When I was 18, in the summer between high school and college, I was quite anxious about the future I was expected to live out. I was raised Mormon and was quite sincere about my religion, which culturally had many expectations of what I would do with my life. I was expected to go to college for a year, and then when I was 19, spend two years somewhere else in the world trying to convert others to Mormonism. Then, after I returned, finish college, get a good job, get married and have many children. This was a pretty heavy burden for an 18 year old to bear.
As a naturally rational person, I looked for evidence and confirmation of my beliefs, to make sure I was doing the right thing and to feel comforted that God would assist me through all of these difficult tasks. Mormonism teaches that God answers prayers directly and has a personal relationship with each individual. So, I prayed for confirmation and comfort, very sincerely and for several months. Disappointingly, I never received any sort of answer from God, and this just made me more anxious about the life I was expected to live.
One night, while watching a movie with a friend, I had a sudden and profound realization. First, I realized that I was very scared to do all that was expected of me. I also realized that everyone in my life promoted their beliefs in God and the Mormon religion, not because they knew any of it to be true, but they were just passing on what they were told. Everyone else was in the same situation I was in; none of us really knew any of it, but we all did our best to convince each other and ourselves that our beliefs were true. Each week at church, people would tell each other how convinced they were of the religion and share faith-promoting stories. I realized that with this kind of intense and prolonged social pressure to believe and to conform, it was very difficult for anyone to question or leave that religion or culture.
Immediately after this realization, I knew that I could no longer trust other people to give me reliable guidance in my life or provide reliable truth about the world. From that point on, I knew I needed to pursue truth with an independent mind and live a life guided by my own understanding and not by the ideas that others pass on because of social pressure.
I decided not to accept my full scholarship at the University of Utah, viewing college as yet another layer of social co-deception. Instead, I've spent the past 15 years engaged in my own, intense independent study, reading hundreds of non-fiction books on a wide variety of subjects, mainly science books. During most of the last 15 years, I have truly been agnostic, sincerely thinking about the issues of God and the supernatural, not being convinced either way. It was obvious that traditional notions of God and the supernatural were ridiculous, but I still believed there was the possibility of some kind of supernatural intelligence.
However, many of the books I read were Richard Dawkins' books: The Blind Watchmaker, River Out of Eden, Climbing Mount Improbable and very recently, The God Delusion. These books made it very clear to my mind that life is a very natural and spontaneous phenomenon, simply arising and becoming more complex, given favorable conditions. Life doesn't need the guiding hand of intelligence any more than oxygen and hydrogen atoms need God to push them together to make water molecules; it just happens, given favorable conditions.
However, the fact that life arises spontaneously doesn't mean that some kind of supernatural god can't exist, just that god didn't create life. What finally convinced me that the supernatural cannot, even in theory, exist is having read Stephen Wolfram's book, “A New Kind of Science”, twice. One of the main theses of the book is that complexity arises automatically, even following extremely simple rules of transformation. Another main thesis is that arbitrarily complex systems of rules can be perfectly simulated by extremely simple systems of rules. This means that every system of rules, even those with astronomically large numbers of rules, is equivalent to a very simple set of rules with the right initial conditions.
This is all very abstract, but what I realized was that all naturalistic explanations assume that existence is following a system with a finite set of rules. That means that the supernatural would not follow those rules, and in fact not follow any rules whatsoever, since any sort of rules or regularity would be within the domain of the natural. So, all the supernatural is left with is utter randomness, since all patterns can be explained naturalistically. Since the supernatural can only be utter randomness, there is no possibility that it could be intelligent in any way. So, I am now convinced that there cannot be supernatural gods or anything supernatural.
However, I am still open to the idea of “technological gods”, technological, self-transformative beings who ultimately become so intelligent and powerful we may as well consider them gods, even though they are a natural phenomenon that did not create the universe itself. In fact, creating such beings seems like a meaningful long-term goal for Humanity.
I would like to thank Richard Dawkins for writing such wonderful, captivating and intelligent books. They have truly affected me profoundly and helped me understand and appreciate life and what it means for us to be alive and conscious in an overall dead universe. His books have given me even greater courage to pursue my independent studies and live a life that even though it is unconventional, is deeply meaningful and intellectually fulfilling. He has always been an example of clear-headed rationalism, and I admire him for being so public with his views.