God’s morality are culturally relative assumptions and which are genuine revelations? If it is up to us to decide what God said and what he didn’t, especially if these judgment calls are based on what sounds good to us, then we have become the authority, not God, not scripture.

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One of the greatest challenges facing civilization in the 21st century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns—about ethics, spiritual experience and the inevitability of human suffering—in ways that are not flagrantly irrational. Nothing stands in the way of this project more than the respect we accord religious faith. Incompatible religious doctrines have balkanized our world into separate moral communities—Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc.—and these divisions have become a continuous source of human conflict. Indeed, religion is as much a living spring of violence today as it was at any time in the past. The recent conflicts in Palestine (Jews versus Muslims), the Balkans (Orthodox Serbians versus Catholic Croatians; Orthodox Serbians versus Bosnian and Albanian Muslims), Northern Ireland (Protestants versus Catholics), Kashmir (Muslims versus Hindus), Sudan (Muslims versus Christians and animists), Nigeria (Muslims versus Christians), Ethiopia and Eritrea (Muslims versus Christians), Sri Lanka (Sinhalese Buddhists versus Tamil Hindus), Indonesia (Muslims versus Timorese Christians), Iran and Iraq (Shiite versus Sunni Muslims), and the Caucasus (Orthodox Russians versus Chechen Muslims; Muslim Azerbaijanis versus Catholic and Orthodox Armenians) are merely a few cases in point. In these places religion has been the explicit cause of literally millions of deaths in the last 10 years.

In a world riven by ignorance, only the atheist refuses to deny the obvious: Religious faith promotes human violence to an astonishing degree. Religion inspires violence in at least two senses: (1) People often kill other human beings because they believe that the creator of the universe wants them to do it (the inevitable psychopathic corollary being that the act will ensure them an eternity of happiness after death). Examples of this sort of behavior are practically innumerable, jihadist suicide bombing being the most prominent. (2) Larger numbers of people are inclined toward religious conflict simply because their religion constitutes the core of their moral identities. One of the enduring pathologies of human culture is the tendency to raise children to fear and demonize other human beings on the basis of religion. Many religious conflicts that seem driven by terrestrial concerns, therefore, are religious in origin. (Just ask the Irish.)

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Why is religion such a potent source of human violence?

  1. Our religions are intrinsically incompatible with one another. Either Jesus rose from the dead and will be returning to Earth like a superheroor not; either the Quran the infallible word of God or it isn’t. Every religion makes explicit claims about the way the world is, and the sheer profusion of these incompatible claims creates an enduring basis for conflict.
  2. There is no other sphere of discourse in which human beings so fully articulate their differences from one another, or cast these differences in terms of everlasting rewards and punishments. Religion is the one endeavor in which us-them thinking achieves a transcendent significance. If a person really believes that calling God by the right name can spell the difference between eternal happiness and eternal suffering, then it becomes quite reasonable to treat heretics and unbelievers rather badly. It may even be reasonable to kill them. If a person thinks there is something that another person can say to his children that could put their souls in jeopardy for all eternity, then the heretic next door is actually far more dangerous than the child molester. The stakes of our religious differences are immeasurably higher than those born of mere tribalism, racism or politics.
  3. Religious faith is a conversation-stopper. Religion is only area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give evidence in defense of their strongly held beliefs. And yet these beliefs often determine what they live for, what they will die for, and—all too often—what they will kill for. This is a problem, because when the stakes are high, human beings have a simple choice between conversation and violence. Only a fundamental willingness to be reasonable—to have our beliefs about the world revised by new evidence and new arguments—can guarantee that we will keep talking to one another. Certainty without evidence is necessarily divisive and dehumanizing. While there is no guarantee that rational people will always agree, the irrational are certain to be divided by their dogmas.

When we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; when we have no reasons, or bad ones, we have lost our connection to the world and to one another. Atheism is nothing more than a commitment to the most basic standard of intellectual honesty: One’s convictions should be proportional to one’s evidence. Pretending to be certain when one isn’t—indeed, pretending to be certain about propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable—is both an intellectual and a moral failing. Only the atheist has realized this. The atheist is simply a person who has perceived the lies of religion and refused to make them his own.

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If it were true that when belief in God weakens, societal well-being diminishes, then we should see abundant evidence for this. But we don’t. In fact, we find just the opposite: Those societies today that are the most religious — where faith in God is strong and religious participation is high — tend to have the highest violent crime rates, while those societies in which faith and church attendance are the weakest — the most secular societies — tend to have the lowest.

We can start at the international level. The most secular societies today include Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Czech Republic, Estonia, Japan, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Germany, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Hungary, China and Belgium. The most religious societies include Nigeria, Uganda, the Philippines, Pakistan, Morocco, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Colombia, Senegal, Malawi, Indonesia, Brazil, Peru, Jordan, Algeria, Ghana, Venezuela, Mexico and Sierra Leone.

It is the highly secularized countries that tend to fare the best in terms of crime rates, prosperity, equality, freedom, democracy, women’s rights, human rights, educational attainment and life expectancy. (Although there are exceptions, such as Vietnam and China, which have famously poor human rights records.) And those nations with the highest rates of religiosity tend to be the most problem-ridden in terms of high violent crime rates, high infant mortality rates, high poverty rates and high rates of corruption.

Take homicide. According to the United Nations’ 2011 Global Study on Homicide, of the 10 nations with the highest homicide rates, all are very religious, and many — such as Colombia, Mexico, El Salvador and Brazil — are among the most theistic nations in the world. Of the nations with the lowest homicide rates, nearly all are very secular, with seven ranking among the least theistic nations, such as Sweden, Japan, Norway and the Netherlands.

Now consider the flip side: peacefulness.

According to the nonprofit organization Vision of Humanity, which publishes an annual Global Peace Index, each of the 10 safest and most peaceful nations in the world is also among the most secular, least God-believing in the world. Most of the least safe and peaceful nations, conversely, are extremely religious.

As professor Stephen Law of the University of London observed: “If a decline in religiosity were the primary cause [of social ills], then we would expect those countries that have seen the greatest decline to have the most serious problems. But that is not the case.”

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A researcher has taken data from the World Values Survey on the percentage of people in each country who say they are a committed atheist, and also on the percentage of people who say that they go to a religious service at least once a month. Then the sample is split into two equal groups, based on their score on the Global Peace Index (GPI). The ones in the ‘Peaceful’ group are countries with a GPI score less than 1.8. Sure enough, peaceful countries have more atheists and fewer regular worshippers. The difference is highly statistically significant (P=0.001 or less) – in other words it’s real, not just a chance finding.

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What about within the United States?

According to the latest study from the Pew Research Center, the 10 states that report the highest levels of belief in God are Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Oklahoma (tied with Utah). The 10 states with the lowest levels of belief in God are Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Alaska, Oregon and California. And as is the case in the rest of the world, when it comes to nearly all standard measures of societal health, including homicide rates, the least theistic states generally fare much better than the most theistic. Consider child-abuse fatality rates: Highly religious Mississippi’s is twice that of highly secular New Hampshire’s, and highly religious Kentucky’s is four times higher than highly secular Oregon’s.

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Demographically, violent death rates are higher in Christian and Muslim nations compared to Hindu or Buddhist nations. In Christianity and Islam, there is a very clear emphasis on judging the moral actions of others. There is a distinction between those who are properly subscribing to the belief system which is laid out, and those who violate it. Both religions, while paying lip service to the universal morality of “thou shall not kill”, still tentatively condone violently punishing those who break the rules. Killing purely in the name of one’s religious beliefs is still extremely rare, but this tone extends to daily transactions of all sorts: there is a culture of taking action against those who are perceived as “wrong”. In simplified terms, these are extroverted societies, extremely concerned with the actions of others. By contrast, Buddhism and Hinduism are both very inward looking faiths. The major tenants of these religions have to do with prioritizing one’s inner peace, and not so much concerning yourself with the moral development of others. Basically, they are introverted cultures, and introverts tend to shy away from dramatic personal confrontations.

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Authoritarianism, Religious Fundamentalism, Quest, and Prejudice, a 2009 study:

Five studies of university students and their parents were carried out to investigate the relationships among right-wing authoritarianism, various indices of religious orientation, and prejudice. Measures of religious fundamentalism, and religious quest, developed for this research, proved to be psychometrically sound, and were good discriminators between prejudiced and unprejudiced persons, across a variety of different measures of prejudice and authoritarian aggression. Scores on both Religious Fundamentalism and Religious Quest scales also were correlated strongly with right-wing authoritarianism and the Christian Orthodoxy scale, although orthodoxy itself tended not to be correlated with prejudice. Apparently, religious fundamentalism and nonquesting are linked with authoritarianism and prejudice toward a wide variety of minority groups.

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Is religion the main cause of conflict today?

Figure below shows various causes of conflicts in the 2013 worldwide:

Religion is not the main cause of conflicts today. Whilst religion has evidently been a cause of many conflicts throughout history it is by no means the only reason for conflict. Surveying the state of 35 armed conflicts from 2013, religious elements did not play a role in 14, or 40 per cent. It is notable that religion did not stand as a single cause in any conflict; however 14 per cent did have religion and the establishment of an Islamic state as driving causes. Religion was only one of three or more reasons for 67 per cent of the conflicts where religion featured as a factor to the conflict.

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Do moderate believers contribute to religious violence?

Religious moderates tend to imagine that human conflict is always reducible to a lack of education, to poverty or to political grievances. This is one of the many delusions of liberal piety. To dispel it, we need only reflect on the fact that the Sept. 11 hijackers were college educated and middle class and had no discernable history of political oppression. They did, however, spend an inordinate amount of time at their local mosque talking about the depravity of infidels and about the pleasures that await martyrs in Paradise. How many more architects and mechanical engineers must hit the wall at 400 miles an hour before we admit to ourselves that jihadist violence is not a matter of education, poverty or politics? The truth, astonishingly enough, is this: A person can be so well educated that he can build a nuclear bomb while still believing that he will get 72 virgins in Paradise. Such is the ease with which the human mind can be partitioned by faith, and such is the degree to which our intellectual discourse still patiently accommodates religious delusion. Only the atheist has observed what should now be obvious to every thinking human being: If we want to uproot the causes of religious violence we must uproot the false certainties of religion.

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The New Atheist creed maintains that moderates are just as dangerous and misguided as their extremist co-religionists. Here is Sam Harris, offering his characteristically subtle take on the question: “Religious moderates are, in large part, responsible for the religious conflicts in our world, because their beliefs provide the context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence can never be adequately opposed.” Richard Dawkins, in “The God Delusion,” includes a self-explanatory section titled “How ‘Moderation’ in Faith Fosters Fanaticism.” “Even mild and moderate religion,” he avers, “helps to provide the climate of faith in which extremism naturally flourishes.” The problem with this line of thinking is that it leads to some unwanted logical conclusions when applied equally to other ideas. It is hypocritical to selectively apply the principle where it suits one’s needs but not elsewhere. We can ask whether or not all liberal and moderate expressions of something are responsible for their most extreme forms. Are the people who casually smoke marijuana in any way responsible for the death of someone involved in a violent heroin drug trade? Is a social drinker of alcohol creating the environment that leads to alcoholism? Should they be shunned for supporting conditions that cause tens of thousands of alcohol-related unwanted deaths? We can list example after example, but to make the point simply, the more rational and tolerant uses of science, religion, medicine or government cannot be blamed for the destructive and harmful uses of them. However, mere verbal condemnation of religious terrorism by moderate believers is a lip-service. The way to end religious terrorism is to expose and corner extremist individuals by moderate believers and also provide vital information about extremists to police by moderate believers. This is so because only moderate believers know who extremists are and people outside faith do not know who is moderate and who is extremist.

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Atheism and happiness:

The pursuit of happiness, or more broadly defined in the literature as subjective well-being, is something humans have strived for throughout history (Lyubomirsky & Lepper, 1999). Happiness has been defined as the frequency and degree of joy, satisfaction over a given period, and an absence of negative feelings (Argyle, Martin, & Crossland, 1989). In addition, Seligman (2002) posits that engagement and meaning are important aspects of happiness. Studies have supported the benefits of happiness, including greater physical and mental health benefits (Diener & Seligman, 2004), which provides a compelling case for its continued investigation (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005). Religion is a global cultural phenomenon that has arguably been, and remains, one of the most powerful influences on humanity. Investigation of the factors that enhance happiness is the current focus of happiness research.  Religion has been identified as one factor that may enhance happiness, as research has found a positive association between religiosity and happiness (Argyle & Hills, 2000; Francis, Jones, & Wilcox, 2000; Francis & Lester, 1997; Francis & Robbins, 2000; French & Joseph, 1999; Lewis, Maltby, & Day, 2005). However, some studies have found no association (Lewis, Lanigan, Joseph, & De Fockert, 1997; Lewis, Maltby, & Burkinshaw, 2000). One possible explanation for these inconsistent results is the measurement of happiness, which is a contentious issue in happiness research (Lyubomirsky & Lepper, 1999). Lewis and Cruise (2006) have raised concerns that conflicting results in the literature between religiosity and happiness could be due to the way happiness has been operationalised, and suggested that the theoretical basis for this construct needs to be strengthened. In particular, studies that used the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire (OHQ), a widely used measure of happiness, and the Depression Happiness Scale , have produced inconsistent results. Kashdan (2004) claims that there may be conceptual overlap between the OHQ and other constructs, rather than a clear, precise measure of subjective well-being. Kashdan does have a strong argument, illustrated by item 13, “I don‟t think I look attractive”, which appears on face value to be measuring self-esteem. Sillick and Cathcart (2013) suggested that studies could be conducted using other well-established measures of happiness.

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In religious countries, including the U.S., religious people describe themselves as happier. In relatively godless countries, such as the Netherlands, or Denmark, religious people are not happier. This striking inconsistency between the U.S. and godless countries may have a fairly simple explanation. Religious people are in the majority in the U.S., but in a minority in Denmark and the Netherlands. Feeling part of the mainstream may be comforting whereas being in the minority is stressful.  Even within the U.S. there are curious inconsistencies. The most religious states are the least happy based on Gallup data. This mirrors the pattern amongst countries.  Countries with the highest average self-reported happiness are the least religious. The happiest nations are, in order, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands. Sweden, Denmark and Norway are the second, third, and fourth least religious countries, being exceeded only by formerly-communist Estonia in their atheism.

Why are the happiest countries also the least religious ones? Both happiness and religiosity are affected by the highly developed character of these countries. All score close to the top on the UN’s human development index that measures the overall quality of life in terms of health, wealth, and education. The basic function of religion is coping with anxiety. More specifically, it helps people to deal with the stress of uncertainty from third-world living conditions. In countries with a better standard of living, basic anxieties about food supply and illness recede and religion fades along with them. Residents of highly developed countries are happy because their quality of life is better. The key factor may be an expectation of living to old age without fear of extreme poverty. Because they are confident in their own welfare, they have less need of religion as a salve for the difficulties of their lives.  Such confidence increases in societies where there is a well-developed welfare state that redistributes income from the wealthy to the less fortunate. This could help explain why the U.S. – with significant gaps in its government safety nets – is more religious than Europe despite having a similar level of economic development.

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Religiosity and happiness: A comparison of the happiness levels between the religious and the nonreligious, a 2016 study:

Previous studies have identified a positive link between religiosity and happiness. However, this link is contentious as some studies have found no association. The present study compared the happiness levels of the religious and the nonreligious using two separate measures of happiness, the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire, and the Subjective Happiness Scale. One hundred and twenty four people (men = 43, women = 81), aged between 18 and 73 years (M = 42.28, SD = 12.18), participated in the study by completing an online survey. There were 13 participants in the ‘believe in God’ group, 53 participants in the ‘believe in God and participate in religion group’, 17 participants in the ‘agnostic’ group, and 41 participants in the ‘atheist’ group. The results found there was no difference in happiness levels between any of the groups for both measures of happiness. These findings suggest the religious are not happier than the nonreligious. Further studies are needed to compare the happiness levels of the religious and nonreligious with a variety of samples.

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Another study found a U-curve when happiness was plotted with the strongly religious on one side, the strongly atheistic on the other, and the more in-between/uncertain people in the middle. The most strongly atheistic and religious people were the happiest, with those caught in between the least. This implied that happiness was caused by the amount of certainty you had in your world-view, and not on the content of that belief. Or at least that those who had decided which answer they were satisfied with spent less time worrying over it than those who hadn’t.

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World’s Happiest Countries are also Least Religious in 2016:

Every year, the World Happiness Index surveys numerous people from various countries around the world in search of, as the name implies, which country has the happiest population. This year’s winner is Denmark, followed closely by Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway. The US ranked 13th.  The report shows that the world’s happiest countries are also the world’s least religious countries. The happiest countries also tend to be fairly homogeneous nations with strong social safety nets. The unhappiest countries in the world are Afghanistan at 154th followed by Togo and Syria. Burundi comes in last at 157th.  While the study shows a correlation between happiness and non-religiousness, no causal relationship is demonstrated. One can only speculate if it is the lack of religion that makes countries happier, or that happy countries simply reject religious superstition. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that unhappy people are driven to religion, given the fact that when one is unhappy in this life they can embrace the idea that there is something better waiting for them after death. People either turn to religion or maintain their religion when their social situation is so dire that they’re unhappy. When conditions are good, and there’s lots of social support, including help for sick people, old people, free medical care, and so on, then there’s no need to be religious, no need to supplicate a god for what your society can’t provide.  The 2016 World Happiness Report seeks to quantify happiness as a means of making societies healthier and more efficient.

