Why I’m An Atheist

“I’m not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.”
-Christopher Hitchens

Imagine a person who has spent their formative years and their adult life on a deserted island.  For simplicity sake, let’s assume this castaway speaks your native language.  Let’s further assume this person’s life was not influenced, in any way, by external God claims or other people’s preconceived notions of religion and/or God.

What would you imagine this person’s conception of God to be?

My first thought is that this person would probably be an atheist.  I don’t think they would be staunch in their presumption, but I suspect they would have been so busy worrying about surviving the island that they wouldn’t have had much opportunity to invent a religion.

But, for the sake of this post, let’s assume they did believe in God and had formulated a religion.  Let’s make a few assumptions.  If you find these assumptions unreasonable, feel free to skewer me in the comments.  They seem reasonable to me, given my current understanding of human beings.

  1. Any notion of a God, either personal or impersonal, would be the work of the castaway’s imagination, and not based on actual observations of a deity
  2. Any claims about observed intervention by God would be unreliable, inaccurate, and a function of the castaway’s intelligence, imagination, and lack of formal strategies to discern between fact and fantasy.
  3. Any claims about a personal or impersonal God would probably resemble deities invented by various cultures throughout history.
  4. Any claims about a God would differ in paradoxical and irreconcilable ways with all modern monotheistic religions.

The alternative to any or all of the above assumptions would be that some or all of the castaway’s presumptions about his God are a function of actual communication with a God, in which case, this entire post is rendered null and void.

Suppose our castaway gets rescued from the island, and brought back to the developed world.  Then suppose you get the chance to talk to him, and he tries to convince you that he has a personal communication with the God he invented, and that his deity was worth accepting as your personal lord and savior.

Would you believe him?  Would you be open to accepting his “truth”?  Would his conclusions and presumptions about a universal creator hold water in your mind?

I suspect most people would reject our well-meaning castaway’s claims.  The reason for their rejection:  skeptical analysis reveals there is no good reason to believe the castaway’s claims about a personal line of communication with God.  His claims came about because he has the intellectual and creative capacity to invent a God, and an inclination to characterize his existence in abstract and supernatural terms.  His capacity to propagate those claims comes from his skill and ability to communicate.

If our castaway spent enough time, he might manage to get a conversion or two, particularly if he got the opportunity to consistently proselytize to very young people, maybe every Wednesday from 9am to 10am, then again on Sunday mornings.

Propagating a religion is a sales process.  Most of us have had enough experience with sales people to know that some sales people are better than others.  Good sales people sell more stuff than bad sales people, and uninformed customers buy worse products more frequently than informed customers.

Here, we arrive at an implication:  the number of people who believe (or buy) something is sometimes a function of how effective a person or organization was at convincing them.  In other words, the popularity of a belief is not the same as the truth value of a belief; nor does truth rely on, or require, an authority to believe it.

Consider one of America’s greatest scientists: Linus Pauling.  Pauling won a Nobel prize in chemistry in 1954 for “his research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances”.  Later in his life, Pauling became convinced that vitamins, particularly vitamin C, were essential for human health and longevity.  He wrote books, appeared on tv shows, and managed to convince a decent percentage of Americans that he was right.

Turns out Linus Pauling was wrong, as were the millions of Americans who did (and still do) believe him. Popularity of a belief, or the reiteration of that belief by an authority figure, says nothing about its truth.

The limitations the castaway has in assessing the truth value of his conclusions are the same problems our bronze and Iron Age ancestors had over 100 generations ago:  lack of formalized logic processes, no cultivation of skepticism, inability to verify claims, and inadequate scientific training to consider and test alternative explanations.

Any one of these things creates a blind spot in our ability to honestly assess information.  The combination of all these limitations leads to widespread acceptance of wildly unrealistic and/or dishonest claims.

The moment a person accepts that their bronze age, middle-Eastern forebearers were susceptible to bad interpretation and faulty conclusions, they must consider that those conclusions are wrong.

