When someone finds out that a loved one is an atheist, they tend to have a lot of questions. One question I was asked when coming out was “If you don’t believe in God, then what do you believe?” I was confused by the question at the time. What do you mean, what do I believe? I thought. About what? Morality? Science? The cosmos? Music? Pineapple on pizza? After thinking about it further, I think that “So, what do you believe?” is a pretty good question to ask an atheist, since all you can assume to know about an atheist is that there’s one thing they certainly don’t believe in, and that’s a god or gods. Everything else is up in the air.
It’s true that a lot of atheists do tend to share similar beliefs about many things outside of the existence of God, like social and other philosophical issues. The most common worldviews that I know of for nonbelievers include naturalism, humanism, nihilism, and existentialism. I have a pretty good idea of what all of these worldviews are (except I admittedly don’t yet know much about how nihilism and existentialism are different), and I feel myself pulled towards each one in different ways.
When I was first learning about these worldviews in college, we were taught about “positive naturalism” and “negative naturalism,” which I believe are normally just called humanism and nihilism in the real world. In this class, I decided I aligned with positive naturalism (humanism) rather than negative naturalism (nihilism) although now I kind of feel split between them. I’d say I have the values and lifestyle of a humanist, but some more nihilistic beliefs about reality. I’m still working out the technicalities, so don’t come for me.
It was three years ago when I first wrote the paper that made me really consider God’s existence and who I am, but other than my disbelief in God, my other beliefs are still in fluctuation. I think that finding out what you truly believe can take decades, and I’m only three years in, so think of this post as a snapshot of where I am right now. There are some things I’ve extensively thought about and some I’ve only considered a few times. If you consider yourself an expert on philosophy and different worldviews, feel free to tell me which worldview you think I best align with based off of what I say.
Keep in mind as you read that what I believe, or what you believe, doesn’t really change what is actually true. In my changing views, I’m trying to get them closer and closer to the truth, and chances are, they’re not all 100% correct. Professing my beliefs feels a bit strange because I feel like I’m trying to determine what is true. In reality, I’m just trying to determine what I believe to be true and doing my best to, as Matt Dillahunty says, “believe as many true things and as few false things as possible.”
The Origin of the Universe – I believe that the universe began with a big bang. Well, the Big Bang, not a big bang, as it wasn’t really a bang but rather a sudden rapid expansion. I also believe that it is extremely complicated, dealing with physics and the existence of space and time, and I’ve accepted that I will never fully understand it.
The Multiverse – In the past I wrote that I don’t believe in a multiverse, but since writing that post, I’ve read more good arguments for a multiverse, but I haven’t extensively looked back into it. Reading Stephen Hawking’s thoughts on multiple universes made my head hurt, and I might just be too stupid to really understand this highly complex scientific question.
The Supernatural – I don’t believe in any supernatural beings. No ghosts, angels, or demons. I’ll note here that I’ve never taken any hallucinogenic drugs, which I feel like would influence my perception of the existence of things like auras, which at this time I also don’t really believe in.
Astrology – Stars exist. Planets exist. The Sun, Moon, and Earth exist, and Mercury goes into retrograde, but that doesn’t have any effect on our personalities or our luck or anything like that. Thus, I believe that astrology is bullshit.
What Humans Are – I believe that humans are animals. Specifically, humans are primates. We share a common ancestor with chimpanzees, but also with cats, and sharks, and fungi, and trees, and every other carbon-based organism on Planet Earth that our species has split off from over the last three billion years in biological evolutionary history, what Richard Dawkins calls “the greatest show on earth.”
Souls – I don’t believe in souls. I believe that what you might call a soul is all of “you” that can only exist because your brain exists. Without your brain, there is no you, and when you die, no soul floats up out of it and goes anywhere.
Death – I believe that after I die, I will experience what I experienced between the moment of the Big Bang and the year 1995. I wasn’t bothered by my nonexistence then, and I predict that it won’t bother me later on, either. That being said, I can’t help but fear death, as I imagine everyone does. I don’t let it render me hopeless, but rather the time limit reminds me not to waste the time that I have. This is probably the greatest manifestation of my humanism/nihilism mix that I mentioned earlier.
Morality – At this point in time, I believe that morality is subjective. I’ve grown my book collection on this subject, so I’m ready to dive into it further, but I haven’t started yet. For now, I’ll say that I do like the idea of moral consequentialism, which is judging your actions by their outcomes. It’s not as simple as it sounds, but nothing in ethics really is. That’s why I don’t buy the Divine Command Theory, because it’s so, so oversimplified.
Free Will – I base my beliefs on free will mostly on one source right now, which is this episode of the Here and How Podcast. It’s not really something I’ve studied in depth, but I do think that the argument in this podcast is pretty solid, and free will is probably just a strong illusion.
Abortion – The idea that abortion is always wrong was a belief that stuck with me from my time in the Christian church for far longer than their other teachings did. Over time, this belief has waned, and I would say at this point I am more pro-choice than pro-life, but there are just so many factors that it might be the type of thing to take on a case-by-case basis. I will say, however, that nothing involving abortions should be up to the government. It should be between a woman and whoever she can trust in her situation, like her family, her doctor, or her significant other. It’s a hard enough decision as it is, so demonizing people who consider terminating their own pregnancies is nothing but polarizing. Love, understanding, and sympathy are key.
Veganism – I believe that veganism is one of those moral decisions that isn’t really as complicated as people think. Veganism seems to me to just be the ethical choice. At the very least, we should be eating local, ethically-sourced meat from animals who were treated well. That said, I’m not a vegan, but I don’t eat a lot of meat anyways because, honestly, I think it’s kind of gross. It hasn’t been hard for me to cut meat-based dishes out of my diet, and one day, I might end up vegan or vegetarian.
LGBTQ Issues – I don’t think there are really any secular arguments, or any good arguments at all, against LGBT rights. To me, homophobia is no different from racism. Just don’t judge people or try to take away their rights based on qualities that are out of their control and that don’t affect your life. How hard is that?
The Meaning of Life – I don’t have a definite answer for this one. I’d be lying if I said I believe that there is one meaning of life for everyone. If there was, it would just be a drive for progress and the continuation of society and the human race, driven by evolution and Dawkins’ concept of the selfish gene. Even in people’s individual lives, your purpose is always changing.
For me, as I reach a goal, I create a new one. In high school, my goal was to find a boyfriend and choose a good college (one of those choices was a good one, but the second was not so good, other than leaving me with a handful of good friends and a passion for atheism and this blog). In college, I was just trying to survive with my sanity, and my goal was to get the eff out of there, marry my fiance, and be free.
Now, with a husband and a job, I have time to breathe and decide what I want to do next. Maybe I’ll help others in the process of coming out atheist and step further into this role of atheist activism. One day I’d love to write a book, and I work towards it in just reading and writing, which I already love. Recently I’ve been learning more about how to combat climate change, and I’m trying to do more than just recycle, but take the environmental impact of my actions into consideration with everything I do.
So these have been my current beliefs on 13 important topics that aren’t just the existence of God. Obviously, there are a lot of other things that I do or don’t believe as well, so if there is something I haven’t mentioned, feel free to ask!