The 2018 UN World Happiness Report again shows that most atheistic (and socially well off) countries are the happiest, while religious countries are poor and unhappy.

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Atheism and health:

Belief in God correlates not only to reports of improved mental health among the faithful, but also better physical health compared to nonbelievers. Furthermore, University of Missouri researchers have found that religious spiritual support improves outcomes for people suffering from face chronic health conditions, according to a study published in 2011 the Journal of Religion, Disability & Health.  This sort of support included care from congregations, religious counselling and assistance from pastors and hospital chaplains. The study had examined the role of gender in coping with chronic diseases or conditions, and found improved outcomes for both religious men and women.

A separate study by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that regularly attending religious services can cut the risk of death up to 20 percent. By examining the religious practices of 92,395 post-menopausal women participating in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the researchers found that “religious affiliation, religious service attendance, and strength and comfort derived from religion with subsequent cardiovascular events and overall rates of mortality.”  Although theists may report better health outcomes, a separate study found that religious young adults were more likely to be obese than their nonreligious (including believers and atheists) counterparts.  A study of nearly 2,500 people over 18 years determined that young adults between 20 to 32 years old with a high frequency of religious participation were 50 percent more likely to go from a healthy weight to obesity by middle age. The researchers also adjusted for differences in age, race, sex, education, income and baseline body mass index. In other words, organized religion can make you fat.

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Atheism and societal development:

It is said over and over again by religious conservatives: without faith in God, society will fall apart. If we don’t worship God, pray to God, and place God at the central heart of our culture, things will get ugly. In his classic Reflections on the French Revolution, Edmund Burke argued that religion was the underlying basis of civil social order. Voltaire, the celebrated Enlightenment philosopher, argued that without theism society could not function; it is necessary for people to have “profoundly engraved on their minds the idea of a Supreme being and creator” in order to maintain a moral social order. Alexis de Tocqueville similarly argued that religious faith is “indispensable” for a well-functioning society, that irreligion is a “dangerous” and “pernicious” threat to societal well-being, and that non-believers are to be regarded as “natural enemies” of social harmony. However, those democratic nations today that are the most secular, such as Scandinavia, Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, etc., are faring much better on nearly every single indicator of well-being imaginable than the most religious nations on earth today, such as Colombia, Jamaica, El Salvador, Yemen, Malawi, Pakistan, the Philippines, etc. As University of London professor Stephen Law has observed, “if declining levels of religiosity were the main cause of…social ills, we should expect those countries that are now the least religious to have the greatest problems. The reverse is true.”  The latest special report put out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which lists the ten states with the worst/best quality of life. According to this multivariate analysis which takes into account a plethora of indicators of societal well-being, those states in America with the worst quality of life tend to be among the most God-loving/most religious (such as Mississippi and Alabama), while those states with the best quality of life tend to among the least God-loving/least religious (such as Vermont and New Hampshire).

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Life Satisfaction and Psychological Well-Being:

Are atheism and secularity somehow linked to unhappiness, emotional instability, or psychological problems?

The relationship between religiosity ⁄ secularity and psychological well-being is a heavily-research matter (Sherkat and Ellison 1999), although one that is far from settled (Hwang 2008; Pasquale 2007a,b). Some studies suggest that religiosity is positively correlated with positive mental health outcomes (Levin and Taylor 1998; Levin and Chatters 1998) while others find no such correlation (Musick 2000; King and Schafer 1992; Gee and Veevers 1990; Brown and Gary 1987; Bergin 1983; Stones 1980; Campbell et al. 1976; Atchley 1997; Crawford et al. 1989). Schumaker (1992) has argued that nonreligious people are more likely to have having psychological problems, yet Ventis (1995) has argued that secular people are actually psychologically healthier than religious people (see also Beit-Hallahmi 2007). Many studies report that religiosity is correlated with reduced levels of depression (Koenig 1995; Ellison 1994; Levin 1994), and yet others suggest that religiosity can have a negative or no influence on depression (Buggle et al. 2001; O’Connell and Skevington 2005; Sorenson et al. 1995; Francis et al. 1981; Wilson and Miller 1986). Mirola (1999) found that being religiously involved helps lower levels of depression among women, but not men. Some studies indicate that secular people are less happy than religious people (Altemeyer 2009; Reed 1991; Steinitz 1980), and yet international comparisons show that it is the most secular nations in the world that report the highest levels of happiness among their populations (Beit-Hallahmi 2009; Zuckerman 2008; De Place 2006). According to Greeley and Hout (2006, 153), among Americans who describe themselves as ‘very happy,’ secular people don’t fare as well as religious people, and yet, among people who describe themselves as ‘pretty happy,’ nonreligious Americans actually fare the best. Religiosity may also be correlated with lower death anxiety (Duff and Hong 1995; Spilka et al. 1985) – but not necessarily (Phelps 2009; Zuckerman 2008). Ross (1990, 239) found that people with stronger religious beliefs had significantly lower levels of psychological distress than those with weaker religious beliefs, but that ‘‘those with no religion had the lowest distress levels.’’ Religiosity may be correlated with longer life expectancy (Musick et al. 2004; McCullough and Smith 2003; Hummer et al. 1999) – but some have challenged even this finding (Bagiella et al. 2005). While acknowledging the many disagreements and discrepancies above, the fact still remains that a preponderance of studies do indicate that secular people don’t seem to fare as well as their religious peers when it comes to selected aspects of psychological wellbeing (Hackney and Sanders 2003; Pargament 2002; Schnittker 2001; Hood et al. 1996; Idler and Stanislav 1992; Petersen and Roy 1985). For instance, Ellison (1991), Jones (1993), and Pollner (1989) found that religious beliefs correlate with a sense of life satisfaction and well-being, and Myers (1992) found that religious faith is correlated with hope and optimism. McIntosh et al. (1993) report that religious people have a better time adjusting to and coping with sad or difficult life events than secular people; Mattlin et al. (1990) and Palmer and Noble (1986) report that religion is beneficial for people dealing with chronic illness or the death of a loved one. Based on a systematic examination of over 100 studies – and drawing heavily from the work of Koenig et al. (2001) –McCullough and Smith (2003, 191–192) conclude that ‘‘people who are religious devout, but not extremists, tend to report greater subjective well-being and life satisfaction…more ability to cope with stress and crises…and fewer symptoms of depression’’ than secular people. However, it should be pointed out that some have vigorously refuted such sweeping conclusions, arguing that the link between religiosity and positive health outcomes is grossly exaggerated (Sloan and Bagiella 2002). Finally, there is certainly the possibility that because being non-religious in the United States makes one a member of a widely un-liked, distrusted, and stigmatize minority, this could take a psychological toll on the mental health and sense of well-being of atheists and secular people, who may suffer from a sense of isolation, alienation, or rejection from family, colleagues, or peers (Downey 2004).

As for suicide, however, regular church-attending Americans clearly have lower rates than non-attenders (Comstock and Partridge 1972; Stack and Wasserman 1992; Martin 1984), although this correlation has actually not been found in other nations (Stack 1991). Of the current top-ten nations with the highest rates of suicide, most are relatively secular (World Health Organization, 2003). But it is worth noting that eight of these top-ten are post-Soviet countries, suggesting that decades of totalitarianism, depressed economies, and a lack of basic human freedoms may be more significant in explaining the high rates of suicide than low levels of God-belief.

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Family and Children:

Studying the relationship of religion to family life has been a staple of social science for decades. Some studies report that non-religious people have higher rates of divorce than religious people (Hood et al. 1996; Lehrer and Chiswick 1993; Heaton and Call 1997), but a 1999 Barna study (Barna Research Group Survey 1999, 2007) found that atheists and agnostics actually have lower divorce rates than religious Americans. And according to Kosmin (2008), divorce is a widespread phenomenon that affects the religious and secular in roughly equal measure. As for the effect of divorce on later religious or secular identity, Lawton and Bures (2001) found that kids whose parents had divorced were more likely to become ‘‘Nones’’ later in life than kids whose parents remained married, a finding confirmed by Zhai et al. (2007).

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National and State Comparisons:

One consistent assertion made by religious people is that if a society or country loses faith in God, or becomes secular, the results won’t be good. It is a theo-sociological claim: societies characterized by significant levels of belief in God are expected to fare much better than those without. And it is a claim that is easily testable. The results, however, indicate that the claim is unsupportable. For when we compare more secular countries with more religious countries, we actually find that – with the exception of suicide – the more secular fare markedly better than the more religious on standard measures of societal well-being (Zuckerman 2008; Crabtree 2005; Norris and Inglehart 2004). Admittedly, nations with atheistic dictatorships, such as Vietnam, formely-Communist Albania, or the former U.S.S.R., do miserably on various indicators of societal well-being. However, this is most likely due to the dictatorship element of the equation, and not the atheistic element. After all, nations led by religious dictatorships – such as Chile under Pinochet, Haiti under Duvalier, Spain under Franco, or modern-day Iran – also fare poorly, particularly concerning civil and human rights.

As discussed earlier, the most secular democracies in the world score very high on international indexes of happiness and well-being (Kamenev 2006) and they have among lowest violent crime and homicide rates (Paul 2005). But there’s more. A perusal of any recent United Nations World Development Report reveals that when it comes to such things as life expectancy, infant mortality, economic equality, economic competitiveness, health care, standard of living, and education, it is the most secular democracies on earth that fare the best, doing much better than the most religious nations in the world (Zuckerman 2008; Norris and Inglehart 2004; Bruce 2003). Consider women’s equality and women’s rights: women fare much better in more secular countries when compared with women in more religious countries and that women’s equality is strongest in the world’s most secular democracies (Ingelhart et al. 2003; Inglehart and Norris 2003). And a UNICEF (2007) report found that the least religious nations on earth – such as Sweden and Holland – are simultaneously the best countries for the care and well-being of children. Of the top ten best countries in the world within which to be a mother, all are highly secular nations; of the bottom worst 10, all are highly religious (Save the Children, 2008). And the nations with the lowest levels of corruption are simultaneously among the most secular (Beit- Hallahmi 2009). When it comes to intolerance of racial or ethnic minorities, levels are lower in less religious countries, and higher in more religious countries (Gallup Poll 2009, April 7). Concerning environmental protection, secular nations fare much better than religious nations, with the most secular democracies on earth doing the most to enact strong and progressive laws and green programs (Germanwatch, 2008). According to one international ranking, the ‘‘greenest’’ countries in the world are simultaneously among the most secular (Reader’s Digest, 2009). Additionally, the nations that score the highest when it comes to the quality of political and civil liberties that their citizens enjoy tend to be among the most secular nations on earth (Nationmaster, 2009). As for reading and math skills and scientific literacy, it is again the more secular nations that fare the best (Lynn 2001; UNICEF, 2002). The most secular nations in the world are also the most peaceful, while the most religious nations are the least peaceful (Vision of Humanity, 2008). And according to the Legatum Prosperity Index (2009), secular nations are far more prosperous than religious nations. Finally, according to The Economist’s Quality of Life Index (2005), which takes into account multiple indicators of subjective well-being as well as objective determinants of quality of life, the ‘‘best’’ nations on earth are overwhelmingly among the most secular, while the ‘‘worst’’ are overwhelmingly among the most religious.

Within the United States, we find similar patterns: the states with the highest rates of poverty tend to be among the most religious states in the nation, such as Mississippi and Tennessee, while the states with the lowest poverty rates tend to be among the most secular, such as New Hampshire and Hawaii (United States Census Bureau 2008). The states with the highest rates of obesity are among the most religious in the nations, while the states with the lowest rates of obesity are among the least religious (Calorielab.com 2008). And it is the more religious states that tend to have infant mortality rates higher than the national average, while the less religious states tend to have lower infant mortality rates (United States Census Bureau, 2005). Additionally, it is among the most religious states that one finds the highest rates of STDs (Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2007) and teen pregnancy (Guttmacher Institute, 2006). America’s Bible Belt also contains the lowest rates of college-educated adults, and of the states with the highest percentage of college educated adults, most are among the most secular in the country (United States Census Bureau, 2007).

Evidently, a preponderance of people of faith in a given society is not necessarily beneficial, nor is a preponderance of atheists or secular people automatically deleterious. In fact, states and nations with a preponderance of nonreligious people actually fare better on most indicators of societal health than those without (Rees 2009; Zuckerman 2008; Norris and Inglehart 2004). Of course, correlation is not causation. We cannot be sure that atheism and ⁄ or secularity directly cause positive societal outcomes. But we can be quite sure that atheism and ⁄ or secularity certainly do not hinder societal well-being, either.

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Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the findings of Social Science counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions, a 2009 study:

This article offers a thorough presentation and discussion of the latest social scientific research concerning the identities, values, and behaviors of people who don’t believe in God or are non-religious, and addresses the ways in which atheism and secularity are positively correlated with societal well-being. Atheism and secularity have many positive correlates, such as higher levels of education and verbal ability, lower levels of prejudice, ethnocentrism, racism, and homophobia, greater support for women’s equality, child-rearing that promotes independent thinking and an absence of corporal punishment, etc. And at the societal level, with the important exception of suicide, states and nations with a higher proportion of secular people fare markedly better than those with a higher proportion of religious people.

Phil Zuckerman analyzed a wide array of data comparing religious nations to less religious nations and also, interestingly, religious states within the United States (i.e. “Bible-belt” states) to less religious states. Here are just a few of the highlights:

  1. Criminal Behavior:

Citing four different studies, Zuckerman states: “Murder rates are actually lower in more secular nations and higher in more religious nations where belief in God is widespread.” He also states: “Of the top 50 safest cities in the world, nearly all are in relatively non-religious countries.” Within the United States, we see the same pattern. Citing census data, he writes: “And within America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be the highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates tend to be the among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon.” And these findings are not limited to murder rates, as rates of all violent crime tend to be higher in “religious” states. Zuckerman also points out that atheists are very much under-represented in the American prison population (only 0.2%). True, there is some evidence to suggest that atheists and agnostics are more likely to engage in underage drinking and illicit drug use. But the wider conclusion on the links between crime and religious belief holds good: if you want safe streets, move to a godless neighbourhood.

  1. Marriage and Family:

Zuckerman cites a 1999 Barna study that finds that atheists and agnostics actually have lower divorce rates than religious Americans. He also cites another study, in Canada, that found conservative Christian women experienced higher rates of domestic violence than non-affiliated women.

  1. Unprotected Sex:

Some studies have “consistently ” found that religious people are less likely to engage in unprotected sex, that claim is directly refuted by a 2009 study that found the reverse – teens who make religion-inspired “virginity pledges” are not only just as likely as their non-pledging peers to engage in premarital sex, but more likely to engage in unprotected sex.

  1. Happiness:

The most secular nations in the world report the highest levels of happiness among their population.

  1. Altruism:

Secular nations such as those in Scandinavia donate the most money and supportive aid, per capita, to poorer nations. Zuckerman also reports that two studies show that, during the Holocaust, “the more secular people were, the more likely they were to rescue and help persecuted Jews.”

  1. Outlooks and Values:

Zuckerman, citing numerous studies, shows that atheists and agnostics, when compared to religious people, are actually less likely to be nationalistic, racist, anti-Semitic, dogmatic, ethnocentric, and authoritarian. Secularism also correlates to higher education levels. Atheists and other secular people are also much more likely to support women’s rights and gender equality, as well as gay and lesbian rights. Religious individuals are more likely to support government use of torture. Atheism and secularism, Zuckerman continued, are also correlated with higher levels of education and lower levels of prejudice not only against women and gays, but people from other ethnicities as well. For good measure, atheists were less likely to beat their children and more likely to encourage them to think independently. In many US courtrooms, judges restrict or deny child custody rights to atheist parents. If they want children to grow up to be law-abiding citizens, and not end up back in court as juvenile delinquents, they should stand that policy on its head.

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Note:

Of course, studies can be cherry-picked to present religiosity in a better light than above, and the point of my article is not to prove the moral superiority of secularism. Nevertheless, it is impossible to claim that studies “consistently” support positive social outcomes correlating to religion. To the contrary, the weight of most data seems to indicate that religiosity is a poor indicator of social health or personal virtue. The notion that in free countries atheism promotes intolerance and immorality is demonstrably false.

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Countries free of religion are the most socially advanced, data show in 2015:

As you can see in the graph below, the non-religious countries scored highest on the Social Progress Index, and the most religious countries scored worst. This trend was apparent across all three categories [“Basic Human Needs”, “Foundations of Wellbeing” (health and basic education), and “Opportunity” – personal rights, freedom, tolerance and advanced education].

