Atheists Don't Think God Is Real
Atheists Don't Believe in God
To most people, I expect that's pretty obvious. In fact, it's the only universal characteristic all atheists share. However, if you've experienced Christian proselytizing, evangelism, or even some online discussions between believers and nonbelievers, you've probably bumped into a few people who just don't understand that nonbelievers don't think God is real.
I believe it's actually more common than you might expect. I've encountered at least a few highly-educated Christians everywhere on the liberal to conservative spectrum who have expressed this odd misunderstanding. It surprises me every time because it's all right in the language we use and in the definition of the words themselves. I also find it surprising because it shows that some people have no idea what the beliefs they are trying to change in others actually are in the first place.
Repairing that basic but profound misunderstanding of non-belief is not as simple as saying, "Pardon me, but atheists don't think God is real." This page is intended to help people on both sides of the misunderstanding to see the effect it has on their conversations. After all, it's pretty difficult to have a deep conversation about religion or belief when the parties involved aren't using the same definitions or if either party has no idea what the other believes.
The Evidence Is in the Word Belief
Some Christians try to redefine atheism to suit whatever they think it means, so let's ignore the word atheist for a moment and focus on the definition of the word belief.
The very first definition of belief on Merriam-Webster.com reads: "a feeling of being sure that someone or something exists or that something is true"and it's called a simple definition on the page. It's also a very common definition of belief we grew up with in the secular world.
It's pretty clear to most atheists that believers think that God exists. It's also crystal clear to us that believers think assertions that God is real are true. That's why they are called believers.
Non-believers don't believe God exists; that's what the "non" indicates. Non-believers do not think assertions that God is real are true. That's why they are called non-believers.
Myth: Atheists Think God Is Real and Just Call God Something Else
When I've optimistically tried to just put the statement out there that "atheists don't think God is real" hoping it would be the puzzle piece needed for better mutual understanding, I've frequently gotten responses insisting that I do and I must think God is real, that I just call God something else.
Atheism isn't another religion like Hinduism wherein God has many different names or like Islam wherein Yahweh goes by the name of Allah. We don't think we are Gods, either.
We don't think there's any self-aware, thinking being who created and rules the universe or who requires worship.
So-called "natural laws" are not viewed as God by non-believers, but as observable and predictable patterns repeated in the universe. The universe is not commonly viewed by non-believers as being a thinking, self-aware being, but as the total of everything in existence. Universe is only another word for God to people who believe in God.
Please Consider This Before Defining God as the Unknown Factor or as Everything We Can't Explain
Unknown things are only God to people who already believe in God; they're just things that people don't know or haven't figured out to the rest of us. Historically, many things that were once unknown or inexplicable to human beings have later been investigated and logically explained. The gaps in our knowledge are just human ignorance.
I find it disturbing when the believer who tells me that I think God is real because there are things unknown to human beings is defining God as ignorance.
I don't think most Christians believe they worship ignorance. I don't believe most Christians worship ignorance. My experience with Christians tells me that the majority of Christians see God as a being or spirit who created and rules the universe and who thinks, feels, and requires worship. So no, ignorance is not just another name that non-believing people use to mean God.
I understand the appeal of having something you trust to stand in for the unknown things in existence because unknowns can be frightening, but it's not a universal need. I have no problem admitting that there are many, many things I don't know. That is not to say that I don't fear some unknowns; I certainly do because there's no way to know what the best action to take may be when I'm missing information that may be vital. However, just because something makes me afraid it doesn't mean I actually believe something else that is reassuring instead. I just accept the uncertainty, live with any fear it may cause, and do the best I can with the information I do have.
I see the assertion that God is ignorance as extremely disrespectful to people who believe in God. So please don't go around trying to tell people they really do believe in God because God is human ignorance. When you do so you make your religion appear to be based entirely on fear of the unknown, wishful thinking, and a reverence for ignorance. That's really unappealing and, I believe, a highly inaccurate portrayal of what most Christians believe. You certainly aren't going to convince anyone of God's existence with it and you're likely to offend believers who realize what you mean.
Hey Non-Believers! Here's Some of Why I Think the Belief That We Think God Is Real Is Fairly Common:
If you've participated in religious discussions with people trying to evangelize or proselytize to you or even just in discussions with Christians trying to understand why you don't believe, you're likely to have encountered something called Pascal's Wager.
Pascal's Wager is basically a sort of challenge proposed to atheists to just believe in God on the off chance that God might be real. It is a kind of a cost versus benefits analysis of belief that suggests there's no down side to believing if God isn't real and a huge downside (eternal torture in Hell) to not believing if God is real. The glaring hole most atheists see in Pascal's Wager almost immediately is that it requires you to already think God is real. It's not like a person can "just believe" in something they don't think exists. Also, if an all-powerful, all-knowing being actually existed, it couldn't be tricked by faking belief so the belief would have to be real.
It seems highly unlikely anyone would put forth Pascal's Wager to try to convert people if he or she understood that atheists don't think God is real.
There are also the times when some atheist or knowledgeable believer points out that atheists don't believe in God, only to get responses to the effect that they really, really just do. I've even been told, "You know in your heart that Jesus is real," by people who seem to genuinely believe what they're saying.
Then comes the assertion you've probably seen even more often than you've encountered Pascal's Wager or any of the other oddities I've mentioned above.
Talking About Belief in God Doesn't Require Belief in God
Another odd thing that comes up again and again is the question, "If atheists don't believe in God, why do they talk about religion and God?"
Atheists don't think God is real but we know that belief in God is real. We can be pretty sure that believers actually think God is real because they say they do and they act like they do. We get all interested in discussing those beliefs of theirs when those beliefs affect or influence their behavior toward other people.
If a Christian group decides to make a law that is based on their members' religious beliefs, why wouldn't we want to talk about the beliefs that lead them to wish to make laws that apply to everyone? Why wouldn't we want to know why they wish to force us to obey the tenets of their religion using the power of law? Why wouldn't we discuss it if we disagree with what they wish to force on everyone?
If you bring your beliefs up and then say they are the reason you are doing what you are doing, of course we're going to talk about it when your actions that you state are the product of your religion seem harmful or illogical to us. For instance, how could I, in good conscience, not want to have a discussion about religion when a gay teen I take into my home has been thrown out of his parents' home because of their belief that being gay is a sin?
Haven't you ever noticed how atheists don't ask you not to do kind things that are based on your religious beliefs?
The truly weird thing about this persistent insistence that we must believe in everything we talk about is that the exact same people can talk about Islam, Buddhism, or even ancient Greek Gods without believing in them.
Poll for Non-Believers
Have you ever encountered a person who seemed certain you must actually believe in God?See results without voting
Please share how you explain your absence of belief when someone insists you actually do believe in God in the guestbook below.
Poll for Believers
Do you believe atheists think God is real?See results without voting
Please share why you believe atheists think God is real if you do or share why you believe they don't in the guestbook below.
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