How To Become An Atheist

Mention you’re an atheist to a theist, and more often than not they’ll look at you in disgust, or act like you never said it and change the subject, or make up a polite excuse to go darn their socks. Their reaction implies that you are an alien creature, not in the sense of having originated in a distant galaxy, but in the sense that you have somehow transformed into something inhuman, beyond their ken to understand.

So, theists, all indications to the contrary, there is nothing mystical or mysterious or alien about us. We are just like you, only, as Richard Dawkins likes to point out, we simply believe in one less god than you. You, too, can be just like us. Once you get the hang of it, it is easy to become an atheist.

In the interest of narrowing the divide between theist and atheist, I thought I’d set forth a handy primer on the necessary, though not exhaustive, steps to insure a smooth deconversion. If you follow these simple instructions and guidelines, it will be only a matter of time before you shed superstitious beliefs, begin to think critically about the world around you, apply logic and reason to those matters you now see as mysteries, and hopefully, god willing, become an atheist just like us.

Let us now jump into it with both eyes open.

1. Abandon all presuppositions.

First, you must clear your mind of all notions about reality that you previously entertained, especially those religious based ones related to the origins of the universe, life and you. Atheism doesn’t replace those notions, because atheism is simply a lack of belief, but they do get in the way of a smooth transition to atheism, because the concept of not believing in god oftentimes butts heads with the ideas of a universe that was magically conjured up by a supreme, supernatural deity. Dogma invites delusion, so you must have an open mind, willing to, at the very least, listen to explanations and philosophies previously anathema to your worldview. You are free to accept or reject them once they have been considered by your intellect, but they should not be rejected because they conflict with your previous upbringing or understandings. This is not meditation, you don’t need to clear your mind of all knowledge or thought, simply remove those springs from the steel trap that prevents your opinions from changing.

So, presuppositions should go.

2. Embrace Skepticism

Once you’ve cleared your mind of presuppositions, whenever you are confronted with any statement, explanation or fact – question it. Never, ever automatically accept them because they are told to you by someone you consider an authority. Or at least, don’t let that be your only reason. “The sky is blue”; “Vitamin C is good for you”; “Change your engine oil every 5000 miles”. These are all facts, explanations or suggestions for how to run your life. Good ones, too.

Sure, all of the above examples are true, to some degree or another. But they can also be false, in some instances. The sky is not blue, it just appears to be blue because the atmosphere allows the blue spectrum of the light band to pass through so it can be received by our eyes. Vitamin C can be good for you, and in fact is necessary to a healthy body due to the fact that somewhere in our evolutionary heritage, we lost the gene that turned on Vitamin C production (unlike our chimp cousins), but too much of it is not good for you. And some cars should have their oil changed every 3000 miles, others every 7500 miles.

In the area of theism, many many things are explained to you by religious authorities, whether you’re Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, etc. Those authorities rely on ancient scriptures and other writings. They are just writings. By all means, read them, but read them with a skeptical mindset. Ask yourself, who wrote them? When were they written? What corroborative evidence is there for them? Are they internally consistent? Are they externally consistent, i.e. are there contradictory scriptures out there?

Only after you have asked questions about the source and veracity of the matters relayed to you, should you feel comfortable making you own decision to accept of reject them.

3. Adjust your historical perspective.

As a young man, I used to think that the history of mankind reached back only some 6000 years, primarily because that’s all we had evidence for. However, remember, just because history was not set down in a book, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. It just means that we don’t know what it was.

Homo sapiens have been on this planet for about 100,000 years, and maybe longer (and if your reaction to this is “No, the earth is only 6000 years old, then you must have skipped steps #1 and 2. Go back and practice.). A detailed history of homo sapiens only extends back about 6000 years, with the exception of sporadic cave paintings, so that 94% (or more) of our history has been lost to our lack of development of written language, and our lack of sense of history. Perhaps we needed a history before we knew that it should be preserved.

