When theists say that an atheist cannot be motivated or cannot have “hope,” they are sadly mistaken. Their claim is that atheism doesn’t offer mankind the hope, comfort, happiness, and benefits that theism does. Of course it doesn’t! Atheism doesn’t offer hope via believing in a supernatural deity because a-theism is an absence of theism, it is a lack of belief in a god or gods. Of course it isn’t a stance that “offers” something. If theists want to make such a claim and actually make some argumentative headway, they should at least compare to a stance that is “for” something, something that atheists DO believe.
But atheism doesn’t define what a person DOES believe. Not all atheists are going to believe in the same things just because they happen to share a lack of belief in a god or gods. Conversely, atheists also often happen to be secularists, humanists, naturalists, materialists, etc… stances that do profess and/or offer something. These stances are separate from atheism. They are just stances that happen to portray what some people that may also happen to be atheists do believe in. So if theists must insist on appealing to consequences, what they should be comparing to are those stances that portray what a person “does” believe in, not what a person lacks belief in. Also, this “appeal to consequences” theists use is a logical fallacy, that “you should believe in god because it gives you hope,” when used in an argument to conclude that we should believe a god exist because they consider the consequences of such a belief to be desirable. These consequences still attest nothing the verity of that in which one believes or disbelieves.
If we must examine this appeal to consequences in light of “hope” and in relation to atheism which again isn’t really a proper comparison, than let’s start with the obvious consequence difference of “life after death.” A theist will claim that theists can have more hope in regards to death because they believe they have a soul and that their soul has a chance to go to heaven, or… maybe even hell, but nevertheless they believe they will live beyond their physical death. This possible reward of heaven is one of the biggest motivations that fuels their hope. They hope they can go to heaven and so they attempt to live as the bible or their church says they should that will lead them to heaven. This hope and motivation of living beyond death and going to heaven a theist will say an atheist cannot have, and rightly so. Because atheists don’t believe in heaven or hell, and in most cases, don’t believe in a soul and life after death. However, because a person doesn’t believe in life after death doesn’t mean that a person can’t be motivated to live, or to have hopes that they can change the world in a positive way. On the contrary, a person who doesn’t believe there is life after death, and does believe that after they die, that that’s it, game over, they know they have this one life to live and that’s it, this motivates them to live it to their fullest. It is the only life they have, so they are often motivated by this to live it out perhaps even more fully and freely then a theist, because a theist believes their life on earth is just the beginning, and therefore may not value it as much as one who thinks it is the only one they have to live.
If an atheist were to have a “hope” in relation to the topic of death, I think many would hope to have changed the world for the better while they were alive, through the footprints they left, their actions, or even through his or her children. This is how an atheist lives beyond death. Other atheist may not even hope for this, they may just accept death as it is, being the end of life, and simply feel fortunate for having been part of the universe for having ridden the rollercoaster. The transient-ness of it all makes it all the more precious. Knowing it’s going to end, you try and hope to get as much out of it as well as contribute to it as you can. An atheist who happens to also be a secularists, humanists, naturalists, materialists, or other, accepts this, and is motivated by it, and “hopes” to come closer to understanding nature while enjoying the ride on the way. An atheist can dream, hope, be moved, and motivated just like anyone else, their motivations, hopes, and dreams just happen to be founded in the natural world, no preservatives or supernatural flavor required.
What do people hope for? People usually hope for the best, for something that will improve our well-being or the well-being of mankind. Can an atheist hope for these things? Of course! A lack of belief in a god has no bearing on one’s ability to have hope. While many atheists also happen to be skeptics, naturalists, materialists, secularists, etc… which may result in naturalistic explanations founded on evidence, reason, and logic, these realistic expectations do not negate the ability of an atheist to “hope” for the best.
Just like anyone else that hopes for human progress and well-being, atheists do too. The thing with atheists is, while they do have hopes, they’d rather do more than just sit around hoping or praying that things get better, they’d rather get off their feet and follow the evidence, work towards improvement, tackle potential problems head-on, and make a difference. They don’t need supernatural motivation or the reward or heaven or punishment of hell to be motivated to do these things. An atheist realizes that taking action accomplishes more than simply hoping or praying for things to get better.