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Nov 28 2011

Why I am an atheist

Russell here.  I’ve been feeling left out of PZ Myers’ series on how people became atheists, but I thought it would be greedy of me to try to guest post on his blog when we’ve got our own.  So instead, I’m posting my own story here.

My parents are both of Jewish cultural/ethnic backgrounds, with roots in Germany and Eastern Europe.  They are also both more or less atheists — my dad more, my mom a bit less.

Continued below the fold…

Mom has some attachment to reform Judaism as well as some new agey “spiritual” tendencies, although on the whole I still think of her as being more skeptical than most people’s parents.  My dad and I used to occasionally get taken to temple and we would sit in the back together, making jokes under our breath.  Nevertheless, my mom’s influence won out enough to have me bar mitzvahed and to send me through three years of Jewish summer camp, both of which I still view as generally positive and enjoyable experiences.  If nothing else, I can still read and sound out Hebrew writing, although my vocabulary is next to nothing.

I first became aware that atheism wasn’t “normal” when I started going to Kindergarten in Alabama, where just about everyone I knew was a Christian — except for some connections my parents made through a Unitarian church.  Kindergartners are not well equipped to handle theological debates, so one day after getting in an argument with a friend, I came to my dad, confused.  “Daddy, if there is no God then do we think that ‘the nothing’ made the world?” I asked.  I don’t remember many details of that conversation, but I assume that he explained some scientific background, and then threw in some background about religious beliefs and why so many people have them.  He is, after all a scientist, and anyway that’s what I would do now.

I don’t remember encountering many serious challenges to my atheism until college.  When you’re a kid, everything seems very black and white anyway; the information you get from your family is just stuff you “know” to be true.  Getting older, I got in a few minor arguments with Christians in the high school debate club, but I also had quite a few unbelieving friends, so it wasn’t much.  My freshman biology teacher skipped over teaching evolution, which my dad raised a stink about, but I didn’t have enough familiarity with the topic to care as much as I should have at that point.  In senior year, my favorite teacher created a humanities class which brought in representatives of various religions, and my dad became their designated atheist for about 15 years.  Unfortunately, I didn’t register for the class myself, but I’ve seen his talk and it’s generally well received.

In college I met a much broader base of people.  There was a Mormon in my freshman dorm, who wound up leaving school after a year to go on a mission.  I started to encounter religious tracts challenging evolution for the first time.  There are a lot of advertisements for churches and religious groups around college campuses.  I started encountering those delightfully crazy outdoor preachers who set up shop in a populous area and yell at people to repent.

And, of course, there was the internet.  Back in 1993 it was a brand new thing to most people, and there were still a number of private dial-up networks that people signed up for.  My family joined the Prodigy network, and I joined the “Teens” board and ran smack into a roiling mass of religious conflict.  Needless to say, I dived right in, made myself a stupid screen name, and started offending kids right and left.  It was great!

After all this exposure, I experienced a period of self-reflection.  After all, I’d been an outspoken atheist all my life, and college is a time when you start re-examining your key assumptions.  I saw church marquees as I walked to and from the beach which posed Pascal’s Wager to me: can you really take the chance that you might be wrong?  And I asked myself: The vast majority of people I’ve ever met have believed in some kind of God.  Surely, I wondered, mustn’t there be some kind of basis for this belief?  How would I know if I was wrong?

So I started trying to approach the question scientifically.  First thing I did was dabbled in prayer.  There’s no shortage of reasons to pray in college.  There’s that hot girl on the fifth floor and I’m still a virgin.  (My concept of a potential god didn’t include quite so many sexual hang-ups.)  There’s a tough test coming up, and I’m not sure I’ll pass this class.

Prayer didn’t help me get a date — as a nerd, it took a few years of self-improvement for me to figure out how THAT field of study works — but it did seem to help with school work.  I noticed that after praying for support on a test, I felt calmer and more confident about my chances, and reducing the level of panic helped me focus better.  But as tempting as it was to give God credit for that kind of minor success, I recognized that it hadn’t been a good test.

So I picked something specific and unlikely, but within the realm of possibility.  I prayed: Some time in the next week, I’m going to get a sign.  Someone is going to walk up to me and give me a big cookie.  No explanation, no reason, no strings attached.  Just hand it to me and walk away.  I said that if this happens, I’ll give a shot to that Christian church I saw with the Pascal’s Wager marquee.  I figured that it was weird enough that it would be a respectable sign, but not outrageous enough to be seen as demanding favors.

It didn’t happen, so I finally said to myself “Okay, I’m not the crazy one.”  And over time, I dropped the idea of praying for help and accepted my atheism as the best bet about how reality works.

