The Baphomet Principle: Self-motivation balanced with compassion and reason, in all things.
I am quite happy with The Narrative of Baphomet, and will not be revising it. However, the later part of the narrative can be explained just as well in a different way. This new way of stating it, will now be the way the UAoS states it, going forward. It goes along very nicely with the Purpose And Core Values and The Baphomet Principle. With these things in place, no endorsements are required. If you go to The Narrative of Baphomet in The Satanic Narratives, you will notice a paragraph that starts the same as the first paragraph below. That is when you switch from the published Narrative of Baphomet to this.
This brings us to an understanding, where we can have certain moral truths. These truths can be expressed in a code of ethics. You can also express them with greater precision, by simply going over the fundamental concepts that are the pillars of modern secular ethics.
Arguably the most important thing is a pair of concepts that go together. These important ethical concepts are consent and bodily autonomy. Consent, permission, or willingness are subtly different ways of expressing desire and intention.
These concepts are critical in regard to a number of things, but happen to go well with bodily autonomy. One’s body and making decisions about that body are fundamental and prerequisite to many other things. One may be unable to provide consent due to illness, being unconscious, age, or cognitive disability. Most of the time people are able to make such a decision and having that choice is fundamental to all ethical concerns.
Being able to decide for yourself varies in importance depending on what it is, with one’s body being the most critical. You cannot really have any other freedom without a right to your body and your life. No one can ever violate the body of another without violating an ethical foundation central to the legal code of any modern, civilized society.
This brings us to personal freedom. Maximizing one’s personal freedoms should be the goal, and in conjunction with that, one must respect the personal freedoms of another. Taken in conjunction with the first pair, that means no one gets to tell you what to do with your body. It also means you must respect the body of another, and listen to their wishes.
Personal freedoms are not limited to something as basic as people themselves. It also covers speech, religion, and more. One has a right to one’s freedoms and an obligation to respect the freedoms of others.
Admitting and correcting mistakes is another basic concept. No one is perfect. Apologies and forgiveness will always be needed. Not every situation where there is conflict is going to call for it, but some of them will. This is a situation where there must be mutual consent.
The final idea is that these basic concepts here, regardless the form or forms they may come in, are always superior to any written code. No legal system of any kind can take precedence over these fundamental concepts.
The raw moral feelings and reason combine to give us these concepts. One can also consider these concepts in the context of one’s raw moral feelings, and then apply reason again. In this way, one shapes their ethics and morality.
It’s common practice in the United States for families to gather on Thanksgiving and, as part of their dinner ritual, go around the table and name some of the things that they are thankful for in their lives. This isn’t a bad ritual: it is important to spend time appreciating the goodness in one’s life.
I listen to the answers of friends and family as they take turns around the table. Some are thankful for health, some are thankful for material prosperity, still others are thankful for close emotional ties and love between friends and family.
But my heart begins to pound as the turn-taking approaches me, because all I can hear in my mind is a loud voice screaming, “Who, exactly, am I thanking?”
As a Satanist, I don’t believe in God, so I certainly am not thanking it. I also don’t believe in Satan, either, and although it would be funny and mischievous to thank Satan at the family Thanksgiving dinner table, I want to participate in this ritual in solemn good faith.
So what can I say I’m thankful for, and still be honest to my Satanic beliefs?
I am certainly pleased that I have good health, financial stability, and loved ones with whom to share the holidays. But these are not things that were “given” to me, they are things that I worked for or that were put upon me by circumstance and luck, or (in most cases) a combination of both of those things. But whom would I thank?
I am certainly appreciative of the positive aspects of my life. But is that the same as being “thankful”? I’m honestly not sure. I suppose I could cast “thanks” in a more abstract way, and simply state that I am thanking circumstances or “the universe”. But part of me is uncomfortable with that: it seems to deviate from common parlance, and do damage to the way “thanks” is normally understood. Usually you would “thank” a willful agent, a conscious entity. You don’t normally “thank” inanimate things.