The claims the castaway makes might clearly be recognized as bullshit to anyone listening.  Our modern standard for accepting evidence is often fairly high.  If it weren’t, we might succumb to the temptation of giving our bank account numbers to African princes who seek out strangers via email to deposit hefty sums they are trying to hide from their political enemies.

But for some reason, this same level of skepticism is not applied to Christianity’s claims (I don’t mean to single out Christianity too much in this scope; they’re all ridiculous in their own ways).

At some point in my life, I recognized this dichotomy:  either those claims in the bible are fact-based and correct, or they are not.  In either case, logical and honest investigation, absent of logical gymnastics and word salad, allows us to evaluate some of those claims.

My investigation led me to the following conclusion:  It’s irrational to believe the supernatural claims made in the bible, because evidence does not support them and logic renders them absurd.

The bible is not what its supporters claims it is.  It is not a good book to assess or model our morality; it is not a book to give historical insight; it is not a book that reveals a decent and loving God.  In fact, it fails terrifically in all these categories.

But how could this be?  Isn’t the bible the divinely inspired word of God?  How could anything in it be wrong? How could it be even a little bit morally dubious?  How could it be scientifically inaccurate?  How could it make historical claims that are verifiably incorrect?

The universe’s creator would remember how he created the universe, and would be able to communicate that to any one of the people with whom he supposedly communicated.  While he was at it, he might have shared that people could boil water to kill some of the pathogens in it, which would have saved millions of lives.

Yet, there’s not a mention of DNA, the big bang, prokaryotes, dark matter, or expanding galaxies.  There is no mention of humanoid species, or genetic changes, or the symbiosis of DNA-containing mitochondria and nuclei.

Does this disqualify the bible as being a fundamental document by which we should live our lives?

If it were simply a matter of the bible containing inaccurate scientific depictions, I might not have been too worried.  If the matter were simply a few moral depravities, it might be easy to let that go, and still retain faith.

For me, the problem was all of it.  From the blood-thirsty, war hungry tyrant God to the ridiculous notions of creation and world-wide floods, to the faulty and horrible version of morality the bible prescribes, to the rape, infanticide, incest, and murder, to the bouts of schizophrenia that gave rise to the bible’s revelations, it became clear to me, sometime in the past 10 years, that the bible was written not by some divine deity or his human counterpart, but by a collection of humans who were simultaneously inclined to explain their existence in creative and supernatural terms, but who were ignorant of the complexity of the world that, once understood, renders supernatural explanations unnecessary.

We’re all agnostic, in a way…even our castaway friend is.  But, as evidenced by our imaginary proselytizing castaway, along with so many cultures over the centuries, we know what human beings do in the absence of clear explanations.  The creativity kicks in, patterns are given more significance than they deserve, accidental correlations are celebrated, and we invent ourselves some deities.

When we take a moment to apply the same skepticism to religion that we apply to everything else in our lives, it becomes easier to call the bible what it is: a collection of superstition and Bronze Age conventional wisdom.

If a person has the audacity to arrive at such a heresy, they are in the same boat as any other honest human who’s ever lived.

That’s the boat I’m in.  I don’t know.  But what I was told growing up, and what modern religions continue to peddle, seems dishonest, harmful, uncompassionate, racist, sexist, homophobic, and incorrect

That’s why I’m an atheist.

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Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

11 thoughts on “Why I’m An Atheist”

  1. There are many glaring fallacies that form the basis for this post. I will deal with only two.

    The first fallacy comes at the beginning with the thought experiment that shows that the belief in God or religion is learned therefore there is no truth to it.

    In fact, if we all grew up on an isolated island, we would all be illiterate prehistoric savages.

    We know about the world around us because we spend years and years getting educated. That means religion is good since human civilization is simply impossible without it.

    Name one civilization that was not powered into existence by religion.

    The second fallacy has the post’s author setting himself up as the authority for his own argument.

