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Column 110
A natural state

We all were - and will be - atheists

By © Martin Foreman
Word Count: 799 words
Publication date: June 3, 2007

Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach, an eighteenth-century French philosopher, was an early atheist whose book, The System of Nature, explicitly denied the existence of God.

d’Holbach pointed out that religion is not innate and that all children are born atheist.  Which raises the question as to whether a child who grew up ignorant of the concept of God would nevertheless come to the conclusion that a God or gods exist.

Let us assume that we could raise such a child or children with adults who helped develop their ability to reason but who steadfastly refused to raise or answer questions about the existence or non-existence of a deity.

At some point the child would probably ask about the origin of the universe. Depending on her age when she first began to think about it, a typical question might be “Who made the stars?” – to which there are several possible responses.

While Christians would say “God” and atheists would reply “nobody”, our hypothetical parent, unable to influence the child in any way, should respond that it would be better to ask “How were the stars made?” or “How did they come into existence?”

The child’s question is natural, but it assumes that the stars were made by a conscious agency. The adult’s response subtly redirects the child’s thinking. It focuses on the key question as to the origin of the stars, but presumes nothing about the existence of a supernatural being.

Encouraged to develop a strong reasoning mind, by the time our little girl reached adulthood, she would probably have come to one of several opinions about the universe.

The idea of a being beyond the boundaries of the universe might have crossed her mind, but with no evidence or reason for its existence, she would almost certainly consider the idea ridiculous. She could only conclude that she lacked the knowledge as to the precise origins of the universe.

She would certainly see no need to create a God to explain morality. It does not need a supernatural being to tell you that it is wrong to do harm.

And the idea of an afterlife has no need of a deity. In fact, a democratic heaven where everyone’s soul floats happily in the ether is vastly preferable to the brook-no-opposition Kim Jong-Il dictatorship that Yahweh proposes.

2,500 years ago, Siddhartha Gautama reportedly grew up in an environment similar to that of our hypothetical child. Born to wealth, preserved from evil, age, ill health and unhappiness, and, it appears, unfamiliar with the myriad gods of Hinduism, Siddhartha only confronted the reality of the world as a young adult.

After six years wandering northern India and meditating on the nature of life Siddhartha, the Buddha, achieved Enlightenment – release from suffering was to be found through a middle way between self-indulgence and self-mortification.

Siddhartha made no reference to God or gods. Whether the creator of the universe, the arbiter of morality, the King of Heaven, God was – and will always be – irrelevant.

The fact that millions of Asians today worship the Buddha as God is disappointing but does not distract from Siddhartha’s basic point – there is no God and there is no need to invent him. A couple of millennia later, the French philosopher Voltaire was more pessimistic  – if God did not exist we would have to invent him.

Both our young girl and our ancient philosopher point us in the same direction – the absence of God. This, not religion, is the natural state of humankind.

And if we look carefully around us, we can see that underneath the lies and hype that flood over the world from Jerusalem, Rome and Mecca, atheism is alive, well and flourishing.

True, there are some “strong” atheists, the Richard Dawkins, Samuel Harrises, Christopher Hitchens and others who loudly denounce the hypocrisy and dishonesty of religion.

But there are many more “weak” atheists who neither believe nor broadcast their disbelief. They are everywhere, even in Church, where they bow their head and sing hymns for the sake of peace with their neighbors, their spouses or parents.

I have a sneaking respect for weak atheists, even those who attend Church. They know that the best attitude to religion is to neither give in to nor resist it. It is to ignore it. You say that Jesus is the Son of God. Whatever. What’s for dinner?

A recent New Yorker article suggests that as many as 20% of the human race may be unbelievers. In the time of Baron d’Holbach, fewer than 2% would have seriously considered the idea that the universe was God-free. We have progressed considerably in the last two hundred and fifty years. We may not all be atheists now, but if we can survive this century’s upheavals, in a few generations we may well be.

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

wear the Scarlet letter

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