What theists don’t understand about atheists


I so often find that people who reject “atheist materialism” seem convinced that scientists are engaged in a desperate effort avert their gaze from the evidence that would force them to confront the truth that they fear: that there is a God who will Judge Us. Often they seem remarkably impervious to evidence of the seriousness with which many atheists treated their religion, and the reluctance with which they rejected it. One of the things that has opened my eyes during internet discussions over the last few years is the number of atheists, including atheist scientists, who were actually committed YECs for many of their younger years.

And also interesting is the contempt they show for theists who have no problem with the investigations and provisional conclusions of science. One of the reason I started this site was to try to find some common ground – to make a space were those of us who accept scientific explanations of life and our origins to say what we do NOT think, as well as for those who do not, to similarly disabuse us of the prejudices we also can harbour (that ID proponents are all terrified of the idea of there being no “Sky Daddy”.

Anyway, making use of my reinstatement as persona grata at UD, I was pleased to find some small area of common ground with Barry Arrington, who posted a reply of his to me as an OP: Write this Day Down: Liddle and Arrington Agree (on Some Things at Least).  In the comments that followed, Axel posted:

Perhaps it was a marginal belief, part of the ‘package’ you had never given serious thought to.

Here is my somewhat wordy reply:

Perhaps it would comfort you to think so, Axel, and of course, there is no way that either you, nor I, could possibly know whether the thought I have given the questions was adequately “serious”.

Perhaps it was not.

However, let me give you a quick religious CV:

My first religious experience was at the age of about four. I was lying in the heather, on a still hot day, on Caldey Island, Pembrokeshire. I can date it fairly precisely because we stopped going to Tenby on holiday after I started school. The bees were humming in the thyme, and the Angelus bell (it must have been) started to chime, and the monks started singing. It seemed that everything fused into a single moment of intensity: the sun, the scent of the thyme and heather, the buzz of the bees, the bell, the chanting, the warmth of the sun. I felt at one with the universe. I never forgot it, and any pair of those sensations even now brings back the others, and that intense moment, with extraordinary presence.

I remained a very religious child, and sang in my local church choir up to the age of 11 when I went to Quaker boarding school. I wanted to become confirmed, but my parents (and my school) disapproved. Nonetheless, I went to confirmation classes anyway, but had to drop out of the ceremony. A couple of years later I became a Quaker, but still felt the call of that bell. After I left school, I became confirmed (CoE), again to my parents’ annoyance. My mother was a keen Quaker by that time, although she had always been drawn to the catholic church, as had I (those monks, that bell….) A few years later I met my husband who was a catholic. I did not convert for our wedding, although we had a catholic wedding – I wanted to know more first. The homily was given by a presbyterian minister, an old friend of the family, and we also had a short Quaker period of silence. A year later I joined the catholic church.

I was a regular mass attender for the following thirty plus years. I read quite a number of books on theology, and the church we went to in Oxford was Blackfriars Priory, full of Thomist scholars, whose homilies were the most amazing theological lectures. I later wrote a children’s book about Heaven which sold quite well, and was translated into several European languages.

My mother, interestingly, also joined the catholic church, shortly after I did, and was at one time on the panel for interviewing prospective Jesuit priests. She wrote on medical ethics, and we had long discussions about it.

That may not be “serious” enough for you, Axel, but I hope it is enough to put to bed the notion that anyone who “deconverts” from theism just hasn’t given it “serious thought”. Like many atheists, I have given it extremely serious thought, and gave up my old faith with extreme reluctance.

The idea that atheist/materialists are desperately trying to avoid difficult questions is simply false. They often reach their position as a result of refusing to avoid the difficult questions they find their faith raises and to which their faith provides no answers.

One reason I post here (and why I started my own site) is because I think there is deep misunderstanding, and indeed, prejudice, on both sides of the ID divide.

I hope these posts of mine (as well as the ones others have posted recently, for example, keiths) have done something to bridge that divide. I am certainly grateful for Barry for finding some common ground.

I’d like us to find more.

I’d be interested in other people’s experiences prior to their current state of faith or non-faith.

(edited typos h/t hotshoe)


46 thoughts on “What theists don’t understand about atheists

  1. I can’t remember anything like a religious experience or being anything other than an atheist. Three years doing philosophy at Cambridge provided the intellectual foundation to go with it and then I just got on with life.

  2. But it is far more convincing if you have tried it and then changed your mind.

  3. I grew up in a churchgoing home and was confirmed. As an adult I sang in a choir for ten years without joining a church. Did that entirely because I love music.

