Subject: The FAQ File <--<< READ THIS FIRST Summary: C'est ici Keywords: FAQ Date: 23 Jul

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Path: ncsuvm!taco!lll-winken!uunet!mcsun!ukc!slxsys!ibmpcug!mantis!mwowm!mathew From: mathew@mwowm.mantis.co.uk (Million Headed Monster) Newsgroups: alt.atheism Subject: The FAQ File <--<< READ THIS FIRST Summary: C'est ici Keywords: FAQ Message-ID: Date: 23 Jul 91 01:03:02 GMT Expires: 22 Aug 1991 12:00 GMT Reply-To: mathew@mantis.co.uk Organization: Hamburgers for WOTAN, Inc. Lines: 380 The Infrequently-Posted Frequently Asked Questions File for Alt.Atheism ======================================================================= Yes, finally we have definitive proof of the existence of this mysterious entity! Believers hold that the mythical FAQ file was originally put together by Brian Evans, the Mathemagician, and handed down on stone tablets to the faithful. This sacred covenant was lost for what seemed like centuries, but at last a copy has been unearthed... I've been collecting people's suggestions for the FAQ list for a long time now. I've expanded on the original list quite a bit (it's about twice as big!), corrected some typos and spelling mistakes, and tidied up some grammar here and there. I've put it into a ``statements and refutations'' style, like the FAQ list in news.announce.newusers, because I think that makes it easier for people to see if the point which they are thinking of making has been covered. I've added an overview, and changed everything to `logical' quoting style. Here's the result: === The Alt.Atheism Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) File ===================================================== This file is for all new readers of alt.atheism. Many groups of a `controversial' nature have noticed that new readers often come up with the same questions, mis-statements or misconceptions and post them to the net. To help prevent the constant debating of these points, this post is to serve as a `guide' to what are some of the `tenets' of alt.atheism. This isn't to say that these things are not subject to further debate. It is to say that these things *have* been considered by the readers here. Overview of topics covered in this file: 1. ``Doesn't your life seem pointless if your soul gets terminated at the end of your life cycle here on Earth? When lives are in danger and families are in despair, what do you look to to comfort you?'' 2. ``Atheists, in their heart of hearts, are really just theists who are denying it.'' 3. ``Atheists have no morals or ethics.'' 4. ``Agnostics are people who "can't make up their minds".'' 5. ``In The Bible it says...'' 6. ``It is impossible to prove the non-existence of something.'' 7. ``You said you were an atheist, so...'' 8. ``Pascal's Wager demonstrates that it is foolish to be an atheist.'' 9. ``I want to tell people about the virtues of my religion.'' 10. ``I *know* from personal experience that God exists.'' 11. ``Don't you find yourself wanting to believe in God?'' 12. ``If theism is so wrong, why have so many cultures throughout history developed a strong belief in a supreme being?'' 13. ``The majority of people believe in some sort of God. Many famous philosophers and scientists have concluded that God definitely exists. Surely you don't value your opinion over all of theirs?'' 14. ``Atheism is a religion just like any other; believing in atheism and in science is just as much an act of faith as believing in a god.'' 15. ``Don't you worry that you might suddenly be shown to be wrong?'' 16. ``Everyone worships something.'' 17. ``Sets of integers that have a lower bound each have a smallest member, so chains of causes must all have a first element, a causeless cause.'' 18. ``Why are there are no hospitals dedicated to the Glory of the Non-existence of Gods?'' 19. ``The presence of design in the universe proves there is a God'' 1. ``Doesn't your life seem pointless if your soul gets terminated at the end of your life cycle here on Earth? When lives are in danger and families are in despair, what do you look to to comfort you?'' Atheists do not despair due to their lack of belief in supernatural entities. [Note that the use of "supernatural entities" is not an attempt to ridicule them. It is an attempt to be all-inclusive of whatever being(s) you may worship.] The "point" and "meaning" in life for an atheist is determined by the atheist, not by others. They do not "fear" death as they believe that there is nothing to experience after death. As for damnation after death, why fear what doesn't exist? Many atheists feel that they will NOT be `lost' hen they die, since they will have had an influence upon other people who will live on. Many more go through life simply because they *like* existing, and are genuinely happy to do so. Even if lack of life-after-death _does_ make life seem pointless, so what? Are we supposed to believe something because it helps us psychologically [i.e. is comforting], instead of because it's true? You are implying that whether or not there actually is a God is not relevant for believing in one, so long as believing in one provides comfort. You are asking that we put comfort ahead of truth. Many atheists cannot make themselves believe in something which they otherwise would not believe in, merely because they would be more comfortable believing it. Even if they could do so, which is better: to believe something true but uncomfortable, or to believe something false but comfortable? Most atheists put truth