Essay:So you don't believe in God?

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Based on this mock Bingo card. Undoubtedly it's a bit straw man in places, but it reflects some genuine responses said to atheists over the years. Generally it's a bit of a Gish Gallop but I think is worthwhile going through. Some responses are a bit short and snarky, but this is intentional rather than reflecting an inability to write a serious answer - though serious responses are available on request.

  • Where do you get your morals?
Almost certainly where everyone else gets theirs from; an internal instinct to do what is best for ourselves and the people around us. Theft induces mistrust in others and will cause others to distrust us - so we don't do it. Murder, similarly, but it also actively harms people and our empathy can make us imagine what it's like to lose our own lives. Certainly getting them from some ancient books is a bit odd, because said books aren't comprehensive moral rulebooks at all. Indeed, most of the actions in those books appear to be about preserving the belief system, rather than any level of morality; such as how the Qu'ran mandates killing non-believers and how nearly half of the 10 commandments focus on God's ego.
  • You'll grow out of your rebellious phase.
Still waiting for that one to happen. Though implying atheism as the rebellious phase is interesting. It implies religion is the Default - well, not only that, but also that it's one specific religion that is the Default. We might find this one said towards those who convert to another religion.
  • So you want to outlaw all religion?
Oh boy would I! But seriously, no. That would be a bit stupid.
  • You're what's wrong with society.
It's been covered extensively that the biggest threats to society aren't really correlated with religion so much. When people become self-absorbed, care only for their own in-group, demonise the out-group, find their morality dictated by an external source, blindly follow orders, suffer server cognitive dissonance... oh wait, I've just described religion! What is wrong with society is people, and individuals who won't put others in society higher or even level with themselves. Racists, homophobes, the general right-wing of the world who hold dearly to Conservative ideology. The irony here being that such people tend to cling onto religion too as almost a statistical certainty (at least in some places) and use that religion to justify their ideals - even though their religions usually say the opposite. Except for the homophobia thing, I think the Bible was pretty fucking clear on that one.
  • 95% of the world believes in God, doesn't that say something?
We say that "reality isn't a popularity contest" for a reason. Although 95% of the population may believe in God "of some kind", it's not united under the same belief. In fact, if you take groups of identical theistic beliefs, worldwide atheists aren't far off the largest group (IIRC, Catholics form the largest coherent group). The high degree of variance and sectarianism in the major religions prevents them being unified in large groups such as "Christian" or "Muslim" because when you get into the nuts and bolts of what they believe, they vary quite differently. I think this fact says more. If there was any objective truth to religion then they wouldn't come and go (consider ancient religions) or be so varied across the world. In fact, the most unifying trope seems to be more along the lines that people must have a religion of some kind, and that it doesn't matter what it is. If this was removed from the meme-pool (by magic!), I'm pretty sure it would die practically overnight.

