Why I am an atheist – Jacob Davis


I am an atheist because of my personal experiences. I am not an atheist because I am a rationalist or because I am a student of the sciences. Indeed, the opposite is likely true. I became a rationalist and enthusiastic about science after my scepticism about gods emerged. It was my attempt to find reasons why gods probably don’t exist that led me to logic and empiricism.

I was raised by agnostic parents. As you can imagine they taught me about religion, but did not teach me religion. They taught me about science, but they didn’t teach atheism. I was taught what my parents knew, not what they believed. This gave me the tools to decide whether or not gods exist, without being taught whether or not they exist. You might expect that this would inevitably lead to atheism. However, I did not absorb the rationalism and scientific thinking my parents probably wanted me to have until my teenage years. I did not identify myself as an atheist until I was seventeen years old.

The story of my becoming an atheist starts when I was in primary school. Between being eight and thirteen years of age I got up very early in the morning, before my parents or my brother. Consequently, every morning there was a period of a couple of hours in which I went unsupervised. Early morning television in Australia on channel 10 at that time was the Benny Hinn Show (This Is Your Day), and for some unimaginable reason I watched this instead of whatever else was on television. The consequences of a child of my age watching such dribble unsupervised are easy to imagine, I ate it up. At some time, when I was nine or ten years old I think, I actually attempted to reach out to God/Jesus with faith. From my first year of school until that time I was a victim of bullying, and I prayed for it to stop. As absolutely all the empirical studies on the effects of prayer would predict, absolutely nothing happened. The bullying persisted long enough for me to decide God did not exist in the form of a prayer answering, loving, omnipotent being (and long after). Bullying only really stopped midway through high school, at the same time I was becoming known at my school for not being Christian.

By the time I was fourteen years old I identified myself as non-religious. I only really became aware of this after a girl I sat next to in Society and Environment class tried to evangelise me. The experience seemingly universal amongst atheists of trying to justify their lack of belief in the personal god of whoever they are talking to began for me with this girl, and persisted until high school ended. We used arguments as inane and overused as can be expected for fourteen year olds. My teacher didn’t want to seem like he was ignoring his duty to stop us talking and make us do our work, so he made sure to tell us to stop arguing and get back to work before he pulled up a chair to spectate. I continued to call myself non-religious until a sudden bout of self denial.

When I was fifteen I suddenly got into the philosophy of Spinoza. I became interested in it because Spinoza’s lesser known idea of not expecting anything from life helped me get out of the all too common depression which many teenagers experience. Unfortunately I also took up the idea which his name is usually connected with, pantheism. Pantheism let me feel like the universe was magical and caring while still not believing in deities. It represents one of the most attractive beliefs someone who cannot believe in gods can have. I think of my short time as a pantheist as being a failing of my mind. For a couple of years I avoided the prejudice against atheists and the lack of divine feeling at the expense of better thinking. Just before finishing high school this stopped, and I finally reached what I hope is the conclusion of the evolution of my spiritual beliefs. I started to identify myself as an atheist.

It was the internet which helped me become okay with labelling myself an atheist. Names like Thunderf00t, dprjones, AronRa, Matt Dillahunty, and PZ Myers were to thank for reinforcing my belief that theism is nonsense. Also to blame was how creationists at my high school would use their Christianity to attack science. I think I demonstrated to the people at my high school that I was never going to be ‘saved’ when one of them said to me that science is a tool of Satan. I spent the whole night researching the tangible effects science has had on the world, sent him an email outlying these things science has achieved, and concluded by labelling the removal of science as the most evil and cruel thing any person could possibly do.

Now I am at university studying science. I have been able to surround myself with fellow rationalists and have never been happier. I am constantly reminded of the power of science now that I have access to peer reviewed literature and am given wonderful practicals from the life sciences department. The constant nonsense of the evangelists and creationists at high school is now just a bad memory. Atheism has taken me to a place where I am welcome and happy. I am sure religion has taken the Christians from my high school somewhere which feels the same way for them as well. But I am being taken to a lifetime of learning, while they are taken to a lifetime of blind belief.

