Perhaps the most basic reason for not believing in any gods is the absence of good reasons for doing so. Since the burden of support (or proof, depending on the nature of the claim) lies first and foremost with those making the positive assertion — the theistic, religious believers who say their god exists — non-believers don’t need reasons not to believe. They may help, but they aren’t particularly necessary. Instead, what is required are reasons to believe.
This is not to say that there aren’t any good reasons not to believe; on the contrary, there are many arguments which cast enough doubt on the claims of religious theists to easily justify either not believing, or questioning — and eventually leaving — whatever theistic and religious beliefs a person might have had in the past. Most of those reasons, though, assume the premise that there is some reasonable basis for at least considering belief in the first place. They also tend to assume some particular religion and some particular god or gods, excluding all others from consideration for the sake of argument.
Believers fail to meet this burden and thus fail to provide good reasons to accept their claims. As a consequence, those who don’t already believe and/or who are not biased in favor of belief aren’t given a reason to start. Those who are not biased in favor of some particular religion or some particular god aren’t given a reason for favoritism and don’t have a reason to pick just one of them for belief, excluding all others.
The question “Why don’t you believe?” is a request for justification from the nonbeliever; the response “I haven’t seen any good reason to bother believing” returns the need for justification back where it belongs: with the believer. Too often, believers fail to realize that their position is the one needing defense and this response may help them understand that. If they can’t offer any good reasons for singling out their religion and their god for belief, dismissing all others as false, then they shouldn’t expect nonbelievers to provide any arguments for why this one religion and this form of theism are not accepted.
Theists should think of a god they don’t believe in and ask why they don’t believe in it.
Some may answer that their religion teaches them not to. Others, however, will respond in a way similar to the above — they have no reason to bother and/or they have good reasons to think that that god does not or cannot exist. Well, atheists don’t believe for the same sorts of reasons. This helps reveal the fact that theists and atheists aren’t always as far apart as they sometimes imagine. Most theists are monotheists, which means that they reject all of the tens of thousands of alleged gods except one; atheists simply don’t make an exception for that last one.
The larger and more important difference between atheists and theists is probably the methodology used to arrive at these conclusions. Why does the theist disbelieve in all other gods except for the one or few in their belief system? Why does the atheist, skeptic, or freethinker not make an exception for just one god out of the tens of thousands which humans throughout history have believed in? It’s not what atheists and theists do or do not believe in which should receive the most attention, but the reasons why they do or do not believe in things.
Once we have a decent idea of the different methodologies people use for forming beliefs and opinions, we should then ask which methodology seems like the best general tactic for arriving at truth. What I mean is, we should ask which method will do the best job of helping us sift through the myriad of claims we face every day, discarding more false beliefs than true one and allowing us to accept more true beliefs than false ones. For example, would you use the method in question as a sound basis for deciding whether to buy one house versus another? Would you use it for deciding whether to buy a used car? Would you use it when evaluating the claims made by a politician who wants your vote — or even better, would you use it to evaluate the claims made by a prominent, national politician who belongs to a party other than your own?
These are important questions because they will reveal if one approaches the question of whether any gods exist and whether any religions are true with the same basic standards they use when approaching other claims in life. It is my experience that few people are so consistent, and they often apply far lower standards of evidence and logic to theistic and religious claims they grew up with than they do to anything else. Put simply, they know better than to apply such standards to buying used cars and to believing politicians, but for some reason “knowing better” doesn’t get translated into areas like religion.
- Theism 101: What is Theism? Who are Theists? Believing in God and Gods
- Myth: If People Fail to Believe in God, They Will Believe in Anything
- Why Should Theists Prove that God Exist
- The Real Reasons Why People Believe in God