To me, it makes no sense to say I’m “thankful” of these things.
Which is fine as philosophy; however, the unstoppable procession of answers that moves around the Thanksgiving table has almost reached me. What do I say?
So I turn the question on its head. Instead of asking, “What am I thankful for?” I ask myself, “Whom should I thank?” Suddenly, the answer becomes much easier.
My turn arrives. “What are you thankful for?”
“I’d like to thank all of you for having me over today,” I say, “And for such amazing food and good company! I’d like to thank my partner and the love of my life for being there for me, encouraging me, and caring about me. I’d like to thank all of the people I work with on a day to day basis, whether at my job or any of the other communities I’m a part of, for helping me to be happy and creative and productive as I strive to reach my goals and make my community a better place. I thank all of you for being part of my life, and contributing to my experiencing a journey in life that is happy and healthy and free.”
I smile. Everyone around the table approves.
And I whisper silently, under my breath, “….hail Satan.”
So the “non-theist” thing is going on again. It has an ebb and flow. It’s the same as “atheist”, meaning everyone outside the criteria of theist (I say everyone as the ist suffix is the personal form of the word). They are just taking a Greek root word with the Greek prefix meaning ‘everything other than the root word’, and changing it to the Latin prefix meaning the exact same thing. It’s the same thing as referring to plants that use reproductive methods other than sexual, as non-sexual instead of asexual.
While some people try to say there is a difference in meaning, usually people admit that it is just because “atheist” has certain associations and a cultural identity, and non-theist doesn’t as it was a fairly recently coined term.
One group that has been using this is American Humanists. I can kind of see their point. It’s still pandering because they are saying they are non-theist, while at the same time including people who identify as atheists in that, just because some take issue with the associations of the word “atheist”.
I find it silly, but if I was in charge of American Humanists, I’d be on the fence. They can use “non-theist” so as to avoid having to discuss the distinction from certain kinds of atheists. When identifying as atheist, one has to contend with associations of the fedora-wearing neckbeard who spews hate at any and all religious people. So I can see their point.
With The Satanic Temple, who is the other prominent group using the term “non-theist”, I don’t get it at all. It’s a very different situation than with the American Humanists, although the reasoning is the same. A few might try act like the meaning is different, but generally it’s about the cultural identity and not contending with those associations.
TST spends a lot of time on the term “Satanist” though. They do identify with that, as a Satanic organization, and defend the use of the term. So they have articles at length addressing the associations of “Satanist” from various sources. There are the really nasty Satanic Panic associations about child/animal sacrifice, and that conspiracy theory stuff. Then there are associations with theistic Satanism, including actual theistic organizations. Then there is the Church of Satan, and all those associations. These are deeply ingrained, and many people have quite a reaction to any word with “Satan” as part of it.
They can do all of that stuff, with Herculean effort, countering the most awful associations. But then they don’t want to address the associations of “atheist”, and demonstrate the difference between them and fedora-wearing neckbeards who troll people on the internet and write xenophobic rants about Muslims. Honestly, the entire argument of “we aren’t the neckbeard atheists” is contained within the “we aren’t LaVeyan Satanists” argument. Highlight the appropriate section, CTRL-C, go to new post, CTRL-V, done.
For the way I run things, I just stick to the proper terminology. No fucks given about associations, and no desire to pander to those whose entire issue with a word, is things they read into it, which have nothing to do with the meaning. This is 10x as true for an organization with “Satan” in the title, such as mine, for example.
I’m an atheist, meaning that I am not a theist. Theist is a person with a belief in some sort of deity. I don’t have that. “Atheist” means I’m outside of that. It doesn’t say how far outside of that though. Just like “non-apple” applies as well to orange as to aardvark, so it is with “atheist”. I’m also an agnostic, meaning that I don’t think most concepts of gods are even knowable or falsifiable. I also find so many different, major philosophical problems with these concepts, that I consider them to be nothing but meaningless fabrications.
