Thursday, January 03, 2008

Happy to be an atheist

Jon Voisey, author of the Angry Astronomer blog, posted an interesting article on why he is happy to be an atheist. He raised, what he believes, are the following characteristics of the atheist mindset:

1) The big answers about life require struggle

With atheism, you don't get any prepackaged answers. Science has become the default explanation, but unlike theists, those answers had to be worked for, instead of just having them handed down from on high.

2) We are intricately part of the natural world
Voisey quotes Chuck Lunney:

Rather than being created apart and unique from the rest of the living biosphere, accepting the fact that humans are part of and intimately connected to the universe makes me care intensely about every little thing that exists.

3) A love for critical thought and skepticism

Another advantage [of the atheist] mindset is that it avoids hasty and irrational decisions. Every time I've heard about people being taken in by the silly Nigerian Email scam, it's always someone taking a "something for nothing" offer on blind faith. . . This is not to say that atheists are immune to such scams, but having a mindset that requires actually holding answers up to some sort of scrutiny greatly decreases the chances of getting taken in by frauds.

4) Optimism

Another one of the things I'm quite happy about is that I have a general optimistic view of humanity. Unlike religion, which tells us that humans are all awful sinners and deserve eternal damnation unless they accept the particular deity of choice, atheism carries no such inherent emotional baggage. We're free to actually make informed decisions on one another.

5) Claiming ownership of one’s own life

Lastly, I'm glad for my time. Not just that I get to sleep in on Sunday mornings, but that I get to actually live my life without absurd notions about what I have to do or not do to to (sic) ensure eternal life. It's freeing to know that my time is my own and that, when I do give it, it's because I do so knowing I care about friends and humanity, and not because I'm trying to earn karma points for the afterlife.

These are positive values, and I subscribe to these, but I think some atheists mistakenly believe that these values are unique to atheism. I know they are not, as I personally know theists who subscribe to many of these as well. However, I wonder if intellectual atheism at least
encourages these values.

Update: 13/04/08
The blog, Struggles with Faith, has posted an excellent response to this article. Please take time to read it here.


CyberKitten said...

Kevin asked: However, I wonder if intellectual atheism at least encourages these values.


Cool post.

P3T3RK3Y5 said...


happy new year.

i think atheism does encourage these - for the reasons you cite; and in general, traditional theism and mysticism of all sorts discourage these. (sometimes i wonder if you and i are on the opposite side of the same coin - or actually on the same side of the same coin!)

where theism took it upon itself in an attempt to explain far too much that was shrouded in mystery - those "with the answers" (oftentimes educated far more than the masses) have been given this authority for too long. starting with the pope, continuing with the "senior pastor" paradigm... on down to....

well - today, i feel some of us christians have finally taken luthers reformation to its logical conclusion (throwing off the shackles off all hierarchy) - and are fully claiming the "priesthood of all believers" (we don’t need someone with special knowledge or training to tell us what to think) and were reclaiming our ability and opportunity to embrace these values.

where you and i may (or may not) differ, is i would claim to be a post-rational. that is, while i fully embrace rationality - and i certainly embrace these values - i don't think rationality encapsulates all there is to know.... thus my affair with intuition and intuitive knowing. i have wondered, while believing there is no supreme being watching over us (is this a fair characterization of your atheism?) - do you find meaning only in rationality? or do you experience transcendence in some way.

back to your post... i can only hope all (christians) would find these values to virtuous. the church has much to learn in an honest struggle from an atheist such as you. and we all have nothing to fear from what we encounter... correct? the truth shall set us free :-)

Drew said...

1. I think that “prepackaged” is the assumption that many have about religion in general - that a religion is a determinism in which one who is raised in this or that religion cannot free themselves. This plays into so many atheist arguments that assume that since one is make a faith claim it somehow must therefore escape critique. Apparently the saying “Faith seeking understanding” gets missed in these arguments as well as in many traditions that forbid critical engagement - e.g. so many fundamentalisms out there.

2. One of the most profound arguments that Torrance makes is that we are indeed connected to the fabric of this world. The book of nature in natural theology circles certainly made claims along these lines as well.

3. I don’t think that by virtue of not believing in God that an atheist avoids irrationality. We are all suspect to ignorance and this is not something limited to the religious. Remember that the liberal arts in higher education was founded on two principles - critical engagement of the knowledge and of religion as well (to varying degrees of course).

4. Liberation theologians clearly have a different picture of this. Also, Christ did not preach damnation of the non-believers. Probably one of the greatest symptoms of evangelical Calvinism is this view of reality which is a shame I think.

5. As do I. If a Christian is that preoccupied with their status in the next life, it’s time to wake up and start loving your neighbor as Jesus said.

Fighting Illini said...

The advantage of having a theist belief (and arguably the most important advantage) is that it offers an explanation of the afterlife.

Atheism offers no such explanation for the afterlife.

The hardest part of being an atheist, for me, was that I had no explanation for the afterlife. The thought that I may not exist after death horrified me for much of my early college years. It still irks me a bit.

Lui said...

"The advantage of having a theist belief (and arguably the most important advantage) is that it offers an explanation of the afterlife."

That assumes that there is an afterlife. If there isn't, then atheism has nothing to explain. Actually, atheism wouldn't be able to explain it in any case, since atheism is a lack of belief in something.

Kevin Parry said...

Fighting Illini wrote:
The thought that I may not exist after death horrified me for much of my early college years. It still irks me a bit

You are not the only one. I also am perturbed about the possibility that there is no afterlife. I think human consciousness is coloured by a sense of invincibility, and trying to get my head around the fact that I will one day cease to exist conflicts with this instinct. But I see no evidence of an afterlife, and as someone who subscribes to the principle of evidence based decision making (to figure out what might be or not be true), I have to come to the painful conclusion that it is highly probable that an afterlife does not exist, despite the natural inclinations of my ego.

All the best

BC500 said...

I don’t buy it Jon Voisey, the author of the “Angry Astronomer”, is wrong.
How can he be happy if he is an Angry Astronomer?

1) He makes a huge assumption that science will someday come up with the big answers. Would you not agree that believing in a default explanation is statement of faith? God is in the supernatural and science is incapable of reaching beyond the natural, so he now has a hopeless faith.

2) Humans are unique from the rest of the biosphere because no other creature has friendships, love, loyalty, goodness, any moral virtue or vice, the laws of logic, numbers (not numerals), relationships, beauty, happiness, reason, rationality, meaning, knowledge, thoughts and ideas.

3) He admits that there are atheists who get blindsided by scams and assumes that all believers take their faith blindly? I do not have blind faith and I know plenty of other people who don’t as well, there is evidence we have checked out for our beliefs.

4) When Mr. Voisey is on his back, at deaths door, with minutes to his last breath, I fail to see how he, will be able to maintain any kind of optimism? He has nothing to look forward to!

5) I know of no one who willing follows any notions they find absurd. I seldom sleep in any morning, as I have so much life to live. Fortunately, Christ does not require me to earn karma points. I do what I do out of the love of Christ and the joy I get from helping people. For example my wife and I help out at a food pantry in our area. It is something my wife and I can do together and we help those in need.

Who is Jon Voisey to pronounce any set of characteristics that any other Atheist should believe to be worthy of following? Is an Atheist free to justify their beliefs any why they want to?

Finally, Kevin I am glad you are perturbed about the possibility that there could be an afterlife. That sounds like another uniquely Human response. Don’t give up, keep searching!