Disbelief 101: A Young Person's Guide to Atheismby S. C. Hitchcock, Tom Flynn (Preface by)
Filled with wit, humor, and clear metaphor, this exploration into atheism is written specifically for young adults, though any adult interested in learning more about atheism will find value within. Not just focused on atheism, this crash course in logical thinking addresses the issues of indoctrination, whether it be religious, political, or commercial, and makes
Filled with wit, humor, and clear metaphor, this exploration into atheism is written specifically for young adults, though any adult interested in learning more about atheism will find value within. Not just focused on atheism, this crash course in logical thinking addresses the issues of indoctrination, whether it be religious, political, or commercial, and makes the case that morality is created through reasoning and logic, not through divine communication. Many hot topics are touched upon, such as traditional arguments for God’s existence, the relationship of evolution and religious belief, the incompatible nature of science and religion, and the harmfulness of both Christianity and Islam.
Gr 9 Up
This brief and uneven treatise on the central tenet of atheism and the arguments in its favor is meant to encourage and fortify readers who are questioning their religious beliefs. It isn't an impartial look at freethinking; instead, Hitchcock sets up and attempts to demolish arguments for the existence of God, including the lack of evidence, the contradiction in an omnipotent God who allows bad things to happen to innocent people, and the fallacy of personal feelings as proof of God's existence. Unfortunately, the quality of the analysis varies from fairly cogent explanations of scientific and philosophical concepts to smug asides like, in a discussion of original sin, "Talk about sick." The treatment of some themes (evolution, for example) is too shallow, although a brief bibliography guides readers to further resources. Sporadic cartoon-style illustrations add humor: a bearded God on a wanted poster, for one. Although the author acknowledges the special difficulties of young people who find themselves questioning their family's or community's deeply held religious beliefs, it's hard to say just who this is for: anyone who appreciates Hitchcock's arguments probably needs something more meaty, and anyone who isn't so sure about the whole subject might be put off by the cocky tone.-Rebecca Donnelly, Loma Colorado Public Library, Rio Rancho, NM
- See Sharp Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)
- Age Range:
- 14 - 17 Years
Read an Excerpt
A Young Person's Guide to Atheism
By S.C. Hitchcock, Leslie White
See Sharp PressCopyright © 2009 S.C. Hitchcock
All rights reserved.
The Invisible Flying Clown
We might as well begin by picking on the Judeo-Christian god. He's no more real than any of the other gods, but he does hold a more prominent place in the English-speaking world than those funny Eastern gods, some of whom have more than their share of arms!
All of the arguments for the existence of the Christian god are as absurd as the arguments for a Muslim god, Hindu gods, a Norse god, or Greek gods. The only thing these arguments have going for them is fear. The notion of an all-knowing, all-powerful god was forced into your mind when you were young, and the fear has stayed. Even people who aren't raised in a religious home can easily pick up the idea of a god, and a fear of him, from the culture. So let's not use the term "god": it conjures up fear when it should conjure up laughter. Below, you'll find a typical dialogue between a non-believer and a Christian, only we'll replace the word "god" with "Invisible Flying Clown." If you find the idea of an Invisible Flying Clown to be crazy, good. Rest assured that it is no crazier than the notion of a god. The evidence for the existence of both is exactly the same.
Believer: You should believe in the Invisible Flying Clown.
Nonbeliever: An Invisible Flying Clown?!
Believer: The Clown — IFC for short — is an all-powerful force for good. He created the entire universe out of nothing about 6,000 years ago and watches our every move, reads our every thought, and will one day judge us for our actions.
Nonbeliever: What does the IFC want?
Believer: He only asks that we believe in Him, and believe that part of Him came to the Earth as a human/god (we haven't quite worked this part out, so we call it a holy mystery), was born of a virgin, walked on water, healed the sick by touching them, was crucified, and came back from the dead three days later.
Nonbeliever: What will happen if I don't believe in the IFC?
Believer: Well, he will punish you.
Nonbeliever: Okay, I don't believe in him. Why isn't he punishing me?
