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Freethought Today · April 2016

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Honorable mention Michael Hakeem Memorial College Essay Contest: Atheists worthy of respect by Martin Cheung

FFRF awarded Martin $200. (This essay has been edited for space.)

By Martin Cheung

Centuries ago, people believed toxic gases called miasma arose from the ground and caused diseases. Now we know cholera is spread in water and malaria is transmitted by infected mosquitoes. The progress of scientific knowledge has consistently discredited superstitious beliefs, and I believe science firmly rejects the existence of the supernatural, including God. If the majority of scientific evidence supported the existence of God, I would readily accept his existence. Then I would immediately question the morality of his actions, because omnipotence does not equal "worthy of worship."

The term "god of the gaps" describes the argumentative fallacy to attribute a gap in scientific knowledge as evidence for the existence of God's existence. However, I think this phrase is also an apt description of the gap of understanding between the religious and irreligious. Religious people often think that atheists are immoral or have no meaning in life. Since America remains majority Christian, the utter inconceivability of atheism to the religious continues to marginalize atheists as a fringe minority, despite growing numbers. For America to learn to respect atheists, it must learn that they are their friends, neighbors, students, teachers, co-workers, children, heroes, favorite actors, writers and politicians.

Historical stigma associated with atheism has marginalized the significant contributions of atheists to humanity. Atheists provide a valuable perspective to society based on science and reason that asks for critical examination of traditions and the promotion of rationality over unfounded convictions.

Nonbelievers deserve respect for their beliefs because of human rights. To ask why an atheist is entitled to dignity is to ask why a human is entitled to dignity. Atheism is both freeing and burdening, in the sense that no one tells you what is right and wrong. You determine your own moral compass based on your personal beliefs, free from dogma and doctrine. Most of all, atheists are worthy of respect because we are truth seekers who value reason, integrity and the spirit of humanity.

Martin Cheung lives in Marietta, Ga., and attends the University of Pennsylvania. He intends on majoring in biology, and is primarily interested in genetics and molecular biology.