Frequently Asked Questions
What is the definition of atheism?
Dictionaries contain a variety of definitions for Atheism. Prescribed by religious cultures has many Atheists finding them unsatisfactory. Most people who classify themselves as scientific Atheists consider the following definition to be a good working model:
Atheism is the acceptance that there is no credible scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a god, gods or the supernatural.
Is atheism just another religion?
o. Religions appeal to a supernatural realm controlled in most cases by a god or gods. Support for a religious idea can be in written form or orally passed down through the ages, supposedly proclaiming the wishes of a supreme being.
If you do not believe in “God”, then from where does your morality come?
All rules of conduct are human made. They are the result of requirements necessary for cooperation in maintaining social order. The higher animals, including humans have evolved empathetic and compassionate traits beneficial to survival. Our intellect continually refines these, as circumstance requires.
Ask yourself these two questions:
- What religious rule do you know about that has not or is not capable of having originated from humans?
- If you found sufficient evidence, conclusively proving that a god did not exist, would you develop into an immoral person?
Do you believe in life after death?
Of the billions of creatures, human and otherwise, that have existed and died, none has returned to report an afterlife. There is no evidence whatsoever that life continues after death. Because we can imagine such a comforting concept, does not make it true. Any wish for extended or eternal life should make us doubly wary of those using such an idea to advantage.
Do you believe in a supreme being?
It is not a matter whether an atheist ‘believes’ in a supreme being or not, it is more to the point that atheists accept there is no evidence for such an entity. That the thought of the existence of a supreme being can enter the minds of humans is absolutely no proof that a supreme being exists anymore than does the thought of fairies make them real.
Does the thought of death and thus the state of non-existence frighten atheists?
Religions play on death and escaping from it as a consistent theme. Promoting this on a continuing basis produces an unhealthy attitude to mortality. On the other hand, atheists soon accept that death is a reality of life and therefore spend little time pondering it.
Most atheists find that death is a regrettable but natural part of living and have no choice but to accept the reality. No-one wishes to experience the final parting of family and friends but wishing for a better outcome of everlasting life will not make it so no matter how intense is that desire.
Don’t atheists have to prove that a god does not exist?
Those proposing that fairies, bunyips or gods exist must produce supportive evidence. It must be acceptable to all peoples and not only to the adherents of a particular ‘faith’. Over the last six thousand years, there have been 20,000 religions. They have all claimed, equally fervently, that theirs is the ‘true’ one, rejecting the other 19,999 as false. Atheists reject, as fabricated, 20,000.
It is the highest form of unreasonableness to expect atheists to prove the negative of wild unsupported assumptions. Atheists demand evidence but none has been forthcoming over the history of humanity.
Do atheists hate religious people?
The hurt that religions do results from the adherent’s blind acceptance of fanciful stories and traditions. Most atheists are vehemently opposed to all religions. It is an exercise in futility as well as being a notion steeped in ignorance, to blame the victim of any hoax.
Atheism promotes that young people should not be indoctrinated into a particular theistic system. Children have no intellectual defence against such authorative adult methods. Instead, education about all religions, the harm they create and their unevidenced status, is the only ethically correct course of action. Theistic induction is a form of mental child abuse.
Atheists would support people freely choosing religion as the result of broad information, as this would render it a minority affair. The proviso being, that its practise should only happen between consenting adults and not used to influence politics. Its present form is a consequence of a narrow based indoctrination procedure and/or taken for granted cultural correctness.
I’m an atheist overseas considering immigrating to Australia – what can I do?
Unfortunately atheists are subject to degrees of vilification, discrimination and persecution in far too many places throughout the world.
As a volunteer-run and member-representative body, the Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) is unable to provide the resources or expertise to directly assist you in this matter – much as we would like to.
We would direct you to your local Australian Embassy, Consulate or High Commission, to help with your inquiry. A complete list of these is available at Australian Government – Our embassies and consulates overseas.
More details of visas and requirements are available Australian Government – In-country Special Humanitarian visa and Australian Government – Immigration and Visas.
All of these options will need to be taken up with official Australian Government sources (Embassies/Consulates/High Commissions). Please be wary of private bodies offering to “fast-track”, guarantee or progress a visa application for a fee – they may not be genuine.
A school is acting weird with religious groups – what can I do?
When it comes to proselytising in schools outside of religious education classes, there are a number of contacts and support groups.