    I would say I have had numerous mystical experiences, including one during twilight sleep during surgery. No specific content. Just feelings of oneness, or whatever. I understand and sympathise with this, but have no interest in dogma. Doesn’t make any sense.

  4. One of my formative experiences is sitting as a ten year old at the dinner table with tears in my eyes because my parents were going to Hell. There is nothing frivolous about that. It was horrible, and the depth of the emotion must have been such that it is one of my most vivid childhood memories.

    I realised over the next few days that this could not be right, as my parents were not bad people; they did not deserve damnation. Someone had invented an awful lie.

  5. What theists don’t understand about atheists

    Just about everything.

    I was a theist from somewhere around 11-12 until age 23. I was in an evangelical church, though I was never a fundie. I was also very much into science at the same time, and my interest in science continues.

    I don’t recall that I ever had ridiculous ideas about atheists. People who were not into religion just seemed to be perfectly normal people who didn’t believe “the good news.”

    I think I always had some doubt about the religion. So I did spend a lot of time reading the Bible (the best book ever for convincing people to become atheists). And the doubt grew till the point where I could no longer ignore it.

    Here’s my suspicion: Deep down, theists are filled with doubt. They know that there is no supporting evidence for their beliefs, and if their beliefs are wrong then they are being completely irrational. I think that they come up with arguments for YEC creationism and for ID in an attempt to quell their own doubts. I suspect that they adopt these mythical views of atheists to help them develop a fear of becoming an atheist themselves.

  6. Often they see remarkably impervious to evidence seriousness with which many atheists treated their religion, and the reluctance with which they rejected it

    I’m pretty sure you mean to say “…seem… of the seriousness”

  7. I think some people consider belief against evidence gers you bonus points. I think you can find bible passages to support this view.

    My early rebellion was not against theology or philosophy or factual errors, but agsinst the personality of the old testment god. Didn’t want any part of him.

  8. I don’t recall ever believing in God, even as a child, and it seemed evident to me by my 20s that the major religious narratives are puny human contrivances relative to the reality limned by the last several hundred years of science. The cultural mediocrity and disconnect from reality that has often characterized U.S. evangelical Christianity over the last 40 years hasn’t helped. I have had at least one “oceanic” experience and did meditate for many years, although the modest resulting epiphanies all point to the fact that we are souls made of bodies – each a tower of matter/energy and subjectivity that reflects many tiers of history – that do not persist beyond death. I’m OK with that – my non-existence for 13.7 billion years prior to my conception wasn’t a problem.

  9. I went to a catholic primary school because it was the best in the area (neither I nor my family are catholic) the closest I got to being religious was once when some kid at school aske due what religion I was as I was not a catholic, I asked my mum and she said CofE so I went back to that kid and said I was CofE. I never really took it on board though and have been effectively agnostic/atheist/apatheist as long as I have been able to make meaningful choices.

    Interesting about the connection with nature. I get that but have never associated it with religion. I guess chimps don’t either when they have their moments.


  10. I guess it was the bells and the monks, and possibly some quasi migraine-aura.

    It is so clear to me, though – the feeling of being at one with the tiny – ness of the bees and the vastness of the sky.

    I wanted to be an astronomer all through my primary school years – I just used to love looking at the night sky and thinking in awe that I was looking at infinity. So it got associated with science too, that wonder.

  11. There is something about bees. I think it is the hive mind. I can watch bees for hours.

  12. Yes, I had that same horrible feeling about friends who weren’t believers, or who believed the wrong things (according to my church, which of course was absolutely correct).

    I also worried that my own belief wasn’t authentic, and that if I died in a state of even temporary unbelief, I would go straight to hell.

    To plant such ideas in a child’s mind is a terrible thing to do.

  13. I grew up religious; my mom used to read us Jesus stories while we sat on her lap. I got “saved” at age 12, and was insufferably self-righteous for the next year or two. As my growing perception of science and nature gradually made my fundamentalism untenable, I kept searching more and more for “gaps” to stick my belief into. I eventually settled on quantum uncertainty. That finally ended when I came to realize that belief shouldn’t be an effort to maintain, it should be something the derives naturally from knowledge. But knowledge was constantly undermining every shelter I built for my belief.

    That’s one reason excuses like William J Murray’s tend to annoy me — I know them too well. I was using them myself. This “I can believe whatever I want, regardless of the facts” approach leads only to deeper and deeper levels of denial, until you may as well be on drugs all the time.