The point is that we (modern man) are not all that special. History did not move inexorably forward for our benefit. It just moved. And it seems to have missed the bulk of time humans have been in existence. We are at the very end of it now, but sometime in the future, we will be in the middle of it, no more special than say, the Phoenicians are thought of today. And more importantly, we have little idea if man was religious during the first 94,000 years. As Christopher Hitchens has pointed out, why did god, any god, allow man to suffer through the multitude of diseases, childbearing, and vicissitudes of nature for 98,000 years before he decided to send his son to “save” us?

So keep a little perspective as to where you stand in history. It is humbling, and an accurate perspective will help you understand much about how we got where we are, and what role theism had in the process.

4. Accept that science is ideology free.

Science is a process, a method. Science assumes a natural world (again, if you don’t buy this, go back to #1). The process of science looks at facts contained in the natural world, and attempts to explain those facts. It does this through the use of the formulation of hypotheses, testing, and conclusions, which can then be repeated by anyone, anywhere. It is a mechanistic process, usable under any circumstance by anyone, regardless of personal belief or ideology. It is not necessary to have any beliefs about the state of the world in order to perform science. Beliefs actually get in the way, because science should be objective, meaning that anyone looking at the results of science should be able to come to the same conclusions. Beliefs in their nature are subjective, incapable of confirmation by any objective observer. Beliefs often cause those that use science to start with conclusions and work backwards to the evidence, when the reverse is the correct process.

So when science is used to explain the facts of any particular inquiry, whether it is why life is as it is, or why apples drop down rather than up, or why we all, to a man, get colds once in awhile, the process of explaining these facts is ideology free. It is not necessary to have a religious belief to understand the results of science. It’s only necessary to have an open mind and sufficient intellect to understand it.

And, more importantly, if you accept a particular scientific explanation or theory as the best explanation for the facts you are trying to understand, you are not coming to a religious conclusion. You are simply acknowledging that you have been convinced by the scientific explanation.

5. Understand that accepting god means accepting the supernatural, with all its attendant baggage.

If you are of a religious bent, then by definition you believe in god. Some type of god or gods. God, by further definition is beyond this natural world, unconstrained by space and time, existing on a plane of existence we term supernatural. If you believe in god, then, ipso facto, you must believe in the supernatural. If you believe in one supernatural entity, then you must be prepared to believe in all supernatural entities. Once you believe in the supernatural plane of existence, then there are myriad different forms of supernatural entities that you cannot automatically reject.

For instance – leprechauns. Leprechauns are little elf-like men (perhaps there are female leprechauns, but I’m not sure) with magical powers who hide pots of gold behind rainbows, challenging we mortals to find them. We know such creatures don’t exist in the natural world, so they must occur in the supernatural. Then there are fairies, unicorns, djinn, goblins, demons, wizards, warlocks, vampires, werewolves, and a whole host of supernatural, or natural/supernatural hybrids, the possibility of which you have to accept if you believe in the supernatural.

On the other hand, if you reject all of these silly little creatures as implausible, then you are on your way to atheism, because that places in doubt the concept of gods.

6. Understand evidence.

There is a maxim held by most atheists, and popularized by Carl Sagan, that “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. This means that if you are examining a religious claim that a supernatural deity who lives outside of time and space, created the world in 6 days, in a fashion that seems to be contradicted by all external indications, you are, by definition, looking at an extraordinary claim, requiring evidence to match the claim. This means that the evidence that should convince you of the truth of the claim should be of such magnitude as to equal or surpass the claim itself. If you accept this requirement, you might say that a book written 2000 years ago by relatively ignorant people (relative to the amount of present day knowledge) would not be sufficiently extraordinary to amount to adequate evidence for such an extraordinary claim, absent a large amount of corroborating evidence. In short, one book just wouldn’t cut it.

As an example of the paucity of credibility attached to a mere book, if I told you that there was a powerful ring that was created long ago, that allowed the wearer of the ring to become invisible by simply slipping it on your finger, you might say that was an extraordinary claim, because in this world we think that it is impossible to become invisible, ring or no ring. So it would be reasonable to ask for extraordinary evidence for this claim. If I said that I had the evidence, and produced a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”, would you feel cheated by the evidence? Would you reject the evidence?

