A question I sometimes ask myself when reading fiction set in universes where gods are known to exist, such as Terry Pratchett's Discworld* (where the gods like atheists because it gives them something to aim at...)

It helps highlight the idea that given any place where there is an absolute truth about supernature--whether it be that there is a God, that there are no gods, or that there is only a Bikini Goddess of Endless Vacations--the majority of viewpoints on the subject will be flat-out wrong.

I suppose any actually-extant deity might ask themself about atheists sometimes also, especially if they left enough pretty obvious clues for them.**

* Okay, the rules of theology are slightly different on the Disc. But still...

** Unfortunately some of the most obvious clues, such as the existence of the bikini, are taken for granted.

I think that one of the reasons a person turns to atheism in the first place is an inherent need for rationale.

Religion can offer nothing in the way of absolute, objective proof. Those out there who truly believe in their professed religion can feel the truth of it within them; absolute proof as far as they're concerned. An atheist feels no such assurance as to the nature of the universe and the existance of a supreme diety, and therefore subscribes to none.

Now, keep in mind, that being an atheist does not necessarily make you a daring, original, freethinking genius. Even Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying, "Mein Gott in Himmel!"(My God in Heaven) If you want to be daring, original, and/or freethinking, you have to do that on your own.

In utopia, I think Agnoticism would be the default religion. No one would believe there was no god (as I do), and no one would believe there was a god. There would be no atheists and no theists, just agnostics

Personally, I'm a strong atheist because I believe, in my gut, that if god was rational, he'd show himself, and I like to think the rationality is good, and god is most often described as good. So, I believe that there is no god. But I also believe that the best belief system is agnostism, so In a very strange way, I'm atheist in order to convert people to agnostism. Kinda like some evangelists think that being a "good christian" is best, and are evangelival to the extreme in order to get people to "meet them halfway"...

In Discworld, I generally asume that most Atheists actually believe that "The gods are wrong" rather than "There are no gods". Also, belief in the Discworld, to me, at least, is a measure in faith in a god as something. For instance, in "Small Gods", Om is weak because although millions of people acknowledge his existence, only one actually has enough faith in him to think that he is the best god...

Oops, I've confused myself, I'd better shut up now

Sorry to offend anyone, but- Nevermind :-)

Well, I think weak atheism makes a lot of sense. If one has personally investigated a religion and found that the evidence specifically indicates the falsehood of it, disbelieving in that deity is a rational endeavor. Alternatively, if one already knows something to be true which prevents a specific religion from being true, one may rationally disbelieve in it. Indeed, as a Muslim, I am effectively an atheist towards deities other than God. This is the essence of weak atheism. Specific gods do not exist. This is the essence, then of my theism, and, I suspect of the theism of most of humanity.

It is perhaps a bit more of a stretch to be a strong atheist, a position which implies a type of faith upon the holder as they have faith that the universe is material and nothing else. I think weak atheism is the most logical position one who does not have a religion can take, though I cannot completely dismiss strong atheism, either. I simply disagree with the unproven assertion, the non-existence of what we Muslims refer to as the unseen.

Any logical system must begin with some postulate which is taken axiomatically. Now, the Qur'an is that postulate for me, which was established through an epiphany. As such, I can only offer it to the unbeliever as the starting point. If God does not lead them to that truth, then certainly I cannot. If they are sincere in their search for the truth, God will not abandon them, even if he does not lead them to Islam right now. The Qur'an calls itself a reminder. This is the manner in which my epiphany worked. I was a weak atheist at the time (as I had been, without the knowledge of my parents, since I was fifteen), and, believe me, the last thing I wanted to do was believe in God. I was happy, and pretty content. I was not known as a bad guy, though I indulged in the normal sins of the day. One of the things I did enjoy, however, was attacking weak logical positions, and those can be found everywhere. Politics and religion seemed to be the most common areas, however. I used to point out to people where the flaws in their logic was found regarding those two matters. I didn't attack, say the Bible, on the basis of what it said, rather I attacked the position of the speaker based upon the statements of the Bible, if that was what they believed in, or libertarianism, if that is what they believed in, or Objectivism, if that was what they believed in, and so on. I encountered Islam, and honestly was just looking to have a little fun attacking weak positions. In order for me to do that, however, I would need to know a bit about the Qur'an and other primary sources of Islamic theology. I started reading a translation of the Qur'an online and investigating Muslim claims. Within a few months, I was a Muslim. I don't believe I abandoned my rationality at any time during this time. Rather, the axioms upon which that rationality is founded were amended alhamdulilah.

So really, one might actually ask the question, How can a thinking, rational adult not be an atheist?. If one is an agnostic, in the absolute sense, this indicates a lack of investigation. I can't believe you haven't found a single diety which can't be effectively disproven. Heck, even Zeus would count for that. Strong atheism is another type of faith in and of itself, namely, that the universe is material and no gods of any sort, whether or not I have encountered the claims of them, exist. Agnosticism towards those which cannot be effectively falsified is quite reasonable, and is what I suspect, most agnostics mean when they describe themselves as an agnostic. I'll bet just about all of them disbelieve in Jim Jones.:)

Muke asks, “How can a thinking, rational adult be an atheist?” And robwicks says, “If they are sincere in their search for the truth, God will not abandon them.” When I read that, I just had to respond. My apologies in advance to robwicks, Muke, Aelien or any other person out there who believes in the Hebrew/Christian/Islamic god. More power to you, I say. It is not my desire to put you down or convince you that you are wrong to believe or try to change you to my belief. But the question was asked: How can a thinking, rational adult be an atheist, and I intend to give you my answer.

