10 myths—and 10 truths—about atheism

Here is the beginning of an article by Sam Harris:

10 myths—and 10 truths—about atheism

By Sam Harris

December 24, 2006
/The Los Angeles Times
SEVERAL POLLS indicate that the term “atheism” has acquired such an extraordinary stigma in the United States that being an atheist is now a perfect impediment to a career in politics (in a way that being black, Muslim or homosexual is not). According to a recent Newsweek poll, only 37% of Americans would vote for an otherwise qualified atheist for president.

Atheists are often imagined to be intolerant, immoral, depressed, blind to the beauty of nature and dogmatically closed to evidence of the supernatural.

Even John Locke, one of the great patriarchs of the Enlightenment, believed that atheism was “not at all to be tolerated” because, he said, “promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human societies, can have no hold upon an atheist.”

That was more than 300 years ago. But in the United States today, little seems to have changed. A remarkable 87% of the population claims “never to doubt” the existence of God; fewer than 10% identify themselves as atheists — and their reputation appears to be deteriorating.

Given that we know that atheists are often among the most intelligent and scientifically literate people in any society, it seems important to deflate the myths that prevent them from playing a larger role in our national discourse.

Here is the link to the whole article:
Sam Harris
Below are his 10 myths and truths but I've replaced his answers with my own, go to his site to read Sam's answers.

*1) Atheists believe that life is meaningless.*

It's entirely the opposite, because it's all temporary it is all so much more important. There is no time to waste or life to squander because it is all so brief, so every day and every person is beyond precious. Every moment should be savored because it will never come again. If there is an omnipotent god life is meaningless because we would be nothing more than slaves to this being, carrying out whatever plan he has in mind, our own desires would be completely irrelevant, all our actions empty because it would all have been planned out for us. Only without a god do our lives belong to us. But meaningfulness, one way or the other, says nothing about the facts. All such arguments seem to say "I can make up anything I want about reality if it makes me feel better."

*2) Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in human history.*

If they mean guys like Stalin and Pol Pot, that's absurd. They were communists and dictators, the lack of religion was just another tool they used to ensure their power, a dictator does not want any competing dogma. No, what is responsible for our greatest crimes is greed for power and dogmatism. The dogmatism of communism is exactly like the dogmatism of religion. Hitler claimed to be a Christian because more people would go along with him if he did everything in the name of god, but personally, I doubt he was a believer at all and would put the crimes of Nazism straight on the shoulders of the Nazis who did it, not on Christianity, although many Christians went along with him and didn't seem to have a problem killing Jews.

*3) Atheism is dogmatic*.

I find this one strange, part of Sam's questions but I've never heard that before. Religion is dogmatic, atheism is the complete lack of dogmatism. Religion is faith, atheism is the lack of faith. There is no monolithic Atheism, no set of rules or Atheist Handbook. Atheism is merely a lack of belief in a god, nothing else. Could individual atheists be dogmatic? Or course, I've met some, but it has nothing at all to do with atheism, it has to do with individual choices.

*4) Atheists think everything in the universe arose by chance.*

No atheist that I know, and I've known quite a few online, has ever made any kind of claim whatsoever about where the universe came from. Unlike theists we rarely make claims to knowledge we can't possibly know. Hopefully, science will find the answer before I'm dead but I'm not counting on it, in fact, I have doubts we humans will ever know how the universe got here.

*5) Atheism has no connection to science.*

Technically, no. Atheism is purely lack of belief in a god, no science is required. However, I have never met an atheist who didn't have a far better than average understanding of science, and most scientists are atheists (or agnostics which is pretty much the same thing). The general stance of most atheists is that we require proof of a proposition before we will accept it, science is really the only method to gain that proof in most cases. Guesswork or ancient mythology doesn't cut it. The people who wrote the bible didn't know the Earth was round or that the stars in the sky were really distant suns, clearly they were abysmal cosmologists, why in the world would we accept their cosmological expertise as to the origin of the universe? Or about anything in the universe since then? Science is the systematic methodology for finding out about the universe and how things work. More has become known in the last one hundred years of scientific research than the previous 10,000 years of faith based knowledge. It isn't hard to figure out which method works and which one is a complete failure.

*6) Atheists are arrogant.*

Well, that one it true, but can you blame us? On the other hand we aren't so arrogant as to claim we know what can't be known, only a theist can be THAT arrogant.

*7) Atheists are closed to spiritual experience.*

That depends on what is meant by a spiritual experience. Spirit refers to something supernatural, in that sense no, few atheists think there is any such thing. If what is meant by that is experiencing joy, awe, wonder, love, ecstasy then atheists experience these things just like any other human being. The only difference is that our experiences are based on reality while what most people would refer to as spiritual experience is based on fantasy. Frankly, the real world is so amazing, weird, awe-inspiring and scary I simply fail to understand why anyone needs to look for fantastical mythology to feel these things.

*8) Atheists believe that there is nothing beyond human life and human understanding.*

Now how could we possibly know this? Atheists rarely have a problem saying simply "I don't know." It's usually theists who feel they have to have answers that don't exist. They want those answers so badly they will make them up if they have to or believe any fairy tale that makes them feel good.

*9) Atheists ignore the fact that religion is extremely beneficial to society.*

Simply because something has benefit doesn't make it true. To me truth is important, I've noticed it's not at all important to theists. They even lie to their children about Santa Clause in a twisted attempt to make Christmas fun, as if getting a ton of presents isn't fun enough. Being blissfully insane and living in a world that only exists in your mind might be the most beneficial thing of all but it holds little attraction for me. In the argument about the validity of religious truth the idea of how beneficial it might be has no place. Frankly, I think atheism is FAR more beneficial to society than religion, does that make it true?

*10) Atheism provides no basis for morality.*

Actually theism provides no basis for morality. No one follows the morals of the bible today, if they stoned their disobedient children to death they'd be arrested and either put in prison or a home for the insane. Morality comes from our culture and this is true for both the religious and non-religious. 150 years ago many Christians felt owning slaves was perfectly OK, heck, it's even condoned in the bible! Today very few in this country would say there is anything at all good about it. Why? Did god suddenly change? Did the bible change? No, the society we live in changed. And slavery is the perfect example of how society continually changes for the better, certainly not at once nor in a straight line, but still better slowly but surely. There is nothing in the bible about abortion yet most Fundamentalist Christians think it's murder, why? Because the insular Christian society they all live in agree that it is. And once again, this has nothing to do with the truth of the matter.

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