When I defended my thesis, one of my committee members asked me, “Why do you believe hope is a more important variable than the others?” I wrote my thesis on the genesis of self-immolation. Anyway, I gave him a long-winded answer highlighting how suicide is rarely the product of a hopeful person. In short, if an altruistic individual thinks he/she can affect change without committing suicide, they will probably not commit suicide. That’s all I’m going to write about that. If you want more you can read my thesis over on ProQuest, I’m sure.
What I should have said is, “I don’t believe [blah, blah], I accept that the evidence suggests [blah, blah].”
We atheists — many of us — are skeptics. Many of us are educated, some higher than most people. We understand how observations lead to hypotheses, and how testing hypotheses can lead to theories. But our understanding of how knowledge is formed does not mean we actually believe what we are saying.
Belief is a rather firm word. It’s difficult to change beliefs. For example, I believe my car is blue. It would be difficult for me to change that belief. I would have to paint my car, which is something I don’t want to do. So my car is blue. So what? It doesn’t mean anything.
But when it comes to important matters, we don’t have beliefs. Now it’s a given that atheists don’t believe in god, but we also don’t believe in the big bang, in evolution, in germ theory, in Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, or even in the theory of gravity. We don’t believe them because we know that someday science might prove them wrong. Rather, we accept that the evidence suggests that they are true.
When Christians, or otherwise religious people, say, “atheists don’t believe in anything,” that’s sort of true. As I mentioned before, we believe in trivial things (I believe I will get drunk if I drink a lot of beer), but we don’t believe in the big things because the evidence is not perfect. But despite it not being perfect, it’s the best we have right now.
On the god matter, on the other hand, we have no reason to accept that evidence points to a divine supernatural agency. We definitely have no reason to believe in one. So the point that religious people are trying to make is true, just not in a way that is very flattering to religious belief.