Episode CCCXXXIV: Eject! Eject! Eject! »« Why I am an atheist – atheody

Why I am an atheist – MD

I had been an atheist for over a decade but hadn’t realized it. It took a child to make me see that. My own child. He asked me one day why I didn’t go to church like others in our family. All these reasons flew through my head in a matter of seconds, but they all boiled down to one. “Because I don’t believe in it,” I answered him. “Me neither,” he said.

That was a year ago. I can now say that I am an atheist. Not agnostic, not searching, not anything else.

I was raised in a Catholic family and in officially Catholic countries, and mostly sent to parochial schools. Even as a small child I saw through so much phoniness in the Catholic Church, in the doctrines, in the way people behaved, but bought into the whole idea of “you should believe in SOMETHING.” So I looked and I looked. Some religions seemed comforting at first, like a cozy blanket, and I would dip my toes and go to a few services, but I couldn’t actually come up with BELIEF. It was more of going through the rituals because they were fun or created a sense of awe. Inevitably I would let the ritual practice slip away.

I grew up, got married, had children. I had a near death experience. I looked with wonder at my babies’ tiny forms. I lost my best friend to cancer. In none of these experiences did I ever see a deity, not in the good times or in the bad times. I saw myself, my friends, and my family.

I can tell you why religious fanatics fear science. My son is growing up in a cultured steeped in religion, with family members that routinely talk about church and god. At the same time I nourish his inquisitiveness and talk to him about dinosaurs, astronomy, biology, physics… any topic he is interested in. And when he was seven years old he casually commented, “if you make me choose between god and dinosaurs, I choose dinosaurs. I have SEEN their fossils, but I have not seen god.” His greatest shock came recently, when he found out that people believe that the bible is literary true. “You mean they think there really was a talking snake? They believe the earth was made in 6 days? But we KNOW about planet formation and evolution!” That shows you how religiosity is not a default state in humans, but something that must be programmed into us.

I guess I am lucky that the programming didn’t take. And lucky that my son pointed it out.

MD

Comments

  1. gragra says

    Kids often have the right things to say about religion. They can spot bullshit better than we think. Your son just wasn’t shut down when he began to question things, like many kids are – not that I’m trying to downplay your parenting skills.

  2. Agent Silversmith, Feathered Patella Association says

    Kids can easily grok that while dinosaurs and astronomy require nothing more than osmosis to stick in the brain, religion requires gavage. I remember how much more rewarding a gander at books on the former was.

  3. John Morales says

    Biblical idioms permeate our language, when they pithy enough.

    (OT: Psalms 8:2
    NT: Matthew 21:16)

    MD:

    I guess I am lucky that the programming didn’t take. And lucky that my son pointed it out.

    Such modesty!

    (Perhaps it ain’t luck, but character, so that you have risen above the norm)

  4. Agent Silversmith, Feathered Patella Association says

    It’s totally not like I just made an offering to Tpyos

    Who is just being greedy by accepting, given that hse grew fat on my offerings long ago.

  5. fullyladenswallow says

    MD:
    How fortunate that you can have such an honest conversation with your young one. I can’t imagine ever, and I repeat, ever having that kind of exchange with either of my parents, especially my mother. I think I was about 7 or so when dear ma-ma was going on about why I was eating junk food all the time. My reply was, “well, why do you buy it then?” [SMACK!] Perhaps I deserved that and maybe not. It sounded like a logical reply to make at the time. Later, it certainly made me appreciate the Atticus Finch character more than ma-ma’s Joan Crawford.

    It was more of going through the rituals because they were fun or created a sense of awe.

    That’s one thing about the RCC: they are definitely into pageantry. When I was still a Catholic and in the church choir at the time, I’d always look forward to Christmas midnight mass because of the music. Since we had an excellent choirmaster who performed with the Roger Wagner Chorale, he’d choose some stunning works by Bach and others and also hire extra voices and musicians for the occasion. Probably my fondest memory of the place and yet while I learned a great deal from singing, in the end, it was all about performance and that too faded and no longer was a reason for continuing.

