Don't tell me you never had this question asked to you, subsequently to your, usually politely, explaining to whoever asks about your religion, that you're an atheist and do not believe in any god; you're an atheist and do not believe that a god exists; or whatever combination of words you choose.

That's pretty much how it goes.

Even people who know that atheists do not believe in a god will sometimes still assume they share a common set of beliefs or principles, and have common political tendencies.

"So, what do atheists believe?", is their question.

If you ask me, I've had a wide variety of comebacks, depending on my mood at the moment, most of them facetious, but most likely, after explaining that atheists (as a group) do not have a common set of beliefs, I say that *I* believe in love, in humanity and our good faith... just to keep it simple... because, quite frankly, we don't "believe" in science - we find it verifiable. We don't "believe" in the universe and its wonders, we have seen them through amazing telescopes. I guess you get my point.

So what do you, fellow atheist, believe in, or what do you think is the best answer to this question?


Side note: This discussion is focused rather on the best comeback to the question in it, which in this specific context, is always asked as "opposed to your non-belief in god, what do atheists believe?"

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Sigh! My comment was, in the context of your earlier one (the one to which I replied), entirely correct.



Leaving aside the commentsto the effect that I don't know the meaning of the words I use (just trust me on this, typically I do) ... in addition to the presuppositions listed by Unseen I suggested a further one, that the universe is "inherently explicable" meaning that it is inherently something that can (at least potentially) be explained. At no point did I state or imply that it had been explained.


Please try and read the words I actually wrote and not re-interpret them to mean something you would seem to prefer I said :)



About 10 years ago I pondered this question: If I don't believe in a god, what do I believe in? I then wrote, after months of thought, pondering and introspection an amazing Ten Commandments that reflected what I believe in. A few weeks later my computer was stolen and I lost it! Since then I have tried to  recall these magic ten commandments but to no avail. One that exercised my mind for some time is man's violent nature; we are virtually unique in the animal world in the sense of destroying our fellow man and while there are many socio-psychological theories and discourses around this, I eventually concluded that man's cognitive mind and critical consciousness comes at a price,i.e. intolerance. Although this is an over-simplification of a complex issue, the more reliant a species is on the instinct to survive the more such species is able to function in a socially coherent construct in its particular environment, e.g. termites, bees, etc. Humans  have evolved where instinct is virtually non-existent and cognition is the dominant modus operandus. 

Wow, you need to watch more nature TV. Man isn't the only murderous creature at all. Males fight other males to get a female, or a harem of females. They fight and kill over territory. The higher you get in the evolutionary tree, the more you find seemingly gratuitous murder that seems evil (I'm thinking of chimps, in particular). Gangs of animals will attack other animals or gangs to defend their territory or take over someone else's territory. Even dolphins have been known to fight and kill their own kind.


Nature isn't a friendly place and you cannot necessarily trust even your own kind.

There's a big difference between violence as found among animals such as apes protecting their territories, mates, scarce resources etc. (nature is as you say not a friendly place and indeed evolution requires weeding out the weak for survival and continuation of the species) and man (recent research is indicating similar behaviour among the Bonobo apes). Man is the only specie that actually plans and executes murder/aggression etc well into the future as a cognitive exercise (as opposed to an instinctive response to dangers and threats) that may have absolutely nothing to do with scarce resources, territorial protection etc. The so-called gratuitous murder you speak of among chimpanzees is actually now being classified as a 'human' trait and is considered to be an evolutionary occurrence.

This also applies to the use of weapons among some animals. Over grazing (for example) of land in some areas trigger territorial invasions and a battle will ensue...this does not however mean that a conscious decision has been formulated to do so by the invaders. 

...and of course man is a primate...I never disputed that. Read my original point: man has evolved where instinct is virtually non-existent. Other primates are on a similar evolutionary path as we as humans are as well. Gorillas are known for example to accept humans into their clans without aggression or fear. 

As far as I know (and I freely admit to being no expert) that isn't true, colonies of apes are seen to exhibit behaviours similar to humans, even rats in confined overcrowded conditions do things somewhat analagous to human crime (murder, rape etc.) ... can't remember where I read that but I think that's what is understood to be so.