It also says nothing of my wider views of materialism and skepticism. So gods are a silly idea, with no meaning beyond the actions of the large number of people who live under such false assumptions. Every philosophical proposition is treated in the same way, as is every empirical claim. So I end up an atheist because of a rational position on the issue of belief regarding one little idea, due to handling it the same as the seemingly countless other ideas with any sort of objective component.
The “Ba’alean Satanism” of the United Aspect of Satan is a massive collection of various philosophies, which is typical of Satanism. The differences are how you combine things together. I don’t run from labels or the associations of others. I’m interested in associating only with people who critically examine any given thing, and I have no desire to convince those who presuppose associations for which they have no basis. Ignorance maintained in spite of collecting knowledge is antithetical to everything I do. I also don’t tell anyone what to think. Individuals must decide if my ideas resonate with them or not, and more importantly, know what they think and why.
My love is intense and all-consuming, raging like a fire that burns in the heart of hell. It is a declaration of my existence and the manner in which I choose to exert my emotional force upon the universe. My love is a reflection of my values and the motivating force behind many of my endeavors, for as I love others, so do I seek to grow and acquire for the sake of love.
It is a misconception that the Satanist is a hateful person, incapable of loving others. As many theists declare that “God is love,” they assume that whoever would take the path of the Adversary must naturally be against love. But God is not love; God is imaginary. Love is an emotion that one can experience independently of a belief in God. The Satanist stands in defiance to the idea that a prescribed set of theistic beliefs should inform the way he or she chooses to love.
The Satanist is guided by the Luciferian light of reason in all matters, including the way in which he or she chooses to love. This is why it is acceptable for the Satanist to have romantic love for an adult person of the same gender, but not romantic love for a child, as children are not developmentally mature enough to handle relationships with adults. Apparently the Church is confused on both of these matters, following the ways of God and leaning not unto their own understanding, as they do.
As Satanists challenge religious and societal norms, so would they challenge the notion that reason alone is not sufficient to determine who they should love or how they should love others. Love is not a thing to be reserved only for those who conform to the status quo, but a feeling that can be shared with those who are not beholden to the arbitrary rules of the masses. Thus Satanic love increases the value of those who embrace outsider status, instead of allowing them to be deemed unworthy because of how “different” they might be.
This is not to say that Satanists do not have standards for whom they love, but those standards are not arbitrary rules dictated to them by God and society. A Satanist is first and foremost the adversary of self-denial and blind obedience. The love of a Satanist is as fierce and unbridled as the Satanist himself or herself.
Hail Love! Hail Satan!
In the beginning there was nothing. What a grand way to begin! Nothing says “authority” like starting at the very beginning.
In the beginning there was nothing. Can you imagine it? Of course you can’t. For imagination to happen, there has to be an imaginer: you. Which means there is not nothing. There is still you.
In the beginning there was nothing. When you try to imagine it, you conjure up an image of being without distinction. No demarcation lines between “this” and “that”, no boundaries between “foreground” and “background”, nothing to identify as a thing that can be distinguished from that which is not that thing. It is what you might call “Void”.
Only you can’t call it “Void”. By giving it a name you are creating a category: a distinction, a label. When you assign a name you designate the subject of that name as a Named Thing, and therefore not nothing. So let’s pretend that it has some kind of unpronounceable name, some kind of taboo name. The very first act of creation, then, is your action of creating a category, a name.
In the beginning was the Word. This is the start of your own creation story: not in the historical sense, but in the philosophical sense. How do you create the universe you live in? What are the basic building-blocks of your world view? Choose whatever you like: it’s your universe, after all. Your basic building blocks may be atoms or logical axioms, beliefs or goals, relationships or moral priorities. They may be a combination of all of these things. That is your philosophical beginning, a foundation on which you can build the entire structure of your universe.
