What Is Atheism To You? Conversations With Craig the Christian 1

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About a week ago, I got an email from a man named Craig. He's a lutheran going to seminary for a masters of divinity. He asked me if I would like to open a dialogue with him about religion. After getting his permission to publish our conversations, I agreed. I'm not good at debating or arguing, but I am always open to learning new things and maybe sharing what I know as well. So here we go. Conversations with Craig the Christian, number 1.

One of our first points of discussion was what exactly is atheism? Craig admitted some probable bias in his definition which he didn't give. He gave me Dictionary.com's definition instead, which surprised me:
1. the doctrine or belief that there is no god.
2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.

If you notice that definition says that atheism is a belief or doctrine. See below for an atheist's (that would be me!) definition.
So what is religion? Well, that one was more accurate:
1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.

And one more. We need to know what a belief is. This one is really important:
1. something believed; an opinion or conviction
2. confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof
3. confidence; faith; trust
4. a religious tenet or tenets; religious creed or faith

So after these definitions, Craig said:
"Both Atheism and Christianity imply a belief system. Science and Math don't have that. For the most part, education relies on the imparting of facts.

I've been an atheist for 9 years and one thing I'm crystal clear on. Atheism is NOT a belief or a doctrine that there is no god. Luckily Wikipedia does much better:
Atheism is the philosophical position that deities do not exist, or that rejects theism. In the broadest sense, it is the absence of belief in the existence of deities.

Exactly. Now, there are many types of atheists of all stripes and colors. We all come to atheism in our own way. I want to make it clear that there is NO set doctrine, NO belief system, NO book to follow, NO guru, NO ideology, NO set rules. This is my personal view, as an atheist. It comes down to this:

There are no gods.

That's it. Plain and simple. Nothing fancy. We just accept that gods don't exist. How do we get to this? Well, science, evidence, reason and logic. There is zero evidence for gods or the supernatural of any sort. Therefore as far as we know, gods don't exist.

I do want to be clear though. There are people who have made atheism a doctrine, with Dawkins or another of the Four Horsemen their guru. For them perhaps it's just cool to be "rebellious" against god and society. I have no idea. I just wanted to say I know there are people out there who fall into that group. My personal experience though is very simple, as is my husband's, as well as the other atheists I call my friends. There are no gods.

Now, if you want to really get nitpicky, go to Wikipedia and you'll find in the right column all the different types of atheist there are. Feel free to comment below about what atheism means for you. I can only speak for myself.

So, I had to disagree with Craig. Atheism has no belief system, same as science and math. If you read the definition for a belief system, it's the opposite to what an atheist comes to understand. A belief is an opinion without proof. It's faith. It is the antithesis of logic and evidence.

My example:

Gravity exists. There is ample evidence and proof of it. Right? It's an accepted reality. You could say you believe in gravity, in the sense that you trust in its existence. But by the definition given for a belief, you really can't call it that because there is a preponderance of evidence and proof saying that gravity exists. What is the term for this, something that means that you are accepting the facts of reality, the science done by other people.

I think we can agree that the Easter Bunny doesn't exist and never has. Would you call that a belief? Do you need to believe the Easter Bunny doesn't exist? There is zero evidence of a giant white rabbit that delivers eggs to people in April. In some vague way you could say your lack of acceptance of the reality of the Easter Bunny is a belief, because you are accepting that fact as truth without thoroughly testing it for yourself. But if you look at it another way, beliefs are in things or ideas that you accept as true without positive knowledge or proof.

So in that sense, sure, we all believe that the Earth is round even though we can't prove it individually. We accept the preponderance of evidence from others. So if there's evidence, then it's not a belief anymore.

Do you believe that leprechauns don't exist? Is that a belief? From what I'm reading about beliefs, they are about accepting a positive of something, not the absence of something. Then again, if you go down the whole page about beliefs, the definition can get pretty darn vague, encompassing huge concepts, where you'd then have to say, sure just about anything you think is some kind of belief (that's a bit of an exaggeration, not a definite point I would hang my hat on).

The opposite of belief is disbelief.
Disbelief: the inability or refusal to believe or to accept something as true.

This is also not what atheism is because we don't refuse to accept a truth as true. We look for evidence of gods and find none. Big difference.
Unbelief: the state or quality of not believing; incredulity or skepticism, esp. in matters of doctrine or religious faith. Also: Lack of belief or faith, especially in religious matters.