I’m not going to hide the truth here: I became an atheist because my family was full of atheists, and I agreed with them.  Going along with your family is not a good reason to be a believer, and it’s not a better reason to be an unbeliever either.  But since then, I feel like I’ve given religion as fair and objective a hearing as I could manage, and I’ve never found any good reason to switch teams.  I don’t accept faith as a good reason to believe something, and I think even most evangelists acknowledge, deep down, that there is not much in the way of evidence or justification for picking their religion.  I’ve got a great community of supportive friends here in Austin, and I’ve never been unhappy with the fruits of skepticism and disbelief.

33 comments

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  1. 1
    Jasper of Maine

    So no being mad at God because your puppy died, and you decided not to believe in him?

    My mother actually had an atheistic phase when she was young for that reason, or so she says.

    It might be interesting to go through these “Why I’m an atheist” and start building some statistics of reasons.

  2. 2
    AtheistSteve

    Great story Russell but I’m sure having mostly secular parents helped a lot. I grew up with Catholic parents and everyone I knew, family, friends and neighbours were too. The idea of atheistm wasn’t even a consideration. I was always a reluctant observer of faith. Services at church were boring, irrelevant and uncomfortable. By I still believed in God I guess. It just didn’t play into my day to day existence.

    But very early on I was fascinated by science and yes a nerd too. Dinosaurs, deep sea creatures and oh my gosh astronomy. Long before attending university to study Engineering I had a good basic foundation in geology, paleontology, anthrolpology, biology and wonder of wonders astronomy and cosmology. The Big Bang, stellar and planetary formation, plate tectonics, and evolution made sense. Conversely Biblical miracles defied physics and logic. The creation story and the flood were clearly at odds with science.

    But then again God was all powerful. Why couldn’t he bend nature to his will? And I might have been satified with compartmentalizing my God belief if not for one other factor. Science Fiction. Asimov, Herbert, Niven, Clarke and many others opened my mind to the endless possibilities of the imagination. At some point it clicked that the Bible was like that…an ancient Sci-Fi novel(a bad one at that). I mean it worked for L.Ron didn’t it? So once I realized that no accounts of modern equivalents to the miracles in the Bible existed, I was done. God was a fictional creation. Now it all made sense.

  3. 3
    atheistthaigirl

    I’ll share some of my story, which I hope is okay. Most of my family is extremely religious, however my mom decided to not shove religion down my throat. I wasn’t a religious child. I learned about evolution when I was around eight to ten-years-old. I learned about Christian creationism soon after and viewed creationism like an episode of The Simpsons rather than as a belief taken seriously by people. I valued a mechanical explanation of nature over magical thinking regarding all things. I always liked knowing how things function. I’ve put a lot of thought into how I was this way, but I still don’t really know why magic didn’t cut it for me. I experimented with prayer in 5th grade and I immediately realized that I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between an answered prayer or a coincidence. As I got older I gradually realized the difference between faith and evidence. I also became aware that there were so many religions and all of them claimed to be the right one, which meant all of them could be wrong. I was definitely an atheist by 16. I’m an artist and I can look back at old drawings (some were Sonic the hedgehog themed) I made that mocked religion and religious beliefs.

  4. 4
    jacobfromlost

    I like the cookie thing.

    The earliest memory I have regarding Jesus was when my mom told me that Jesus isn’t like Santa or the Easter Bunny (I was probably 3). I said, “I know,” but I really had no idea what she was talking about. I just knew that everyone said that, so I said it too, with some kind of vague idea that Jesus was more important than Santa or something (maybe Santa and the Easter Bunny worked for Jesus?).

    I remember when I was about 7 digging through my parents’ closet and finding presents from “Santa”, confirming my worst fears, which was pretty devastating, lol (I so loved the Santa myth). I can still remember my mom trying to comfort me, and my dad telling her (with me in the room, in plain earshot), “Just tell him those presents were for his cousins.” Dad never knew what was going on, as we had already GIVEN my cousins their gifts–which my mom promptly yelled back at him.

    We never really went to church, though. I had a neighbor friend whose parents had been killed in a car wreck, and he and his sister then lived with his grandparents who were very religious. I asked if he could spend the night one Saturday, and they said he could if I went to church with him the next morning. I agreed. What did I care? At least I could learn about Jesus and religion (I thought it was vaguely interesting).

