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This Atheist

February 27, 2008

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.

On Atheism:

Lack of Belief in God

American Atheists

Society for the Happily Unchurched, Freethinking Folk of Lethbridge

Atheistic Forum

Greta Christina

On Skepticism:

What is Pseudoscience?

The Skeptic’s Dictionary



Crap-Based Medicine

Scientific Evidence Against Chiropractic

12 Comments leave one →
  1. jambo29 permalink
    February 27, 2008 8:53 pm

    As I respect your right to believe what you would like, I would have to say that my studies in science did the total opposite for me. They actual proved to me that there is a God. Especially the study of biology and human physiology. Nothing so complex and amazing could just happen without creative superior design.

  2. February 27, 2008 9:13 pm

    Amen, sister. Um, about the chiropractor, I mean. Florists are bad enough thieves, but at least they don’t try to paralyze you.

  3. Dr. Jim permalink
    February 27, 2008 9:15 pm

    Well put!

    (but don’t you at least believe in bunnies?)

  4. marymc permalink
    February 28, 2008 4:26 am

    Oh nice one!

    I liked this, “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.”

    As the mum of an autistic child, I believe this too and it bugs me so much when I constantly hear the “trapped in the shell of autism” rubbish spouted by so many. He is what he is, and that’s the real and only version of him available. And a perfect version it is too, with all his difficulties, quirks and skills.

  5. February 28, 2008 8:03 am

    I guess it’s good that education does different things for different people. I mean, as much as I like myself, I am reasonably convinced that one of me is enough. 🙂

    Under no circumstances should you let a florist give you a spinal adjustment, or a bunny. Just say “I don’t believe in bunnies!” and run.

    marymc – I’m reassured by your comment. I hesitated before writing that bit because I know how a lot of parents of disabled kids talk about them and I didn’t want to start a fight (not about that, anyway).
    I know that until recently the Autism Society of America used the image of a puzzle with a piece missing to represent the disorder (nice, huh?). I think that they changed it because a lot of people with autism piped up and said “Uh, we aren’t missing a piece, and you can’t complete us.”

  6. Dr. Jim permalink
    February 28, 2008 8:29 am

    Well, I’m still all for the Easter Bunny, but I do think we should begin lobbying the government here in Canada to regulate the–well, lets call it the “Faith Based Health-care Industry”. Claims of faith-healings, miracle cures etc. must be regulated. I don’t mind preachers giving hope to those suffering from various problems if they agree to work with proper doctors etc., but really, Benny Hinn pushing people over and claiming they are cured of something and making bazzilions off it is something that shouldl be investigated.

    A lot of this sort of crap goes on in Canada, too, but it seems that we lack a strong enough spine to go after reigious groups and silly claims of healing and so forth.

  7. February 28, 2008 12:08 pm

    I agree. I wonder under whose jurisdiction crap like that falls. No one seems to want to take it on, though. I guess because the believers want it to continue, and most of the non-believers just don’t care. There’s no political will.

  8. Samuel Skinner permalink
    February 28, 2008 12:31 pm

    Poster one has obviously not alot of contact with genetic disease or the evil in nature (if it isn’t the rape it is the paralyzing the prey and eating it inside out). Or for that matter the internet and international capitalist system. Tremendous order and no design- just some rules that lead to order. There is a whole bracnch of science devoted to things like that.

  9. Radi permalink
    March 3, 2008 7:16 pm

    Natasha, you said it perfectly. I never have the eloquence to say all this when I’m talking to someone, so now I can just save this essay and show/send it to people and say – “this is what I think, too” 🙂

  10. March 3, 2008 7:20 pm

    Thank you, I appreciate that. It’s definitely easier to come up with the right thing to say when you are sitting in the comfort of your own kitchen than when confronted by a believer on the offense.

  11. March 9, 2008 3:44 pm

    Nothing so complex and amazing could just happen without creative superior design.

    Seems to me that you suffer from an inability to grasp the timescales involved in evolution, as well as a lack of understanding of evolutionary processes, jambo.

    Also, if there is a designer, it does a really shitty job. We could save billions of dollars in biomedical research if a few key things were “designed” better.


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