Breaking to family...

How can I break to my family and friends that I'm an atheist? I live in the Southern Baptist state of North Carolina where there's atleast 3 churches within a mile radius of your house. I'm only 12, so I don't think they'll accept it. Any suggestions at all would be nice. Thanks!
Atheist Answer: 

I hate to say it, but I wouldn't start off with the word "atheist". Losing your faith and not being religious is one thing, but atheism currently has a special stigma among Christian zealots of all kinds.

If it's important enough to you to be fully honest with people, I would simply say to selected people that you don't believe in God (anymore, if you ever did). Don't deny atheism if you're accused of it, but don't bring it up yourself.

Once it's out there, you'll have to explain yourself. Not just yourself, but all atheists - you'll find all kinds of misconceptions about them: that they hate God, that they worship Satan, that they want to force people to give up religion or remove kids from religious parents and so on.

Besides that you'll get all the really obvious, kneejerk arguments for God, like the beauty of a flower and "where did it all come from". Your family may send you to a preacher or even a Bible camp if they don't trust their own ability to proselytise. This site and the rest of the Web provides answers to pretty much all of it. Bone up. Start by searching for my "Great Big Arguments" series.

Once you've established that you've thought this through and you can't be reconverted with simple platitudes, if your community is as religious as you say it is then you will lose friends. Sorry, but some people don't like to be around atheists, who question their lifelong assumptions by just existing.

You may also find that you become better friends with others; those who are also quietly questioning their faith. When Richard Dawkins did a lecture tour through the Bible Belt, he found big, enthusiastic audiences everyplace. The irreligious are everywhere, as paranoid Christians often warn. Hopefully you'll find some more of them.

Let us know how you go, if you go ahead with it. Good luck.

- SmartLX

Strong Agnostic, Explicit Atheist, Strong Atheist, and Agnostic Atheist...

I am questioning the differences between what I have mentioned above in my title. There are obvious differences, but I can't seem to figure out if me being Agnostic is part of it all. Since I was 13 I have been Agnostic (I'm 26 now); I left room for the possibility that there is a god, but recently in the last couple of years and with my new love for watching the Science and History channel, I don't really believe that there is/are gods at all! It has been a long time since I have even thought about it, and now that I have a new baby, I want to raise him to ask important questions to our existance like I did. STRONG AGNOSTIC: They claim that not only do they not know of the existence of god, but that it is impossible to know if any god exists. (ME) AGNOSTIC ATHEIST: Accepts that we do not know, and possibly can never know, whether gods exist, but does not believe that they do. Atheistic because he or she does not believe in the existence of any deity and is also Agnostic because he or she does not claim to have definitive knowledge that a deity does not exist. (ME) EXPLICIT ATHEIST: An explicit atheist has thought about it, and has taken a position. (ME) STRONG ATHEIST: One who positively believes that there are no gods. (ME: I'm almost positive because I don't think I can leave the room for god anymore) {This being said are Weak Atheism (any Atheist who leaves room for the possibility of god) and being Agnostic is the same thing?} So I guess I would say that I'm Explicit Atheist, Strong Atheist, and is it possible for me to be Agnostic Atheist and/or Strong Agnostic as well? If any contradict (which I don't think they do) please let me know. With my new research, I need someone else that feels as I do to help--I feel so alone in what I believe when it comes to the people in my life. There are so many different terms that are very specified, and I hate to define myself with this lengthy description of what I believe. Know how I can shorten this? Jessica
Atheist Answer: 

For those who came in late, this is where I've laid out the definitions of all these terms.

It is indeed possible to be an agnostic strong atheist, Jessica. That means you allow for the possibility that there's a god, but you positively believe there are none. A similar position is actually the exact opposite one. The world is full of agnostic strong theists: those who do not claim certainty that there's a god, usually because of lack of evidence, but believe in one anyway. The very concept of faith encourages this position.

My question to you would be the same as to any theist: "Why do you believe this, when you know it might not be true?" In the absence of hard evidence, what is your alternative basis for believing that there aren't any gods? Consider if you like, and get back to me.

You don't have to burden anyone else with these semantics. Simply calling yourself an atheist expresses most aspects of your position. If people ask you how you know there's no god, you can honestly say that you don't, and that you don't have to. If they accuse you of having as much faith as a theist, they might actually be right (since you're a strong atheist), but this doesn't make you any worse than them.