The United Aspects of Satan is a religion, but it doesn’t outline “The Way It Is” with pomp and authority. We start with the idea that everybody builds a unique personal worldview. Your worldview is made up of every aspect of the universe that you live in and experience: from the personal to the social, from moral to metaphysical, from pragmatic to ideological. It is something you create with your assumptions, your experiences, your values, and your will. And like anything you create, you should be constantly working to hone and improve it. This is just as true for your personal philosophy as it is for your professional accomplishments or your relationships. You are the one in charge, and you should never cede control over your worldview to anyone or anything else. Certainly not to a religion.
In the beginning was an Idea. The United Aspects of Satan represents a loose collection of philosophical building-blocks. Some values, some metaphysical axioms, and some basic methods for how to approach life and the world around you. It ties these ideas together with a set of symbols–the personas of the eight demonized gods–that can help you to apply the philosophy in concrete, real-world situations.
The United Aspects of Satan doesn’t have followers. There is a difference between being a follower, and being a traveler who notices when others happen to be walking in the same direction. Satanism isn’t a religion you convert to: that implies that you’re changing your world-view to fit the needs of the group. Satanism is a religion that you already have inside you. When you read about the building block ideas at the core of the United Aspects of Satan, you may find that you were already walking that same path, even if you didn’t use the same symbols or words. You may say to yourself, “That’s the philosophy I came up with myself! That is what I already believe!”
How will you know if you’re a Satanist?
In the beginning was an Idea. So it’s time to begin.
[This essay was originally published as the introduction to The Little Black Book, available for free through the United Aspects of Satan website.]
Today I’d like to share with you an excerpt from the chapter “The voice of the devil” in William Blake’s 1793 book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Even though it is not overtly Satanic, having been written long before the modern Satanic movement began, it reflects many philosophical and symbolic messages and elements that resonate deeply with me and my own interpretation of Satanism.
“All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors:
- That Man has two real existing principles, viz. a Body and a Soul.
- That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body; and that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.
- That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.
But the following Contraries to these are True:
- Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
- Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
- Energy is Eternal Delight.
Those who restrain Desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or Reason usurps its place and governs the unwilling. And being restrained, it by degrees becomes passive, till it is only the shadow of Desire.
The history of this is written in Paradise Lost, and the Governor or Reason is call’d Messiah. And the original Archangel, or possessor of the command of the Heavenly Host, is call’d the Devil or Satan, and his children are call’d Sin and Death.
But in the Book of Job, Milton’s Messiah is called Satan. For this history has been adopted by both parties.
It indeed appear’d to Reason as if Desire was cast out; but the Devil’s account is, that the Messiah fell, and formed a Heaven of what he stole from the Abyss.”
Obviously there is plenty about the style and imagery of this writing that could appeal to Satanists, but I want to highlight a deeper message that resonates with me: the importance that “chaos” and “evil” have in the greater cosmic structure, or the greater operation of the system of the universe as a whole.
Under classic Apollonian “respectable” religious traditions, good is associated with: order, rules, and imposed authoritarian “goodness”. In this same tradition, chaos and wild disorder are evil: they can serve no useful function, and must be suppressed or restrained. The central themes of Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is that there is good to be found in chaos. Without the scary, frightening energy of pure passions, rebelliousness and uncertainty, the system of the universe would not be complete and would not be able to function.
This is not a message of lawlessness or anarchy, but rather one of balance. A car without brakes will crash, but a car without a gas pedal goes nowhere. The gas pedal provides fuel to an engine that creates energy by combustion–the fires of hell! Scary stuff, but also the only way to make any progress.
It’s especially important in these times, when we see many elements in society spinning toward destructive chaos. This election season, more people than I’ve ever seen feel a sense that our political and social systems are so broken that we must burn it all down and start from scratch. These instincts are harmful if left unchecked, and they are absolutely not the most rational way forward.
