Date: September 02, 2014 10:37AM
I have often been asked to tell the story of how I became an atheist.
The short - and perhaps somewhat flippant - answer would be: I was born that way. And that's the truth.
I am using the word "atheist" to mean someone who does not have a belief in God. And that's exactly the way I was born, as were all of us, I suspect.
But that is not the story that I have been asked to tell, and it would not be the complete story, either, since within days after my birth, my very devout Mormon parents started to make a believer of me, by taking me to church to have me "blessed" by the elders and given a Christian name. From then on, until well into my adulthood, I was trained to be a theist, that is, a believer in God. It was a very thorough and time-consuming process, and very effective. Until I was about 27 years old, I was a devout believer in God, as the Mormons understand God. And then I began to return to the "religion" of my birth.
The story of how I came to leave Mormonism I have told elsewhere, so I won't repeat that story here. But it will be helpful here to say that I only came to realize that Mormonism was not true when I undertook to demonstrate that it WAS true. The more I searched for explanations to the contradictions and problems of Mormon theology and history, the more problems I found, until I realized that Mormonism was a structure of beliefs and a web of false history that could not possibly be of divine origin, but rather had all the earmarks of something terribly human, trying to pass itself off as from God. I certainly was not biased against Mormonism: I wanted very much for it to be true. But it turned out to be glaringly false. As I later stood back from Mormonism and viewed it more from a distance, that falseness became more and more obvious, and I was almost embarrassed at why it took me so long to see it.
My experience with Christianity and with belief in God has been similar.
I examined other religions and religious philosophies. We have since learned the natural explanations for many things that used to be attributed to the whimsy of a deity. We have also exposed the errors of much which used to be accepted as fact on the basis of divine revelation, such as the geocentric universe, and the age of the earth. Even those who still believe in God must admit that the best course in the case of illness is to get the doctor to prescribe the appropriate medicine, not to ask the minister to determine how we have sinned and to perform a ritual sacrifice. So it seems to me that God is rapidly losing his job as an explanation for things we don't understand.
So, I suppose you can say that I became an atheist because I have seen no convincing evidence for the existence of God as claimed by the theists.
I am content to admit that many such questions may have no answer, at least no answer that I would be able to understand (hell, I don't even understand trigonometry!), or that will be found in the foreseeable future, that is, during my lifetime. In the meantime, I think the best policy is to be content with no answer at all to those questions, rather than to risk accepting a phony answer as genuine.
I am also quite willing to admit that our human knowledge of the universe is still limited, and that we may not be (in fact, almost surely are not) the most intelligent and advanced beings in the universe. There are obviously powerful forces at work in the universe, and perhaps intelligences, of which we may be unaware. But those forces and intelligences do not have to be different in basic nature from those forces and intelligences we know. That is, there is no reason to call them "gods" or "God," any more than the fish in my trout pond should consider me to be essentially different from it, simply because I have control over its world and am (hopefully) more intelligent than it is.
I have studied all the so-called proofs of God's existence, mostly as offered by Christians, since they seem to be the self-declared authorities on God. I have worked patiently and carefully through them all. All their proofs have serious logical fallacies. And I have as yet to see a convincing refutation of the numerous arguments by atheists that God (at least as described by Christians) cannot possibly exist.
Why should we abandon the rules of evidence when evaluating religious claims? Why should we accept less evidence, rather than demanding more, when someone wants us to accept as fact the existence of an invisible being of an illogical nature and beyond our comprehension? Why should we fudge on the strict rules of logic in a religious discussion? Why should we allow ourselves, if we insist on such evidence and logic, to be branded as stubborn, evil, rebellious, proud, materialistic (all of these said with a condescending, pitying, pious sneer)? What virtue is there in being gullible? Which absurdity (of the many absurd descriptions of God) is it more virtuous to believe?
I would believe in God if God could arrange for some credible evidence of his existence to come my way. So far, that has not happened. I have to wonder why. The believer, of course, will say that I am stubborn, proud, too "learned." But God - if he exists - knows that is not true of me. Still, God remains silent. I have dialed, but there's no answer and no message on the answering machine. Should I try to have some hallucinatory experience? How would I know that it was not simply a hallucination? Therefore, I see no reason whatsoever to pretend that God exists.
I called myself an agnostic for years, but I really think there is no difference between the atheist saying "I have no belief in any god" and the agnostic saying "I don't know whether any god really exists." They seem to me to be intellectually equivalent. And does it matter? Perhaps I am really an "apatheist" - I really don't care.
Some atheists (sometimes called "positive atheists") say "I believe that god does NOT exist." This seems to me to suffer from the same intellectual arrogance and faith-based thinking as the statement "I believe that God exists." I think very few atheists who have really thought about it take this position - it turns atheism into a religion.
I would not want everyone to be an atheist. The believers are probably correct when they say that it is only a belief in God and man's accountability to God that prevents them from robbing convenience stores, romancing the neighbor's wife, and kicking the dog. I believe them. I am glad that they have a belief in God to keep them in line.
Atheism is not inherently evil, any more than religion is. Both belief and non-belief can be used for either good or evil, and have been. So I tend to get annoyed when believers try to take the moral high ground and ignore the bloody history of religion as it has tried to promote belief in the "true" god. Atheism is a view held by some of the kindest and most loving people in the world, whose greatest fault in the eyes of many is their skepticism, their stubborn refusal to be flummoxed, and whose wholehearted open-mindedness is too often overlooked and not often enough imitated.