  6. chrisv says

    @MD: I too was raised totally immersed in the RCC. My salvation from deadly boredom was the fact that I also was in the parish choir with a wonderful choir director. Bach is still my favorite and I still love some of the religious music we performed. Unfortunately, the Xians own an awful lot of this world’s beautiful music. (I do get a kick out of it when a pop lounge singer does a religious song like “Ave Maria” in a lounge-lizard-torch style.) We need to develop a repertoire of great music for our side (Minchin’s “White Wine”? Kansas’s “Dust In The Wind”? Lily Allen’s “Fuck You Very Much”?).
    When I left grammar school and the choir my atheism developed rapidly. I have been a Grade AAA atheist for over 50 years. Thank you for your post. It resonated.

  7. joey says

    MD:

    In none of these experiences did I ever see a deity, not in the good times or in the bad times. I saw myself, my friends, and my family.

    You may have not seen a deity, but I’m fairly confident you’ve seen the metaphysical, the transcendent, in yourself, your friends and family.

    I’m sure you don’t view your son as merely a highly complex mechanism comprised of a bunch of organic material. Nor do you consider the feelings you have for your family as simply biochemical reactions in your brain that are strictly dependent on the current state of your brain chemistry and external stimuli.

    Sure you may not see gods in any of those things, but I’m sure you do recognize that there is something transcendent there…something more than what can be gathered strictly through material observation. That your friends and family are something more then the bunch of subatomic particles that make them up, and that the love you have for them and they for you are something more than neurological chemical reactions.

    …or maybe you don’t think there is anything more than those.

  8. scottlesch says

    I’m a “bad atheist.” I told my kids that “I had to stay home and do dad stuff” until they were in their teens.

  9. Ray, rude-ass yankee says

    joey@10,
    What else is there beside the material, physical, observable world? Consciousness has been described as an emergent property of our physical being, the way our brains are structured.

    What “something more” do you mean?

    What “something more” do you need?

    ???

  10. Koshka says

    joey #10,

    I’m sure you don’t view your son as merely a highly complex mechanism comprised of a bunch of organic material.

    ‘merely’? Of course not – read the post.

    Nor do you consider the feelings you have for your family as simply biochemical reactions in your brain that are strictly dependent on the current state of your brain chemistry and external stimuli.

    ‘simply’? Of course not. Have you read the post? And how can you possibly think this biochemistry is simple?

    Sure you may not see gods in any of those things, but I’m sure you do recognize that there is something transcendent there

    How can you be sure what MD thinks? Again read the post. I am quite sure that MD does not recognise any such thing. I reached this conclusion by reading the post!

    How about you? Do you deny that a person is ‘ a highly complex mechanism comprised of a bunch of organic material’? Do you deny that feelings are ‘biochemical reactions in your brain’.

    Are you telling us that science is nonsense?

    I suspect you are shitscared that your god may not exist.

  11. echidna says

    Lovely post. I love your son – obviously not afraid (parented sufficiently well) to speak honestly.

    Joey, let me reply with a quote from Tim Minchin’s Storm:

    Isn’t this enough?

    Just this world?

    Just this beautiful, complex
    Wonderfully unfathomable, NATURAL world?
    How does it so fail to hold our attention
    That we have to diminish it with the invention
    Of cheap, man-made Myths and Monsters?

  12. Ray, rude-ass yankee says

    MD, Thanks for sharing your story. It’s great that you didn’t buy into the superstitions and your son is lucky to have the opportunity to grow up free from the shackles of religion. Well done, and continued good luck!

  13. joey says

    Koshka:

    I’m sure you don’t view your son as merely a highly complex mechanism comprised of a bunch of organic material.

    ‘merely’? Of course not…

    If not, then what else could his son be?

    Are you telling us that science is nonsense?

    Of course not. But all science can tell us is that we’re ‘merely’ highly complex mechanisms comprised of a bunch of organic material. Nothing more.

  14. Snoof says

    Of course not. But all science can tell us is that we’re ‘merely’ highly complex mechanisms comprised of a bunch of organic material. Nothing more.

