What is an -ism?

Try this. Think of words ending with the suffix -ism: Paganism, plagiarism, criticism, racism, sexism, alcoholism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, etc. Words tied to -isms include doctrines, causes, theories, attitudes, beliefs, acts, practices, processes, prejudices, conditions, religions, adherence to a system, characteristics, and traits. (merrian-webster.com)

That same dictionary also defines atheism as “a lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods” and/or “a philosophical or religious position characterized by disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods.”

How many -isms are defined by what they are not or do not do? There is no atheist doctrine, theory, belief, practice, process, prejudice, religion, or adherence to anything.

There are certainly atheists. I suspect more than anyone knows. There are also atheist groups and atheist organizations. People use the phrase, “as an atheist…” often. While I often push back on terms like true atheist and all atheists, both believers and atheists use such phrases. I try to avoid saying as an atheist and prefer the phrase because I do not believe any god exists. But what is atheism other than what an atheist does not believe exists?

I realize people say many false things about atheists and define what they call atheism to insult nonbelievers or to threaten, often dependent, closeted atheists, doubting believers, and their friends, family, and neighbors. Those are almost always ignorant lies, and that will not go away.

However, I, along with others, claim that while most -isms exist, atheism does not. While I am atheist, I have no doctrine to either follow or reject. I believe many things, just not that there really is any god. I have no atheist practices and worship nothing (including Satan, which, like any god, is unlikely to be). I have read social research that indicates some atheists believe there is a god. I call them enigmatic, if not confused, atheists.

There are many types of Jews and forms of Judaism. Same for Islamism. Within Christianity there is both Catholicism and Protestantism, but they are all Christians. Mormons claim to be Christians and lord knows they have their own set of practices (and underwear). Within all these groups lie doctrinaire differences, but they still have rules to debate or follow. Atheists have none of that. I, for one, want none of it.

So, how can atheism be a thing if it cannot be defined by what it is?

Happy National IPA, Underwear, Oyster, and Work Like a Dog Day.

Skeptically Yours,


Is no evidence proof of no gods?

Atheists are often asked what evidence would be sufficient to enlighten us enough to agree that a god exists. Most of us can’t answer because what we need is irrefutable, repeatable, and clear proof. I would say “God” (or one of them), but how do I know if an entity is a god? One lady suggested that if Jesus appeared in my car next to me, I would believe. That can be hallucination. Since I have no way to validate the real Jesus, I must disagree with her.

I am more likely to confront an extra-terrestrial alien than any real god. And religion is a different matter altogether. Separating God and religion seems impossible for most basic believers because that is where they were led into the delusion.

When I used to say that I believed in a god (it was more like a something), that was not because I had any evidence. As I matured along with my beliefs, God went from what I was told to something downright obfuscated. If anything, I hung on to belief despite a complete lack of evidence.

I moved on to admitting that I did not believe any god existed. That was not because there was no evidence, but because such existence became permanently illogical to me. Of course, while a deity made no sense, there was supporting evidence in the form of no evidence of existence. That’s were I am on this.

When I commented on Nan’s blog that the existence of gods can be neither proved nor disproved, I was challenged by another atheist (RaPaR) with the argument that the lack of evidence supporting a god is evidence that no god exists. Well, I decided to check out this lack of evidence is evidence of absence argument (a rabbit hole). Apparently, I walked in on years of debate and discussion by scientists and philosophers. It’s nothing new, and it’s not a shallow idea. It deserves more than cursory consideration.

Two distinct concepts are absence of evidence and evidence of absence. Their relationship and distinction get rolled up in the aphoristic antimetabole, Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I agree. It isn’t. However, we cannot logically simply dismiss real evidence nor thousands of years of none.

This discussion works best for real world things like medical efficacy, drug testing, and vaccine research. However, as Paul Simon wrote in The Boxer, “A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.” Why let silly things like evidence, lack of it, or proof and facts get in the way?

Here’s my argument. If the monotheistic Abrahamic God exists, why not any of the other five thousand or so gods as well? The amount of evidence for any of them is virtually the same. Only the number of gods differ. Monotheists are currently at bat, but polytheists have a bigger bull pen.

Important words that relate to evidence and proof are often used by believers. They are outward sign, testimony, bearing witness, and of course that old troublemaker, faith. Who needs it when you have proof? And which of those words provides evidence of a god?

A key defense of my hypothesis is knowledge or knowing. Many people claim not only to know that a god exists, but they further claim to know what God wants. They claim to know God’s mind. That is nuts. What does it mean to know something? The word is epistemology, but why go there?

Obviously, while I may have believed a god existed, I never knew such a thing. If I ever made such a claim, it was bullshit. I will let you go here or decide what knowing means on your own.