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Atheism and meaning or purpose in life:

A core component of human psychological functioning is the construction of meaning and purpose in life, a process that is subject to self-perceptions and situational effects (Baggini, 2004; Baumeister, 1991; Berger, 1967/1990; Park, 2010). However, for atheists and other nonreligious individuals, it is sometimes assumed that being without god(s) is the equivalent of being bereft of meaning or purpose in life (cf. Blessing, 2013). This assumption is somewhat odd, given that Bering (2002, 2003) suggests humans are evolutionarily hardwired with an existential theory of mind, which is a general cognitive mechanism compelling humans to find religious or philosophical meaning or purpose in life events (Coleman & Hood, 2015). Similarly, sociological approaches to meaning conceive it as a compulsion “. . . to impose a meaningful order upon reality,” all the while emphasizing the creation and sustainment of meaning as an inherently social, cultural, and discursive practice (Berger, 1967/1990, p. 22). In essence, the impetus to construct meaning or purpose in life is a quintessential consequence of being human, rather than something wholly under the purview of a specific religious or philosophical framework.

In this vein, there is no shortage of views on what life meaning is, how it “works,” or how we should conceive of it. Frankl (1959/2006) argued that meaning in life was something that each individual seeks and constructs for themselves, whereas Baumeister (1991) argued that life meaning is comprised of four elements: a goal or purpose, values and justification for goals and purposes, a sense of control, and self-worth. Schnell (2009) identified twenty-six sources of meaning in life, ranging from aspects of community and togetherness, to nature, generativity, religion, and self-knowledge. In a nuanced approach, Park (2010, 2013) has drawn a distinction between global meaning and situational meaning. Global meaning refers to abstract conceptual systems and schema such as “religious beliefs . . . fairness, control, coherence, benevolence of the world and other people” (Park, 2013, p. 361). Situational meaning refers to ascriptions of meaning or purpose in specific encounters; the meaning or purpose a person ascribes to an event depends on her or his preconceptions and experiences.

Because meaning and purpose in life can be framed in numerous ways and are derived from multiple sources and circumstances, one could reasonably expect that some sources or paths substantially differ from others. Park and McNamara (2006) note that religious systems provide purpose or meaning to individuals. In fact, this is often seen as a primary function of religion. Other researchers have echoed these sentiments and explicitly recognized that religious systems provide strong and coherent sources for meaning in life, due to the fact that these systems appeal to an “ultimate” source (Crescioni & Baumeister, 2013; also see Vail et al., 2010). Park and McNamara (2006) suggest that not only are “religious frameworks comprehensive, but they tend to be much more ‘existentially satisfactory’ than secular explanations such as the cold, hard objectivity of science”.

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Nonreligion and Meaning in Life:

There are some major drawbacks of this aforementioned research. One is an inability to separate the functioning of purely secular psychological mechanisms from any specific religious/spiritual processes (Galen, 2017a, 2017b). This inability may be related to research suggesting that religious/spiritual activities do not have intrinsic benefits, but rather benefits that are contingent on an individual’s valuation of those activities (Speed, 2017; Speed & Fowler, 2017). This accords with the simple view that “whatever makes life meaningful is heavily loaded with whatever people value” (Klinger, 2012, p. 29). In other words, some persons may find that without a framework centered on the divine or transcendent, they are more likely to adopt a nihilistic or fatalistic perspective (i.e., a negation of [life] meaning; Crosby, 1988). However, the conclusion that god(s) or religious frameworks are necessary for meaning is predicated on the idea that religion or spirituality intrinsically promote meaning for everyone, which can be read to imply that meaning cannot be internally derived or generated. The perception that an individual is forced to accept nihilism or fatalism in their worldview because they lack a religious or spiritual schema with which to interpret the world is unsupported by the existing literature (Caldwell-Harris, Wilson, LoTempio, & Beit-Hallahmi, 2011; Coleman & Arrowood, 2015; Langston, 2014). Furthermore, the logic of why religious or spiritual frameworks would promote meaning in life is highly selective. It could be argued that a person who surrenders to god(s)’ perceived will would accept that there is one path to follow or that there is no meaning other than serving god(s). Instead, most discussions surrounding this topic tend to assume as a default that relatively higher religion or spirituality, however measured, implies greater meaning (e.g., Crescioni & Baumeister, 2013; Pargament, 1997; Park & McNamara, 2006).

The consequences of atheism or being religiously unaffiliated for meaning in life, and for psychological well-being more broadly, are unknown or at the very least not held to be static or linear. A cursory examination of the literature would show that atheists are characterized as having various psychological deficits (e.g., Barrett, 2012), and popular perceptions remain that they are likely to be more nihilistic or have viewpoints consistent with fatalism (cf. Blessing, 2013). Other research suggests that nonreligiosity “divest[s] people of certain age-old pathways to psychological health” (Schumaker, 1992, p. 65).

Additionally, research shows consistent links between meaning in life and psychological well-being (e.g., Krause & Pargament, 2017; Schnell, 2009; Zika & Chamberlain, 1992; for a review, see Steger, 2017), as well as meaning in life and religiousness or religiosity (e.g., Ivtzan, Chan, Gardner, & Prashar, 2013; Steger & Frazier, 2005; Tiliouine & Belgoumidi, 2009). These findings align with Schumaker (1992), who found that accounting for the relationship between meaning in life and well-being substantially reduces the salutary effects of religiosity (Schumaker, 1992). In other words, some of the benefits associated with religiosity are due to its positive relationship with producing meaning in life.

However, other research has shown that the irreligious do not experience deficits in meaning in life (Caldwell-Harris et al., 2011; Wilkinson & Coleman, 2010), happiness (Speed, 2017; Speed & Fowler, 2017), or well-being (Galen, 2015; Streib & Klein, 2013), and that the irreligious do not differ in terms of psychological well-being (Galen, 2015; Streib & Klein, 2013; although cf. Hayward, Krause, Ironson, Hill, & Emmons, 2016). Essentially, the literature is incongruous: irreligious persons are ostensibly disadvantaged for psychological well-being, but do not seem to report poorer psychological well-being.

This dissonance within the research is problematic for a number of reasons. More than 20% of the American population identifies as nonreligious (Religious Landscape Study, 2016), and some projections suggest this number could climb to almost half of the U.S. population by the year 2042 (see Stinespring & Cragun, 2015, who estimate between 26% and 47%). Furthermore, in adolescents and young adults, a generational difference is found, which suggests children are significantly less religious than their parents (Thiessen & Wilkins-Laflamme, 2017; Twenge, Exline, Grubbs, Sastry, & Campbell, 2015), and have relationships with religion ranging from explicit repudiation to quiet apathy (Lee, 2012; see also Francis & Robbins, 2004).

The relationship between youth and religion can also be confusing when we consider whether a religious home environment confers a health benefit (i.e., meaning in life, psychological well-being) or whether an unaffiliated home environment confers a health penalty. Research suggests that the home environment can predict future religious/spiritual identities (Baker & Smith, 2009; Beit-Hallahmi, 2015; Gervais & Najle, 2015), but the health consequences of said home environment remain unclear. Studies comparing secular sources and levels of meaning, values, and purpose with religious sources are virtually nonexistent (Koenig, 2012), as are the consequences of nonreligiosity, a nonreligious upbringing, and atheism on mental well-being (Galen & Kloet, 2011; Hwang, Hammer, & Cragun, 2011; Morgan, 2013).

The existing literature on the relationship between theological beliefs, atheism, and fatalism allows us to broadly suggest that fatalism entails an acceptance of what is perceived as an inevitable or uncontrollable outcome, rather than a lack of meaning in life or a lack of purpose. However, fatalism is negatively related to environmental mastery, itself a component of psychological well-being (Greenfield, Vaillant, & Marks, 2009). Conceptually, a person who would say that there is little that can be done to change the circumstances of his or her life (a person low on a sense of mastery or internal locus of control) is arguably less likely to believe that life, the universe, and personal relationships are meaningful in any global or time-invariant sense. While some research shows that mastery is positively correlated with religious attendance and/or religiosity (Ai, Peterson, Rodgers, & Tice, 2005; Ellison & Burdette, 2011; Schieman, Pudrovska, & Milkie, 2005), other research finds that this relationship is inconsistent (Greenfield et al., 2009; Speed & Fowler, 2017). Thus, while there is some evidence that theists and the religiously affiliated would be more likely to report greater mastery, there is no persuasive evidence that atheists, the nonreligious, and those with a nonreligious upbringing are predisposed toward fatalism .

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The study below investigates the relationship between an internal source of meaning, fatalism, and nihilism in a nationally representative American sample in a series of nine planned analyses. More specifically, authors sought to investigate whether belief in god(s), religious affiliation, or religious upbringing were significant predictors of an internal source of meaning, fatalism, and nihilism.

Atheism, Nonreligion, and Life Meaning, a 2018 study:

Nonreligion is often thought to be commensurate with nihilism or fatalism, resulting in the perception that the nonreligious have no source of meaning in life. While views to this effect have been advanced in various arenas, no empirical evaluation of such a view has been conducted. Using data from the 2008 American General Social Survey (N = ~1,200), authors investigated whether atheists, the religiously unaffiliated, and persons raised religiously unaffiliated were more likely than theists, the religiously affiliated, and persons raised with a religious affiliation to report greater levels of fatalism, nihilism, and the perception that meaning in life is self-provided. Results suggested that these groups did not differ with regard to fatalism or nihilism. However, atheists and the religiously unaffiliated (but not persons raised in a religiously unaffiliated household) were more likely to indicate that meaning in life was endogenous—that is, self-produced. While atheists and the nonreligious differed from their counterparts on source of meaning in life, this was not associated with any “penalty” for overall existential meaning.

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Atheism and psychology:

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Religious belief can make coping with stress and anxiety easier:

Belief in a deity can lower stress and reduce anxiety, according to a University of Toronto study.  By measuring levels of brain activity of believers and nonbelievers, researchers found that those who had faith showed less activity than nonbelievers in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), “a portion of the brain that helps modify behavior by signalling when attention and control are needed, usually as a result of some anxiety-producing event like making a mistake.” The more the subject believed in a God, the less often their ACC reacted to their own errors, and the fewer mistakes they made.

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New research reveals some of the emotional factors involved in disbelief, a 2016 study:

It often is assumed that belief in God, or lack thereof, is based upon intellectual reasoning. For instance, some atheists argue that God is unlikely to exist because of Occam’s razor, a logical principle basically stating that, all things being equal, the view most likely to be true is the one with the least assumptions. Only in the past couple of years have psychological scientists turned their attention to non-intellectual factors that may influence unbelief.

For example, in research published by the American Psychological Association, two studies were conducted on relational and emotional factors that may influence those holding atheistic or agnostic views. In both studies, for instance, research participants rated, on a scale from 0 to 10, the extent to which they were influenced by “experiences of disappointment, anger, hurt, alienation, mistrust, or other negative feelings focused on God; seeing God as cruel, uncaring, or punishing.”

In the first of two studies, 171 American adults were asked about their reasons for nonbelief, as well as emotions they felt toward a god or gods that they hypothetically imagined, and various indicators of negative emotionality. Results showed that 54% of those who self-reported that they were atheists or agnostics indicated some relational and emotional reasons for nonbelief. In the second study, 72% of 429 American adults who expressed some level of atheism or agnosticism endorsed similar reasons. In both studies, the extent to which research participants revealed relational and emotional reasons for nonbelief was associated with various indicators of negative emotionality, such as trait anger, psychological entitlement, and fearful / preoccupied attachment styles.

This new research is consistent with the results of earlier research showing that 44% of atheists self-reported that at least some of their doubts, or at least some of their decision not to believe in God, were due to emotional reasons. These individuals, whom the researchers called “emotionally engaged atheists,” were more characterized by negative emotionality, as well as stronger negative reactions to stressful events, compared with non-emotionally engaged atheists.

This research complements decades of other research on non-intellectual factors influencing those who are religious. Overall, this literature shows that religious beliefs are influenced by a dynamic interplay among biological, psychological, social, and emotional factors. For instance, behavioral genetics research shows that approximately 50% of the individual differences among us in levels of personal religiousness can be explained by a genetic predisposition, perhaps rooted in underlying personality factors. Other research shows that loss of control often results in changes to religious belief and behavior.

None of this says anything about the truthfulness of the existence of God, or lack thereof. However, it does add evidence to the view that non-intellectual factors are implicated in religious beliefs – whether those beliefs affirm or deny the existence of the supernatural.

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Exploring the atheist personality: well-being, awe, and magical thinking in atheists, Buddhists, and Christians, a 2010 study:

Atheists are America’s least trusted group, and stereotypes about them abound: Atheists are non-conformist, sceptical, cynical, and joyless, rarely experiencing awe. Atheists (N = 42) were recruited from the American atheist website and compared to Christians (N = 22) and Buddhists (N = 18). Groups were highly similar in their reported well-being, empathy, and other personality scales, but differed strongly on scales assessing Spirituality and Magical Ideation, where atheists rejected the concepts of spirituality and magical beliefs. Responding to the question, “Have you ever felt wonderment or felt as if you were part of something greater than yourself?,” 71% said “yes,” citing Nature (54%), Science, (30%), Music/Art (12%), and Human cooperation (8%). Respondents explained their lack of belief as deriving from a preference for logic and rationality, suggesting an intellectual component to atheism. Findings thus support the stereotype of atheists as logical, sceptical, and non-conformist, but not as cynical and joyless.

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Would Tarzan believe in God? Conditions for the emergence of religious belief a 2013 study:

Would someone raised without exposure to religious views nonetheless come to believe in the existence of God, an afterlife, and the intentional creation of humans and other animals? Many scholars would answer yes, proposing that universal cognitive biases generate religious ideas anew within each individual mind. Drawing on evidence from developmental psychology, authors argue here that the answer is no: children lack spontaneous theistic views and the emergence of religion is crucially dependent on culture.

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Who is least afraid of death? A 2017 study:

A new study examines all robust, available data on how fearful we are of what happens once we shuffle off this mortal coil.  They find that atheists are among those least afraid of dying…and, perhaps not surprisingly, the very religious.  Religion has long been thought to be a solution to the problem of death. Notions of an afterlife are nearly universal, though there is great diversity in the details. Given this close association between religion and death, researchers have long supposed that religion lessens fear about death. It stands to reason that religious believers should be less fearful of death than nonreligious individuals, or does it? A systematic review of high quality international studies led by researchers at the University of Oxford paints a more complicated picture. It shows that the very religious and atheists are the groups who do not fear death as much as much as those in-between in a paper published in the journal, Religion, Brain and Behavior.

The team found 100 relevant articles, published between 1961 and 2014, containing information about 26,000 people worldwide. Combining this data, they found that higher levels of religiosity were weakly linked with lower levels of death anxiety. The effects were similar whether they looked at religious beliefs such as belief in God, and an afterlife, or religious behaviour like going to church, and praying. Some studies also distinguished between intrinsic religiosity and extrinsic religiosity. Extrinsic religiosity is when religious behaviour is motivated by pragmatic considerations such as the social or emotional benefits of following a religion, whereas intrinsic religiosity refers to religious behaviour driven by ‘true belief’. The meta-analysis showed that while people who were intrinsically religious enjoyed lower levels of death anxiety, those who were extrinsically religious revealed higher levels of death anxiety.

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When confronting death do Atheists think of God?

Two recent psychological studies looked at how thoughts of mortality affected believers and non-believers. Both studies reported that reminders of death boosted religiosity among believers. That’s not too surprising since the big payoff of religious belief for a lot of folks is the comfort that they will be rewarded with an eternity of heavenly bliss beyond the grave. Both papers provide evidence that reminders of death increase the religiosity of believers. This supports one of the basic tenets of Terror Management Theory, a school of thought built on the insights of the late anthropologist Ernest Becker.

According to ‘terror management theory’, a basic function of religion is to provide a buffer against death-related anxiety. It does this, primarily, by promising believers an ongoing existence that transcends earthly mortality. So it’s no surprise that both sets of researchers found a link between thoughts of mortality and increased devotion. More intriguingly, one of the new studies suggested that thinking about death causes non-believers to waver a bit in their non-beliefs.

  1. In that first study, Foxhole Atheism, Revisited, Oxford University psychologist Jonathan Jong and his colleagues report the results of experiments in which thoughts of death are provoked in believers and non-believers:

When primed with death, participants explicitly defended their own religious worldview, such that self-described Christians were more content that supernatural religious entities exist, while non-religious participants were more content that they do not.  OK. So dread of dying makes your beliefs stronger. Ah, but Jong went on to test participants for implicit beliefs using a word association test. But using an implicit association test, he found that after thinking about death, nonbelievers “wavered from their disbelief.” Specifically, 71 students from the University of Otago in New Zealand were presented with a series of 20 nouns, which they were instructed to categorize as “real” or “imaginary” as quickly as possible. Jong reports that “while believers strengthened their beliefs, non-believers wavered from their disbelief” after thinking about their own mortality. Specifically, they were slower to label such concepts as “God” and “heaven” as imaginary. In other words, when death was on their minds, “believers more readily judged religious concepts as real,” he writes, “while non-believers found it more difficult to judge religious concepts as imaginary.” Frankly, that interpretation seems to be a bit of stretch.

