Andrew Zak Williams asks a slew of prominent atheists why they don't believe

August 02, 2011

Listed below are excerpts from the five responses that resonated most with me.

Andrew Copson (Chief executive of the British Humanist Association):

I don't believe in any gods or goddesses, because they are so obviously human inventions. Desert-dwellers have severe, austere and dry gods; suffering and oppressed people have loving and merciful gods; farmers have gods of rain and fruitfulness; and I have never met a liberal who believed in a conservative God or a conservative who believed in a liberal one. Every God I have ever heard of bears the indelible marks of human manufacture, and through history we can explain how and why we invented them.

Kenan Malik (neurobiologist):

Invoking God at best highlights what we cannot yet explain about the physical universe, and at worst exploits that ignorance to mystify. Moral values do not come prepackaged from God, but have to be worked out by human beings through a combination of empathy, reasoning and dialogue.

This is true of believers, too: they, after all, have to decide for themselves which values in their holy books they accept and which ones they reject.

And it is not God that gives meaning to our lives, but our relationships with fellow human beings and the goals and obligations that derive from them. God is at best redundant, at worst an obstruction. Why do I need him?

Steven Weinberg (physics Nobel Laureate):

I do not believe in God - an intelligent, all-powerful being who cares about human beings - because the idea seems to me to be silly. The positive arguments that have been given for belief in God all appear to me as silly as the proposition they are intended to prove. Fortunately, in some parts of the world, religious belief has weakened enough so that people no longer kill each other over differences in this silliness.

It is past time that the human race should grow up, enjoying what is good in life, including the pleasure of learning how the world works, and freeing ourselves altogether from supernatural silliness in facing the real problems and tragedies of our lives.

Sam Harris (neuroscientist):

[T]he notion that any ancient book could be an infallible guide to living in the present gets my vote for being the most dangerously stupid idea on earth.

What remains for us to discover, now and always, are those truths about our world that will allow us to survive and fully flourish. For this, we need only well-intentioned and honest inquiry - love and reason. Faith, if it is ever right about anything, is right by accident.

Jennifer Bardi (Editor of The Humanist):

The short and easy answer is lack of evidence. I also see no value in believing in God, because if you're thinking clearly and honestly you necessarily must face the issue of suffering, and the ensuing existential crisis wastes precious time and energy. Alleviating suffering is what we should pour our minds and hearts into.

Moreover, I simply don't want to believe, because the notion of an all-knowing, all-seeing God who lets bad stuff happen really gives me the creeps.

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