If you would, then you are well on your way to having a firm grasp of the type of evidence needed to convince an atheist of a supernatural claim.

7. Stay away from Fox News.

Do I really need to explain this?

_________________

 

While the above are guidelines and examples of what you need to do to shed the faulty thinking and logic that leads one to embrace theism, they are by no means exclusive or exhaustive. One can become atheistic in their thinking through many other processes. For instance, we are all born atheists, so if our parents had not indoctrinated us as children, we wouldn’t have to consciously alter our brain functioning to get rid of years of brainwashing. Atheistic thinking would just be as natural as knowing how to breath, so natural, we shouldn’t be conscious of it. This post is for those of you theists who desire to finally come out of the closet and become atheists.

C’mon, you know you want to.

Next lesson is on what to do with all those kittens.

38 thoughts on “How To Become An Atheist

  1. Nice.

    Too bad we don’t engage in proselytizing, because I think you wrote up an exceptional little pamphlet to go door to door with, mass mail, hand out on street corners or whatever other method believers use (some sneaky bastard at my gym randomly plants christian pamphlets in all the lockers). I love #7. 😉

  2. Philly Chief said: “Too bad we don’t engage in proselytizing, because I think you wrote up an exceptional little pamphlet to go door to door with, mass mail, hand out on street corners or whatever other method believers use”

    That’s funny! I was thinking something along these lines as I read SI’s post. If the pastor of my wife’s church ever invites me to come speak to the congregation, I’m going to (get Spanish Inquisitor’s permission and) take a copy of this and read it to them! Hell, why do I always have to do my own thinking? This was perfect.

    But the problem is –

    SI said: “so you must have an open mind, willing to, at the very least, listen to explanations and philosophies previously anathema to your worldview.”

    …and I seriously doubt if any of our theists friends who stopped by here and started reading even GOT to that part before flying out of here like a witch from Salem.

  3. Fox News, ironically with the monicker “fair and balanced” is anything but. It’s a de facto propaganda news channel for the Bush administration and right wing conservatives as that’s the political stance of it’s owner, Rupert Murdoch. It’s not news like you are no doubt accustomed to laempel (and we used to be here in the US, many moons ago), but merely an unquestioning, biased presentation of the news.

    You have two choices for tv news in the US. You can either have news presented with a bias like Fox, or have softball, non-news on all the other news networks. Sad.

  4. Spanqy, you’re preaching to the choir. No, really, you know how those folk like to do all that singing and expect to be playing harps up in the sky after they die. You’d think they’d practice on harps down here, wouldn’t you? Imagine the racket. (Imagine the profit on harp sales!)

    But see, you’re asking them to think for themselves. That’s not gonna work. What you gotta do, Spanqy, is put on a white floor length robe (not see-through, please), and grow a big beard, some long white hair, and get one of those booming voice amplifiers. Sneak into one of those megachurches, get up on stage, after tasering the huckster who’s preaching (lightning inside a building’s not an option – tasering will have to do) and then you COMMAND the idolaters to accept atheism.

    They’ll fall like sheep in a lightning-struck field. It’s what they understand.

  5. One of the things I missed the most when I was in the US last April was quality news. I ended up loosing complete touch with pretty much any news outside of the US. As this was near easter as well, there was a constant stream of easter documentaries, with titles like ‘Jesus: the truth’ (or some such rubbish).

    However jokes on the Gideons. I left a couple of bookmarks in the more awkward parts of the bible; hopefully that will at least make someone question what they’re reading.

  6. Does religiosity have a biological component? Without a doubt I believe that there is some intrinsic need for spirituality, however individual differences in each person interpret this spirituality in different ways.

    As a ‘born’ atheist, I have never believed in a religion of any type. Even as a child and being taken to church I would silently refuse to say such things a ‘amen’ and stand in disbelief at all these silly adults praying to someone who never answered. And for that I am glad.

    It makes one wonder though, can religious individuals ever truly be ‘converted’ to atheist principles? Sure, I know of individuals who have ‘de-converted’ from hardline Christian faiths to Deism, but these people still cling to the desperate hope that there is a creator out there. They just can’t seem to shake the need for belief in a power higher than themselves. Does this support a biological component of religious tendencies? Or is it a product of environment, or both?