Besides, human crime, warfare, agression and all the rest (even the good things we do) is quite easy to compare to animal behaviour in many ways if you ask me. Seems to me that warfare is just a more sophisticated (intelligent) way of doing exactly what animals do. We like to think we are better than other animals but I've yet to see a convincing argument that we actually are, an argument that is anything much more than elitist or speciesist.



We're probably off topic here...and yes I'm aware of the social studies that have been/are being done concerning animal behaviour. And I agree that warfare can be seen as a more sophisticated way of doing what animals do (although humans are way more cruel/evil IMHO)...BUT my original point still stands: man is the only animal we know of that is conscious of his consciousness (at the meta level) ( and this is a function of his evolution. "Creatures that are conscious in the relevant meta-mental sense not only have beliefs, motives, perceptions and intentions but understand what it is to have such states and are aware of both themselves and others as having them." while we humans may be chauvinistic about our so-called 'superiority', this is neither elitist (hate that negative label) or speciesist (sic). 

Animals have feelings, can suffer, be happy etc etc as do humans, but this does not prove that they consciously plan future directed violent behaviour against their own species or others, except in the context of satisfying natural instincts that could be driven by fear, hunger, reproduction and so on. There are some interesting experiments going on with chimpanzees to test their ability to cooperate with each other and share the spoils of their efforts (as humans do), but it is still limited.


@Brian   We don't really KNOW that other people have feelings or suffer because we can't feel what they feel. We seem to analogize from what we go through and make the leap that they must feel something similar by the fact that they behave and respond the way we do.


Think the predicament we'd be in guessing what's going on in others if they had no facial expressions, gestures, and behaviors as an anchor for the analogy.


I'm not sure why you place such emphasis on planning. Some of the worst crimes people commit are simply impulsive. Fits of rage. Jealousy. The attack of a gang of thugs on someone they sense as vulnerable. Are these any less evil than a planned attack?


Actually, in many ways the planned attacks can be sometimes more excusable. Wars are frequently justified to those who plan them, and perhaps to others looking on dispassionately as well.


Capturing territory is something so elemental that even plants do it. Recapturing territory lost to rapacious attacks is something gangs of animals do, as do people.Who's to say it's wrong or evil for them to take what they feel is theirs?


What's evil is always from someone's point of view, and of course it seems to be a concept lost on animals.

I disagree ... I think there were studies that indicate other animals have levels of conciousness. Seems to me it's only our personal conceit that makes us think that way.



You're welcome to your opinion but I'd appreciate references to the studies you speak of. The reference I gave above of Stanford is very comprehensive and admittedly 'consciousness' is a controversial field of study. 


As I said, "I think" there were studies (I recall reading some such) ... I will, however, see if I can find some of the articles though I doubt they'll be "scholarly" in the sense of being direct psychology articles.


EDIT: Hmmm ... you mention Stanford, I typed "consciousness in animals" into Google and it came up with an "Animal Conciousness" page from that a late paragraph of which (7.5) says,


The increasing willingness of scientists to discuss consciousness in animals has also fostered renewed speculation about the evolution of consciousness. Ginsburg & Jablonka (2007a,b) attribute a primitive form of “overall sensation” as a by-product of even the simplest nerve nets in animals, but they argue that it is only as these states became harnessed during evolutionary time to learning and motivation that they acquired the functional properties of “basic consciousness”. They propose that this transition occurred in invertebrates, perhaps as early as the Cambrian. Cabanac et al. (2009) also refer to the motivational properties of consciousness as key to understanding its evolution. Citing evidence that amphibians lack certain physiological, anatomical, and behavioral markers of emotion — e.g., in response to handling frogs do not show a slowing of heart rate (aka emotional tachycardia) — they locate the key transition in the origin of the Amniote vertebrates, the lineage that includes reptiles, birds, and mammals. Edelman & Seth (2009) survey evidence for consciousness in birds and cephalopods, and they conclude that while the evidence for cephalopod consciousness is suggestive, it is not as good as the strong evidence for avian consciousness.


Does that not suggest a willingness by workers in the field to be open-minded about the possiblility and even seems to suggest that the evidence for avian conciousness is quite strong?



Taxonomically humans are are apes too. We belong to the great ape family


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