Ask an Atheist: Why don’t you believe in God?

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Q. I often wondered why Atheist''s do not believe in God…so my question is why not? I respect your belief and do not wish to debate your beliefs, I just want to know your beliefs. Thank you. – Rose

A. The first issue is “which god did you have in mind”?  If it is a Pascal's Wager choice between only one contender and nothing, that is a somewhat simpler issue. But the truth is that there are not only a variety of competing tables even at the Christian Casino, there are also many other religion casinos just down the block, all operating with their own proprietary (and generally conflicting) house rules. From a skeptic's perspective the problem comes from deciding which of the many gods there are around are to be believed in. Since the beliefs of those competitors conflict on so many points the skeptic asks which, if any, of the candidates actually has a powerful case for belief. And the short answer for us atheists is that “none of the above” covers the ground easiest.

Remember that from the standpoint of a Hindu all Christians are atheists. Likewise I bet you don't believe in Zeus (that was the atheism Socrates took hemlock over) or Thor or a host of other gods that have become less popular over the years. Everyone is an atheist, with the atheist just adding one more name to an already long list.

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  1. Many physicists believe the laws of physics are universal, such as Hawkings hypothesis that the laws gave birth to the universe, and many mathematicians see math constructs as the creative force. There is no evidence for these positions, and furthermore they are untestable. Therefore they are more like philosophy or religion than science or math. When you are saying you do not believe in god, are you including the laws of physics or math also?

  2. I think that most people who ask this question are focusing on the wrong thing. When they as “why are you an atheist?” they are focusing on the lack of belief in God as if it is the defining characteristic of the atheist worldview. This is understandable. It is what we call ourselves after all.

    For me though, atheism is a consequence of my values. I don’t choose to be atheist at all. Instead, I choose to hold a value of intellectual honesty. This is a very important value for me. I have seen far too much of the suffering that is caused when people claim to know things that they cannot possibly know. So if I am intellectually honest, I must be honest about the limits of my own knowledge. I know that some people believe in God, but I also know that we are all capable of self-delusion. So I refrain from committing to belief. I remain agnostic about God as a matter of moral principal: I don’t have sufficient evidence, so I don’t choose to believe.

    Now this is where people get confused. They say “well, then you are not an atheist, you are an agnostic.” The mistake here is that they are assuming a kind of continuum of [THEIST  AGNOSTIC  ATHEIST]. This is a mistaken conception. Instead we should think of this in terms of two variables: Theism/Atheism and Gnostic/Agnostic. There are thus 4 categories:

    Gnostic Theist – a person who believes he knows that god (or gods) exists.

    Agnostic Theist – a person who believes god (or gods) exists, but is willing admit that he uncertain about this belief.

    Gnostic Atheist – a person who believes he knows that god doesn’t exist.

    Agnostic Atheist – a person who recognizes that he does not know if god exists, and so refrains from believing.

    The “refrain from believing” part is the most important part to me. This is where my rubber of my intellectual honesty meets the road of my identity. I refrain from belief in a deity because I am honest with myself about the limits of my own knowledge. People think that you must either belief or disbelieve but they are wrong. You can also refrain from making that choice. An intellectually honest person admits the limit of his knowledge, and so admits that he cannot make this choice and still be honest with himself.

    I believe that this is why so many atheists are angry by the way. We tend to see people of faith as morally deficient. We see you as someone who is indulging in the bad practice of choosing a belief without a good enough reason for having one. We then see you getting HUGE amounts of social privilege and political power for yourself and your beliefs, as if politics and privilege make in idea true. Thus we see people of faith in general and Christians in particular as getting a lot of mileage out of their moral flaws. If that doesn’t piss you off, nothing will.

    The real culprit in my mind is Gnosticism. Gnosticism comes packaged with all kinds of political power, and it is more than willing to assert its political power by force. People who are certain, are the ones most willing to kill for their beliefs. People who gain political privilege from their dogma are most willing to suppress new knowledge. When the inquisitor showed Galileo the instruments of his torture to suppress the knowledge that the earth revolves around the sun, they were protecting their power and privilege by making an example of Galileo to all who would oppose the dogma of the church. Protecting the power that certainty gave the church did great damage to the advancement of human knowledge, as it continues to do to this day.

    You can have certainty or you can have knowledge. You can’t have both.

  3. Bruce said “When you are saying you do not believe in god, are you including the laws of physics or math also?”

    This whole question hinges on the definition of god. Obviously we can define god any way we want to, and in doing so, make the word meaningless. When I speak of god or gods, I am speaking of a personalized deity (or deities) who have awareness, personalities and intentions, and who takes action in the universe. I see no evidence that such a being exists.

    I think that it is noteworthy that this kind of deity almost always has personality traits that reflect the individual personality of the believer. I heard of an experiment (second hand, don’t quote me here) where people’s personal views were identical to what they thought the views of God were. Then they were given new information and persuasive propaganda and re-tested. They found that as the subject’s views changed, so did the subject’s expectations about God.

    For many, god is a mirror that people hold up to themselves in order to look into their own unconscious mind. He is an idealized authority and a narcissistic child. The super-ego and the id all rolled into one.

  4. Defection, even on here. Way to not answer there Jimbo!

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