    But what really put the final nail in the coffin of religion for me was the study of religion itself: the tight coupling between different cultures and different religions, the variety of belief systems and the insistence by their adherents in the truth of each one. I realized that there are an infinite number of possible religious systems, with an infinite number of competing claims, and if all but one of them are wrong, we are always more likely to adopt the wrong one than the right one. And then the realization struck that there need not be [i]any[/i] right one, and that belief itself at any level is merely another of many human conceits.

    I’ve been much happier since, although arguably still just as insufferably self-righteous.

  14. Pick me! Pick me! I want to testify! Well, no actually.

    It seems to me that personal experience of something “transcendental”, or at least the continuing desire to experience it, is essential to maintaining a religious belief.

    That is not to say that transcendental experiences need necessarily be interpreted religiously, but simply that religions require that interpretation.

    An evidence-based approach to understanding life does not.

  15. I don’t think transcendental experience plays much part in organized religion. Tribalism is more important.

    Also, for an American fundamentalist to give up religion means giving up friends and family.

  16. I recall reading something I’m sure Lizzie can explain in much more detail. But anyway, there was a study where ex-smokers and never-smokers were shown a video of someone lighting up a cigarette. And even though all of the ex-smokers had quit for at least 10 years, when they watched this video parts of their brains just lit up like Christmas trees. The never-smokers showed no such pattern.

    I would guess that atheists fall into these two categories – those for whom religious faith has never made any sense, and those who were once immersed in it and fought their way out. I tend to view belief in gods as analogous to infant neck-stretching or foot-binding. These patterns are not reversible. Later in life, their victims may sincerely regret (rather than glory in) what was done unto them, and in that sense might be considered converts. But the damage is done.

  17. My parents were not church-goers. My dad had been, as a young man, but once said his experience on a ward of congenital syphilitics had a marked effect on him, in the context of ‘the sins of the fathers’. But he told me this when I too was grown-up; as a child, we were turned neither towards nor against religion.

    But I went to a Church of England school, like most English kids, and had a perfectly adequate opportunity to let religion in. But it never spoke to me. I coloured in the Bible stories according to the season, but they never felt more than stories.

    I recall a student teacher asking in Year 6 for a show of hands on belief, and fully a quarter of us went for the negative. People have expressed horror that a teacher should ask such a personal question, but it did not seem untoward. Religion and atheism in the the UK have a reasonably peaceful co-existence. My neighbour is a churchwarden, her husband an atheist. My wife is a New-Agey crystal-wielder; my daughter has just announced she has started attending a church, while I regard all superstition as tosh. But we get along. I number both believers and non-believers among my friends, and you would be hard-pressed to tell the one from the other in terms of their qualities as people and as friends.

    I have certainly given it a lot of thought, then and since, not because I feel anything is at stake, but because I like to know ‘the truth’, as far as it is possible to know it. How does the universe work? I like to know the answer to factual questions. Which curiosity is also what drew me to science. Science is not a way of shoring up my atheism; it is simply … interesting. Equally interesting is the deep hold which religious belief has upon the mind of the believer. I know people accuse scientists of having a religious faith, but the comparison is hardly symmetrical. Faith (in its mild form: confidence) in this or that paradigm can readily be shaken by experimentation and persuasive argumentation. But as we see particularly amongst the YECs who try and argue on the science, there is NOTHING – no evidence, no argument, no logic – that appears capable of denting this faith. It is almost as if that very stubbornness is expected to bring a Reward. I consider myself constitutionally incapable of adopting such a position – not just because of what I know, but because of my attitude to authority, in all its manifestations. Even scientific authorities need to convince.

  18. I think there’s a huge difference between the UK and the US (and even Canada) in this regard. Most people I know are not regular church-goers, and religion is largely “invisible” in most social interactions. People who are church-goers usually don’t bring it up much.

    Denominational schools make it a little more visible, but even there, now there are quotas, I think it’s becoming more invisible again. The irony is that our very lack of church-state separation seems to promote this. Because we are sort of all nominal CoE (in England anyway), nobody really has to think about it much, and because religious education is compulsory in schools, everyone is careful not to proselytise. The “daily act of worship” has pretty well mostly been football results and swimming trophies for decades, even at “faith” schools, in my experience.

    A very British solution.

  19. I’d scrap it in a heartbeat though. It doesn’t sit well with me that religious leaders have seats in the upper house and are numerous on government led social policy committees.

  20. davehooke:
    I’d scrap it in a heartbeat though. It doesn’t sit well with me that religious leaders have seats in the upper house and are numerous ongovernment led social policy committees.

    Yes, me too. But there is something weirdly successful about the British constitution. I put it down to the power of random variance +natural selection over design.

