Why Do Atheists Believe Myths?

Since atheists decry myths you’d think they’d eschew them…but they don’t.  On the contrary, I’ve witnessed atheists accepting myths eagerly.

A google search for a definition of “myth” returned this to the top of the list:

a traditional story accepted as history; serves to explain the world view of a people

Atheists have plenty of these.  Here’s a list of myths commonly accepted by atheists:

The apostles could not have written the New Testament.

The gospels are embellished accounts of whatever Jesus did, if He existed at all.  

Biblical times were superstitious and that’s why people so eagerly accepted the miracles of the Jesus story.

Church councils materially altered the texts of New Testament documents.

Historians disregard the Bible.

Atheists accept such statements as these as obvious on their face and long since proven as fact.  They seem unaware how little factual basis sits beneath any of these claims.  What’s worse, many of them have no idea they’ve accepted these assertions without evidence, and when anyone challenges them, such a challenger is considered uneducated.  And, of course, the irony of this judgment is completely lost on them. 

How can people whose claim to legitimacy rests in large part on their unwillingness to accept myths, accept so many myths themselves?

10 Replies to “Why Do Atheists Believe Myths?”

  1. Mike,

    I see what you did there.

    Intriguingly, while you define “myth,” the things you’ve described — even if they were untrue — would not formally meet the definition of “a traditional story,” unless you’re radically redefining both the words “tradition” and “story.”

    Here’s what you meant to say: Atheists are wrong when they believe [laundry list].

    Okay — perhaps that’s so. So you know what would be interesting? Instead of engaging in none-too-clever namecalling, why don’t you just take each item on the list and devote a post to it and explain why, in your view, the claim is correct?

    I suggest you start with #3. I would say that the scholarly atheist consensus is probably RichardCarrier’s Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire. So go ahead, tell us why that’s wrong.

    1. If you think I’ve engaged in name-calling, please tell me where. I don’t engage in name-calling and I’m at a loss to figure where you think I have.

      The point of the post was not that atheists are wrong about these things (even though I believe they are). Rather, the point was that they believe these things with so little evidence. Mere assertion seems all that is necessary. And yet they criticize believers for “believing myths” for which there is little or no evidence. Thus I am accusing atheists who do this of hypocrisy: that is, if you criticize a believer for believing something for which you believe there is no evidence, then why do you turn around and believe things yourself with no evidence?

      I do not say this is true of all atheists, but I have run into quite a number lately whose behavior conforms to this description. If it doesn’t apply to you, and you have solid reasons for beliving what you believe, then good for you. You may be wrong about these things but at least you’re not being hypocritical.

      I could follow your suggestion to make a case that each of these claims is correct, and I may very well do that (although there is already posts and comments on this blog that cover all this territory). However, if I do so, I don’t want it to take away my main point here which is that if you’re going to criticize others for accepting claims without critical thinking, then don’t do the same yourself.

      1. I don’t think you’ve responded to what I’ve said, so let’s try it again:

        I’m an atheist, and I believe on what I take to be pretty good evidence that people during “Biblical times” (wow, that’s a pretty vague phrase) were, generally speaking, more credulous when it came to miracle claims. I already gave you one piece of evidence — Richard Carrier’s Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire.

        Want more? Okay, how about your own book? Read Exodus 7:8-13, in which we are told that not only can Moses and Aaron do magic (which you would expect, given that this is supposedly Moses speaking), but that the Egyptian sorcerers can do magic as well.

        Importantly, that little segment of the story ends at Exodus 7:13. We’re not given reasons why heathen Egyptian sorcerers can turn sticks into snakes. We’re not told that the Egyptian sorcerers were performing sleight-of-hand. No, we’re told that Aaron’s god is better than the Egpytian gods, because Aaron’s snake swallows the other snakes.

        That tells us, via context, that the claim that people could turn sticks into snakes was not an exceptional claim for the time — which, of course, is all that you’ve accused the atheists of believing “without sufficient evidence.”

        1. “Biblical times” = the period of history covered by the Bible, which is roughly 100 A.D. and back.

          I don’t regard Richard Carrier as an objective source. I’ve read enough of his work to recognize him as polemic, and therefore his work cannot be evidence that settles anything.

          You cite the Exodus passage as evidence of your position, yet you were not there and have no way of objectively determining whether the described event occurred or not. Thus you assume – without evidence – that the described event did not occur. I thought you said you didn’t do this sort of thing?

          As for my accusation, it is not that some atheists believe without sufficient evidence. It is that some atheists accuse those who believe Jesus of believing without sufficient evidence while these same atheists themselves believe things without sufficient evidence.

          1. Mike,

            These aren’t arguments. I’m going to try one last time:

            1. I asked you to substantiate the argument that people in Biblical times were not “more superstitious” and more credulous than people of today. Saying “I think Richard Carrier is a polemicist” is not argument.

            2. Moreover, you badly misunderstand my argument from Exodus. I’m not even arguing that Moses, Aaron, and the Egyptian priests didn’t turn their staves into snakes. I’m arguing that the linguistic context shows that their audience viewed that bit of magic as commonplace.

            Since we do not view turning a stick into a snake as commonplace today, the Bible itself provides the evidence for my argument that people were more willing to accept miraculous claims back then — even assuming that particular miracle claim were true (which I’m happy to do for purposes of this argument).

            I’m really kind of shocked you don’t get the point.

            1. These aren’t arguments. I’m going to try one last time:

              I’m at a loss to understand your impatience.

              I asked you to substantiate the argument that people in Biblical times were not “more superstitious” and more credulous than people of today.

              Yes, you did. And I said I had done so elsewhere in various places on this site, and might also do it again in a more direct and organized way (as a result of your inspiration). However, the point of this post is that atheists demand proof for theistic assertions that they are unwilling to demand for their own assertions. By attempting to shift the burden of proof away from yourself, you are demonstrating the validity of my claim. All you have to do to refute my point is to demonstrate that atheists have assembled evidence that substantiates claims like the ones I listed. You offered two proof points, which I dispensed with. You are now repeating them so I will dispense with them again – though I will try to use different words so as not to make the experience boring for you.

              Saying “I think Richard Carrier is a polemicist” is not argument.

              I didn’t say it was an argument. I said Carrier didn’t carry sufficient objective authority to settle a disgreement between us. In other words for you to say, “Well, Richard Carrier says so!” doesn’t have enough weight.

              I’m arguing that the linguistic context shows that their audience viewed that bit of magic as commonplace.

              You didn’t identify any linguistic evidence. The text is silent on that point. As for whether miracles were viewed as commonplace in biblical times, the Bible itself testifies that miracles have always been rare. That’s one of the things that made the events around the Exodus so remarkable. (I addressed this in Miracles Considered.)

              However, you are still far afield from the original point which was “Biblical times were superstitious and that’s why people so eagerly accepted the miracles of the Jesus story” is an example of assertions atheists make with little or no proof. If you have evidence for this belief, present it.

              I’m really kind of shocked you don’t get the point.

              I get the point you’re trying to make. You just have a weak case.

  2. It is always funny when a Christian refers to the “beliefs” of others as having “so little evidence. Irony at its best.

    As an Atheist, I think it would be odd to suggest I should accept that possibility that Jesus existed, despite there being no actual evidence of his existence. It’s like saying “it looks like a dog, it barks like a dog, but please accept the possibility that it’s a monkey”.

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