The world as explained by science is so beautiful it makes me weep. Literally. When I think about these tiny jiggling particles that constitute everything, when I gaze into the sky and see the vastness of the Cosmos, when I sit in my chair, smoke a pipe and consider life on Earth and try to wrap my head around the unimaginably complex processes that allowed me to form as a human being and now ponder life itself, when I try to imagine and appreciate how much we have accomplished, when I see the shrouded realm of what we do not yet know my eyes brim with tears of emotion, my heart leaps with expectation and wonder. I am so grateful that I am privileged enough to live in times of great scientific understanding and in social circumstances that exposed me to all this information. It is marvellous. It is profound.
When I hear anyone proposing an invisible being whose existence denies the weight of all the things I hold dearest, I feel like I have been slapped in the face. Any concept of god steals away the world’s beauty and wonder and mints it into a mere cog in some strange machinery. It is outrageous to me and most offensive. It beslimes the greatness of human discovery and I will have none of it.
There are also moral reasons for my disbelief. I have a firm conviction that only the morality that emerges from a deep intrinsic need to do good is worthwhile. The opposed, religious morality of punishment and reward I find unwholesome, dishonest and infantile. I do not consider people who behave acceptably because they fear eternal punishment moral. They are petty and cowardly at best. I believe in humankind, I believe that a vast majority of us have enough sense to be decent human beings without some whiplash constantly ringing in our ears.
All of these ideas might be easily explained to the readers of this blog, but are virtually incommunicable in Poland, which is still vastly Catholic. There are a lot of young people who do not care too deeply about religion, do not go to any church and simply do not concern themselves with those issues but when the time comes they get church-approved marriages, baptize their children and demand a Catholic funeral. People who take a stand against religion are as rare as comets. People who share my strong feelings about science and morality are even less frequent. This is sad and disheartening. To not be understood by fellow atheists does not feel great.
Mine was the long road to atheism. I was always driven by curiosity and a desperate craving for truth. As a young man I thought I found my answers in religion but I became quickly disillusioned when I understood that religion only poses more questions and gives no sensible answers in return. I tried many things, many belief systems, many philosophical approaches and I found that all the answers are improbably simple. I just have to rely on the facts, without fairy tales, false hopes and wishful thinking. And if I could not find hard facts to answer my questions, I became courageous enough to accept that I did not know. Not knowing is not particularly worse than knowing, if you have your reason in place and solid grounding — it just propels you to ask questions and try to find out, it kindles a desire to know everything there is to know. And my greatest wish is that we eventually do.
(I put out a simple call for your explanations for why you’re an atheist, and I’m still inundated with submissions. This will be a daily feature on Pharyngula.)