    What’s “mere” about that?

  15. John Morales says

    [OT]

    joey:

    Sure you may not see gods in any of those things, but I’m sure you do recognize that there is something transcendent there…something more than what can be gathered strictly through material observation.

    Such woo!

    You confuse the map with the territory and reify feelings.

  16. Amphiox says

    Sure you may not see gods in any of those things, but I’m sure you do recognize that there is something transcendent there…something more than what can be gathered strictly through material observation.

    No.

    What I see is an ignorant person severely underestimating, by magnitudes, the sheer expanse and grandeur or “what can be gathered strictly through material observation”.

  17. Ichthyic says

    You may have not seen a deity, but I’m fairly confident you’ve seen the metaphysical, the transcendent, in yourself, your friends and family.

    the hobby train has left the station!

    WOOO! WOOOO!

    chuggachuggachuggachugga

  18. Ichthyic says

    But all science can tell us is that we’re ‘merely’ highly complex mechanisms comprised of a bunch of organic material. Nothing more.

    whereas you, of course, really really want monkeys to fly out of your butt.

    yeah, I know, your imagination just can’t keep up.

    someday, you might take a closer look at reality, and see that there are even cooler things than monkeys flying out of your butt, but I doubt it.

  19. Ichthyic says

    please, PLEASE tell me joey is a sock-puppet of antigormless.

    *crosses fingers*

  20. cyberCMDR says

    There are some emerging technologies for determining probable authorship based on word usage and frequencies. It would be interesting to put together a system to detect sock-puppets on Pharyngula using that approach.

  21. Rip Steakface says

    We need to develop a repertoire of great music for our side (Minchin’s “White Wine”? Kansas’s “Dust In The Wind”? Lily Allen’s “Fuck You Very Much”?

    Throw on Losing My Religion by R.E.M. and No One Heard by Spiritual Beggars (no, not nearly as popular, but it’s a fantastic sort of old school rock with an anti-religious theme).

    There’s also about a billion anti-religious heavy metal songs, a few of which are very good and may appeal to open-minded people and many of which are good but don’t have much mass appeal (I wouldn’t think Crystal Mountain by Death has much mass appeal – at least a dozen time signature and tempo changes, harsh vocals and bizarre beats make it difficult for a non-metal fan to listen to. The harsh vocals are the part that turns off most).

  22. Amphiox says

    But all science can tell us is that we’re ‘merely’ highly complex mechanisms comprised of a bunch of organic material. Nothing more.

    But all this statement can tell us is that joey has absolutely NO idea of what science is, what it is capable of, and how broad are the fields of study it encompasses.

    *cough* psychology *cough* sociology *cough* game theory *cough* economics *cough* archeology *cough* political science *cough*

    *cough* *cough* *cough*

  23. Agent Silversmith, Feathered Patella Association says

    Joey, if you happen to meet me one day, and wondering about that transcendent numinosity about me that seems to be something extra, something that makes me more than a highly complex biological machine made of carbon-based organic material and powered by countless intricate chemical reactions – well, you’re right.

    It’s the clothes.

    Good to have that sorted. Peace and out.

  24. steeeve says

    @ 27 Rip Steakface: I see what you did there: “MASS appeal” — haha!

    And of course, the obvious Beatles “Imagine”

  25. Koshka says

    Joey claims,

    Of course not. But all science can tell us is that we’re ‘merely’ highly complex mechanisms comprised of a bunch of organic material. Nothing more.

    Wrong!

    Science can help me live a longer and healthier life.
    Science can provide me a way to move about the world and experience magnificent things.
    Science can make me more efficient so I can afford the time to do these things.
    Science can allow me to communicate with people all over the world.
    Science can immunize me and my children so we don’t succumb to common diseases.
    Science can monitor a health problem my daughter has and provide the means to keep her alive.

    Science does all these things and many more and we can see that this happens.

    Religion can make some people think they have a higher purpose but mostly it controls people and makes them accept any shit hand they are dealt with the promise of a fairy tale ending in the afterlife.

