Hemant recently asked this on his blog, looking for suggestions of the kinds of things that every atheist should be aware of.
There are some good suggestions appearing in the comments thread there, but also some rather specific and niche ideas, and some weird tangents onto stuff like homeopathy. If the question was about what every skeptic should know, then I’d take a different approach, but here I’ll just throw out some ideas relating to atheism specifically.
1. If you’re an atheist, it doesn’t mean you need to do anything.
This is worth remembering. There are absolutely no obligations of any kind that come with not being convinced by arguments for God’s existence. There are no regular meetings you must attend. There are no leaders you must respect. There are no doctrines you must accept. Aside from unrelated things like the laws of wherever you live, you can be an atheist and get on with your life literally any way you choose, with no extra baggage.
You also don’t have to stop doing anything you want to. You’re welcome to celebrate Christmas, curse a deity when you bang your toe, and even go to church. Maybe you still like singing some of the songs. There’s no atheist council that will eject you from its ranks for that.
2. There are plenty of non-believers out there, even if they don’t call themselves atheists.
A poll a few years ago indicated that 91% of US citizens believe in “God or a higher power”. That might seem like a high number, but it means that nearly one in ten people don’t believe. (In the UK, it’s a third.) Not in a personal god, nor even in a vague, spiritual sense that there must be something out there.
A more recent Gallup poll has 14% of people answering “None” to the question of their religious preference. That’s one in seven. And that doesn’t include the “Other” or “Undesignated” answers. By any metric, non-believers outnumber Jews in America substantially.
Think about that the next time you’re in a crowded place with more than a few dozen people milling around. It may depend on exactly where you are, but there’s a good chance, statistically, that there’ll be a fair few atheists in the crowd.
Heck, don’t even go and find a crowd. Go online and find some of the many, many forums and communities and blogs where people are talking about this kind of thing. There’ll be a lot of divergent opinion (see point 1) and you won’t mesh well with every group out there, but there’s no shortage of potentially welcoming like-minded folk, all over the world.
3. Evolution is a fact.
I know I said I was going to stick to things directly related to godlessness, but this feels worth mentioning. There’s a good chance that one of the most common objections you’ll run into from religious people, in discussions about your atheism, will be about how there must be a God to have created everything in the world.
Theists will often bring up the existence of the Universe as a whole, rather than the variety of life for which biological evolution is responsible. But anyone who’s already arrived at atheism has probably figured out for themselves that asking how God came about, if everything that exists must have been created, is something to which no believer has yet come up with a satisfactory answer.
The existence of complexity in life is a more pressing concern, which a lot of religious folk herald as proof of deliberate intent and a divine plan. The fact that we have a scientific model, painstakingly constructed and refined over decades, and which is about as solid as any other single aspect of human understanding, is something every atheist would do well to understand. And it’s not “just” a theory.
Well, that’s a start, anyway. I was tempted to do another bit on “A lot of religious people really don’t understand what atheism is”, but that’s something else that most atheists will find out pretty quickly without needing to be told. Anything important you think I’ve missed?