Saturday, August 13, 2011

Why I am an atheist

I am an atheist. I do not believe in the existence of any gods or deities. I've wanted to address this subject for quite some time, but was fearful of the potential consequences of those who disagreed with my choices or who wished otherwise for me, not to mention the stigma that exists in American culture concerning atheists and morality. Ultimately, though, I decided it would be a good idea to try to put some of my thoughts in writing, to perhaps help others better understand how I arrived at the place I am now in terms of faith. This is not intended to (de?)convert anyone, mock anyone's beliefs, or otherwise incite the ire of those who disagree with me. I merely wish to express my reasons for my lack of belief. So here's what I think.


I was raised in a moderately religious household. My parents, who occasionally read this blog (hi Mom!), took us to church every Sunday, to Wednesday night Bible study/AWANAs, and generally encouraged us to take part in an active spiritual life centered around church activities and friends. This was quite fine with me for the majority of my life. I was baptized at around age 9 at East Paris Baptist Church in Paris, Texas and was an active member of the youth congregation there throughout most of my adolescent and teenage years. When I finished high school, I moved away to attend college, where I continued to pursue a spiritual existence through participation in Campus Crusade for Christ (now CRU I believe), as well as regularly attending Denton Bible Church and seeking to associate myself with like-minded individuals. I was more or less an average, ordinary Christian with a pretty solid knowledge of the Bible (thanks to adept memory skills and AWANA training), just herp derpin about through the first few years of my undergraduate education.

But at the same time, something had changed. I'd been trying to deny it for some time, but things weren't adding up to me the way they always had. During the first few years of college, I took a wide variety of classes, from Intro to Human Evolution (my professor was such a badass) to Anthropology to Physics to World Literature and History classes. I learned more about the world in the first two years of college at UNT than I had in the past 10, it seemed. I was learning things about human evolution that made me question the idea that the human race began with only two individuals, fully formed at creation. I was learning in physics about the methods used to date the age of the universe and the discoveries scientists had made in theorizing about its formation, which contradicted the story of creation in the Bible. In anthropology I learned about human societies across the world and throughout history, hitting on things like group dynamics, social structures and hierarchies, and patterns of human behavior and the research behind them, much of which directly relates to how religions formed throughout history. World literature exposed me to many different cultural tales and how similar stories were being told in different parts of the world based on geography and climate similarities (the best example is the multiple worldwide deluge stories in cultures that developed near flood-prone areas but not from areas without this problem), challenging the global narrative of the Bible I had grown up beliving. History taught me about the various civilizations that have come and gone throughout the past, and how they affected our current place in the picture.  I began to realize that the Bible I had always believed was inerrant seemed to contradict much of the evidence I was being inadvertently and indirectly being presented with. Coupled with my own feelings of doubt, I began to seriously consider the place that faith would serve in my life and the desire and cognitive ability I had to hold on to it.

Being an atheist is not something that I chose. Rather, I actually fought it for quite some time. I knew there were many inconsistencies, questions, and moral quandaries that I had identified within my own belief and the Bible, but I wasn't yet willing to concede that it was irreconcilable. It wasn't until I started graduate school that I began to read books that questioned the existence of God outright. After dabbling in some Christopher Hitchens, some Sam Harris, and various others, eventually I picked up a book by Dr. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, and by the time I had finished it, I had to face the inevitable reality laid out plain as day before me: The god I had believed in my entire life, the entity around which I had centered my moral value system and believed shaped and influenced my life in ways I couldn't see, was not real. The idea of God, in my opinion, was a creation of ancient peoples in an attempt to explain the things they experienced for which there was no rational explanation. The Bible reflects the moral value system of the day as it applied to the religious leaders, geographic groups, and social orders of the day, but is not in any way a historical account based on actual events. The idea of a supernatural force conflicts with everything we know about how the universe works, and the idea of the god of the Bible being the definitive authority and the One True God simply makes no sense to me.

Simply put, I have not seen one single iota of peer-reviewed evidence to support the idea that a God exists or that there is any supernatural interaction whatsoever with the physical realm we occupy. The information that we know about the universe is based on countless hours of hypothesizing, developing test methods, testing, reviewing, and documenting everything we possibly can. The laws and theories which govern our universe act independent of our own understanding and our knowledge of them comes from research, review and more research. The purpose of science is to seek the truth, whatever it may be. This is not something I see supported by the Bible. The Bible contains specific answers and information about many of the areas of our world which are not supported by the evidence we have gathered as we've developed as a society. The creation account, the global flood, miracles, virgin birth, resurrection, and many more Biblical concepts are simply completely contrary to the conclusions reached by peer-reviewed research. I resisted these conclusions for a long time, but eventually I could take no more cognitive dissonance. I didn't want to brand myself an atheist (because what if?) but ultimately there was no other term that could describe my view of the world.

Today, the term doesn't bother me. I am by no means anti-religion (though I feel it should remain as far from state affairs as possible), and I certainly can't tell anyone else not to believe in God or gods. A person's own belief is his business and not mine. I wanted to share my thoughts, though, because I think it's important to discuss faith on an honest level, given the huge consequences it bears on nearly every aspect of our society.

2 comments:

AHLondon said...

I don't see another way to contact you. So we shut a thread down. Pity. I would love threads like that. You can argue at my place anytime. Arguing with people who walk away is easy and looks bad on them, but does nothing for my argument tuning, or theirs. I much prefer active and competent participants.
http://americanhousewifeinlondon.blogspot.com/2011/08/tilting-at-windmills.html
Cheers.

AHLondon said...

I don't see another way to contact you. So we shut a thread down. Pity. I would love threads like that. You can argue at my place anytime. Arguing with people who walk away is easy and looks bad on them, but does nothing for my argument tuning, or theirs. I much prefer active and competent participants.
http://americanhousewifeinlondon.blogspot.com/2011/08/tilting-at-windmills.html
Cheers.