My journey to atheism was not long or difficult. I was raised in a Reform Jewish home that was not particularly religious. I grew up in a city where there was a fairly large Jewish population in the suburbs, but there were very few other Jews within the city. My sister, two teachers, and I were the only Jewish people in my high school of 1,000 students. At the same time, I did not identify with anyone my age at the synagogue because I attended a city school. Hence, my Jewish identity always had more to do with not being Christian than it did with actually being Jewish (I should point out that despite my minority status in school, I never experienced anything beyond glancing anti-Semitism).
As a teen and in my twenties, I came to the conclusion that no religion should be taken literally, but I still hung onto the idea of an unknowable god. In later twenties, I became increasingly uncomfortable as I realized that if there was a god, it must be extremely cruel. Then, in the fall of 2008, I had my epiphany moment while mowing the lawn. Not long before then, a friend had recommended the Radio Lab podcast and upon first listen, I was hooked. That day, I was listening to the episode titled “The (Multi) Universe(s),” which is an extended interview of Brian Green by Robert Krulwich. It begins with a discussion of infinity: In an infinite universe, all patterns, no matter how complex, will repeat. My pulse literally quickened as began to mull this over. For lack of a better description, it was like a religious revelation but ironically, it was the final step in my rejection of the guiding hand. Although it wasn’t expressly discussed in the podcast, my brain made the logical leap. In an infinite universe, all patterns, no matter how complex will not just repeat; all patterns will be attempted. Suddenly, evolution made sense to me in a way it never had before.
As someone who claims an affinity for logic, I felt silly for never having thought about it before. After all, I’d heard the old joke about infinite monkeys producing Shakespeare, but had never thought to apply the concept beyond the joke. But now that I was thinking about it, I realized that on an infinite scale, if something is even remotely possible, it is a certainty that it will happen somewhere. If you consider only the Earth, without looking beyond it, then the odds of all the variables lining up the way they did so as to give rise to life are infinitesimal. At that scale, the idea that a guiding hand was necessary is understandable. But in an infinite universe, it was not only possible, but inevitable that somewhere and sometime, a planet exactly like ours would happen. All you need is randomness and time, not god.
Since that day, I’ve read and heard much more and I confesses that I have only the most superficial understanding the various multiverse theories. I now appreciate that whether or not there is an infinite amount of the matter necessary for life as we know it is an open question. But the idea still holds, and I will not go back. On a large enough scale, life happening was just a matter of time, not divinity. Now, if I am asked, “What do you believe in if you don’t believe in God?” I respond, “I believe the Universe is very, very big.”