  • It takes just as much faith to be an atheist as a believer.
Religion offers certainty. A matter of faith says God is 100% certain to exist. This is obviously not particularly clever thinking as if you don't account for the possibility of your reasoning being wrong. You might be 100% confident for reasons X, Y and Z - but how confident are you that X, Y and Z is right? I.e., your workings. And how confident are you in that reasoning, and how confident are you in you assessment of that? Atheism as a statement of 100% faith is as fallacious as a religious statement of the same thing - however, no one really uses atheism in those terms. You can simply admit that you don't believe in God - you anticipate, act and expect there to be no God - and give a certain confidence interval for it, accepting that you might be wrong if evidence says otherwise. That removes the problematic nature of needing any degree of "faith", but it doesn't make you consider God as a plausible possibility.
  • How arrogant.
Yes, I know. That's because I'm just that awesome.
  • You can't prove there's no God!
Well, no one really has to. The usual response to this is the burden of proof, which is fine but it's often peddled out as if it was a Bible verse. Certainly we can't "prove" that there is no God, any more than believers can "prove" that there is one - and let's not get started on them proving their specific God, we all know that doesn't happen. In the casual sense, "proof" like this is asking for 100%, or infinite, certainty and so is a remarkably absurd request. But we can, however, make a decent stab at a good confidence interval - and figure out what to believe based on that. We have to ask what evidence would we expect if there was a God, although for this you need to define God very precisely in terms of observational evidence, which believers usually decline to ever do. So let's consider testable things like prayer, or miracles, or spiritual healing. Without exception these tend to be, when tested properly, not real effects. Believers say this doesn't constitute proof or evidence that there's no God, as absence of evidence doesn't mean evidence of absence... except, actually, it does. Absence of evidence for God is evidence of absence of God - as such a case of affairs is more likely to be associated with there actually being no God. And that's actually demonstrable with conditional probability, look it up.
  • Atheism is a religion too.
This is a remarkably interesting canard, usually responded to with things like "stamp collecting" and "atheism is to religion as bald is to hair colour" - but again, these are merely simplistic tropes. There are two things going on with this accusation.
Firstly, if you want to include atheism as a religion you need to do it by giving a definition of religion, i.e., what does that word represent. What is the membership test for the set of religions - or in less maths-based terms "if I point to something, what questions do I need to ask to see if it's a religion?" It's perfectly possible to create a set that includes atheism and label it as religion that way - what's difficult is doing it without also including things like supporting a football team as a religion, or going to work for a company as a religion. Essentially, you broaden the label "religion" so wide as to include so much stuff that it ceases to become useful, you could point to anything in the world and say "religion". It loses meaning, it conveys no useful information (and that's in an information theory sense) by saying it as it doesn't narrow down a near-infinite number of things to something more specific very well.
But secondly, you have to wonder about "implicit" atheism. That's atheism where someone has no concept of the question of religion vs atheism. They simply haven't considered it, haven't been brought up in a world where it's even been thought of. Granted, this is more of a thought experiment given the ubiquity of religion, but we can consider animals, new born babies, and perhaps even non-sentient and inanimate orange peels to be very much atheistic. And yet someone would consider these as having a religion?
  • The evidence for God is all around you.
Evidence and how to use it has already been covered, but this one lets us ask what is worth considering as evidence. Obviously, the aim of this "the evidence is all around you" is to suggest that the world is enough evidence. But is it? Simply put, we need to determine if such evidence is exclusively due to God. This is why, when doing an experiment, you control for things. The world exists, yes, but how applicable is that to God as described, in a non-circular way. What aspects of the world can only be described by God. And I don't mean something amateurishly shitty like the Kalam argument, I mean actual exclusive evidence that doesn't have like a unconditional prior probability of ~100% anyway. Given naturalistic science, evolutionary theory, physics and so on, there's little for God left to hold exclusive command over, so we're left with absurdity such as "a God that is good and loves us still ends up commanding us to live in a world that eats us, hates us, causes pain and suffering and televangelism". We have to ask, given what evidence actually exists if you don't cherry-pick the fuck out of it, "what is the difference between this world and a world without a God?" - if you can't come up with a suitable answer that isn't totally stupid, then you cannot use it as evidence.

  • God loves you anyway!
Thanks, I love God anyway! Wait, what? Yeah, that makes no sense.
  • What's stopping you going on a crime spree right now?
In terms of physical restraint, nothing. In terms of mental restraint, then it's my own personal moral convictions and an innate instinct that humans have, probably, evolved to have. I care for others, I don't wish harm on others, I don't fuck around with people, in other words, I'm a good person. At least I'd like to think so, though I'll be the first to admit that I'm not perfect.
While I don't like answering questions with more questions, we can turn this one around; "what's stopping you going on a crime spree?" If the implication is that you need religion to be good, and evidence would suggest otherwise, then that means the only thing stopping a religious believer going on a crime spree is God. Which, let's face it, isn't a good reason. That's not being good, that's being terrified into obedience. It seems to imply that if God was somehow disproved, or that this person lost their faith somehow, they'd immediately go on a crime spree. I'm not comfortable hanging around these people.
  • Pascal's wager
This one takes a while to refute fully. But in short, it's silly. It makes too many assumptions, about both people and about God. While the game theory aspect is interesting, there are so many theological objections to the set up that I'm impressed anyone takes it seriously. The implication is that only people who believe are rewarded in heaven and that actions count for nothing? I know this is a doctrine of many Christian sects, but please, why is an almighty omnipotent being supposedly so obsessed over whether people believe in him? It's like the Bible has effectively developed a narrative of the most insecure creature ever!
  • Aren't you afraid of hell?
Not really. I'm not usually afraid of things that aren't real. Apart from the monsters under my bed, I haven't cleaned under there for a while and I think they're multiplying. Seriously, I can't sleep because of them, I swear I can hear rustling like they're preparing to feast on my flesh... but I digress. No.
  • I feel sorry for you, not having a reason to live.
I feel sorry for you needing to be told a reason to live. I live for the sake of living and make it what I make it. It's quite cool, actually, and I don't have to hate gay people or get up on a Sunday morning. Religion doesn't - and hint, it never has - had the monopoly on supposedly "deep" questions. Where do we come from? Why are we here? Come off it, if you need someone to give you reassuring answers to these questions in order for you to feel intellectual and deep, then you're likely not to be very intellectual and deep. Come up with your own solution, or read around and construct your own. Or better yet, recognise this sort of thing as meaningless and only used as part of the mechanism religion uses to propagate.

