Monday, 9 August 2010

My Atheism

I'm into the hundred of posts now but I've realised I've not written one on something which to some people defines who they are. My faith, or rather, my lack of it. I thought I'd write about why I'm an atheist despite having a Christian upbringing.

Warning, this could end up being pretty long.

First of all, let me make it clear, I'm an atheist, not an agnostic. I'm not unsure about whether or not there's a God/Gods, I actively don't believe there are. I know that in science you can never fully prove that something doesn't exist, you can only fail to find evidence for it, but you can be very confident that something doesn't exist if there is absolutely no evidence for it. So, technically, I'm not sure there is a God, but only in the same sense that I'm not sure whether there's a tooth fairy or Santa, to me all three are equally as likely to exist.

On the face of it I really should be a devout catholic. I was baptised, went to catholic primary and secondary schools, did the whole communion and confirmation polava, was even an altar boy in my earlier days. I first started doubting my faith when I was in about 15 I think, but it was by no means a sudden jump. It went something like this: Believing in Catholicism - Believing in the Christian god - Believing in a God - Believing in some kind of deity I couldn't ever understand - Being agnostic - Reading around the subject quite a lot - Bordering on atheism - Being certain in my atheism. Not exactly a quick transformation that some people seem to have, but by about 16/17 I was sure of my atheism.

Wise words as ever from House

So what turned me from altar boy to heathen? I'd say it was probably starting to understand how science works and beginning to question things I'd never questioned before. I didn't want to lose my faith, it wasn't something I'd aimed for, in fact I was looking for some way to defend it, but in the end I just couldn't keep it up and it had to go.

All the argument's that used to keep me sure came crumbling down. First of all the old watchmaker argument. 'If you found a watch on a planet you'd assume it must have been designed because it's too complex to be an accident. The earth is much more complex than a watch, so someone must have designed that too.'

Powerful stuff, right? Wrong. First of all, we don't think that life on earth happened by accident, we know exactly how it happened, evolution. Evolution isn't an accident, and equally it doesn't need any designer. (As a side note, if anyone doesn't believe in evolution, let me know and I'll do you a very nice, long post on exactly why you're wrong.) Second, anything that was complex enough to have designed the earth would surely fall into the category of being complex itself and so would too need a designer. Then you've just got this horrible never ending spiral of designers, hardly the image of God we're used to. Lastly, the earth isn't designed for us, we're designed to live on the earth, and the universe certainly isn't designed for us. Out of all the billions and billions of stars so far we've only found one with one planet that can sustain us. That's pretty inefficient design for an all-powerful guy.

I also think that it's odd that people can believe that someone would create a whole planet of people, demand they worship him alone, but then give some of them a massive head start. I'm talking about the fact that even if a religion was to be true, only one could be so, and depending on which one it was only a tiny number of people would have been born into that religion or even know it existed at all. What makes people so sure that the only religion they've ever really looked into or known must be the right one and the rest of the world must be wrong? I'd have a little more sympathy with people who looked around all the religions before settling for one which seemed most plausible but I doubt this happens very much at all.

There are plenty more reasons why I think religion is highly suspect, but this post is long enough already and I might get back to them at a later date.

For all its talk of inclusiveness and common decency religion can be traced as the root of massive attrocities all over the world. It has held back the advancement of race relations, women's equality and still has its claws dug firmly into denying gays equal rights. I don't think we should accept the excuse that its a good thing even if it isn't all true without question any more. The bible (along with other texts) is one of the most racist, xenophobic and violent books I've ever read, if you look closely at what it says. (I'll do another post on this but amongst other things it encourages rape of prisoners, mutilation and infanticide)

People often say that without religion what would make people do good, why would they not turn to sin if there was no punishment? I think this is a disgustingly wrong idea. It assumes that the only reason people don't go around stabbing everyone is that they might end up going to hell. If that's the only reason you don't stab people then there's something wrong with the world. If you don't do something bad because you're afraid of punishment it doesn't make you a good person. You're a good person when you don't do those things just because its not something you'd want to do. I don't think anyone needs religion to be a good person, and the ones who do are likely to be able to find a way to use to justify doing evil because of their religion.

I'll leave with a favourite quote of mine from Douglas Adams. When people say that life is much more beautiful when you imagine it with a loving God behind the scenes, this is fitting:

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

I'd love to get some other viewpoints so by all means tell me if you disagree with any of this, I'm not a 'militant' atheist as some would like to believe everyone without faith is.

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