  1. The second study, Exploring the Existential Function of Religion, by University of Missouri psychologist Kenneth Vail and his colleagues found: Building on research suggesting one primary function of religion is the management of death awareness, the present research explored how supernatural beliefs are influenced by the awareness of death, for whom, and how individuals’ extant beliefs determine which god(s), if any, are eligible to fulfill that function. In Study 1, death reminders had no effect among Atheists, but enhanced Christians’ religiosity, belief in a higher power, and belief in God/Jesus and enhanced denial of Allah and Buddha. Similarly, death reminders increased Muslims’ religiosity and belief in a higher power, and led to greater belief in Allah and denial of God/Jesus and Buddha (Study 2). Finally, in Study 3, death reminders motivated Agnostics to increase their religiosity, belief in a higher power, and their faith in God/Jesus, Buddha, and Allah. The studies tested three potential theoretical explanations and were consistent with terror management theory’s worldview defense hypothesis. With regard to atheists, Vail’s research found:…in a separate experiment, the notion of death did not increase atheists’ very low levels of religiosity or belief in a higher power. In Vail’s view, this suggests people who strongly reject religious belief find other ways of dealing with “the psychological problem of death,” such as devoting themselves to some secular cause that will endure beyond their lifetimes.

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Atheism, religion and intelligence:

In classical Greece and Rome, it was widely remarked that “fools” tended to be religious, while the “wise” were often skeptics. The ancients weren’t the only ones to notice this association. For more than eight decades, researchers have been investigating the association between intelligence levels and measures of religious faith. This association has been studied among individuals of all ages, using a variety of measures.

Intelligence:

Following Gottfredson (1997), intelligence is defined as the “ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience”. This definition of intelligence is often referred to as analytic intelligence or the g factor—the first factor that emerges in factor analyses of IQ subtests (e.g., Carroll, 1993; Spearman, 1904). Other newly identified types of intelligence, such as creative intelligence (Sternberg, 1999, 2006) or emotional intelligence (Mayer, Caruso, & Salovey, 1999), are out of the scope of this article because the available studies on the relation between intelligence and religiosity examined only analytic intelligence.

Religiosity:

Religiosity can be defined as the degree of involvement in some or all facets of religion. According to Atran and Norenzayan (2004), such facets include beliefs in supernatural agents, costly commitment to these agents (e.g., offering of property), using beliefs in those agents to lower existential anxieties such as anxiety over death, and communal rituals that validate and affirm religious beliefs. Of course, some individuals may express commitment or participate in communal rituals for reasons other than religious beliefs. This issue was put into sharp relief by Allport and Ross (1967), who drew a distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic religious orientations. Intrinsic orientation is the practice of religion for its own sake; extrinsic religion is the use of religion as a means to secular ends.

Since the inception of IQ tests early in the 20th century, intelligence has continuously occupied a central position in psychological research. Religion, on the other hand, has a more intermittent history. Gorsuch (1988) noted that interest in the psychology of religion was strong before 1930, almost extinct between 1930 and 1960, and on the rise after 1960. This latter trend has accelerated in recent years. Indeed, it is safe to say that the bulk of the present content of psychology of religion has been constructed over the last 20 years. Given the importance of both intelligence and religious beliefs in psychological research, the relation between them constitutes an intriguing question. Indeed, as shown below, this question attracted attention very early in the history of psychological research, and it continues to foster debate today. The nature of the relation between intelligence and religiosity can advance our knowledge about both constructs: We might learn who holds religious beliefs and why; we might also learn how and why intelligent people do (or do not) develop a particular belief system.

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Historically, atheism has been a position open mainly to educated, upper-class people – a segment of society with the resources and leisure time to ponder life’s larger questions, as well as the freedom to break with social norms. A study released recently using survey data and IQ tests from British teenagers found that the teens with higher intelligence scores were more likely to be atheists. A recent meta-analysis of 39 eligible studies from 1927 to 2002 was published in Mensa Magazine, and concluded that atheists are more likely to be of higher intelligence than their religious counterparts. The American Sociological Association found that higher intelligence was linked with atheism and liberal political ideology.  According to an article in the prestigious science journal Nature in 1998 the belief in a personal god or afterlife was very low among the members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Only 7.0% believed in a personal god as compared to more than 85% of the general U.S. population. In a 2008 study, researchers found intelligence to be negatively related to religious belief in Europe and the United States. In a sample of 137 countries, the correlation between national IQ and disbelief in God was found to be 0.60.

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Intelligent people have values novel in human evolutionary history, a 2010 study finds:

Higher intelligence is associated with liberal political ideology, atheism, and men’s (but not women’s) preference for sexual exclusivity. More intelligent people are statistically more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to human evolution. Specifically, liberalism and atheism, and for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence, this study finds.

The study, published in the March 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Social Psychology Quarterly, advances a new theory to explain why people form particular preferences and values.  The theory suggests that more intelligent people are more likely than less intelligent people to adopt evolutionarily novel preferences and values, but intelligence does not correlate with preferences and values that are old enough to have been shaped by evolution over millions of years.

“Evolutionarily novel” preferences and values are those that humans are not biologically designed to have and our ancestors probably did not possess.  In contrast, those that our ancestors had for millions of years are “evolutionarily familiar.” “General intelligence, the ability to think and reason, endowed our ancestors with advantages in solving evolutionarily novel problems for which they did not have innate solutions,” says Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science.  “As a result, more intelligent people are more likely to recognize and understand such novel entities and situations than less intelligent people, and some of these entities and situations are preferences, values, and lifestyles.”

Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) support Kanazawa’s hypothesis. Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as “very liberal” have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who identify themselves as “very conservative” have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence. Similarly, religion is a byproduct of humans’ tendency to perceive agency and intention as causes of events, to see “the hands of God” at work behind otherwise natural phenomena.  “Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in God because they are paranoid,” says Kanazawa.  This innate bias toward paranoia served humans well when self-preservation and protection of their families and clans depended on extreme vigilance to all potential dangers.  “So, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God, and they become atheists.” Young adults who identify themselves as “not at all religious” have an average IQ of 103 during adolescence, while those who identify themselves as “very religious” have an average IQ of 97 during adolescence.

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The Relation between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations, a 2013 study:

A meta-analysis of 63 studies showed a significant negative association between intelligence and religiosity. This meta-analysis by University of Rochester found “a reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity” in 53 out of 63 historic studies.  The association was stronger for college students and the general population than for participants younger than college age; it was also stronger for religious beliefs than religious behavior. For college students and the general population, means of weighted and unweighted correlations between intelligence and the strength of religious beliefs ranged from −.20 to −.25 (mean r = −.24). Three possible interpretations were discussed. First, intelligent people are less likely to conform and, thus, are more likely to resist religious dogma. Second, intelligent people tend to adopt an analytic (as opposed to intuitive) thinking style, which has been shown to undermine religious beliefs. Third, several functions of religiosity, including compensatory control, self-regulation, self-enhancement, and secure attachment, are also conferred by intelligence. Intelligent people may therefore have less need for religious beliefs and practices.

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Atheists are more intelligent than religious people, a 2017 study:

Religious people are less intelligent on average than atheists because faith is an instinct and clever people are better at rising above their instincts, researchers have claimed.  The theory — called the ‘Intelligence-Mismatch Association Model’ — was proposed by a pair of authors who set out to explain why numerous studies over past decades have found religious people to have lower average intelligence than people who do not believe in a god. A negative correlation between intelligence and religion makes sense if religion is considered an instinct, and intelligence the ability to rise above one’s instincts, say researchers Edward Dutton and Dimitri van der Linden in their new paper.

Mr Dutton and Mr van der Linden argue in keeping with this that religion should be considered an ‘evolved domain’ — or instinct. Rising above instincts is advantageous, they said in a statement, because it helps people to solve problems. “If religion is an evolved domain then it is an instinct, and intelligence — in rationally solving problems — can be understood as involving overcoming instinct and being intellectually curious and thus open to non-instinctive possibilities,” explained Mr Dutton. According to the 2013 review, the more intelligent a child is —  even during early years — the more likely it is to turn away from religion. In old age, above-average-intelligence people are less likely to believe in a god.

Mr Dutton and Mr van der Linden also investigated the link between instinct and stress, and the instinctiveness with which people tend to operate during stressful periods.  They argue that being intelligent helps people during stressful times to weigh up their options and act rationally rather than give in to knee-jerk responses. “If religion is indeed an evolved domain — an instinct — then it will become heightened at times of stress, when people are inclined to act instinctively, and there is clear evidence for this,” said Mr Dutton. “It also means that intelligence allows us to able to pause and reason through the situation and the possible consequences of our actions.” The researchers believe that people who are attracted to the non-instinctive are potentially better problem solvers. “This is important, because in a changing ecology, the ability to solve problems will become associated with rising above our instincts, rendering us attracted to evolutionary mismatches,” said Mr van der Linden.

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that college students often get logical answers wrong but don’t realize it. This so-called “bias blind spot” happens when people cannot detect bias, or flaws, within their own thinking. “If anything, a larger bias blind spot was associated with higher cognitive ability,” the researchers of the 2012 study wrote in the abstract. One question, for example, asked the students: “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?” The problem isn’t intuitive (the answer is not 10 cents), but rather requires students to suppress or evaluate the first solution that springs into their mind, the researchers wrote in the study. If they do this, they might find the right answer: The ball costs 5 cents, and the bat costs $1.05. If intelligent people are less likely to perceive their own bias, that means they’re less rational in some respects.  So why is intelligence associated with atheism? The answer researchers suggest, is that religion is an instinct, and it takes intelligence to overcome an instinct.

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Atheists are more intelligent than religious people, finds a 2018 study:

In a new paper published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers say that diminished intelligence among people of faith could be because they largely rely on intuition. Surveying more than 63,000 participants online who indicated whether they were atheists, religious or agnostic, each person had to complete a 30-minute set of 12 cognitive tasks that measured planning, reasoning, attention and memory. Overall, the research found that atheists performed better overall than the religious participants even when demographic factors like age and education were taken into consideration. Agnostics mostly placed between atheists and believers on all tasks. While strength of religious conviction correlated with poorer cognitive performance, the data did show that there were only few small differences in working memory compared to tasks that required reasoning.  As such, rather than having poor general intelligence, the researchers say that religious people’s lower IQ test results may be a result of bad performance on tasks only where intuition and logic come into conflict.  In fact, one of the reasoning tasks which was a difficult version of the Stroop Task known as “colour-word remapping”, was designed to create maximum conflict between an intuitive response and a logical one. As predicted, this task showed the biggest group differences in keeping with the idea that religious people rely more on their intuition.  “These findings provide evidence in support of the hypothesis that the religiosity effect relates to conflict [between reasoning and intuition] as opposed to reasoning ability or intelligence more generally,” the researchers concluded.

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Reasons why Atheists have Higher IQs:

Atheists are probably more intelligent than religious people because they benefit from many social conditions that happen to be correlated with loss of religious belief. When one looks at this phenomenon from the point of view of comparisons between countries, it is not hard to figure out possible reasons that more intelligent countries have more atheists as Richard Lynn (2009) reported.

Here are some. Highly religious countries (Barber, 2012):

  • Are poorer.
  • They are less urbanized.
  • Have lower levels of education.
  • They have less exposure to electronic media that increase intelligence (Barber, 2006).
  • Experience a heavier load of infectious diseases that impair brain function.
  • Suffer more from low birth weights.
  • Have worse child nutrition.
  • Do a poor job of controlling environmental pollutants such as lead that reduce IQ.

Given that each of these factors are recognized causes of low IQ scores (Barber 2005), there is little mystery about why religious countries score lower on IQ tests. Of course, the same phenomena are relevant to comparisons within a country, although within-country differences in these factors are generally smaller. Even so, the wealthier individuals in a country experience life differently than the poorer ones, developing higher IQ scores and greater religious skepticism.

Evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber states that the reason atheists are more intelligent than religious people is better explained by social, environmental, and wealth factors which happen to correlate with loss of religious belief as well. He doubts that religion causes stupidity, noting that some highly intelligent people have also been religious, but he says it is plausible that higher intelligence correlates to rejection of improbable religious beliefs and that the situation between intelligence and rejection of religious beliefs is quite complex.

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Discussion and My View:

Scientists are divided on whether religious belief has a biological basis. Some evolutionary theorists have suggested that Darwinian natural selection may have put a premium on individuals if they were able to use religious belief to survive hardships that may have overwhelmed those with no religious convictions. Others have suggested that religious belief is a side effect of a wider trait in the human brain to search for coherent beliefs about the outside world. Religion and the belief in God, they argue, are just a manifestation of this intrinsic, biological phenomenon that makes the human brain so intelligent and adaptable.

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I have discussed religiosity, atheism, God, superstition, coincidence and free will etc.in my various articles on Facebook and my website. You may read them if you wish at https://www.facebook.com/rajiv.desai.Pi/notes and at http://drrajivdesaimd.com. These articles are Christmas Message 2015 and 2016, The Coincidence, Duality of existence, Photon weaving theory, Terrorism, The Death, Yoga, Imitation science, Are ordinary people bad?, Human evolution, Science of religion, Science of truth, Science of crime, Synthetic biology etc. Now I present synopsis of knowledge gained from these article to discuss atheism.

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Belief formation:

Fishbein & Ajzen (1975) did some of the earliest work in psychology on the nature of belief and how beliefs are formed. The formation of all beliefs is an internal cognitive process even if the information originates externally which most information does. All beliefs begin by taking in information at the personal empirical level. We think, gather information, make inferences, use logic, then make a decision: that becomes a belief. The latest research on belief is in the new field of social-neurology studying the neural basis for human social interaction.  A belief is a mental architecture of how we interpret the world. “Beliefs are mental objects in the sense that they are embedded in the brain,” says Kathleen Taylor, a neuroscientist at Oxford University. The belief in God is in the brain just like all other beliefs.  One of the characteristics of beliefs is they have causative power.  Beliefs also produce behaviors and attitudes that reflect what belief framework is in your brain.  Beliefs help people establish their identity for example I am a Christian or Muslim or Hindu. The brain has evolved to be sensitive to any form of belief that improves the chances of survival, which could explain why a belief in God and the supernatural became so widespread in human evolutionary history.

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Science of religion:

Basically all religions were created in different parts of the world under different circumstances to bring order among disordered people, morals among immoral people and civility among uncivilised people so that people can lead a better life. All sacred texts were written & created by humans and only humans. Religion and politics are the two sided of the same coin with ‘religious diktats’ and ‘political will’ influence people’s life. People are people but when they become Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Parsees and Buddhists; they divide and therefore the greatest drawback of religion is the division of humanity. It is the DNA and the mirror neurons in human brain that will determine the complex social behavior of an individual in society depending on the genetic code and the experiences of mirror neurons since childhood. Religiosity is a function of these mirror neurons under genetic influence. There is no scientific evidence to link religiosity to any supernatural power or deity. The concept of God in human mind arose out of ignorance and fear. Fear of divine punishment & blasphemy is nothing but coercion to follow a religious path. If you love God then do not be afraid of Him and if you are afraid of God then you do not love Him; no matter whether God exists or does not exist.

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In essence, mirror neurons specialize in allowing us to understand the actions, feelings, and intentions of others by automatically simulating these actions and emotions in our own brains. When we watch movie stars kiss onscreen, some of the cells firing in our brains are the same ones that fire when we kiss our lovers. And when we see someone else suffering or experiencing pain, mirror neurons help us to read her or his facial expression and make us viscerally feel the suffering or the pain of the other person. Those moments are the foundation of empathy (and possibly of morality).

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‘Theory of mind’ could help explain belief in God, a 2009 study:

“We’re interested to find where in the brain belief systems are represented, particularly those that appear uniquely human,” says lead researcher, Jordan Grafman of the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland. The researchers found that such beliefs “light up” the areas of our brain which have evolved most recently, such as those involved in imagination, memory and “theory of mind” – the recognition that other people and living things can have their own thoughts and intentions. “They don’t tell us about the existence of a higher order power like God,” says Grafman. “They only address how the mind and brain work in tandem to allow us to have belief systems that guide our everyday actions.”

In the study, the researchers gave 40 religious volunteers functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans as they responded to statements reflecting three core elements of belief. For each statement, they had to say on a scale how much they agreed or disagreed. The volunteers were believers in monotheist religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

First, volunteers responded to statements about whether God intervenes in the world or not, such as “God is removed from the world”. Here, brain activity was focused mainly in the lateral frontal lobe regions of the brain where theory of mind takes shape, enabling us to interpret other people’s intentions. The regions link to mirror neurons which enable us to empathise with other people.

Second, the volunteers mulled statements on God’s emotional state, such as “God is wrathful”. Again, and as the researchers predicted, the activated areas were those where theory of mind enables us to judge emotion in others, such as the medial temporal and frontal gyri.

Finally, the volunteers heard statements reflecting the abstract language and imagery of religion, such as “Jesus is the Son of God” or “God dictates celebrating the Sabbath”, or “a resurrection will occur”. Here, volunteers tapped into areas of the brain such as the right inferior temporal gyrus, which decodes metaphorical meaning and abstractedness.

