Is it really necessary for someone to believe in a god? (Attn: Atheists)

(note the lower-case ‘g’ in god. I do not mean only GOD, but rather a ‘higher power’ of sorts). How do atheists feel looked upon by the general public? Why do atheists feel the need to deny the existance of any higher power whatsoever? Is it simply human nature to desire to have a higher power to believe in?


If you define “god” to mean “any set of ideals or beliefs” then practically everyone believes in a god. If you define “leg” to include “tail”, then there are a lot of five-legged dogs running around out there. I’m with Abraham Lincoln, though–calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.

Various polls have shown that atheists are still pretty unpopular with the general public in the United States. This does not mean that atheists are incorrect. In countries where atheism is more widespread, and atheists are more generally accepted as normal and decent people, this still does not make atheists correct, either.

Most atheists would simply say they have seen no evidence for any “higher power”, unless you mean something like gravity, and I for one think it does violence to the language and hinders communication to use the same word for the God of Christian theology and for something along the lines of “the Universe itself” or “orderly natural laws”. Others have disagreed, and speak of “God” when they really mean the impersonal and purposeless laws of physics.

To some extent, probably yes. However, there are atheists, who are human beings, who do not think there is any good reason to believe in a higher power; some of them may be existentially tormented by this, but others are perfectly happy. So it’s not an immutable, universal, unalterable part of human identity.

yes, little more than 5 years ago I was a believer…a believer enough to complete 1 out of the 7 years necessary to become a pastor… within the last 2 years I have finally admitted that I am an athiest (in that I do not KNOW but think there is no god)

I learned in theology class about a theologian named Paul Tillich, who speaks of “Ultimate Concerns” and says everyone has one, and thus everyone has a god. Some people’s god is money, for some it is sex…power…alcohol…etc. His argument, of course, is that all of the latter things are fleeting and unstable, and only god as an ultimate concern is solid enough to make us happy.

But like MEBuckner said, this really isn’t a God as in some dude (or lifeforce) that created the universe and hears our prayers and such. So, as I used to agree with Tillich, now I see that his argument falls flat (despite the fact that we all have our ultimate concerns).

We definitely don’t need god, but it definitely makes life easier. Death is a scary thing for all people, and it is much worse to think that after this you are just a shell (or ashes) rotting away, with no thought processes or pleasure/pain receptors than to think that after this we have eternal paradise with virgins or clouds or whatever…

And the not-so religious believers will pray to god in an instant when a crisis comes up. It is nice to have someone on your side, someone who is all powerful that will help you out or atleast secure a place for you in his mansion.

That is why so many people believe in god I think. That and they’re raised that way. I finally had to concede to what I saw as evidence pointing to the fact that we are alone, we are animals, we are temporary…and ultimately we are unimportant.

Big steps down, I know. It is hard with an issue like this, which is basically unprovable. You never know until you die, and if there is no god, then you never know.

it is human nature to question…and since we don’t have many answers in that department we kind of make up shit as we go along. if you go back to primitive religions (whose people did not yet understand the complex relationships that cause natural disasters and such) they blame it all on god. we have a lot of scientific fact now to even things out a bit, but we still have a lot of unanswered questions, and thus the need for god (for quite a few people) is still there.

elohim hiu bishvil cusitim

I don’t feel the NEED to deny the existence of a higher power - I just don’t buy that one exists.

I’m perfectly happy in not believing in the existance of a god, and that my life is in the grand scheme of things, meaningless, and will have very little effect on the big picture. Even people of seeming importance, presidents, and the like really don’t mean all that much in the end.

How is it that I can get by thinking like this? Quite easily actually.

It is my belief, that my purpose, is to make the most of the time that I do have, to make myself happy. Life is my heaven in a way, and it could be my hell if I allowed it. That sort of detachment I feel in a way helps me through major problems too. As soon as I realize just how insignifigant my problems are in the grand scheme of things, I find it possible to get over them easier, and continue with my life.

I don’t need a god, I just need to look to myself.

Some people find the need to believe in a god for the answers to their problems, some sort of great reassuring power. Instead, I do what I feel is right. I probably lead a more moral life than most god fearing individuals do, but not for some fear of punishment, but because it is what makes me feel like a better person. I’ve always felt a need to go about things on my own, my lack of belief in a god is merely a reflection of the type of person that I am.