But I don’t think we should completely dismiss these passionate revolutionary instincts, either. We shouldn’t demean them. I am not a radical, in the “political activist” sense, but I do see the importance of the radicals’ voice in cultural dialogue. The ones who protest and riot and undermine authority in abrasive and unsettling ways: these are part of the scary combustion engine that helps movement in our society. They need to be checked and harnessed to be productive, they should not be stamped out. They are part of the larger system: the marriage of heaven and hell.
From the ancient Greek word διδάσκω (didáskō, “to teach”) we got διδασκαλία (did-as-kal-ee’-ah), referring to “that which is taught,” especially in the sense of practical teachings about how to live one’s life. By the 1300s this was Latinized as doctrina to refer to any body of teaching or systematic thought. By the 1500s the verb “indoctrine” was used to refer to teaching to imparting knowledge: more than just teaching isolated facts, however, to indoctrine was to expose someone to an entire interconnected system of knowledge. This eventually metamorphosed into “endoctrinate” and then “indoctrinate” as a verb meaning to “impart knowledge.”
The more sinister meaning of the word “indoctrinate”–to impose an opinion or worldview upon someone by force, coercion or brainwashing–is a relatively recent phenomenon that seems to have appeared only within the last 200 years. Even today, when you ask someone to explain the difference between “brainwashing” a young child and “teaching” a young child, the explanation usually boils down to a question of whether or not the person approves of the things being taught.
Theistic religions, especially the monotheistic Abrahamic cults (Christianity, Judaism and Islam), have a long history of being against the seeking of knowledge beyond what is found in their scriptures and religious texts. If you look back far enough, you even find evidence of religious opposition to written knowledge of any kind. It was Satan, the Devil, who was blamed for trying to get people to seek wisdom outside the walls of the church, or think original thoughts that were born from questioning standard assumptions. It was Satan, after all, who tempted man with the fruit of wisdom.
My own psueudonym, Penemue, is the name of a fallen angel in ancient folk mythology who led human being astray by teaching them how to write:
“The name of the fourth is Penemue: he discovered to the children of men bitterness and sweetness; And pointed out to them every secret of their wisdom. He taught men to understand writing, and the use of ink and paper. Therefore numerous have been those who have gone astray from every period of the world, even to this day.”
— The Book of Enoch
For religions, the distinction between teaching and indoctrination is truly irrelevant: all that matters is whether what is being taught agrees or disagrees with their own scriptures.
The Satanic Temple has launched a new program, the After School Satan Club, as an after school program for elementary and middle school students who want to have fun, sing songs, and learn about secular values and critical thinking. They are specifically targeting schools that already have a “Good News Club” program: an after school club that indoctrinates children with Christianity.
Are Satanists trying to indoctrinate your children? You bet we are! We will indoctrinate them with a feeling of empowerment! We will indoctrinate them with the beauty of song! We will indoctrinate them with an understanding of critical thinking! And we will indoctrinate them with the joy of scientific inquiry and learning!
We will impart doctrina, secular cultural wisdom of the ages, upon your children.
Your brow is furrowing with skepticism, and I don’t blame you. Of course this is a little bit tongue in cheek. We are making mischief with the word “indoctrinate” here, because there isn’t a single sane person today who would say that a math teacher “indoctrinates” children with mathematics, or that a music teacher “indoctrinates” children with songs. But Satanists love to play the role of Loki once in a while, and make a little mischief.
This is the sleight of hand you are looking for: Religious organizations should not be in elementary schools in the first place. This is a fundamental cornerstone of our own religious beliefs as Satanists. In the best possible world, we would not need to have our religion represented in elementary schools because no religion would be represented in elementary schools.
But as long as The Good New Club exists to indoctrinate children with one point of view, those children must have other religious options. It is both constitutionally and legally mandatory that Satanism be allowed equal opportunity with Christianity. So here we stand, an apple in one hand and a pen in the other, ready to impart our wisdom along side the Christians in elementary schools across the country.
Do we want to indoctrinate little kids? Not really, no.
But as long as kids are being indoctrinated anyway, they need to have more options to choose from than they currently have.