Overall, the parts of the brain activated by the belief statements were those used for much more mundane, everyday interpretation of the world and the intentions of other people. Significantly, however, they also correspond with the parts of the brain that have evolved most recently, and which appear to which give humans more insight than other animals. “Our results are unique in demonstrating that specific components of religious belief are mediated by well-known brain networks, and support contemporary psychological theories that ground religious belief within evolutionary adaptive cognitive functions,” say the researchers. “It’s not surprising that religious beliefs engage mainly the theory-of-mind areas, as they are about virtual beings who are treated as having essentially human mental traits, just as characters in a novel or play are,” comments Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist at the University of Oxford. “But it nicely reinforces my claim that it is the higher orders of intentionality that are crucial in the development of fully fledged religion as we know it,” says Dunbar.

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Mirroring Processes, Religious Perception, and Ecological Adaptation: Toward an Empathic Theory of Religion: a 2011 study:

The theory of mind hypothesis is the basis by which biologically based theories of religion typically explain beliefs in supernatural agents and, in turn, religion. Recent advances in neuroscience suggest that social cognition also involves the mirror neuron system and simulation. This paper summarizes these advances and offers an additional hypothesis regarding the neurological basis for supernatural agents and religion. According to this hybrid hypothesis: religion’s neurobiological basis is (1) the mirror neuron system and simulation based processes, which respond to expressive objects in the natural environment and produce embodied knowledge that imply sentience, and (2) inferential knowledge-based systems, which interpret these intuitions in terms of beliefs in animism and/or supernatural agents. This hypothesis places the mirror neuron system and simulation based processes (i.e. processes conjectured to underlie a direct embodied form of empathy) in an instigating role, and places inferential knowledgebased systems in a secondary, albeit crucial, role. Consequently, this hypothesis is an empathic theory of religion. Moreover, these processes are hypothesized to have selective value insofar as they help small-scale cultures manage their natural resource base more sustainably.

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Does Autism Lead to Atheism? A 2012 study:

Belief in God depends on theory of mind.

In most religions, and arguably anything worth being called a religion, God is not just an impersonal force or creator. He has a mind that humans can relate to. Scientists who study religion have come to agree that belief in God (or gods) relies on everyday social cognition: our ability—and propensity—to think about minds. That means if you are autistic, and unable to “mentalize,” you would be an atheist. Research published in PLoS ONE provides fresh evidence for this claim in 2012.

The strongest connection between atheism and autism was a paper presented at a conference in 2011 by Catherine Caldwell-Harris and collaborators at Boston University. Survey respondents with high-functioning autism were more likely than control subjects to be atheists and less likely to belong to an organized religion. (They were also more likely to have religious ideas of their own construction). And atheists were higher on the autistic spectrum than Christians and Jews. But the researchers were not able to demonstrate that mentalizing deficits were responsible for the connection.

That’s where this new paper comes in. Ara Norenzayan and Will Gervais of the University of British Columbia and Kali Trzesniewski of UC Davis report on four studies. The first study replicates the finding of the BU research: 12 autistic and 13 neurotypical adolescents took part, and the neurotypical subjects were 10 times as likely to strongly endorse God. The other three studies went further. They included hundreds of participants from a variety of demographics in the US and Canada and used various measures of belief in God and of mentalizing abilities. The results of all three followed the same pattern. First, people with higher scores on the Autism Spectrum Quotient had weaker belief in a personal God. Second, reduced ability to mentalize mediated this correlation. Third, men were much less likely than women to say they strongly believed in a personal God (even controlling for autism), and this correlation was also mediated by reduced mentalizing.

“It’s hard to have an experience of God in your life unless you think of him as a person, with mental states, who you can pray to, who will answer your prayers, who cares about you,” Norenzayan said. He and his collaborators point out that mentalizing deficits are of course not the only path to atheism. There are also cultural and educational influences—exposure to other skeptics, say—and cognitive style—some people are more likely to use rationality to second-guess superstition.

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Faith:

Faith is defined as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable by accepting violations of the well-known, well tested or easily demonstrated laws of Nature. Faith is non-science and not even pseudoscience. Since all religions are fundamentally based on faith, it is unlikely that religion and science would reconcile with each other despite penchant to do so. True scientific method says that you cannot prove anything. All you can do is disprove alternative hypothesis. True scientific theory cannot be proven to be correct because there is always a possibility that further observations will disprove the theory and therefore the existing theory does necessarily need to be improvised, modified or replaced in future. The scientist’s acceptance of a theory is always tentative because you could never be absolutely certain that some future observation might not falsify the theory.  Science is self-correcting, or so the old cliché goes. The gist is that one scientist’s error will eventually be righted by those who follow, building on the work. This is the fundamental difference between science on one hand and faith on the other hand. True Scientists are willing to change their minds and to admit that they were wrong if that is where the evidence leads while followers of faith will never admit that they might be wrong.

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Prayer:

A considerable number of studies have identified prayer as a frequent and favoured coping method among patients providing each patient with comfort and strength. A variety of studies have attempted to test the efficacy of prayer and found no medical benefit. Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and well-constructed study proved in 2006. The Cochrane Collaboration published a thorough review reaching the same conclusion in 2011 and counselled, “We are not convinced that further trials of this intervention should be undertaken and would prefer to see any resources available for such a trial used to investigate other questions in health care.”  Prayer has no effect on any illness except psychological effect but psychology does matter as a prayer can reduce stress, boost morale and gives hope. No prayer should delay/deny access to scientific medical treatment.

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Islam and secular liberal democracy:

Islam, speaking from the view-point of political philosophy, is the very antithesis of secular liberal democracy. Islam altogether repudiates the philosophy of popular sovereignty and rears its polity on the foundations of the sovereignty of God and the vicegerency of man. Muslims believe that God’s comprehensive revelation was made through Prophet Muhammad and recorded in the Holy Quran. This provides the primary foundation for all Islamic institutions. Scholars and theoreticians have long argued about the compatibility of Islam and democracy. Scholarly studies disagree about whether Muslim countries as a whole are less democratic than non-Muslim countries. For political scientists and statisticians, the compatibility between Islam and democracy remains controversial, and studies have reached opposite conclusions. When more data is considered, a nuanced relationship between Islam and democracy emerges. In all but the poorest countries, Islam is associated with fewer political rights. The Islamic world is not ready to absorb the basic values of modernism and democracy. Arab and Islamic leadership are patrimonial, coercive, and authoritarian. The basic principles such as sovereignty, legitimacy, political participation and pluralism, and those individual rights and freedoms inherent in democracy do not exist in a system where Islam is the ultimate source of law. From a political perspective, Islam seems to offer the worst prospects for liberal democracy. Of the forty-six sovereign states that make up the international Islamic Conference, only one, the Turkish Republic, can be described as a somewhat liberal democracy, and even there the path to freedom has been beset by obstacles. Of the remainder, some have never tried democracy; others have tried it and failed; a few, more recently, have experimented with the idea of sharing, though not of relinquishing, power. “Arab-Muslims have oil and West wants to grab that oil” is a myth perpetuated by sympathisers of Islamic radicals. There is no liberal democracy in the oil-rich Arab Middle East. Easy resource revenues eliminate a critical link of accountability between government and citizens, by reducing incentives to tax other productive activity and use the revenue to deliver social services effectively. The same revenues also generate staggering wealth that facilitates corruption and patronage networks. Together, they consolidate the power of entrenched elites and regime supporters, sharpening income inequality and stifling political reform. This is what has happened so far in Arab-Muslim world. It is the lack of liberal democracy in Middle East that prevents human development in Arab-Muslim world. In my view, we need liberal democracy in Islamic world. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Iraq and other gulf states ought to become liberal democracy. It will allow oil revenues to reach all people equally and prevent Islamic fundamentalism, sectarian hatred, proxy wars and brutal dictatorship. It will promote education and development. Till that happens, the menace of Islamic radicals will continue. Remember, fundamentalist groups exist in every religion. There are Christian fundamentalist groups in western nations and there Hindu fundamentalist groups in India but they can’t do much due to secular liberal democracy, constitution, rule of law and independent judiciary. Liberal democracy separates religion from the state. The moment God, religion and holy book becomes state, problems arise. Islamic nations are the only place in the world where religion becomes state. Islam is based on the belief that God has laid down an eternal law and it is up to us to submit to it: that is what the word Islam means: submission. For believing Muslims, legitimate authority comes from God alone, and the ruler derives his power not from the people, not from his ancestors, but from God and the holy law. The state is God’s state, ruling over God’s people, and the enemy, of course, is God’s enemy. When God makes the laws, the laws become as mysterious as God is. When we make the laws, and make them for our purposes, we can be certain what they mean. Islam must evolve to accommodate liberal democracy. When people derive satisfaction from a religion whose beliefs may inhibit their development, they may be quite willing to pay a price in terms of some alteration in traditional ways of doing things. It is time for Muslims to make a trade-off between religion and development. Liberal democracy is the best trade-off so that the sanctity of Islam is preserved, extremism is contained, people get education and Islamic nations become developed nations. All Islamic nations must become liberal democracies. Islam, oil wealth and liberal democracy ought to bind together for education and development of Muslims.

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Soul, Death and Afterlife:

There comes a concept of the soul & the body. A soul in certain religious, spiritual, philosophical, and psychological traditions, is the incorporeal essence of a human being which is regarded as immortal, separable from the body at death, and susceptible to happiness or misery in a future state. The afterlife (also referred to as life after death) is an idea that soul in the form of consciousness continues to live after death of the body occurs, by natural or supernatural means. Major views on the afterlife derive from religion, esotericism and metaphysics. The concept of afterlife includes various experiences or phenomena right from reincarnation to near death experiences to out-of-body experiences to astral projection to electronic voice phenomena to mediumship etc. The concept of afterlife is also based on faith which is depicted in religious books like the Bible, the Quran, the Talmud, the Vedas, and the Tripitaka etc. One way that humans have devised for dealing with the tragedy of death and the knowledge of our own mortality is to develop complex visions of what might follow death. Major religions teach the immortality of the soul and put forward an afterlife of reward or punishment, depending on your performance when you were alive; and some teach that human souls cycle eternally, life after life. If a person does believe in the traditional dualistic & religious notion that the soul is separate and distinct from the physical body, then out-of-body experiences can be explained by a non-physical reality that does not lend itself to scientific experimentation of explanation. Such a phenomenon could not be investigated scientifically because science measures physical phenomena. Of course, it is possible that there is some kind of physical manifestation of the out-of-body soul that has not been measured yet because the appropriate scientific measures have not been applied to measuring it. (Has any scientist actually used existing scientific instruments to measure physical signs of the soul departing the body?) Alternately, from a scientist’s perspective perhaps we don’t yet even know of some physical forms of energy that correspond to the soul. It is quite possible that soul never existed and we are only imagining things depending on our religious teaching and in fact we are victims of confirmatory bias of our religious beliefs.

Your life is created by mating of your father’s sperm with your mother’s ovum at the time of fertilization. Both the sperm and the ovum were living cells. These living sperm and ovum were created from the living cells of the bodies of father and mother which in turn were created from their respective embryos which in turn were created from the mating of the sperm of grandfather and ovum of the grandmother and so on and on and on… So life is created from life of parental germ cells which in turn were created from grand-parental germ cells which in turn were created from great-grand-parental germ cells. In other words, life means ability of DNA to replicate in suitable environment to reproduce itself. When this ability is taken away, it becomes dead DNA. So death means permanent cessation of DNA’s ability to replicate itself. Since DNA functions like a biological internet in any living cell, this DNA’s ability to replicate itself is correlated with the functioning of the biological internet. In other words, death means irreversible cessation of the functioning of the biological internet of DNA. I will give example. The undifferentiated amoebas need never die, only divide. One amoeba divides into two amoebas and two amoebas divide into four amoebas and so on. That means the DNA in the nucleus of amoeba keeps on replicating into similar DNA and the biological internet of DNA continuously functions indefinitely. However, we can kill amoeba by boiling water as extreme heat kills amoeba. So extreme heat destroys the biological internet of amoeba permanently. In the same way we can view the potential immortality of human germ cells. You see, germ cells go on making more germ cells as well as our bodies. The line of germ cells goes on without a break from grandparents to parents to you. And now we see what death is. Death is the casting aside of the body after it has done its work. That work is to carry the germ cells, to feed it, to protect it, to warm it in a warm-blooded organism, and finally to mingle it with the germ cell of the opposite sex. With that, it has completed its function and can be discarded. The thought that life is through with the body once sexual reproduction has been accomplished is repugnant to us as humans because we consider ourselves civilized as opposed to animals. Yet now I should like to say that, repugnant or not, this would be no surprise to a salmon. For in salmon, and eels, and many such creatures, it is all too clear that reproduction is the last act of life, and that the preparation to reproduce is simultaneously the preparation to die. We humans declare someone dead but in fact his DNA is alive in his children and when his children die, his DNA continues to live in his grandchildren and so the life continues despite deaths of bodies. This invalidates the concept of soul & afterlife as discussed earlier. So this is the asymmetry between life and death. While cells and organisms may die, they have never been observed to arise from non-living material (spontaneous generation). In human affairs, we are normally concerned with the life and death of a person, not the death of his or her components.

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Superstition:

Superstition is an innate instinct of associating of two or more random events/perceptions defying logic (reason) and/or knowledge. All animals are instinctively superstitious in the sense that their brain keep on associating random events of environment perceived by their senses for survival and this trait is evolutionarily hardwired into the genes of their brain cells. It is an evolutionary design not to think about reasons but just repeat what seemed to work last time. Humans are no exception no matter whether they are religious people or atheists. However, instincts derived in earlier evolutionary time may have had important survival value at that time but in a later era may have purely detrimental effects on survival.

Superstitions mainly arise from an intuitive system (limbic system), instead of a malfunctioning analytical system (neocortex) and that explains why superstitions do not vanish with the increase of education, scientific knowledge, and rational thinking. All human superstitions have emotional basis for survival ignoring logic. However by will, when logic from human neocortex (analytical power) dominates over limbic system (emotions), superstitions can be suppressed or overrode. Since animals lack powerful neocortex, they cannot suppress or override superstitions. Superstitions do give a sense of control & sense of meaning no matter whether illusive or real, boosts self-confidence and improve performance of athletes and actors.

Reincarnation does not exist but feeling of being reincarnated in occasional individual is due to feeling of déjà vu. Feeling of spirituality comes from stimulation of dopamine reward system in human brain. The same system supports random events association (superstitions), and that is why you feel reverence and ecstasy in believing many superstitions, religious or otherwise; and that is why you are unwilling to discard superstitions despite scientific evidence to contrary.

To associate random events or perceptions instinctively is the associative ability which is a key feature of animal brains (including humans) hardwired as an instinct, genetically and evolutionarily installed, to find purpose in random events/perceptions for survival. Creative neuron system is highly specialized system which not only associate unrelated events for survival (as in non-human animals) but also creates novel ideas which did not exist before by associating unrelated events, also for survival. So even though both human brain and animal brain keep on associating various events/perceptions, only human brain is creative due to presence of creative neuron system. In my view, 80 to 90 % humans hardly ever use their creative neuron system and therefore keep on copying/following other humans using mirror neuron system. That is why movie stars, sport stars and godmen have huge fan followings. These fans follow and emulate other humans by using mirror neurons rather than creative neurons. Had they used creative neuron system, most of the problems of the world would have been solved.

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Free will:

Free-will has been defined in several different ways. Some would say that free-will is “the ability to do what we want to do”. Under this definition, it’s clear that we do have free-will, as all of us (at least on occasion) do what we want. However, another definition of free-will is “the ability to choose, or to choose otherwise”. Free-will by this definition has been the subject of debate for centuries. We should note that the issue is not “can we choose?”, because we certainly make choices every day. The issue is “are the choices we make predetermined?”, or “do we necessarily choose what we choose?”, or “was it really possible for us to have chosen otherwise?”.

From a Biblical perspective, the case against free-will and in favor of divine determinism (the idea that God is the ultimate cause of everything that occurs) is very powerful. Orthodox Lutheran theology holds that God made the world, including humanity, perfect, holy and sinless. However, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, trusting in their own strength, knowledge, and wisdom. Consequently, people are saddled with original sin, born sinful and unable to avoid committing sinful acts. For Lutherans, original sin is the “chief sin, a root and fountainhead of all actual sins.”  Free will in theology is an important part of the debate on free will in general. Religions vary greatly in their response to the standard argument against free will and thus might appeal to any number of responses to the paradox of free will, the claim that omniscience and free will are incompatible.  The theological doctrine of divine foreknowledge is often alleged to be in conflict with free will, particularly in Calvinistic circles: if God knows exactly what will happen (right down to every choice a person makes), it would seem that the “freedom” of these choices is called into question. Free will and belief in God are incompatible. Nobody can believe in responsibility and culpability of humans, and at the same time believe in an omniscient God. If God already knows what one is going to do, how is one free to do anything to change the future (which is already known to God)? Either we are robots or are responsible for our actions; and the latter rules God out.