    It became clear very quickly that no one knew anything about Jesus or religion–at least, not in the way that my teachers at school knew things. When I was taught math, or a new word, or a bit of history, I could go out in the real world and use it, confirm it, immediately. But religion didn’t seem to work that way. My friend said that my dead dogs were in the ground and “that was heaven” for them (didn’t sound like heaven to me). My mom always said our dogs were in heaven, and she didn’t mean “the ground”. Others said other things, and no one seemed to agree on anything or know how to find out. One Sunday school teacher gravely said that the 30 year old single wide mobile home that housed the classrooms behind the church was a “part of god’s house”. That was…disheartening, and vaguely unbelievable. And looking at how the other kids didn’t take any of it seriously AT ALL was also disheartening–everyone seemed to be there for the free hot chocolate, cookies, and donuts. They were FAR more interested in the hot chocolate than the bible stories. (And the fact that my Sunday school teacher was a cashier from 7-11 who had blue hair also didn’t seem right–although all the kids loved him, apparently because he didn’t care if you listened to him or not during his lessons.)

    By college, I was agnostic and enrolled in a Great Books class that was 4 years long. When we got to the bible (reading only a handful of books), our professor was a Calvinist that had one of those scary, deep, commanding voices–the kind of voice I imagine John Edwards had when reading “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. It was not easy to argue with such a person, but I was curious, so I just questioned politely, probably meekly.

    Was evil defined as death, disease, destruction, dysfunction, etc? He said that was a good definition. Was the devil absolute evil? He said yes. Well, I said, if that is the case, then isn’t the devil absolutely diseased, absolutely dead, absolutely dysfunctional, etc, which suggests he doesn’t exist? No, he said–one being could be absolutely evil and the devil was that being. Oh, I said. Well, if the devil is absolutely evil and god is absolutely good, won’t they be in a constant stalemate for all of eternity? Yes, he said, until the end of time when god throws the devil in the Lake of Fire.

    Ding. I was an atheist. I didn’t care if this dude’s voice was scary or not. The ideas he was voicing with that scary voice made no sense at all, and I remember suspending my disbelief (or at least setting my disbelief aside for the sake of the conversation) all the way up to the Lake of Fire…and that was a bridge too far. I couldn’t cross it AT ALL. I couldn’t pretend to believe it, I couldn’t even suspend my disbelief for the sake of discussion, or the sake of the story, and continue asking questions. It was like he just told me Jesus was jumping a shark on water skis…

    …and that’s when the Jesus myth lost whatever tiny, tiny authority it ever had in the back of my mind. All the other religions soon followed. And a few years after that, I added UFOs and other modern myths to the list…which was actually harder to do. Like Mulder, I want to believe…

    1. 4.1
      AtheistSteve

      I like your comment about UFO’s. There is no reason to believe we have ever had visitors from outer space. Is there life elsewhere in the universe? I’d venture to say that the cosmos is brimming with life wherever the conditions are amenable. Intelligent life? Well now that’s a different animal altogether and I suspect it’s possible, even likely, but much more rare. After all it took over 3.5 billion years for intelligent life to emerge here. Perhaps the Kepler telescope will point future generations of explorers to find answers to that age old question. Are we alone?

      1. jacobfromlost

        Also, our definition of “intelligent” is self-centered, and can’t coherently or clearly include intelligence that is beyond our ability to recognize as intelligence. At least when we recognize people who know more (or are inherently more talented with a certain area of knowledge), we have a somewhat solid understanding of the elements the person is mastering. I don’t know how to fix a car engine, but I understand there are moving parts, fuel, energy transfer, etc., so I can recognize at a basic level what the mechanic is mastering and be confident that yes, he is intelligent with fixing cars.

        But if a nonhuman intelligence is mastering things with elements that we have no clue about, even a demonstration of that understanding before my very eyes would not look like intelligence at all to my puny brain–it would just look like magic (or a hallucination, a dream, or who knows what–I certainly wouldn’t be able to tell if it is “real” or not from passive observation, and my limited intelligence would make it impossible for me to actively observe/experiment on the level necessary to distinguish it as reality). And if the various elements of that mastery are simply beyond my grasp as a human…perhaps beings holding such intelligences wouldn’t in the least be interested in interacting with creatures with my level of intelligence. They may be no more interested in visiting with me than I am interested in visiting a pebble billions of miles out of my way.

        So whether beings with “higher” intelligence exist or not, my existence as a human with human intelligence is likely irrelevant to them…and to me.

        1. LP

          I think we need to be careful with the term “intelligent”. Technically speaking, there are hundreds of intelligent species on Earth… maybe thousands (which we might call “sentient”). None of the others can do the technological things that we can, though. We need a word that means “intelligent to the point of having symbolic language and a culturally-communicated technology (or the immediate potential for it)”. Sapient, maybe? That’s the kind of intelligent life we REALLY want to meet, not just the extraterrestrial equivalent of dogs or raccoons, after all.