The unarguable logic fallacy is claiming existence of a god or supporting such a claim based on a lack of evidence to the contrary. If no one can provide evidence of non-existence, that does not make it so.

You can fill a library with the published books that claim to prove a god exists. Ten proofs, nine, six, however many you want. Why are we skeptics still unconvinced? It’s because religious books sell well, even when they are crap.

Until Christmas, Yule, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Day; Happy Human Rights Day, Dewey Decimal System Day, Animal Rights Day, and Nobel Prize Day.


The Continuum of Confusion

Howdy, Y’all,

Opinion surveys often make a statement and ask us to respond on a continuum, or scale, from strongly disagree on one extreme to strongly agree on the other, with neither agree nor disagree at the center.

Consider this statement: There is a God.

Believers would mark agree, atheists would check disagree, and agnostics would tick one of the I don’t know choices. We would all be responding to the same question based upon our opinion of the statement. Nothing more, but predicable.

How we define ourselves (believer, agnostic, or atheist) is one thing. How we define others needs to be understood in terms of how they see themselves. But people are complex. Beliefs and religions vary widely. Despite our best efforts to find common ground, we hold different meanings for many of the same words, especially the three in parenthesis above. As we strive for clarity, the water gets muddy.

One of the areas of confusion is seeing everyone on the same continuum. It is difficult for believers, especially Christians, to accept that atheists really, sincerely, deeply, and profoundly, do not believe in any god, much less theirs. Not believing is inconceivable to so many.

It’s difficult for me to accept that people believe the following.

At some point when there was allegedly nothing, God decided, I’m going to create a material universe with stars, galaxies, and planets. On one of them I’ll create animals and humans. Then I’ll drown most of the nasty bastards and start over with some incestuous drunkard. Yet, many do. I don’t know why or how. Even when I believed, I did not believe that.

We do not all belong on the believers’ continuum. Only they go there.

The following continuum is mistaken. In my opinion, it creates confusion and mental blocks.

Believer<………………………> Agnostic <………………………..>Atheist

Nope. This is biased in the same way the word atheist itself is biased. The focus is believing (theology, theism, or religion). The obvious confusion is that agnostics are halfway believers. Another is that atheists are somehow distant believers, albeit weak ones. Believers and atheists should have their own scales, like this:

Strong Believer<……………………………………………….>Weak Believer

Strong Atheist<………………………………………………….>Weak Atheist

Agnostics could probably be scaled according to degree of uncertainty, but why bother? They are merely saying that they don’t know if there is God, or that such a thing is unknowable. None of us “know” if there is a god, yet despite no evidence, many bet their life there is one. There is no continuum there. We don’t know what we don’t know. We can’t know anything that is unknowable.

Atheism is not the other side of the believer coin, even though it seems so. It is an incredibly simple conclusion drawn, often after years of effort. No proselytizing, no religion, no scripture to read or learn (as such, but many of us have read it all), and often no personal help to guide us.

There are other views and things can get complicated. For example, this one. Each group has their own bubble. Where they overlap, we creatively use both words. Funny, eh?

As difficult as it may be to comprehend, not everyone believes, not everyone knows, and not everyone cares. I would flip gnostic and agnostic on the knowledge scale above because gnostic relates to knowledge, especially esoteric mystical knowledge as in knowing. Whereas, agnostic is more, I’ve not the faintest idea, nor shall I ever.

Skeptically yours,



No God for Five Reasons

I don’t honestly know when I realized that I did not believe God was real. I was about 15 years old when I became dismissive toward my Catholic faith.

A few years later, when I learned what an agnostic was, I jumped on that because it saved me from being labeled an atheist. And it was mostly true. I didn’t know if God was real.

That was approximately 60 years ago. I can now say that I am convinced God is not real. Because of that, I can also dump angels, saints, devils, heaven, hell, eternal life, and even the handy trope, there must be something.

I was reading Greta Christina’s “Top Ten Reasons I Don’t Believe in God.” Since my reasons (and experience) are not identical to hers, I decided to post my five reasons. That’s enough.

