Atheism is often maligned and misunderstood. In the spirit of openness, this column will attempt to respond to the many questions (and allegations) we, as atheists, receive. No two atheists are the same, and we attempt to represent no one but ourselves.
This week’s question: As an atheist, what are you trying to promote?
[media-credit name=”Ian Sander” align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]I’d like to think that I am not just an atheist, but an atheist and an agnostic. The fact that I am an atheist is merely a coincidence of my agnosticism. If I can’t really know about the existence of God, then how can I have a belief in a god that exists? I don’t particularly like the idea of promoting anything, particularly when that’s the type of thing that pushes many people to think atheists are radical or militant.
If I had to think of something I would be willing to promote, it would have to be doubt. I think that doubt is what a secular society, science and atheism/agnosticism is all about. I want to challenge the idea that it is bad to doubt and good to have faith. I understand that for most, we don’t know the answers to the big questions in life. I’d like more people to be okay with just saying, “I don’t know,” rather than feeling like they have to say they believe in a god. Why would that be better than just admitting ignorance?
I know that for others, their personal experience has led them to hold strong convictions, and to them I’d only ask that they try to understand why I don’t believe and ask them to question their own beliefs. Experiences of personal miracles or the feeling of interacting with the divine can sometimes be better explained by our understanding of science.
David Urzua is a fifth-year philosophy major.
The concept of atheism for me extends beyond the realms of religion or pseudoscience. It’s less of a belief or non-belief issue and more of a method of thought. I personally promote the idea of a skeptical and objective approach to the analysis of the world. It’s about perspective for me. Nothing should be beyond question, and nothing important should be taken as fact without a healthy dose of doubt. It seems to me that faith is often viewed as a default position in the field of thought — as something that is naturally present and needs to be disputed.
This sort of attitude seems counterproductive to a strong and inquisitive mind, as it can potentially allow any sort of illogical thought to flow into the mind unfiltered. Perhaps that is the best way to describe my stance on the issue: as a filter. The concept of atheism is not a belief for me, but rather a process by which I sift out the figurative mental dirt. It does not represent an opposition to God, as I simply have not found a god that needs to be opposed.
Cameron Moody is a second-year computational biology major.
As an atheist, I am promoting the advancement of a scientific, fact-based understanding of the world with the goal of alleviating human suffering. A scientific outlook is important because most people, when presented with a problem that is too complex to immediately answer, either ignore it or come to conclusions based on coincidence, superstition or emotion.
An apt example of humanity’s tendency to simplify and ignore difficult questions is the (useful) construct of probability.
Imagine you are playing Yahtzee with Grandma, who is frustrated by losing to chance. So Granny wheels in her new invention, a computer that predicts the result of every roll based on her grip and rolling strength. It allows Grandma to perfect the art of rolling Yahtzees every time. You weep, and Nana dances a jig. There is nothing mystical or random about a die roll, it is simply too difficult to map all the tiny effects of our hands on the die, so we declare the outcome to be unknowable.
While Grandma is a dirty cheater, she is also the winner because she used a scientific, fact-based approach, solving a problem that had seemed unsolvable. Grandma ruined Yahtzee, but she has also shown how a scientific approach can solve problems that initially appear beyond our capacity for understanding. Hippocrates, born in 460 BC, once said, “Men think epilepsy divine, merely because they do not understand it. We will one day understand what causes it, and then cease to call it divine.”
Connor Oakes is a third-year political science major.