Here. That's what I'm getting at. We are Unbelievers. We simply LACK belief in gods. It's the opposite of being religious. So I disagree that atheism and christianity have anything in common. We have zero belief system, no creed, no ideology, no bible or holy book, no prayers or worship of a god, zero faith, no devotion to a god, there are no superhuman agencies of any sort, and we follow no rituals.

Atheism is simply looking at all the evidence from history and all the evidence from what we know so far about science and finding nothing that even hints at anything like a god. It just doesn't exist.

In my opinion, being an atheist requires much thought, contemplation and study. While I have met people who say they've always been atheist, I think for most atheists, it's a process of shedding dogma and indoctrination and embracing critical thinking, scientific evidence, reason and logic to some degree.

Craig also said:
I also wonder, at what point would Science become a "religion"?

I've heard other christians say the same thing. I think if you read over all the definitions, it could never be a religion. They are mutually exclusive.
a. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.
b. Such activities restricted to a class of natural phenomena.
c. Such activities applied to an object of inquiry or study.

Nowhere in the definition of science will you find dogma, belief without proof, praying, devotion to a superhuman entity, ritual, etc. So where would you get the idea that science could ever be a religion? That baffles me. Again, they are mutually exclusive.

Words are so important. They let us communicate and share information, ideas, knowledge, thoughts and feelings. So if we have different interpretations for words, we can never understand each other. That's why I take the time to define so many words for you. I hope you muddled through all of that somehow. :P

So, it all comes down to zero evidence of gods. Are you an atheist? What does atheism mean for you? How did you shed religion? If you would like to share your story and it's lengthy, feel free to email me at heavingdeadcats@gmail.com and we can make it into a post instead of getting lost in the comments. I think it's helpful to tell others how we got where we are, because they might be struggling or questioning the same things we had trouble with. So feel free to comment or email with your thoughts and stories.

Thanks, Craig. So far I'm enjoying this dialogue. :)


  1. Excellent post! I agree with your position, and especially about the definitions of atheism, religion etc. I'm not sure why it's so difficult for many theists to grasp that it's possible to lack a belief in any gods and come to a rational conclusion of atheism based on logic and evidence.

  2. I'm an atheists, which to me is just as you describe it; A higher power doesn't exist because there is no evidence for it.

    I was strictly raised new-age Christian. My de-conversion was a slow and simple process. The accumulation of evidence against and lack of evidence for Christianity gradually built up, and by the time I was a teenager, my belief in Christianity had faded away. I'll have to do a blogg entry that goes into depth, but for now thats the condensed version. I'd expect quite a few atheists had a similar de-conversion experience. How many gradually changed, and how many had some epiphany? What where the difficulties involved?

    As well as Christians claiming atheism is a religion, I have heard many Christians claim their Christianity is NOT Religious! Its a clear attempt to separate Christianity from other religions, but its absurd none the less. Has anyone else heard such ridiculous claims?

  3. The problem with most dictionary definitions of atheism is that they're written from a theist-dominated perspective and have a corresponding bias. It is presumed that god(s) exist, and that it's impossible for someone to not believe in them. All you can do is refuse to believe in them, rebel against them, dis-believe in them, etc. While that is unfortunate it's going to be a while before anything changes.

  4. Thanks, Antimattr. As an atheist, I can't really understand why it's so difficult for theists to get the concept of no belief in any gods either. It seems so simple when you have rid yourself of false beliefs and acceptance of fairy tales as gospel truth.
    But I guess if you're lost in that world, accepting that others have gotten out and are happy without your almighty god is just kooky talk.

  5. Wow, no, I've never heard christians say their religion is not religious. How insane is that!?
    For me, I studied religion and history on my own for years, slowly stripping fact from fairy tale. That got me to agnosticism and being rather anti-religious.
    Then one day I realized, hey, I'm an atheist, aren't I? I had to admit it to myself, which was a bit scary. Then the transformation was complete and I was free. :)

  6. Well said, as usual, Buffy. The belief in the christian god is so pervasive that even when people think they are being objective, they aren't. They accept god as a foundation of consensual reality, and therefore assume we all believe that myth.
    I just watched a movie a few minutes ago. I am forever irritated by how casual the belief in the christian god is bandied about. It seems impossible to have any contact with society and not be inundated with it.