  1. As George Carlin said, I tried to believe in God. For many years I tried. It was hit and miss. Eventually, I immersed myself in Catholic religious practice, after I had previously tried several Protestant denominations. They seemed shallow and superficial. I did it all: Church attendance, ministries, leadership, Bible studies, fasting, lots of extra praying, and much more. I envied believers. So did Thomas Merton as he explained in his autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain. I considered the thinking and philosophies of eastern religions. I prayed to God to cure my unbelief. I said the Apostles Creed (aka the profession of faith) as often as I thought of it. I wanted God to be real. I wanted to believe it. I eventually wrote an analogy to reflect my experience and the eventual outcome (The Man in the Room). I tried everything. Nothing worked.
  2. The Problem of Evil is a big deal often ignored or dismissed by believers. Is it denial? Too much cognitive dissonance? The abundance of evil in the world and universe creates conceptual problems for us about God. It means that God doesn’t care, doesn’t know, or cannot fix it. Of course, we’ve all heard, “God works in mysterious ways.” I suppose some sort of deist is possible for me, but I still say the more reasonable explanation is that there is no god or creator to step up and take responsibility.
  3. The existence of any kind of God is less logical than ghosts, tooth fairies, Santa Claus, or Leprechauns. God fails every logic test. All attempts to explain anything about any god’s existence results in mental tap dancing. I might as well believe all the aforementioned myths exist along with the thousands of named gods we’ve created throughout and before history.
  4. It does not work for me to say, “I am. Therefore, God must be.” The lack of evidence of God’s reality or existence is overwhelming. Unless it is the Sun, a biblical golden calf, or something more than a burning bush, I see no god, hear no god, taste no god, feel no god, and I’ve no idea what a god might smell like.
  5. Along with evil, there is much good in the world. I’m uncertain if that applies to the universe. People are quick to credit God for good stuff. I wanted there to be a good God. If God is no good, forget it. Love is good. So, they say God is love. Health is good. So, they claim God heals. Not dying and life everlasting are good, as is staying out of eternal damnation. So, they play the God card. The very fact that I wanted there to be a God who met my requirements and did as I asked contributed to my eventual disbelief. When I looked around, everyone else was doing the same thing. Creating their God in their image.

I hope that clears everything up.


What is a god? Any god. Who is it?

I Googled ‘God.’ I got about 2.16 billion hits. Wow. The answer must be there. Right?

One was from a Christian religious site. Everything they claimed about God was supported with biblical citation by chapter and verse, of course. But there were two important exceptions.

First, the article claimed it’s obvious: “God’s existence is so conspicuous….” So, everyone should know. Second, it championed God by further claiming that “creation,” or existence, and human consciousness make God manifest. The writer did not answer what, or who is any god. But they continued to try.

The rest of the post made interesting claims. Such as, they said if you don’t get God right, that is idolatry, which is a sin (Pardonne-moi s’il te plaît). “God is spirit, by nature intangible.” No help there. But then they said, “We know certain things to be true of God…” Then they quoted more scripture. Why? Because all we “know” of that God are unsupported, written claims from thousands of years ago.

The piece also identified characteristics of God. Those are loving, truthful, holy, compassionate, merciful, graceful, judgmental, and forgiving. All human traits, yet again based on scripture because that’s all they have. Still not much to help with what or who a god is.

If we return to the it’s conspicuous and human consciousness claims, which make God obvious, there are problems. Nature, a certain creation of God’s, is obviously random and destructive. Additionally, God’s humans are incredibly destructive toward each other and to nature. Enter The Problem of Evil.

There is also the fact that no one is born knowing anything about any god. We are taught about God by others. God must be learned. How is that obvious, intuitive, or rising from human consciousness? And why not? Many less important things such as breathing, swallowing, our beating hearts, and more are there from day one or before.

A God, or higher power, is whatever we say it is or want it to be. We create gods and always have. That need may be a human trait. But so is thinking. A tree, nature, rain, an animal, something living in a volcano or in the sea may be a god because we say so. Personally, I like the Sun as a god. Planets named after gods and goddesses are all ready to step in for us. And what about goddesses? We’ve had Luna, Phoebe, Athena, Aurora, Flora, Freya, Iris, Cora, Selena, Thalia, and hundreds more.

I enjoy H. L. Mencken’s 1922, funeral oration for dead gods, “Memorial Service,” in which he lists names of many gods now gone. He ends with, “You may think I spoof. That I invent the names. I do not. Ask the rector to lend you any good treatise on comparative religion: You will find them all listed. They were gods of the highest standing and dignity – gods of civilized peoples – worshiped and believed in by millions. All were theoretically omnipotent, omniscient, and immortal. And all are dead.”

None of those gods ever actually existed. The author of the referenced Christian article would almost certainly agree with Mencken and me, with one exception. The one God and religion they were luckily born into and taught about. Lucky them.

I see the Sun. I get it. It’s there every day. We need it to survive. It preceded us and probably contributed to human and nature’s existence. Why not retro that old god? It’s nothing new. What is a solar system without a Sun?



End of the Line?

I realize that being an atheist means disbelief in any god and (arguably) nothing more. I agree. However, just as with believing in some god or other relates to religious practices, not believing likewise calls for answers to questions regarding that non-belief, at least to oneself if to no one else.