    I wrote a piece about it for Daily Kos once:
    A short guide ot the British constitution and electoral system

  21. keiths:
    Yes, I had that same horrible feeling about friends who weren’t believers, or who believed the wrong things (according to my church, which of course was absolutely correct).

    I also worried that my own belief wasn’t authentic, and that if I died in a state of even temporary unbelief, I would go straight to hell.

    To plant such ideas in a child’s mind is a terrible thing to do.

    And you don’t even need to plant them. They grow like weeds blown over from next door. I raised my son with exemplary liberal theology. I even wrote a book for him:

    Pip and the Edge of Heaven

    But he still ended up terrified of hell, having learned about it from fundies on the internet.

    He is now an atheist, and a lovely lad.

  22. At least when religious leaders are in these positions, it is explicit that they are representing their religion. Compare that to the US where anti-abortion laws and other fundamentally religious laws are pushed through all the time, and people run on effectively religious platforms, despite the separation between church and state. The amount of religiously motivated laws in the US far exceeds the UK, even though we have Bishops in the Lords.

  23. I’m another brought up in that uniquely British, vaguely Church of England, environment – Sunday School, Cubs, Boy Scouts, and Crusaders (a curious mix of Bible class and boy scout activities).

    In the end, as someone remarked above, religion never really spoke to me, although I believe I was genuinely open-minded about it.

    Even before I started working in and with science I found religion unconvincing. Learning to use my brain just confirmed the thought that religion was hollow to me.

    (It has only been during the last decade or so that I even realised that there were such odd beings as YECs – I still have difficulty regarding YECism as anything but very silly indeed).
    I’m proud to say that my three sons, having been to a CofE primary school, (and a state comprehensive which went downhill rather badly during their time there), are solid atheists, as well as being graduates of good universities; but better still, are decent, kindly, compassionate lads to boot. Not only that but all their friends-and they have many – can be so categorised (except one girl – an American!) – which gives me comfort as to the future of our country.

  24. To be honest, I didn’t even realise cubs and scouts was strongly linked with Christianity until I heard Americans talk about it. All we used to do was go along to the church for St George’s Day parade once a year.

  25. It’s interesting to hear from the UK contingent. Your experiences jibe with mine as an expat in Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. While ostensibly having an official religion, the day-to-day impact on one’s life was far less than what I’ve experienced in most places in the US. I suspect that lies behind Lizzie’s ability to give the intelligent design creationists so much benefit of the doubt. For someone raised in an environment where religion is relatively innocuous, it’s hard to imagine what rabid true believers are really like.

    Then again, she’s probably just a much nicer person than I am.

    To directly answer the question posed in the original post, I think the one thing that theists have trouble understanding is that atheism means lack of belief, not positive belief in the non-existence of gods. The “bald is not a hair color” explanation just seems to slide off their brains.

    This is related to another issue that theists often don’t understand: Most atheists, including myself, don’t spend a lot of time thinking about their lack of belief. Certainly there is a lot of time spent coming to terms with one’s atheism if one is coming from a position of belief, but unless I’m arguing on the ‘net, I no longer focus on it. It’s not how I define myself, whereas religion seems to be part of their personal identity for many theists.

  26. My scout troop met in a church building, as did most. On weekend camping trips the leaders provided transportation to church fo anyone who wanted it. The majority did not. That was pretty much the extent of religious presence.

    At age twelve, shortly after confirmation, I found a “Made Simple” book on religion. These books were a precursor to the For Dummies books. Basically college outlines, in this case, intro to comparative religion. I read through it the way you might read a catalog. I decided I was a pantheist.

    I did worry a bit for several years that I was rejecting a family tradition, but my family never applied any pressure except to conform to the public ceremony aspect of religion.

  27. I do take issue with one point in Lizzie’s original post.

    . . . to similarly disabuse us of the prejudices we also can harbour (that ID proponents are all terrified of the idea of there being no “Sky Daddy”.

    While I wouldn’t have phrased it that way, I don’t think it’s a prejudice to recognize that the vast majority of intelligent design creationists are fundamentalist evangelical Christians who are, in fact, so committed to their belief in a “Sky Daddy” that no amount of evidence or reasoning is likely to ever cause them to change their views. I’ve quoted Swift here before: “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.”

    It is also not a prejudice to note that the Discovery Institute, the organization providing fellowships and other financial support to intelligent design creationists, is funded by Howard Ahmanson Jr., a Dominionist who openly states “My goal is the total integration of biblical law into our lives.”

