I was born in Brussels (Belgium) in 1976. My family was catholic (but not overzealous) and I attended catholic primary and secondary schools where prayer was obligatory and religion omnipresent. I recall having been very religious until the age of about 13. I still remember bowing each time I was passing by the huge statue of Jesus that was present in the park surrounding the playground of my middle school. I was however also very interested in sciences but I did not see any conflict between science and religion at that time. Also, since Catholicism represented for me the ultimate truth, I did not understand why people were not more engaged in their religion.
Everything changed within a couple of hours at the age of 13.
One day, I was following a history class given by a religious teacher. She was telling us about how ancient civilizations of the antiquity were typically polytheists and how they had basically one god for each concept they either did not understand (sun, thunder,…) or wanted to gain control over (war, rain, love,…). She also explained to us that through a revelation, men came to accept the true god and reject these false gods.
At that very time, I realized that if all these previous gods were actually not real but were man-made to explain the unknown, how could I be so sure that this unique remaining god was not there simply because there was still things we did not understand (life and love were the two main such things I could think of at that time). At least, these mysteries were amongst the reasons why I believed in god. God was the only answer I had been proposed with so far to explain both love and life. I then wondered what would happen if science would be able to explain these two mysteries? Would there be still reasons to believe in god?
I was very excited about this new very wild idea crossing my mind for the first time. During the lunch break, I tried to discuss it with friends but they had no interests for such talks. I then prayed to god for the last time in my life. I asked him to forgive me for the sin I was about to commit but that I needed to doubt his existence for a short while, just the time to make sense of this new information I got. Within the time of this lunch break, my mind was rewired. I realized that god probably did not exist. I was a bit panicked when I realized that I actually knew…nothing! That most of what I thought I knew was untrue. I wondered what or whom I could still trust. I, there and then, decided that from that very moment on, science would be my only guide in life, and that I would never again believe anything on faith. I proceeded to become a scientist.
I never turned back to religion and it is only much later that I understood what life and love was…when I was explained for the first time the Darwinian theory of evolution at the university, and when I complemented this knowledge by reading the Selfish Gene (which changed my life) at the age of 19.