Tag Archive | "skeptics"

What it Means to be a Nonbeliever

Credit: NASA, WIYN, NOAO, ESA, Hubble Helix Nebula Team, M. Meixner (STScI), & T. A. Rector (NRAO)

There are reasons why some people would rather call themselves skeptics or freethinkers instead of atheists, and one is to avoid the not uncommon misconception that atheism automatically means the positive claim that there is no god. While I thought this issue had already been resolved a long time ago considering the multitude of articles and videos posted online explaining that it isn’t necessarily the case, it seems that it hasn’t been explained often enough. People continue not only to assert that that is the only definition of atheism but even to imply that the New Atheists are deliberately trying to redefine the word to suit their purposes when their true position is just play-safe agnosticism.

To settle the issue, let’s look at the definition of atheist in the 1979 edition of The Grolier International Dictionary, of which I happen to have a copy:

atheist – one who denies the existence of God.

The operative word here is denies. Using the same dictionary, let’s see what that word really means:


1. to declare untrue; assert the contrary of; contradict.

2. to refuse to believe; reject.

3. to refuse to recognize or acknowledge; disavow; disown.

If we add “the existence of God” to each of the above definitions, the first one seems to be the most presumed by theists while the atheists usually mean the second and third – that they do not take this particular claim as truth, that they simply do not believe.

And what does it mean to not believe? If a friend told me that last night he dated and slept with a famous actress, say, Angel Locsin or Christine Reyes – or both – but he didn’t even have a scandal video on his phone, I would simply say that I don’t believe him. However, I wouldn’t accuse him of lying because I wasn’t with him or either girl last night and I didn’t have 24-hour surveillance on any of them. No, I could not be certain that he’s not telling the truth. But I just wouldn’t believe him because his story is too incredible that I would provisionally conclude that he did not sleep with either actress – until I see some evidence that he really did. Then and only then would I reassess and perhaps even reformulate my conclusion. Heck, I might even worship him for banging those goddesses.

Going back to the God question, in The Agora, a Facebook group created by our very own John Paraiso, I saw this very amusing comment:

The universality of belief in the existence of God makes the burden of proof to rest upon those who deny the existence of God.

Wow. They demand proof against something that has not been proven in the first place. “Universality of belief” does not necessarily mean that such belief had undergone and passed through skeptical scrutiny.

But sometimes the problem lies with some atheists who, in their passion to express their new-found freedom from religion, go a bit too far not only by saying something inflammatory but by indirectly making assertions that they would have to defend, like this one:













The poster is indirectly saying that Jesus, Allah and Yahweh are imaginary, hence, they do not exist. That is a positive statement that supposedly carries the burden of proof. However, when asked to prove such statement, some atheists would simply say that it is the theist’s job to prove that his particular god exists. That is wrong. A comment posted in Friendly Atheist says it best:

If you say, “There is no god”, you are making a claim that you can’t defend. It is a point of dogma.

If you say, “I haven’t seen enough evidence to believe in god”, you are making a defensible claim. You’ve left open the possibility that new evidence could change your position.

The first one clearly refers to the strong atheist, but the second refers to atheists in general and includes agnostics and skeptics. Unfortunately, to many people the word atheist is associated more closely with the “there is no god” position than with healthy skepticism, no thanks to the overeagerness of some atheists (and no thanks as well to those who say that agnostics are atheists without balls).

Atheists, agnostics, skeptics. The first two are defined by their positions on a certain truth claim; the third focuses more on the method of arriving at either position. All three are the same in one sense: They do not believe.

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If I’m a non-believer, why patronize theist music, film and other forms of artwork?

The Merriam-Webster website definition for patronize here that I use is the following:

“3 : to be a frequent or regular customer or client of

And not the derogatory meaning of the word, although this should not mean that all theist work of art, music, etc are all praiseworthy (at least from my viewpoint).

