An Atheist’s Creed

I’m often asked, being an atheist, what my motivation in life is. Okay, I’m kidding, nobody’s ever asked me that. But if someone were to ask me why, if I believe there is no purpose to life, I continue to be optimistic about (some) things, continue to believe that people are (basically) good, I would direct them to this wonderful passage-in-verse I found a while ago at Pharyngula:

I believe in time,
matter, and energy,
which make up the whole of the world.
I believe in reason, evidence and the human mind,
the only tools we have;
they are the product of natural forces
in a majestic but impersonal universe,
grander and richer than we can imagine,
a source of endless opportunities for discovery.

I believe in the power of doubt;
I do not seek out reassurances,
but embrace the question,
and strive to challenge my own beliefs.

I accept human mortality.

We have but one life,
brief and full of struggle,
leavened with love and community,
learning and exploration,
beauty and the creation of
new life, new art, and new ideas.

I rejoice in this life that I have,
and in the grandeur of a world that preceded me,
and an earth that will abide without me.

I would also point them to this comic at xkcd, and say I’m the guy in the hat.

I'm the guy in the hat, yo!

For most people, I suppose life is hard enough without the burden of knowing that everything they do is ultimately meaningless; that they are relatively simple collections of goo in an extraordinarily complex universe with nobody pulling the strings to favour them or their existence. I think this might explain why the religious among us get as upset as they do about blasphemy. I do, however, prefer knowing the truth, even if it isn’t entirely pleasant at first, to not knowing the truth and living in false hope. (I also don’t presume to be better at being able to handle the truth than anybody else, which is one reason I’m not averse to arguing with people about belief and non-belief).

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7 thoughts on “An Atheist’s Creed”

  1. I do not understand why anyone would think that an atheist would have no purpose or motivation in life. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Isn’t it religion that teaches people that this life is insignificant? That real joy, could and should only be experienced in heaven, with its 72 young virgins? That this life is not much more than a fucking streneous assesment test on whether we belong in heaven or hell?
    Infact, I wonder, now what they’re motivation would be.. when they’re real aim is only the end of the race? When they basically just want to get life over with?

    I mean, isnt the knowledge that this life is all there is, motivation enough for the atheist to just make the most of it?

    Strange.

    “knowing that everything they do is ultimately meaningless”
    Do you really think it is? I mean, to have posted that beautiful *beautiful* verse, and then to have said this.. its just so sad!

    “prefer knowing the truth, even if it isn’t entirely pleasant at first”
    The truth, here, is not some sort of bitter medicine.. Its candy! Its mavellous! Why would you think its unpleasant?

    And about the idea that people are inherently good..well, have you written anything about that, I’d love to read it..

  2. “knowing that everything they do is ultimately meaningless”
    Do you really think it is? I mean, to have posted that beautiful *beautiful* verse, and then to have said this.. its just so sad!

    It is indeed all meaningless to most of the universe. There are a hundred billion galaxies, a hundred billion stars per galaxy, and several planets per star. Surely you don’t think what you do on this particular planet makes any difference to any of this. What you do does, however, mean something to the person next to you. Be good.

    “prefer knowing the truth, even if it isn’t entirely pleasant at first”
    The truth, here, is not some sort of bitter medicine.. Its candy! Its mavellous! Why would you think its unpleasant?

    Key phrase: ‘even if at first’. Although, to complete the thought, asking the wage-labourer mother-of-three wife of a wife-beating-drunk slum dweller to marvel at the truth that the universe is an astonishing place isn’t something I’d get in line to do. See what I mean?

    People are inherently good for sound evolutionary reasons. It pays, evolutionarily, to help those around you.

  3. Sure, in that relative all life would be meaningless. But you didn’t mention that reference point, did you? You made a categorical statement that you believe ‘that everything we do is ultimately meaningless.’ Not, ‘everything we do has no real ultimate significance or utility to the larger processes of the universe.’
    Words like good, bad, big, small etc only ever work with a reference points. But meaning and utility are, in that sense, absolute. It either has meaning, or it doesn’t.

    Or, like the guy said; Intrinsic value. May be negligible to the grander scheme of things, but that doesn’t make it non existent.

    “Although, to complete the thought, asking the wage-labourer mother-of-three wife of a wife-beating-drunk slum dweller to marvel at the truth that the universe is an astonishing place isn’t something I’d get in line to do. See what I mean?”

    Actually, I really don’t. 😐 Not really sure about what you’re trying to say here..

    I agree, I wasn’t disputing the idea, I was just a bit fuzzy on the concept back then. Not anymore though. Thanks, either way.

  4. “An atheist would say, ‘I don’t believe God exists’; an agnostic would say, ‘I don’t know whether or not God exists’; and an ignostic would say, ‘I don’t know what you mean when you say, “God exists” ‘.”

  5. ^Nice one. I should indeed read Bertrand Russel. Ignosticism seems like Anthony Flew’s idea of falsifiability. It seems like the faithful have a moving goalpost of a definition for ‘god’.

    But, if you want, you could following Dawkins see ‘god’ as shorthand for ‘anything supernatural’.

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