Well… why do theists (i.e. believers) feel the need to support the existance of a higher power? I’m sorry if you think us atheists are bursting your bubble or ruining your fun because we’re not jumping onto some kind of religious bandwagon, but I’m not sorry enough to alter my viewpoint.

As for human nature… so? I’ll grant that belief in a grand design or plan may be comforting, but it’s also human nature to use reason and logic (if it isn’t, why do we have them?) and my own reason and logic haven’t encountered anything I’d consider evidence of a higher power, so I choose not to dwell on it or spend my time worshipping it.

I’ll answer with my two cents, even though I don’t identify as an atheist, as I understand the word.

**Is it really necessary for someone to believe in a god? **


**How do atheists feel looked upon by the general public? **

It’s never been an issue for me. I don’t question other’s beliefs and they are polite enough to extend the same courtesy to me. It just isn’t a topic that I’ve ever heard discussed too much. And I’ve never had the feeling that I’ve been “looked upon” as a non-believer.

**Why do atheists feel the need to deny the existance of any higher power whatsoever? **

Since, I don’t self-identify as an athiest, I won’t answer this one. I’ll just suggest that perhaps there are as many different types of athiest as there are thiest, and perhaps not all of them feel this need you speak of.

Is it simply human nature to desire to have a higher power to believe in?

It may be your human nature, or even a majority of human natures to desire a higher power, but it’s not everyone’s human nature to do so.

BTW, Colinito, you’ve given me some food for thought with your comments re: “Ultimate Concerns”. Thanks

The general public that believes in a god in my expereince doesn’t take too kindly to an aetheist asserting their lack of belief in a god. Personally I usually avoid discussions about religion and god most of the time because they usually always wind up in the “believer” strongly disagreeing with me.

I can’t speak for other aetheist, but I do not have a need to deny the existance of a god or higher power, it just not something that I believe in.

It isn’t necessary for someone to believe in a god, which is why I don’t. A person can easily be of high moral caliber and not believe in god or a higher power, equally true, a person can be of very low moral caliber and believe in a god or higher power(well at least profess to.)

Yes, they say that. But whenever I hear or read something from some atheists, I get the impression that deep down inside the "atheist actually believes in God, but hates him bitterly.
Whenever I hear an atheist ranting “how could a God let this happen”, or “how could a God let these people suffer”, etc, I get the idea that the atheist actually knows there is a God, but is pissed at him. This anger is then projected uopn those of us who do outwardly believe in God. This type of “atheist” insists upon not believing in God as a way of getting even with the very God they are angry at. It’s sort of like when a spoiled child tells his parents that he hates them.

Of course, not all atheist are like this, but far, far, far more are than will ever admit.


Sounds like your position is more like that of an agnostic (a word coined by Thomas Huxley from a-, meaning without, and the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge. Of course, calling yourself an agnostic does nothing to soften the ire of those who would hate you for atheism, because they insist that agnostic and athiest mean the same thing. Simply put, an agnostic doubts the existence of god, while an atheist denies the existence of god (a more rigid, if indefensible position, since actual knowledge is unavailable either way). You say you think there is no god (as do I), but you don’t know (same here). Agnostic. And calling yourself an agnostic has the added benefit of ruffling in-your-face theists.


I think you just answered the OP. The fact of death makes belief desirable, but it doesn’t make it necessary. It’s just that there are more people than not who need a feeling of certainty where the agnostic and the athhiest alike know certainty does not exist.



You will discover as you progress that this is not true. There are many who have the courage and the intellectual honesty to face crisis without a crutch. Even so, I’ve never seen anyone make the statement, “There are no atheists in foxholes” without a look of smug superiority on his face. I’m not accusing you of that, because you are still seeking your own personal truth. But the fact that the idea still seems sound to you shows you have a ways to go.

Many, probably most, self-identified atheists would say that they have no evidence for the existence of any God or gods, and therefore have no belief in such–not whay you say.