For public primary and secondary schools, your local Parents and Citizens’ (P&C) Association should be one of your first contacts; they are often the most familiar with the school and can help get in touch with education ministers and Principals on the behalf of concerned groups.
In addition, contact the Education Department – there are a number of links available at Getting involved – useful links for parents. Remember that other religions can be secular allies when it comes to fairness in schools.
There are groups who are dedicated to helping secularism in Australia, with a particular focus on advocacy for schools:
- Fairness In Religions in School
- Freethought Student Alliance
- Secular Party of Australia
- Rationalist Society of Australia
- Council of Australia Humanist Societies
In addition, if you feel bullied or threatened, you should also consider contacting:
- National Union of Students
- National Tertiary Education Union
- Freethought Student Alliance
And internationally, there is:
- Secular Student Alliance
- Atheist Alliance International
What is the difference between atheism and agnosticism?
While the common perception of an agnostic is a “fence sitter”, who neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of a god, the term really means that a person doesn’t claim to know whether a god exists, or not. One can be both an atheist AND an agnostic. The following site explains that in more detail:
This diagram may also help:
Can you suggest a good non-religious/anti-theist counsellor to help me with trauma from my religious upbringing, treatment or experiences?
We think it’s commendable and courageous that you’re prepared to take the important step of seeking help, and wish you the very best of luck with this.
The AFA does not have the requisite mental health expertise to properly compile and maintain such a list, and treatment options are best evaluated in conjunction with medical professionals having direct knowledge of your personal circumstances and needs – we recommend that your usual GP be your first port of call if at all possible. This has the additional benefit of direct referral to a chosen specialist.
The following are lists of counsellors maintained by external organisations with an interest in this area, and may therefore be worth perusing:
Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – Support Services (with specifics for different states)
- Survivors of Clergy Abuse in Australia
- Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
- Clergy Sexual Abuse in Australia
Can you help me with starting an atheist group at my University?
The Freethought Student Alliance, a coalition of Australian atheist, skeptic, humanist & secular campus groups, would be in the best position to help with that. They regularly receive grants from the Atheist Foundation of Australia to help them with their work.
Some other sites worth looking at would be:
- Freethought Student Alliance Facebook Page
- Secular Student Alliance (US based)
- Center for Inquiry – On Campus (US based)
- International Humanist Ethical Youth Organization (International)
Look on Facebook in particular for existing atheist, secular and skeptic student groups, as many of them are happy to let other groups join to network and share ideas. You may also like to check out Young Australian Skeptics and their podcast for some more inspiration.
How do I officially leave the Catholic Church in Australia?
The AFA website has a couple of articles regarding this, keeping in mind that excommunication technically means being excluded from the sacraments and services of the church, rather than being removed from the church:
A Google search comes up with this article:
Can you help with editing/writing/researching material on a particular atheist issue for me?
The AFA does not have the resources for an editing or proof-reading service, or a research team, available for public consultation.
However, we do have a lively and vibrant discussion forum where you may find help and feedback on matters such as letter-writing, debates, opinion columns, videos, blog posts and so on.
You may like to try some of the free online services such as:
- Hemmingway App
- Paradigm Online Writing Assistant
- University of Minnesota – Student Writing Support
- Local libraries and those of colleges and universities may have additional links and suggestions to help you with the construction and research of your work.
- Google is your friend when it comes to finding if anyone has addressed similar issues.
Do you know of any publishers interested in publishing atheist oriented literature?
As with most publishing houses, there’s usually a large backlog of texts and books and manuscripts that are sent in and many of these publishing houses suggest getting agent representation or checking on their sites for when they do call-outs for manuscripts on certain topics (Penguin Books is one such publishing house that has a guide as to how to best submit on what and when).
In terms of resources in general, there’s a few publishers that exist (and this is by no means an exhaustive or recommended list):
- Scribe Books – an Australian group
- Prometheus Books
- Atheist Republic
- Freedom From Religion Foundation
- The Oak Hill Free Press
- Oxford University Press (and any other university press that may publish similar works)
There is also self-publishing groups like Lulu.com
You can also look through books that are on a similar topic / theme to yours in bookstores and contact their publishers. In addition, Catherine Deveny published a writing guide book in 2016 that may be worth consulting; there are many other authors with tips and ideas that you could consult.
