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Why I am an Atheist
David J. Venable E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
.............................................................1 The Bible.................................. It suddenly dawned on me that I essentially believed in a god for the same reason that I had once believed in Santa Clause: it's what I had always believed (not to mention what I'd been taught to believe from a very early and impressionable age)... I hope that you will all read it and consider what I have to say..................... I have divided this paper into three primary sections.............. So............ 2007 1 Introduction This paper is the result of several years of study and thought.... 7 3.. I suspect)...0 How I Became an Atheist I've recently been asked a surprisingly large number of times just how it is that I became an atheist..... followed by two appendices..................................... I decided to write this essay....... 1..0 Why I Became an Atheist....... Texas one evening......................... 4 2. probability...... 2 2............ and I ask anyone not intimately familiar with the ideas of both evolution and natural selection to skip to this section first (it’s only six paragraphs).......... and had several "good" arguments to support this stance................. 1 2..................................... as that is comfortable for me..........................................................................2..................... I hope that this is not an obstacle. A Brief Explanation of Evolution by Natural Selection by Richard Dawkins.....................5 So Why Does Religion Exist?............... So Why Isn’t There a God?........................................................ Over time..... I had spent quite a bit of time over the previous years honing my knowledge in a number of areas: evolutionary biology................................... I was actually quite religious for some time.. I was sitting outside of a coffee shop in San Antonio.... and several days of writing.... 6 2...... more and more questions came to mind (I'll list a few later)...................................... 3 2.. 4 2.............. .. I even planned to become a priest........ After many years of scientific education I still believed in God....... and systems theory to name a few........... By and large. I have written the paper in the format commonly used by those in my field.....0 Conclusion.. 8 A1....... 8 1........................................ 2 2............................ In fact.....2 Evolution............... is an impressively brief explanation.......................... A Brief Explanation of Evolution by Natural Selection by Richard Dawkins........ where I strongly opposed the atheist view (Cort)............Apr 3. "So what happened?" seems to be the question............................... there came a distinct moment (and I remember it quite well) I finally set aside my beliefs....................0 How I Became an Atheist...................................................................................................... history......6 Common Arguments against Atheism.. 6 2....1 Common Misconceptions about Evolution.............. As many of you who have known me for some time will undoubtedly recall (much to the surprise of my newly-acquired friends............................................. Appendix 1......... Some of you may recall debates lasting late into the night on a variety of porches.................. religion.......4 Why Not Agnosticism?............... but have yet to find reasonable answers................3 Ok............ Unfortunately the answer is not so succinct.... instead of explaining it several times........... and I asked large numbers of people...........
All of the bad things that happen to us happen for an explicit purpose: to learn a lesson or to better us in some way (on the other hand. What happened to all of those poor Christian souls prior to that time? The "supposed contradictions" in the Bible that are glossed over. and weigh them against my current knowledge -. it's likely that most of the apostles were illiterate2. I'd have probably planned to become either a Rabbi or a Mullah).0 Why I Became an Atheist So now that the story is out of the way. The Christian creation myth is almost entirely based on the creation myth from the Babylonian Enuma Elish. by the clergy are actually rather significant. and more specifically. or explained away. Death is not final. but also the history of The Bible.5 While. you’ll have a better understanding of why you believe what you do. yet they insist that it be taken literally. Most people are largely unaware that two vastly different (and conflicting) creation stories exist in chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis. 2. these contradictions with what we know to be fact are never taken into account when discussing literal interpretation of the creation myth. 2007 2 Belief in a god is terribly comforting. intervening on our behalf in ways that we can only imagine (no pun intended). The protestant idea of salvation or "getting saved" is only about 200 years old4. complexity. Interestingly enough. 2. Of course. This is a difficult and painful process.1 The Bible I always believed that The Bible was the word of the Christian god: written by man. I'll get onto why it is that I became an atheist. but inspired by God. After many years of studying not only The Bible. It all came crashing down around me. and that the sun revolves around the earth7. what I learned over the years that led me in that direction. I learned many interesting things: ● The gospels were written well (2-3 generations) after the death of Jesus (not to mention well after the deaths of the apostles who supposedly wrote them)1. ● ● ● ● ● . Even if you come out of it with unchanged beliefs.objectively.Apr 3. the biblical flood story is almost entirely based on the Epic of Gilgamesh6 -. but one that I highly recommend. There's someone up there looking out for us. One rather humorous note is that the Bible often implies that the earth is flat. another common belief seems to be that bad things happen to us because we deserve them – despite The Bible containing the Book of Job). Why did I still believe in a god? I could reasonably explain everything that I had previously needed a god to explain (existence. Modern day Christianity is so very different from Christianity during the time of Christ that it would largely be unrecognizable3.the oldest writing known to man. etc). I had to put aside my age-old beliefs that I'd essentially been born into (had I been born in the middle east. and wholly inerrant.