    I think atheists have simply re-funneled their spirituality into the God of Science, one that respects independent thought and criticism of ideas. One that encourages personal growth through doubt, rather than blind faith.

  7. @ Vulcanis

    “Does this support a biological component of religious tendencies? Or is it a product of environment, or both?”

    Absolutely there must be a component of both. I became very interested in these same matters a couple of years ago and all my reading on current evolutionary thought seems to confirm it.

    Read some E.O. Wilson and Steven Pinker.

  8. Ridiculous. To say “there is no God” is like saying you know all there is to know. It’s like saying “there is no gold in china”, how do you know? Have you sifted through every inch of dirt in china?

  9. Hi Lauren. Thanks for stopping by.

    It’s not ridiculous. Did you really read the whole post? If so, point out to me where I claimed that “there is no god”.

    The whole post is a mildly tongue in cheek “how to” primer, the point of which is to get you, and others, to think critically, question your beliefs, and perhaps come to a different conclusion. In no way, shape or form does it declare the existence or non-existence of god.

    Methinks thou doth protest too much.

    If you examine the claims (not dogma) of atheism, you’ll find that it is simply the assertion that there is no evidence for god, so why believe in her? Surely, you are correct, that we have not sifted every grain of dirt looking for her (hopefully that’s not where she’s hiding) but to even make that assertion means that you have not read the first rule I listed. You’re assuming she exists, then asking me to disprove it. Sorry, life doesn’t work that way.

    Get rid of the presupposition that she DOES exist, and then start looking. Using the guidance in ## 2-7 you will find that you can’t find any evidence.

    You’re assuming that I, the atheist, have the burden of proving his non-existence, whereas the burden of proof is actually on you, the theist, to prove he exists. Until you do, I have no reason to believe.

    Admittedly, it is a difficult process if you have been indoctrinated from birth to assume god exists. I know, I was there too. But I assure you, it is a rewarding process, one you’ll thank me for someday if you complete it.

  10. Over the summer I had a long conversation with a guy who actually brought the conversation to a screeching halt when he said he’d “never talk to an atheist,” to which I replied, “well, you’re talking to one now.” He looked as though he had just learned that someone had switched his liver pate with dog shit. I didn’t get too offended. In fact, I feel it’s my duty to my position that people see me for the person I am and not define me by their misconceptions of an atheistic viewpoint.

  11. Hi Sandy. Good to see you again.

    I agree that it’s not necessary to go about life making the point to everyone that you don’t believe in god. Hell, I don’t tell everyone that I don’t believe in Santa Claus.

    Unlike so many Christians I know who make a point of telling me that they went to church on Sunday. They have to go out of their way to sprinkle that information in their day to day conversation, despite the fact that it is irrelevant to the topic of conversation.

    I. Don’t. Care.

  12. All this talk of preaching and handing out pamphlets! Perhaps we ought to start going door to door like some sort of Jehovah’s Missing Witness Protection Program?

    “Have you accepted Natural Selection as your Lord and Creator?”

    Seriously, great post. We should all link to it when commenting on opposing blogs!

  13. Phillychief,
    I’ve often wondered how something like that would play out. Thanks for sharing! Door-to-door sales of anything makes me cranky, (Girl Scout Cookies and Boy Scout Popcorn being the exception) but I’m thinking those two guys might actually make my day!

  14. Here’s my last exchange with door to door christians. After I had ignored their knocking and they moved on, I had to go outside to get the grill going and they spotted me, like jackals eyeing prey. Of course they came running…

    Hello!
    – yeah
    We were knocking for quite awhile on your door
    – yeah
    We didn’t see a doorbell. Don’t you have-
    – what are you peddlin’?
    Excuse me?
    – Doubtful. What are you selling?
    We’re not salesmen, we-
    – Bullshit
    Excuse me?
    – Once again, no. Now I know you’re selling something so get lost.
    My name is (something I don’t remember) and this is (something I didn’t even pay attention to) and we’re from (some fucking church)
    – Right, you’re selling Jesus. You can go now.
    Well I-
    – bye
    Wel-
    – BYE!
    after a few steps he turns around and asked
    Do you have a question for god today?
    Now of course my head filled with a rush of things, from serious questions to some snarky things like, “yes, why god have you beset me with a plague of badgering, prepubescent bitches like the two who stand before me now?” but instead I just gave a big, insincere grin and waved until they were out of sight.

