Why I am an atheist – Baruch

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”).


  1. dogfightwithdogma says

    A wonderful exposition of your intellectual journey. I hope your friend Nira will be fortunate enough to experience a similar journey. It would appear, however, that you were already intellectually primed for such a exploration, whereas, sadly, its sounds as though Nira is not. Her journey may be longer and more personally torturous for her. But I’ve no doubt you are the friend who will hold her hand should and/or when needed.

  2. Michael says

    Your story reminds me of something that has been bothering me lately, probably because I have young children entering school. I was an avid reader as a child, and not only was I a fast reader (eg. a Hardy Boys book in a couple of hours), but I had a good retention.

    As I assume most schools do, we had regular book fairs where we could buy or order books that interested us. While I tended to choose science books (How to boil water in a paper cup, etc.)), or sci-fi (Time Machine, War of the Worlds, etc.), the selection also included numerous books that in retrospect were pure pseudoscience (not that I knew that in grade 4). So some of the books I ordered introduced me to the bigfoot craze, human spontaneous combustion, Russian psychics, hypnotic regression, auras, infra/ultrasound (brown noise), and other junk with no suggestion that the “research” might be less than accurate. I even believed a lot of it until near the end of high school.

    Fortunately I still read a lot, travel, and improved my critical thinking skills. I even visited a ‘Bigfoot Museum’, on the way to see Mt. St. Helens, and was annoyed at how crappy their “evidence’ was. It continues to annoy me that such poor quality books were sold to kids, and that there are probably quite a few people who read them as kids and still believe them as adults.

  3. abb3w says

    Over at Fark.com, there’s one moderately regular creationist. I’ve noted a couple other people who’ve explicitly credited their transition to atheism to the process of trying to argue with him — looking into the arguments he presents, testing them with counter-arguments, and finding his responses to those weak, fallacious, or simply nonexistent. As they look around more, they find more and more information rebutting the creationist position.

    Contrariwise, such arguments only are effective to the extent rational/reflective/analytic thought can dominate over irrational/reflexive/emotional thought in the person. As there’s a lot of people who much more readily go the other way around, this presents an inconvenient limit on the religious deconversion rates.

  4. nrdo says

    I also became an atheist partly due to arguing with creationists. I originally held a sort of “theistic evolution” belief but when I encountered people who flat-out denied science, the feeling of “talking to a brick wall” made me realize how much faith was an impediment to genuine truth-seeking

  5. baruchtzairy says

    Thank you all for taking the time to read and comment.

    Dogfightwithdogma, I’m afraid Nira has sunk deeper into religion during the past year which makes me very sad for her, she is now practicing an almost full Jewish religious orthodox way of life – she doesn’t drive during the weekend, cook food or even operate a light switch during the Shabbat, she prays several times a day and, well, its particularly sad in her case since… Nira is a lesbian and the first thing she had to do during her religious rediscovery/ re-conversion/ journey/ (whatever you want to call it) was give up that part of her life, as far as I understand, her religious family are now trying to set her up with a religious man for her to date and ultimately, marry.
    (Oh, and in case you are wondering, she didn’t bother reading more then a few pages of “The Demon Hunted World”, claimed it was to difficult).

    Michael, you’re right on the money, that book about NDE that I read so many years ago may have been, at least in part, responsible for my holding the view that “there is something out there” for such a long time, you see – I borrowed that book from the school library and for some reason that gave it more scientific credence in my mind, in retrospect I should have known better.

    Nrdo, abb3w, that is exactly why I’m convinced that debates with creationists are of the utmost importance, of course it will not change the creationist mind, but all the others around him/ her might reconsider their views once the counter arguments are presented in a clear, crisp manner.
    I read the other day that PZ decided to stop debating creationists and I think he is wrong in this case – he compared the experience to having one side calmly and rationally explain their views while the other side mutilates themselves on the podium for all to see.
    I think his is right, having watched/ heard PZ debate on two different occasions that was exactly the impression I received, he presents his views and evidence calmly and rationally while the other side makes a complete idiot of themselves…but isn’t that, at least in part, the point? That once the debate is over those people who attended and held creationists views would be, at some level, distraught for being represented by a complete moron who just made a spectacle of his ignorance on stage? Wouldn’t the shallowness of the creationist arguments make them feel just slightly uneasy the next morning? It may make some of them rethink their position.
    So PZ, if you are reading this, I think you are wrong, very wrong, I think you should do as many debates as possible with creationists, it wont change the mind of the person on stage but it might make some of the members of the audience think.

  6. patrick jlandis says

    Not to be a dick, but its Haunted, “Demon Haunted World”. No one is being hunted by demons.

  7. inquisitiveraven says

    Actually, I don’t think PZ has any objection to arguing with creationists in a forum or environment where he can produce citations and dismantle an argument in as much detail as needed. The problem with debates is the format. There isn’t really time in a formal debate to properly dismantle all the plausible sounding (to the ignorant) nonsense that a creationist debater can spit out rapid fire. You might want to look up the term “Gish Gallop” (which is what it sounds like Nira did to you that first time).

  8. baruchtzairy says

    Inquisitiveraven, I believe you are right in principle but wrong in practice, check out the few debates PZ had with creationists that are online, he does a thorough and complete dismantling of his opponents even though his opponents “spray” nonsense at a rapid rate.
    In fact, one of my all-time favorite moments in a debate takes place during PZs’ radio debate with Geoffrey Simmons from the discovery institute, it’s the point where, after his opponent sprays nonsense about missing links in whale fossils and even though PZ is also confronted with a very biased moderator (to the side of intelligent design) who asks PZ why shouldn’t children be taught these “shortcoming of evolution” in schools, Prof Myers simply responds “wait, what shortcoming? Dr. Simmons has just made stuff up”, he then continues to calmly detail exactly what we know of whale evolution, what fossils were ignored by his opponent and even asks Dr. Simmons if he heard of these fossils (to which Dr. Simmons admits that “I don’t know every fossil out there” even though these are major whale fossils). Anyone listening to that debate would have to concede that PZ knew what he was talking about while his opponent simply made a spectacle of the depth of his ignorance.
    And yes, I agree, Gish Gallop is a known tactic in a debate but PZ seems to know how to handle it, there aren’t enough skilled debaters out there for reason & evolution and (especially now that Hitch is gone) I think PZ contribution in this regard is important.