  7. I've been an atheist since I was a child. I tried out religion for a bit, and like most wacky freethinkers even read up on paganism, but decided it wasn't for me. Atheism is no more a belief to me than my decision on what I'm having for dinner. It just is, it happens, it has to be. What can I say? As soon as I find good evidence for god, I'll be religious, but I doubt I'll ever see any. As soon as religious hatred and bigotry are eliminated, I can go back to just being a humanist/existentialist. I also don't see that happening anytime soon. So I have to be an atheist for now.

  8. Thanks, Crystal. :D I understand what you mean about religious hatred and bigotry (and I'd add hypocrisy as well). It certainly changes things for people like me who used to just keep such personal things like godlessness to myself. Now I feel compelled and obligated to be quite vocal against such hatred and lies.

  9. Exactly how I feel, it is my main reason for becoming an atheist activist. I started my own personal 'war' online, which is how my blog was born, and I am out and active in the atheist community in MN. Someone has to be! :) lol.

    PS: I gave your blog a shout out to Mojoey at the Atheist Blogroll because it's one that has really stood out to me. Maybe it's just because I like cats, who knows? :)

  10. For someone who claims not being good at debating, you're doing a great job out of the gate. I think that one thing that a lot of atheists get tied up in is the definition of terms.

    What do you mean and how do you know are the two most important questions you can ask.

    I too hate the argument that science or atheism is a religion.

    Sometimes I wonder if there's a book floating out there that has an apologist checklist for theists to bring up during these kinds of dialogues, not unlike the list of humorous signs you fund in front of churches.

    Pascal's Wager? Check.
    The morality without god conundrum? Check.
    The Strawman Atheist? Check.
    The religion of unbelief? Check, check, check.

    At least Craig seems more open to real dialogue instead of having gotcha moments.

  11. I've also experienced the "Science is a religion too" argument. My refutation of that is: "No. Science is all about being ready to change one's view when confronted with evidence. Any scientist who is committed to scientific principles would immediately become religious if confronted with evidence of God's existence. Science is the opposite of dogma because it has self-questioning baked into itself. Religion, in contrast, refuses evidence if it contrasts with belief. "

    That's the difference.

  12. Well said Neece... without your modest disclaimer, I would think I was reading a very polished and well-considered argument about atheism not being a belief system. Seems pretty simple:

    As we shed belief and determine that there is no sensible reason to accept religious precepts, we are left with an absence of belief in gods and the supernatural. I guess we've decided that we should call that Atheism.

    Again, well said.

  13. Fight the good fight, Crystal. You're right, someone has to.
    Thanks for the shout out to Mojoey. :D That was nice of you! :D

  14. Thanks Steve. I'll remember those questions. Ha! That's funny.. an apologist's checklist book. Every theist gets a free copy with their bible! That's all they need! :D

  15. Right, well said Hugh. Thank you for such a nice compliment too. I really appreciate it! :D

  16. Exactly, it's the opposite of religion. Well said, Scot. Thanks!

  17. I blogged about the question thing here, after listening to an awesome discussion on Infidel Guy about debating theists.


  18. I'm surprised you haven't heard it before. Thinking back, nearly every christian I have had a serious discussion with has claimed they wouldn't call themselves religious, including my mother and sister.

    I just did my first post on my deconversion story. Thanks for the inspiration to start writing it.

    Also, new-age wasn't the right way to describe my christian upbringing, I just used that because I had never heard ourselves categorized in any way (for similar reasons why my mother didn't want to be described as religious)! I looked it up and we were probably closest to being evangelical Christians.

  19. Good post, Steve. I thought about it for a few days and finally came up with a comment which I posted.
    I've heard the SGU Rogues mention those 2 questions too. But I feel the questions might get things going, but I think they could only take you so far. Unless I just don't get it.
    Because, as I see it, people usually will come back with flawed answers they truly "believe" in. They have "faith", and "know" the answer they give is "truth". Of course there's no logic or critical thinking involved. But they mean what they say when they answer those 2 questions. See what I mean?
    Am I missing something?

  20. Well, yes and no. I think that in an online forum, like this one, you're right- those two questions will only get you so far. Especially with a troll like Makarios who approaches the thing with a shotgun instead of a scalpel.

    But in real debates, unless you can get to the exact definition that you are debating, and how they come by that information, it quickly becomes a free for all and can be pointless.

    For example, Ray Comfort starts with the biblical god, but usually ends with a weirdly defined version of god that would make a lot of Christians wince if he's debating someone who knows what they are doing.