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What neuroscientists have shown is that we are free to make choices about how we interpret events. It is our interpretations of events, and not the events themselves, that determine what we do. Research by neuroscientists has revealed that the way our brains have been constructed means that we do not see reality directly but only the images or interpretations that our brain has created. As the neuroscientist Chris Frith says in his excellent book Making up the Mind: How the Brain Creates Our Mental World (Blackwell), “Even if all our senses are intact and our brain functioning normally, we do not have direct access to the physical world. It may feel as if we have direct access, but this is an illusion created by our brain.” Our brain creates these images and interpretations out of our past experience, that is, the memories which are stored in our brain. Since no two people ever have exactly the same experience, no two people ever interpret anything in exactly the same way.  Every species lives in a world appropriate to the size of the species. Our brain creates a human-sized world, an elephant’s brain an elephant-sized world, and an ant’s brain an ant-sized world. In the universe we live in, everything is connected to everything else, but our brain creates patterns and divisions that do not actually exist. People’s interpretations can vary greatly, not just in meaning but in the degree they relate to what is actually going on. Some people try to create interpretations that are as close to the truth as they can make them. In scientific terms, these interpretations have a high degree of validity. Some people create interpretations that are based solely on their fantasies, and any relationship to the truth is accidental. Most of us operate somewhere between these two extremes. Whether our interpretations are close to the truth or not, they are guesses about what is going on. We all operate as scientists do, creating hypotheses and then testing them. When you are waiting to cross a busy road, you create a theory about the speed of the traffic. If your theory is a close approximation of what is actually happening, you will cross the road safely: if it isn’t, you won’t. We might not be able to control most of the events in our life but we are always free to choose how we interpret those events.  However, the range of meanings we can choose from is limited by how much we have learned in our life. This is why being a child is so difficult. This is why organisations that want to have power over us, like the State, the Church, and Big Business, try to control what we know. The less we know, the less choice we have.  A great many people interpret what they have been taught by their religious leaders in ways that cause them and/or others considerable pain and suffering. Some people interpret ideas such as the Christian belief that we are born in sin and therefore must seek salvation to mean that they are intrinsically bad and must live their life striving to meet the highest standards of goodness, but always being in fear of failing and being punished. This kind of interpretation leads to misery, despair, and depression.

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The criminal laws are based on the assumption that human behavior is result of so called “free will” of an individual and crime is a deliberate choice of an individual and therefore the individual must bear the resulting consequences of his/her actions. On the other hand, science understands that human behavior is as a result of interaction of biological factors & environmental factors, and therefore the so called “free will” is not free. But can we rise above our genes and environment?

Yes.

All religions were established in principle to bring order among disordered people, morals among immoral people and civility among uncivilised people. Looking at the behaviour of ordinary people, it appears that religions have failed in their primary duty. Lord Ram came and gone. Jesus Christ came and gone. Prophet Muhammad came and gone. They did everything possible to make ordinary people good but all their efforts have gone in vain; instead religion became political tool to oppress non-believer. Religion killed more people than famine, diseases and natural disasters. People follow religion and prophet for certain things that suit them, but at the same time ignore many good things that do not suit them. Religiosity of ordinary people is highly selective. Besides religion, we have democracy, constitution and laws. Yet behaviour of ordinary people did not change. Greatest problem with democracy is that majority of ordinary people are dishonest and immoral. What religions and democracies with rule of law could not do, I am attempting to do. I am trying to make ordinary people good. I propose a theory of human’s good or bad behaviour delineated in my article ‘Are ordinary people bad?

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Human behaviour is dependent on three factors: genes, environment (religion, culture, society, situation, parents, teachers and peers etc.) and his/her mind (neo-cortex in brain). Some genes are turned on or off because of physical, social, and cultural factors in the environment; and some genes may predispose people to be exposed to environmental risks. Genes even help shape the environment and with the right environmental interventions at the right time, even a trait with a strong genetic foundation (such as antisocial behavior) can be altered. Often we cannot distinguish effects of genes from effects of environment on our behaviour. We have good genes for good behaviour and bad genes for bad behaviour inbuilt in us; the proportion varies from person to person. Genes for good behaviour and genes for bad behaviour express themselves with the sole biological goal of survival and reproduction depending on environmental situations.  On one hand we have prophet who has almost all good genes and on the other hand, we have psychopath who has almost all bad genes. Most ordinary people fall in between these two extremes and vacillate between good and evil. Biologically human nature by default is good albeit goodness may result from anticipation or acquisition of reward in return. This proves that most ordinary people have more good genes for good behavior than bad genes for bad behaviour. Humans are both moral and immoral being dictated by their biology and environment.  Genes (good behaviour genes and bad behaviour genes) and environment (good, bad and complex situations) do influence us but final decision is taken by neo-cortex. Part of neo-cortex is closely tied to the emergence of human morality or immorality based on genes (good or bad) evolved through gene-culture co-evolution. However, our highly advanced neo-cortex including pre-frontal cortex can override sub-cortical emotions, instincts and motivations as well as inbuilt morality evolved due to gene-culture co-evolution by reason & logic. The highly developed and advanced neo-cortex of humans can process behaviours guided by genes and environment. This human neo-cortex endows them with far better learning abilities that help them evolve superior strategies to tackle environmental changes and override natural inbuilt instincts at will. Animals have rudimentary neo-cortex so they cannot think & reason like humans. This neo-cortex in our brain gives us our humanness. It is the human neo-cortex that can override behaviours driven by genes and environment. Animals have rudimentary neo-cortex, so they are always guided by genes and environment although higher animals can learn survival strategy overriding instinctive behaviour depending on development of neo-cortex. Majority of ordinary people have predominant good genes for good behaviour and fewer bad genes for bad behaviour, but since bad situations are commonplace, these people will behave badly as their bad genes are provided suitable environment to express. Sadly, most of ordinary humans have not allowed their neo-cortex to override behaviours driven by genes and environment. When some ordinary human indeed does so, he/she becomes extraordinary like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. There is duality at the heart of gene-culture co-evolution for expressing good or bad behaviour with the sole biological goal of survival and reproduction. Genes for good behaviour and genes for bad behaviour have evolved as adaptations necessary for survival and reproduction in different environmental situations by encoding reasoning circuits in our brain. The same basic adaptations that give rise to the most moving acts of empathy and altruism can also give rise, under certain situations, to genocide, torture and rape. This duality unknowingly operates within each one of us: the force that compels us to live by our values, give and receive love, and be a contributing member of the community; and the force that holds us back, sabotages our efforts, and repeatedly steers us toward bad choices. Our conscience should be set at such a high level that our strong will operate through our neo-cortex to override behaviours guided by dual genes and good/bad environment. Our neo-cortex needs to be developed by strong will to override behaviours guided by genes evolved through gene-culture co-evolution and environmental situations and psychological processes. Strong will means ability to strengthen self-control.  It is a tall order. In my view, most ordinary people will become bad as they do not have strong will power to override behaviours guided by bad behaviour genes constantly opting for bad situations which are commonplace everywhere. If genes predispose a certain behavior but environment doesn’t support it, then that behavior won’t manifest. Bad behaviour genes won’t work in good environmental situations. Yes, if bad situations become rare then bad behaviour genes cannot express and that can be done only by good political and religious leaders. These leaders can metamorphose entire society in such a way that bad situations do not arise. But for that to occur, they should themselves have maximum number of good behaviour genes to overcome bad situations already existing. History shows that leaders like Hitler created such situations that ordinary people acted in most brutal ways. History also shows that leaders like Lee Kuan Yew created situations and systems which made ordinary people hard working and honest resulting in transforming his nation Singapore from third world to first world in a single generation. Leaders of nations have to create situations and systems which eradicate corruption and discrimination, and make their people hard working and honest. People are always personally accountable for their bad behaviour. Understanding the reason for someone’s bad behaviour is not the same as excusing it. Out of genes, environmental situations and neo-cortex, we cannot change genes but we can change evil-generating situations and we can develop will power in neo-cortex to override bad behaviours driven by bad genes and bad situations. This will lead to strategies to prevent ordinary people from committing evil acts. In a nutshell, majority of ordinary people are immoral and dishonest until they develop their will power strong enough to override bad behaviours guided by genes and environment and/or they elect good leaders who will create good situations & systems to prevent ordinary people’s bad behaviour genes from expressing itself.

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My theory about truth and lies shows how representation about world is formed in brain:

The concept of truth arises from puzzling over distinctions between the real and the apparent in our brains where we construct representations of the world around us. Let me give example. A child knows that apple is apple because his parents told him since childhood that this is apple, this is how it looks and tastes. A representation of apple is formed in child’s brain. Now when you show orange, child will say that it is not apple because it does not match with its representation in brain. Now another child wants the apple. The first child says that it is not apple but stone. He is lying. He is telling contrary to the representation in his brain. He is lying because he wants to eat apple. Lies are always purposeful. Now it is up to other child to accept lie as truth or challenge it by saying that it is not stone but apple due to its color, texture and smell. But that challenge will come only if other child had representation of apple in brain. We can challenge lies only if we know the truth otherwise lies will go undetected masquerading as truth.

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Yes, there are two models of brain.

  1. The brain is modular and no more than a sophisticated computer, a passive receptacle of external input.
  2. The brain is a genetically inherited and determined organ, an innately wired genetic machine having a locus of autonomous activity.

I assert that both models are not mutually exclusive but intimately linked.

Our 30,000 genes modulate 100 billion neurons, the genetic component of brain. These genes are evolved through gene-culture evolution. Over these genetic components of brain, we have epigenetic components i.e. modular brain where connections between neurons are established in stages, with a considerable margin of variability, and are subject to a process of selection that proceeds by means of trial and error. The functioning of brain is association between gene-culture co-evolution and epigenetic evolution. Genes are evolved through gene-culture co-evolution and environment allows epigenetic evolution as child grows. We consider some object or event or proposition to be true when it coincides with its representation in brain. This representation is not genetic but through epigenetic evolution i.e. formation of neuronal connections as child grows. Although our brains have been evolved to provide representations of the world, the representations themselves are not in-built but constructed as child grows. So truth can never be inherited. It has to be learned. That learning process, that process that makes representation of the world can be faulty resulting in calling apple an orange. The faulty representation can be found in all human being, for example, for thousands of years people thought that the sun revolves around the earth. So something that whole world believes need not be true. Majority of the world believes that God exists because of faulty representation of God in their brain and not because of objective reality.  Although representation of the world around us is learned since childhood, the ability to deceive and lie contrary to these representations is in-built in us (genetic).  Deception offer advantage (albeit unfairly) in a competitive environment to improve chances of survival and reproduction. The evolutionary theory proposed by Darwin states survival of the fittest, and by lying and deceiving, we aim to improve other’s perception of our social image and status, capability, and desirability in general. Also, larger the neo-cortex, greater the ability to deceive according studies on primates. We the humans deceive far more than Chimpanzees because our neo-cortex is highly developed. Despite having best brain among all species, humans deceive more than any other species because deception offers advantage that outweighs its negative effects. Remember only humans lie and no other primate can lie although they do deceive other members of their species. Brain scans have revealed that the prefrontal cortices in frequent liars (criminals and people with antisocial behaviours) are built differently from those in a typical brain. The liars had 22 percent more “white matter” and 14 percent less “gray matter” than average. The white matter acts like wiring in the brain, while gray matter cells in this region play a role in impulse control. If you have more white matter, you are more able to manipulate information & words, and weave thoughts in ways others probably can’t making you highly deceptive. Less gray matter means less impulse control and deception is not suppressed. In other words, neurobiological pathway exist for deception and lying, more so in criminals and people with antisocial behaviour. Of course environment and will power can modify expression of deception, so there is always a hope for improvement.  In a nutshell, deception and lying is evolved evolutionary biologically i.e. through genetic component of brain while truth is perceived epigenetically i.e. through connection between neurons as child grows. Although it appears counterintuitive that deception precedes truth in our brain; a 6 month old child does cries unnecessarily without hunger or discomfort just to grab attention of mother without knowing any representation of the world. The problem lies with how we define truth and lie and thereby determine order of their existence. We define lie as a false statement made to convince others that it is truth. So apparently truth exists before lie. We forget that lying is only one type of deception. Other types of deception are half-truth, paltering, misrepresentation, fabrication, exaggeration, denial, lack of transparency, redirection, false recognition, broken promise, cover-up, hypocrisy, bait and switch etc.  Chimpanzees will purposefully mislead troop members away from a tasty food source and then return later to gobble it solo. Chimpanzee is not lying but deceiving. That ability to deceive is genetically hard-wired. Representations about the external world are made in brain as child grows but ability to bend, distort, ignore, falsify or bypass these representations is genetically hard-wired with the sole purpose of survival and reproduction. In my article ‘are ordinary people bad?’ I have proposed a theory of human’s good or bad behaviour wherein I have shown that genes for good behaviour and genes for bad behaviour express themselves with the sole biological goal of survival and reproduction depending on environmental situations. This conforms to the genetically hard-wired ability to deceive with the sole purpose of survival and reproduction as postulated by me here. The biological ability to deceive (vial bad behaviour genes) is counterbalanced by biological ability to show altruism (via good behaviour genes). So although truth is epigenetic, deception and altruism is genetic. It is another matter that people use genetic ability of deception not for survival but for other motives.

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Intelligent design vs. Evolution:

Theory of evolution was mocked by society which had been taught by the predominant religions of the day that species were created individually by God and unchangeable. Molecular evolutionary data counter a recent proposition called “intelligent design theory.” Proponents of this idea argue that structural complexity is proof of the direct hand of God in specially creating organisms as they are today. These arguments echo those of the 18th century cleric William Paley who held that the vertebrate eye, because of its intricate organization, had been specially designed in its present form by an omnipotent Creator. Modem-day intelligent design proponents argue that molecular structures such as DNA, or molecular processes such as the many steps that blood goes through when it clots, are so irreducibly complex that they can function only if all the components are operative at once. Thus, proponents of intelligent design say that these structures and processes could not have evolved in the stepwise mode characteristic of natural selection. However, structures and processes that are claimed to be “irreducibly” complex typically are not on closer inspection. For example, it is incorrect to assume that a complex structure or biochemical process can function only if all its components are present and functioning as we see them today. Complex biochemical systems can be built up from simpler systems through natural selection. Thus, the “history” of a protein can be traced through simpler organisms. Jawless fish have a simpler hemoglobin than do jawed fish, which in turn have a simpler hemoglobin than mammals. The evolution of complex molecular systems can occur in several ways. Natural selection can bring together parts of a system for one function at one time and then, at a later time, recombine those parts with other systems of components to produce a system that has a different function. Genes can be duplicated, altered, and then amplified through natural selection. The complex biochemical cascade resulting in blood clotting has been explained in this fashion. Similarly, evolutionary mechanisms are capable of explaining the origin of highly complex anatomical structures. For example, eyes may have evolved independently many times during the history of life on Earth. The steps proceed from a simple eye spot made up of light-sensitive retinula cells (as is now found in the flatworm), to formation of individual photosensitive units (ommatidia) in insects with light focusing lenses, to the eventual formation of an eye with a single lens focusing images onto a retina. In humans and other vertebrates, the retina consists not only of photoreceptor cells but also of several types of neurons that begin to analyze the visual image. Through such gradual steps, very different kinds of eyes have evolved, from simple light-sensing organs to highly complex systems for vision. Eyes evolved over many millions of years from simple organs that can detect light.

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Evolution is a historical science confirmed by the fact that so many independent lines of evidence converge to this single conclusion. Independent sets of data from geology, paleontology, botany, zoology, biogeography, comparative anatomy and physiology, genetics, molecular biology, developmental biology, embryology, population genetics, genome sequencing, and many other sciences each point to the conclusion that life evolved. No single discovery from any of these fields denotes proof of evolution, but together they reveal that life evolved in a certain sequence by a particular process. Evolution is a well-supported and broadly accepted scientific theory; the only well-supported explanation for life’s diversity because of the multiple lines of evidence supporting it, its broad power to explain biological phenomena, and its ability to make accurate predictions in a wide variety of situations. Researchers are constantly revising the narrative of evolution as new discoveries of fossils/ancient DNA are made and new technologies of dating are available. So different researchers come out with different chronology, different phylogeny, different dispersal patterns and different nomenclature as evident in this article but that is how science works. Evolution is not conundrum but the subject is so vast and so many disciplines are involved in research that connecting dots to make big picture is difficult. In my view, evolution proves that God did not create life and as a corollary, God does not exist. But that is my view and you are entitled your view.