    Post Dover the intelligent design creationism movement has lost its momentum. There’s no science to attract the non-fundamentalists and the “don’t ask don’t tell about Jesus” dissembling isn’t appealing to the people in the pews. Make no mistake, though — were it in their power, the intelligent design creationists would be a threat to science education specifically and secular society generally.

  28. Patrick: I do take issue with one point in Lizzie’s original post.

    Ah, I do love a fight 🙂

    While I would agree that fear of losing something that feels like it is key to all purpose in life is almost certainly a contributor to some of the difficulty, I do (and always have) disagreed with this:

    It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into

    although I didn’t know it was Swift!

    I think it is simply wrong. It’s perfectly possible to reason a man (actually, maybe not, come to think of it, but certainly a woman….) out of a thing s/he was never reasoned into, indeed I’d say that its fundamental part of our cognitive development. We all start off with all kinds of beliefs that we did not reason ourselves into – they just seemed kinda obvious, or we were told they were true by someone we thought was infallible.

    And gradually we find ourselves saying (or someone says to us, and we get it): hang on, X can’t be true, because if it was, Y doesn’t make sense.

    Like how can one Santa Claus possibly get round all the children in the world in one night? And how can get down the chimney when we have a gas flue?

    But I don’t deny there’s a socio-political agenda there – that much is obvious. I just don’t think it’s necessarily shared by all the ID proponents. I think that people like Behe for instance, honestly thinks he’s right. And Sanford probably. tbh I’m not sure about Dembski.

  29. Lizzie: Ah, I do love a fight

    I’m terribly sorry, I can only offer a polite disagreement. 😉

    While I would agree that fear of losing something that feels like it is key to all purpose in life is almost certainly a contributor to some of the difficulty, I do (and always have) disagreed with this:

    It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into

    although I didn’t know it was Swift!

    I think it is simply wrong.It’s perfectly possible to reason a man (actually, maybe not, come to think of it, but certainly a woman….)

    My wife approves of your parenthetical clarification.

    out of a thing s/he was never reasoned into, indeed I’d say that its fundamental part of our cognitive development.We all start off with all kinds of beliefs that we did not reason ourselves into – they just seemed kinda obvious, or we were told they were true by someone we thought was infallible.

    And gradually we find ourselves saying (or someone says to us, and we get it): hang on, X can’t be true, because if it was, Y doesn’t make sense.

    I agree that it can happen, but in the case of creationists, including the intelligent design subspecies, it is the rare exception. The vast majority are born, live, and die in the same (or very similar) church and culture and will never question the tenets of their faith.

    But I don’t deny there’s a socio-political agenda there – that much is obvious.I just don’t think it’s necessarily shared by all the ID proponents.I think that people like Behe for instance, honestly thinks he’s right.And Sanford probably.tbh I’m not sure about Dembski.

    It appears that Sewell also believes what he is saying about the second law as well. He can only maintain that belief if he refuses to perform a dimensional analysis on his equations, though, so I don’t know that I’d count it as honest.

    My core point was that understanding the religious nature of intelligent design creationism and recognizing the empirical fact that most IDCists do not support it for scientific reasons is not a prejudice. We can speculate ad nauseam about the psychological reasons why they hold so tightly to demonstrably irrational beliefs, but it is a fact that they do so and it is a fact that IDC as a movement is a potential threat to science education and secular values.

  30. although I didn’t know it was Swift!

    Well, it’s attributed to Swift, but I can’t find any citation of where he wrote it or of someone quoting him as saying it.

    I think that people like Behe for instance, honestly thinks he’s right.And Sanford probably.tbh I’m not sure about Dembski.

    My impression from corresponding with him was that Sanford does think he’s right, and was even somewhat baffled that I disagreed with his premise. Perhaps it would have helped if he’d discussed his ideas with a real population geneticist or two before investing in them so heavily; perhaps not.

  31. I don’t have a good label for my views. I suppose “spiritual non-theist” does pretty well, most days.

    The term that best fits my views is “anti-clericalism,” which has (unfortunately) fallen into disuse. That is, my primary reason for opposing “religion” has to do with the kind of unquestionable authority that religious figures abrogate to themselves about matters of public concern, esp. the ethics of sexual behavior.

    I certainly do not think that the existence of “God”, or the existence of anything like God, can be either (a) proven or disproven by argument or (b) confirmed or disconfirmed by evidence. In fact, I’m fairly critical of rationalistic or intellectualistic treatments of experience in general and of spiritual experience in particular.

