Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Why I Am an Atheist

The glib answer to the question of “why I am an atheist” is to say it’s for the same reason I don’t believe in the existence of invisible pink unicorns or teapots orbiting the planet Jupiter. In other words, since there’s no good reason why I should believe in these things, I shouldn’t need to justify my lack of belief in them. And this answer is perfectly valid and true insofar as it goes.

One problem with this answer, however, is that – unlike invisible pink unicorns and interplanetary teapots – a lot of people currently believe in God (or at least some form of being that can be called “God”). Which is to say that it’s not blindingly obvious to most people that there is no good reason to believe in God, and so my answer as to why I am in the minority probably does deserve a bit of fleshing out.

I will say that, in a sense, I have been an atheist all my life, despite having been raised in a fundamentalist Christian faith by my parents. [As an aside, I know that many people will object to my characterization of Mormonism as a “fundamentalist Christian” faith, but doctrinal differences aside, the important thing is that I was raised to believe in the existence of a personal God and the literal truth of the Bible (and other scriptures).] The thing is, despite being taught from an early age to believe in God, I was never able to wholly internalize that belief. I mean, I accepted that it “must” be true because it’s what my parents believed and it’s what I was taught at church, but there’s a difference between accepting something must be true and actually believing it to be true. As I grew older and learned more about the world around me, I became very good at compartmentalizing my acceptance that God “must” exist to protect it from the lack of any empirical evidence for his existence and the increasing evidence that actually contradicted his existence.

Majoring in philosophy (even at a religious school like Brigham Young University) really opened my eyes in a number of ways. It taught me both about logical thinking in general and about the many different worldviews held by different cultures throughout history. And it made it harder and harder for me to accept that there “must” be a God simply because of what I was taught by my parents and teachers. Since that time, I have continued to use the tools I learned in my philosophy studies to analyze the various reasons why somebody might believe in God and all the reasons why such belief is not justified.

For me personally, it comes down to the realization of just how ridiculous it is to believe that this entire vast universe was created just for our benefit.  It made much more sense thousands of years ago when people thought that stars were just lights in the sky and that the Earth really was all there was.  Now that we know just how many billions of galaxies there are, each with their own billions of stars, it's pretty obvious that the notion of a personal God who created us and watches over us and pays attention to us and cares about us is just wishful thinking.

On top of that, of course, is all the scientific evidence that has been gathered over the years that directly contradicts almost everything stated in the scriptures, whether it be the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Koran, etc.  At most, you can look to scriptures as allegorical stories that (hopefully) tell you how to live a good life, but if they're not based on facts then there's really no need to worship anything described therein.

Think about Santa Claus.  When you're a little kid with no knowledge of science, it makes perfect sense for there to be magical flying reindeer that can travel all over the entire world in a single evening carrying a magical sled filled with billions of toys.  After all, that's what your parents told you and how else could those toys mysteriously appear under the tree?  As an adult, however, it's hard to imagine that anybody (let alone you) could have ever been so naive and gullible.  Not only is everything about the Santa Claus story impossible, but there are much more plausible explanations available for the gifts.

The final piece of the puzzle for me was the realization that people are very good at self-deception and that plenty of folks are probably 100% sincere when they claim to have had a conversion experience or "felt the spirit" or what have you.  That's why so many people cling to so many different faiths.

So yes, the short answer is that I am an atheist because there’s no good reason not to be one. The longer answer, which I’m still working on, is what I hope to express through the posts I make to this blog.

1 comment:

  1. Oh! I was going to say - the times I've undeniably felt a benevolent "spirit" - I know they weren't self-deception because they came unlooked-for, in completely different manifestations and connotations than my life-long "education" had trained my mind to expect/desire. They literally shocked me to the core because of that dissonance and eventually led me to break from the path I was conditioned to follow. The super funny thing is that my family would say those were from Satan masquerading. . . All I can do is shake my head and chuckle, because there will never be any way to get them to see things differently from their programing.