We have been nurturing our new official United Aspects of Satan Twitter account (please follow us!), using it to share news and opinions that may be of interest to our members, and engage the broader community on topics such as atheism, social justice, freedom of religion, our core values. In a very short time, it has become clear that a lot of people have no clue what “atheism” is.
My goal in this article is to lay out the bare-bones fundamentals: the three things you absolutely need to understand, from the beginning, in order for any further dialog about atheism or theism (much less theology or metaphysics) to be productive.
If you or the person you are talking to don’t agree on these three points, any further debate about “atheism” is a waste of oxygen.
If you are a proud atheist, you probably already know this stuff. You may still want to read this article as a kind of guide: some tips and approaches you can use the next time you’re having a discussion with a theist.
If you absolutely despise atheism and everything associated with it, you should probably read on… just to make sure that the thing you hate and are arguing about is really “atheism”.
Q: Is atheism a religion?
Atheism is a word that describes a single fact about the entire set of a person’s beliefs: specifically, that the person doesn’t believe in gods. Atheism is therefore a descriptive word that can apply to religions, but it is not a religion.
Christianity is a religion. It involves belief in a god. Therefore it is a theistic religion. Islam is a religion. It also involves belief in a god. Therefore it is a theistic religion. Modern Satanism, including that espoused by the United Aspects of Satan, does not involve belief in a god. Therefore, it is an atheistic religion.
You can think of the relationship between atheism and religion as being like the relationship between redness and apples. Some apples are red, other apples are not red. But “red” is not an apple. “Red” isn’t even a type of apple. It’s a trait that apples may or may not have.
For a good article on the relationship between atheism and religions, and the fact that religions can be either theistic or atheistic, you may want to read Atheism is not the opposite of religion by Greg Stevens.
So what’s a religion?
The definition is a little fuzzy and varies from culture to culture, but it is generally accepted that a religion encompasses a broad range of interlocking elements. Religions usually make some claims about how the universe works, and almost always make claims about morality and how people should act. They often make value judgments about what matters and what doesn’t matter. Traditionally they have texts that are considered particularly important or enlightening, in relation to their beliefs and philosophies. Often, but not always, they have symbols and rituals that have particular importance or meaning within the religion.
Anyone who does not believe in gods is an atheist. There are no symbols, no rituals, no particular moral codes that are implied or required by a lack of belief in gods.
One person can think money and fame are the most noble pursuits a person can have, while another seeks inner peace and personal enlightenment: if neither of them believes in a god, then they are both atheists.
Members of the United Aspects of Satan believe in evidence-based reasoning and scientific method. Many spiritualists who believe in mysterious “forces” and “energies” and the consciousness of atoms. These two groups are not the same religion, but they are both atheists.
Now, some people say “atheism is a religion!” simply because they think atheism is absolutely central and important to the lives of atheists. Atheists seem obsessed with atheism!
First of all, that’s not true of all atheists… although I can see how one might get that impression if one spends a lot of time on social media. But even if it were, that doesn’t make atheism a religion any more than fitness is a religion for some people, or Star Trek is a religion for others.
And you might be perfectly happy saying “For some people, fitness is a religion!” But now we are wandering pretty far afield of what most people mean when they talk about religion. Perhaps you mean it metaphorically. That’s perfectly fine! But make sure that’s clear at the beginning of the conversation… because unless you are speaking metaphorically, atheism is definitely not a religion.
Q: Is atheism a world-view?
This question is very similar to the previous one, to be quite honest–as is the answer. The idea of a “world-view” is different from the idea of a “religion” in several important respects: religions often have foundational documents, rituals and symbols, and important historical figures associated with them; a world-view does not.
A world-view is, however, a fairly comprehensive interconnected set of beliefs that can include everything from your beliefs about how the material world operates to your beliefs about morals and values, and purpose and goals. A world-view is a system of thought that outlines, at least in general terms, how the universe functions and what our place is in it.