    That said, I have no criticisms for those people who find in theism a vocabulary for expressing their spiritual experiences. I chose not to use that vocabulary, partly out of solidarity with my LGBT friends and acquaintances who have had violence against them legitimized by that vocabulary.

  32. I was never particularly deeply religious myself, though being raised protestant christian in Denmark by my mother. Though very liberal christian and I always had doubts (in fact, I still remember asking my mother when I was 5 years old, the first time she told me about god, “where is god?”, and she kinda tried to impart the idea tha god is everywhere yet can’t be seen, which just felt wrong to me. That feeling just never left), so I can’t say I know what it’s like to have my entire worldview destroyed and replaced by “atheism”, since god never had much of a role in my life.
    It was always a sort of placeholder idea, a sort of persona I took on who’s views I could explore and ponder when I faced deep questions about existence.

    I didn’t read the bible through until I was about 25, though I had it read to me a couple of times during childhood, and I tried to pick it up a few times in my teens but just got too bored and couldn’t read more than a few pages.
    The thing is that I absolutely couldn’t reconcile the bible with what I knew from science. My grandfather, being an amateur astronomer and generally interested in science and philosophy, had already at age 5 introduced me to astronomy. I still remember coming home to my grandparents from school and my grandfather giving me the latest astronomy magazine he subscribed to. There it was, full of pictures of distant stars, globular clusters, galaxies, colossal nebulae etc. etc.
    Those pictures, and the immensities of the distances and time just blew my mind. Earth, mankind, our feeble minds just seemed to utterly provincial in comparison. The contemplation of the times and distances involved I simply could not reconcile with christian theism. Of course, later came understanding the contemporary hypotheses for solar system and star formation, and later still I was introduced to books on Dinosaurs and fossils etc. etc. Again this provided a deep challenge to the biblical narrative on origins. I couldn’t square the two, and it always felt wrong to me to try and “bend” them so they fit. The bible said what it said, science said something else. I slowly just let christianity go.

    I kinda fiddled around with the idea of some kind of “higher power”/supreme intelligence from around 16 until 25. Which was basically one long period of doubt and reflection that just grew ever stronger and more present in my mind as I kept pondering questions on the “purpose” of existence, morality and ethics, the origin of life and the universe.

    Again my grandfather turns out to have had a significant influence on me. He recently died at the age of 87, and I’m now 32. Helping my dad empty his house I found myself rummaging through many of those old magazines and books I remember being shown for the first time as a child. It is a strange feeling to be told by my dad and his brother (my uncle) how my grandfather used to wrestle a lot with the concept of religious faith, trying to reconcile his understanding of science, physics and astronomy with the idea of god/higher power.
    They told me he used to read Spinoza, Kant, Leibniz and Kierkegaard together with a host of scientists like Bohr and Einstein (and a number of now dead Danish theologians and contemporary philosophers).
    I have inherited some of his old books on the specific subjects of religious faith and philosophy. Old Danish books about the debate on religion, science and philosophy. With titles like (translated from Danish) “Realization or Romance?” and “On a globe that fears the dark”, “mankind and the universe” and so on.

    So it seems I kind of grew up with an internal debate that I now understand mirrors one my grandfather went through too. I would certainly welcome the opportunity to get to speak to him about it again, having only recently discovered how immersed he was in this debate himself. He certainly managed to keep it somewhat privately, never really mentioning religion or the debate surrounding it, at least to me, explicitly. He always just stuck to the science while occasionally throwing in a few philosophical questions (without trying to answer them). This of course left me wondering, and I still do to this day.

    Alas, he is now gone and I miss him. Let me assure any thinking person that I don’t fear any “responsibility” that comes with a theistic worldview. But having lived most of my life with the debate and having doubts, and now finding myself on the internet, this incredible, unmoderated sea of facts, debates and opinions, I simply do not believe. I took the questions very seriously and my conclusion is the case for theism is profoundly unconvincing, however emotionally appealing versions of it may be. I’m an atheist because, after almost 25 years of internal debate, religion lost. Badly.

    Enough about me:
    For a really eye-opening story about someone who went through the really earthshattering transition, completely changing everything in his life, I highly recommend this playlist series:

    Evid3nc3 wrote:
    Why I am no longer a Christian

    I explain my life as a born-again Christian, my deconversion, and my life as an atheist.

    In the deconversion section, I show how evidence, reason, and experiences related to prayer, morality, deconverted Christians, the Bible, and my relationship with God Himself all lead to my eventual inability to believe anymore.