- SmartLX

Talking to Children about Atheism

First, thanks for creating this site - I have been really impressed by the clear, calm, logical answers that SmartLX provides. On to my question. After being raised Catholic and majoring in comparative religions in college, I've finally come to embrace atheism. But my question is about how I can best raise my two children (currently ages 6 and 9) to be skeptical and perhaps someday atheists, themselves. My husband still believes, and the kids go to church with him occasionally. More importantly, they attend an otherwise excellent Christian school where they have daily devotionals and there is much talk about Jesus. My concerns are threefold: First, they are being indoctrinated at a young age by people they respect, and it would be a big deal for me to contradict all the teachings of the school. Second (and admittedly selfishly), if I were to share my non-belief with my kids, they would be shocked and horrified. Third, if I were to somehow transform them into little atheists, they would be in for a really tough time at school - probably more from the students than the teachers. (Just for the record, there are plenty of Jews and Hindus and a few Muslims at the school, but somehow I feel like atheists would be viewed differently). So I guess I'm asking for any advice you may have on how to raise my kids to be skeptical and hopefully someday agnostic or atheist without completely rocking their world and without turning them into social pariahs. I've thought about starting with just enhancing their skepticism (any good kids' book recommendations?) and letting it develop naturally. Thoughts?
Atheist Answer: 

Ta for the compliments.

Always keep in mind how long it took you to come around. I know you want better for your kids, but perhaps they need to take the same path you did.

Think a step further: why would they be shocked and horrified to find out you're an atheist? Partly because of the stigma attached to us by the religious, but ultimately they would be afraid for you. You reject God, so you're going to hell, that sort of thing. The most important thing when it comes out, and it will, is to let them know that you are not afraid yourself. (Another little fact which might help is the idea that not everyone who claims to be religious really is.)

At that, they'll either ask why not or argue with you. You'll then have a line of communication open, and it's up to you. Expect your husband to get involved, and make no attempt to make this happen behind his back. Just be open, and listen to them all.

I grew up religious too, as you might have read in another answer of mine. What first set me on the road to doubt was the fact that my father was an atheist. He didn't talk about it AT ALL, he just told me once and that was it. I wondered why, and later, I found my own reasons.

As for kids' books, I recommend the children's and young adult books of Terry Pratchett. A humanist himself, his books often encourage critical thinking despite having fantastical premises. A favourite of mine is The Wee Free Men. Later, perhaps they'd enjoy his other Discworld books.

Incidentally, I just watched Happy Feet and the anti-religion message in that is fairly obvious.

- SmartLX

What do you think of about Realism?

I stumbled upon this site some time ago And I thought it was interesting, And all the time I've been an atheist I've never heard of Realism until I found that site. It is a religion based on believing in anything that is actually real. Though it could just be a joke and I'm too stupid to get it. Is Realism/ChurchofReality essentially the same thing as being an Atheist/freethinker? Thanks for your time reading this. -Mike
Atheist Answer: 

You're not the first one to ask about the Church of Reality. Here's the previous question on the subject.

- SmartLX

atheism a realigion ??

Just got done with a pm debate with a gentleman who considers himself a deist. One thing that came up in conversation, he says "In the United States the government classifies atheism a religion". Is this true? he certainly believes it.
Atheist Answer: 

No, it's not true, but I can see how the deist fellow might get that idea.

Laws against discrimination on the basis of religion extend to cover atheists. That's not because atheism is officially a religion, but because there are additional clauses in the laws to include those with no religion.

If atheism really were classified as a religion, atheist organisations could apply for the same tax exemptions as churches. As it is, the best they can do is get recognised as non-profit charities, like the secular Red Cross.

- SmartLX

Ray Comfort's Atheist Starter Kit

From the sidebar of Ray Comfort's blog at comes his satirical guide to being an atheist: "If you are a beginner atheist, there's a belief system you should embrace and a language you should learn, or you will find yourself in trouble. Here are ten suggestions for the novice: 1. Whenever you are presented with credible evidence for God's existence, call it a "straw man argument," or "circular reasoning." If something is quoted from somewhere, label it "quote mining." 2. When a Christian says that creation proves that there is a Creator, dismiss such common sense by saying "That's just the old watchmaker argument." 3. When you hear that you have everything to gain and nothing to lose (the pleasures of Heaven, and the endurance of Hell) by obeying the Gospel, say "That's just the old 'Pascal wager.'" 4. You can also deal with the "whoever looks on a woman to lust for her, has committed adultery with her already in his heart," by saying that there is no evidence that Jesus existed. None. 5. Believe that the Bible is full of mistakes, and actually says things like the world is flat. Do not read it for yourself. That is a big mistake. Instead, read, believe, and imitate Richard Dawkins. Learn and practice the use of big words. "Megalo-maniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully" is a good phrase to learn. 6. Say that you were once a genuine Christian, and that you found it to be false. (The cool thing about being an atheist is that you can lie through your teeth, because you believe that are no moral absolutes.) Additionally, if a Christian points out that this is impossible (simply due to the very definition of Christianity as one who knows the Lord), just reply "That's the 'no true Scotsman fallacy.'" PLEASE NOTE: It cannot be overly emphasized how learning and using these little phrases can help you feel secure in dismissing common sense. 7. Believe that nothing is 100% certain, except the theory of Darwinian evolution. Do not question it. Believe with all of your heart that there is credible scientific evidence for species-to-species transitional forms. When you make any argument, pat yourself on the back by concluding with "Man, are you busted!" That will make you feel good about yourself. 8. Deal with the threat of eternal punishment by saying that you don't believe in the existence of Hell. Then convince yourself that because you don't believe in something, it therefore doesn't exist. Don't follow that logic onto a railway line and an oncoming train. 9. Blame Christianity for the atrocities of the Roman Catholic church--when it tortured Christians through the Spanish Inquisition, imprisoned Galileo for his beliefs, or when it murdered Moslems in the Crusades. 10. Finally, keep in fellowship with other like-minded atheists who believe as you believe, and encourage each other in your beliefs. Build up your faith. Never doubt for a moment. Remember, the key to atheism is to be unreasonable. Fall back on that when you feel threatened. Think shallow, and keep telling yourself that you are intelligent. Remember, an atheist is someone who pretends there is no God."
Atheist Answer: 