    The second law of thermodynamics is another thing that theists like to use in real debates- but as Dan Barker has shown, most of them don't even know that that law only applies to a closed system, or what the other laws are, and that if that law is invoked you automatically win.

    So, as you can see, it's really important to define what you're arguing for so you can call foul if they start to veer into hypotheticals, and it's really important to know what the sources are for attaining that knowledge.

    This isn't just about religion, either. It's everything. Politics, history, religion, the supernatural, homeopathy, you name it.

  21. I wasn't talking about proper debates. I am not a real debater. I don't know the rules or how it works. So this is good to know and makes more sense in that context.

  22. [...] for a past few months about Religion and Atheism. You can see the first two parts of our dialogue here and here.  Her posts regarding the conversation are pretty accurate so I will not make a post [...]

  23. I am almost 60. I was brought up without religion. I never went to a church till I came to Canada. What I saw there really scared me. People in strange uniforms telling others how to behave and think, all based on a book where the hero gets killed half way through.
    I believe that we are just another animal and when we die we are fertilizer. No more, no less.
    If you have religion and it makes you happy; great. I don't, so please leave me alone.
    If that makes me an atheist, so be it. But I wish you would drop the "ist" at the end because it makes it sound like a religion.

  24. So we're just supposed to be athe? I don't like people who get hung up over terms. Atheist is as atheist does. It's not even close to a religion, and doesn't sound like any I've ever heard of! :)

  25. Hi Kimmy. Yes, I think if you wanted a label you could comfortably use atheist. But that's the word, atheist. It's the best we've got.
    It's origin is Greek from a- "without" + theos "a god". There is no other word that describes it as well as atheist. And just because it ends in "ist" does not make it a religion. If that were the case, then a rapist would be part of a religion? Well, let's not talk about the catholic church here.. but you get my point.

  26. Most excellently said, Crystal. Atheist is as Atheist Does! Oh, and atheism is the Antithesis of religion. The very opposite. Just calling atheism a religion does not make it so in any way shape or form. It's just a philosophy and lack of belief in any gods. Simple as that. Nothing more.

  27. Crystal D,
    You do not like people hung up on words? What about people who do not like labels? I am not religious. I do not like labels. Atheist is a label, just like Christian is. If Christians like their label, great. If Atheists like their label, great.
    I do not like labels because they separate us. What we need is something to bring us together without labels. What we need is mutual understanding and acceptance of all of us, no matter of your view.
    All labels do is separate us. Remove labels and engage in discussion. Those who won't are already lost in their faith, be it religious or lack of.

  28. I enjoyed the post and comments. I am an unbeliever. Having been brought up in Australia in the Irish Catholic tradition, I was for years burdened with a "faith" that I really never held after the age of 18. In my 20's I just dropped the lot but still saw myself as Catholic. Some years ago I realised that I am and for all my adult life have been faithless. I am not keen on the Atheist "label", first because it allows for the reality of theism and second because it carries so much baggage. I am politically active in the secular movement in Aus and if asked (as I often am) declare myself to be a normal unbeliever. If that sparks interest my believing counterpart is in for a lively discussion. Cheers

  29. Hi John. Thanks for commenting. :)
    I understand that for some the atheist label isn't that great. But it really is just a word. Some people really don't like labels at all. So it's understandable and I see your point.

    But I don't think that being an atheist allows for the reality of theism in the sense that it makes theism true. Theism is real in that sheeple blindly believe in invisible sky daddies, but it is still a false belief, if you see what I'm getting at.

    Thanks for your perspective. Being a normal unbeliever sounds like a good compromise. :)

  30. Nice to meet you Neece.
    What I was attempting (badly) to say is that believers are wont to see "atheism" as the obverse of faith, which it is not. This has unwelcome political and social implications. We would not be having this delightful discussion if that were not the case.
    Maybe I'm being too cute about the label. I have many friends who think our faithlessness should have a "name" and identity around which like-minded folk can unite politically and socially.
    Cheers from wintry Sydney.

  31. Hi again, John. I've written about that several times because it's a very strong point. Atheists are not DISbelievers, we are UNbelievers. A huge difference. I understand that some people hate labels. I don't have that dislike because I feel it helps us define our worldview. Having the label isn't the problem, it's what you do with it that causes the trouble.

    For instance, I'm a woman. I define myself as a woman. That is my gender, sex and part of my identity. If I were to go off the deep end though, I'd make everyone around me completely miserable constantly trying to force them to define that label exactly as I want them to. I don't do that for the label of woman.