One point is that there are many definitions of God, and therefore any one person will have as many opinions about God as there are definitions. Thus, one person may simply say “I have no evidence” for some very general definition of God–an intelligent creator of the Universe–while vehemently denying the existence of some other defintion of God–the God who has inspired the 66 books of the Protestant Bible to be his inerrant and infallible word–on the grounds that that definition of God is refuted by known facts, is logically inconsistent or incoherent, etc. I imagine there are some gods whose existence you would flatly deny.


Are there “some” atheists who believe this, that, or the other? :shrug: There are “some” theists who are vicious fanatics, power-hungry demagogues, or utterly shameless hypocrites.

I would point out, that some people who are anti-religious may use language of “why would God…” when they in fact have no belief in God at all, but are just using a rhetorical shorthand device to question the believers in that God. I would also point out that a person may be anti-religious to varying degrees depending on exactly what religion or sect is being talked about. The Episcopalians or the Southern Baptists? The Southern Baptists or the Christian Reconstructionists? Sufis or the Taliban?

Thus, we get rhetorical devices like “What kind of God would reward his followers for hijacking passenger airplanes and flying them into office buildings full of innocent people?” No actual belief in that God, or any God, is really implied. It’s a question about the morality of that particular religion or subset of a religion and its followers.

Dunno about the other atheists, but this one has days where I feel like the designated normal person in the looney bin.

Because I have a working brain, and I choose to use it. :slight_smile: Just because your collection of old stories says there’s a creator doesn’t mean there is one, and I don’t see a reason to believe in nonexistent things.

Probably; human beings don’t like not having answers, and saying “such-and-such happens because (a) god made it so” is a good answer to placate children.

Unfortunately for the door-to-door evangelists, I’m not a child any more…

Well, speaking as a nontheist, there was a time, many moons ago, that I might have began to believe. At that period, being quite young, I was susceptible to believing much of what I was told.

But, I was also raised to read, and to “look it up”, to put it simply. And read I did- voraciously, and eventually several grades ahead of my actual standing.

And when presented, at times and in various situations, the concept of Religion, when the inevitable contradiction arose, I “looked it up”.

Well, it says here supposedly some supernatural being created the entire World, and the Heavens above, and all it’s inhabitants, in seven days.

Even at ten that pegged my embryonic BS meter.

Okay, so where is “God” now? Oh, ‘everywhere’. I see.

Okay, where did “God” come from? Oh, sorry, apparently I’m not supposed to ask that. But… then why is it such a deal-breaker to be asked what was out there “before the Big Bang”?

I never did get an answer to that one.

Okay, assuming there is indeed a “God”… so, which denomination then, is the “right” one? Apparently “God” has little time for heathens and nonbelievers… So how does one “believe”? The Protestants seem to hold little book with the Baptists, and the Muslims are an entirely different animal altogether. The Jews seem to look down with ill-concealed disdain on the Catholics… and vice-versa.

Now wait a moment, the Greeks were worshipping a bunch of “gods” millennia before the current concept of “God” came into view… Are they “right”? Did “God” change in that period of time? Did Zeus kill off all the minor gods, change his name and move to the Middle East?

Setting that aside, why is it the currently accepted version of the Bible has been changed so many times? Why did “thou shalt not commit unjust murder” get changed to “thou shalt not kill”? Why is the story contradictory in places?

Now wait another minute, you’re saying this is “the word of God” but was written by men? From stories passed down for anywhere from forty to several hundred years? By how many authors? So… then what makes it any different than a good Stephen King novel? I mean, besides the infrastructure? Where’s the proof it was dictated by some omnipotent supreme being and it’s not the works of a bunch of delusional people?

And what, if any, is the real difference between something penned as a good story by a guy in Judea somewhere at some indeterminate time, and, say, something penned as a good story by L. Ron Hubbard?

I mean, other than a couple thousand years of editing and footnoting, guy A writes a book and it starts being believed as the literal truth by mindless followers… And later Guy B writes a book and it starts being believed as the literal truth by a bunch of mindless followers.

The only difference I can see is one of scale, but then, Guy A had a 2,000 year head start on sales is all.