  • There are no atheists in foxholes.
Actually, we have one of our very own. Go pester him about it.
  • But you have to believe in something!
This is seriously the most annoying trope ever. The thought of someone believing differently to you brings up a hard point to swallow: maybe you're wrong. This is especially true when you take faith position of infinite certainty, that niggling doubt will eat away at such sureness. Believers can at least agree with each other because they at least believe something, they can brush off the existence of other religions as "they at least believe they just have the details wrong". This is how so many different sects of Christianity can exist despite the fact that one likes to wear magic underwear and another eats its own god. Atheists on the other hand, well that's just something else entirely. It's difficult to rationalise the fact that people simply don't believe. In fact the entire thing is abhorrent on many levels - not only is it then conceivable that you have the details wrong, but that you might be in the wrong ball park entirely. That must be pretty fucking hard to deal with when you're so insecure with your beliefs that you have to assert 100% confidence.
  • Hitler/Stalin/Pol Pot were atheists, you know.
This is usually countered with an argument about whether Hitler was actually Christian. There is the whole "Positive Christianity" and it's hard to escape the whole "God is with us" on the belts of SS officers and the fact that Hiter was raised Catholic, that all complicates matters. Similarly, I often like to quip that Stalin couldn't have been an atheist because he believed in himself - although that requires you to know something about Stalin's insane ego.
No, this is about associations. Stalin and Hitler both and impressive facial hair - as does Fidel Castro and so does did Saddam Hussein. They also breathed oxygen and drank water. They were also all composed of atoms. They each had a brain, and a heart, and liver, lungs and so on. They all spoke a language. They walked. They manipulated things - often their impressive facial hair, I'm sure - with their hands. In short they were all human. These similarities far outstrip similarities narrowed down just to religious belief or lack thereof. If your view of the world is simple enough to think this as a serious point, and remember this is no straw man as Ben Stein did a movie saying the same thing, then I truly pity you.
  • What are you going to tell your children?
About what? Sex, drugs, rock and roll and how totally fucking awesome they all are? Seriously, though, I will raise my kids to not believe everything I tell them without thinking it through and finding out for themselves, and to offer that same attitude to everyone.
  • I'll pray for you.
Cheers. Good to know you care. Now, obviously, I don't believe it works so it won't affect me... but it will affect you if you do believe it works. So riddle-me-this: If I asked not to be prayed for, would you still do it?
Unfortunately this is rhetorical, as I have no "you" to address, really, but if someone did believe it worked would they violate the trust of someone else by going against their wishes? I think that would be an interested point to fathom, particularly given some of the reasons that you'd hear "I'll pray for you".

  • You're doing the Devil's work!
So those times I've given to charities, helped old ladies across the street, not murdered anyone... that's the Devil's Work? Good to know, I'll keep it up.
  • If you read [religious text] you'd change your mind.
I know it's obvious as facetious but, hell, I'll say it anyway: "If you actually read [religious text] you'd change your mind". Especially all those people going to church and then stopping off for a bite at Red Lobster afterwards while wearing polycotton dress shirts, boy are you guys in for a shock when you read the Bible.
  • You are so closed-minded.
Okay, I'll do a serious aside for this one as "open mindedness" is one of the most abused terms ever invented. Having an open mind doesn't mean blindly accepting something as true, or even accepting that it's true until further notice - that's just plain gullibility. "Open mindedness" is really best expressed as "open minded consideration", as it is the mark of an intelligent person to consider an idea without accepting it. You don't need to agree with a view, or subscribe to it, or admit it exists to run a little thought experiment in your head to examine it and study it. Indeed, it helps because you're not blinded by your own bias in accepting it. If it works out to be a good idea, then you can accept it. Providing someone doesn't outright reject an idea as untrue (with infinite certainty) without any consideration, the accusation of being closed minded is unfounded.
  • Stop being intolerant of my beliefs!
Here's the thing about religious belief: when confronted with an atheist, believers essentially think "holy crap, someone who doesn't believe, maybe it isn't true after all!!" It's a simple defence mechanism, to preserve belief, to distrust non-believers. An atheist is an anathema to a believer and their very existence is a threat and a danger. It doesn't matter how mild mannered someone is, any attack is perceived as a threat or some kind of exercise in intolerance. In reality, this is no more founded than someone's skin colour making them, by default, intolerant of your own skin colour.
But that's just the existence of atheists; what about the ones who go a little further and dare to justify their beliefs, or make an argument or - shock of horrors - maybe even write a book on the subject? In this case, the fundamental response is that no belief should be sacred and beyond criticism. At all. Ever. It is not intolerant to criticise, or to not subscribe to an idea, and it certainly isn't intolerant to state why - even openly - you don't subscribe to those ideas. Believers tend to be very insecure about their beliefs (why do you think they have to assert that they know, and have 100% confidence in them?) and so stifling any criticism or dissenting opinion is vital. Incidentally, did you know that the constitution of the UCCF Christian Unions forbids them ever inviting a speaker in who isn't a evangelist in the Cult of Jesus? Exactly; they don't accept any differing opinions at all, it needs to be protected in a bubble.
  • God doesn't believe in atheists either.
Oh... wait that means... *disappears in a poof of logic*