I’m an atheist because I got into an argument with a creationist a few years ago.
Of course, at the time I had no idea what a creationist was, but that pretty much was the moment when I started taking god seriously.
Like many out there, I was never very religious, I grew up in a fairly secular family and while I wasn’t buying into most religious dogmas, I always thought that “there must be something out there” and that “surely we go somewhere when we die”.
So about ten years ago we were sitting at a nice café right by the beach in northern Israel, it was a beautiful day, the kids were off playing somewhere and me, my wife and several friends were sitting comfortably having a light dinner when one of them causally remarked how beautifully our bodies are designed.
Now, you obviously don’t know her but trust me when I tell you that this was no surprise, Nira (name changed) is a dear friend and we sincerely love her but she is the sort of person that believes in the weirdest, most ludicrous nonsense out there – laying on hands, experiencing past lives, communicating with the dead, homeopathy, telepathy, eastern mysticism, the list goes on and on (she actually used to host weekend “universal energy” seminars where presumably people get together and spend a weekend pretending they can discharge “energy” from their hands), top this weird set of beliefs with a heavy measure of religion and you can easily understand why her comment didn’t raise any eyebrows.
Having long been one of the voices of reason in our group I responded that we were not designed at all but simply the product of evolution, we then began one of our little arguments, this time on evolution vs. god and to my amazement, I was faring remarkably poor; she kept asking questions which sounded silly at first but which I was unable to answer – why don’t we have more hands? Why are apes still around? How did our brains evolve? Why hasn’t any other animal evolved into humans etc. etc.
I came out of it thoroughly troubled; I kept thinking “I’m fairly well educated, why couldn’t I make a better case for evolution?” I felt disappointed in myself and resolved to better inform myself on the subject.
So I started reading (“the blind watchmaker” followed by “genome” and “The origin of species”) and that’s when, besides being fascinated with the theory itself and getting the answers to the questions Nira asked during that dinner, something more significant started.
I started hearing some tiny voice inside myself (I’m not schizoid but this is the best way to explain my ensuing dilemma), some tiny voice that stubbornly asked a disturbing question, and as hard as I tried to suppress it, as hard as I wanted to ignore it, it just wouldn’t go away, I kept wondering again and again – are our beliefs (Nira and I) really that different?
Of course they are different, I kept assuring myself, I didn’t buy into any of the nonsense she believed in, I firmly believe in skepticism, evidence ,rational thought, not in any of the nonsense she believed in…or did I? I mean, I had to admit that my belief that “there is something out there” was not entirely based on the firmest of evidence.
So I expanded my reading list a bit with the genuine intent of quieting that nagging rebellious voice inside of me, I was sure that, once I got into it, I would find loads of evidence to show that ha-ha – there is reasonable evidence to show that some form of us leaves your body at the moment of death and journeys onwards, I kept remembering a book I read when I was in high school about near death experiences (NDE) and I was sure that once I looked into NDEs, I would find good evidence that they were as real and as solid as the rest of my worldview.
My goal was modest – I only wanted to find a few examples of people that had some visual knowledge of the world around them while there were nearly dead, I thought, well, if I could find just a few that would be reasonable evidence that my world view was sound and this would put my doubts to rest.
The thing is…it didn’t, the more a read I still couldn’t find even one solid evidence, not a single example stood up to scrutiny, NDEs would sometimes start out promising but once I started digging into the details they would all break down on some pesky detail that didn’t quite fit – that person got the instruments used in the operating room wrong, this person reported on things only that occurred before her heart failed and so on, the more I read the more desperate I became, now I was just looking for one convincing example and I still couldn’t find it.
It was at this time that I started reading a few books on theology, I thought that in case NDE proved bunk then surely the rational study of religions would have to yield some meaningful answers, religions have been around for thousands of years, surely I would find something of value in their explanations of why god exists…right?
Wrong, the more I read the more I kept thinking “is that all? Is that all religion could come up with after thousands of years of belief? This ridiculous nonsensical delusion is somehow accepted as an explanation?” It was all obvious wishful thinking – theology did not seem to concern itself with evidence for god, it was more concerned with explaining why there is a god despite not having any evidence.
And that is when “The God Delusion” got published, I read it and quickly followed it up with “The end of faith” and then Hitchens and Dennett excellent books and that was all it took, it all fell into place and I could no longer delude myself that a god existed (or any other supernatural force).
I am still certain that are a great many wonderful and fascinating things “out there” but whatever they are, they will be natural and real, they will not be supernatural and they will not be god.
I am an atheist.
P.S Nira can’t get over the fact that she is directly responsible for my “conversion”, she keeps insisting that I will find god one day, I keep hoping that she will find reason one day (there is hope, she is now reading my copy of “The Demon Hunted World”).