Why I am an atheist – QB

I know I am an atheist because when the dive team found my friend’s 8 year old daughter after being underwater for almost 15 minutes, my first reaction was NOT to plead and bargain with some godly being, but rather to hope that the science was on our side. While I drove to the hospital, I counted minutes. I calculated the water temperature, hoping that the natural springs and recent rain fall had made the lake cold enough to preserve brain function. I recalled every article, every journal, and every medical book I had ever read about the survival rate for children in drowning accidents.They say there are no atheists in foxholes, but in the panicked, 25 minute, 90 mph drive to the hospital, I realized I thought of everything…except to pray. 

I’m pretty sure I was an atheist long before this event, but this was the first time I was able to articulate it. I was raised Episcopalian in a rather liberal, “Yay, we like science!” church. My youth group had the idea to go on a pilgrimage sometime during your high school years to explore a few different faiths, in the hopes that your faith in Christianity would be strengthened. My group stayed with a priest in South Dakota who owned a ranch where people could practice variations of Christianity, Paganism, and native Lakota beliefs. While my friends were all too happy to return to our hometown church, I wanted to learn more about these other theologies. I had always been the black sheep of the group anyway, questioning why, if God was so forgiving and wonderful, would he drown most of the earth in a terrible flood, or turn people into pillars of salt, or generally just be so grumpy? (In hindsight, I do have to give my youth leaders some credit…they did do their best to answer my questions, and never discouraged me from asking more.) So, armed with vaguely answered inconsistencies and a new outlook on world religions, I began my descent (enlightenment?) into atheism. Majoring in human biology, traveling around the world, discovering the wonderfulness of BlagHag and Pharyngula, and, yes, frantically driving to the hospital all led me to the same conclusion – there is no god.

I’m not a perfect atheist. I generally keep quiet about my viewpoints unless I’m in an atheist safe zone (hooray for residential science colleges!). I skulk around on atheist and critical thinking blogs, admiring people bolder and surer of their positions than I am right now.  I tried to come out to my parents, but my mother started crying about halfway through our conversation, so I left her with the idea that I’m no longer a Christian but I still believe in a force greater than myself.  I catch myself wishing I could be comforted in the idea of some supernatural force watching over me and pulling at the strings of the world. But here I am: educated. Enlightened. Non-believer. And slowly becoming more comfortable calling myself an atheist.

And the little girl? She died. After an excruciating 32 hour stay in the hospital with no brain function, my best friend made the decision to take her off life support. While many well-meaning friends tell me it’s all part of God’s plan, or that she’s in a better place, I take greater comfort in the lack of god’s control. It’s relieving to not have to blame god, or even worse, “thank” god for this wonderful plan. Bright smiling children don’t die because of the whims of omnipotent beings – they die because their biological functions shut down, and our current scientific knowledge is not great enough to save them.

The bottom line is that her death gave me a choice: I could believe that the prayers of hundreds of people weren’t enough to save a little girl, and that God had a better plan than letting her grow up to be a ninja princess veterinarian. Or, I could accept that our medical system is limited by our current science, and strive to improve that science so other families don’t have to go through what I did.

I choose science. And I’m starting medical school this fall.   



  1. Post-Redneck says

    Thank you so much for this one. I am an atheist who on occasion attends a very liberal Episcopal church because my wife wants our children to have a choice. Also, they know I’m an atheist and do not proselytize or anything. In fact, they welcome my insight. While I do not find it appealing at all it is interesting.

    Like you, I am also a bit closeted and settle for arguing my extended family’s crazier Christian beliefs. No we are not born bad, and then to throw in the bible, then what was Jesus for? I also point out the metaphors as I also have a deep interest in literature.

  2. machintelligence says

    I hope that they donated her organs. It would have been the “Christian” thing to do.

  3. evolver says

    I agree with Vasha. I became a bit choked up at the end.

    One comment:

    I skulk around on atheist and critical thinking blogs, admiring people bolder and surer of their positions than I am right now.

    While I agree that boldness in standing up for what you believe is admirable, your degree of certainty should be commensurate with your understanding of the evidence available to you. Being more sure than warranted is a vice (exhibited by many a religionist, as well as atheists who are atheists for not-so-good reasons), not a virtue.

