v Main
-> Latest
-> About
-> Photos
-> WebCam
-> Words
-> Thoughts
-> Work
-v Faith
-* Intro
-* Reasons
-* God
-* Earth
-* Evolution
-* Morality
-> Personality
-> Science
-> Marriage
-> Batch Files
-> Taglines
-> Reading
-> Graphics
-> Music
-> Links
-> Credits

> Site Map



"I wish to propose for the reader's favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. I must of course admit that if such an opinion became common it would completely transform our social life and our political system; since both are at present faultless, this must weigh against it."
[Bertrand Russell, _Sceptical Essays_]

I've decided to allow myself one quote, and one only in order to force myself to express this in my own words. And that was it.

* Introduction
* Reasons why I do not believe
* The Existence of God
* The Age of the Earth
* Evolution
* A Basis for Atheist Morality


I am an atheist.

I am an atheist for one reason, and one reason only - I see no reason whatsoever to be anything else. It is a default position from which no evidence has been presented that would cause me to move. I make no comment on the beliefs of others - this page expresses my own view of the world, and the reasons why I personally do not see faith as a good thing.

In this page, I'm mainly referring to the christian religion, because that is the one with which I have had most contact. However, the points are generally applicable to any belief system which does not offer objective proof of any supernatural component.

I am normally fairly reticent about my beliefs, or lack thereof. I don't usually volunteer information. Partly this is because I like a quiet life, and partly because others often seem to be getting something out of it which I don't want to break for them. Usually when confronted with a religious situation which I cannot avoid, I tend to clam up to avoid causing offence. As this is not that far removed from my natural state, this tends to pass unnoticed.

I find concrete evidence of religious activity rather depressing. Churches especially, and even more especially if the architecture is gothic and intricate. I find myself wondering where human society could be if all the effort that had gone into the design and construction of that incredibly detailed building had gone into something of more immediate use. But I also realise that most people do not share this view, and so I tend to keep quiet.

However, you chose to click on this link, and in so doing you expressed an interest which makes all the difference.

My thoughts on the subject of faith are essentially that it is an unnecessary evil. By its very nature, it is the persistent belief in something that cannot be proven either by introspection or by external observation. I do not feel that this is a solid enough foundation to want to base my life around it. Faith is only required to support arguments that cannot stand on their own merits, and if they cannot indeed stand scrutiny, then we are better without them in my view.

top Top.

Reasons why I do not believe

* The argument that there is some form of life after death in which things will be much better than they are now. I see this as pure and simple wishful thinking - Jam tomorrow, never today. Something does not become true just because we might want it to, irrespective of the strength of the belief. Personally, I do not wish to live forever. Longer than current typical life spans, and without the deterioration at the end, maybe, but not forever. I just don't see the point. I may fear dying, but I don't fear death itself.
* The argument that some form of religious belief is required in order to be truly happy. I hereby claim to be living proof of the contrary. Also, this argument has nothing to do with the truthfulness or otherwise of the belief system in question, and is therefore irrelevant as well as flawed.
* The argument that one particular belief system is true, and the myriad others false, given without justification of the rejection of those other systems.
* The argument that there will be some form of judgement whereby those who have lived their lives by arbitrary moral codes are rewarded, and those who have not are punished, irrespective of whether their lifestyles have caused themselves or others harm. I believe morals should be based purely on the influence of your actions on others and on society.
* Arguments involving infinity, eternity, or omni-something. These all use the concept of infinity as if it were a real entity rather than a helpful mathematical construct. There is nothing in nature that you can point to and describe as infinite. The map is not the territory. A great many religious paradoxes derive from this one.
* The view that those who are members of the religion are in some way better than those who are not. 'Chosen' etc. This is basic group mentality, and is not restricted to religions, but is commonly found associated with them. This says nothing about whether the beliefs are true or not, but primarily acts as a recruitment function.
* Belief systems which directly state things that are observably and reproducibly false. (I'm thinking primarily of Evolution, and the age of the Earth here).
* Any belief system which is internally self-contradictory. If it can't get its own story straight I find its evidence very dubious indeed.
* Many religions contain elements which could be reproduced with the aid of some mild hallucinogens.
* Many religions are based on a single work of text. In many cases this is not necessarily an original document, and may have passed through several word-of-mouth stages, as well as a number of stages of translation and transcription in order to reach us in its present day form. Even if the original were valid, distortions both deliberate and accidental may have been introduced along the way. To take it word-for-word seems just a tad optimistic. To interpret it in order to extract the meaning allows the prejudices of the individual to come through, and also allows the bizarre situation of several differing religions to co-exist, based on differing interpretations of the same 'holy' text.
* Arguments which define the human race as fundamentally important on a universe wide scale. I see this viewpoint as arrogant in the extreme. We are a short lived race of clever mammals on a small planet in a large solar system in a vast galaxy in an even vaster universe. Life is certainly special, and it seems to be extremely rare, but to assume uniqueness is to fail to grasp galactic scales, never mind universal.
* Beliefs systems that do contain workable morality structures, but intertwine them with the supernatural aspects, and insist that you cannot take them separately.
* Arguments based on the fact that humans and the environment in which they exist seem to be admirably well matched. (If they weren't, the whole debate wouldn't be happening . . .). This can equally be used to argue that we have evolved to suit the environment rather than the environment having been designed to suit us.
* Arguments which needlessly complicate things purely to allow the supernatural components of the belief system to exist. e.g. Denying the possibility that the universe has existed eternally, while allowing eternal existence for the entity that (allegedly) created it.
* '(supernatural entity) told me to do it' as the justification for actions. The phrases 'cop out', and 'avoiding taking responsibility' spring readily to mind when I see this situation.

