So a little while back, I wrote a blog post about agnostic atheism and what it is. I also included two things I felt were pretty big roadblocks to the entire God Hypothesis in general, to explain why I identify as an atheist, even though I admit to agnosticism.
I wanted to go ahead and expand on this, and finally give a detailed summary of my journey to atheism.
a) Certain bits of information I’ll be keeping vague about, strictly out of respect for my family.
b) This is going to be long. I don’t plan on doing this in two posts, but I do plan on being somewhat detailed. So my suggestion would be, before reading this, to get up, go to the bathroom, make yourself a snack and some coffee, and get yourself comfortable.
And then, after the fold, dig in.
Here’s the vague parts, first:
My family is actually pretty religious. As far as I know, I am the only non-believer on both sides. Certain members of my family don’t know only because I love them dearly and I think the knowledge that I’m an atheist might kill them. However, the vast majority of my family do know.
Now, as religious as my family is, they are not fanatics. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure no one on either side of my family believes in Hell (at least… they don’t believe in Dante’s Inferno). I was always taught that it’s works that get you in the good graces of God, not necessarily faith (although faith is important for my family). I was never taught that there was a conflict between science and religion, and it was explained to me that the Theory of Evolution is, exactly as scientifically described today, entirely factual. Some members of my family even do agree that the question of God’s existence is a scientific question (though they do think there are pieces of knowledge that humans should never have outright, and that is one of them).
My atheism is not accepted without the occasional debate, however. I have clergy on both sides of my family. My own dad, in fact, is a Hazzan. I can’t say they’re angry that I’m an atheist, and it’s not like there are any awkward family dinners and such (even if my atheism was a touchy subject, which I don’t get the impression that it is, my family is way too much fun for any sort of gathering to be awkward… most in my family never really grew up, my dad included, which provides for lots of fun and laughter, let me tell you… I love my family), but on the rare occasions we do get on the subject, they’re more than happy to grill me about it.
Which is totally fine, because it forces me to study more and become more knowledgeable, so while I don’t go fishing for these little debates, I do look forward to them and relish them when they do come up.
So anyways… I had a pretty religious, though liberally religious, upbringing, which has tempered any sort of anti-theism I harbored (I was a raging anti-theist at one point, but that was while I still considered myself a believer, and shortly after I realized I was an atheist, I could no longer call myself an anti-theist), especially towards Judaism, which I’m convinced will continue to exist as a (non-religious) culture long after Christianity and Islam finally die. I do love Judaism… to a point, of course… and that is something that will never go away.
So now that you know my history, here’s the journey…
For reasons explored in my post about the “ignore it” lie, during my teenage years I was an extremely cynical person. I was very misanthropic, and I was a Nice Guy™. When I was around 16, I was introduced to comedian and social critic Bill Hicks. It took literally one few-minute clip on YouTube (about how not only does he think marijuana should legalized… he thinks it should be mandatory… which I still think, BTW… :D) for me to start worshiping him as a prophet. In fact, for whatever it’s worth, he was the one who introduced me to skepticism and freethought. And it was Bill Hicks who made me an anti-theist.
But Bill did believe in a god, so I rejected religion and took on Bill Hicks’s philosophy of one god, whose name is Love, who will speak directly fucking to you, and you don’t need that book that forgot to mention dinosaurs… you just need other tools (read: marijuana, LSD, ‘shrooms, etc… though no, I’ve never tried LSD or ‘shrooms). This was my belief for a few years.
Another thing happening during this time was that I was becoming very, very obsessed with the band Led Zeppelin. I joined a lot of Led Zeppelin sites and forums, including Electric Magic (now the official site), Royal Orleans, the For Badgeholder’s Only emailing list, and Planet Zeppelin. That last is, in fact, where my journey to atheism began.