There are several different variations of modern atheistic Satanism, and each espouses a slightly different world-view. The type of Satanism adhered to by the Church of Satan, for example, puts much more emphasis and importance on individualism, while the Satanism of The Satanic Temple puts more emphasis on social justice and political activism. The United Aspects of Satan represents a third world-view, that values the multiplicity of Satanic personas outlined by its Core Values.
All of them are atheists: belief in gods is not part of the world-view of any of them. All are variants of the same religion, as they share many of the same symbols and beliefs, and even share some common history. However, they are all different world-views.
So, just as with the previous question, it is best to think of the relationship between atheism and world-views as like the relationship between, for example, friendliness and people. Some people are friendly. Some people are not friendly.
But: friendliness is not a person.
Q: Is atheism a belief?
A: In the colloquial sense, yes. In the scientific sense, no.
This is where it gets really complicated! This is also where a lot of debates get completely tangled up. The atheist will say that beliefs require evidence, and the theist will respond that the belief “God doesn’t exist” must also require evidence, which the atheist then claims to be false.
The reason for this confusion is that atheists are using “belief” to refer to thoughts that are hypotheses, while theists are using “belief” to refer to mental states more generally.
It is worth point out that both of these interpretations of the word “belief” do have some validity.
In the same way that not receiving a phone call from your romantic interest can contain meaning and influence your behavior, the fact that your “state of mind” lacks a belief in gods also will change the way you think and the way you act. A person not saying “I love you” in a particular context can convey as much meaning as a person saying “I love you”.
So when you are thinking in terms of the impact on people’s lives and actions, it is not ridiculous to claim that not holding a particular viewpoint can be as important and impactful as holding a particular viewpoint.
However, the word “belief” has a much more specific connotation within technical discussions around scientific method and evidence-based reasoning. When atheists say “I don’t need evidence to not believe in God, but you need evidence to believe in God,” they are using “belief” in this context. In this context, the term means something similar to the word “hypothesis” in the jargon of experimental science.
What is a hypothesis?
In science, a hypothesis is an idea that has been presented to explain some collection of observations. It is something that is proposed. Once proposed, it can be accepted or rejected. In science, we test hypotheses by looking at predictions they make. If the prediction turns out to be false, we reject the hypothesis. If it turns out to be true, we provisionally accept it until the next test.
If it makes no predictions, there is no reason to accept the hypothesis.
Let’s say you are playing baseball, and you hit a home run when there is a blimp overhead. You might come up with the hypothesis: “The blimp caused me to hit a home run.” Should you accept the hypothesis?
It could give rise to a prediction: the next time a blimp is overhead when you are playing ball, see whether you hit a home run. If you don’t, then it looks like you should reject the hypothesis “blimps cause me to hit home runs.” But if no blimp is ever overhead when you play ball again, you also have no reason to accept the hypothesis.
In either of those situations–where no prediction has been tested, or a prediction has failed–the consequence is that the hypothesis is rejected, and we go back to the default state, which is “I have no idea why I hit that home run.” That is where your beliefs stay, until you come up with a new hypothesis, that you can then test with a new prediction.
In this framework, the notion that “the blimp did not cause my home run” is not a hypothesis. It is not something that needs to be tested. It is not something that needs evidence. It’s the “default” — in scientific jargon, it is sometimes called the “null hypothesis”, in other words: the hypothesis that there is no known cause.
So how does this translate into the question of atheism?
First, what is the data you are trying to explain? What are the observations? Often, it’s something like “the existence of the universe.” OK, fine.
Then, “God” is part of the hypothesis that is used to explain how the universe came to be. That’s fine, too.
The person who approaches the issue from a scientific, evidence-based perspective will then say: “What predictions does that hypothesis make? What further data can you present for this God hypothesis?”
And if no evidence is given, then the scientific thinker has no reason to believe the God hypothesis. Instead, the scientific thinker goes with the “null hypothesis”, which is, “There is no known explanation for how the universe came to be.”
