I believe that the universe operates solely via unintelligent forces and processes.
I believe that religions are man-made, without divine input.
I believe that when you pray, you are talking to yourself; that miracles don't happen; and that when our brains die, we will never experience anything again.
In 20 years, I have not become aware of any reason to doubt these beliefs.
My paths back to atheism
(I wasn't born a believer! Belief in a god followed indoctrination at school, although not at home. We are all non-believers when we are born).
"Atheist" is a word that summarises my beliefs about gods. It doesn't dictate my beliefs.
I don't get my beliefs from a dictionary or from anyone else.
For about 20 years I have held 2 relevant beliefs (or lacks of belief) simultaneously:
- I don't believe in gods.
(This arose from analysis of religion).
- I believe that the universe operates solely via unintelligent forces and processes.
(This arose from analysis of science).
After school, without the periodic reinforcement from the daily religious service, the most descriptive word to summarise my view for decades was probably apatheism:
Apatheism ... is acting with apathy, disregard, or lack of interest towards belief, or lack of belief in a deity.... An apatheist is ... someone who is not interested in accepting or denying any claims that gods exist or do not exist. In other words, an apatheist is someone who considers the question of the existence of gods as neither meaningful nor relevant to his or her life.
If asked what my religion was I would probably have said "agnostic", which for me meant "I don't know what I believe or don't believe". A trigger was needed to follow a path to some sort of conclusion either way.
Path 1 - via religion
During 1985-88 I bought and read "A Handbook of Living Religions" (edited by John R Hinnels). By the time I finished it, I realised that "Religion" (in the broad) has no ability to inform us whether or not gods existed, how many there were, or what their nature was. And if "Religion" can't inform us, what can? I then realised that, instead of being an agnostic as I had been for about 20 years, I don't believe in gods. I was now an atheist, although it was a long time before I used that word.
I'm not certain what caused me to read that book. But in 1988 I watched the Channel 4 TV series "Testament", written and narrated by John Romer. I also bought and read the accompanying book. This history of the editing and compiling of the Bible made me realise just how much it was man-made. If I had not bought "A Handbook of Living Religions" by then, this TV series would have caused me to buy it. So I probably started with "Testament" then bought "A Handbook of Living Religions".
Path 2 - via science
Although I now didn't believe in gods, I still had a concern. My degree in Mathematical Physics gave me confidence that science would eventually explain the physical universe. I has read "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins about 1980, and had confidence in the gene-centric view of evolution by natural selection. But when younger I had read books by J B Rhine of Duke University, and others, describing the science behind parapsychology. Although I suspected that there was nothing there, I still had a lingering problem with mind/body dualism, wondering if there was "mind stuff" that needed some special medium. (And if so, what did that say about an afterlife?)
I read various books, and did a lot of reflection based on my computer science knowledge. Eventually, I completed "The Mind's I", composed and arranged by Douglas R Hofstadter and Daniel C Dennett. Wrestling with this intriguing book of extracts by many authors, followed by "Reflections" from those two, left me comfortable with the idea that "the mind" was simply "an aspect" of the electro-chemical activity of the brain, and needs no special medium. I now believed that the universe operates solely via unintelligent forces and processes.
The beliefs stated at the top of this page followed directly from these two paths. I phrase them assertively to convey my beliefs to religious people without any ambiguity or equivocation.
Summary of my views about religion
When I became an atheist as above, I still thought that religion was something benign that I could safely ignore. My "wake up call" was the Keep Sunday Special campaign, which I became aware of during the discussions leading up to the Sunday Trading Act 1994. I suddenly realised that people whose beliefs I didn't share were trying to make me conform to their rules. I signed a petition requesting Sunday trading!
Since then I have been alert to religion's attempts to encroach on my life. At first I adopted an attitude that "religions are OK when practised by consenting adults in private". Now my model is "Religions are hobbies".
In 2003 I began examining Islam, initially for my Child Support Analysis web site, and published 5 pages there. (I now maintain them on this site). The topic of "child support" (etc) led me to criticise Islamic attitudes towards women. I also came across hypocrisy about the Catholic Church's priests fathering children then not paying. The Behzti affair in Birmingham made me realise than even Sikhs could behave badly in the name of their religion. The attempt to censor Jerry Springer: The Opera on the BBC was yet another encroachment. And that list doesn't mention Islamic terrorism or the Muhammad cartoon affair!