Jacob Davis
Australia

Comments

  1. Mark Baker says

    The experience seemingly universal amongst atheists of trying to justify their lack of belief in the personal god of whoever they are talking to

    It’s not universal – it’s never happened to me. It’s a shame, it sounds like fun.

    I think most religious people round here know they’re a tiny minority and tend to keep quiet about it.

  2. says

    I feel that the world is wondrous enough without some god – which is what leads me to be fascinated by science and evidence. Not just that I want to know anything I can, because I do that as well. But that the utter connections in the world, the patterns that have been described with math and measure, leading to ever more complex combinations for society to use.

    Or something like that.

  3. robster says

    Even in good ‘ol godfree Australia, the deluded are hard at it, selling their nonsense in clever if misleading ways. Last weekend, we had a bunch of nice young people rock up to the front gate, requesting that we take part in their “survey”. My xian alarm went off, they were well mannered and presented on a hot sunny arvo.Anyway, invited them in for a chat. After a few direct questions it turned out they were Seventh Day adventists (?) and were after takers for a series of presentations in our town of something called “The prophetic code”. I explained my non-belief and pointed out why that is the case. These people seem to have been trained to ignore anything that disputes their nonsense. They remained a while and got me say that i would consider attending their show when it came to town. Since then, they’ve delivered DVD’s, magazines, tickets, books and a shitload more of their strange stuff. As best I can figure, there would be no more than a tens of thousands number of this particular flavour xians in the country, yet they print, produce, package and distribute their childish (but good looking) nonsense tpo someone that expressed a strong dis-belief to what they’re selling. I’m sort of glad that I’ve managed to help them waste some dollars, but still, where would they get the money for this kind of expensive stuff? Why can’t they use it instead to feed or house some needy people? Wouldn’t their silent, invisible “special” friend love ‘em for that?

  4. says

    Mark Baker
    You live somewhere were religious people are a minority? I’m jealous! I live in a part of Australia colonized almost exclusively by Lutherans. It isn’t a problem anymore, but it sure was when I had to go to school with them every day. Being the target of everyone’s prayers didn’t make me feel that great.

    robster
    Really? I am surprised. When I tell those sorts that I’m an atheist they usually write me off as a lost cause (whoever said theists weren’t smart?).

  5. antigodless says

    “From my first year of school until that time I was a victim of bullying, and I prayed for it to stop. As absolutely all the empirical studies on the effects of prayer would predict, absolutely nothing happened. The bullying persisted long enough for me to decide God did not exist in the form of a prayer answering, loving, omnipotent being (and long after). Bullying only really stopped midway through high school, at the same time I was becoming known at my school for not being Christian.”

    An interesting reason for suddenly not believing in God, and indeed typical among so-called ‘Atheists’. The scenario goes like this – ‘in my childhood, I asked God to take away something unpleasant in my life and, because He didn’t, I don’t believe He exists.’

    I am a parent of a nine year old child. I say ‘no’ sometimes to her, or to ‘wait’. I also tend to ignore her complaints and her questions, as I believe that some questions are best left answered at a later time. I have had my child say “I hate you” and “you are not fair”, but I have never had a statement such as “because you do not answer me in the way I prefer, then I will suddenly wish you away.”

    What about God’s free will to choose the best option for whom He chooses? Was the bullying directly caused by God in the first place? What were the teachers doing about the bullying? Why didn’t Jacob Davis share his bullying situation with his parents and hence get adults involved in counselling the perpetrators? Did God indirectly answer the prayer by bringing emotional support in the forms of friends beside Jacob Davis?

    Certainly, Mr Davis, I would be relieved that there was a God of love that could comfort me in my times of stress, knowing that adolescence is an immense time of change for bullied and bullier alike.

