Words and Rules
Discussion is impossible without agreement on the meaning of words and the rules of argument.
"What a word means when it leaves my mouth may be completely different when it enters your ear."
Theologians have invented hundreds of words when trying to explain their beliefs. Fortunately we don't need most of them for our purposes so here are the key ones. Let us know if you disagree with our definitions.
- "Universe": everything: galaxies, stars, planets, life, molecules, atoms, particles, sub-particles, energy, forces (like gravity) - everything natural as opposed to "supernatural".
- "God": an ill-defined supernatural entity believed to have created everything - except itself. This leads to the classic atheist question::
"If everything is created by something, and everything was created by god, who or what created god?"
- "Theos": Greek word for god.
- "Theist": someone who answers the big questions of life by inventing the idea of a god.
- "Theism": no such thing, no such ideology. Theists do not necessarily share any belief other than believing in a god
- "Atheist": someone who answers the big questions of life without inventing the idea of a god.
- "Atheism": no such thing, no such ideology. Atheists do not necessarily share any belief other than not believing in a god.
- "Anti-theist": someone who opposes theists. This is an unfortunate term because it implies opposition to theists as people - it personalises an argument which should be about ideas, not people. A better term would be "anti-religionist".
- "Anti-religionist": someone who opposes many of the things done in the name of religion.
- "Religiophobe": someone who is fearful of many things done in the name of religion. Not all fears are irrational: "just because you are paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you!"
- "Islamophobe"": literally someone who is fearful of many things done in the name of Islam. It has been distorted to mean "anti-muslim" or an irrational fear of Muslims. There could equally be "Sikhophobe", "Hinduphobe", "Judeophobe", "Christianophobe", "Zoroastrophobe" - an endless list of phobias representing fear of what is done in the name of individual religions. A more universal term would be "religiophobe".
- "Secularist": someone who campaigns for an end to the privileges enjoyed by religions - particularly their role in the state and in education. A secular state guarantees freedom of thought, belief and expression for all - except where belief calls for harm to others. A secular state guarantees the right of all young people to make a free and informed choice about what to believe.
- "Prophet": a person believed to have been used directly by one or more gods to make god's words known to humans. Some religions, such as Christianity, choose not to use the word "prophet" about their key religious figure. Instead they believe that this figure was, in some way, "god" in human form. This was a major cause of conflict during the first 300 years of Christianity and there is still no universal agreement amongst all Christian sects.
- "Holy book": a book written to describe the beliefs of a religion. Many religions believe that the words in their holy book were revealed directly by god to one or more of their prophets. No one explains why an all-powerful god could not write the book herself, why she chose to reveal herself to illiterate people and why her words are so ambiguous. Millions have died in religious conflicts in the world up to the present day - all down to different interpretations of holy books. It seems that god is incapable of explaining things clearly - she would make a very poor teacher.
- "Religion": a group of people who share belief in the same god(s), who believe in some form of life after death, who share the same Holy Books and who rely on the same holy men (scholars, theologians, priests) to interpret their holy books and provide leaderhip. Many religions are male dominated and hierarchical. Inter-religious conflict has been a major cause of war over many centuries.
- "Sect": a group of people within a religion who disagree with other groups about the interpretation of their holy books. Sectarian intra-religious conflict remains a major source of violence today.
- "Abrahamic religions": "the people of the book" - Judaism, Christianity and Islam which all share at least part of their holy books - including belief in a prophet called Abraham.
- "Soul": an ill-defined supernatural entity that many religions believe enters a newly forming human being (at some undefined point during development) and which survives death.
- "Devil": we see no need to get involved with this - one supernatural entity is sufficient when contrasting the beliefs of theists and atheists..
- "Angels": we see no need to get involved with these - one supernatural entity is sufficient when contrasting the beliefs of theists and atheists..
- "Heaven": an ill-defined but pleasant place where some religious people believe the soul goes after death - as long as you have lived your life according to the rules defined in your holy book.
- "Hell": a very unpleasant place where some religious people believe the soul goes after death - if you have failed to live your life according to the rules defined in your holy book. Some religion believe that their god keeps score of good and bad deeds throughout life and the soul is "judged" to decide if it should go to heaven or hell.
- "Truth": that which can be proved by way of evidence and testing.
The rules of argument were laid down thousands of years ago in ancient Greece and elsewhere. We need to follow these rules or one side will accuse the other of cheating.
The most fundamental rule relates to who has the responsibility to prove what?
If someone proposes that the earth is round (a slightly squashed sphere) while everyone else believes it is flat, it is up the proposer to prove it. If someone proposes that the Earth orbits the Sun while others, for religious reasons, believe the Sun orbits the Earth, it is up to the proposer to prove it. If someone believes that pigs can fly it is up to her to prove it.
It is never necessary to prove a negative - if it was the world would be full of an infinite number of silly proposals and an infinite amount of time would be wasted trying to prove that such proposals were wrong.
This may all be summed up as:
"He who postulates must prove."
If a theist proposes that the Universe was created by a supernatural entity, the theist must provide proof.
Atheists do not propose anything so they have nothing to prove. They merely examine the arguments used by theists and accept them or reject them. In fact, they reject all of them as neither necessary nor sufficient proofs of anything supernatural. Atheists see no need of the god idea to explain anything, in fact, everything explained by the god idea can be explained much simpler without it.
"The simplest explanation is usually the best, the one that makes the fewest assumptions and invents the fewest new ideas."
The problem with religions is that they are far from simple, they make a multitude of assumptions, they make assertions which they claim to be "true" and they invent hundreds of new ideas in an attempt to get round problems with their arguments or to explain what they consider unexplainable.