    Any of the gods people claim can do nothing simply because they don’t exist.

  26. Jem says

    But all science can tell us is that we’re ‘merely’ highly complex mechanisms comprised of a bunch of organic material. Nothing more.

    Oh, of course that’s not what we are, we clearly have a dose of super special magic in us. Boring ol’ science, always trying to stop making us feel all unique.

  27. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Of course not. But all science can tell us is that we’re ‘merely’ highly complex mechanisms comprised of a bunch of organic material. Nothing more.

    And your imaginary stupornatural tells us what??? Zero, zip, nil.

  28. joey says

    Snoof:

    What’s “mere” about that?

    I guess nothing…if you treat people the same way you treat mosquitoes.

  29. Agent Silversmith, Feathered Patella Association says

    Mosquitoes – Don’t they whine incessantly, hang around where you don’t want them, and seek out a steady supply of victims to suck blood from?

  30. Owlmirror says

    [Pulling back more context:

    But all science can tell us is that we’re ‘merely’ highly complex mechanisms comprised of a bunch of organic material. Nothing more.

    What’s “mere” about that?

    I guess nothing…if you treat people the same way you treat mosquitoes.

    It’s easy to dismiss something by tacking “merely” in front.

    “Theists and other supernaturalists believe that man is ‘merely’ a spook inside highly complex mechanisms comprised of a bunch of organic material. Nothing more.”

    How is that better than being “merely” highly complex mechanisms comprised of a bunch of organic material?

    Some theists and other supernaturalists would argue that mosquito is also a spook inside highly complex mechanisms comprised of a bunch of organic material. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Do you think that there’s a difference? Do you care if there’s a difference?

    There’s a description for what you’re doing with your “merely”; it’s called “greedy reductionism“. It’s an example of the fallacy of division.

    Your problem is that you don’t want to honestly deal with the fact the the whole is greater than the sum of its parts — for reasons that have nothing to do with any putative spooks. Nor do you want to honestly deal with ethical questions, which arise regardless of whether there are spooks or not.

  31. Ichthyic says

    I guess nothing…if you treat people the same way you treat mosquitoes.

    go on, joey.

    tell us what you think makes you different from a mosquito.

    be as specific as possible, make a list if it helps.

    *hopes Joey will join AG in the TZT pen*

  32. joey says

    Owlmirror:

    Your problem is that you don’t want to honestly deal with the fact the the whole is greater than the sum of its parts — for reasons that have nothing to do with any putative spooks. Nor do you want to honestly deal with ethical questions, which arise regardless of whether there are spooks or not.

    No, I can “honestly deal” with all those things. My point is that science isn’t the sole authority regarding any of those things. Science can aid in the formation of your own beliefs on what is “greater” or “ethical”, but science can’t objectively give an answer one way or another.

    ——–

    Ichthyic:

    go on, joey.

    tell us what you think makes you different from a mosquito.

    From a strictly scientific perspective, not all that much. We are both complex biological mechanisms. I guess one can argue mosquitoes are less complex organisms than humans.

    But no where in science does it say that lesser complexity automatically means we’re allowed to squish it death if it becomes a nuisance.

  33. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    My point is that science isn’t the sole authority regarding any of those things.

    And what other authority of logic is there? <blockquote. but science can’t objectively give an answer one way or another.Prover with conclusive evidence your other way is better. Put up or shut the fuck up.

  34. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Gah, borked the blockquotes. I see joey is still mentally masturbating his idiocy.

  35. Ogvorbis says

    Joey:

    The last time you had an infection (say, a sinus infection, or an abscessed tooth, or an infected cut), did you go to the doctor, recieve antibiotics, and take them? What makes you more important than the bacteria infecting your sinuses? Why should you get to live while you kill the bacteria?

  36. joey says

    Nerd:

    And what other authority of logic is there?

    There is something called ‘philosophy’, but I’m aware you’re not a big fan of it.

    Prover with conclusive evidence your other way is better.

    Prove with conclusive evidence that we can’t swat others to death if they become nuisances.