top Top.

The Existence of God

As to the question of whether God exists, as far as day to day living is concerned, I am convinced that he/she/it does not. I see no evidence of any such thing in the world around me, and I do not see many things which I would expect to see if that were the case. I also don't give any credence to the idea of an observing-but-not-intervening God - it can't be disproved (unless you take the quantum mechanics viewpoint that it is impossible to observe something without affecting it).

If you postulate a God which put some form of initial impetus to create the Universe (lit: that which contains everything, which makes the idea of a separate God and Universe a little strange), and then takes no further involvement then that too is not disprovable, but it isn't particularly useful either. My general response to that one is 'so what?'. This variety of God would run counter to ideas about Heaven and Hell, and all that stuff, and is therefore rejected by many religions anyway.

We live in a universe with vast numbers of galaxies, and more stars than we can comfortably fit into our minds. I find the idea of a being which is capable of creating the universe we observe, having a deep and personal involvement with the interrelationships of one particular species, on one particular planet utterly unbelievable and heading into laughable territory.

My views on this are not fixed. All I require to change my mind is evidence. Admittedly, given the nature of the claims involved, I'll need a lot of it, and it will need to be pretty damn convincing. The absence of such evidence is in itself highly convincing in the other direction.

top Top.

The Earth

This planet is old. If you don't believe me (and I strongly recommend that you don't believe a word I say but check things out for yourself), head out into the countryside and have a look at some geography. Look at the folded and twisted structures in the rock. Think long and hard about how they got that way. Look at the way the upper surfaces of the rock are slowly eroding, to form finer and finer particles that are washed down in the stream. Look at the beach. Have a look at some sandstone. Have another look at the rocks.

If after completing this, you are still convinced that the earth has been around for thousands of years as opposed to millions, and you aren't resorting to the argument that it was created with these features in place, then I suspect our positions may be too far apart for meaningful communication to take place.

If you are taking the view that the Earth was created in the form we see it, with apparently ancient geological features already in place, then I cannot prove you wrong, but the date of that creation becomes completely arbitrary. It could all have been created last Tuesday and you couldn't tell the difference because you would have been created with all your memories in place. It therefore isn't an argument which gets us anywhere useful.

I chose the above argument rather than the more scientifically valid radio dating system because it is something you can simply go out and look at rather than requiring loads of electronics. It's not as though the margin we're discussing here is small . . .

top Top.


Have a look at the skull of a baby chimpanzee (ok, so this isn't that easy). Compare it with the skull of an adult human. You'll find that they are remarkably similar, bordering on identical, apart from the size. Have a look at the development stages of a human foetus. You'll see gills and a tail at various points along the way. In fact, have a look at any land mammal, and you should notice more than a few similarities. Is it really that shocking to say that one species may have evolved from another? Darwin's theory incidentally was the 'survival of the fittest'. Evolution was the observed phenomena he was trying to explain. I think the only reason the question is even still debated is that evolution of anything large requires significant time to be noticeable.

