Why I’m an atheist

As promised, my first blog post is a fairly general post about my religious beliefs – I’m currently calling myself a ‘de-factor atheist’, based on Richard Dawkins’ spectrum of religious belief (The God Delusion, 2006). I chose this topic because there were two catalysts that inspired me to start writing a blog: one was The Big Libel Gig on 14th March 2010, which was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of comedy and science (a good summary is available here); and the second was a fairly heated argument I had a few days ago with a friend of mine. After I made a fairly flippant comment about how some aspects of Islam are oppressive towards women, he started arguing that unless I’d read the Qur’an, which does not condone that kind of oppression, I shouldn’t criticise Islam. At first I thought that he was arguing in the name of banter, in much the same way that I do when he talks about his views on Israel/Palestine even though I share his views, albeit with far less conviction, but it soon became clear that he felt quite strongly about the way that I express my views on religion. He was of the opinion that I consider myself to be superior to religious people, and that I think that people who believe in God are stupid. I was surprised that he thought this, because I’ve always been very careful to ensure that I do not give this impression. I think that atheists who are absolutely certain that there is no God (a number 7 on Dawkins’ scale) are just as narrow-minded and arrogant as fundamental Christians. I realised that the reason why my friend thought this of me is because I don’t often talk about religion with my friends – my discussions are limited to a message board that I am an active poster on. When I discuss religion in ‘real-life’, I tend to do so far more nonchalantly, as none of my friends are religious. On reflection, perhaps I should be as careful in real-life as I am online, to make sure that the impression I give people matches my actual views.

Starting a blog offers me the opportunity to present my views in their purest of form, without being constrained by having to focus on the specific points of a particular argument, which also has the advantage of helping me to make those views clear in my own mind. In that respect, and combined with the fact that this is my first proper blog post, this is somewhat experimental, so please bear with me, and your comments and criticisms will be warmly appreciated!

I was raised a Roman Catholic, and considered myself to be Catholic until the age of around 19, at which point I was a first year undergraduate. Right up until the end of that academic year, I had a crucifix by my bed. I can’t pinpoint a specific moment that I ‘lost my faith’, but it happened roughly at the same time as me actually starting to think about my beliefs. Derren Brown’s TV special ‘Messiah’, which is sadly one of his lesser-known episodes, started this process, and his book ‘Tricks Of The Mind’ was also very influential, and provided me with a starting point from which to begin further research, which inevitably lead to authors such as Richard Dawkins. I am currently reading an excellent book by Lewis Wolpert called ‘Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast’.

I currently call myself a de-facto atheist, because while I do not belief that there is a God, I think it is important to point out that I cannot be certain, and probably never will be certain. However, I am no less certain about God’s non-existence than I am of the non-existence of unicorns on Mars, a flying spaghetti monster, a teapot orbiting the Earth, fairies at the bottom of my garden, or leprechauns. Given today’s date, there will probably be far more evidence for the leprechauns in the next 24 hours than for any of those other things. But no one particularly cares about whether or not there is a teapot orbiting the earth – there probably isn’t one of course, but it’s of little consequence to anyone. The existence or non-existence of God, on the other hand, is of enormous importance to billions of people across the world, and for that reason, atheism as simply the absence of a belief is probably not sufficient at this current moment in time. Although I strongly disagree with the argument that atheism is a ‘faith’, I think that in some respects it has to act like one, in order to reduce the limiting effect that religion can sometimes have on scientific progress.

The reason why I don’t believe there is a God is simply because of the lack of evidence. There is so little evidence for God that if the notion was not so ancient and widely held, it would be laughed at, much like the Martian unicorns. One of my friend’s responses to that was to ask if I could explain what happened before the Big Bang. My answer was that of course I cannot, but that just because science is currently unable to answer those questions, it does not follow that the gaps should be filled in with stories that were written a few thousand years ago. Now that’s not to say that there wasn’t some kind of creative force that could perhaps be called a God. Such a belief isn’t particularly compatible with Occam’s Razor, but it’s not impossible and of course shouldn’t be completely dismissed. However, I think that given the progress that science has made in the last two millennia, the Abrahamic God can be almost completely ruled out. So many of the stories in the Old Testament are completely implausible, and others are simply incompatible with contemporary historical evidence.

Another point that my friend made was that I think that people who believe in God are stupid. While I’ve never said that, what I have said, which my friend perhaps misunderstood, is that a lot of the Old Testament is silly or ridiculous. However, I don’t believe that all religious people are stupid – that kind of belief would be an utterly arrogant and foolish one to hold, and many of the most intelligent people I know are very religious.

Atheism is often seen as the antithesis or religious belief, which I don’t think is necessarily a sensible classification. To me, atheism is one possible conclusion – in my opinion the most logical one – to consideration of arguments and evidence in favour of and against the existence of God. Many people will defend their conclusion very strongly, but a truly scientifically-minded atheist will always know that with sufficient evidence, their mind could be changed. The same is not true of many religious people, for whom no amount of evidence will change their mind.

Incidentally, I’ve ordered an English translation of the Qur’an, and look forward to reading it, although I currently have a very long reading list, having decided recently to start reading far more than I currently do. Hopefully my friend and I will one day return to the discussion we had the other day, and I will be able to say “Actually, yes” when he asks me if I have read the Qur’an.

Thank you for reading right the way to the end of this somewhat rambling post! I hope that my future posts will be more focussed and less wandering than this one, and I hope that you’ll continue to indulge me!


One Response to “Why I’m an atheist”

  1. Great post. There are minor points I don’t agree with but they’re still quite open minded and fair. Good start. =)

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