Today is a day for atheists to stand up and stand out, and so it seems fitting for me to tell you a little bit about myself. I’m not going to tell you a lot of personal details because I am in the unfortunate position of relying on the business of a great many theists for my livelihood, and I must remain a pen name in the business of atheism and rationality.
Instead of a personal story, I want to tell you my philosophy and how it developed intellectually. A lot of my blog posts are about atheism, but I don’t consider myself an atheist first. In fact, my atheism is a side effect of my philosophy, not a foundation. I did grow up as an indoctrinated child, which led to me being a devoted Christian for far too many years, so I am a reconverted atheist. (Of course, all babies are born atheist. I’ve returned to my natural state.) However, the first big step in my life was not leaving theism. It was committing myself to the principles of logic and science.
Hopefully, all of my readers have browsed through the Articles page and found my two part essay on science and knowledge. Obviously, it was written from the perspective of one who has already opted for atheism, but it’s important to note that without trust in science as the only source of reliable knowledge, it becomes impossible to disqualify God as a legitimate possibility.
When I began to question Christianity, I did so because of the many obvious contradictions, both in the Bible itself, and in the dogma I was being taught. After I took college courses in comparative religion, ethics, symbolic logic, and philosophy, it became apparent to me that a religion cannot be self-validating. Since there are at least two religions that claim to be self validating, and claim to be the only true religion, one of them must be wrong, which means that self validation cannot be legitimate.
With this in mind, I determined to prove one religion correct if it could be done. I spent several years performing intricate mental gymnastic maneuvers to try to find a legitimate line of reason that led to religion — any religion. My criteria were simple. My proof would necessarily have to be outside of the religion itself. If religion was true, it would have to stand up to reason, for without reason, we literally cannot know anything about anything.
During this time, I was reading all the science and philosophy I could get my hands on, but I was also avoiding one glaring ommission in my commitment to reason. I was holding all things up to the scientific method except for my proof of religion. The scientific method demands that we begin with the facts and follow them wherever they may lead. I was not doing this. Instead, I was beginning with a conclusion, and trying desperately to make the facts fit in any way they could fit. I was doing the opposite of science.
Once I was fully confronted with this reality, I knew the implications immediately. I had been quite aware that the facts didn’t seem to give me any way to prove religion true, but in my gut, I felt sure that there had to be a way to do it, so I kept manipulating the facts in different ways. After I saw my own hypocricy, I literally sighed in resignation and swore to myself that I would do science in the correct order with regard to religion. I would begin with the burden of proof on the claimant. If there is a god, and if any religion is true, it falls upon the person claiming it as truth to provide the evidence. Without sufficient evidence, the only rational position is disbelief.
So, in effect, my atheism was a biproduct of adopting the scientific method. I simply began with the correct position — disbelief until evidence demonstrates existence. I didn’t actually intend to stay atheist. I still had the idea that by starting from the correct position, I might yet prove that God exists.
As the years passed, it became more and more obvious that instead of always maintaining a position on the fence, I was moving farther and farther away from any possibility of religious belief. Every path of inquiry I began ended right back at the beginning — no evidence, no belief. Soon, it became apparent that the very concept of a god itself defies everything we know about science and the universe. Not only was there no evidence of a god, but there was a mountain of evidence against one.
You can see now that I am not an atheist first and a science geek second. No, my atheism is just a side effect. I examined evolution and found it to be supported by a brobdingnagian pool of evidence, and so I firmly believe in evolution. I examined neurology, psychology, and the principles of natural selection, and reached the conclusion that all the evidence points to humans as nothing more and nothing less than a completely natural part of life on earth, with no special place in the universe. When I examined the concept of God, I found that a scientific approach rendered it essentially impossible. Rationalism led to athiesm, not the other way around.
You may think it’s rather odd that on a day on which atheists are being encouraged to be proud of their atheism that I should be downplaying its importance, but there’s a very good point to be made by doing so. Atheism is not the foundation for anything. It’s not a philosophy. It’s not a code of conduct. It really isn’t much of anything at all. The thought process that leads one to atheism isn’t actually very difficult. Any ten year old child can think it through. Sure, it’s difficult to overcome the emotional and social pull of theism, and it’s quite difficult to overcome brainwashing, but these are problems of the human condition, not problems of logic.
So today, on atheist awareness day, I’m standing up and standing out as a rational human being who had no choice but to admit the obvious. There is no god. It’s the only reasonable conclusion.