The thing that I liked about Planet Zeppelin (despite the fact that I’m generally a libertarian [but I’m a liberal libertarian, so I’m only half crazy… :P]) was that it was a somewhat controlled space. Political, religious, and philosophical argument was simply not allowed, because the atmosphere was going to be pleasant whether members liked it or not. Now, despite how repressive that sounds, Planet Zeppelin was actually very popular. People loved Planet Zeppelin, I think mostly because people who may have gotten in a bitter argument at one of the other forums could go on to Planet Zeppelin and suddenly interact as if they were the best of friends. It was a very friendly atmosphere with good will and all of that. My main reasoning for it being my favorite site, however, is because it’s where I got in to collecting Led Zeppelin bootlegs (unofficial live recordings, unreleased studio outtakes/sessions, and unreleased radio appearances), so it’s where my Led Zeppelin obsession (which continues to this day, BTW) was really nurtured.
However, despite this atmosphere, there was one thing members loved to make fun of: religious fanatics who played Stairway to Heaven backwards to “prove” that Led Zeppelin were controlled by Satan to corrupt the youth. So someone posted a link to a hilarious article called “Led Zeppelin – Straight from Hell!” I’ve linked to it so, if you want, you can read the article (and browse the annoyingly user-UNfriendly website) that started my journey. I had to see what else was on this site, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Evolution a hoax? The Catholic Church a bunch of Satan worshipers? 9/11 an inside job?
This is when I decided to jump down the rabbit hole, take the red pill… whatever metaphor you think is apt, here. I had to know more. It was impossible not to. I have always been a naturally curious person, and while I’m fully aware that curiosity killed the cat, you should be aware that satisfaction brought it back.
So I did that… I took the red pill and jumped down the rabbit hole, and entered a land I never knew existed… Fanatiland (copyrighted… :P)
So here my journey jumps. Already being a slowly growing anti-theist, and having jumped down the fanaticism rabbit hole, the other thing I was doing was reading Harry Potter. I was a huge fan because I was 11 when Sorcerer’s Stone came out. Although I had already started school when the Sorcerer’s Stone came out, I sort of related to Harry’s feelings when he was first starting Hogwarts… so it’s safe to say that I was relatively invested in the story…
Around the time Goblet of Fire came out, I joined the Mugglenet forums Chamber of Secrets. Now, I will not be going into details about my involvement in the Harry Potter fandom (it’s a bit embarrassing, to be honest… plus, I hated the movies [I cannot help but hold them up to the books, and in comparison the movies are horrendous] and book 6 [it read like a particularly bad mid-afternoon soap opera] and was disappointed in 7 [way too much time was spent giving us a tour of Europe’s best camping grounds, and that unintentionally hilarious epilogue just didn’t fit… like, at all], so… yeah), but it was at the Chamber of Secrets forums that I actually started getting in to the debates: evolution vs. creation, atheists vs. theists, the bible is true vs. the bible is not true (and, I am very embarrassed to admit, the shipping debates… I shipped Harry and Hermione, if you must know… and I did so to the bitter end… please be nice :()… and this is where I met atheists for the first time (at least… it’s where I met people who were open about their atheism).
Despite my belief in a higher power, I found myself siding with the atheists in these debates more often then not, even over the existence or non-existence of gods. But I did sometimes argue with them… and looking through my posting history there now, I have some very choice, very embarrassing posts from back in my believer days (although I did call myself a Jew and argued from a Jewish point of view, despite my anti-theism… interesting)… oh and no, I won’t be linking to them… sorry, but I’d rather not have those read by any more people… they’re history… 😛
Anyways… during those debates, around the time I turned 21, I noticed one author being quoted a lot… Richard Dawkins. I read quite a bit about his book “The God Delusion”, and so, being the curious person that I am, I simply had to check it out. So, I picked it up from my local library, and started reading.
Lately, I’ve been reading stuff from some people who are embarrassed to say that “The God Delusion” played a role in their “deconversion”, and I can kinda understand why. Whatever else it may be, “God Delusion” is certainly not a philosophy book, and I simply do not agree with Dawkins that Darwinian Evolution is enough to make atheism an intellectually fulfilled position. I think that will require an answer to what caused the Big Bang. Even deism cannot be said to be a totally intellectually fulfilled position until we answer how life originated on this planet (for the record, I actually expect an answer to abiogenesis in my lifetime).