    He states the following personal opinions as if they were fact:

    “The bible is not what its supporters claims it is. It is not a good book to assess or model our morality; it is not a book to give historical insight; it is not a book that reveals a decent and loving God. In fact, it fails terrifically in all these categories.”

    In fact, the exact opposite has been proven to be true in each case.

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    1. SOM – thanks for your comment. I’ll try to respond to each issue

      “belief in God or religion is learned therefore there is no truth to it.” That certainly wasn’t what I meant to imply. IMHO, there is some truth to religion, in that I believe that morality precedes religion; therefore, any morality that sneaks its way into a holy text does so because its authors were evolutionarily hard-wired to have the capacity for empathy and to assess well-being for themselves and others.

      We also evolved through the course of a few million years of hominid evolution, to develop brain capacity to solve problems very well, which brought with it terrific imagination. That, in my opinion, is the real catalyst for human’s (and probably Neanderthal’s, too) inclination to create religion, as it was when the Greeks were conjuring up Zeus, etc.

      “In fact, the exact opposite has been proven to be true in each case.”. I think, when the bible states that God condones slavery, that’s immoral. When the bible states that a rape victim is to marry her attacker, that’s immoral. When the bible states that a village should be slaughtered, and that the men should take the virgins for themselves, that’s immoral. When shellfish is outlawed…well, that’s patently ridiculous.

      As far as historical and scientific inaccuracy, pick your poison – Noah’s ark didn’t happen, the trees and earth weren’t created before the sun, man didn’t live with dinosaurs, women weren’t made from a rib, there was no snake egging Adam on. Those are off the top of my head, but I’m sure you can find more if you take a glance.

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      1. Time,

        Throughout your last comment you proved my exact point.

        Everything you say is simply your personal opinion. You even state that multiple times.

        You are committing the logical fallacy of establishing yourself as the authority for your own arguments which are nothing more than personal opinion.

        Then you base other of your personal opinions on false statements. For instance:

        “God condones slavery.”

        Can you state where the Bible says that?

        And your assessment of the biblical rapist and rape victim is simply you applying your own standards to a savage world that God has stepped into and is trying to civilize.

        That demonstrates again, the logical fallacy of you establishing yourself as the authority for your own argument instead of understanding what is actually going on.

        Your other arguments are variants which amount to you winking God out of existence because he doesn’t act the way you think he should.

        How rational is it to wink someone out of existence because they don’t act the way you think they should?

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    2. Replying on this comment, because I can’t reply on the other one…

      SOM – “Everything you say is simply your personal opinion”. That’s exactly what I’m doing, and what everyone else does too, regardless of their position. We don’t know if there was a God that created the universe, so we appeal to the information and evidence we have, and what we have observed. When Genesis was written, they didn’t know how humans got here, or how the universe might have come into existence. They didn’t know about cells, genes, or dna, or that ribosomes make protein, depending on the type of cell, etc. They didn’t know that the Earth revolved around the sun. So, they used their creativity to answer these problems, and their solutions often appealed to supernatural origins.

      When we start out with a firm footing to give better answers to some of these questions, we end up in a dynamic that doesn’t require supernatural explanations

      I’m not really familiar with the logical fallacy you’re referring to, but I suspect you’re circling around begging the question. Can you provide a link to the fallacy you’re referring to? I’d be interested.

      “Can you state where the Bible says that?” Exodus 21; Leviticus 25:44

      “And your assessment of the biblical rapist and rape victim is simply you applying your own standards to a savage world that God has stepped into and is trying to civilize.” Wait a minute…God is omipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Did God take a vacation? Certainly, God in the bible had no qualms about killing everyone off…I suppose one solution is to have people from one town kill everybody in the next town over, except for the preteen girls, and we can call that a decent solution; I think a secular solution might have been better, though.

      “Your other arguments are variants which amount to you winking God out of existence because he doesn’t act the way you think he should.”. My point is that I think the people who were so inclined to keep slaves, kill the neighboring town’s people, rape the virgins, etc were the same people who invented this God who seems to bear striking resemblance in temperament and cultural acceptances, to themselves.

