When discussing religion, I’ve found there are a lot of misconceptions about atheism. In this entry I hope to correct some of the more popular misconceptions out there, but first, let’s define our terms. Theism is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “belief in the existence of a god or gods, specifically a creator who intervenes in the universe.” Atheism, on the other hand, is defined as “disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.” That is all atheism is, and yet misunderstandings abound. Let’s jump into our first misconception now.
1. Atheists claim to know that there is no god.
This is probably the most common misconception about atheists out there, and understandably so! This one can be hard to wrap your head around at first. Atheists don’t claim that there is no god, they only lack a belief in a deity. Initially, these may sound like the same thing, but there is a subtle difference: lacking belief does not put the burden of proof on the atheist. Proving a negative is nigh impossible. Instead, the burden of proof is upon the theist to provide evidence that their chosen deity(s) exist. The best analogy I’ve found to help people understand this point is Matt Dillahunty’s gumball analogy.
Here is an excerpt:
>Matt: You ever see one of those things where there is a jar on the counter and it’s full of gum balls? And, they have a contest to see who can guess closest to the actual number of gumballs?
Matt: Okay. So, as long as there’s gumballs in that jar, you and I would agree that the number of gumballs is either even or odd. Correct?
Brian: Evidently, it would have to be. Yes.
Matt: Okay. So, what’s the default position on the number of gumballs?
Brian: The number of gumballs as a numerical number? Or, as a rounded position?
Matt: The quantity of gumballs being either even or odd. What’s the default position?
Brian: The default position is neutral.
Matt: Yes. But, if somebody asserts “The number of gumballs in this jar, I believe, is even.” If I am in the default position, I disbelieve that assertion. I do not accept that assertion. I reject that assertion.
That doesn’t mean that I think that the number (of gumballs) is odd.
Matt: Cause, we only address a single prong of a dilemma at a time.
Brian: And, I completely agree with this. This is fundamentally logically deductive logic.
Matt: Sure. So, either a god exists or it doesn’t. And, a theist is offering the proposition that a god exists; the number of gumballs is even. And, I am rejecting their assertion. Theism is the acceptance of that position. And, atheism is the rejection of that position. It is not the assertion that “There are no gods.”
As you can see, theism makes the claim that a god exists, while an atheist simply rejects that claim, usually due to a lack of evidence.
2. Atheists hate or reject god
Another common misconception is that atheists hate or reject god, religion, or religious people. Believing in the existence of a deity and hating that deity is misotheism (which by default requires one to be a theist), while being actively against religion is called anti-theism. All anti-theists are atheists, while most atheists are not anti-theists. It is impossible to hate something you do not believe exists. Atheists don’t hate god for the same reason theists don’t hate the deities of other religions. Also, on a related note, people don’t become atheists because of some bad experience. A large majority of the time, people become atheists because they weigh the available evidence and find no reason to believe. This one is pretty straightforward, yet is still a very common misconception.
3. Atheists worship Satan
This one may seem a tad silly (because it is), but some people honestly believe this. Just as atheists don’t believe in the existence of a god, atheists also don’t believe in the existence of Satan or the devil. Again, you can’t worship something that you don’t believe exists. However, I would like to clarify that being an atheist does not necessarily mean that you don’t believe in the supernatural. While many atheists lack a belief that anything supernatural exists/happens due to a lack of evidence, there are atheists who believe in ghosts, spirits, souls, an afterlife, etc. Also, on a side note, most Satanists don’t actually worship Satan either, but that’s a topic for another time.
- Atheists just want to sin
Another common misconception is that atheists became atheists because they didn’t want to follow god’s rules and want to sin. This is patently false, as atheists don’t believe that a deity exists and therefore cannot sin against it. A Christian claiming that an atheist “just wants to sin” is like an atheist claiming that Christians are Christians just because they don’t want to follow Krishna, Odin, or Zeus.
5. Atheists are immoral
Yet another misconception is that atheists are immoral due to their lack of belief in a deity. Atheists have morals, we just don’t get them from an ancient collection of books. Actually, it could be argued that even Christians don’t get their morals from the Bible. Most Christians would agree that slavery and rape are wrong, but the Bible fails to condemn those vile acts. Here are a couple videos that may help explain it better than I can:
6. Atheism is a religion/wants to ban all religions
Atheism is far from a homogenous group, and as I stated before, the only unifying factor between atheists is their nonbelief in any deity. Atheism is a religion like off is a television channel or like not collecting stamps is a hobby. Atheism has no dogma and no authority figures that demand worship. Also, while there may be some atheists who want to ban religion, many are strong advocates for the freedom of (and from) religion.
7. Atheists believe in nothing and are miserable, unhappy people
Atheists are like any other group of people, there will be some who are unhappy but generally atheists are happy people. Just because atheists don’t find their purpose through a religion, doesn’t mean that they live a purposeless life devoid of happiness. A cartoon by Pablo Stanley explains this quite well in a way anybody can understand. Just because life is short and may have no inherent meaning, we can still find joy in everyday life. The idea that we most likely don’t have a life after death does not devalue the life we are living now, in fact, it gives this life so much more value because our time is limited.
Hopefully this short blog entry helped clear up any misconceptions you may have had about us godless heathens! If you have any other questions about atheism or feel that I left out any other common misconceptions, feel free to comment and start a discussion. Thanks for reading!