  15. You could have said, “No, I don’t have a question for god, but will you be talking to Santa Claus? ‘Cause I need a new doorbell.”

  16. Sometimes you just have to mention that you are an agnostic to an atheist and they tear your throat out. But people will be people.

  17. Hello, SI.

    Interesting, well written post. I grew up Catholic, with all that that implies. You may find it interesting that four years at a Catholic college did more to beat the Catholicism out of me than anything Dawkins could have done.

    Understand that accepting god means accepting the supernatural, with all its attendant baggage.

    .

    This is where I disagree. As Robert Heinlein once wrote, “one man’s theology is another man’s belly laugh”. One of the things that always confused me in CCD (Sunday School to the non-Catholics out there) was that the nuns would always tell me that God was unknowable, and then proceed to tell me everything they knew about God. I used to question them about this. I was not popular with the nuns, and I have the memory of several whacks with the ruler as a result.

    So, as time has gone by, I have shed my various beliefs in Catholic, and in fact, virtually all religious dogma like so much unnecessary clothing. When one starts spouting things like, “God wants this, or that, or gets really pissed off if you eat a cheeseburger of Fridays”, one is making assertions that are rightly challenged by such as yourself.

    However, one can believe in the *concept* of a Deistic god, while at the same time rejecting dogma. After all, science has shown us that the “supernatural” is simply that part of the “natural” that we haven’t figured out yet. I happen to believe that the universe had some deistic input simply because that makes a little more sense to me than the idea that all this came about because of a series of happy yet highly improbably coincidences. Put another way, no matter how many times a hurricane blows through a junkyard, it will never produce a new car. Not original, I realize, but it serves to make my point.

    A big part of the problem, in my opinion, is with the word itself: “god”. It seems that no one, theist and atheist alike, can hear or read this word without having a visceral reaction. The word conjures up comforting images of smells and bells to the theist, and mystical mumbo-jumbo to the atheist that he inevitably finds off putting.

    So whenever I mention that I happen to believe in “god”, people naturally assume I mean the Christian god. I don’t. Not really.

    So what if we just drop-kick the word “god” altogether? What if we borrow a phrase from Douglas Adams: “Hyper-Intelligent Pan-Dimensional Being”, or HIPDB, for short. No dogma, no miracles, no mumbo-jumbo. Just the notion that the very improbability of this universe (and even Richard Dawkins acknowledges that our universe is a highly improbable place) can lead one to logically postulate that a higher intelligence, an HIPDB, had a hand in it. Not conclusively perhaps, but certainly logically.

    I should probably mention at this point that I’m a FIRM believer in the Big Bang, Evolution, and science in general, just so there’s no misunderstanding here. I have no patience with Creationists. But if we think of “god” as simply an HIPDB, then he suddenly beomes compatible with the rest of scientific theory, since it is no longer necessary to deal with the dogma stuff.

    Just a thought. I could be wrong. But I’m comfortable with this view of “god”, forged as it was in the furnace of my own skepticism.

    -smith

  18. Interesting, well written post. I grew up Catholic, with all that that implies. You may find it interesting that four years at a Catholic college did more to beat the Catholicism out of me than anything Dawkins could have done.

    It’s funny, I was just thinking about this, this AM. I attended, of all places, Boston College back in the 70’s, which you probably know is not only Catholic, but Jesuit Catholic. The Jebbies are known for their penetrating intellect. While not having too many Jesuits as professors, I did take a few, including my one and only logic course. I also attended Catholic elementary and secondary schools, and finally finished out in an Augustinian law school (Villanova). So, after all that, I find it ironic that I have intellectualized myself to atheism. I think it’s kind of funny that the people who taught me how to really think were religious through and through. I only regret that, had they not infused their thinking with god so much, I would have known what I was much earlier in life.