    In fact, I experienced bullying during my school days also. It taught me to press closer into God, knowing He was compassionate, loving, interested, praying for me, and remembering the time He was bullied when, in the form of Jesus, He came to Earth to experience insults and hardship from the very religious leaders He had followed throughout His childhood. And betrayal by His best friends.

    Mr Davis, I do not know why you reject the concept of God merely because you supposed He did not answer some call for help when you were a teenager. I ask you to review whether you took appropriate steps to report the bullying to the proper authorities, or even your parents. Investigate Christian foundational claims that their founder, Jesus, preached love to any enemies, and His claim that you will have trouble in this world. Study His life, study the nature of the Christian God towards the disadvantaged and harassed. There is SO much more to God if you only recall your experience in adolescence, review it from an adult perspective, then re-consider whether God really DID abandon you during the time. Furthermore, investigate His nature according to the Christians who spoke of Him during your times of school. A final question – did your decision not to become a Christian alleviate your bullying – or did you just use your bitterness at the bullying happening to you to declare yourself an atheist? How do you know God wasn’t answering your prayer at a time He decided – just like a loving and wise parent would honour your request at a time suitable to the more wise parents, and not just at the whim of a child still understanding the world around him/her?

  6. sundiver says

    Anti: Show us some EVIDENCE for your particular sky-giant and we’ll consider what you have to say. Bear in mind you also have to DISPROVE all the other sky-giants people have dreamed up or at least show they are “false” gods. Until then, your word-salad religibabble will be either ignored or held up as yet another example of religious idiocy. I did not become an atheist because I didn’t get something I wanted or had something bad happen to me. I became an atheist because I in no way wanted to be associated with the brutal, bronze-age barbarity I studied in high school English in a class called “The Bible as Literature”. Truth to tell, I consider people like you to be too dangerous to be around for very long, given that one of you may well hallucinate about your sky-giant wanting you to kill someone.

  7. Jamie says

    I love seeing atheism make such a visible positive impact. I’m glad you’re godless and happy. Being godless didn’t have such a huge effect on me, and I’ve never had the experience of having to justify my belief. Though that might be because I live in a (comparatively) hyper liberal/progressive part of the U.S. where most people don’t care if you’re atheist/Christian/Buddhist/Muslim. (If you’re interested, it’s the SF Bay Area in California.)

    @antigodless: So how do you tell the difference between “no” and a really long “wait.” It seems like Christians always assume that the answer is “yes” or “wait.” (Here’s a video on it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jk6ILZAaAMI) What’s the difference between “no”/”wait” and no answer? If god is unknowable, why do you assume that he will provide an answer? If there’s no answer, how does one know what to do?

    It seems that Jacob didn’t lose belief because he didn’t get what he wanted, but because there was no evidence that prayer was being answered. With you and your child, your child gets a definite “no” answer, while the answer Jacob received was nothing.

    And it’s not like atheists “wish away” gods. It’s more like we accept the idea that nothing’s there. I personally don’t hate nonexistent entities. But isn’t it funny how the ability of a god to answer prayer is related to the abilities of humans? Doesn’t sound very omnipotent to me. Sound more like people doing things for themselves and each other.

    If gods exist, our disbelief must not be an offence worth punishing. Or if you believe in an afterlife, then I guess you think we’ll be punished after we die. But if your child said to you, “I don’t believe in you,” after you rejected her request, would you then subject her to a life of torture? Because that’s what you believe your god would do. Is that fair or does it even make sense? Why does your god care more about our belief in him *more* than how we behave ourselves?

    I’ve had neutral to positive personal experiences with Christians/Christianity, but good feelings have no bearing on whether something is true or not. It just takes one lie to unravel something that is considered The Truth (TM). If we’re told that there’s a god that loves everyone and metes out justice, and we see suffering and injustice in the world, it kinda invalidates that claim. It seems to me that those negative experiences with religion in childhood shocks the person into opening their eyes.