was known as "the way the truth and the light". who was both the "Divine Son" and the "Father". and the Holy Spirit are the same entity: God God created the world. and "king of kings". was called "alpha and omega". follow Not following these rules is “sin. in fact. performed miracles. This seems to come from a few misunderstandings. Different species of dogs have been "designed" by man.” which results in eternal damnation Luckily. his body as bread was eaten by his worshippers. Jesus. his priests were celibate. "intelligent design" by humans). In fact. "the good shepherd".2 Evolution Granted. an explanation is not provided for how or why this occurred. if evolution consisted of what most of the creationists I’ve talked to think it consists of. and anointments. Dogs are a great example of evolution (and.10 Dionysus (greek and roman god). came back to life 3 days later. came back to life 3 days later. but could not possibly. "redeemer". 9 Attis (a greek god). and made up a bunch rules that we should. 2007 3 ● According to mainstream protestant Christianity: God the Father. and almost wholly unoriginal8: Mithra (a roman god). . Christian apologists have claimed that these early pagans had mystical or prophetic foreknowledge of Christ. he was crucified and his blood redeemed the earth. and believed by non-evolution-believing people everywhere: dogs. Interestingly enough. his body was eaten by his worshippers. Mithra religious ceremonies involved baptisms. Not surprisingly. the process is led by natural selection rather than some intelligent designer. God took the form of man and sacrificed himself to himself in order to forgive us of breaking rules that he put into place to begin with This entire situation is so ridiculous that it would be laughable if it didn’t affect so many peoples’ lives. by breeding for certain characteristics. etc. the son of the Sun. and incorporated Christian ideas into their deities. a god could have created things via evolution. died.Apr 3. "savior". was born of a virgin on December 25th and was placed in a manger. was born of a virgin on December 25th.11 Note that all of these “gods” came centuries before Christ. for centuries. 2. many fundamentalists don't believe in the scientific fact of evolution. He was also worshipped by three Magi when he was born. I wouldn't believe it either. died for the salvation of man. However. The funny thing is that evolution is very well documented. a sacred meal of bread water and consecrated wine. died by hanging on a tree and rose from the dead. This results in the process taking place over much greater periods of time. was born of a virgin on December 25th. The only difference is that in the Theory of Evolution. the son of Zeus. ● The story of Christ (and the way he's often worshipped) is a conglomeration of myths about other gods.
