A Brief Belief Interlude

The grand canyon, shaped by the relentless battering of time.

The grand canyon, shaped by the relentless battering of time.

I’ve decided I’d like to come clean about something. I’m not sure if it’s due to my own process of self-discovery coming to an apex, or motivated by the vast number of crafting and food blogs that state in their “About Me” pages that they devote everything they do to Jesus, but my conscience compels me to do it. So here it goes. If you’ll permit me to quote another in order to express myself:

I am almost certain that God does not exist.

I realize this is an alienating statement. I’ve probably lost many of you outright, or you are already formatting your hostile questions and attempts to convince me otherwise. Others probably couldn’t give a rat’s buttocks. Hopefully some of you are nodding in agreement. But what I want all of you to know is that this is not a statement that I make on a whim. I did not wake up this morning and decide that atheism is a new philosophy to try on for the day.

I grew up going to church — a nice, happy, accepting church, which may have been the site of the first same-sex marriage in Massachusetts (it could be hear-say) — but stopped going to church some time in elementary school. We would still go on Christmas for the show and the candle contest (whoever kept theirs lit the longest won), but I could tell my parents were losing interest as well. I imagine it was my grandparents’ influence that had encouraged them to go in the first place. When I entered high school, my mother, concerned about some dubious friendships I had made, forced me to take confirmation classes, but left the decision whether or not to be confirmed up to me. I enjoyed the people, but found the Bible and belief a load of hoo-ha that probably had as much chance of being real as the Wiccan spells I dabbled with as a last childish attempt to grasp at controlling the world around me. I never was confirmed, and from that point on operated as a 5 on Richard Dawkins‘ scale of belief enumerated in his book, The God Delusion.

Dawkins’ scale of the probability of the existence of god runs from 1 (strong theist) to 7 (strong atheist), both equally devoid of reason (as in, contrary evidence will not sway either party). A 5 believes the probability of a god is “lower than 50 per cent but not very low” (page 73). In other words, a 5 is an “agnostic but leaning towards atheism.”

I stopped giving religion much thought, aside from grumbling about the fundamentalists who threatened to encroach on the civil liberties of myself and those around me. My father read The God Delusion some time after 2008, according to his copy of the book, but otherwise I can’t place when it was that he read it. It was at a time when I had other things to worry about (starting college, for example), but I suspect that’s when he became an atheist. Now, some four or five years later, I have finished reading the book and can say, confidently, that I have changed to a 6. I believe that the probability of the existence of a personal God is “very low…but short of zero.” I am a “de facto atheist. ‘I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there'” (page 73).

As I am a mere point-and-shoot, here-and-there, hobby blogger, I will leave the rhetoric and explanations to the pros. Any response to atheism, from the more benign, “How are humans supposed to grieve if we agree that life after death is highly improbable?” to the more rancorous “Have fun burning in hell” can be found in Dawkins’ excellently written pages, and I will be happy to discuss the state of my mortal soul with anybody after they have read The God Delusion cover-to-cover.

So, if I’m not here to argue, why announce that I am an atheist on my blog, where I could (hopefully not will) incite the rancor of the Internet Pious? Perhaps because I feel so strongly about the beauty of the world. Science is an amazing field. We live in a world that is constantly changing around us. New discoveries abound daily, and as time passes we understand more about the world and its complexity. And, oh, how complex it is. We perch on a planet that orbits around a sun that sits on the arm of an unfathomably vast galaxy. And this galaxy is only one of estimated billions. What we know about everything around us, from neutrinos to the endlessness of space, is only a minuscule fraction of what there is to discover. Perhaps much of what we know is wrong. But why, in the face of all of this, why put a damper on science and say, “Stop it. Stop discovering things that contradict my beliefs. This was created and is managed by a humanoid superbeing, evidence for the existence of whom is severely lacking.” It is illogical and saddening.

So here we are, standing amid the vastness of the universe, and we thank Jesus for our ability to create and love and cook. What? No. This is humankind. This is the wonder of our species. Give yourself some credit. Give your neighbors some credit. We have nobody to thank but ourselves for our creations. I do what I do for myself and my loved ones. I relish in the beauty of the world around me because of the billions of years that have shaped it, atom by atom, grain of sand by grain of sand, and enjoy my place, however insignificant it may be in the ocean of time.

I will leave you with some wisdom from Dawkins himself and James Watson, who is credited, along with Francis Crick, for the discovery of the structure of DNA:

In my interview with Watson at Clare, I conscientiously put it to him that, unlike him and Crick, some people see no conflict between science and religion, because they claim science is what it is all for. Watson retorted: “Well I don’t think we’re for anything. We’re just products of evolution. You can say, ‘Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose.’ But I’m anticipating having a good lunch.” We did have a good lunch, too (page 126).’

So there you have it. I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of The God Delusion. It is not hostile or full of “atheist propaganda,” but rather rife with well-researched, well-presented, and well-supported arguments that will, if not change your mind, at least introduce a healthy dose of critical thinking into your life. Cheers to this wonderful universe…and have a good lunch.

Dawkins, R. (2008). The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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