Okay, so what about this “young earth” stuff? In one stack of books, I have people telling me, in excruciating detail for a gradeschooler, how lava forms mountains, how rain erodes them into dirt, how dirt can slide during rains, how those slides can cover hapless animals or the bodies of dead ones, how further mudflows can cover that again and again, how the weight of the layers and the heat of the earth can turn the dirt into stone, how water leaching through can turn bones into rock, and how continuing rains and tectonic movement can bring those “fossils” back to the surface where we can find them.

In another stack of books, all I get is a simple declaration that fossils are wrong because some other book said so.

I could go on, but that’s the gist of it. For me, anyway, one side is presenting theory, fact, data- they’re learning, revising, experimenting. The other side is simply saying “trust the Bible, the Bible is never wrong and never changing because the Bible says so.”

And now, much later in that path to personal enlightenment, I come to the Straight Dope and seeing all manner of theists telling other posters, in effect, ‘I don’t believe your apocryphal story. Do you have a cite to back that up?’ without the least trace of irony.

I’m sorry, but I hold no truck with theists of any stripe. I try not to go out of my way to pry the scales from their eyes, to use a biblical phrase, but I do get annoyed when those selfsame theists try and tell me I screwed up somewhere and will go to some undefinable place of evil and torture if I don’t conform to their view of the world.

Yo, guys- since God hasn’t been around for a couple of millennia, and us poor, imperfect and sinful humans have rewritten His book a few hundred times, retranslated it, edited it and just plain interpreted it differently, just how can you be so sure your belief system is the “right” one? The Muslims, for example, believe just as firmly and devoutly as the Christians, and I’m sure there are African Bushmen who believe in their sky-gods equally so. All three consider each other ‘heathen’ and not all three can be ‘right’, so…

Anyway, to answer the OP, speaking personally, I don’t feel a “need to deny”- quite the contrary, I’ve never felt the need to believe. Such belief gains me nothing- again to the contrary, it subtracts a great deal. I would no longer be allowed to “believe” in most astronomy, geological functioning, evolution… a great deal of science, in fact, which runs contrary to the Bible… or a Bible anyway…

Currently, I am quite at peace with myself, I hold doors open for people, say “thank you” when required, tip appropriately, don’t flip anyone the bird while driving, don’t lie, cheat or steal, and I like to think of myself as pretty well educated. I have no Sword of Damocles hanging over my head as tha threat to make me do these things, I was simply raised by smart parents and wasn’t spoon-fed whatever horsecrap the latest snake-oil peddler was shilling.

William Minor was driven mad in part by such pious contradictions- I am quite thankful, to my parents not any “God”, that I was not forced into similar circumstances.

That’s a good point. I suppose when I deny god it’s the Judeo-Christian one I was taught to believe in when I was too young to think for myself. I’m always a little surprised when someone brings up the others (hundreds of them, no doubt) because I was always certain, by early training, that none of them existed. When I mulled over the “to believe or not to believe?” question, it was to believe or not to believe in JHWH/Jehova. So I guess with regard to gods from Allah and Baal to Thor and Zeus I’ve been an atheist all along. I guess, like Colinito67, I also have a ways to go. I’m getting old, but I’m still learning.

You stated it very well. I’ve started with “What kind of god…” and had my opponent say, “Aha! So you do believe!” Now I know how to answer.

I should probably lurk more and post less…naw, that would never work.

I think the impression of atheists you get from such comments (“how could a god let x happen?”) is more of a reflection on your attitudes than theirs. That is, you believe very strongly in a god, so when an atheist makes such comments, you assume of them that they must believe in a god but be angry at it. Many god-believers find it very hard to accept that others do not, not even a little bit, not even deep down inside, not even in their subconscious, believe.

Witness the OP. “Why do atheists feel the need to deny…” A funny question to ask of someone who you know not to believe in something, unless of course you simply find it hard to accept that their lack of belief is sincere.

Nope, I’m with MEBuckner. Atheists who say this to you, pkbites, are just trying to throw up the contradictions they perceive in theist beliefs. They are simply engaging in the standard logical technique of testing a proposition by assuming that it is true, taking it to it’s logical conclusion and measuring the results against reality.

An exercise that causes Christianity some pretty damn severe problems, IMHO.

Funny, I’ve never met one of these, and I know a lot of atheists.