Wrong. This mischaracterizes what a scientific theory is12.and the various stages of eye development exist all throughout nature14. This is. Wrong. Evolution has never been observed. There are no transitional fossils (missing links). The people who make this claim (who never happen to be physicists) may one day discover the sun. ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● 2. Each culture has had their own god or gods. unverifiable hypotheses. There are thousands of them. Even if he had meant it in the way it is often misrepresented. a horrible misrepresentation of what he wrote. the fact that the most fit individuals survive and produce the most offspring. and there have been several types of gods over the years. Misleading. Natural selection. Einstein. or a lack of surviving). Even Darwin said that evolution couldn't explain the eye. Evolution is a random process. Primates. The second law of thermodynamics states that the amount of disorder in a closed system never decreases. You never hear that it’s “just” a theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun. an eyewitness account to the contrary. and demonstrably results in speciation. Wrong. but it is.. whereas the less-fit organisms do not (either via failing at the mate selection process. an avowed atheist. in fact. Man came from monkeys.2. dictates that the most appropriately equipped individual organisms have a greater chance of passing on their genes. hopefully that day will be soon. it doesn't matter as I pointed out in the previous item. There is no evidence to support this. Wrong. with whom we share over 99% of our genetic material. Even if he had.. Organisms evolve in response to their environment. Wrong. in fact. Probably wrong. Note that God and creation (or intelligent design) are merely hypotheses – untested. And the Bible disputes that as well. Darwin recanted on his deathbed. Evolution occurs via the entirely non-random process of the natural selection of randomly varying replicators13. 2007 4 2.3 Ok. and we clearly share a common ancestor. why do you think we keep coming up with new antibiotics (and flu shots) to fight the same illnesses? Because they evolve. and there is. science relies on evidence. often based on those of previous cultures (as I showed Christianity is). It was a rhetorical device. are our closest relative. often used the word “god” to refer to the laws of the universe 15 – this . It's been observed many. not the word or beliefs of any particular person -. And then there have been more vague gods.. This process occurs over huge periods of time.Apr 3. So Why Isn’t There a God? The god idea has been with humans for quite a long time. Evolution violates the laws of physics.1 Common Misconceptions about Evolution ● It's "just" a theory. Wrong. many times. Wrong. The following three pages went into much greater detail.. and the rest of that paragraph explained much about how eyes form.
However. and who created the thing that created God” question. but those gaps are rapidly filling. as Dawkins points out. when taken over a near-infinite amount of time and number of formations. is that given a highly improbable likelihood of the universe occurring in this way. there are gaps in knowledge here and there. these gaps are often boiled down to nothing more than constants in physics. Once the God Hypothesis is invoked. These are testable claims. solving that problem is significantly easier than solving the “who created God. in fact. and without invoking a supernatural being. Explanations are tricky things sometimes. accurate explanation for a problem. and this has become the accepted view for many years. it creates more questions than it answers: “How can God ‘speak’ things into existence?” and “where did God come from?” to name a few. Many theists take the “God lives in the gaps” approach. science has given us a reasonable explanation for how we went from nothing but chaos to where we are today. “all things being equal. Needless to say. all of the evidence (and there are mountains of it) point towards unguided evolution. the gaps of knowledge where God has long hidden have become vastly smaller at a much more rapid rate than at any other time.” is one of the primary foundations of critical thought. Agnosticism merely says that there is not enough information to absolutely know whether there is a god. And. Unfortunately for the religious. then we would not exist because the entire universe would be vastly different. however this has a long history of not working out well. those questions are likely to be answered. religious claims are. As science has explained more and more. 2007 5 often led to confusion regarding his beliefs.” I am saying that the likelihood of a god existing is so horribly small that it is negligible. the simplest explanation in these cases is the scientific one. While I am not saying that “there is no god. and likely unable to support life. If these constants were off by a fraction.4 Why Not Agnosticism? All atheists are agnostics. 2. Science has done an excellent job of explaining how things got to be the way they are. you are 100% guaranteed that it will come out the way it has at some point.” The fundamental problem with the God Hypothesis is that it does just that. Occam’s Razor. Either there is a God or there is not one. And sometimes using an explanation that only compounds the problem feels more comfortable than saying “we don’t know yet. invoking God to explain what is currently unexplained. Granted. While we may not have enough data to form a concise. While there are still questions. Either God spoke things into existence or he did not. saying that science didn’t touch religion and that religion didn’t touch science16. although a careful reading of his work leaves no question. scientifically testable 17. In the last 300 years alone. it compounds the problem. So. we wouldn’t be here considering these questions any of those other times. doesn’t make it inexplicable). while the entire explanation is far beyond the scope of this paper. the simplest solution tends to be the best one. Stephen Jay Gould proposed the idea of “Nonoverlapping Magisteria” (NOMA). We’ve been conditioned into thinking of these as two separate things. The problem with assigning this to God.Apr 3. Using god to explain the unexplained (and just because something is unexplained. is an exercise in futility. No reasonable person would ever say that there is .
