I suppose I'm an atheist. After all, I don't believe in God.
There's no demonstrable evidence of God. I want to spend what likely is my one and only life as close to reality as possible. Imagination is fine and fun, but it should be a supplement to living, not the main course.
I used to shy away from the term, "atheist." It's got a negative vibe in the United States' highly religious culture.
Reading Julian Baggini's wonderful little book, Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, has made me more comfortable with saying, yeah, I'm an atheist.
Here's some reasons I've come across in the first 60 pages of this 111 page book.
Atheism is natural. In the beginning, there was no religion. Just natural explanations of nature. Religion is a very recent development in the billion years or so since we humans shared a common ancestor with bacteria.
We've come a long way, evolution-wise. However, when it comes to religion, us Homo sapiens have used our sapience to move farther from reality.
Baggini notes that in Scotland there is a deep lake called Loch Ness. For a long time people in the area simply believed "that the lake is a natural phenomenon of a certain size, that certain fish live in it, and so on."
Eventually, though, some people came to believe that a strange creature, the Loch Ness Monster, lives in the lake. There's no firm evidence of the creature.
Yet what if the number of believers in the Loch Ness Monster continued to grow? Still without any evidence. Soon this belief is the norm. The majority who embrace it are called "Nessies." The few who don't are called "Anessies."
Anessies used to be people who simply saw Loch Ness as it naturally is. Now they're out of the ordinary, unbelievers in a monster which lacks evidence of its existence. Just like atheists, a-theists.
Once atheists were people who saw reality as it is naturally is. They didn't have a special name. Nor were they looked down upon. This shows that atheism doesn't need religion. It isn't the negation of religion. Atheism is an embrace of reality as it is.
Atheism is moral. Morality has no connection with God or religion, Baggini says. Plato (or Socrates) came up with the classic argument supporting this assertion. It's called the Euthyphro dilemma.
Socrates asks, do the gods choose what is good because it is good, or is the good good because the gods choose it?
If the first option, then goodness is independent of the gods, or a God. Something is good because that's what it is. God knows this. No reason why others, including humans, can't figure out what is good also.
If the second option, then what is good is arbitrary. If God decides that torturing little children is good, then it is. God's a sadist, so sadism is good. Get out your torture implements. Does that sound moral to you? Almost certainly not.
Religious believers try to get around the second option by claiming that God has the properties of goodness. Thus God has to choose good, because that's God's nature. However, this gets us back to the first option: goodness is independent of God, so we can discover it just as God can.
In the end, moral choices have to be made by each individual. Doesn't matter whether you believe in God or not. If you choose to accept a particular religion's moral code, that's your choice. Atheists make their own choices.
Baggini says, "The mistake that is often made is to suppose that if one has religious belief, moral principles just come along with the package and there is no need to think about or justify them. Once we see through that myth, we can see why being good is a challenge for everyone, atheist or non-atheist."
Atheism is open-minded. It's wrong to call atheism a faith-based system just like religion. Actually, it's the absence of faith. Yet often religious believers say, "Atheists are as dogmatic as fundamentalists; they are sure God doesn't exist but have no evidence this is true."
Nope. Not at all. This isn't how faith works.
Baggini says that faith isn't needed to bridge the gap between absolute proof and belief. In both science and everyday life, 100% certainty isn't possible. Yes, the sun has shone on Earth every day. Almost certainly it will do so tomorrow.
But we can't be absolutely sure. Some natural law we're unaware of could cause the sun to blink out of existence. Again, extremely unlikely. Yet within the realm of possibility.
Faith, though, isn't needed for us to be confident that the sun will rise tomorrow. Faith only is needed when evidence is lacking for something, like God. Or life after death.
Baggini writes: "Where we have a lack of absolute proof we can still have overwhelming evidence or one explanation which is far superior to the alternatives. When such grounds for belief are available we have no need for faith. It is not faith that justifies my belief that drinking fresh, clean water is good for me, but evidence."
Given that atheists embrace beliefs based upon evidence, atheism is wonderfully open-minded. If God makes an umistakable appearance, atheists would say Oops, I'm changing my mind. God is real.
On the other hand, ask a religious fundamentalist, "What would make you believe there is no God?" Likely he or she would answer, "Nothing. My faith is firm."
That is closed-mindedness. That is dogmatism.
Religion shuts itself off from reality in an attempt to preserve belief in imagined supernatural realms. Atheism says, open the windows, let reality shine in; whatever really is, embrace it. Baggini writes:
This shows where I believe the real fault between faith-positions and ordinary beliefs lies. It is not about proof, but about beliefs that are in accord with evidence, experience, or logic and those that lack or are contrary to evidence, experience, or logic.
Atheism is not a faith position because it is belief in nothing beyond which there is evidence and argument for; religious belief is a faith position because it goes beyond what there is evidence or argument for. That is why faith requires something special that ordinary belief does not.
...Or as atheists tell us, why faith is foolish.