          1. jacobfromlost

            Sure. That’s kind of what I meant about our idea of intelligence being self-centered. I’m also not sure that all technological advancement can be considered intelligent, in any case. We would superficially say it takes intelligence to develop advanced technology, but if we end up killing ourselves (slowly with polution, or quickly with nuclear weapons) then is it really “intelligence”? Who knows?

          2. AtheistSteve

            Yes LP is correct. Technologically advanced would be a more appropriate term. This theme has played out time and time again in the Star Trek universe. There could be sapient gas bags floating in the atmosphere of Jupiter but we would have little in common with them. Dolphins and chimps are intelligent with the latter even being rudimentary tool users. But they’re not technological. Also primintive scavenger or agrarian societies on other worlds would display little impact on their environment and thus be difficult to detect.

            To the point Jason made of creatures so advanced that we would be unable to recognize them as being advanced belittles our ability to recognize the difference between natural and artificial. To a primitive man, an encounter with a modern man on a Harley with an IPad would appear as a god on a demon beast with a soul box in his hand. Not having any idea what technology is would be the disconnect. If however we encountered a person who drew forth holograms from a ring on his hand and floated around on a hoverboard we wouldn’t think they were gods, just marvel at their cool devices. Likewise an advanced civilization that built Ringworlds or Dyson Spheres would be recognizable by their artifacts. The laws of physics are the same everywhere. So too are the elements of the periodic table. Technology is bound by the properties of matter and energy. Jason reminded me of “Q”, a being with abilities far beyond anything technological and yes such a being would be indistinguisable from a god, and also I think just as unlikely to exist.

          3. jacobfromlost

            AtheistSteve: Yes LP is correct. Technologically advanced would be a more appropriate term.

            Me: That’s not exactly what I meant.

            AtheistSteve: To the point Jason made of creatures so advanced that we would be unable to recognize them as being advanced belittles our ability to recognize the difference between natural and artificial.

            Me: That’s not what I meant either. I’m not talking about a higher intelligence akin to those dramatized in science fiction. I’m saying an intelligence so advanced that we simply wouldn’t be able to say much of anything about it–we might say some aspect of it is magic, a dream, a hallucination, or we might not see anything at all, depending on the nature of the elements being manipulated by the intelligence. But if those elements being manipulated (not necessarily technological) are behind human grasp, then the possibility of our recognizing them as an intelligence when manipulated in concert wouldn’t be possible, at least not in a way that would be distinguishable from guessing, superstition, or observing nothing at all.

            AtheistSteve: To a primitive man, an encounter with a modern man on a Harley with an IPad would appear as a god on a demon beast with a soul box in his hand. Not having any idea what technology is would be the disconnect.

            Me: That’s not exactly what I was saying, but even at that level, a lot of people have no IDEA how many modern devices work. The do have some rudimentary understanding that energy powers this device, and it is made of material that looks a certain way, or feels a certain way. But what if a higher intelligence was manipulating several elements (not necessarily physical) that were beyond our grasp to understand? Would the manipulation be apparent to us as an intelligent manipulation? My suggestion is that it would not, if any aspect of it were capable of being perceived by us at all.

            AtheistSteve: Jason reminded me of “Q”, a being with abilities far beyond anything technological and yes such a being would be indistinguisable from a god, and also I think just as unlikely to exist.

            Me: Q is even far below what I was suggesting. I can easily grasp the idea of “Q”, and Q was manipulating elements that I understand (space, time, matter, energy, etc).

    2. 4.2
      AtheistSteve

      Oops…my bad. Jacob not Jason…should have worn my glasses.

      1. jacobfromlost

        That’s ok. I won’t unleash any of the island’s mysterious power on you.

  5. 5
    grumpyoldfart

    Your cookie story got me thinking about prayer:

    I’m pretty sure that I have never prayed for anything, ever. I went to Sunday School for eight years and always bowed my head when the preacher said “Let us pray” – but I never prayed.

    At weekends I would sleep-over at my Granny’s place and she would tuck-me-in and tell me to say my prayers, but I always said “No.” We would argue about it sometimes, but I never gave-in. Six years old, and already a strident atheist – I’m quite proud of that.

    1. 5.1
      jacobfromlost

      I’ve been thinking about prayer lately. What is it, exactly, in reality? Of course people pray in various ways, which may color the answer to that question, but I was thinking about directed prayer.

