Why be an atheist?
Letter to an atheist
Why believe in God?
religious power comes from
do we exist?
Ladder of Deception
celibacy of priests and nuns
Religion - the
parent - church school
animals have souls?
Letter from Laura
Letter from Dred
Letter from Thomas
Tricks of the
13 Guest writers
Letter to an
Sample essay answers
Superman and Clark Kent
note on Islam
don't have to know an answer, I don't feel frightened by not knowing
things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose,
which is the way it really is as far as I can tell. It doesn't frighten
many, faith is a suitable substitute for knowledge, as death is for
a difficult life."
is often said, mainly by the "no-contests", that although there is no
positive evidence for the existence of God, nor is there evidence against
his existence. So it is best to keep an open mind and be agnostic. At
first sight that seems an unassailable position, at least in the weak
sense of Pascal's wager. But on second thoughts it seems a cop-out,
because the same could be said of Father Christmas and tooth fairies.
There may be fairies at the bottom of the garden. There is no evidence
for it, but you can't *prove* that there aren't any, so shouldn't we
be agnostic with respect to fairies?"
claims require extraordinary evidence."
is easier to suppose that the universe has existed for all eternity
than to conceive a being beyond its limits capable of creating it."
the mind doesn't understand, it worships or fears."
Walker, "The Temple of My Familiar"
combat those only who, knowing nothing of the future, prophesy an eternity
of pain- those who sow the seeds of fear in the hearts of men- those
only who poison all the springs of life, and seat a skeleton at every
must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful
God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes."
what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith. I consider
the capacity for it terrifying."
path of sound credence is through the thick forest of skepticism."
Jean Nathan, 'Materia Critica'
such a God did exist, he could not be a beneficient God, such as the
Christians posit. What effrontery is it that talks about the mercy and
goodness of a nature in which all animals devour animals, in which every
mouth is a slaughter-house and every stomach a tomb!"
McDonald, "Design Argument Fallacies" An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism
cannot move mountains (though generations of children are solemnly told
the contrary and believe it). But it is capable of driving people to
such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of
mental illness. It leads people to believe in whatever it is so strongly
that in extreme cases they are prepared to kill and to die for it without
the need for further justification."
Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (New edition, New York: Oxford University
fact never went into partnership with a miracle. Truth scorns the assistance
of wonders. A fact will fit every other fact in the universe, and that
is how you can tell whether it is or is not a fact. A lie will not fit
anything except another lie."
This term was invented by Professor Thomas Huxley in the 1880's to describe
his world view. He was the father of Aldous Huxley - the author of 'Brave
New World' which is famous for publicising the idea of test-tube babies
back in the 1930's.
Thomas Huxley found himself surrounded by many who were confident they
had solved the problem of existence either by being theists, atheists,
pantheists, materialists, etc. He, on the other hand, was certain that
no answer could be found for the problem of existence but was without
a label to describe his point of view - so he invented one and described
himself as an agnostic. Many of those who criticised him said this meant
an agnostic was a person who did not know what to think. His answer
was that he did know what he thought - and that this was that no answer
could be found.
Agnostics, he said, did not have a creed, they had a method which was
to be open-minded and to "follow your reason as far as it will
take you, without regard to any other consideration." "In
matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain
which are not demonstrated or demonstrable."
Thomas Huxley was also happy to descibe himself as a freethinker.
Another common, but incorrect,
definition given for agnosticism is undecidedness as to whether or not
god exists. This is most often used by theists trying to argue that
agnosticism is a sort of wishy-washy non-committment as to whether or
not god actually exists. Since theists tend to think that non-belief
in god is irrational (or impossible) they often describe agnostics as
theists who are hiding their belief in god.
Abandoning one's religious belief.
An argument for the existence of god that claims that all things in
nature depend on something else for their existence so the whole cosmos
must ultimately depend on a being that exists independently of anything
else: a 'first cause' of everything.
This argument began with Plato who reasoned for a first mover (or cause)
of the universe. Every day we observe things moving, he said, and whatever
moves is either moved by something else or moves itself. If a thing
is moves itself it must be eternal, or there would never be movement
of any kind in the first place. We call this self-mover God.
St Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) started it all off saying "a being
than which nothing greater can be conceived". Even a fool, he said could
accept that idea. So he set the scene for us to be able to think of
an absolutely perfect being. What he said next was put better by Rene
Descartes (1600's) who described it this way: it is impossible to think
of an absolutely perfect Being as lacking anything. If an absolutely
perfect Being did not exist, then it would lack existence. Therefore,
as it is clear that an absolutely perfect Being cannot lack existence,
the Being must exist.
(Tricky idea isn't it?)
Also know as the 'argument from design' this is the argument for the
existence of god based on evidence of order, and hence design, in nature.
So there must have been a designer.
William Paley (1743-1805), the Archdeacon of Carlisle, presented possibly
the most famous argument. He said that if youfound a watch in a field,
you would conclude that it was made by a watchmaker because it had clearly
been designed by someone. In the same way, the complex design of the
world points to the existence of a grand Designer who we call God.
Psalm 19: "How clearly the sky reveals God's glory! How plainly it shows
what He has done!"
Derived from the Greek a = not and theos = god: not-god. An atheist
does not believe in god or postulate the existence of gods or spiritual
beings. Christian religious teachers often give an incorrect derivation
of atheism from the Greek anti = against and theos = god: against-god.
Presumably this is done to suggest that atheists are evil.
A strong atheist is someone who does not merely lack belief in god,
but believes that god does not exist.
Apathetic atheism, or
Apatheists don't care whether god exists and, as a result, act as though
it doesn't. Very likely, many apatheists have rebelled against past
restrictions imposed on them by religion.
From the Greek 'biblos', meaning book. "Beware of the man of one book."
said Thomas Aquinas.
"A cult is a religion with no political power." Tom Wolfe
Rather a lot of people are deists without even knowing the word exists.
Deists believe in an omnipotent god who created the universe, set up
the natural laws that it operates by, and then left the universe to
operate under those laws, without miraculous intervention. Deism provides
a cosmological explanation for the existence of the universe rather
than a personal god one should attempt to communicate with: "I cannot
conceive otherwise than that He, the Infinite Father, expects or requires
no worship or praise from us, but that He is even infinitely above it."
Deism began as an attempt
to demystify Christianity during the early Enlightenment. It grew into
an outright questioning and rejection of Christianity and other mainstream
religion. It came into wide favour as a theological stance among the
Reason-oriented, skeptical intellectual atmosphere of the Age of Reason.
These early deists are heroes of the atheist world because it was they
who first began publicly (and successfully) to question the Christian
Important Deist thinkers
of the Age of Reason include Voltaire, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson.
The first British deist to write a book was: John Toland, who wrote
Christianity Not Mysterious. Thomas Paine wrote The Age of Reason. Both
of these books are very readable today.
Divine command theory
The idea that whatever god wills is good - so tomorrow god could will
something that is bad today, but tomorrow it would be good. This highlights
a major problem that religions have when they rely on a god for their
ethics. 'God is good', you might say, and could never make something
good tomorrow which is bad today - but then, of course, in that case
he wouldn't be omnipotent - so he wouldn't be god. An omnipotent god
must have the power to do anything, including bad (today) ones, and
nothing theologans could do or say could change that.
A belief that there is no contradiction between the natural processes
of the universe (as identified by science) and the creation of the universe
In particular there
is no necessary contradiction between evolutionary theory and belief
in a divine creator. Compatibilism is scorned by some scientists: Richard
Dawkins, for example, wonders, "Why deliberately set [life] up
in the one way that makes it look like you don't exist?"
Pope John Paul II has issued a statement saying, "fresh knowledge
leads to recognition of the theory of evolution as more than just an
hypothesis." The pope even suggests that humans arose from animal
ancestors but added that, "If the human body has its origin in
living material which pre-exists it, the spiritual soul is immediately
created by God."
An empiricist bases what he knows only on his observation and experience
of the world around him regarding the information provided by his senses
From the Greek episteme = knowledge.
The study of the nature of knowledge: how do we know what we know? are
there things we cannot know for sure? So an epistemology is a way of
knowing what the world is like.
Philosophical theory emphasising existence of the individual person
as a free and responsible agent determining his/her own development.
Fundamentalism is an attitude of mind. A Fundamentalist is to religion
what a Nazi is to politics. Fundamentalism is characterized by unquestioning
submission to an absolute authority and intolerance of alternative view
points. Fundamentalists are a faction within a larger, more tolerant,
grouping. Although ostensibly directed against 'infidels' the real target
of their intolerance is most often the other more tolerant members of
the same religion (or belief system). Fundamentalism is a form of infighting
within a broadly-defined religious group - acts of terrorism and so
on are more to establish face-validity within this larger group than
to effect any real change amongst the 'infidels'. However, to the degree
that fundamentalists encourage intolerance or hatred from outsiders
they strengthen their power within the broader group of which they are
a part (outside pressure always gives more power to extremists within
Fundamentalists always claim
to be the true torch-bearers of their faith but in practice often have
a poor grasp of the underlying principles of the religion or belief-system
they claim to represent.
A freethinker rejects authority and dogma, especially in his religious
thinking, preferring rational inquiry and speculation.
The belief that when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets
"God in the gaps"
The idea that what science doesn't know is the bit that is explained
by the existence of god(s).
"Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company." [Mark Twain]
This is the place most people will go to when they are dead (according
to the Old Testament). Here god will torture you (or allow you to be
tortured by the devil - same difference) for an infinite period of time.
Here the behaviour of the 'god of love' towards you will be totally
unforgiving and unloving - and without any humanity whatsoever, and
with no tea-breaks.
Humanists believe that human beings have the right and responsibility
to give shape and meaning to their own lives. They aim to build a more
humane society upon an ethics based on human and other natural values
derived using reason and free inquiry. They do not believe in anything
think it is rationally impossible make meaningful statements about gods,
including whether they exist, because so far there have been no sufficiently
coherent definitions of "god" advanced. Atheists are frequently (if
not always) noncoherentists, and point out that the most common definition
of a god is that the nature of god is beyond the ability of human beings
A viewpoint proposing that the mind is solely a physical phenomenon
i.e., it is the result of physical phenomena and has no nonphysical
component (no 'spirit' or 'soul'). Consciousness arises from purely
physical phenomena. Physicalists see the minds of animals and humans
as fundamentally similar, differing only by degree and in the human
use of language. By definition, most (if not all) atheists are physicalists.
The majority of neuroscientists are also physicalists, although this
is not to say that the majority of them are atheists - this is not known
to the author.
The idea that the correct and only way to view reality is through the
lens of a Biblical world view. "...by what standard can man know
anything truly? By the Bible, and only by the Bible" Gary North.
Theory that reason is the foundation of certainty in knowledge, the
attitude of mind which unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason.
A rationalist is beyond dogma, and believes nothing is beyond questioning,
as nothing is absolutely certain to be true. However, some things are
more reasonably likely to be true than others, and it is personal, rational
observation that serves as the basis for all knowledge.
"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
Philip K. Dick.
A Religious Right movement in the United States that seeks to replace
democracy with a theocratic elite that would govern by imposing their
interpretation of "Biblical Law." Reconstructionism would eliminate
not only democracy but many of its manifestations, such as labor unions,
civil rights laws, and state schools. Just to give some of the flavour
of life under a Reconstructionist theocracy: death would be the punishment
for apostasy (abandonment of the faith), heresy, blasphemy, witchcraft,
astrology, adultery, "sodomy or homosexuality," incest, striking a parent,
incorrigible juvenile delinquency, and, in the case of women, "unchastity
Secularists believe in the separation of church and state. Nor should
religious groups have privileged access to political power to influence
the framing of laws or the executive governance of the state. The historical
results of any such influence should be erased. No religious groups
should be in receipt of state funds or subsidies (e.g., tax relief),
nor benefit from methods of information dissemination directed or funded
by the state - e.g., education in state schools, programming on state
funded television channels.
Although most secularists
are atheist or agnostic it is perfectly possible to be a secularist
and a priest without contradiction. Typically, secularists see stae
reinforcement of religious distinctions between different groups as
being divisive and unhealthy for social harmony and progress - a priest
might well agree with this point of view.
Skeptics believe that there is a lot of hocus-pocus about and set out
to disprove it if they can - they seem to be very successful! They are
not only concerned with debunking religious hokum but also occult, paranormal,
supernatural and pseudoscientific ideas and practices in general. They
love showing that magicians and faith-healers are cheats by exposing
Greg Keogh of Australian
Skeptics says "I think the vast majority of Skeptics are total
atheists, but there certainly are some startling exceptions. I've met
a few subscribers over the years who follow conventional religions,
but are repelled by fundamentalism and biblical literalism, hence they
find the Skeptics a helpful group. One of our supporters is Archbishop
Hollingsworth in Brisbane! He wrote the introduction to Ian Plimer's
'Telling Lies for God' book."
Theodicy is derived from the Greek words for 'god' and 'justice'. This
term was first coined by Leibniz in 1710 when he examined the problem
of evil : if god is good then why do so many cruel and 'unjust' things
happen in the world? Also see here. Leibniz tried
to show not only that the evil in the world does not conflict with the
goodness of god, but that, notwithstanding its many evils, the world
is the best of all possible worlds.
The argument that a benevolent god would not have created such an evil
world is such a potent one that the discussion of the nature of god
and the evidence (or otherwise) for its existence became very closely
linked. Nowadays the word 'theodicy' is used in the wider context of
trying to prove that god exists by the the use of reason alone with
reference exclusively to the natural world. A theodical argument would
be: 'Look at the astonishing variety of plants and animals there are!
No natural process could have caused such a thing!' Theodicy is thought
of as a science by those who practice it!
Theodicy could also be called 'natural theology',
Theology involves the study of god as drawn from the sources of supernatural
revelation. It is very
concerned with proving the existence of god and discovering the nature
of god. In some ways there are parallels with the attempts to prove
the existence of UFO's and describe aliens.
Those who write about UFO's are entirely unscrupulous. How many photos
of Adamski's flying saucers have you seen in books and magazines, when
it is well-known (or should be) that before he died Adamski took delight
in explaining how he had faked the evidence? How many theologians are
thoroughly aware of the dishonest claims of the Christian religions
but somehow manage to overlook them? They are perfectly aware, for example,
that the Christmas story never took place. Why do they still teach it
to children? Why do they still teach it to adults?
The difference, I suppose, from my point of view, is that I would love
to go for a ride on a UFO (a real one), but can't summon up the same
enthusiasm about god!