My journey to atheism started with a discussion with a coworker who also happened to be a Christian minister.
Although I was raised Catholic, I had long ago grown out of much of the dogma. I had no problem accepting science that conflicted with church teachings and I generally tried to be a good person without appealing to the Bible for instruction. However, I still clung to the belief that there must be a god, and that I needed to believe certain things or behave in a certain way in order to get my eternal reward after death.
One evening, I watched a fascinating documentary on the Discovery Channel about some of the creatures who were direct ancestors to the dinosaurs. The next day, I mentioned it at work, specifically bringing up how the show talked about the eventual evolution of the creatures of that period into the dinosaurs. I had no idea what kind of reaction it would bring. My minister-coworker retorted with “Oh, you mean how it never happened?” He then launched into a whole tirade about how we have no evidence for evolution, and the earth is not old enough… It was basically a lot of the nonsense from AiG, although I didn’t recognize it as such at the time.
Even though I was still religious at the time, I fully accepted an old earth and evolution. To be honest, I probably would have considered myself an intelligent design proponent, had I known the term, because I still believed that humans were somehow special. The most annoying part to me was that I had nothing with which to fight back. I just flat out didn’t know enough about evolution to make a solid argument. I decided then and there that I would not be caught in that situation again. I went out and bought The Blind Watchmaker (Dawkins).
I was enthralled. I could not put the book down. I had no idea that we had naturalistic explanations not only for evolution, but for all of the processes that allow it to happen — all without having to appeal to any supernatural being. After finishing Watchmaker, I read Your Inner Fish (Shubin), and The Selfish Gene (Dawkins). I kept thinking to myself, “If we can explain how life evolved through purely naturalistic processes, what else can be explained in that way?” The next book I read was Atom, by Lawrence Krauss. Wow, we can explain just as well the evolution of the universe from the Big Bang through today as we can the evolution of life on Earth! That pushed me over the edge. Something hit me. I realized that all of my coworker’s arguments for the existence of god were appeals to the unknown. He didn’t understand these processes, so he used his god to fill in the gaps. Once I better understood how the universe worked, there were no (or at least far fewer) gaps to fill. We don’t need gods to explain any natural processes in our universe. That one single fact is so liberating!
There was still the spiritual side of things, but I was already rather thin there anyway. More reading, more walls falling. I read The God Delusion (Dawkins), The End of Faith (Harris), God Is Not Great (Hitchens), and Breaking the Spell (Dennett). The spell was, indeed, broken. For the first time, I truly saw religion as a curse, rather than a blessing. It was during that time that I decided that I was a good person regardless of my beliefs, not because of them. Truth be told, I am probably a better person today without any of that nonsense filling my head.
It makes me a little bit sad when I see or read interviews with prominent authors like those above, in which they bemoan that their works are primarily read by people who are already of like mind, and that they aren’t really making a difference. If I could say just one thing to them, it is that I am proof that they can make a difference, and I hope they never give up the fight.
Michael A Pipkin