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Playing God by synthetic biology:

For thousands of years, science and religion have clashed, and the notion of “playing God” seems to be the basis for objection each time. Nearly every biotechnological accomplishment—the advent of anaesthesia, birth control, stem cell research and genetic engineering, to name a few—has been met with objections and charges that scientists have violated the natural order. However, this argument ignores the great strides made by science to feed the hungry and heal the sick. Surely, the “natural order” these critics refer to includes the progress of scientists to positively impact mankind. Without scientific progress that was initially described as ‘going against nature,’ humankind wouldn’t have found cures for deadly diseases or solutions to some of our biggest problems, such as finding a cure for polio or discovering the structure of DNA. Yet, it is the religious and philosophical issues that get most of the media attention, which often detracts from the progress being made as scientists address the risks of synthetic biology.  Synthetic biology promises better drugs, less thirsty crops, greener fuels and even a rejuvenated chemical industry. Synthetic biology can help fight climate change and pollution. Potential benefits of synthetic life far outweigh risks Craig Venter said to the BBC in May of 2010: “Most people are in agreement that there is a slight increase in the potential for harm but there’s an exponential increase in the potential benefit to society.”  People are generally more fearful of human-made risks, and less so of natural ones. That a bacterium can spontaneously evolve into a new version that can resist our arsenal of antibiotics doesn’t seem to bother people as much as the possibility that we can now manufacture such mutants. In fact synthetic organisms are unlikely to survive out of lab. There is a common misconception that synthetic biology is unnatural and more dangerous than genetic engineering. But the overwhelming majority of synthetic biology projects present little or no risk, especially when confined to biomanufacturing—that is, fermentation in large tanks to produce particular compounds and molecules. The most common industrial host organisms, such as special strains of yeast and bacteria that cannot survive outside a lab environment, have been used safely for 30 years. There is another important respect in which synthetic biology differs from earlier enterprises deemed to involve playing God: it will enable us to create life from non-living, inorganic matter. Indeed, this is arguably the most distinctive role of synthetic biology, and it is a role that might well be assigned to God. The advent of synthetic biology could thus be viewed as a significant leap towards usurping the functions of God (or overstepping human limitations).

Blurred distinction between living organisms and machines by synthetic biology:

Creation of entities which fall somewhere between living things and machines blurs the boundary between our understanding of living and non-living matter. For example, bacterial/yeast bio-factories might possess many of the characteristics that we ordinarily take to be definitive of life: homeostatic physiological mechanisms, a nucleic acid genome and protein-based structure, and the ability to reproduce. But they would also possess many of the features characteristic of machines: modular construction, based on rational design principles, and with specific applications in mind. Since synthetic biology has already built biological machines and not mere better organisms, the distinction between living things and machines is already blurred, so we have to rethink about what is life anyway. Also ethical concerns about abortion, stem cell research, human-nonhuman chimeras, artificial intelligence and treatment of animals need to addressed even before addressing ethical concerns about synthetic biology.

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Coincidence:

The English Dictionary defines the coincidence as sequence of events that actually occurs accidentally but seems to occur as planned/arranged. I define the coincidence as occurrence of two or more events together when there is no logical reasoning for their togetherness. For example; you are speeding your car across a traffic signal and suddenly the green light becomes the red light and you apply a brake. Your car movement and the change in signal is a coincidence. The coincidence is the basis of many miracles.  Various god men and god women perform miracles. For example; the sick devotee becomes healthy after the touch of a God-man. Actually, the devotee may be psychic or having self-limiting illness but the credit goes to the God-man. It is a coincidence and not a miracle.

There are various coincidences associated with my life.

  1. The American president John F Kennedy threw me out of America in 1961 violating American constitution on the pretext of saving me from mafia but the truth is that I was ugly at birth in sharp contrast of my white parents. A black child of white parents was unacceptable to Americans and they believed that I was evil for America. My dad was assassinated and my mom committed suicide. The same JFK was assassinated in 1963 and his only son JFK junior was killed in a mysterious plane crash.
  2. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was aware of my mathematical formula of Pi and took credit for it before then world leaders without doing anything for me. She was assassinated in 1984 and also, her both sons were killed.
  3. The Soviet Union Chief Leonid Brezhnev was moving his both hands in circle mimicking Pi in front of Indira Gandhi seen on the Indian TV Doordarshan. The Soviet Union disintegrated and ceases to exist.

There are plenty of coincidences in my life. I consider all coincidences in my life as neither divine intervention nor paranormal phenomena but mere coincidences.  I assert that I am not a messenger of God.  I deny existence of God. I am an ordinary human being having all human weaknesses. I am sure that all of you must have had many coincidences in life but they are coincidences and not miracles.

In my mathematical formula of Pi, I have shown relationship between straightness and curvedness. In my theory of Duality of Existence, I have shown that there is a dual existence of everything in universe and therefore a single frame of logic/rationale/laws cannot explain all phenomena associated with it. The distinction between living and non-living matter is arbitrary because every electron/photon has consciousness albeit in too small amount to be appreciated by human intelligence. Randomness and certainty coexist simultaneously depending on the knowledge of all variables. In my Photon weaving theory, I have shown that when straightness of photon is converted to curvedness of photon, mass is created. Creation of mass from photon is the basis of matter and all other properties of matter like charge, color, flavor etc. are consequences of how mass is woven from photon. In other words, all other properties of matter like charge, color, and flavor cannot exist without mass. Theory of photon weaving postulates three directions of photon (energy) propagation; first in straight line e.g. light; second in circle e.g. mass; and third in ‘to and fro’ movement as transient photons e.g. fields. Photons can exist as light, as mass and as fields; and all of them are inter-convertible.

To say that all these phenomena, existences and laws governing these existences are created by God is simply implausible.

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Moral of the story:

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  1. The concept of God in human mind arose out of ignorance and fear. Who created sun, moon, earth and stars? The God was the answer and the fear of God was crucial for establishing and maintaining social order. A belief is a mental architecture of how we interpret the world. The belief in God is in the brain just like all other beliefs. Belief in God engages mainly the ‘theory of mind’ areas of brain linked to mirror neurons. This is so because God is perceived to have a mind that humans can relate to. Mirror neurons specialize in allowing us to understand the actions, feelings, and intentions of others by automatically simulating these actions and emotions in our own brains. Belief in God is copying by mirror neurons of a brain since childhood from parents, teachers, priests etc. about their representation of God. The brain has evolved to be sensitive to any form of belief that improves the chances of survival, which could explain why a belief in God and the supernatural became so widespread in human evolutionary history. Although false belief is not necessarily harmful, belief in God make people fail to take responsibility for their own actions.

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  1. There is definite overlap and interplay between religion and culture, but culture is always evolving while religion is stagnant. A people’s religion influences their culture, and culture influences how they practice their religion. Sociological view shows religion as an extension and modifier of culture but due the absolutist claims of religions, they may not ‘keep up’ with cultural changes. Atheists retain some cultural elements of the religion. Richard Dawkins the famous atheist has described himself as a cultural Christian.

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  1. Irreligion (non-religion) is the absence, indifference, rejection of, or hostility towards religion. Irreligion, which may include deism, agnosticism, ignosticism, anti-religion, atheism, skepticism, ietsism, spiritual but not religious, freethought, anti-theism, apatheism, non-belief, pandeism, secular humanism, non-religious theism, pantheism and panentheism, varies in the different countries around the world. Today, atheism is the most common understanding of irreligion. In 18th-century England, even deism would have been considered an irreligious point of view. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2012 global study of 230 countries and territories, 16% of the world’s population is not affiliated with a religion. Having no religious affiliation (1.1 billion) is world’s third biggest group after Christianity (2.2 billion) and Islam (1.6 billion) in 2012. According to a 2012 WIN-Gallup International poll, 13% of the world identifies as “atheist”, 23% identifies as “not religious”, and 59% identifies as “religious”. 78% scientists are atheists or agnostics.

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  1. The difficulty in attaining an unequivocal definition of atheism reflects the complexity and diversity of its historical expressions and its multiple interpretations. Atheism is, in the broadest sense, the absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is the rejection of belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which, in its most general form, is the belief that at least one deity exists. A deity is a supernatural being considered divine or sacred. Although most monotheistic religions traditionally envision their God as omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, and eternal, none of these qualities are essential to the definition of a “deity” and various cultures conceptualized their deities differently.  Theism/atheism is concerned with belief, whereas Gnosticism/agnosticism is concerned with knowledge. Atheist is a person who maintains that there is no God. Agnostic is someone who does not know, or believes that it is impossible to know, if a God exists.

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  1. All theists are atheists in the sense that they deny the existence of all other Gods except theirs, but they don’t consider themselves atheists. Atheists are actually distinctly better informed about religion than theists. Ancient history suggests that atheism is as natural to humans as religion.

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  1. God is the answer of questions that we cannot answer. Who created universe? Who created mathematical laws of universe? Who created DNA codes? When scientists don’t know like why the universe came into being or how the first self-replicating molecules formed, they admit it. Pretending to know things one doesn’t know is a profound liability in science. And yet this is the lifeblood of faith-based religion. It is obvious that we do not fully understand the universe; but it is even more obvious that no sacred text reflects our best understanding of it. Whatever is good in scripture can be valued for its ethical wisdom without our believing that it was handed down to us by the creator of the universe. Failure to understand the scientific principles guiding the creation and development of the universe does not mean that a deity must exist to explain the natural world.

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  1. Does God command what is morally right because it is right, or is it right because God commands it? If God commands what is right because it is right, then rightness appears to be determined by moral standards that are independent of God’s commands, and that God himself is morally required to obey, calling into question his status as Supreme Being. On the other hand, if what is right is right because God commands it, then there are no moral constraints on what God commands, rendering morality completely arbitrary: even horrific actions would be deemed right. Morality is about how humans are affected by human actions. Actions that unnecessarily cause suffering or harm to humans are morally wrong, and actions that contribute to human wellbeing are morally right. There are objective moral truths that can be discovered using reason, and the process does not require belief in a God. God cannot be the source of objective morality.

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  1. Religions may have been instrumental in the cultural evolution of large-scale human cooperation by binding people into moral communities. When every religion states that it is the one true path to salvation, it by necessity claims that all others are false. If religion were true by virtue of widespread belief, it would certainly make more sense for all people to at least believe the same thing but different people believe different religions with quite opposite beliefs. Incompatible religious doctrines have balkanized our world into separate moral communities—Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc.—and these divisions have become a continuous source of human conflict. Certainty without evidence is necessarily divisive and dehumanizing. While there is no guarantee that rational people will always agree, the irrational are certain to be divided by their dogmas.

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  1. Free will and belief in God are incompatible. If God already knows what one is going to do, how is one free to do anything to change the future (which is already known to God)? Either we are robots or are responsible for our actions; and the latter rules God out. Although we are free to make choices about how we interpret events, the range of meanings we can choose from is limited by how much we have learned in our life; and human behavior is a result of interaction of biological & environmental factors, and therefore the so called “free will” is not absolutely free. But we can rise above genetic and environmental control by setting our conscience at such a high level that our strong will operate through our neo-cortex to override behaviours guided by genes and environment. Strong will means ability to strengthen self-control. It is a tall order but not impossible. The neurobiological existence of free will in our neo-cortex rules out existence of God.

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  1. Faith is defined as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable by accepting violations of the well-known, well tested or easily demonstrated laws of Nature. The rejection of faith is a valid means of assessing reality. Faith is believing something when you have no verifiable justification to do so. This attitude can and does lead people to believe absolutely anything at all. Theists are convinced that only the sacred text and the scriptures offer “truth”, so they lose their intellectual curiosity and their ability to reason. Reasoning is subverted to rationalization that supports rather than questions assumptions. There’s also an obvious issue that the very presence of multiple scriptures negates the authenticity of any single religious document. It’s impossible for every religious book to be true because different religious books contain opposite beliefs; and it’s highly presumptuous to assume that one’s own preferred scripture is the single “true” scripture while all the others are false accounts.

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  1. Belief in prayer relies on confirmation bias. Essentially, people remember the times that prayer seemed to “work” but conveniently forget many occasions when prayer failed. Prayer has no effect on any illness except psychological effect but psychology does matter as a prayer can reduce stress, boost morale and gives hope. No prayer should delay/deny access to scientific medical treatment.

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  1. There is currently no evidence to suggest that miracles truly exist. In reality, there are several underlying explanations behind most miracles. The very existence of plausible naturalistic explanations renders the supernatural explanations obsolete. Let coincidences be coincidences rather than labelling them as miracles or divine interventions or God’s pleasure or God’s wrath.

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  1. A basic tenet of logic is that anyone making a positive claim bears the burden of proof for that claim. The burden of proof is always on the person making a claim, especially in cases where the claims are unsupported or unfalsifiable. It is the theist and not the atheist who must show proof of God. It is impossible to prove that something does not exist because there is always the possibility that new evidence will turn up. Consequently, it is impossible to prove a negative. So it is impossible for atheist to prove that God does not exist. All atheist can do is to show that theist has not been able to prove that God exists by refuting the claims and the “evidence” that the theist presents. At the root of the worldview of most atheists is evidence, and atheists point out that sufficient evidence for the existence of Gods is currently very lacking, and thus there is no reason to believe in them. However, the ubiquity of religion in society and history has often shifted the burden of proof to atheists, who must subsequently prove a negative.

I will go one step further. True scientific method says that you cannot prove anything. All you can do is disprove alternative hypothesis. True scientific theory cannot be proven to be correct because there is always a possibility that further observations will disprove the theory and therefore the existing theory does necessarily need to be improvised, modified or replaced in future. Theists say that God exists and created the universe but you cannot prove it. Fair enough. What is the alternative hypothesis?  Big Bang created universe along with time, space, matter and energy. Can you disprove the alternative hypothesis? No. To say that God created Big Bang is ex post facto as Big Bang theory came into existence in 20th century while ‘God created universe suo motu’ was claimed by theists for thousands of years.

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  1. “God is Dead” by Friedrich Nietzsche is perhaps one of the best known statements in all of philosophy. He didn’t mean that there was a God who had actually died, rather that our idea of one had. After the Enlightenment, the idea of a universe that was governed by physical laws and not by divine providence was now reality. Philosophy had shown that governments no longer needed to be organized around the idea of divine right to be legitimate, but rather by the consent or rationality of the governed — that large and consistent moral theories could exist without reference to God. This was a tremendous event. Europe no longer needed God as the source for all morality, value, or order in the universe; philosophy and science were capable of doing that for us.

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  1. Although many people are atheists because they think there is no reliable evidence for God’s existence, there are many reasons for being an atheist and the road to atheism tends to be very personal and individual, based upon the specific circumstances of a person’s life, experiences, and attitudes. Internet, science, higher education, travel, existential security, nuclear family, peers, malfeasance of religious associates and erosion of traditional religious authority structures, all contribute to atheism. One of the major intellectual issues regarding disenchantment with religion is the fact that most world religions insist that all other faiths are wrong. A person may find religious faith to be oppressive, hypocritical, evil, or otherwise unworthy of following. The suffering of the innocent has been and still is the hardest difficulty for belief in God.

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  1. “New Atheism” is the name given to a movement among some early-21st-century atheist writers who have advocated the view that religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence rises to promote the virtues of reason, rationality and science.

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  1. Postmodernism does away with many of the things that religious people regard as essential and postulate that religion is an entirely human-made phenomenon. It removes religion from the exclusive narratives of scriptures, or the lifestyle rules of various faith communities.

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  1. Secularism is a principle that involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law. The process of secularizing states typically involves granting religious freedom, disestablishing state religions, stopping public funds being used for a religion, freeing the legal system from religious control, freeing up the education system, tolerating citizens who change religion or abstain from religion, and allowing political leadership to come to power regardless of their religious beliefs. Mere separation of religion and state constitutionally is irrelevant as religion has overwhelmed some nations to permeate all public discussions be it India or U.S. So secularisation should permeate down to the level of people, not merely in the constitution and the Supreme Court. Secularism is not against religion but independent of it. Most atheists believe in a secular state so most atheists are indeed secularists although atheism and secularism are different. Atheism and Secularism have many positive correlates, such as higher levels of education and verbal ability; lower levels of prejudice, ethnocentrism, racism, and homophobia; greater support for women’s equality, child-rearing that promotes independent thinking and an absence of corporal punishment.

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  1. The French Revolution, noted for its “unprecedented atheism,” witnessed the first major political movement in history to advocate for the supremacy of human reason.

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  1. Europe and East Asia are the regions with the highest rates of atheism. In 2015, 61% of people in China reported that they were atheists. The figures for a 2010 Eurobarometer survey in the European Union (EU) reported that 20% of the EU population claimed not to believe in “any sort of spirit, God or life force”.

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  1. Men are more likely than women to be atheist or secular, younger people are more likely to be non-believers or unaffiliated than older people, and higher education appears to be correlated with secularity.

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  1. Atheists in general are less authoritarian and suggestible, less dogmatic, less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less racist, less ethnocentric, law-abiding, and more politically tolerant and more supportive of gender equality, women’s rights and gay rights. Atheists tend to be less agreeable (e.g. more likely to hold unpopular, socially challenging views), as well as more open minded (e.g. more likely to consider new ideas) than members of religious groups. Most open-minded atheists and humanists are opposed to militant atheism, considering them equivalent to religious fundamentalism. Although atheists are often among the most intelligent and scientifically literate people in any society, they are often imagined to be intolerant, immoral, arrogant, blind to the beauty of nature and dogmatically closed to evidence of the supernatural; therefore it is important to clear misconceptions that prevent them from playing a larger role in the world.