    And I don't make people define the label of atheism exactly as it fits me either. But I'm an atheist. The label fits. I wear it.

    I think it's good for atheists to at least say, "hey, I don't believe in your fairy tales" and at least let christians know that we're around. It might not be an issue in Australia, but it's a huge deal here where the religious right is constantly pushing to change the laws to a theocratic state.

    When I lived in your fine country back in the early 90's it was definitely a non-issue. But then again, in Melbourne, it was cool to be smart. So that's another huge difference between what I know of Australia and what it's like here in America now.

    I think there's nothing wrong with atheists getting together. It doesn't make it a belief system if we hang out together, since we're of like mind on one issue. It doesn't mean we will agree on anything else, but hey, it's definitely a start.

    And community is one benefit that the religious have over us that helps them in many ways. It wouldn't hurt us to have our own communities.

    Over here, we need to come together to at least show the christian religious right that we are here and we have rights that we think are worth speaking up for. Again, it doesn't make it a belief system to do that. It just makes us more capable of speaking with a common voice for our basic rights.

    Again, I don't know what it's like over in Australia now. Hopefully it's not like it is here and you can be more casual about your lack of belief in invisible men in the sky. :P

  32. "What about people who do not like labels?"

    We call them out of touch with reality... Poster (oops, label) by the name (oops, label) of kimmy (oops, label). You even used one, "Crystal D", if you fear labels so much quit using them. Of course that would be impossible... Think of the store (oops, label) in which you would only have rows of blank boxes that contain some substance that cannot be named because labels are BAD (oops, label).

    That is all our reality is based upon, a bunch of labels. We communicate with labels, we label things to understand them, they tell us what is safe and what isn't. And there are all kinds of labels. Let's get real here and cut straight to the chase. You aren't talking about labels, your specifically talking about religious... "labels"... Maybe others such as nerds and jocks, but that's just as pointless.

    I'll first say this, it is not the labels that separate us. It is straight at the actions, the action people should force their ideals on others. I'm not talking discussion or debate, I'm talking about the "I don't believe gays should be able to be married, so I'll pass laws to forbid such." Or "I don't believe in condoms, so I'll ban them." These are what are separating us. And no, before you start, fighting against those doesn't constitute forcing beliefs, as we're not forcing issues on others, they are free to choose and that is the difference. Labels no, hah, it's a common tactic of religion, you say everybody who aren't in the same religion as you are less than human, their going to hell, let's kill them... that, is what is separating us. That prayer should be forced in institutions where people who don't have the same faith are, that is what is separating us.

    And I call BS. "I am not religious." BS. You don't seem to understand, that not being religious, isn't a faith... huh. Strange talk for somebody not religious. Faith has nothing to do with atheism. Furthermore, I guess you don't really understand religion, especially monotheistic ones. "Engaging" in discussion, is not allowed. You do not question faith. That's heathen talk, could send you straight to hell.

    Hehehe, really, you've just got hung up on words... er, labels. You just don't like the manipulation of such labels for people's own use. But of course, that is common nature. A pointless dislike, and very pointless argument.

  33. OMG, GMN! That's exactly what I think only I didn't know how to say it! Thanks! Labels are a human way of communicating. So relax. It's what you do with those labels that means something. I'm a woman, that's a label. I'm ok with that. I'm an atheist. I'm ok with that too. What makes me a nice person or a complete jerk is what I do with how I think and treat people. Labels are just easy to blame, but they are not the problem.
    Engage in discussion with labels. You're already doing it as GMN says. Thanks GMN. You are awesome (label!!!!).

  34. Great post & comments :)

    As far as labels go, when someone tells you what they are you ought to be able to take them at their word. Thing is, any ten "Christians," upon further inquiry, might be members of ten wildly different sects. What bothers me most, though, is that no less than 8 of them are likely to support laws that discriminate against someone in some way.

    Oh, and there's a discussion about the "religion" vs. "relationship (with Jesus)" argument at www.ragingrev.com.

  35. Yes, it would be nice to be able to take people at their word. Unfortunately that's not usually the case. My experience with religious people of all sects is that they are mostly all bigoted through indoctrination from their "good books".

  36. Thanks, GMN! "Labeling" and "categorizing" are both part of communication. It is how people determine if they are talking about the same things or not. I don't see how dialog would be possible without some amount of naming. We all are included in different categories, but we are more than the sum of our parts.