    However, one can believe in the *concept* of a Deistic god, while at the same time rejecting dogma.

    My understanding of deism is just that. A rejection of all dogma associated with the concept. A belief that there was this unknown first cause who created everything, then disappeared. It’s about as close to atheism as one can get and still be called a theist, because for all practical purposes, there is no god.

    I happen to believe that the universe had some deistic input simply because that makes a little more sense to me than the idea that all this came about because of a series of happy yet highly improbably coincidences.

    I think it more probable, and more rational, to think that the universe was always here, in some way, shape or form, than to believe that it was magically poofed into existence out of nothing. Seriously, what’s more logical, eternal existence of matter, or magic?

    So what if we just drop-kick the word “god” altogether? What if we borrow a phrase from Douglas Adams: “Hyper-Intelligent Pan-Dimensional Being”, or HIPDB, for short.

    Didn’t Huey Lewis and the News have a hit song about god? Something along the lines of “It’s HIP D B Square”?

  19. “After all, science has shown us that the “supernatural” is simply that part of the “natural” that we haven’t figured out yet.”

    It has? Where and when did it do that?

    “I happen to believe that the universe had some deistic input simply because that makes a little more sense to me than the idea that all this came about because of a series of happy yet highly improbably coincidences.”

    Yeah, I’m with SI. I just can’t see how inventing some entity that’s possibly outside space and time who went, “ta-dah!” and POOF! the universe happened is very probable or a rational conclusion.

    So would anyone like to share with me the code for making those spiffy quotes? The WYSIWYG doesn’t come up here for me (no doubt because I’m on a Mac) so I have to do things manually. You guys have a quote button or something? Can you see the code? Mind sharing what it is? Thanks

  20. Philly:

    Type the words “blockquote” (without the quote marks) at the beginning of the quote, and “/blockquote” at the end. Surround both sides of the blockquote words with the left arrow (shift comma) and the right arrow(shift period).

    I’d just type the whole thing here, but HTML reads those left and right arrows as code, so everthing inside them is hidden.

    It would be like this:

    {blockquote}quote{/blockquote}, only replace the brackets with the arrows.

  21. “After all, science has shown us that the “supernatural” is simply that part of the “natural” that we haven’t figured out yet.”

    It has? Where and when did it do that?

    I have to admit I’m genuinely puzzled at this comment, coming as it does from a self-professed atheist.

    History is full of things that were once thought to be supernatural, but which, once subjected to scientific scrutiny, proved to be perfectly natural after all. Surely you don’t dispute that; I would have thought this would be one area in which we would find common ground.

    -smith

  22. I thought your implication was that we’d one day develop the capacity to observe the supernatural or perhaps interact with it like speaking to the dead or with other supernatural entities, maybe even explain the claim of a 6th sense that believers feel they have by which they “know” god.

    The way you just explained it sounds more like you meant it as a debunking, like debunking spontaneous generation. If this is what you meant and not what I described above, then I misread your intent and you can ignore my objection and with that, I beg forgiveness in interrupting the discussion.

  23. The way you just explained it sounds more like you meant it as a debunking, like debunking spontaneous generation.

    Yes, that’s pretty much what I intended.

    If this is what you meant and not what I described above, then I misread your intent and you can ignore my objection and with that, I beg forgiveness in interrupting the discussion.

    Vox Smith, Vox Dei. Your sins are forgiven. 🙂

  24. Pingback: The Greenbelt

  25. A minor quibble with the science. The sky is not blue because the air “allows blue light through”. It is slightly more complicated that that. Blue light is more readily scattered in air, more so than the red wavelenghts. The blue light you see above was white light destined to strike the earth some distance away from you, perhaps a hundred or more miles away.

    The blue light thus subtracted from the spectrum by scattering leaves a more reddish tone where it directly strikes the eye, causing some of the effect of a red sunset (at least the general cast of light, sans the influence of clouds).

Comments are closed.