I was looking for a piece of Way of the Master propaganda suitable for analysis, to apply real criticism to the real thing rather than just dealing with the occasional WOTM quotes people use. I found what I wanted on Comfort's own blog, which while not officially WOTM turf is certainly by the same author.

This piece flabbergasted me with its bare-faced sophistry. It is, in the main, an attempt to characterise legitimate objections to apologetic arguments as mindless talking points which believers can safely ignore. I'll be handling each one in turn, by number.

Introduction> There is no atheist belief. Comfort denounces the belief that there is no god, but most atheists don't have this. They simply don't believe in any gods, and are of the opinion that there are none.

1> Calling a credible argument these things is deceitful, but if you're calling a spade a spade...
- A straw man argument misrepresents the opposing view to make it easier to rebut, e.g. "Atheists have no morals."
- Circular reasoning relies on the conclusion in the premise, e.g. "Creation must have had a creator." (Response: what if it isn't a creation?)
- Quote mining is finding quotes which, out of context, appear to say something the author didn't. There's a quote by Darwin where he asks how the eye could possibly have evolved, and it's often used to say that he didn't know. In fact the very next thing he wrote was the answer to his own question.

2> The "Creator" argument is the watchmaker argument, but that would be fine if the watchmaker argument were sound. The real problem is that it illegitimately expands our reaction to complex and obviously manmade objects to all complex objects. It is the artificiality of a watch that tells us it's created, not its complexity.

3> Pascal's wager presents the same choice as the gain-loss argument. The trouble is that if you consider the possibility that other gods exist besides the Christian one, you realise you may have everything to lose by choosing Christianity or any other religion.

4> "Adultery in the heart" is Comfort's way of making sure anyone with working eyes and hormones has to admit to sinning. If sexual attraction without action is only a sin to the Christian god, it's important to determine whether that specific god exists. Therefore it matters whether Jesus not only existed, but performed miracles and came back to life as the son of God would do. That's the part that's lacking in evidence.

- Well, the Bible is full of mistakes. Many are listed here. That doesn't disqualify the whole thing automatically, but it does mean it's not inerrant. It is worth reading regardless, whether or not you believe it.
- Dawkins did say those things about the God of the Old Testament in The God Delusion, and much more besides in that sentence alone. It's meant to be funny (it always gets laughter and applause from an audience), but every word of the takedown is supported by at least one action taken by God in those old books.

6> "No true Scotsman" means taking those who do not fit your image of your own group and finding excuses to exclude them. Comfort's definition of a Christian doesn't seem to match the usual one (scroll down to the Noun section).
- If the Lord doesn't exist, then it's impossible to know Him and according to Comfort there's no such thing as a genuine Christian.

7> Atheists question evolution all the time. The difference from faith is that evidence for evolution answers those questions. Here is an inventory of hundreds of species-to-species transitional species for which there is substantial credible evidence.

8> If there is no Hell, there is no eternal punishment. If there is a Hell, it could be anybody's Hell, and have any arbitrary entry requirements (say, eating with a fork). We have no way of knowing whether we're already on the train tracks, and that's how it is for our whole lives. So it's not worth worrying about.

9> Sorry, but this really is "no true Scotsman". Catholicism was Christianity in Europe until the 17th century and the advent of Protestantism and Lutheranism. With few exceptions, all Christians were Catholics, or branded heretics. If the true Christians in Europe weren't the Catholics, who were they?

- It's doubt, unbelief and lack of faith that makes people atheists in the first place. We don't abandon all that as soon as we find a new name for ourselves. We all entertain the possibility that we might be wrong, and to some extent we look for that one obvious argument for gods that we missed. That's partly why I write for this site. On behalf of all atheists, bring it on.
- This is Comfort's true opinion of atheists: that we're all theists in denial. Of course, denying something isn't the same as being in denial. Sometimes, a person will deny something because it really isn't true.

- SmartLX

Atheism is based on Faith and I will explain why!

From a comment by Infinite Force at "I am an independent scientific researcher and I am a blood driven theist. I don't believe in no religions of this world and I don't have any religious documents to make me bias when I do scientific research. I have to say that you atheist are cowards to admit that you have a faith based belief system. Faith - Belief in the un-seen (life spontaneously arising from non-living matter) If you don't believe GOD created you than it's obvious you arose by un-intelligent causes. Chemical evolution has never been observed in this natural world and it is not science. This is only scientist assumptions. Since there is no evidence to prove that life spontaneously appeared on earth it takes ****faith**** to believe you spontaneously arose from non-living matter. The atheism idea is based off of no logic, no evidence, or no reason. It’s just a title to hide behind to attack other people religions when In all reality you are religious your self. You don’t have to believe in a god or gods to be considered a religion. Buddha don’t believe in god or gods and it’s a religion. All you need is an idea that you hold to be true with no evidence to back it up. You atheist have no proof that life spontaneously arose and to believe this is called faith. You atheist try and hide behind science but theist like me are not going to allow you to hide behind the origins of life because I‘m a scientific researcher that love doing what he does, and chemical evolution is not science it‘s only assumptions that have no kind of evidence to back it up. Atheism is identified as a religion! Faith and religion is synonyms please refer to your thesaurus. I am religious because I do believe that there is an intelligent infinite force that created everything and the evidence I have to support this is observable in this natural world. That’s right, I have strong evidence to prove that life arose by intelligent causation and it’s called the Genetic code. I will post my evidence up after this post to prove that the origins of life started by intelligent causation. If you atheist don’t believe it takes faith to believe that life arose spontaneously without an intelligent cause I am asking for you to provide evidence to back it up. If you exercise Ad Hominem or dodge the question I am here to expose your religious concept to people in this forum. You have a faith based belief system and that’s a fact."
Atheist Answer: 

If you're going to argue that abiogenesis is not science, it might help to define science first.

Science is the formulation of natural explanations for observable phenomena in the universe. Abiogenesis (the emergence of life from non-life), while not yet observed itself, is a natural explanation for the observable phenomenon of life. It is therefore a scientific hypothesis, and yes, it is science. What it is not (yet) is a theory.

Though some natural selection may have occurred in the process, abiogenesis should not be classified as chemical evolution. It may have been a rapid, non-cyclical process instead. We freely admit that we have no clue how it happened.

At least until we do observe a second abiogenesis in a lab or in nature (positing that the event which produced us was the first), not only do we stick to speculation as to how it happened, but we refrain from stating 100% certainty that it did happen. If evidence of intelligent design were to emerge (say, actual physical impressions of fingerprints in our DNA) we would soon abandon the hypothesis that we are the products of abiogenesis. We would then try to determine whether the designer was a god, an alien or an extinct Earth creature, and in all three cases start to hypothesise about the abiogenesis and evolution of that being, if any.

This is the difference between a scientific hypothesis and a faith position. We assume a scientific hypothesis for practical purposes as the best current explanation until a better one comes along, at which point we chop and change. We're not precious about it at all, at least until it accumulates enough evidence to be declared a theory. A man with a faith position defends it to the end, because he usually expects no contradictory (or even supporting) evidence to present itself.

Another difference is that a hypothesis must be falsifiable, which means there must be some hypothetical event which demonstrates it is false. Our abiogenesis is falsifiable because we might find firm evidence of a creator, like a signature or a work log billions of years old. By comparison, what would falsify the intelligent creation of life? Nothing. Even if we achieved abiogenesis in a lab, it might be the case that although abiogenesis is possible, we were still designed.

On the basis of this last point, I submit to you the idea that intelligent creation of life is a faith position where abiogenesis is not. There may be additional ways to establish this comparison, but I'll leave it at that for now.

I've seen the genetic code argument before, you know. The idea is that all codes are intelligently designed, so the existence of one in DNA proves a designer. That's an argument from ignorance because there is no evidence that a code is impossible without a designer. Further, if you present this argument, I can provide examples of naturally occurring codes which have nothing to do with life, like the means by which mineral crystals can transmit their structure to non-crystallised material.

There's another side to the genetic code argument which states that it's impossible for new information to appear naturally. We've been over that here.

- SmartLX

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