One of the things people ask me, assuming they know I’m a non-believer, is how I can possibly enjoy theistic works of art, music, etc. without believing in their religion, or even in theism itself.

What I would normally reply, given the appropriate amount of time, is that it’s quite easy to understand or imagine, really. This reply of course has little assumptions of its own, and one of those is that the listener should have an open mind. For the listener to somehow even ‘glimpse’ the reason why or how I can enjoy theistic works of art, music etc, he/she must have at least a mind that is open to rational,sensible logic and imagination. He/she must also not be one of those religious fundamentalists, whether it be in Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, etc. What I mean by religious fundamentalists in this sense are those people who kill or are willing to die and kill others, not just themselves, just because their holy books think it’s appropriate to do so. Although I’ve actually never met someone like that before, I would think that it will be really hard, if not impossible, to reason my cause with them. And I believe the reason for that deserves another blog post on it’s own.

Going back to the reason for my answer as to why I manage to enjoy theistic works of art, music, etc while being a skeptic, my answer is this:

For those of us who enjoy, for example, The Lord of the Rings trilogy or Star Trek , or Disney movies, we gather the fact that we acquire entertainment and amusement and wisdom from these works, without ever believing the characters really existed. Even as kids, teens, young adults, and adults, we enjoyed watching them, and probably at some points in our lives we deemed them to be true to life, we now know for a fact (I hope so) that they didn’t really happen or the characters never existed at all. We can enjoy songs by Josh Groban or Pavarotti for example, and be moved by how they sing, the emotions they put in their songs, the beautiful compositions, and the abstract or poetic meanings of their lyrics and still not be lulled into believing myths and fantastical stories they refer to in the scriptures.

Star Trek TOS (Spock & Kirk) - Alice in Wonderland (Alice & the mad hatter) - Return of the King (Aragorn & Frodo)

From this reasoning, it follows that one can appreciate, enjoy, marvel at, and even be astounded, amazed, and moved by works of different people from different walks of life and belief. And from that reasoning also it should be clear that when, for example one sings or watches or buys theistic works, be they movies, books, paintings, songs, one doesn’t (and I believe should not) have to believe in all those supernatural stories and myths. One can appreciate and enjoy Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, and other great artists and their works, as purelyfiction, and nothing more.

Of course the argument that what motivates people, artists, geniuses to create their masterpieces is faith, theism or religion is another matter altogether, and again deserves another blog post. One good reference for that is professor Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion in the chapter titled The Argument From Beauty.

The God Delusion -by prof. Richard Dawkins - UK paperback edition

In that chapter prof. Dawkins excellently explicates ( I always admire alliteration ) the arguments pertaining to this line of reasoning. Prof. Dawkins goes on to say that, since there was hardly any other option other than to believe in the local religion back then (particularly Catholicism or Christianity if we’ll be talking about European artists in this case), naturally the artists would’ve decided to be theists. The other, extremely harsh consequences of not believing in God then was not receiving any funding (even for example, food and money) to complete one’s work, a chance to display one’s talents, and it would even be tantamount to death. In other words, it’s believe or suffer/die. Obviously the choice is usually rather easy. And people of different religiosity, theistic or otherwise  derive their sense of awe, wonder, their motivations and inspirations not from the belief in a supernatural creator, but if you look closely, to more human sensations and experiences: respect, love (e.g. for a mate, one’s country), death, suffering, sex, etc.

In closing, for us non-believers (doubters, skeptics, agnostics, what have you) to be bothered as to why we allow ourselves to be immersed and to be able to appreciate theistic works of art, music, etc, thinking that it contradicts our non-belief, please don’t be. Enjoying something and believing it to be true are two entirely different things. For those of you out there who still cling onto faith, religion and theism just because you think you can’t leave your craft, be it making music, movies, books, etc. while being mentally gnawed by the irrationalities and inconsistencies of religion, you don’t have to be. There is a way out, and you can still enjoy your lives and your craft.


Posted in Media, Personal, Pictures, Religion, SocietyComments (15)