      It seems to me it is a precursor to rational problem solving–the first step in identifying some problem and wanting it to be solved. Mental processes are occurring, they just can’t identify any means to solve the problem so feed back on themselves. It also seems linked to ignorance in the one who is praying. If they KNEW how to solve the problem, they’d be (rationally) thinking about how to solve it in reality before and during the action of actually solving it. If you don’t know, you just THINK about solving it divorced from any known solution (you know what the problem IS, you know what a “solved” state looks like, you just have no idea how to get from the first to the second). So the unknown solution–god, magic, superstition, etc–becomes the solution, and that at least relieves some of the stress of having no solution at all. (That’s why it seems to me the higher the stress, the more likely one is to undertake this kind of mental process, even if they don’t call it prayer, don’t talk to a god, etc. They may simply think very hard about the problem, or focus their hopes on an unknown solution surfacing, or even talk to themselves to calm their stress in hopes of stumbling upon a solution…perhaps even unintentionally as they talk themselves through the problem and clarify what it actually is.)

  6. 6
    wholething

    I stole a great, big cookie back in the early ’90′s. It had icing in the shape of a cross and the letters “R” and “G” on it. I figured that to go to all that trouble to steal a cookie and have it taste so bad, there couldn’t be a god.

    1. 6.1
      wholething

      You pray for a cookie, you get nothing. You steal a cookie and pray for forgiveness, you get both. That’s how religion works.

      1. Paul Durrant

        That’s the Emo Philips joke.

        “I used to pray every night for a new bike. Then I realized that the Lord doesn’t work that way.

        So I just stole one, and asked Him to forgive me.”

  7. 7
    Stein

    I like the original post…I seldom see an atheist admit that he was raised an atheist.

    But this Jew things I don’t get…why be Jewish if you are an atheist.

    The Old Testament Jews did horrible things…why would you want admit being connected to such people?

  8. 8
    Frank B.

    I cannot tell you what religion is correct, if any. Quite frankly, I never really saw the problem with any religion; some people have something that works for them, and some do not. And I don’t subscribe to that nonsense that religion causes hate and war. That’s merely human nature.

    However, I do believe in a God, not because I’ve been taught to believe it; but I’ve chosen to accept it through the presentation of scientific evidence.

    The reason why I am a theist, (particular domination and/or subscribed system of belief withheld) is that I was convinced by Dr. Gerald Schroeder of MIT.

    Honestly and truly, most of my friends aren’t all that religious. One of my closest cousins subscribes to the ‘church of George Carlin.’

    Throughout my teenage years, I thought about these matters deeply, in college, I pondered these matters for long periods of pensive concentration.

    Eventually, I became convinced of the existence of God through the fact that while I am 100% convinced of evolution, I do not see how life could come to existence from nothing- that a series of random chemical reactions would form even a single-celled organism for life to evolve from. Though, to be at full discretion, biology was never my specialty.

    I stayed at this level of thought for some time, until Anthony Flew, one of the top atheistic minds worldwide, to my shock and awe, actually converted to theism.

    This wasn’t for some illegitimate motivation; some nebbishy Regret-on-his-deathbed conversion. He still didn’t subscribe to belief in an afterlife. He didn’t convert to Judaism or Christianity or anything of that nature.

    He just believed in a general, run-of-the-mill God.

    Dr. Gerald Schroeder proved it to him. I watched his findings, and to my relief, I finally found some scientific evidence of God from a real scientist whom wouldn’t insist the world is 6,000 years old.

    So this is why I’m a theist. I follow the science where the science goes. And personally, I do subscribe to a system of religious belief, because I’m a pragmatic guy, and even in times when I felt doubt over the existence of God, I felt religious charity and values did a lot more good than harm in communities.

    While my religion has some infinitesimal chance of being 100% correct, I’d like to think I’m spending my time wisely in a quest for universal truth, rather than merely believing in a God and not trying to understand what such information means beyond that.

    Having scientific proof of God’s existence and not trying different belief systems in a search for such truth would truly be squandering the life I have been given.

    1. 8.1
      jacobfromlost

      Frank B: And I don’t subscribe to that nonsense that religion causes hate and war. That’s merely human nature.

      Me: It’s not just a blind assertion. There are plenty of terrible things people do, and the ONLY reason for doing them are religious reasons.

      Frank B: but I’ve chosen to accept it through the presentation of scientific evidence.

      Me: What is that evidence?

      Frank B: The reason why I am a theist, (particular domination and/or subscribed system of belief withheld) is that I was convinced by Dr. Gerald Schroeder of MIT.

      Me: What is the evidence?

      Frank B: Eventually, I became convinced of the existence of God through the fact that while I am 100% convinced of evolution, I do not see how life could come to existence from nothing- that a series of random chemical reactions would form even a single-celled organism for life to evolve from. Though, to be at full discretion, biology was never my specialty.

      Me: Evolution doesn’t pose that life came from nothing. You are aware that all living things are made of nonliving materials found in their environments? Why would that be if life couldn’t arise naturally from chemistry (life works as chemistry now, you know)? And I’m still waiting for the scientific evidence.