    So, don’t be too hard on yourself for not being more “sure.”

  4. billyeager says

    Thanks QB, a moving tribute to the true value of atheism. There most probably is a cure for death and one day science might find it. It’s just a damn shame that billions of people on this planet are too busy pissing life away in exchange for grand promises of mythical reward that can only be cashed in after they die.

    There’s one born every minute.

  5. pedantik says


    Donating organs is NOT the Christian thing to do. This according to more than one sermon I’ve heard on radio or TV. Don’t you know that Jesus will want to take all those body parts in The Rapture (TM)? Any missing body parts that aren’t sealed up in an aluminum box and soaked in formaldehyde, the way God intended, make Jesus cry.

  6. andyo says

    I like this one a lot as well.


    I hope that they donated her organs. It would have been the “Christian” thing to do.

    Boy, do you have a knack for complete inappropriateness.

  7. butterflyfish says

    I’m sorry for your and your friend’s loss. I notice that all the flawed, evil humans (doctors, family, friends, loving but misguided praying people) did whatever they thought they could to help her survive and return to a normal life. But the supposedly omnipotent, all loving god sits by while her parents are put in the situation of having to decide to terminate life support? Religion has a weird definition of loving. Thank you for sharing your story.

  8. katansi says

    Medical science, oy that is a tough place for me. If people don’t believe in science then why do they still seek to benefit from it? If you don’t believe in evidence why should you trust in our (American/western) legal system at all? Pisses me off that believers are willing to disparage scientific advancement until they need antibiotics or evidence-based arguments until they’re on trial. And then there’s the whole group of people that become doctors in order to not give life-saving treatments because it’s against THEIR beliefs but not those of the patients they’re supposedly serving. Good luck in med school.

  9. Stacy says

    Terrific essay, QB. Best of luck to you.

    Hope you keep writing, too. Maybe you could blog about medical school?

  10. chrisdevries says

    I’ve read most of the WIAAA posts and this one moved me more than most; there is nothing like realising a disbelief in God increases, rather than decreases the value of life. Good luck in med school. I hope that as you grow in your lack of faith you become both surer and bolder and can have a positive influence on your theist and agnostic/questioning doctor peers.

  11. Celeste says

    What chrisdevries said. This is the first time I’ve been so moved to tears that I couldn’t even tell my husband why I was crying. My heart goes out to you and your best friend. I also feel lucky that we have someone like you joining the medical field to help us all improve our lives.

  12. QB says

    @Machintelligence: Yes, they did decide to donate her organs. We weren’t given many specifics, to protect the other families, but I do know at least four children in critical condition received organs.

    @Stacy: I’ve been thinking about starting a medical school blog…I’ll let you know if I do.

    Thank you all for the kind words and support. This wasn’t easy to write, and it was even harder seeing it “in print”.

  13. Tony •King of the Hellmouth• says

    That was moving.
    My heart goes out to your friends’ family and to you. I was in tears by the end.

  14. dennis says

    Dear QB

    About 30 years ago my then 13 month old son fell into a fish pond at his grandparents’ home. It took near 10 minutes to find him, and when he was pulled from the pond there was no breathing or pulse. Luckily for Steven, he did survive this, his mum and grandmother were nurses and they commenced CPR while the ambulance came. He was the second child in Australia to be treated with a new technique where his core body temperature was lowered to 25 degrees Celcius. It was a Catholic hospital and a few god bothers asked if they could pray over him, but we declined. After four or five days Steven was warmed up and he woke up from an induced coma. Because he had spent so long under water, doctors warned us he could be seriously retarded. His memory was completely wiped. He had to learn to lift his head, walk, crawl, who people were, what vocabulary he had, etc, etc. After 6 months we had him walking, starting to talk again. He is turning 31 this Sunday; except for some learning difficulties taking in verbal information, he is doing fine with his own family.

    It was medical science that saved my son. Over the years, a few people have suggested that God was looking after him, but I usually ask them why the drongo didn’t stop him drowning in the bloody first place.

    A success in the US was six months after my son; a young boy and his dad fell through the ice of Lake Michigan near Chicago. It took 20 minutes for divers to get the son out from under the ice, the dad was rescued by a TV crew using a cable, and Timmy or Jimmy was given the same treatment as Steven and made a full recovery.