  8. antigodless says

    @sundiver
    “I became an atheist because I in no way wanted to be associated with the brutal, bronze-age barbarity I studied in high school English in a class called “The Bible as Literature”.

    You obviously don’t believe in government or police intervention in the everyday life of citizens or countries. Strip Presidents of the right to defend their nation. When a crazy atheist or other mentally ill person decides to shoot innocent students, bring in police with only a feather dusty as otherwise you might kill the perpetrator and that would be barbaric. Allow strong tribes such as the Taliban to sell drugs and keep their women uneducated so that they can control a country. It’s barbaric to intervene. Allow a dictator like Hitler arise and take over half of Europe because defending yourself would parallel barbaric acts that you learned about in ‘the Bible as literature.’
    Oh, by the way, you mustn’t be a historian, or a classics reader, or even watch movies. If you study every country in the world, you will notice stories of heroes, wars, battles, and the reality that every era of human history showed so-called ‘barbaric acts’ to survive or defend itself.
    Look at 90% of the Bible, and you will see a God who showed His attention to the poor, to the widows, to the oppressed, and pleaded with His people to make a difference in a world of darkness.
    Christians are then told to be gentle, to love their enemies, to show concern to the poor and the orphan, not to show mere preference to the wealthy or famous, and to live a life that becomes a light in the world of dark crime, violence and greed. Worry about a Christian killing you? I worry more about a mentally insane atheist setting up dictatorships, or a self-gratifying atheist addicted to anything gets his hands on; and with a heart hardened against a God of love and Christians who would defend the powerless.

  9. says

    antigodless #8

    You obviously don’t believe in government or police intervention in the everyday life of citizens or countries. Strip Presidents of the right to defend their nation.

    Since Jacob talking about the actions of the deity in the Bible, not government, you are “responding” to something they never said.

    This is dishonest.

  10. says

    antigodless #8

    When a crazy atheist or other mentally ill person decides to shoot innocent students, […]

    Why even mention an atheist here? Isn’t the fact that they are shooting people enough to warrant stopping them? Why yes, yes it is.

    […] bring in police with only a feather dusty as otherwise you might kill the perpetrator and that would be barbaric.

    Considering that this not only has nothing to do with sundiver’s post, but in fact DOESN’T HAPPEN ANYWHERE, it’s a really poor choice of argument. Try again. Something related to the actual world next time.

  11. says

    antigodless #8

    Allow strong tribes such as the Taliban to sell drugs and keep their women uneducated so that they can control a country.

    Oh yeah, and invading did so much good there.

    It’s barbaric to intervene.

    Depends. How many countries would you invade if you could? Which ones?

    Allow a dictator like Hitler arise and take over half of Europe because defending yourself would parallel barbaric acts that you learned about in ‘the Bible as literature.’

    Seriously, where are you getting this crap? Do you think the dividing line between the people who were and were not gung-ho to enter WW2 had something to do with religion? Because if not, why even mention it?

  12. sundiver says

    Anti: What in flaming hell are you gibbering about? I first asked you to show some EVIDENCE for sky-giant, and do not foist some Bible-babble bullshit on me. I know, I know, the Bible is true because it says it’s true. That’s all you’ve got. Circular reasoning. Second, what the hell does the genocide perpetrated in Joshua have to do with WW2 and how would trying to defeat Hitler resemble in any way the genocide of the Caananites? Granted, the Shoah does resemble Biblical horrors to an extent, but that was perpetrated by of all things, Christians. Now, why would I worry about a christian killing me? Eric Rudolph, the guy who opened fire in a Unitarian Church in Ohio to name two right off the top of my head. And I haven’t noticed too many christain preacher men standing up to the thugs on Wall Street or corporate greed in general. But do keep posting, you provide data points for my proposition that christains are stupid. And thank you Myeck Waters, however, you could have pointed out that NOTHING anti said had jackshit to do with my post, it was just more bible-babble word-salad chritser gibberish.