August 22, 2020

Reality is Not a Democracy

I'm not Satan

Can you think of a time when you were right about something and all your friends were wrong? I suspect you can. We tend to remember things like that. Maybe it was something trivial. You knew which band recorded a particular song, and all your friends thought it was someone else. Or maybe you remembered some obscure fact related to something a story that had been dominating the news recently and that nobody else seemed to know. The point is, you were right while everyone else was wrong.

Imagine what it must have been like to be the one person (or perhaps one of a very small number) who first realized that the Earth was not flat! Think of how much flack the earliest proponents of heliocentrism faced. Perhaps "flack" is too soft a word here since Christians murdered people for this sort of thing. And yet, those who recognized the truth were right while the overwhelming majority around them was wrong.

Going against conventional "wisdom" can be a lonely experience. Being right does not always seem sufficiently consoling in the face of isolation. But I suppose I don't have to convince you of that, do I? After all, you are atheists. If you are living in the United States (or other countries that still expect people to believe in superstitious nonsense), you know what it is like to feel like the only sane one in a sea of lunatics. And yet, you are right. You have realized the absurdity of believing extraordinary claims without sufficient evidence. You've been willing to apply this principle to gods, and that does set you apart from many of your neighbors.

You are by no means the only atheist even though it might feel that way at times. As of 2011 when I wrote the initial version this post, there were over 24.6 million of us in the U.S. alone! We are still a small minority, but our numbers are growing and there are already more of us than many influential minorities. And we are right! If we have learned nothing else from the history of science, we should remember that popular opinions are often wrong. The fact that most Americans believe in gods of some sort does not make them any less wrong. Reality is not a democracy; it does not conform to popular opinion.

An early version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2011. It was revised and expanded in 2020.