Frequently Asked Questions
By nature, many atheists and agnostics are happy to discuss their non-belief or to answer questions. However we have noticed that some questions come up fairly often. This FAQ page answers some of the more basic questions about the Coalition of Reason, atheism, and agnosticism in general.
What is atheism?
How can you be good without God?
What is the difference between an atheist and an agnostic?
What is the Pittsburgh Coalition of Reason, and what is its purpose?
How can my non-religious group become part of the Pittsburgh Coalition of Reason?
A-theism literally means “without theology” or “without belief in a deity.” It is not a definitive statement about the existence of deities; it is merely the rejection of belief in deities. Nonetheless the term atheist is commonly used to refer to someone who does not believe deities exist. Technically, many people who believe in a God are still atheists when it comes to thousands of other deities like Thor or Zeus.
The answer to this question is simple: belief in God has nothing to do with whether someone is a moral person. There are people who believe in God who do immoral things, and there are many people who do not believe in God who still live by the same high moral standards outlined in many religions. Why is this? It's because humans are a social species. We rely on one another to survive, and we know that everyone benefits when we cooperate with one another. Other non-human animals who live in groups know how to be compassionate and how to share. We are all born with an innate ability to understand fairness and to feel emotions like empathy or guilt. Our instincts and intuitions tell us from the time we are children what is right and wrong. In fact, one might say that most religions grow from humans' innate ability to understand that living by the golden rule is ideal for everyone.
In short, morality is an agreement among the individuals in a society to treat each other in a certain way because it is better for everyone. And because non-believers do not typically adhere to a single religion or set of values, we are likely to have considered in depth the real-world effects that our choices will have. We develop our own values and embrace integrity, trustworthiness, benevolence, and fairness—much as many religions do.
As a technical matter, atheism is a broad category that describes people who simply lack a belief in a god. An atheist says, "I don't believe God exists." Agnosticism is slightly different. An agnostic says, "I cannot know whether God exists." Agnostics propose that the existence of God is not knowable, one way or the other. In practice, use of the term agnostic is fairly broad and is a matter of personal choice. It can refer to someone who thinks it is unlikely that there is a God, or even to someone who is not sure whether God exists. Many agnostics are actually atheists; they do not believe in the existence of a deity, and they believe the question of whether deities exist is impossible to prove.
The most important thing is that all non-believers get to choose their own labels. What we call ourselves is a reflection of who we are and how we think. There is nothing surprising about the fact that so many different labels are used among people who do not believe in God: atheist, agnostic, nonbeliever, unbeliever, freethinker, skeptic, secular, humanist, rationalist, and nontheist. We are all unique and thoughtful individuals.
Pittsburgh CoR is a chapter of the United Coalition of Reason, a national, non-profit organization. Chapters exist in dozens of cities across the United States. Pittsburgh CoR is a coalition of non-religious groups whose purpose is to:
- Generate publicity and visibility for the non-believer community.
- Promote communication and cooperation among non-religious groups in the Pittsburgh area.
- Provide a centralized website that provides information about its participant groups.
Pittsburgh CoR is here to help Pittsburgh's non-religious community, and we warmly welcome new groups who could benefit from joining us. If your group would like to become a member of the Coalition, please e-mail our local coordinator.