One of the most common criticisms I received from a family member and others, is that as an atheist I don’t propose some alternative to creation. That isn’t what atheism is about, since atheism is merely the rejection of god claims. But I have found that it isn’t just me… every atheist I know has received the same criticism. Every creationist vs atheist debate group gets flooded with posts stating this, and every single atheist I know has at one time or other been accused of not being a “real atheist” because we don’t propose some alternative to creationism. This difference between the expectation or perception of atheism, and the reality, is thus so widespread that I believe it is worth addressing. Worse yet, many “arguments” from creationists aren’t arguments at all – they copy paste long jargon-filled straw man versions of science or evolution, attempting to refute these straw men, with the assumption that creationism, and their particular preferred deity, is the only alternative.
Hence it makes sense for me to write and state once and for all what I do believe, rather than what I don’t. (Note “once and for all” is just a figure of speech. What I believe is not static and I have only recently begun describing my atheism as ‘gnostic’.) Since atheism isn’t what I do believe but more what I do not, I need to break this into two parts. This first part will thus be about atheism, consisting of what I don’t believe but also what I do believe about belief itself. It needs to be two parts because I didn’t reject my Catholic religion of birth because of science – I rejected it purely because of logic. What I do believe has nothing whatsoever to do with my rejection of religion, but it makes sense to start off with what I rejected, before going on with a clean slate to describe what I believe. But mostly I need to link the two posts because, though they are unrelated, creationists often criticize science rather than addressing the claim that their gods exist.
This first part will not be new to regular readers here. It simply summarizes what atheism means to me, including my more recent change to being gnostic about my atheism. The idea is this brief summary should be enough… You can read this standalone or with part two that will publish an hour later, and you don’t need to refer to any previous posts. Or you can skip it entirely of course – these are also for those times when I get asked the question, and it is a question that comes up a lot… instead of typing it out over and over again I can link here.
Briefly then, what is atheism?
I was brought up Christian, Roman Catholic to be precise. But at some point in my teens I realized that I didn’t believe in god. It took me a while to come to terms with my disbelief, but in a nutshell, I don’t believe in any of it: God, Jesus, creation, an afterlife, a soul etc.
That’s what atheism is. Rejection of belief in gods. There is no evidence to suggest any of it is real, so atheism is merely the rejection of god claims because of a lack of evidence. For many atheists, it stops there. Many describe themselves as agnostic, in the sense that since one cannot prove a negative, and the burden of proof on anyone making a claim that a god exists lies with them, one can not rule out that some kind of creator exists outside of the bounds that can be explained by science. Hence atheists can get quite irate when you tell them that their atheism is any more than what I have described, or that they are making some kind of claim, because that’s not what it’s about.
But that is not my position. I’m not agnostic.
What then is gnostic atheism?
I don’t stop at the mere disbelief in one god claim, and I go a little beyond thinking about others. The way I see it, we evolved societies that needed rules and laws, morals. We need those things to cooperate and survive. We also don’t know where we came from, where anything came from, and such is our nature, when we don’t know something, we make up an explanation.
Thus we evolved churches and religions. We took all the things we don’t know, and claimed they were done by some kind of entity or entities that look just like us, and called them gods. God thus serves two main purposes:
- It is a convenient placeholder for all the things we don’t know. Everything we don’t understand, god did.
- God, and other supernatural agents like ancestors and other spirits, also made up by us, have their place in the various churches. They are given credit for the rules, the morals, the values, that we follow.
There are other purposes I’m not interested in getting into too much, such as it being an “out” to our natural fear of death, and the “need” some people seem to have to worship something. I can’t comment on the latter because I’ve never felt any such need. I honestly don’t understand this need and do not know if it is a side-effect of the invention of religion itself or is something else entirely. It made childhood quite confusing for me, when exposed to all things church-related. I suspect this need to worship is some sort of side-effect of indoctrination but as stated, I don’t know.
We accept that gods like Zeus were made up. The same goes for thousands of others, yet we do not apply the same skepticism to gods that people currently believe in. For the newer religions, we even know who made up their gods. For example, we know L Ron Hubbard invented Xenu, the alien god of Scientology. We know that Joseph Smith invented his magic seeing stones and Mormonism. Just because we don’t know exactly who made up the older religions doesn’t men they weren’t made up. People treat those older religions with reverence. To me, this is absurd. I believe it is reasonable to assume that all gods are made up, and that the concept of god itself is a man made one. That’s the crux of my position as a gnostic atheist. I don’t say “There is no god”. There are thousands of gods, but we made them all up. The concept itself is of our making. God itself is an abstraction, a placeholder for “I don’t know” as a result of our magical thinking.
Interestingly, science and religion came about the same way. When we don’t know something, we make up an explanation. But the scientific method is about testing our hypotheses, and proving them wrong or less wrong. Over time and as we learn and understand more, we discover answers to the questions we don’t understand. But religious dogma remains as it was made up thousands of years ago. Thus the further we advance, the more we understand reality as it really is, the further religious dogma is left behind, and the greater is the gap between real knowledge and the made up knowledge of religion.
I’ve kept this as brief as possible, leaving a lot out. But it is a reasonable summary of how I came to disbelief in all gods and what my position is as a gnostic atheist. In part two I’ll discuss what I believe about the start and end of the universe. But right or wrong, what I believe about science does not change the fact that I believe religion is nonsense and all gods are made up.
This post is set to publish at 5PM South African time on Monday, 3rd August 2020. Part 2 at 6PM, which means you have only an hour to wait for part 2.