Here's an analogy as to how I see evolution working:

Imagine a rough and crumpled surface, such as a mountain range with valleys. The very bottom of a valleys represents a fully viable organism, perfectly suited to its environment. The tops of the peaks represents a completely unviable mutation with a life expectancy of zero. A mutation is a random move in position on this surface. There will be passes between the peaks, and small valleys or pockets on the hillsides themselves. Take the species at the bottom of one valley. If a mutation occurs, then a new individual appears at some distance from the species they are a member of. If the mutation is large, then there is a good chance that they will be a long way away from the rest of their species, and quite a way up a hillside to boot. Chances of survival are low. If the mutation is small, then they have a much better chance of survival as they will still be in the vicinity of their peers, and still close to the valley floor. If they do survive (and they may not - life is like that), then their mutation may propagate into the rest of the species, and the average position of the species may move slightly. This means that for one species (in a valley) to randomly mutate (move), and end up in another stable location (valley) in a single jump is incredibly low. However a series of small jumps may allow the species to move and arrive at another stable state, or splinter so that two separate species are a result. Because large moves are almost always unfavourable, progress is very slow.

Examples of this in action:

* Alligators haven't changed in millions of years. This implies that their current genetic state is incredibly stable - they are in a very low valley indeed, and random moves make their position worse, and so tend not to propagate through the population.
* Humans are relatively new, and may well still be on the move, up or down. Wisdom teeth, for example are a disappearing characteristic.
* Restructuring the development of an infant is a large move. Therefore it tends not to happen, and changes tend to be tagged on to the end of the development cycle in the womb. Hence the gills/tail seen during the early stages of the human foetus. It would be more efficient to develop only those parts which will end up in the final individual. The characteristics we do see are a clear indication of the route we took to get here.

Other interesting points on evolution:
* There is more common genetic material between the silverback mountain gorilla, and humans than there is between the Indian and African elephant.
* There is a butterfly called Hedylepta which lives on the Hawaiian islands. It is found nowhere else on Earth. There are two distinct varieties of Hedylepta which have mouthparts which differ from the other Hedylepta varieties in that they can eat bananas. These butterflies are the only ones on Hawaii which can eat bananas. This is interesting because the banana is not native to Hawaii. It was introduced there by man, approximately 1000 years ago. Random mutation has produced a butterfly that can eat bananas, and natural selection has allowed that mutation to persist and survive.
* Anti-biotic resistant bacteria. That's evolution in action (unfortunately for us).

top Top.

A Basis for Atheist Morality

Without any superior being to define moral and immoral behaviour either by direct inspiration or via text passed down in earlier times, morals must be derived from first principles. Below are the principles on which I choose to base my life.

* All actions are moral, unless they knowingly cause harm to another.
* In cases where all choices lead to harm, a balance must be struck. This is where things fall down to personal judgement. If harm is caused due to ignorance, this is unfortunate, and cause for regret, but is not in itself immoral.
* 'Harm' is defined as widely as possible, and includes mental as well as physical damage. Anything which is detrimental in any way is included.
* That which is not forbidden is not compulsory either. Freedom should be maximised.

Some consequences of this;
* In any case where harm has taken place, the actual immoral act is the act which causes the harm, not other acts associated with it. In the case of adultery, the immoral act is the deception; the sex itself is incidental.
* Behave towards others as you would want them to behave towards you.
* Anything that occurs between one or more consenting adults in a private place is morally acceptable. (This would include drug use as well as sexual matters, as long as the user of the drug had reliable information as to the consequences and the dangers).
* A clear distinction has to be made between public/private (not too difficult), and between adult/child. The latter one is harder, because I feel that drawing a line at a particular age is unfair on those who reach maturity both earlier and later than the average. I think some measure of mental maturity would be fairer, but can't see any easy way to handle it. The line drawn at a specific age does have the advantage of simplicity. In the above, I'm taking 'adult' to mean anyone with sufficient mental capabilities and knowledge to take responsibilty for their actions.
* The entity known as marriage is not required, however it is clear that it is better to raise children in a stable environment than an unstable one. A single individual is stable in this context, as is a same sex couple, or a wider group, as long as the relationship is happy, equal, and stable. It is the instability and inherent friction in an unhappy relationship which is most damaging.

And that's about it. Seems incredibly simple, no?

Actually it isn't. More complexity than you would dream existed can be hooked onto the definition of 'harm', and the judgement between degrees of harm. What is harmful to one individual may be enjoyed by another.

< Thoughts. ^ Top.

Valid HTML 4.01 Copyright © 2006 Mike Sandells.
Last Modified: 12.7.2006