Dear Professor Dawkins,
I was not always an atheist. I was raised Baptist, and believed in creation growing up. I have always had an inquisitive mind, so I would spend lots of time reading about science in my spare time (and still do). The things I learned in these books, as well as in school later on, went against everything I had learned in the church. However, my “faith” was strong enough to resist the evidence for the big bang, evolution, and other scientific ideas. Years and years of childhood indoctrination made my faith strong enough to resist the overwhelming evidence for evolution and the big bang. I was told I was not allowed to question what I believed in. However, I noticed some illogicality in Christianity and grew suspicious. I started to call myself an “agnostic theist” – I was no longer so sure that God existed.
I gave myself permission to question my faith. I felt guilty at first, but later felt justified as I realized faith needs to be questioned so that it can grow stronger. However, as I tried to reconcile what I learned about science and Christianity, I realized the two do not mix well. Something had to give. I realized the scientific way of thinking, based on evidence, was the exact opposite of the religious way of thinking, which is based on faith. In my very last semester of college, I became a dead center agnostic – I was not sure what to believe anymore. After graduating, I began a search for truth as it is mentally difficult to stay in pure agnosticism on such an important question. I wanted to hear the other side of things, so I read several books on atheism. One of the books I read was “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. As I read it, I was forced to think long and hard about my beliefs, and realized there was no evidence to justify them. Not a single shred. So I stopped believing, and accepted everything I had learned. I was a full out atheist before I finished the book. I realized I do not know everything, but I saw no reason to fill in those gaps with Christianity. Being the minimalistic man of science that I am, I realized God was no longer needed to explain how we got here.
I have been accused of deciding to become an atheist – that I hated God (how can you hate what you do not believe in?) and wanted to rebel against Him. I did not “decide” to be an atheist any more than I decided to stop believing in Santa Claus when I realized the evidence said there was no such being. I did not want to become an atheist, it just happened. I viewed the existence of God as a scientific question, the way it should be viewed, and will only accept “the God hypothesis” when the evidence supports it. As a child I was also (ironically) taught to never assume things, so I find no reason to “assume” the Judeo-Christian God exists. It has just as much evidence to support it as any of the other 2,000 gods conceived by man throughout the ages.
If you think being an atheist is so wrong, let me remind you that we are all born atheists. Babies have no belief in any gods. I acquired a belief in God through the way I was raised, and simply returned to the view I had from the start when I outgrew this belief. Even for those who have become theists, they are still atheists when it comes to the other 2,000 gods. Atheism is the true status quo, but many do not realize it. We are not born theists, so theism is not the status quo. Atheism is older than theism. Someone eventually had to assert that there was a higher power.
I am an atheist because I have no good reason to be a theist. I realized that the burden of proof lies on theists, and they have not met the burden. I realized how deceptive the mind can be, and that it will believe what it wants to. I realized that the Bible, as well as many other religious texts, is full of contradictions and therefore cannot be “holy.” I realized I would have been raised a Muslim if born in Saudi Arabia, and a believer in Zeus if born in ancient Greece. I realized how divisive religion is – that religious people falsely claim their religion is 100% right and all other religions are wrong. I realized that a God who would send an unbeliever to hell to burn for eternity, with no regard for how that person lived, is unworthy of worship. It makes no sense that Satan (a being I did not truly believe in even as a Christian) would punish those who listen to him and go against God, his greatest enemy. It was really the illogical concept of hell that caused me to get suspicious and realize everything else about Christianity could be wrong. I realized that an afterlife in heaven, which is supposedly nearly impossible to get in even if you do believe in God, would not be all it is cracked up to be. It would eventually become boring, and would be annoying until then, being with lots of Jesus freaks. Most smart people are atheists, and I would rather be with them in hell anyway. There is a line in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” that reads, “It is better to reign in hell, than to serve in heaven.”
I have no desire to seek another religion to replace the one I have left, since they all require (irrational) faith without evidence. All religion is the same to me. No religion is better than any other or more believable than any other. Sure, religion may be comforting, but that does not make it true. I have a scientific mind – not a religious one, so I care passionately about the truth and do not see myself ever returning to religion in the future. It is this passion, further fueled by the misunderstandings of atheism, that led me to create a blog about it, The Skeptical Scribe, located at skepticalscribe.wordpress.com. I guess you could say science is my religion. You could also say I am a “born again” atheist.
While I was open to my friends at the time of my apostasy, I kept my views secret from my family. However, they soon found out by spying on me through Facebook. I regretted having my religious views on my profile at first, but my regret was soon replaced with relief when I recognized I did not have the difficult task of “coming out” to them. I am not sure I would have been able to come out to them. They were upset at first – some of them still are. Some people attempt to make me feel like a bad person for my views, but it does not work. I do not feel guilty in the slightest for being intellectually honest. I am not afraid to admit that I do not have all the answers – nobody does – but at least science is working on finding them.
The Skeptical Scribe