  33. I used to quite religious. I grew up in a split household. My mother is a devoted (though evolving…heh!) Episcopalian and my sister is a slightly more conservative believer. My sister’s vocation is as a biblical scholar, so is suspect a that has a great impact on her more conservative approach. My father and brother (the brother I grew up with anyway…long story) are both agnostic however. Still, the Christian perspective and tenets appealed to me when I was younger. My mother represented everything I really found attractive about Christianity, which is why I think I gravitated to it so strongly when I was younger. And, truth be told, I liked our church back then. The folks in it were fairly liberal and their approach to life seemed to lean more at using the bible to improve their own behavior and lives, not as a tool to judge others.

    I think my faith began to wear somewhere right around my third kidney transplant. During my first two and other related medical activities, I relied heavily upon my faith to help me deal with the physical and emotional weight, but when the third transplant rolled around I think it dawned on me that there was something decidedly absurd relying on both God and a surgical team. I mean, if God were going to intervene and help me, why would He stop at merely providing emotional support and wisdom? Clearly He could perform a transplant far better than any human. Come to think of it, if He was really all about my well-being, why the hell was I having a third transplant anyway? And let’s face it, if you’ve spent any time in hospitals with any kind of serious condition like I have, you learn really fast where you sit statistically against the rest of the population with said serious condition. At the time I had my third transplant, there were very few other folks who’d had that many, and of those who had, most did not make it very long. It seemed to me an odd waste for a God who could supposedly do anything. The whole idea of this Christian God began to unravel for me then.

    I think the nail in the coffin for my Christianity though came when I discovered these sorts of discussions and in particular the Christian fundamentalist mindset. Their proclamations and literal approach to the bible were just inane, but the kicker was that inanity provided a clear understanding of the underlying problem I had with many versions of liberal Christianity – the rationalizations required to uphold certain stories of the bible as literally true.

    I still hold the the bible is a good guidebook for one’s own self-improvement, providing that one take the bible as wholly metaphorical. Without that, it has no power or magic to me.

  34. I gave up Christianity out of a sense of moral outrage and an arrogant sense of intellectual superiority.

    I gave up other theisms I tried out because they didn’t make much internal sense, logically speaking, even though they were, IMO, aesthetically and emotionally more appealing than my childhood and young adult conceptualization of Christianity.

    I gave up atheism because I realized I wanted to believe in God, just not the kind of God I had conceptualized as a child growing up. Even if atheism was true, there was certainly no penalty for me believing in God if I wanted to. So becoming a theist was win-win with no downside to it, even if it wasn’t/isn’t true.

  35. I have some sympathy with that, William. It’s not a million miles from my own position, I guess.

    (Maybe a few thousand though….)

    Anyway, thanks, for that!

  36. “becoming a theist was win-win with no downside to it, even if it wasn’t/isn’t true.” http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/?p=2846&cpage=1#comment-26851

    After your “I gave up” trio (including atheism and theisms!), what then do you now call yourself then? Do you first define yourself by what you are not rather than by what you are?

    Is “solidarity with my LGBT friends and acquaintances” (claiming vocabulary ‘violence’) your explanation too?

  37. I’m a theist, Gregory. I put together my own stripped-down theism that avoids the logical inconsistencies and what I found to be superfluous characterizations found in other theisms.

    I have no idea what you mean by your last line.

  38. Heads you win, tails I lose. Anyone want to play?

    “People possessing the functions that religion provides are likely to adopt atheism, people lacking these very functions (e.g., the poor, the helpless) are likely to adopt theism,” the researchers wrote.


    “greeted by Christian country music blasted from passing cars”?!

    What does “Christian country music” mean; Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, etc.? I guess it could have been “Christian rap music” like
    this version2 or version1

    “I ain’t here to convert atheists into believers.” – Kanye West

    Such ‘studies’ validate the prescient words an astrophysicist in Russia once told me: Russia is a post-atheist nation, while the USA is pre-atheist. It goes around and comes around, just like Woland in “The Master and Margarita”.

  39. What does “Christian country music” mean;

    I’m guessing ya’ll ain’t from around here.

  40. I didn’t believe there were still religious people that had access to roads and telephones until I was in college and it about blew my mind. I grew up far out in the mountains and there were a few churches within the 40 or so miles around but I only knew two families who went and they weren’t exactly the ones who exemplified understanding but they were nice.

    Then college happened and I was forced to realize that fundies existed. Then I graduated and started life. The religious people disappeared except for the televangelists who did bad things era. That gave way to the Clinton era and religion mostly disappeared from my field of view. Then Bush the lesser was elected, 9-11 happened, then Dover and I ended up with a huge chip on my shoulder. I think I saw it as basically religion vs. science since the only religion I encountered was the fundy variety and the only science I encountered was my whole life being steeped in it from the cradle through college. Religious people, I thought, were just ignorant and ignorance is curable. But I also saw them as dangerous because they uniquely might hear a voice telling them to kill someone they didn’t like and legitimately believe it was god.