My family are Mormons. We went to church every Sunday. And what do they teach you in Sunday School? God loves you. God answers prayers. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. (Luke 11:9)

Well, when I was eleven years old and my stepfather started molesting me, I tested out that precept. I tested it long, hard, and passionately. And guess what?

It didn’t work.

Robwicks says one must be sincere. Let me tell you, when you are down on your knees, begging God to make him stop, stop, stop. You can’t get much more sincere than that.

A few months ago, the leader of the Mormon church was on Larry King, and Mr. King asked him, “Does God always answer prayers?”

And the good old man said, “Yes. He always answers prayers, but sometimes he says no.”


Well, I’m sorry but I consider someone who would say no to an eleven-year-old girl’s prayer that she not be molested anymore to be a monster. Let me raise my hand here and say, “Hey you! God with the long white beard. If you exist, and if you looked down from your perfect Heaven and watched me being molested and then turned your back on my prayers, then I reject you. Utterly.”

And it’s not like mine is an isolated case. The world is filled with monstrous deeds against the helpless. Sexual abuse of children is not uncommon at all. It may seem rare to those who haven’t looked for it, for most of us survivors don’t talk about it casually (or at all) so most of our acquaintances (or even intimates) may be unaware of our history in this regard. But one learns to recognize one’s peers, and a personal story can draw a similar story from another. I have met many other women who were molested as children.

And here’s something else. Most of us can’t get over it. Ever. I’m 56 years old now and my life has been strongly shaped by those things which happened to me all those years ago. And this is also true of my friends who have had similar experiences. Some of these women became super-religious because of their experiences; others moved in the opposite direction. But it makes no difference. Whether we believe in and pray to God or not, we still don’t get over the effects of the abuse.

My experience didn’t turn me into an atheist over night. I attended the church-run seminary for four years. I went to a church-owned university and took religion classes like crazy. I read the scriptures, and other books on religion. I prayed longer, more often, more fervently. I truly searched for answers for a long time. I think if I’d been a Catholic I’d have become a nun.

But within the Christian dogma, I never found an adequate answer to the question of why there is so much evil in the world and why God doesn’t help.

For a while, I denied the existence of any god, what Robwicks calls strong atheism. But now I’m not sure. I’ve had some experiences which don’t seem to fit into a purely atheistic framework. And all those years of praying and religious observance are as hard to get over as the sexual abuse. It’s part of me, and there’s no way to let go of it. I play at goddess worship or paganism, but it’s only play. I don’t really believe in the goddess any more than I believe in the god with the long white beard.

I think there is probably something more to the universe than meets the eye. I hope there is. And perhaps that is what one might call God. But I doubt that when I die that my personality, my Susan-ness, my memories will continue. I wish they would. Like you Christians and Muslims, I would like to be immortal. But wishful thinking don’t make it so.

Ascertaining the position

In order to answer the question in the node heading -- How can a thinking, rational adult be an atheist? -- we need to ascertain the atheist position. Among other things the atheist position is negative, i.e. the atheist denies the existence of supernatural Beings. We might also observe that in our particular (European, American, Oceanian) cultures this denial concerns most often a single supernatural Being, i.e. it’s mainly a denial of the Monotheist Hypothesis.

Hence the Atheist Hypothesis ("there exists NO supernatural Being, who controls …" etc.) can be succinctly formulated as:

(1) There exists no X who is Y

Digressing and comparing

Digressing for a moment, let us compare this clever statement with the Monotheist Hypothesis ("there exists an Almighty Creator, who is …", etc.). The Monotheist Hypothesis can be given equally succinctly, like in the following lapidary version:

(2) There exists X who is Y

This –- the Monotheist Hypothesis –- is clearly a non-contradictory statement. So in this particular sense it is logically correct. At the same time it can be easily seen that it is totally devoid of any empirical information. As long as we are not presented with a method for empirically identifying X and Y, then we are not given any information about anything factual. So the statement may be perfectly logically correct (non-contradictory), but we can unfortunately not draw any practical conclusions from it.

In both the Monotheist and the Atheist Hypotheses above the somewhat anthropocentric pronoun "who" is used, darkly implying that the X is some individual and hence in some sense a human-like Entity. Here this is merely done to follow established tradition –- Deities are traditionally seen as human-like, both by their defenders and their attackers. But the "who" could of course just as well be replaced by the biologically neutral pronoun "that", without losing any structural clarity.

Existing and non-existing invisible green horses

Is there any difference, regarding their logical non-contradictory status, between statements (1) and (2)? No, of course not. Both are saying something about undefined abstract entities. There is nothing contradictory in the way that this is said in either one of the statements. If I say "There is an invisible green horse who is devilishly clever", then this statement is no less contradictory than saying "There is NO invisible green horse who is devilishly clever".

Hence the Atheist Hypothesis is logically "correct", just as the Monotheist Hypothesis is correct. But by the same token, the Atheist Hypothesis is quite as devoid of any empirical information as the Monotheist hypothesis. So we can not draw any practical, moral or ethical conclusions from the Atheist Hypothesis, like we could not draw any practical or moral conclusions from the Monotheist Hypothesis.

No, not a thinking, rational adult

Would a thinking, rational adult base his or her world-view on something that was devoid of informational content, and hence utter nonsense? No, I should think not.


There is a minor caveat, though. The argument above concerns the fiery crusading atheist, the person who preaches from a soap-box on Hyde Park Corner and elsewhere, pestering us all. Such a person may not be an altogether thinking, rational adult.

However, there are many people who are able to identify simple statements that are empty of empirical information. Such people may exhibit total indifference to them, understandably so.

If such a disinterest in simplistic constructs like "There exists X who is Y" is interpreted as "atheism", then it is of course possible to be a rational, thinking adult and at the same time be an "atheist".

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