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  1. Discrimination against atheists refers to and comprises the negative attitudes towards, prejudice, hostility, hatred, fear, and/or intolerance towards atheists and/or atheism. The overwhelming majority of countries fail to respect the rights of atheists and freethinkers although they have signed U.N agreements to treat all citizens equally. There are 13 Muslim countries where punishment for atheism or apostasy is death penalty. Across the world there are laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, revoke their citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, and prevent them working for the state. Widespread dislike, disapproval of, and general negativity towards atheists is unwarranted and in fact a case of unsubstantiated prejudice.

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  1. Religion leaves a deep and abiding mark on human moral intuitions that belief in God serves a necessary function in inhibiting immoral conduct, so wide variety of immoral acts (e.g., serial murder, consensual incest, necrobestiality, cannibalism) are erroneously presumed be committed by atheists. Although statistics show that atheists commit fewer crimes than average, the widespread prejudice against them as highlighted by various studies, reflects intuitions that have been forged through centuries and might be hard to overcome.

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  1. While freedom of religion and speech is protected in the United States, a social and political climate prevails in which atheists and the non-religious are made to feel like lesser Americans, or non-Americans; although U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that non-believers are afforded the same rights and protections as believers. Around 26 percent of Americans don’t believe in God but only 11% admit it before pollsters because atheism is a stigma in United States. Worldwide there may be as many as a billion atheists, although social stigma, political pressure, and intolerance make accurate polling difficult.

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  1. It seems that people turn to religion as a salve for the difficulties and uncertainties of their lives and religion helps people cope psychologically with dangerous or unpredictable situations. Countries where most people are rendered miserable by poverty, hunger, and disease, are the very ones where religious belief is at its strongest. Part of religion’s appeal is that it offers security in an uncertain world. So not surprisingly, nations that report the highest rates of atheism tend to be those that provide their citizens with relatively high existential security. These countries feature strong educational and social security systems, good health and long life expectancy, low inequality and all are relatively wealthy so that people are less scared about what might befall them. Existential Security in society seems to diminish religious belief with two notable exceptions, United States and Saudi Arabia. The notion that improving living conditions are associated with a decline in religion is supported by a mountain of evidence. When people are secure in their own existence, they do not feel the need to appeal to supernatural entities to calm their fears and insecurities. As individuals move from survival values to self-expression values, which is triggered by investments in health, education, communication technologies and democracy, societies move from traditional religious values to secular rational values.

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  1. Religion, whether it’s maintained through fear, love or ignorance, is highly successful at perpetuating itself. As soon as we found ourselves facing an ecological crisis, a global nuclear war or an impending comet collision, the Gods would emerge. Existential security is more fallible than it seems. In a moment, everything can change: a drunk driver can kill a loved one; a tornado can destroy a town; a doctor can issue a terminal diagnosis. As climate change wreaks havoc on the world in coming years and natural resources potentially grow scarce, then suffering and hardship could fuel religiosity. People want to escape suffering, but if they can’t get out of it, they want to find meaning. For some reason, religion seems to give meaning to suffering – much more so than any secular ideal or belief that we know of. On the other hand, severe suffering can break faith in God. My mother, a devout woman was terminally ill with cancer with lot of pain and suffering, I told her to pray God but she refused. She kept on asking pain killers as suffering was so great that her faith in God was broken.

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  1. People tend to secularize when four factors are present: existential security (you have enough money and food), personal freedom (you’re free to choose whether to believe or not), pluralism (you have a welcoming attitude to diversity), and education (you’ve got some training in the sciences and humanities). If even one of these factors is absent, the whole secularization process slows down. The U.S. has found ways to limit the effects of education by keeping it local, and in private schools; and there’s been encouragement from the highest levels of government to take a less than welcoming cultural attitude to pluralism. That is why the U.S. is secularizing at a slower rate than Europe.

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  1. Evidently, a preponderance of people of faith in a given society is not necessarily beneficial, nor is a preponderance of atheists or secular people automatically deleterious. In fact, states and nations with a preponderance of nonreligious people actually fare better on most indicators of societal health than those without. When it comes to such things as life expectancy, infant mortality, women’s equality and women’s rights, family planning, economic equality, economic competitiveness, lowest levels of corruption, health care, standard of living, environmental protection, and education, it is the most secular democracies on earth that fare the best, doing much better than the most religious nations in the world. Quality of Life is best in secular nations and worst in most religious nations.

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  1. According to Global Peace Index, each of the 10 safest and most peaceful nations in the world is also among the most secular, least God-believing in the world. Most of the least safe and peaceful nations, conversely, are extremely religious.

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  1. Moral behaviors such as altruism and reciprocity are not inherently human. In the natural world, they can be observed in a variety of animal species, especially social animals without religious directives to guide them.

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  1. We are endowed with a moral faculty that guides our intuitive judgments of right and wrong. These intuitions reflect the outcome of millions of years in which our ancestors have lived as social mammals, and are part of our common inheritance. Moral judgments rely heavily on intuitions that emerge early in development and may be shared with close primate relatives. These moral intuitions may suggest the operation of a universal moral grammar that is robust across differences in religion. People take or leave religious morality according to some internal moral compass they already have. People’s opinion of what God thinks is right and wrong tracks what they believe is right and wrong, not the other way around. So morality is inbuilt in us, we use God’s name to substantiate it and justify it. Therefore in practice we more or less ignore Scripture, quoting it when it supports our moral compass, quietly forgetting it when it doesn’t.

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  1. Although there is some evidence that religion promotes in-group altruism and self-sacrifice beyond that displayed by non-believers, religious people do not behave more morally than atheists, although they often say and believe that they do. If someone says that all that is preventing them from stealing, raping, and killing to reach whatever ends they want is the dictates of God, then can that person really be trusted? To be held to a view of morality only by an external force, implies that should that force be taken away, the individual would resort to immorality almost immediately. If you can’t tell right from wrong without appealing to an authority or a sacred text, what you lack is not religion but compassion.

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  1. It is assumed that children brought up by religious parents expressed more empathy and sensitivity for justice in everyday life than non-religious parents. However it is found that religion negatively influences children’s altruism.

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  1. The weight of most data seems to indicate that religiosity is a poor indicator of social health or personal virtue. The notion that in free countries atheism promotes intolerance and immorality is demonstrably false. A strong correlation between faith and antisocial behavior exists, the correlation is so strong that there is good reason to suppose that religious belief does more harm than good.

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  1. Studies show religious people are more charitable than their irreligious counterparts. However atheists are more likely to engage in acts of generosity out of compassion than believers who may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, reputational concerns or an infrastructure that is conducive to charity. Studies of heroic altruism during the Holocaust, found that the more secular people were, the more likely they were to rescue and help persecuted Jews.

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  1. When it comes to underage alcohol consumption or illegal drug use, secular people do break the law more than religious people. But when it comes to more serious or violent crimes, such as murder, there is simply no evidence suggesting that atheist and secular people are more likely to commit such crimes than religious people. Murder rates are actually lower in more secular nations and higher in more religious nations where belief in God is deep and widespread. In all secular democracies long-term trend has seen homicide rates drop to historical lows with the exceptions being the United States (with a high religiosity level) and “theistic” Portugal.

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  1. Secular institutions such as police, judges, and courts are potent sources of social monitoring and prosocial behavior in large parts of the world. Trust in the rule of law, in the form of an efficient state, a fair judicial system or a reliable police force, is predictor of moral behavior. And indeed, when the rule of law is strong, religious belief declines, and so does distrust against atheists.

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  1. Fundamentalist groups exist in every religion. There are Christian fundamentalist groups in western nations and there are Hindu fundamentalist groups in India but they can’t do much due to secular liberal democracy, constitution, rule of law and independent judiciary. All Islamic nations must become secular liberal democracies to curb the menace of Islamic terrorism. Growth of atheism in Arab world means defeat of authoritarian rulers who have mixed up Islam and politics to keep power in their hands.

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  1. Communism is primarily a political and economic belief system. Atheism is disbelief in God or deity. All Communists may well be atheists but all atheists are not Communists. Some atheists favour socialism but many support capitalism. The atrocities wrought by Stalin and other communists were not on account of their being atheists, but on account of their being totalitarians and authoritarians. By far the most casualties were due to faulty bureaucracy, incompetent planning, and an economic utopia detached from reality. State atheism did not kill 100 million people. Although communism is critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. In the warped communism of Stalin, Mao and Kim-dynasty, the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God was essentially replaced with the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God of the State.

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  1. Humanists believe that human experience and rational thinking provide the only source of both knowledge and a moral code to live by. Humanists believe that human destiny is made on earth by humans, and that we are solely responsible for what happens. True humanists welcome anybody who makes a positive contribution to humanity as a whole irrespective of belief in God. All secular humanists are atheists and large majority of atheists are humanists. Lenin, Stalin and Mao were atheists but not humanists.

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  1. Nihilism argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value and there are no universal moral truths. Joy, sorrow, suffering, triumph and all other human experiences have no internal meaning or value, nor does life itself. Although both atheists and nihilists reject the concept of a divine authority that dictates a single set of moral values over the universe, they treat the concept of morality itself very differently. Existential nihilists claim that there is no purpose to existence and that all morals are meaningless. In fact, any attempt to assign moral value to existence is an exercise in the absurd. That’s an idea that most atheists don’t agree with. While atheists reject the idea of an omnipotent being, most do not reject the concept of morality itself.

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  1. Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) is a modern view that science and religion are independent, and they are based on different aspects of human experience. NOMA is a philosophical world view that places religion and science in separate domains of questioning (“magisteria”) in order to avoid one contradicting the other. This view is supported by National Academy of Science in the U.S. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science according to NOMA.

My view is that any claim should be rejected when the evidence does not support it, regardless of whether they are designated as ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural’ or ‘paranormal’ or ‘religious’.

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  1. Research shows consistent links between meaning in life and psychological well-being. It is generally accepted that religious systems provide purpose or meaning in life to individuals. In fact, this is often seen as a primary function of religion. No wonder religious beliefs correlate with a sense of life satisfaction and well-being, hope and optimism, and religious people can adjust to and cope with sad or difficult life events. A study on depression and suicide suggested that those without a religious affiliation have a higher suicide attempt rates than those with a religious affiliation. It is assumed that atheists are ostensibly disadvantaged for psychological well-being but ironically psychological benefits of atheism are rather staggering in comparison to theism as atheists are free of cognitive dissonance. Atheism is not equal to nihilism or fatalism. Atheists are not deprived of meaning or purpose in life. In fact whatever makes life meaningful is heavily loaded with whatever people value.

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  1. Religion has long been thought to be a solution to the problem of death. Notions of an afterlife are nearly universal, though there is great diversity in the details. Given this close association between religion and death, researchers have long supposed that religion lessens fear about death. However studies found that the very religious and atheists are the groups who do not fear death as much as much as those in-between. Thought of death increase the religiosity of believers but people who strongly reject religious belief find other ways of dealing with the psychological problem of death such as devoting themselves to some secular cause that will endure beyond their lifetimes. Extrinsic religiosity is when religious behaviour is motivated by pragmatic considerations such as the social or emotional benefits of following a religion, whereas intrinsic religiosity refers to religious behaviour driven by ‘true belief’. While people who were intrinsically religious enjoyed lower levels of death anxiety, those who were extrinsically religious revealed higher levels of death anxiety.

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  1. We humans declare someone dead but in fact his DNA is alive in his children and when his children die, his DNA continues to live in his grandchildren and so the life continues despite deaths of bodies. This invalidates the concept of soul & afterlife.

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  1. Atheists are more intelligent than religious people according to dozens of studies. The more intelligent a child is even during early years, the more likely it is to turn away from religion. Intelligent people are less likely to conform and, thus, are more likely to resist religious dogma. Intelligent people tend to adopt an analytic (as opposed to intuitive) thinking style, which has been shown to undermine religious beliefs. More intelligent people are more likely than less intelligent people to adopt novel preferences and values like liberal political ideology and atheism. Finally several functions of religiosity, including compensatory control, self-regulation, self-enhancement, and secure attachment, are also conferred by intelligence. Intelligent people may therefore have less need for religious beliefs and practices, although some highly intelligent people have also been religious.

Can religiosity cause unintelligence? Well, majority of religious people are from lower socioeconomic strata having poverty, child malnutrition, low education and infectious diseases of childhood that impair brain function, all result in lower intelligence, as compared atheists who come from upper socioeconomic strata.

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  1. There are various scientific theories of religiosity:

Theory-1

Religion arises in neuropsychology system which is intuitive, instinctual and automatic. These capabilities regularly develop in humans, regardless of where they are born. Religion should be considered an ‘evolved domain’ or instinct that becomes heightened at times of stress, when people are inclined to act instinctively. These are survival mechanisms that avoid danger and promote group cohesion and cooperation.  Since religion is considered an instinct, and intelligence the ability to rise above one’s instincts, so negative correlation between intelligence and religion is explained. Also diminished intelligence among people of faith could be because they largely rely on intuition rather than reasoning for survival.

Theory-2

Beliefs in the supernatural exist throughout the history of cultures because of suppression of analytical network of neurons that allowed for critical thought in our brain and engagement of social network of neurons that enabled empathy to understand the world in nonmaterial way because those religious beliefs resonate with their moral sentiments. There is correlation between empathy and religiosity; the more empathetic person is more likely religious.  So women tend to be more religious. All of us need to balance between analytical and social networking of brain.

My view:

I do not think that religion is an instinct. Tarzan would never be religious. Except psychopaths, empathy exists in all of us, some more some less, irrespective of religiosity and atheism. The way religion is used to kill innocent or non-believer makes me wonder whether any correlation is possible between religiosity and empathy.

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  1. The human brain has evolved to be particularly sensitive to patterns and causality. It’s so effective at this, in fact, that people often see a pattern or purpose in things that are actually random. This is why it’s easy to identify objects or faces in the clouds for example. This same sensitivity can make random or unrelated events seem like the presence of God, especially if the person experiencing them has a predisposition toward wanting those beliefs to be true. Superstition is an innate instinct of associating of two or more random events/perceptions defying logic (reason) and/or knowledge. All animals are instinctively superstitious in the sense that their brain keep on associating random events of environment perceived by their senses for survival and this trait is evolutionarily hardwired into the genes of their brain cells. It is an evolutionary design not to think about reasons but just repeat what seemed to work last time. Humans are no exception no matter whether they are religious people or atheists. Superstitions mainly arise from an intuitive system (limbic system), instead of a malfunctioning analytical system (neocortex) and that explains why superstitions do not vanish with the increase of education, scientific knowledge, and rational thinking. All human superstitions have emotional basis for survival ignoring logic. Feeling of spirituality comes from stimulation of dopamine reward system in human brain. The same system supports random events association (superstitions), and that is why you feel reverence and ecstasy in believing many superstitions, religious or otherwise; and that is why you are unwilling to discard superstitions despite scientific evidence to contrary. No wonder religion, superstition and spirituality are correlated.

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  1. My theory of truth and lies shows that representations about the external world (truths) are constructed in brain as child grows but ability to bend, distort, ignore, falsify or bypass these representations (deception) is genetically hard-wired with the sole purpose of survival and reproduction. God is faulty representation created in our brain since childhood by parents, teachers, priests etc. that someone all powerful is looking at our deeds and we may be punished or rewarded by Him as per our deeds and so our deeds must conform to His morality. Majority of the world believes that God exists because of faulty representation of God in their brain since childhood and not because of objective reality.

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  1. Theory of evolution was mocked by society which had been taught by the predominant religions of the day that species were created individually by God and unchangeable. Evolution is a well-supported and broadly accepted scientific theory; the only well-supported explanation for life’s diversity because of the multiple lines of evidence supporting it, its broad power to explain biological phenomena, and its ability to make accurate predictions in a wide variety of situations. In my view, evolution proves that God did not create life and as a corollary, God does not exist.

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  1. Synthetic biology enables us to create life from non-living, inorganic matter. Indeed, this is arguably the most distinctive role of synthetic biology, and it is a role that might well be assigned to God. The advent of synthetic biology could thus be viewed as a significant leap towards usurping the functions of God. Since synthetic biology has already built biological machines and not mere better organisms, the distinction between living things and machines is already blurred, so we have to rethink about what is life anyway.

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Dr. Rajiv Desai. MD.

August 31, 2018

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Postscript:

Indian state of Punjab has enacted a blasphemy law that provides that whoever causes injury, damage or sacrilege to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Srimad Bhagwad Geeta, Holy Quran and Holy Bible with the intention to hurt the religious sentiments of the people shall be punished with imprisonment for life; and other states may follow suit. I wonder whether India may imprison me for life for publishing article on ‘Atheism’ although my intention is education and not hurting religious sentiments. I offer unconditional apology to anyone whose religious sentiments are offended by this article.

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Footnote:

  1. In order to live better life, all of us need compassion, fairness, tolerance, pluralism, freedom, science, reason and logic no matter whether you are religious, anti-religious or unaffiliated.
  2. Don’t confuse science with atheism. Atheists do not have a monopoly over science. Science is for everybody.

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