I am critical of the attitudes of various religions to science, especially medical science, where their objections on religious grounds may harm or kill many people who don't share their beliefs. (I don't have objections to religious people's opinions based on other grounds where religion is not used as a factor). The topic of "child support" (as above) led me to criticise Islamic attitudes towards science and technology, and to criticise the Catholic Church's attitude to birth control and abortion. (I believe that the Catholic Church's comtemptible attitude to condoms will be indirectly responsible for millions of deaths by AIDS in this century). More recently, the Catholic Church has attempted (unsuccessfully) to influence the UK's laws on stem cell research and use of hybrid cells, and also to reduce the time limit for abortions.
I have written to my MP to make some of my views known, particularly about faith schools.
"Belief", "knowledge", and "proof"
All of these words are used in discussions about atheism. Sometimes these words are used inappropriately. For background, I have a degree in Mathematical Physics. "Mathematics" is an arena where "proof" is often a good word to use. "Physics" is about the nature of the universe, and "proof" is typically inappropriate in that context. Whether or not gods exist is about the nature of the universe, and so "proof" and "disproof" are inappropriate words to use.
"Religion" and "god" are such highly-charged topics that claims for one's own position are often exaggerated, and demands on opposing positions are often unreasonable. My judgment is that, when discussing other topics, people typically use these words in the following way. The topic is "driving a motor car":
- When driving, I believe that if I press the brake pedal the car will slow down and if necessary come to a halt. Sometimes this may be a matter of life and death - my belief is that strong. Belief is what I have confidence to act upon.
- I know (not just believe) that whenever I have previously pressed the brake pedal the car has slowed down. I don't know, and can't prove, that in future if I press the brake pedal the car will slow down.
- Other people appear willing to ride with me in the belief that if I press the brake pedal the car will slow down and if necessary come to a halt. I can't prove to them that if I press the brake pedal the car will slow down. I can't even prove to them that whenever I have previously pressed the brake pedal the car has slowed down. They can't know anything about the efficacy of the brake pedal, other than that they know I am still alive.
I use these words in a practical and everyday sense, whether I am talking about driving, religions, or gods. For example:
- "I don't believe in gods".
- "I believe that the universe operates solely via unintelligent forces and processes, so I believe there are no supernatural or intelligent entities (such as gods) that affect the universe".
- I know that the universe has appeared to me like that so far. But I neither know nor can I prove that the universe really is like this, nor that there are no gods.
Hypothetical types of God
There is more on this topic at:
How to convert an atheist: Cause the atheist to believe in your god(s).
2 main (hypothetical) types of gods are relevant here:
- Deist gods:
The type of god who started the universe and/or started life, but is not involved with people. (Not relevant to religion).
- Theist gods:
The type of god who perhaps listens to prayers, perhaps performs miracles, perhaps provides an afterlife; and who may also have started the universe and/or started life. (Relevant to religion).
Religious people are primarily concerned with theist gods, of course! Several religions claim that their god(s) started the universe and/or started life. When religious people make that claim, they could be talking about deist gods or theist gods. Even if they were able to prove that "a god is needed to start the universe and/or start life", that would not indicate whether it was a theist god rather than a deist god. They would not have provided justification of their religion, or indeed any religion!
When religious people say that a "god is needed to start the universe and/or start life", they are diverting attention from the god(s) they really believe in, which are theist gods. My response is to deny theist gods directly, using statements such as:
When you pray, you are talking to yourself:
There is no entity listening to your prayers who will intervene in the operation of the universe as a result of your prayers.
Miracles don't happen:
There is no entity who intervenes in the operation of the universe to reward some people and to punish other people.
You have no independent soul:
When your physical brain dies, you will never experience anything again; there is no entity that provides an environment for post-death experience.
When the topic is religion, focus on theist gods. Life is too short to waste time discussing irrelevant deist gods in such discussions! And remember to ask why their god(s) (of many), and their religion (of many), should be treated as special.
When the topic is the limits of science, it may be relevant to discuss deist gods. But there isn't yet a significant case that science is so limited. Let's wait a 100 years before wasting time discussing deist gods!