Believer: Not now, stupid, after you're dead. If you don't believe in him, or accept that part of him came to earth as a half-human mystery man, walked on water, was executed, and all the rest, then you'll burn in a place called hell for all eternity.
Nonbeliever: What do I get for believing in the IFC?
Believer: Big rewards.
Nonbeliever: Like what? What rewards have you gotten so far?
Believer: Not now, stupid. I'll get them after I'm dead. I'll go to heaven and live with the IFC in eternal bliss, singing his praises and playing with the dog I had that died when I was a kid.
Nonbeliever: How do you know the IFC exists?
Believer: Well, the book he gave us tells us so.
Nonbeliever: What else is in this book?
Believer: Well, it tells the story of the IFC's chosen people, who started out in a garden with a talking snake. They both ate fruit from a tree they weren't supposed to eat from, and the IFC banished them from the garden and made it really painful for women to give birth. Then things went bad so the IFC destroyed the Earth with a flood, except for one guy, Noah, who built a really big boat and put two of all the animals in the world on it, including the dinosaurs, and floated around until the water drained away. One of his sons saw him naked, and Noah cursed him and his descendants to a life of slavery. Pretty soon the world was repopulated with people and animals and things got bad again. The IFC's chosen people were taken as slaves in Egypt, but they escaped because the IFC rained down plagues of frogs and bugs on the Egyptians, and then the chosen people ran away across the Red Sea.
Nonbeliever: They had boats?
Believer: No, the Invisible Flying Clown parted the water for them, and then later the IFC wrote down a bunch of rules for his followers on a stone tablet.
Nonbeliever: What was the first rule?
Believer: That you shouldn't believe in any other Invisible Flying Clown besides him. Do you want to hear the rest?
Nonbeliever: Uh, no.
Believer: Anyway, we know the Invisible Flying Clown exists because it says so in the book that says all that other stuff.
Nonbeliever: Well, for the sake of argument, let's say that I don't think that book is very accurate. Is there another reason why I should believe in the IFC?
Believer: Oh yes, look around you. The world is so complicated and complex that it must have required an Invisible Flying Clown to create it.
Nonbeliever: What created the Invisible Flying Clown, then?
Believer: Well, he created himself. He works in mysterious ways.
Nonbeliever: If you're going to say that the universe is too complex not to have been designed by a higher power, then why do you have to invoke something that must be even more complex to explain it? Isn't that contradictory?
Believer: I said that the Invisible Flying Clown works in mysterious ways. Besides, I know he exists because he answers prayers.
Nonbeliever: So, if I was sick and I prayed to the IFC, I would get better?
Nonbeliever: Sometimes? Why not always?
Believer: Again —
Nonbeliever: Wait, let me guess. The IFC works in mysterious ways.
Believer: Mm-hmm. You've got it.
Nonbeliever: So, if I got cancer and prayed to the IFC He might help me and he might not?
Nonbeliever: What if I lost an arm. Would he regrow the arm for me if I prayed hard enough?
Believer: Don't be silly.
Nonbeliever: How do you know the sick people he heals aren't getting better on their own?
Believer: Duh. If they got better on their own, then why are they praying? Let's move on. Do you know how the universe began?
Believer: Does science have an answer?
Nonbeliever: Not yet, but they have several good ideas.
Believer: Well, then it must be the Invisible Flying Clown. Check and mate, sir!
There are many more arguments, which we will deal with later, that we could put in the mouth of the IFC believer, but we'll break off here lest this become tedious. The tragedy is that I'm not dealing with the belief system of some fringe cult. I'm dealing with America's most dominant religious belief. Every single one of the absolutely crazy claims made by the believer in an Invisible Flying Clown is a central idea in Christianity. One need only substitute the word "god" for "IFC," and you've summed up the beliefs of a majority of Americans!
And to make matters worse, the nonbeliever above will not be defined as rational, but will be branded a "Nonbeliever in the Invisible Flying Clown," an "aclown-ist" if you will. I actually have to call myself an atheist! Why can't I just be thought of as sane?