Atheism is the belief that there is no god based on the overwhelming evidence to support that belief. The teapot was so small that it couldn’t be seen with even our most powerful telescopes.) 2. leprechauns. even dragons. Furthermore. Odin. The funny thing is that we are all atheists. and of course. etc. right? Unfortunately. as would the complete lack of evidence. Bertrand Russell once proposed that there was a small teapot orbiting the sun. arguably Christianity is nothing but a continuation of Mithra-worship). then religion must have an evolutionary benefit. So. Thor. Odin. The mind is very much like a computer. 2007 6 absolutely no god (or that gravity absolutely and always exists. but we can fix it by sacrificing something or performing a dance • Fairies will come into your room and replace the tooth under your pillow with money • Some guy came back to life after sacrificing himself to himself in order to forgive us for breaking rules that he put into place – despite the fact that he could have just forgiven us anyway.5 So Why Does Religion Exist? If there really isn’t a god and Darwinian Natural Selection is correct. we process information and make decisions based on the information that we have. for that matter).” Unfortunately. the Christian. we have all become “atheists” to all of these things. everything worked exactly as it would be expected without the teapot existing. As Dawkins has said. that belief in a sun-orbiting teapot would be ridiculous.Apr 3. As we have learned more and more about the world around us. there are many other things that we have believed over time: fairies were commonly believed to exist up until the 19th century. this doesn’t account for all cases of theism. And they all meet the same criteria for disbelief as our current god or gods. One of those mechanisms is that when we are small children we believe our elders. and there was no evidence to support this belief. The brain has developed in such a way that humans are able to do things that no other species has been able to do. Therefore the following statements would be indistinguishable: • Don’t put your finger in the light socket • Don’t swim in the alligator infested river • Plant crops during a particular season or they won’t grow • Drought is caused by the gods being mad at us. seeing as he’s the one that decides that sort of thing But some people become religious later in life. right? It’s succeeded over time and despite evidence that directly disproves religious claims. children do not have the critical thinking capability to determine which of these things are correct and which are not. (It saddens me to think that so many lives have been lost over the years to fighting over something even remotely like Russell’s teapot. Jewish.” Importantly. religion is a meme that propagates in much the same way that computer viruses do18. There are many gods that no one believes in anymore: Zeus. that’s not quite the case. Mithra (although. Those children who did not have such a mechanism were probably unable to reproduce as they likely would not have heeded the warnings of their elders. i. So why believe in such a strange thing? Occam’s Razor would dictate. and Muslim god.e. “don’t go in the river because the alligators will eat you. and it has many mechanisms that ensure our success. “some of us just take it one god further. the primary answer to adult conversion to theism is accounted for by lack of . The same is true of fairies. Unfortunately. as they are able to protect us and keep us alive. According to Dawkins.