My answers:

How do atheists feel looked upon by the general public?

I seldom worry about this. When I do, it bothers me a bit that there’s negative feeling toward atheism.

** Why do atheists feel the need to deny the existance of any higher power whatsoever?**

As far as I can see, most believers are happier for their beliefs and are encouraged to more moral behavior. However, I know of no way to force a belief that simply isn’t there.

** Is it simply human nature to desire to have a higher power to believe in? **

I suspect it is, since belief in god is so widespread. Note that all those beliefs, or all but one, are incorrect.

To respond to the question, one needs to realize that there are two distinct questions being asked and the differentiation between them matters greatly.

First, “Is there in existence a god in whose existence one should put some degree of credence for one reason or another?”

Second, “Is there a reason to assume that not only does such a god exist but there is also good reason to put one’s faith and trust in his or her or its good intentions towards one?”

The problem defined by pkbites is that there are some people who define themselves as atheists – i.e., people who do not answer yes to the second question, who nonetheless suspect that the answer to the first question is yes, and are therefore bitter towards that entity. I think this is the case. Needless to say, this is not intended to tar the mellow atheists with whom I usually deal here with that brush – just to isolate a particular form of “belief” as actually existent. Cases abound in past threads, usually from people engaged in trollery, but sometimes from people sincere in their attitudes.

Distinguish this also from the attitude espoused by many, notably in this thread by Doc Nickel, that one’s allegiance to the truth and responsibility towards one’s fellow man requires that one attempt to help those one believes to be wallowing in false superstition to face the world as it truly is – with the resulting lifting of an irrational fear of hell or reasonable facsimile.

As a theist who respects the views of atheists, I have to say that the answer to the original question depends in great measure on whether one feels there is adequate evidence to suspect that not only is there a god but that that god has some interest in what the person evaluating the situation thinks or believes.

To address Doc Nickel’s posts from this perspective:

Likewise here. Glad to know that you are giving the situation your honest evaluation.

Right. On the other hand, one can take this as a mythical reporting aimed at making certain points – that God created, that He created all things to be good, that His creation was sequential, and that He set aside a day of rest. (In the Jewish conception of creation, the Sabbath is not something God commands humans to do, but something which He created “before the worlds” and commands man to observe. Most Christians miss the point that the “six days” thing is to sanctify the Sabbath, not to define the actual time He took to do what needed doing.)

Suppose an expanding universe of radius 10 billion light years – accurate within an order of magnitude. Now suppose a particle moving at infinite speed within that finite universe – quite theoretically possible. Where is that particle?0

First, it’s a totally legitimate question to ask where God came from. However, the answers composed so far by humans leave something to be desired – they get into a Scholastic philosophy of necessary and contingent being, and claim that God is – that one can no more ask where He came from than one can ask where “four” was before you added two and two. Everything else is contingent on Him; He is the absolute on which everything else depends – the unmoved mover, the first cause, all that sort of thing. I trust you find that answer no more fulfilling than I do.

Whether or not one brings a god into the picture, however, “what existed before the Big Bang” is an absurd question like “what shape is a four-sided triangle” or “what temperature is below absolute zero” – easily formed as a logical English sentence but with no reference to the physical universe.

At the moment of the Big Bang, matter and energy came into existence. Space and time are the framework on which matter and energy are measured and located – without matter or energy, there is no space or time. Conceive, if you will, of a universe with nothing in it. Okay, you did it – but you’re wrong – by your very conception you gave it a reference point of the point you visualized.

Good questions. Answers go on at length and are highly debated.

Well, yeah. The idea is that it carries what God intended man to learn, to the extent that He could get the message through the thick heads of those He could communicate with at all.

As for the proof, the general answer to that is that it reports actual historical events that demonstrate the work within the world of said omnipotent supreme being – and most notably the Resurrection of Christ is such proof. (I trust you’ll concur that dead people don’t rise back up on the third day after being killed as a general rule.)

Now, as to whether these reports are historically accurate, once again we have debatable questions.

And, of course, only a handful of those who believe in God believe that He “dictated” the Bible. They are, well, interesting to talk to.

Uh, the difference between a history of World War II and a good war novel set during it?