    Anyway, then I met a seriously fundy guy online who offered to do a formal debate with me on, of all things, dendrochronology. I wanted to help him see his error. I wanted him to evangelize the opposite message to his people. I wanted him to carry education out into the fields and begin the mass deconversion necessary to keep fundies from killing people and proposing and even sometimes passing laws. I wanted nothing short of his total submission to the rules of science I think.

    To do that, I had to explain the philosophy of science in layman’s terms. It took quite a while to do it but I did a reasonably good job. During the process of trying to figure out how to reach him, how to place the dissonance squarely in front of him so it couldn’t be ignored. (sounds ridiculous but it’s true) I had to really consider what was in his way. I had to explain the way of thinking that he was missing. In doing that, I considered that way of thinking from a totally new vantage point.

    I came out of that debate with a different attitude. I totally failed to convince him. I failed to even help him see a single one of his inconsistencies. It wasn’t because they weren’t there. He contradicted himself all over the place. It was typical creationist flood stuff. Invent and deny. I pointed it out. He ignored it. But I aimed at the whole edifice of creationism. I didn’t just cut at his beliefs, I cut at the foundation of his beliefs. I cut at the leaders of his movement. I cut at the truths which supported his world. And I explained science. I gave him something to replace those old truths which were so clearly wrong.

    My final post was a very thoughtful summary. I mean, I put a lot of thought into it. I explained my motivations, summarized the arguments I had made, cast some mild judgments at specific ‘creation scientists’ and creation science in general and then tried to apologize for any pain I might have caused in my effort to destroy his world view/. Putting myself in that position was just foreign to me because I really hadn’t known any religious people. Or, not openly religious anyway. I still sort of haven’t. A few acquaintances but I live in the pacific northwest where religion isn’t very common. To the point of mythological almost. But in doing that, I was able to see him as a human which is funny because I have never met the guy in real life. The only xian I ever knew as an xian and I have never communicated in any other way than through text and the internet with him.

    It took a few months but I felt on the verge of some sort of big understanding for the whole time. Then, I had what can only be called a spiritual experience. Nothing supernatural. It was an idea. More of a lens which completely and totally reorganized my entire set of mental constructs according to an actually different set of axioms. It was a very physical experience. I know what it feels like to ‘be saved’ and I know what is happening. All the information in your mind, all the ways you access the information accessible via thought, in a sort of cascading process which renders all else but attention to the process impossible, all that information is rewired in with the new axiom at its center.

    In being saved, everything you know is suddenly explained differently. It still amounts to roughly the same thing but it now has the explanation “god caused this” at its center. It is so powerful of an experience that it is almost impossible to undo. I am absolutely certain of a whole multitude of things which previously i had never even guessed at. And, so far, I still think I am right. Which is weird and makes me check myself for mental illness or other problems occasionally. But it isn’t mysterious and it is actually pretty easy to doublecheck my assertions and assumptions because I know that they should be suspect.

    But it was huge. And I realized that what I had done, what I had wanted to do, was the exact mirror of what I wanted religious wingnuts not to do. And I realized that science isn’t a replacement for god at all. Or rather, that there is still something left when you replace everything possible in religion with what can be gleaned from science.

    So I became religious in a sense. Not to any particular religion but my worldview is decidedly bigger than it was. It includes everything prior but also transcends it in some ways. I utterly understand what both Buddha and Jesus were saying. At least I believe I do. And I also think science will get us to that realization if we survive the attempt because it is a process of eliminating hypotheses which fail until one manages to not fail. And I know that sounds crazy. But I keep being right when I make predictions. Which is even crazier because I’m notoriously incoherent. That is probably the strangest mix of a blessing and a curse I can imagine. But there it is. Total enlightenment for maybe an hour or two and then a total transformation afterward. It required supreme concentration to stay in the enlightened mode and I just don’t have the sort of drive to do it for sustained periods but there is no real need. My model changed. I know exactly what axioms were rewritten and I know exactly what the difference is in outlook. The benefit of ‘getting’ the message is only peace. It doesn’t get me laid more or make me rich. Just happy. Not very useful by a lot of people’s standards but I’ll take it.

    So anyway, I guess that makes me a bona fide nutcase. But I’m a happy nutcase and that seems worth it to me.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.