Certainly. The people who make this claim inevitably have almost no scientific education (high school at best) and no understanding of science whatsoever. Correct. This argument often reminds me of Matthew 7.. “so what prevents you from killing. I’ve witnessed this many times. and by the time they plop down in the chair themselves (even if it’s a new chair). and without learning how to think about problems. and stealing then?”). It seems that within religious institutions. Prior to Darwin’s discovery of natural selection. People become atheists because they were forced into religion. This is not only wrong. but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” The downright frightening part of all of this is that religion seems to be the cause behind numerous crimes: countless wars. Much of science is counter-intuitive. believing things that are even harder to believe than the run-of-the-mill hard to believe doctrines is a more “saintly” act. Just like evolution. because it tends to make me think that they do want to do those things. and it’s unfortunate. or despite evidence to the contrary. I’ve also witnessed people staying religious because they • • • • • . I don’t do those things because I don’t want to do them. terrorism. much like a theist living in today’s world. No one is born with a scientific education or critical thinking skills.” A common example seems to be that people have “faith” that a chair will support them. but missing some information. It requires more faith to believe in the big bang/evolution than it does to believe in god/creation. What’s wrong with faith? Several things. we are left to be convinced by whichever religious group happens to cause an emotional stir. Faith in and of itself is harmless. Possibly. would have been. and innumerable other crimes against humanity. raping. People become atheists because they don’t want to be accountable to God. while less than 1% of the prison population is comprised of atheists19. The word “faith” in this context refers to “belief without evidence. however encouraging the act of believing things despite contrary evidence. where Jesus asks “and why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye. This is nothing more than a misuse of the word. Interestingly enough. Newton. a brilliant scientist. atheists make up around 10% of the population. the god hypothesis was the best explanation that we had to explain existence. believed in God. However. or despite a complete lack of evidence encourages the sort of thought patterns that allow fundamentalist thinking to occur. There are undoubtedly some people who become atheists for this reason. And it takes many years to acquire both. it’s also very telling.e. Personally. Anyone who was an atheist prior to this point. it would seem that they haven’t yet learned that what they believe has no impact on how things are. they have tested the hypothesis several times by sitting in a chair. 2007 7 understanding of science and probability. People observe chairs supporting other individual’s weight.6 Common Arguments against Atheism • Atheists have no morality (i. which often leads to things like flying airplanes into buildings or blowing up abortion clinics. torture. deprivation.Apr 3. Not out of fear of eternal torment. Without a scientific education. it’s a fullfledged scientific theory. It frightens me when people even think to ask this. Ridiculous. 2. basing their beliefs on what they want to believe rather than what evidence would show to be truth.
weighed the evidence. Genes that program embryos to develop into adults who can successfully reproduce automatically survive in the gene pool. I welcome evidence and rational debate against any of the claims I have listed.Apr 3. But only if we assume that all the luck has to come in one fell swoop. Charles Darwin announced one of the greatest ideas ever to occur to a human mind: cumulative evolution by natural selection. This is natural . Not to mention that it bears no relevance to what is actually true. Anything less is no better than the very thing that the people who make this claim are complaining about. Living complexity is indeed orders of magnitude too improbable to have come about by chance. These are both horrible reasons to do anything. despite asking the question. To me. Every living creature has ancestors. don’t want to take the time to hear the answer. the only valid reason to possess a belief is because you have considered it. So. and most dismiss it as hearsay (which is why I’ve cited references) or arrogance (despite the fact that they are the ones insisting that they know the absolute truth without hearing what you have to say). and made an educated decision. When cascades of small chance steps accumulate. Richard Dawkins. All inherit the genes of an unbroken sequence of successful ancestors. Its guiding force is natural selection. They do something well: for instance. by the man who probably understands it better than anyone alive: Dr. Most people. Below is a brief explanation of what evolution actually is. considered the alternatives. this is why I’ve become an atheist. none of whom died young and none of whom failed to reproduce.0 Conclusion My goal in writing this paper is not to attack others’ beliefs. It is merely to be heard. Darwinian natural selection can produce an uncanny illusion of design. you can reach prodigious heights of adaptive complexity. In 1859. 2007 8 were forced into it. An engineer would be hard put to decide whether a bird or a plane was the more aerodynamically elegant. Things that look designed are divided into those that really are designed (submarines and tin openers) and those that aren't (sharks and hedgehogs). 3. A Brief Explanation of Evolution by Natural Selection by Richard Dawkins The world is divided into things that look designed (like birds and airliners) and things that don't (rocks and mountains). So powerful is the illusion of design. an evolutionary biologist who holds the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He is the founder of the field of memetics. at the expense of genes that fail. but only a fraction have descendants. which is also unfortunate. and discovered the gene-centric view of evolution. The diagnostic of things that look (or are) designed is that their parts are assembled in ways that are statistically improbable in a functional direction. nor is it to attempt to convert anyone to my own. That cumulative build-up is evolution. it took humanity until the mid-19th century to realise that it is an illusion. fly. A1.