Fine, if everybody who accepted it were “mindless followers” – but I think you’ll find, if you care to take off the blinders, that a large number of people who think it is “the literal truth” are far from mindless, but seriously thinking through the significance of what they read and how there are obvious points of difference between it and the world reported by science.

Right. All this garbage, and I hasten to emphasize that that is the proper term for it, is an attempt by the people who take Genesis 1 as a literal account of what happened one fine October week in 4004 BC, to bring the actual reports of natural scientists into coherence with their belief in that chapter as literal reportage.

Because, without the slightest trace of irony, we adhere to the premise held here that one constructs theory from data on hand. If we do not have sufficient data to convince us, we do not “believe blindly” in anything. Those of us who feel that there is sufficient data on hand to convince us of a loving God, do believe in Him, in both the senses I outlined at the beginning of this post.

You will not find any of us here threatening you with Hell, but we would greatly appreciate it if you recognize that intelligent people can weigh and analyze the evidence differently – particularly if they have different subjective evidence – to come to different conclusions. Freeing people from superstition is a good thing, and I wish you well in it – but automatic rejection of their beliefs as “scales on their eyes” (nice metaphor – I assume you know the origin of it?) will lead you to fall short of your goal, since you will obviously be failing in courtesy to them.

I stand for the truth – which for me includes the scientific knowledge we have painstakingly accumulated and also the existence of a God who loves me and you.

I think Bryan Ekers already touched on this, but I’m going to try to further his point. The spouse is an atheist, so we’ve had pretty long discussions about these ideas.

To Mr. Snicks, the point is not that he’s denying there is a god, but rather that he’s accepting the possibility that there isn’t. Many (Mr. Snicks would say most, if not all) of your believers never get that far. People born to a religion usually question their religion, question their god, question their upbringing, but few ever really sincerely question whether their god exists. Indeed, in at least the protestant religion with which I’m familiar, it’s highly frowned down upon - something about it being a mortal sin to turn your back on god. It’s almost like hardwiring - they refuse to even consider that there might not be a god. That there is one is immutable fact. I must say I do see a little of this in pkbites. Your average atheist is one who’s able to accept the possibility that god does not exist. Your hardline atheist will insist upon it.

Why do people become atheists? I refuse to speak for others, but for Mr. Snicks, it’s because so much about the Judeo-Christian religion didn’t make sense, some of which were stated before by Doc Nickel. There were too many fundamentals that conflicted. He’s an engineer and scientist, so he appreciates internal logic holding true. There were too many contradictions for him to put much stock in a god.

How is he treated? By me, very well. He’s questioned and self-analyzed on a scale I’ve rarely seen in a believer. He’s a good person, with solid morals. By others? I don’t know. It’s not like he wears a button or anything. I do know this - we can never tell his grandparents or his parents. They simply would never accept it, and treat him with anger, resentment, and unending prostelyzing (forgive the spelling!). This, from “Christians.”

And Mr. Snicks is in no way bitter or angry towards god. Why would he be? He doesn’t believe such a thing is even there - it’d be a waste of his emotions. Plus, if atheists were to do so, wouldn’t it mean they did believe in god? Wouldn’t it mean they weren’t atheists? Me thinks this isn’t how it works.

**Is it really necessary for someone to believe in a god? **
No. Some of us get along just fine without that particular archaic belief. Personally, I am not an Atheist with a capital “A” - the social and political group, just your average non-believer with a hardcore background in science. Ironically, I align myself politically with conservatives, many of whom are devoutly religious. Life is funny that way.

How do atheists feel looked upon by the general public?
Family members are usually perplexed and somewhat hostile. The general public is generally dismissive as though we’re the quacks. :wink:

Why do atheists feel the need to deny the existance of any higher power whatsoever?
Again, denying the existence of God presupposes that we believe in its existence. For the sake of your argument, let’s say that God is real. I ask you, if there are omnipotent entities, why should people feel compelled to devote themselves to a higher power? Couldn’t we live our daily lives in peace without the spiritual extortion that worship and ritual entail?

**Is it simply human nature to desire to have a higher power to believe in? **
Unfortunately, yes. History shows us that it is perhaps our greatest frailty.