I actually prefer the term secularist. This is because it is impossible to actually prove that there is no God, because by definition an all-powerful creative sentient being could create any data we might observe.
The crucial point though is that there is no evidence that points towards the existence of God. God therefore joins the long list of entities whose non-existence cannot be proven, but for practical purposes can be assumed until some evidence presents itself. This is the basis of Bertrand Russell’s flying teapot analogy. To quote Russell:
If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.
So, to be an atheist is to believe that God is like the flying teapot. In practice, it is to live your life without turning to supernatural theories of the world for explanation, comfort or guidance.
Religious people often seem to think this must be difficult in some way, but I have never found it so, and to be honest I’ve never understood why they think I might.
Posted: May 31st 2007
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