      Frank B: I stayed at this level of thought for some time, until Anthony Flew, one of the top atheistic minds worldwide, to my shock and awe, actually converted to theism.

      Me: Not exactly. He became a deist. His reasons for doing so were not supported by actual evidence, though.

      Frank B: This wasn’t for some illegitimate motivation; some nebbishy Regret-on-his-deathbed conversion. He still didn’t subscribe to belief in an afterlife. He didn’t convert to Judaism or Christianity or anything of that nature.

      Me: Right. He espoused deism because he couldn’t grasp how life began. That isn’t evidence, however. (If you examine people who shift from “atheism” to some religion, you will find that their atheism was simply a lack of thought about the issue and that quite often, they had other irrational superstitions. But more importantly, their new beliefs are all over the place–varieties of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, New Age, Scientology, etc, etc. But when you look at people who become atheists, they tend to have studied a variety of subjects related to this question, come from a variety of different religions/beliefs, and ALL end up at exactly the same position. This wide spread phenomenon is far more compelling that pointing out Anthony Flew, who based his change of mind on a feeling and a lack of understanding than on evidence.)

      Frank B: He just believed in a general, run-of-the-mill God.

      Me: That still isn’t evidence.

      Frank B: Dr. Gerald Schroeder proved it to him. I watched his findings, and to my relief, I finally found some scientific evidence of God from a real scientist whom wouldn’t insist the world is 6,000 years old.

      Me: You use words like “prove” and “findings” and “scientific evidence”, but you still have not even hinted at any.

      Frank B: So this is why I’m a theist.

      Me: Explain what “this” is. You skipped over the evidence part.

      Frank B: I follow the science where the science goes.

      Me: Where is the scientific evidence you were talking about, and on what basis do you assert that science supports a god?

      Frank B: And personally, I do subscribe to a system of religious belief, because I’m a pragmatic guy, and even in times when I felt doubt over the existence of God, I felt religious charity and values did a lot more good than harm in communities.

      Me: I’m still waiting for the evidence. I can give to charity and have values without religion or belief in a god.

      Frank B: While my religion has some infinitesimal chance of being 100% correct, I’d like to think I’m spending my time wisely in a quest for universal truth, rather than merely believing in a God and not trying to understand what such information means beyond that.

      Me: I don’t understand why you believe yet. You never explained it. (Scientists are not theists by virtue of the fact that they are scientists. If you think they are, please provide the evidence.)

      Frank B: Having scientific proof of God’s existence

      Me: Science doesn’t “prove” things, it uses evidence. But you never offerred any evidence. Two guys who said they believe in god is not evidence.

      Frank B: and not trying different belief systems in a search for such truth would truly be squandering the life I have been given.

      Me: I don’t know what that means.

      1. Frank B.

        Ok, I’m running out to a soiree right now, and I don’t have time to debate extensively,(though I do enjoy it); I’ll be back later.

        Perhaps I wasn’t clear. This is my scientific evidence:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yV-LzTO-xdg

        It’s a tad long. But very interesting indeed. Very thought-provoking.

        If it convinced Anthony Flew, then it is more than satisfactory for me.

        1. Russell Glasser

          It’s not satisfactory to me. Has it convinced any scientists to the point that this supposed evidence was accepted as a peer reviewed article in a mainstream journal? That’s kind of where the rubber meets the road as far as making your case goes… not YouTube videos.

          1. Frank B.

            Hmmmm. Yes, I’m sorry, I just gave it another run-through, and I suppose the YouTube video didn’t cover all of his arguments extensively. It’s not thorough enough.

            May I direct your attention to his book: “God According to God: A Scientist Discovers We’ve Been Wrong About God All Along.” It’s not too long; depending, of course, on how much time one has. It contains information highly apposite to this discussion that I think one would find most fascinating.

            I have also read “There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind” by Anthony Flew. Flew discusses how he became convinced, through Dr. Schroeder’s arguments.

            I’m sorry if I cannot explain their arguments in any extensive detail; I’m not a man whose strengths lie in debating, and I wouldn’t want to argue using fallacies.

            In any instance, and not to appeal to authority, but I do recommend you read their works; it should be a ruminative experience. If not, then I can at least promise you an entertaining experience.

          2. jacobfromlost

            Forgive me, but this seems like a bait and switch (compounded several times). You can see how I would be highly suspicious.

            You said you believe in god because of the scientific evidence, then wrote extensively without ever mentioning any evidence. Then you posted a video which had no evidence. And now you apologize for the video and say it wasn’t thorough enough, and we need to go read these books.

            Can you at least give us a HINT about what the evidence is? You said it was what changed your mind, yet you seem unable to remotely touch on what that evidence is.

            And it’s not that you didn’t explain their arguments in “extensive detail”. You didn’t explain them AT ALL. That’s the problem.