Notice: it is not required that the atheist has an alternative explanation for the origin of the universe: just like you are not required to have an alternative explanation for why you hit the home run, in order to not believe that it was caused by the blimp. It is enough to say: “I have no reason to think it had anything to do with the blimp, therefore I don’t believe that it was caused by the blimp.”
Some theists respond to this by saying, “Shouldn’t the atheist say I don’t know rather than I don’t believe in God?”
Here you have to pay close attention to the nature of hypotheses in evidence-based reasoning. Think it through using the analogy.
If you don’t have any evidence that the blimp caused you to hit your home run, you don’t go around saying “The blimp might have made me hit a home run!”
Instead, you say: “I don’t know how I hit that home run.”
That is analogous to an atheist saying “I do not know how the universe came into being.” It is not analogous to saying, “I do not know if God exists.”
This is a very tough conversation to have, because many theists are simply not used to thinking using evidence-based reasoning. The meaning of the word “belief” is actually different for them, than it is for people who are used to thinking scientifically.
So when you engage in these conversations, it’s best to start simple, and attack that problem head on.
Start by saying, “What does the word belief mean to you?”
Then say, “Do you think blimps cause home-runs?”
See where it goes from there.
“I had a student in my class,” she said, “whose father worked in the World Trade Center. And on September 11th, when the school made the announcement about what happened, all of the kids were in shock. But she just started crying and crying. And we spent all day trying to call and find out about her daddy, but of course we couldn’t get through.”
The woman, a now retired school teacher, was telling this story to a small group of us this afternoon. We had been discussing tragedies, and our memories of where we were during great events in history.
“Now, her father had worked there for 30 years, and had never missed a day of work in his life. But the day before, on Monday September 10th, he had been feeling really sick, and he picked up some Nyquil on the way home from work. He took it that night. He wasn’t even planning on taking the next day off of work. But he took the Nyquil, and he slept through the alarm, right into the afternoon. He had never missed a day of work in his life, but he missed that day. He had no idea what had happened. We finally got in touch with him at 5:30 pm. He was still at home, feeling sick. He had no idea what had happened.”
“That’s just amazing,” a man replied.
“Can you imagine? He’d never been out sick, never even taken a vacation, but on that day…..” she said, letting her voice trail off wistfully.
“Well, I’ll tell you: that’s divine intervention, right there!” the man announced.
I said nothing.
…but this is what I thought:
HOLY SHIT YOU ENORMOUS ASSHOLE!
Are you saying God chose to intervene in the natural course of human history in this specific moment, and “saved” exactly 1 man while allowing almost 3000 other people to die?
Are you saying that every single one of those 3000 were less deserving of life than this girl’s father? That the feelings of loss of the young daughters and sons of the 3000 others did not matter enough to warrant God bending the normal natural rules of time and space….. but only the feelings of this one girl did?
Everyone has xir own definition of “god”, and while I roll my eyes at all of them, some of them are at least palatable. The “blind watchmaker” God who sets the universe in motion at the beginning of time and then refuses to intervene, for example, is a weird contrivance for whom there is no evidence… but at least he’s not an asshole.
The God that this man believes in is a cruel disgusting sociopath who makes a point of reaching into his creation to save a single life while destroying thousands of others. For absolutely no reason.
I didn’t say anything, but I was thinking: The fact that you would choose to believe in such a God is perverted. By raising one person’s good fortune onto some kind of pedestal you are telling the entire rest of the world: Fuck you. In that moment, you weren’t important enough. God was there for someone; God was not there for you.
So when you see a Satanist who seems angry about religion, or angry about God, remember this story. I can’t speak for all Satanists, of course. And not all Satanists are angry. But if you’re ever asking yourself, “Gosh, why is it that some Satanists seem so filled with hatred towards God?” just remember this story.
If a Satanist expresses hatred for someone’s perception of God, there is a good chance it is because that person’s God is hateful.