I am an atheist. Apparently, I am the first atheist that one of my friends has ever met – most non-believers of her acquaintance have identified as agnostic. As a result, she is always asking me about my opinions or beliefs on all sorts of things, trying to see how far my atheism goes. I thought I’d save some time and just compile it all here.
I lack a belief in god. In saying this, I am not making a claim. Instead, I am attempting to change the focus to the believers – they are the ones making claims and thus are the ones who need to provide evidence. I have never seen any compelling evidence as to the existence of any supernatural being, thus, I have no reason to believe in it.
I do not believe in a soul, in a “me-ness” of me, in an inherent self, or anything like that. I am a monist – I believe that the mind is a product of the brain. If I had a brain injury and my personality changed, there would be no “old” Natasha lurking in the depths of my brain. Similarly, people with intellectual disabilities or mental illnesses do not have a “normal” or “healthy” self waiting to be uncovered. Health may be able to be produced through treatment, but that’s a whole other issue.
I do not believe in karma or an afterlife. This life is all there is. I don’t find this depressing, in fact, I find it liberating. If this is all I have, I had better make the most of it! I do not try to act like a good person because I think someone will judge me and either reward or punish me. I try to act like a good person because I believe in being good for it’s own sake. I know that the world won’t die when I do, so I would like to leave a positive legacy. I think that being good for it’s own sake is more moral than being good so that sky-dad will give you a cookie.
My atheism is based in my understanding of science. While I recognize that science and the scientific process are not infallible, I believe that science is the only self-correcting method of knowing our universe that we currently have. Due to my insistence on rationality and evidence, I am also a skeptic. Not all atheists are skeptics (although I think that most are) and not all skeptics are atheists (although I do not understand how a skeptical theist would rationalize that); I am both. What I am going to talk about below is not strictly atheistic, but I think is not unrelated.
I do not believe in energy flows or fields, either within the body, between people, or in the environment. These energy fields have never been documented by any reliable source, and none of the “alternative medicines” based on them fare any better than placebos. Since all the effects that energy fields claim to produce are either unprovable, or can be more easily effected via known, non-magical-energy ways, there is no reason to believe in them. This means I do not believe in acupuncture, reiki, magnetic therapy, or homeopathy. In fact, I think that most of these are scams and practitioners are at best – deluded, and at worst -vultures.
Speaking of scams, I would argue that chiropractics is one of the most prevalent and dangerous. Before you jump on me, yes, I have had chiropractic treatment and yes, I recognize that it feels good for awhile. I had regular chiropractic treatment for years, in fact, and while I always felt better immediately, none of my ills were ever improved in the slightest. On the contrary, my migraines worsened to the point that I had to quit chiropractic treatment (after many many months of second chances) and get prescription medication, which ameliorated my pain within the first week. This, of course, is just my experience and I am not stating it as evidence against chiropractics. Rather, I am trying to forestall angry comments telling me to try it before I lambaste it. The evidence against chiropractics is ample. Check the links at the bottom of this post.
I do believe that there are many natural materials that have medicinal effects, and that they have these effects through chemical reactions not energy manipulation. I know, however, that herbal medicines are less rigorously tested and less regulated, and so are potentially dangerous and potentially medicinally useless. I also have faith in the massive desire for profit that runs large pharmaceutical companies, and know that if a natural ingredient turned out to be a wonder treatment for anything, Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline would be all over it.
I believe that the only power of positive thinking is that it gives you motivation. You cannot effect the world with your mind. You cannot bring positive things to you by wishing them. I think that The Secret (which I refuse to link to) is harmful. Through the logic of that system, if you have cancer it is because you did not want to be healthy. If you are impoverished it’s because you didn’t try hard enough. This is victim-blaming, and it ignores institutional and systemic problems of discrimination.
I think that pseudoscience must be actively denounced not because I want to control what people think, but because belief in scams like these can be dangerous. People spend money on chiropractors that they could be spending on real doctors. Hell, the government of Canada gives money to naturopaths that it could be using to buy more hospital beds and operating rooms. People invest their hope and their life savings in scams, making the scammers rich from their lies. People lose their hearing from ear candling, suffer strokes from spinal adjustments, and fall victim in many other ways.
Oh, and I also think that I have a responsibility to be respectful to all people, but I have so such duty regarding your religion.