What Do Atheists Have In Common?

It’s really very simple. Atheists share only one common trait: absence of belief in the existence of deities. That’s all.

Time and again, theists make assertions about atheism in an attempt to place all atheists in a box. I have encountered a variety of misconceptions people have about atheists, although one in particular seems to come up most often.

I am referring to the notion that atheism claims an understanding of the origins of life and the universe, i.e. evolution, the Big Bang, etc. This manifests when atheists are asked to explain how “all this” got here, if God didn’t do it.

How do I explain it? It’s simple; I don’t. I don’t claim to have an answer to everything. I’m not ashamed to say, “I don’t know”. I see no reason to jump to irrational conclusions in the absence of answers and explanations that I understand. Atheism is not about what people know or believe, but what they don’t.

I posted this on a fellow atheist’s blog. It might help clarify my position:

Atheism is the absence of belief in the existence of deities. Period.

Knowledge or lack thereof regarding what science teaches about the origin of life and the universe need not factor in at all. I have often found the following analogy useful in explaining this:

Let’s say my house burned down, and the cause cannot be or has yet to be determined. Is it rational to conclude that a fire-breathing dragon started the fire? Of course not.

Or let’s say the cause of the fire has been determined, but I have not been informed of the cause, or simply do not understand it. Would the fire-breathing dragon hypothesis make sense then? No. It would still be silly.

So it is with science and gods:

I do not need to know or understand the origins of life and the universe in order to rule out what is clearly irrational – in this context, any number of gods.

Atheism is the absence of belief in the existence of deities. Nothing more, nothing less. When we begin tagging on other characteristics, we needlessly complicate it and lend credibility to misconceptions and prejudices regarding atheism.

Even other atheists, whom I would expect to know better, continue to promote science and atheism as some kind of package deal.

Science is a very compatible companion to atheism. People can develop a broader understanding of what science teaches about life and the universe after they are no longer blinded by faith, but scientific knowledge is not a prerequisite to atheism or necessary component of it.

I don’t need to be a fire fighter or have the slightest understanding of what can start a house fire to reasonably rule out fire-breathing dragons; I don’t need to be a scientist or have the slightest understanding about the origins of life and the universe to reasonably rule out the supernatural.

Atheism is the absence of belief in the existence of deities. This is the one characteristic we all share. Other than that, our ideas about life, the universe, politics, parenting and just about anything else vary greatly.

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14 responses to “What Do Atheists Have In Common?

  • garymurning

    Agree completely, Lottie. Atheism is a very small part of who I am and what I think — and I was an atheist a long time before I had any inkling of the rational alternatives. Like Richard Feynman, I was happy not knowing all the answers. I’d rather have not known, even as a ten-year-old (yes, I was an atheist even then), than believe in something that didn’t work and was clearly a whole bunch of nonsense.

    But is that something that unites me with other atheists on all fronts, makes us the same on all unrelated issues? Nope. If it seems that “all atheists are the same” it is largely a result of the theists’ ignorance (though not all theists are ignorant on this issue!) They hear us being more vocal, build their straw men and promptly jump to even more ridiculous conclusions.

    Good post! (Proper reply to your email a.s.a.p.)

  • Lottie

    Thanks for your comments, Gary! I appreciate you taking the time.

    I’d rather have not known, even as a ten-year-old (yes, I was an atheist even then), than believe in something that didn’t work and was clearly a whole bunch of nonsense.

    Funny you should mention this. I just had a chat with my son who is ten years old, and he told me basically the same thing. He already understands that there’s no shame in not knowing everything. He said that he thinks it’s “more embarrassing to make up all kinds of crazy stuff” than to admit to not having all the answers.

    Thanks again! It’s always nice to hear from you!

  • garymurning

    Acknowledging that you don’t know something is the first step in finding out. Sounds like your son is already on the right path. Give him a high five from me 😉

    I’ll try to comment more in future. Just been rather preoccupied with work and… something else *twitches eyebrows mysteriously* lol.

    Take care. And if Mike starts singing John Denver songs when he’s over there (see his latest post title), give him a slap from me.

  • Lottie

    Acknowledging that you don’t know something is the first step in finding out. Sounds like your son is already on the right path. Give him a high five from me 😉

    Done! 😀

    I’ll try to comment more in future. Just been rather preoccupied with work and… something else *twitches eyebrows mysteriously* lol.

    Now, you’ve got me wondering… Hmmm…

    Take care. And if Mike starts singing John Denver songs when he’s over there (see his latest post title), give him a slap from me.

    That would mean slapping him twice because one would come from me. lol

  • Mike

    This kind of leads into something we talked about the other night: the Western tradition of Atheism is so scientifically-minded, and so linked with it that people find it difficult to envisage an Atheist who isn’t that way. Even very smart people who *are* Atheists.

    And there will be no John Denver songs. Wouldn’t want to tempt fate…

  • garymurning

    Lottie said:

    Now, you’ve got me wondering… Hmmm…

    Just one of those little dilemmas we all have to deal with… do I, or don’t I? That kinda fing 😉

    Mike said:

    And there will be no John Denver songs. Wouldn’t want to tempt fate…

    That never occurred to me. Another good reason to ban him.

    Liking the new pic, btw, Mike. In a strictly heterosexual kinda way, of course 😉

  • Selena

    I know how it feels to be “put in a box” because of what I believe. I personally try to be open toward people. I am a creationist, but I have found that I get along better in some cases with non-believers and even have a lot in common with non-believers. The idea world for me would include: people choosing to take each person as an individual and getting to know them for their essence instead of quickly grouping people as a whole based on their worldview.

  • Mike

    *preens* Heh. Can you see the grey?

  • Lottie

    I know how it feels to be “put in a box” because of what I believe.

    Yes, unfortunately, this works both ways. I know I’ve found myself doing it as much as I try not to.

    The idea world for me would include: people choosing to take each person as an individual and getting to know them for their essence instead of quickly grouping people as a whole based on their worldview.

    I would tend to agree. I do want to make a small clarification, though. When I speak of being put in a box, I’m referring to making unreasonable or unfounded assumptions about people based on a single bit of information.

    For example, you have stated that you are a creationist. It logically follows that you must also believe in a creator. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that you also call this creator God. I’m going to take it a step further and assume that you pray to this god, at least occasionally. I would not call this putting you in a box. When you called yourself a creationist, you categorized yourself in this manner.

    On the other hand, I think it would be unreasonable to say something like, “So, Ms. Creationist, explain to me why you think it’s wrong for women to wear jeans and makeup.” The assumption here is that, because you are a creationist, you must also belong to the group of religious people who believe it is wrong for women to wear jeans and makeup. This does not logically follow, and the assumption is unreasonable.

    So it is with science and atheism. Just as your belief in God implies nothing about what sort of clothing you think is appropriate, my atheism implies nothing about my knowledge of science or how I think life and universe came to be.

  • garymurning

    *preens* Heh. Can you see the grey?

    Not a hair, mate — the Just for Men must be working 😉

  • lichanos

    Nice post. I am often struck by the desire of theists to explain everything. More strongly, creationist-fundamentalists feel the need to be crackpot “scientists” to “prove” their faith! I don’t get it.

    You might add that one thing atheists and scientist certainly have in common is that both are willing to say, “I don’t know,” and hope for more knowledge in the future.

    It’s pretty simple isn’t it? Still, the desire to fill in all the gaps is a VERY powerful human urge. I think that’s what is behind so much religion.

  • Lottie

    You make some very good observations. Thank you for commenting.

  • Mike

    I am often struck by the desire of theists to explain everything.

    I think it’s thumb-related.

  • Dr. Zhivago’s Strawman Atheist « Rambling On

    […] refer you to a post I wrote a few months ago on this particular subject entitled, What Do Atheists Have In Common? Here is a quote from it: Atheism is the absence of belief in the existence of deities. […]

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