We could put the IFC test to any religion and it would look equally as crazy as Christianity. Muslims believe that an Invisible Flying Clown sent an angel to a cave to talk to an illiterate merchant named Mohammed, whose only notable achievement up to that time had been to marry a rich woman, and that this man was the true prophet of the Clown, and that the Clown wants women to cover their heads and that people shouldn't eat pork. Jews believe that the Invisible Clown has not yet taken human form as a messiah and are still waiting for this to happen, and also believe that eating pork ticks the Clown off. All of them, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, believe that the Clown will one day come back and destroy everything in a fire of judgment and doom. And I didn't even mention that the Clown apparently allows a bad version of himself, an Invisible Flying Devil Clown, to wreak havoc everywhere as a lesson to everyone because our human ancestors in the Garden of Clowndom misbehaved.
Would any of this nonsense survive if it wasn't forced into you and others like you through clever indoctrination — through clever use of threats, fear, and flattery (being one of "the chosen")? It's not your fault that these beliefs have been stuffed down your throat. But you deserve better.
Let's begin the process of helping you reclaim your own mind.CHAPTER 2
Atheism as "Belief"
Perhaps the most disturbing passage in the Bible is in the book of Job. In this book, the devil challenges god to a bet. The devil claims that he can get one of god's most loyal followers, a wealthy and happy man named Job, to curse god if only god will let the devil torture the man. God accepts the bet and the devil promptly kills Job's livestock, his family, and then curses the man with sickness. Job is furious and angry even at the very friends who tell him not to give up belief. Eventually, Job cries out to god for an explanation. Surely, if Job is the creation of god (after all, Job, like the rest of us, never asked to be born), he deserves one. Job is a metaphor for humanity, and he is asking this question: why must we suffer, be tortured, and die if god loves us and has the power to stop all of this pain?
The Lord himself decided to answer Job. In her great book, Doubt: A History, Jennifer Michael Hecht quotes a few phrases from this biblical chapter. These are the words from the mouth of god. This is how god chose to explain himself, to explain the evil he either allows or causes:
Have you walked the depths of the ocean? Have the gates of death been opened to you? Where does light come from? And where darkness?
Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? Hast thou seen the treasures of the hail? Hath the rain a father? Who hath begotten the drops of dew?
Canst though bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades or loosen the bands of Orion?
Out of whose womb came the ice?
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts? Or who hath given understanding to the heart? Who can number the clouds in wisdom? Or who can stay the bottles of heaven, when the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together?
Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? Or fill the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait?
Gavest thou the goodly wings upon the peacocks?
Hast thou given the horse strength? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? The glory of his nostrils is terrible. (p. 68)
As Hecht points out, god's answer is simply to bury Job in mystery, to make him feel small and insignificant so that he will not ask such inconvenient questions in the future. God does not want Job to ask why he (god) would allow evil, why he would punish all the humans of the entire world for the sins of Adam and Eve, people that they had never even met. God does not want Job to ask what kind of teacher uses the suffering and death of children as lessons. In effect, god stares down upon the lowly Job and says: "You have no right to question me. Can you explain any of the mysteries of the universe?"
What happens when Job (humanity) lifts up his eyes and says to the sky tyrant, "Yes, I can"?
Aren't the answers to these questions the rock from the slingshot that buries itself in the forehead of the giant? The rock is science, and the sling from which it is flung is disbelief.
Ironically, the first step towards answering the mysteries that god put before Job is to stop believing in the very god from whose mouth the mysteries supposedly came.
* * *
Many religious people view atheism as simply another form of belief, no different from Christianity or Hinduism. It's not. It's the absence of belief. However, for a moment let's accept the assertion that atheism is a form of religion. (I don't really accept the idea that atheism is another type of faith, and I'll explain why in a moment. But for the sake of argument let's accept the assertion that atheism is just another "belief.")
Imagine if, of all the world's religions, one of them, say some little-known Christian church buried deep in Alabama, began to work miracles. Let's say that the members of this church, when they prayed and did their rituals, were actually able to heal the sick in high, statistically verifiable percentages. Let's say this church eradicated smallpox, and through its members' prayers sent people halfway across the world in hours, and to the moon in days. Let's say that its ministers were able to stare far out into the cosmos and down at the tiniest particles. There would seem to be nothing, given enough time, that these believers couldn't accomplish through their religion's rituals.