            I would recommend you read “The Greatest Show on Earth”, and “The Grand Design”, as they are supported by mountains of actual evidence.

            I’m not incline to search out books because you claim there is evidence for god in them which, if true, would be earth-shattering news all around the world that everyone would know.

      2. jacobfromlost

        As I listen to the video…

        The speaker is confusing existence with “The Universe”, and from that confusion all of his erroneous conclusions follow.

        The fine tuning argument is circular. We are not separate from the universe, but part of it. The fact that we exist in the universe is not evidence that the universe was “created for us to live”. This argument only makes sense if you presuppose that the universe’s purpose is for us to live in it–but if you do that, you are presupposing your conclusion in the argument for your conclusion.

        The “purpose driven” reproduction thing is pretty weak. The universe is filled with repeating cycles that no one would call purposeful, and evolution describes what is happening very well without a cosmic purpose. Not only is the universe filled with space hostile to life, but Earth itself is hostile to life in most places. Not to mention that 99% of all species who have ever lived (and reproduced, trying to survive) have died out. Again, claiming the universe was fine tuned for life, perhaps our life, perhaps our life right NOW…is just the confirmation bias of survivors. The dead ones can’t complain that it was designed to kill them off.

        Killing for your survival is “purpose driven” also.

        Evolution has nothing to do with abiogenesis (I don’t know why the speaker continues talking about it).

        Now he’s trying to connect evolution to cosmology. They aren’t connected, so he’s just making things up.

        The problem of evil isn’t a problem. He’s trying to make a mystery where there is none.

        God sent a meteor to kill the dinosaurs?

        He’s asserting that the universe is finely tuned. That’s not evidence, it’s a claim that needs support.

        Light beams come alive? Eh…uh…

        This is one huge argument based on confirmation bias. (He is aware that all of those factors that dictate that we are alive right now could change? An astroid could easily change the climate of the earth and kill us all off. Would it then mean the universe wasn’t tuned for our life? We also know scientifically that the sun will expand in 5 billion years, destroying the earth an all life on it. Does that mean the universe was fine tuned to kill everyone?)

        Evolution isn’t random. Also, we are only partially cognizant of our existence. Our self-awareness is not absolute, nor complete. (That’s why we have to go to the doctor to find out what is wrong with us.)

        “Stephen Dawking”? Did he really SAY that? lol

        The sonnet analogy is faulty. Here is how you make it analogous to evolution by natural selection. You make the letters of the sonnet the environment the reproducing organisms are in (evolution doesn’t discuss abiogenesis, but it makes sense that the organisms are made of materials found in their environment as they are PART of their environment and not separate from it). Each reproducing generation is a random guess about a letter (a niche in the environment), and when an organism is born that randomly does better in that niche (ie, gets the right letter), then it is locked in by the very fact that it is more successful in surviving and reproducing in that environment than any of its fellows that does NOT have this trait (letter). Using natural selection in this way very quickly will produce the sonnet.

        Uh…he keeps talking about abiogenesis, which is not included in evolution. It’s a separate question.

        Consciousness in humans is not some kind of absolute, perfect thing. He’s talking a lot, but saying very little.

        Now he’s wandering into woo-woo stuff about matter being conscious. Too bad quantum physicists don’t agree.

        His twisting words and using the use/mention error to make it seem certain people are saying things that they are not saying at all.

        1. Frank B.

          Perhaps I am not well versed enough in this subject to argue it without fallacies; I will not attempt to do so.

          However, as I mentioned to Kazim above, I’ve read Dr. Schroeder and Anthony Flew’s books on the matter, and their extensive arguments for the existence of a god are quite convincing.

          However, perhaps the thing that struck me most was his comparison to the monkeys hammering away at typewriters, and that eventually they shall duplicate the works of Shakespeare.

          Now, I’m not trying to appeal to authority here, but as I recommended to Kazim, I do recommend reading Flew’s works, as well as Schroeder’s. If nothing else, you’ll find them entertaining.

          1. jacobfromlost

            “However, perhaps the thing that struck me most was his comparison to the monkeys hammering away at typewriters, and that eventually they shall duplicate the works of Shakespeare.”

            There would be a fundamental lack of understand of what natural selection is if the implication is that life as it is now arose analogously to a bunch of monkeys hammering away at typewriters.

            If you want to use such an analogy, you have to change it a bit.

            If the works of Shakespeare are the environment, then whenever a particular organism survives well in that environment to survive and reproduce, it is analogous to getting the first letter correct–and it LOCKS IN because it is more successful in surviving and reproducing in its environment than its fellows that died off in that part of the environment.