However… Dawkins is absolutely right that Darwinian Evolution puts the final nail in the coffin of the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent Yahweh that Creationists worship… it’s why they’re Creationists, after all. So for whatever it’s worth, “The God Delusion” absolutely played a role in my deconversion. It didn’t play the only role, or even the main one, but it jump-started the process, and to say otherwise would be lying.
So… due to a hell of a lot of factors, including debating with atheists and theists at Chamber of Secrets, and then also at the forums of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry… after finishing the third chapter of “God Delusion”, I realized I was an atheist. The more I learned about how the natural world worked, and the more I read and understood the arguments against the existence of gods, the whole concept became more and more strange to me, until I simply couldn’t believe it anymore.
Then came the big question… did I ever really believe, or was I just going through the motions for all those years? My arguments in defense of my faith were pathetic… absolutely, completely, and totally pathetic. I’m still embarrassed by them, and rightly so. So to this day I wonder… was my faith ever real, or did I believe only because everyone I knew believed? The more I think about it, the more I think I was always an atheist, and it just took me 21 years (well, minus my years as a baby without the mental capacity to really work this stuff out) to recognize and admit it.
I’m 25 now, and over these last 3.5-4 years, I have learned more and more about the universe and the natural world, and slowly, it’s becoming easier and easier to defend my lack of faith. I have two favorite arguments now. I talked about them in my post on agnostic atheism, linked to at the beginning on this post, but I’ll go ahead and quote those arguments here:
The main problem is infinite regress. Most believers ultimately come to this idea that the universe, and us, are too complex to have just popped into existence. They use this as evidence of a higher power.
The problem is, they are using what’s called a double standard. They do not apply this same line of thinking to God, when they should. And it should apply because any creator would have to be infinitelymore complex than the universe and all within it in order to create it.
For starters, God has to be corporeal in order to interact with reality. Already, that’s complexity. God would also have to have the power to create. Even more complex. Then, God would have to have the knowledge of how to use that power and an understanding of what he/she/it was creating, which means imagination. This god also has to have the imagination to come up with, and the knowledge to understand, all the laws of nature and physics and the quantum world. And if we’re talking about Yahweh, it gets even worse, because he has to have the ability to interact with us on a daily basis, answering prayers and whatnot. But even if we’re just talking about the Pandeistic concept, the principle still stands: any god concept would have to be many orders of magnitude more complex than the universe and all within it in order to create it all.
So if the idea that we’re too complex to have happened by chanced is true, then the same must apply to our creator, which means our creator has to have a creator… the problem is, that would go on forever.
The other problem I have with the God Hypothesis is that the deity is always supreme. It created even time. But the problem with this is that time is not a finite property. If there is no time, then when did God create? Time is required for action. No time, no space. No space, no movement. No movement, no action. It becomes very clear that time cannot have been created, but has always existed. So there is at least one thing that was around before God. But see, without time, there is no space. Which means we now have two things that existed before God; both time and space. But then, what about matter? Matter is, of course, a form of energy. And you need both as a material in order to create universes, stars, planets, and life. But if there’s no matter or energy, then what did God use to create it?
And now we have time, space, matter, and energy all having to exist forever in order for there to be existence in the first place.
So space, time, matter, and energy have to have existed forever. Add that to the Problem of Complexity, as it were, and the entire God Hypothesis runs into some severe roadblocks. You end up with gods that are really nothing more than hyper-advanced aliens. I know that a tiny amount of people are fine with this, but most aren’t, especially considering what the word “god” implies.
They are a bit… erm… simplified, to be sure, but I’m not a scientist… I can’t do the math to save my life. I’m just a layman who happens to enjoy science; and I’m a Cultural Anthropology student (minoring in Commercial Music).
So there you go. That is my story. Again, sorry for the length, but you can’t say I didn’t warn you…