Wouldn't this little church win converts from all around the world? Wouldn't a religious sect with this kind of real-world power become completely dominant? It would be considered the one true faith. According to those who look at atheism as a belief, there is such a religion. It is called atheism, and it works precisely because it is so different from all of the other religions. Where the other religions assume that there are gods and a spirit world, atheism assumes there are not.
Let's define the "religion" of atheism in this way: "Atheism believes that questions of the natural world can be solved by beginning with the proposition that there is no god. Instead, the atheist looks at evidence before making a claim."
Okay, now let's assume that this "religion" of atheism has a ritual; it's called the scientific method. We've all learned it. One asks a question, sets up a hypothesis, runs an experiment, and then examines the evidence.
Atheism has now been defined as a "religion" with a core "theological" doctrine, and a "religious" ritual. We could stretch the metaphor to include labs as places of worship, etc., but it's unnecessary.
Let's now imagine our religion of atheism in the real world, where it must compete with other religions for followers. It's just one more piece of lettuce on the salad bar of religious belief.
The atheists, using their atheistic rituals, have conquered many of humankind's most destructive diseases. They have created artificial limbs, the telephone, flight, advances in agriculture and medicine. They have even managed to predict the weather. (Talk about prophecy!) They have created weapons technology capable of destroying the entire world many times over. Is this not a powerful religion? Has atheism not truly discovered the ways of god by simply assuming that there isn't one?
Imagine if any single religious sect could claim the kind of success in real-world results, for good or bad, that atheistic science has. Can you imagine if an evangelical Christian church could pray a man into orbit? Would they hide this away and say that god works in mysterious ways, or would they scream it from the rooftops and win converts because of their supernatural miracle?
Atheistic science has been too successful. It makes the miraculous commonplace. If ever the world was destroyed nearly entirely, and some new race of intelligent beings, mired again in religious mumbo jumbo, discovered that we, the ancients, knew how to fly and how to prevent plagues, and could see hurricanes coming, wouldn't they think we had some powerful religion indeed? And if we could explain it all to this new race, wouldn't they be surprised to find that not a single one of our miracles was the result of prayer or religious ritual? That there wasn't a single word in any of our holy books about nuclear physics, about bacteria or viruses, about meteorology? We did the miraculous, we would have to say, by assuming that miracles don't exist and by ignoring the false teachings in our holy texts.
So if atheism is just another "belief," why doesn't atheism have a massive following? Why are atheists instead a small minority in America? Why are we reviled and pushed out of politics and public conversation?
It's because the advances of science are never described as being successful primarily because science assumes there is no god. Imagine a newspaper article that described a breakthrough in the creation of a smallpox vaccine:
A group of atheists, working under the always successful assumption that there is no god and that the natural world operates without any supernatural help, found today that smallpox is in fact created by microscopic entities called viruses. Now that this evidence is in, the scientists can work on the creation of a vaccine using weakened viruses to strengthen the body's immune system. Another victory for the atheistic world view.
Don't you see? Everything that works in the world, everything that humanity has created works because we assume there is no god. Cars work because we assume that no god will help run them if there's no gasoline or engine. Diseases are cured because we assume that god has nothing to do with them; so scientists look for other causes. Buildings stand because we build them strongly, knowing that the hand of god won't hold them up.
Excerpted from Disbelief 101 by S.C. Hitchcock, Leslie White. Copyright © 2009 S.C. Hitchcock. Excerpted by permission of See Sharp Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
S. C. Hitchcock has won a national award from the Society of Professional Journalists, was published in a journal by the National Council for Social Studies, and his fiction has been published in small literary magazines. He lives in the Midwest. Tom Flynn is the editor of Free Inquiry magazine, director of the Center for Inquiry, founding coeditor of Secular Humanist Bulletin, director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, and coauthor of The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief. He lives in Amherst, New York.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews