All religions are sets of beliefs, none of which can be proved scientifically; they all require a degree of faith.
So, when you think about it, atheism is just another belief system based on the current best scientific evidence available.
Religions are often subjected to changes depending on the latest interpretation of the basic scripts, Bible or Koran, etc.
Atheism tries to explain our existence through tests and physical evidence, but these explanations require constant adjustment, because of information disclosed by the latest discoveries and proofs. Rationalists seem to me to believe that science will eventually be able to explain everything. However, I think the one thing that will always be impossible for the atheist to explain is infinity.
I rather envy people who have an unshakeable belief in any religion that they realise cannot be proved to be true. Equally, I envy every atheist who believes that science will eventually have all the answers.
However, there are many things that I do believe, however improbable they may seem, and for which I have no personal proof, including the following: I exist; the world is a sphere; time exists; time and space are infinite; a switch will turn on a light, a machine, a TV set, etc.; a computer can pull all the knowledge in the world down a little wire or even retrieve it from the air; and all the information that exists can be encoded in a system consisting of only 1 and 0.
At seventy-seven years of age, I am probably above the average age. In most other respects I’m probably below average. I was born into a working-class family, which was certainly not above average. I was educated in local schools during World War II, when the best teachers were away in the army. A university education was never even considered in my family. I was lucky to meet the girl I eventually married before going into the army for my two years of national service. Come to think of it, maybe being happily married for over fifty years is a bit above average. Ever since I was a teenager (a term that did not exist when I was that age), I have often given thought to what I believed about religion and God. After countless hours of deep contemplation, I have yet to come to a firm conclusion.
Every night we dream, and sometimes we remember part of our dreams, but none of them seem to make a lot of sense to me, and we have no control over what comes into our minds while we’re unconscious: it might be pleasant, confusing, frightening, or nightmarish. I have heard it suggested that we can never prove that anything we see hear or feel is real; it could all be part of one long dream; can you prove otherwise?
My current hobby is genealogy, and I have discovered that in the records of my surname there are many members who have been deeply religious. I even found that there is a saint in the family who was executed, hung, drawn and quartered for his belief. He is of course only one of many such saints. That is real belief.
History leads me to believe that religious extremism has caused more suffering, death, and wars than any other motive. Can you believe that a caring God would allow that? When I look around the world it is difficult to believe that a compassionate God would allow the many examples of suffering, starvation, violence, torture, and killing that are reported in the newspapers every day. I find it very difficult to believe that the God of the Old Testament is a good example for us to live by. I would hate to be his defence lawyer in the “afterlife” when we are all judged by our sins or good deeds. How could I explain all the plagues, pestilences, illnesses, babies born deformed, violence, and wars we are subject to every day? And if I cannot, how can I accept that eternity will be filled with continually praising and worshiping that God?
On that subject, I think I would prefer the belief in reincarnation of some Eastern religions, such as Hinduism, with the level of animal one returns as being dependant on the value of the life one has just led . I certainly do not favour the belief that to die killing members of other religions will qualify a person for an eternity in Heaven, with seventy-two virgins for his entertainment. What would a woman who was a suicide bomber receive?
I was brought up as a Christian in the Church of England religion and still regularly attend services, but I am a bit of a fraud, because I cannot believe all the dogmatic statements that are made in the name of religion. How can I believe that the Old Testament is the Word of God and should lead me to faith? Every week there is a reading, some of which say that God made everything (even the Devil?), has planned for everything, and His Will will prevail. If that is the case, why should I struggle to be good? Another week they tell me that I will be judged by God after my death and will have to pay for all the harm I have done, and in the afterlife we will all be judged by the good and evil we have done.
What do I believe? This is what I believe:
• Scientists will never be able to explain what is outside the infinity of space, nor will they ever, even with the Large Hadron Collider or any successor to it, be able to discover what physical materials are made of. Every time they split things down into various components it is always necessary to explain the new components. They are now down to electrons, neutrons, quarks, bosons, muons, etc. and are currently searching for a theoretical Higgs boson, which some refer to as “The God Particle” and which, according to Higgs, the scientist who theorised it, gives all other particles their masses. If and when they have found it–and there is now no positive proof that it even exists–they will still need to find what it is made of! They will never be able to explain what happened before the Big Bang that is now theorised to have happened, or what will happen when we reach the end of the infinity of time in the future. So I believe that there must be something, which with our limited intelligence we cannot understand; to me that is best known as God and is demonstrated by Christ’s life as recorded in the New Testament. He, I believe, always did good deeds and set a wonderful example for people to follow.
• No one will ever be able to prove to me the existence of God. This does not mean that I can go out and do evil with impunity. Fortunately, the great majority of people are quite moral and ethical, with or without a religious belief system. Equally, no one will ever be able to prove that God does not exist, so if I were to be evil, then my afterlife would be a purgatory in which I would be condemned to remembering all that I had done for eternity. Being evil is, of course, an extreme example; failing to care about others is nearly as bad. How can those bankers and share traders sleep when they take home their bonus cheques for millions of pounds? Every time they win, someone else loses. They have ruined the lives of millions of people.
If I can live my life trying to be good, whether that is as a Christian or as an ethical atheist, and there is no God and no afterlife and I have made the best try possible, then what have I lost? I will at least have been happy to have lived and died with a clear conscience.
Well, would you believe that? I do.
I have a couple of quibbles with my old Air Force buddy’s (Bryan Woodhouse) cousin’s points of view. Ron Woodhouse writes,
“Atheism tries to explain our existence through tests and physical evidence”. I do not think this is exactly correct. Atheist are a-theists. They are not believers in any of the gods. That does not entail trying to explain existence. Of course, most atheists do look to logic and science for most of their explanations of how the world and universe work, even how societies and governments work, but that is not central to the definition of atheism.
Ron also wrote, “atheist who believes that science will eventually have all the answers”. Anyone who thinks science will eventually have all the answers is not very sophisticated. Most of us think there will always be a lot of unanswered –and unanswerable– questions.
He also confuses the boundary between faith and belief with his “believing” turning the light switch will cause the light to come on (or go off).