      All the points I’ve made are essentially hypotheses, and my style is to try to frame things (at least half-heartedly) in terms of what is more likely. Is it more likely that a supernatural being, who was capable of creating the cell, quantum mechanics, etc was incapable of getting people to behave a bit less grotesquely, or is it more likely that these people, who had a grotesque and unfortunate cultural paradigm invented a deity to justify their behavior?

      I don’t really have an answer that approaches blind certainty…all I’ve got is the conclusion that the claims that surround this stuff don’t justify the deity they claim

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      1. tim,

        From Exodus 21: 2 If thou dost buy a slave that is a Hebrew by race, he shall do thee six years’ service, and in the seventh year, without any ransom paid, he shall go free.

        This is not God condoning slavery. This is God moving a slave-based culture in the other directions.

        We know from political science that the best way to get rid of, or reduce something, is to regulate it.

        And the same thing here from Leviticus 25:46, “but you must not lord it over your brother-Israelites.”

        God has begun regulating slavery out of the nation of Israel.

        Again, you give examples that prove the exact opposite of what you claim.

        You seem to also have failed to notice that the greatest event of the Old Testament was God freeing the Hebrews from slavery imposed by Pharaoh.

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      2. Exodus 21 also says that you can trick a slave to stay forever by giving him a wife and kids.

        “You seem to also have failed to notice that the greatest event of the Old Testament was God freeing the Hebrews from slavery imposed by Pharaoh.” Was that before or after God killed the first born Egyptian kids?

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  2. There is a little game I play and I recommend it to you. Any time a decision is going to be made regarding interpersonal relationships around you, see if you can imagine what the motives are of the players involved. Then see if you can match what you imagined to what really happens. If you are anything like me, you will be way below the Menzoda Line in your batting average. (I am like 0 for 1000). So, if we are this bad at figuring out reasons for the behaviors of the ones around us, how good do you think we would be at discerning the wished of a god who doesn’t even have a face or other body language to read?

    All these people walking around saying things like “it’s God’s will” or “God has a plan for you” while at the same time saying “no one can know the mind of God” are blowing smoke, plain and simple. Do these people even listen to one another or it is one big philosophical circle jerk? (I suspect he latter.)

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  3. PS You are wasting your time with SOM. He only goes away if you ignore him. If you respond to his claims, like the ridiculous one about slavery (every reference in the Bible to a “servant” is to a slave, there were no servants for hire and yes Hebrew slaves were eventually released but the others were slaves forever and there were a heck of a lot more of them), he will just change the subject and “move the goal posts” ad nauseum. Many have tried, none have succeeded.

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    1. Steve,

      It may have escaped your notice that slavery disappeared in Europe as Christianity replaced
      Greco-Roman paganism.

      Slavery also disappeared from Hebrew culture.

      That God condones slavery is a lie atheists tell themselves so they won’t have to deal with the fundamental dogma of atheism, which is everything just happened all by itself.

      What evidence do you have that everything just happened all by itself?

      Certainly your evidence for that is better than the bald faced lying that atheists do concerning the Bible.

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    2. I do have a curiosity with apologetics…some do a half-way decent job of covering up the logic tricks they use.

      I was watching a youtube vid of a theologian today talking about why he doesn’t think dogs will go to heaven. Evidently those “lower” species don’t have the capacity to imagine a deity, and therefore, are toast, from an immortality perspective. The fact that we have to put a framework around how superior our species is, and how much “lower” other species are, just goes to show we’re not half as superior as we’d like to think.

      The fact that we’ve got all this magnificent technology, where we can record things, digitize them, and share them with zillions of other people, yet would waste that technology talking about the heaven prospects of dogs goes to show that we wouldn’t deserve a heaven, even if it existed.

      And by the way, my dogs would be a shoe-in for heaven, if there is one 🙂

      Like

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