first. If searching for truth causes you to become uncomfortable, that's too bad. 2. ``Atheists, in their heart of hearts, are really just theists who are denying it.'' Most atheists (at least the ones on this group) have spent a lot of time in personal study and are educated people. They have not stumbled upon their conclusions blindly. If you want to post a "But have you considered..." post, be forewarned that most of us have considered it. Also, the claim that ``Everyone believes in *something*'' is not a valid claim here. There are quite a number of people here who honestly do *not* have a belief in anything except that their senses give them valid impressions of the world around them. A few do not even take that on faith. According to a Freedom From Religion Foundation study over 90% of the atheists who responded came to atheism because religion did not work for them. They found that what religion wanted them to believe and what they saw around them simply did not work together. Atheists are not unbelievers by default; they are predominantly unbelievers by carefully considered choice. They have almost certainly heard ``the word of God'', and rejected it. 3. ``Atheists have no morals or ethics.'' Atheists are of the opinion that morality is not something that necessarily comes from ``a higher authority.'' Their morality comes from their experience of how the world `ought' to work, not from someone else. While some do feel that there is an `absolute' morality, it is not because a supernatural being decreed it so. Human beings are social animals who can only live fully when in co-operation with their fellows. This is a good enough reason to discourage most atheists from most forms of anti-social (`immoral') behaviour, purely for the purpose of self-preservation. If there is a good reason independent of the existence of any deities, why invent one? Many atheists behave in what might be described as a moral way because they feel a natural human tendency to empathize with other humans. You might ask why empathize with others -- why care about things which cause others to suffer? The answer is that there is often no reason. Many atheists simply are that way. 4. ``Agnostics are people who "can't make up their minds".'' Most agnostics are of the opinion that determination of the existence or non-existence of supernatural entities is not possible. They may go through the world under the assumption that such things don't exist, but that is because they have no evidence that such things do. That is, they have no reason to believe that there is a supernatural entity watching over them. However, that is no reason to assume that such an entity isn't doing so. 5. ``In The Bible it says...'' Most of the readers of this newsgroup feel that this book is of questionable accuracy as it was written thousands of years ago by many authors who were recording oral tradition that existed many years before. Thus, any claimed `truth' in it is of questionable legitimacy. This isn't to say that The Bible has no truth in it; simply that any truth must be examined before being accepted. Many of the readers of this group also feel that because any passage is subject to ``interpretation'', any claim that a passage `means' one thing and one thing only is not legitimate. Note that this feeling tends to extend to other books. 6. ``It is impossible to prove the non-existence of something.'' The typical alt.atheism counterexample to this is to point out that ``There is no such thing as a square circle.'' Note that this deals with things which are well defined. Whether or not supernatural entities are well defined is debatable. In practice, those who call themselves atheists do not claim that there is absolutely no God, but limit any outright denials to varieties of "God" that fit the descriptions followed by certain religions. Disproving such a particular God may be done even though disproving the existence of all "gods" cannot. Disbelieving in all gods-as-presented-in-religions is in practice pretty close to disbelieving in all gods, but not close enough for arguments requiring the latter to work. 7. ``You said you were an atheist, so...'' Words mean different things to different people. Just because a person claims to be an atheist/agnostic/theist does not mean that that person conforms to your opinions of him or to the tendencies delineated here. 8. ``Pascal's Wager demonstrates that it is foolish to be an atheist.'' Pascal's Wager does not indicate *which* religion to follow. Indeed, there are many mutually exclusive and contradictory religions out there. This is often described as the ``Avoiding the wrong hell'' attitude. If a person is a follower of religion X, he may end up in religion Y's version of hell. Many feel that for intellectually honest people, belief is based on evidence, with some amount of intuition. It is not a matter of will or cost-benefit analysis. The biggest reason why Pascal's wager is a failure is that if God is omniscient he will certainly know who really believes and who believes as a wager. He will spurn the latter... 9. ``I want to tell people about the virtues of my religion.'' Preaching is not appreciated, although it is sometimes good for a laugh. Feel free to talk about your religion, but do not write postings that are on a ``conversion'' theme. Such postings do not belong here (try the newsgroup talk.religion.misc). 10. ``I *know* from personal experience that God exists.'' Just as many theists have personal evidence that the being they worship exists, so do many atheists have personal evidence that such beings do not exist. That evidence varies from person to person. 