What makes for success in the business of life varies from species to species. Design is as bad an explanation as chance because it raises bigger questions than it answers. and they go their separately evolving ways. Copies of newly mutated genes are reshuffled through the gene pool by sexual reproduction. Evolution by natural selection is the only workable theory ever proposed that is capable of explaining life. speciation is said to have occurred when the two gene pools have separated so far that they can no longer interbreed. and it is mutation. Speciation begins by accident. some walk. and we notice its consequences at the organism level. we have the origin of a new species. Among sexually reproducing species. Natural selection is quintessentially non-random. starting from a single bacterium-like ancestor. When separation has reached the stage where there is no interbreeding even without a geographical barrier. This one mistake underlies much of the sceptical backlash against evolution. some root themselves into the soil and tilt green solar panels toward the sun. All this diversity stems from successive branchings. some fly. There has to be an ultimate source of new genetic variation. Some swim. which lived between 3 and 4 billion years ago. and selection removes them from the pool in a way that is non-random. yet it is lamentably often miscalled random. Each branching event is called a speciation: a breeding population splits into two. Chance cannot explain life. . and it does so brilliantly. 2007 9 selection at the gene level. some climb.Apr 3.
or a proven model of the manner of interaction of a set of natural phenomena. Charles The Origin of Species 15 Dawkins.D. Paul N. http://www. http://en. p. The Rationalist’s Manual 12 “In science. a logical explanation.skepticfiles.. The Paganism in Our Christianity 10 Frazer.1 2 Brown. New Testament Studies (1999). Emanuel.org/wiki/Early_Christianity 4 Swedenborg.stephenjaygould. The Earth. and the theory which explains why the apple behaves so is the current theory of gravitation.html 19 Rice. and the Bible (1979) 8 Ancient Paganism and the Dangers of Compromise 9 Weigall. Richard Viruses of the Mind. para 159-162 5 Tobin. M. it is a fact that an apple dropped on earth has been observed to fall towards the center of the planet.. Frederick L. Babylonian Origins of the Creation Myth 6 Tobin.. New Scientist 14 Darwin.htm . The Flood Myth: Babylonian Origins 7 Steidl. Nonoverlapping Magisteria.. http://www. http://www.. The Golden Bough (1922) 11 Aletheia.. and capable of being tested through experiment or otherwise falsified through empirical observation. Richard The World’s Ten Biggest Ideas. 216-217 Kraus. Arthur.org/american/prison.html 17 Dawkins. a theory is a mathematical description.wikipedia.cscs. 45: 434-439. It follows from this that for scientists "theory" and "fact" do not necessarily stand in opposition. Paul. Raymond E. Atheists Supply Less than 1% of Prison Populations. Richard The God Delusion 16 Gould.. Thomas J. a verified hypothesis. capable of predicting future occurrences or observations of the same kind. the Stars. For example. Paul N. Cambridge University Press 3 Various Contributors. An Introduction to the New Testament (Anchor Bible Reference). Early Christianity.org/library/gould_noma. Richard The God Delusion 18 Dawkins.” From wikipedia (http://en.umich. Stephen J.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory) 13 Dawkins.edu/~crshalizi/Dawkins/viruses-of-the-mind. The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine (1758). Sir James G.
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