What does suffering and evil suggest about whether gods really exist?
The “Problem Of Evil” (PoE) posits that suffering and evil mitigate against the existence of an omni-benevolent god. Relevant discussion, links and information about the PoE may be found here.
A shorter formulation of this is the quote attributed to the philosopher Epicurus:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
The PoE is premised on the relevant god being claimed to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent etc – an “omni-max” conception of god. A god who wasn’t omni-max couldn’t be held to be always aware of evil, or always having the power to do something about it. Because of this, the PoE is traditionally applied to the 3 main monotheistic conceptions of god.
One apologetic against the PoE is the “Argument from free will” – that is, that god is indeed omni-max, but created humans with free will, which allows for evil by humans.
We consider this to be unpersuasive, for a few reasons. For instance, if an existent god is indeed onmi-max, s/he will know in advance what all humans will be doing with their “free will”, and could still act to prevent resultant evil if it chose – but patently does not.
The topical example of child abuse by clergy and religious personnel also belies the Argument from free will – because to accept it requires humans to also accept that such a “all-loving, all-powerful god” is quite happy to tolerate that extreme evil being perpetrated by his/her appointed earthly representatives, on defenceless, vulnerable children who are devoted to their faith.
While it could be argued that the abusers are exercising their “free will”, this ignores both the harms to the child victims and their alleged free will. Where is that “free will” exercised in that scenario – given that in the vast majority of religious scriptures, children are supposed to obey their religious leaders? Clearly such a god has no apparent concern that by allowing the alleged exercise of “free will” by abusive priests, s/he is condoning the abrogation of the free will of those children, and standing by while unspeakable and permanent harm is done to them.
Tracie Harris has called such a claimed god a “moral monster” – because a human who knew a child was being abused would be considered a moral monster if they did not act to stop it. Yet god patently does not. We think that a god should be able to be relied on to do at least what we would demand of any ethical human being.
Contemplating this calls to mind the unadorned words found scrawled into a cell wall at the Mauthausen Nazi concentration camp:
“If there is a God, He will have to beg my forgiveness.”
What are your views on marriage equality?
The Atheist Foundation of Australia’s stance on same-sex marriage is that many of the arguments that appear to be posed against it are based upon religious grounds. On that basis, and due to historical evidence and other arguments in support of same-sex marriage, marriage equality is something that should be supported.
Marriage is a secular contract in Australia, presided over by the Government. Marriage ceremonies do not have to be performed in a church (in fact, you’ll find numerous venues, halls, even gardens and restaurants that cater to non-church marriages, and celebrant ceremonies are held in places all over the country), nor must it be conducted by a church minister to be considered valid and legal. Civil and societal laws exist in Australia, which is a secular country, and that tradition has existed for a long time. You can find more about Australia’s secular history in a book of essays contributed to by a number of academics and writers, called The Australian Book of Atheism.
The Marriage Act was amended by John Howard in 2004 and it can be amended again to include same-sex marriage. The campaigns by groups like the “Australian Marriage Forum” includes a number of claims that can be found to be false.
Some of these false claims include that the status of opposite-sex families will be somehow changed by the acceptance of same-sex marriage. This is based on no evidence, and certainly the existence of civil unions, de facto and polygamous relationships do not change the status of opposite-sex families, since human rights and legal precedence do aim to protect relationships and people in cases such as prejudice and discrimination. There will probably still be divorces, breakups, remarriages and retaking of vows as there usually are for opposite-sex families in an equal-marriage world, no matter if their neighbours are gay, straight, whatever.
Other arguments include that marriage is for procreation and opposite-sex marriages are necessary for happy and healthy families. People may choose not to (or may not be able to) have children if they are married and yet their unions are still considered legal. Mothers and fathers may be single-parents, or divorce (and remarry, and even remarry again, and so on) – and yet we see many happy, healthy, well-adjusted children growing up in our communities. There are children who live with guardians, with their grandparents, with other relatives and may even be legally emancipated and working with no family whatsoever – and they can live fulfilling and meaningful lives:
Multiple studies across the social sciences have repeatedly demonstrated that there is no difference in psychosocial outcomes between children raised by opposite-sex couples and those raised by same-sex couples. There is no evidence that children are psychologically harmed by having two dads or two moms. The American Psychological Association (APA), the American Sociological Association (ASA), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has each endorsed the legalization of same-sex marriage and its capacity to provide a stable familial framework for children.