11. ``Don't you find yourself wanting to believe in God?'' Atheists live their lives as if there is nobody watching over them. Many of them do not have any desire to have someone watching over them. Besides -- even if it is what the individual wants, so what? Should an individual believe things to be true because he *wants* them to be true rather than because they are true? 12. ``If theism is so wrong, why have so many cultures throughout history developed a strong belief in a supreme being?'' Atheists would say that it is simply a human weakness to believe in gods, to help people to understand what they could not otherwise understand. Atheism was not prevalent in early civilizations because those civilizations lacked alternative (non-supernatural) explanations for many things. It is also worth pointing out that many cultures have developed 'religions' which do not have a supreme being in the Western sense. As to why religion is so successful at propogating itself -- it is simply that it has certain characteristics which make its ideas prone to survival. For example, religions aid their own survival by inducing believers to destroy unbelievers, by requiring believers to proselytize, by discouraging believers from questioning doctrine, and so on. These spread of a belief does not necessarily have anything to do with whether it is true or whether it 'works'. Consider the widespread belief in astrology. 13. ``The majority of people believe in some sort of God. Many famous philosophers and scientists have concluded that God definitely exists. Surely you don't value your opinion over all of theirs?'' Truth is not determined by the beliefs of the majority. A great many people believe in astrology. People used to believe that the world was flat. For every scientist or philosopher who believes in a god, there is one who does not. Remember also that atheists do not look to famous scientists or philosophers in the way that theists look upon gods or prophets. Famous men are humans; with knowledge in certain areas, but still humans. In an area where they lack special knowledge, an atheist doesn't give any more credence to their words than to the words of an ordinary human. Many scientists have made themselves look foolish when speaking outside of their area of expertise. 14. ``Atheism is a religion just like any other; believing in atheism and in science is just as much an act of faith as believing in a god.'' It is necessary to believe in a certain number of unproven axioms in order to form a useful model of the way the world works. Most atheists try to believe the absolute minimum number of unproven assertions; and even those are always subject to questioning if direct observations of events which take place cast doubt on an atheist's beliefs. If you like, you can call it an act of faith, yes; but the important point is that an atheist's beliefs which are taken on `faith' are *always* open to question. This is not the case for Judeo-Christian religious belief. 15. ``Don't you worry that you might suddenly be shown to be wrong?'' The shortest answer to this is ``No, do you?'' Many atheists have held their beliefs for many years, and have yet to be proven wrong. They therefore reason that they are unlikely to be proven wrong, and cease to worry about it. You might feel that the theist's worry is less because even if he is wrong, he is playing it safe. That's Pascal's Wager -- see item 8. In fact, many atheists would be *happy* to believe in the existence of a god; all that they ask is that he provide convincing direct evidence of his existence. 16. ``Everyone worships something.'' If so, everyone is a polytheist. Theists care just as much about those things that atheists care about. If the atheists' reactions to (for example) their families amounts to worship then so does the theists'. 17. ``Sets of integers that have a lower bound each have a smallest member, so chains of causes must all have a first element, a causeless cause.'' The set of real numbers greater than zero and less than ten has a definite lower bound, but has no smallest member. Further, even if it is true that there must be a causeless cause, that does not imply that that cause must be a conscious supernatural entity. 18. ``Why are there are no hospitals dedicated to the Glory of the Non-existence of Gods?'' There are plenty of charities without religious purpose that atheists can contribute to. Many atheists have also contributed to religious charities, for the sake of the practical good some of them do. Most atheists do not feel the need to shout about their lack of belief. It's just a simple everyday thing. 19. ``The presence of design in the universe proves there is a God.'' It is a matter of dispute whether there is any element of design in the universe. Those who believe that the complexity and diversity of living creatures on the earth is evidence of a creator are best advised to read the newsgroup talk.origins for a while. There is insufficient space to summarize both sides of the debate here. However, the conclusion is that there is no scientific evidence in favour of the existence of any creator. Furthermore, there is much evidence, observation and theory which can explain many of the complexities of the universe and life on earth. === Suggestions, corrections and additional material to me by mail, please. mathew

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