This is especially true if a change such as deconversion was involved. Answers may take any form from I don’t know to hypothetical suppositions, or even well-supported theories. It can get murky, but that seems to excite those who think they see the light.

For example, I don’t know what happens after someone dies. Neither do you. For now, barring evidence to the contrary, I assume death means you’re gone. Body, mind, and spirit: kaput. All other possibilities and claims are unsupported hypotheses of approximately equal value. The continuation of the human spirit might be so, but there is no evidence for that.

While not all believers resort to threats of punishment to be carried out after people stop living, such as Purgatory or Hell, a great many do. I realize that many believers manage to focus on life, “right here, right now.” I say that and believe it. I can meet them there.

Yet, just as with the existence of any god, afterlife of any kind, spiritual as with a “soul,” in some unknown form of consciousness, or even physically as in reincarnation, not one of the seven billion or so people alive today can be certain of anything concerning death other than it is not quite the same life as it was. Even the concepts of human resurrection with the second coming, or rapture do not promise a redo. Die and you’re done—not alone. Just finished with living.

My mother was a lifelong Roman Catholic. I recall her, while lucid but dying, lying on her death bed, after I asked if she wanted me to fetch a (Catholic) priest, saying to me, “When you’re dead, you’re dead.” She died without receiving last rights. Yikes, Mom! Why didn’t you tell me?

Afterlife is crucial to all Christianity. The biggest Holy Day in any Christian’s liturgical year should be Easter: The Resurrection of Christ. Life after death (not Christmas).

As the sign in my neighbor’s yard says, “He is risen.” The largest single religion on Earth, and the evidence for its rationale has been an unnecessary nothing for two-thousand years. The neighbor’s sign is not very convincing. But the beat goes on. Salvation is unnecessary if you cease to exist. Unless…


Do You Believe in Something?

I favor separating my discussions regarding the existence of god or gods from those about religion or religious denominations and sects. This is partly why.

I would have thought that, are you an atheist? and do you believe in god? were two versions of the same question. Apparently not.

In America, when someone asks if I believe in god, what do they mean? When I answer, what am I claiming? Are the inquisitors asking the same question I think I’m answering?

According to PEW Research, it is not always as simple as yes you do, or no you don’t. As we know, and as PEW suggests, within specific religions or religious denominations, members may not agree even though they admit to a belief in the same god and claim to practice the same religious denomination.

PEW did two surveys, one here and one in Europe. In the American survey, (view article here) wherein they worked out some clarity, the researchers claim that while 80% said they do believe in god, one third of that “yes” group does not believe in the god of the Bible.

Only two-thirds of that “believing” group believe in the god of Abraham. That’s 56% when you apply the sample to the total, or slightly more than half of the USA population. That does not mean, however, that the other 44% does not believe in god.

While 19% of the respondents said they do not believe in “god,” almost half of those who said no (9%) correspond with about a third of the people who said that they do believe in god. In other words, overall, one third of Americans, whether they profess a belief in god or not, think there is a higher power or spiritual force of some kind, according to PEW. I find that interesting.

PEW thus claims that according to their survey only 10% of Americans believe there is no higher power, spiritual force, deity, or god. We can split hairs regarding definitions of belief, disbelief, doubting, skepticism, and all of that. What PEW is suggesting is that while many of us claim not to believe in god, about half of those do believe that there is “something.”

It’s different in Europe. There, this number of nonbelievers is multiplied by 2.5 (about 25%) since a much greater number claim no belief in the higher power/spiritual force.

I think these surveys are interesting and have some merit. They are more in the food for thought category than good answers because people lie all the time. The whole social survey construct must be viewed with some degree of skepticism. Culture and human nature play into the answers. In the United States we are more likely to say we do believe in god when we don’t. In Europe, the reverse is likely.

A Jew, Christian, or Muslim might see someone who dismisses the god of Abraham but suspects a higher power or spiritual force exists as Pagan or even atheist. On the other hand, an avowed atheist may see the same person as a believer, just not in the Biblical sense.

I know people who claim to be Wiccan or Pagan. I have had discussions with some who use the terms Universe or Nature in the sense of a higher power or spiritual force. That makes sense because when we say god, most believers assume we mean what they believe, the god of the Bible, for example.

So, if someone asks me if I believe in god, my answer is “no.”
But maybe it should be more like this…

Please explain your question.
What do you mean by god?
What do you mean by believe?
Why do you ask?

While my accurate and honest answer is, I do not believe in any god, higher power, or spiritual force, perhaps it’s not a question for which I have such a simple answer. If the water is muddy or cloudy for the likes of PEW Research, it is a communication quandary for me. It’s as complicated as we are, but that is why it’s so damn interesting.


Credit – Linked Pew Research article.