25 February 2012

Why I'm an atheist, Part 3: Science & Certainty

In Part 2 I discussed the notion that the moral codes on which we actively collaborate are better suited to our way of life than those handed down from ancient times which are supposedly divinely inspired.

But why am I so certain that there is no deity giving us these moral mandates in the first place, you might ask. Well here's one more thing that I'm not saying when I say I'm an atheist: I'm not claiming to know with absolute certainty that there is no god or other supernatural entity in the universe. Maybe that sounds more like what you'd call agnosticism, but the fact of the matter is that the ideas of “atheism” and “agnosticism” are not mutually exclusive, and in fact most people who identify as atheists are also agnostics. The latter term is an acknowledgment that our knowledge of such matters will never be perfect. And at least in my case, it's an embracing of the logical methods of science as the best way to make statements about the nature of the universe. Science doesn't claim to know anything with absolute certainty, but its methods are the way to ensure that we're as close to the truth as is humanly possible. Science breaks a situation down to its constituent parts and makes sure we give each one due consideration before drawing any conclusions. 

24 February 2012

Why I'm an atheist, Part 2: Morality & Law

In the previous post I shared an overview of my personal experiences with religion and atheism. In this post and those following, I'll get into some of the particulars of my views on religion.

So I'm an atheist—what exactly does that mean? Well the average religious person may not call themself a “theist,” but that's the applicable term; it describes someone who believes in a god or gods and/or practices a religion. So when you add the “a-” it literally means something like “without a god” or “without religion.” And that does describe me: I don't believe in the existence of any deities or other supernatural entities or forces, nor do I practice anything that might be described as a religion.

But here are some things I'm not saying when I say I'm an atheist (starting with the most ridiculous). Atheism is not devil-worship. Devils and demons are considered just as non-existent to atheists as are gods and angels. Atheists also don't hate god (or at least the intellectually honest ones don't), because you can't hate something that you don't think exists. If someone says they're an atheist but they say they hate god, they're probably just an angry theist and not an atheist, unless they're speaking purely figuratively. Atheists are not inherently amoral. Sure, we've got our share of assholes just like any other demographic, but their being bad people comes from within them, not the fact that they're atheists. If someone comes right out and claims that atheism gives them a reason or the right to be an asshole, then they're almost certainly a moron in addition to being a jerk.

23 February 2012

Why I'm an atheist, Part 1: A History

Over on his popular blog Pharyngula PZ Myers has asked for submissions on the topic of "Why I am an atheist." He's gotten enough of a response that he posts one every day, picked at random. The following is what I submitted. It's basically a summary of my experiences with religion and atheism in my life. In Part 2 I'll discuss the particulars of my outlook.

Why I'm an atheist 

If I had to put one reason above all the others, it'd probably be dinosaurs.

I absolutely loved dinosaurs as a preschooler and kindergartener (and still do, though perhaps not so obsessively). Any worldview presented to me that didn't include dinosaurs and their epic reign over the Earth was doomed to fail. But my interest in those ancient beasts was also the seed of a passion for and understanding of science in general. From a young age, the fact that dinosaurs lived tens and hundreds of millions of years ago was an almost mundane matter of fact. And even if I didn't really understand the methods, I could at least see that scientists presented arguments for assertions such as the age of rock strata that seemed to be based in the real world.

Perhaps because it had to compete with things as obviously awesome as dinosaurs, religion never appealed to me in any way. When I was young we went to a Methodist church somewhat regularly. But all the words just sort of bounced off me. I'd love to claim that it was because I was some sort of precocious, incredulous youth, but what I really think it came down to was that I just didn't give a shit. Attending church was a chore. The stories weren't interesting. There were times when I'd notice that the other kids in Sunday School seemed to have committed some of the stories to memory, and even seemed to think they were pretty important. And I'd wonder if perhaps I should feel that way too, but in the end they'd still just be a bunch of stories about shepherds and their sheep, and any motivation instantly evaporated.