  37. joey says

    Ogvorbis:

    What makes you more important than the bacteria infecting your sinuses? Why should you get to live while you kill the bacteria?

    Good question. Does science have a definitive answer to that question?

    Here’s my answer. I believe that I have more value than the bacteria in my body. Sorry, but I don’t have “conclusive evidence” to back that belief up.

  38. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    There is something called ‘philosophy’, but I’m aware you’re not a big fan of it.

    Why should I be? All it is is mental wankery, if it isn’t grounded in reality. And philosophy grounded in reality is science.

    Prove with conclusive evidence that we can’t swat others to death if they become nuisances.

    You need to stop wanking nonsense, hiding behind vague definitions and changing definitions. You need to precisely define what the fuck you mean. And yes, I swat mosquitos. We have West Nile fever in our area.

  39. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Sorry, but I don’t have “conclusive evidence” to back that belief up.

    Then shut the fuck up…

  40. Ogvorbis says

    Sorry, but I don’t have “conclusive evidence” to back that belief up.

    Tell you what, then. When you can come up with any evidence, any at all, for the tripe you are spouting, come back and present it.

  41. joey says

    Nerd:

    And yes, I swat mosquitos.

    You never answered this question…”Prove with conclusive evidence that we can’t swat others to death if they become nuisances.”

  42. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    You never answered this question…”

    And you never answered question in previous threads. I don’t answer your fuckwitted questions until I get answers first. You either state plainly “this is what I believe, and this is the evidence to back it up”, or I treat your questions as the bullshit are. I won’t play your fuckwitted questions game.

  43. Amphiox says

    I see joey is quadrupling down with deliberately misleading, dishonest, category error questions.

  44. Owlmirror says

    No, I can “honestly deal” with all those things.

    That remains to be seen.

    My point is that science isn’t the sole authority regarding any of those things.

    If that was your point, you sure as hell did not express it very well. You need to stop typing these terse little lines, and actually put forth your premises and reasoning.

    Science is a method of gaining knowledge; an epistemology, and the term also refers to the body of knowledge gained by that method. It could be argued that science is an authority on what can be determined to be real.

    Science can aid in the formation of your own beliefs on what is “greater” or “ethical”, but science can’t objectively give an answer one way or another.

    Regarding ‘what is “greater’ — you’re still thinking of science as being solely reductionistic. No, science can deal with entities at different scales, and as higher-level entities being the result of lower-level processes.

    Regarding ‘what is “ethical” — while science can analyze consequences (effects of actions you might care about), game theory (the iterated results of many agents caring about some goal or set of consequences and working for or against it), evolutionary morality (the facts regarding why social animals like ourselves might care about certain things), and cognitive and group psychology (what humans in general care about, and why, and how that can change under different circumstances, including the influence of the society of other humans), I concede the very narrow point that science cannot make you care about anything, and thus be ethical about anything (since ethics is basically caring about consequences to other agents).

    ======

    go on, joey.
    tell us what you think makes you different from a mosquito.

    From a strictly scientific perspective, not all that much.

    You’re still being a greedy reductionist.

    We are both complex biological mechanisms. I guess one can argue mosquitoes are less complex organisms than humans.

    You guess? Go to the biology section of a college library, and learn about all of the differences between insects and humans.

    But no where in science does it say that lesser complexity automatically means we’re allowed to squish it death if it becomes a nuisance.

    Again, narrowly conceded — but so what?

    ======

    And what other authority of logic is there?

    There is something called ‘philosophy’, but I’m aware you’re not a big fan of it.

    Sigh.

    If your point really is just that ethics is a branch of philosophy, you don’t need to commit the fallacy of greedy reductionism to state it.

    Learn how to write clearly. Avoid logical fallacies. How hard is that?

  45. joey says

    Owlmirror:

    …I concede the very narrow point that science cannot make you care about anything, and thus be ethical about anything (since ethics is basically caring about consequences to other agents).

    Cool. Thank you for acknowledging my point, although ‘narrow’ it might be.