Finally, there’s the argument that traditionally marriage is only between opposite sexes. I would point out that for a long time, societal separation between different races was a ‘tradition’, and so was women not being educated the same as men (or not being educated at all), and marriage between people of different races seen as ‘wrong’. There are also countries where marriage can mean something completely different to ‘one man, one woman’ and therefore to say that Australia has it ‘right’ is very culturally narrow-minded.
Times change, traditions change. Ireland – with one of the most established Catholic demographics in the world – and the USA – known for a large number of religious groups – are just two countries that now have marriage equality. It seems nonsensical for Australia to adhere to a limited definition when the world is moving forward.
I’m a student with questions for the AFA, or need an atheist point of view for an assignment; can I get some help?
Yes, we are contactable via our Contact Us page, but due to the number of inquiries our response may be delayed, or we may suggest that you check a text like the Australian Book of Atheism (ed. Warren Bonett, published 2010), which has many essays on historical and modern perspectives of atheism in this country. We also have a Media Releases page, with comments from AFA representatives, that you can quote too.
You also have permission to quote content from this FAQ, or go to this Students’ Questions page for previous answers we’ve given for inquiries. Please make sure you reference the page correctly in your assignments, so your teacher knows where your source came from!
What advice can you give about workplace discrimination against atheists?
All jurisdictions in Australia have laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace because of religious belief. Non-belief is included in the provisions of the law for the purposes of Australia’s equal opportunity and human rights legislation. So atheists have the same rights against unfair dismissal as would a person fired for being a Jew or a Hindu. Not only is it against the law to discriminate against anyone in the workplace for religious reasons, it is the duty of every employer to do all that is reasonably possible to prevent it or to remedy it if it has occurred. Atheists who are the target of such discrimination can contact the Fair Work Ombudsman or assert their legal rights through the courts
Before embarking on legal proceedings or lodging a complaint with the fair work ombudsman, we suggest atheists affected by discrimination in the work place obtain legal advice. Also, the decision to initiate proceedings or complaints should not be taken lightly, as it may escalate an already unpleasant situation. The starting point is to have a discussion with the employer to determine whether the employer will support a complainant by objectively investigating a complaint and dealing with it effectively.
Unfortunately, experience suggests that a lot of employers may be either the cause of the problem or not inclined to discipline other employees who are involved in discrimination. This may be because, either they privately share the views of the offender or do not have sufficient skill to deal with these sorts of workplace problems.
It is often the case that being right and having both fairness and the law on your side doesn’t make bitterness and resentment go away after a dispute. The price for atheists standing up to discrimination can be living each working day in a poisoned atmosphere. Also, some employers have ways of getting around the law to dismiss someone who doesn’t fall in line with their beliefs. However no one should be required to work under such conditions and the more atheists who stand upo against discrimination in the workplace, the sooner such practices will disappear
When’s the next tour/event/gathering of the AFA?
One of the best ways to find out is to become a member of the Atheist Foundation of Australia. We’ve previously hosted numerous tours, run the Global Atheist Convention and have a forum, magazine and insights via email subscription on a regular basis.If you’d prefer, you can also follow the AFA Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
When and where is the next Global Atheist Convention or AFA Event?
Events like our 2010/2012 Global Atheist Conventions take a lot of planning (12-18 months in advance), considerable financial risk (to the committee members of our non-profit incorporated association), and a substantial amount of time and effort by unpaid volunteers.
Lately, we’ve been concentrating on organising smaller events, like Richard Dawkins in late 2014, The Unholy Trinity Downunder and Robin Ince in early 2015, and Cosmic Shambles LIVE in early 2017.
We had hoped to hold our third Global Atheist Convention in February 2018. The Convention Committee secured Victorian government funding, a great program of speakers and the same venue that housed the successful 2010 and 2012 conventions. With those elements, the AFA proceeded with the organising the Convention. However, ticket sales were substantially below expectations and below the levels for previous conventions, so, unfortunately, the Convention had to be cancelled.
Financial members of the AFA are informed of early-bird/discount tickets to events we organise, and sometimes to events put on by like-minded organisations, such Think Inc.’s James Randi and Sam Harris Tours.
Any future plans for tours or events are at the discretion of the AFA and are also dependent on time, effort, finances, scheduling requirements, community support and audience appeal of same.