            To simplify for understanding, say the enviroment is represented by a four letter sequence that is unknown. To guess all four letters correct AT ONCE would be a 1 in 26 times 26 times 26 times 26. Which comes to 1 in 456976.

            But if we use natural selection, any time a correct single letter randomly is “correct” (ie, makes that living thing better adapted to survive and reproduce over its fellows), then it is locked in by the very fact that it is better able to survive than its fellows (and its offspring are better able to survive than the offspring of others, until eventually they are the only ones surviving). In other words, despite the fact that there is randomness in the system, the natural selection process is NOT random, and no where NEAR as improbable as the “monkeys hammering at typewriters” analogy would have you believe. Each letter has a 1 in 26 chance of locking in.

            You can do this same kind of experiment with a flipping coin. If you write down any random pattern of 100 heads and tails (representing the environment), and then flip a coin to determine each, locking in the flip when it corresponds and flipping again when it doesn’t, you will only have to flip the coin roughly 150 times (maybe slightly more, maybe slightly less).

            But if you expect to get the entire pattern correct sequentially in one run of 100 flips, the odds are ASTRONOMICALLY high (do the math–the number is MUCH higher than most people think).

            Natural selection is the 150 flips.

            The strawman argument is the ASTRONOMICALLY high number that no one ever claimed was evolution or natural selection.

          2. Russell Glasser

            Perhaps I am not well versed enough in this subject to argue it without fallacies; I will not attempt to do so.

            Then I’m going to humbly suggest that you refrain from stating that something has been “proven” to your satisfaction until you can. If you don’t even understand the evidence yourself well enough to give a rudimentary description of it, then you haven’t been convinced; you’ve just decided to go along with it.

            Here’s part of the problem. You’re trying to initiate a conversation on a blog full of atheists, but you’re not willing to speak on your subject directly; rather you’ve directed us to watch somebody else’s movies and read somebody else’s books. So suppose I expend the energy to go and do those things, and then I come back and say “Nope, I’ve checked out your source material and it’s not convincing, and here are my reasons.”

            Then what are you going to say? Can we have a reasonable discussion about those ideas afterwards? Or are you just going to tell us “I’m not qualified to talk about the stuff I recommended; here, go read some other books and watch some more movies and THEN you’ll change your mind.” I think the smart money is on option B.

            That’s not a balanced dialog. If you want the author or filmmaker to have a conversation with us, then you should convince him or her to come participate. But if you want to have the conversation, then do your own work.

  9. 9
    timwiterby

    To be honest, I don’t get why people seem to have a need to explain why they are atheists. Can’t you just be an atheist period? I don’t think I’m an atheist for any particular biographical reason. I’m an atheist simply because that is what I feel makes the most sense to me, and I have always felt that way for as long as I can remember, even when I was “acting” Christian when I was little.

    I think what these kinds of biographical incidences explain is not so much why you’re an atheist, but rather why you’ve decided to *act* atheist or *come out* as atheist or refuse to partake in non-atheists’ rituals. When you “become an atheist”, you don’t really change how you fundamentally feel about the world; you only change your behaviour.

    1. 9.1
      jacobfromlost

      “When you “become an atheist”, you don’t really change how you fundamentally feel about the world; you only change your behaviour.”

      Depends on what you mean by “the world”. I certainly have different feelings about how things were passed off as real to me as a child, and how they are still passed off as real to people all over the world in such a way that causes terrible harm.

      And there is a psychological element to rationally coming to a new position that is contrary to the position of loved ones, friends, your community at large, etc. Reading the variety of ways others either fought the indoctrination surrounding them, or simply never had a problem since they never were indoctrinated (or whatever the case may be), is a nice way to help some of us feel like we are not alone. When people hold views that they think no one else holds, they are more likely to keep it to themselves. When those views are rational, and being kept repressed or silent, everyone suffers.

  10. 10
    Je Zeus (Enlightened Atheist)

    I recently wrote an article on “true atheism”. It basically takes atheist who just like to bash everything and puts on another type of atheists. I guess you might call these atheists seekers of enlightenment rather than disprovers of religion. To these “other” atheists or as I like to call them, “true atheists” , disproving religion is merely a byproduct rather than a conventional atheistic goal. For all those looking for a good read, I reccamend it: http://kickingthecross.com/home/2011/11/20/true-atheism
    You will find more great reads on KickingtheCross to further enhance the ideas you will find on this blog as well as many others. Hope you all enjoy it!

    1. 10.1
      jacobfromlost

      After reading your website, I don’t for a minute believe you are an atheist of any kind. Even the comments section seems contrived.

  11. 11
    Stoian Marius

    Old Baldy wanting face time on TV. He sure wasnt there for Caylee, now was he? How convienent.

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