People who do not believe in any sort of God are labelled as many things. Atheists, agnostics, humanists, or even hellbound heretics to some. Nevertheless, what links all of these people is a simple notion: ‘There is probably no God.’. The criticism levelled at such people is varied, but often the argument against atheists comes back to the arguments in favour of religion. I believe that those arguing in favour of religion actually help to break it down when you look at it more closely. According to Sam Harris there are three main arguments for religion.
1 – ‘Religion’ is actually true.
If you were to count all the different religions, and offshoots of each, there are somewhere in the region of 4,200 variants. Even IF there was any truth to religion, then, as Bertrand Russell put it when comparing God to a magically orbiting teapot only one of these could be true. For that reason, even if you believe in God, then from a statistical point of view, you probably believe in the wrong version. There is no evidence for the truth of any one of these that can be objectively verified. Although many people believe that the gospels in their chosen religion is the word of God and 100% true most leaders of the most popular religions state that many of the stories in their holy books are actually metaphors and guidelines than actual fact.
2 – Religion is useful. It is a source of moral behaviour and people are better because of it.
Even if this were true, and even if having faith made a person moral, caring, altruistic and gave life meaning, there would still be no evidence for its truth. Believing in something because it sounds good, does not make it true. In a way, it’s like the placebo effect. In some cases an idea with no actual substance can make someone feel better. This is a nice idea, but adds nothing to the claims of religious truth.
Unfortunately, for every instance of charitable foundations set up by religious groups there is a human casualty somewhere in the world to highlight the same religion’s murderous dogma. The argument for any religions value is being eroded by the obvious lack of need to have religion to be good. Secular organisations, charities and institutions have shown, and continue to show, that doing humanistic work doesn’t require a dogmatic underpinning. How useful is it that so many religious believers believe in martyrdom, or that a piece of land is rightfully theirs and will fight to the death for it, or that a woman who is raped should be stoned to death? Religion has become increasingly redundant in shaping the morality of society.
3 – Atheism is an equally arrogant, dogmatic religion.
Defending religion by attacking other people’s lack of faith is quite popular at the moment. Atheism, by its very nature, is scientific in its approach. No atheist, and no scientist, would claim to have all the answers, but those we do have are constantly under scrutiny. Science is accused of being arrogant in its dismissal of religion, but with science you have peer-reviews, double-blind trials, and evolving theories based on objectively testable evidence. Religious leaders claim humility and openness whilst their holy books make broad claims about the existence of life, biology, physics, anthropology and astronomy that no scientist claims to make.
The arrogance, although ironic, of the religious texts in making the claims they do would be funny, if it were not for the damage they cause. Religious belief is not harmless. Even today the teaching of science across the globe is massively hindered by religious belief. The same sciences that created working healthcare, surgery, medicine, psychotherapy, and technology are being held back by politicians who believe in, or are too scared to attack, religion. 30% of biology teachers in the US will not even mention evolution because they do not want the backlash from their religious students and parents. The same people who push the agenda of creationism as a real science either hold or seek to hold some of the most powerful and influential positions on Earth. Is restricting stem cell research on religious grounds in any way helpful to humanity? The list of areas of religious intolerance for scientific progression grows daily.
I do not believe that atheism is a religion or dogma of its own. Atheism by its very nature needs no assumptions, dogma or pre-conditioned belief. All one needs to be an atheist is to look at all the evidence available, and reject the existence of Zeus, Osiris, or any version of the (currently a la mode) Abrahamic God. It doesn’t require proselytization or a book’s teachings to latch onto. Atheism merely requires a lack of blind faith, instead relying on a rational, questioning mind. You don’t have to join a club, tow a party line, or even agree with other atheist’s points of view on political or philosophical matters. Just think for yourself, and look at the evidence (or lack thereof). As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, and for religion there is none.
Atheism, contrary to popular belief, does not exclude a person from being moral, fair or even spiritual. Nothing stops an atheist from meditating or seeking out altered states of consciousness or exploring the realms of the human mind. Atheism is rationality. It is the idea of being committed to the truth. A truth that can be based in evidence, and is open to scrutiny without dogma or political agenda. Atheism does not seek to raise one person above another based on where they were born or what they look like. It is essentially a humanistic, critical thinking approach to life.
The below video on morality is wonderful, please take the time to view it.