Monday, December 3, 2007


Reproduced here with permission from Mr. Earle

Why I Am An Atheist
by Allen Earle

This is a work in progress. It may well change over time.

“How can you be an atheist?” That’s the question I am most often asked when I’m discussing my non-religious views with religious acquaintances. This is usually followed up with some variation on, “how do you know right from wrong if you don’t believe in god?” Another frequent question is, “where do you go for help when it’s all too much?”

And yet, to answer the question, “why am I an atheist,” seems to presuppose that I had some choice in the matter. That, for the record, is simply not true. William James and Pascal’s Wager aside, one cannot really will oneself to believe. One either does or one does not. Certainly one can pretend (lots of church-goers do that), but at the core of one’s being, what one believes about god does not feel as if it’s a matter dependent upon the will. Not if one is honest.

So the real answer, the only one that actually answers the question “why am I an atheist,” seems to be, “because that’s the way I’m made.” This is hardly a satisfying answer, of course, and doesn’t seem to answer the question that is so often asked. The intent of that question, if I understand it correctly, is rather more “how is it possible you gave up god?”

I Did Not Give Up God
I cannot recall a time, ever in my life, when I believed in a god, a soul that survived my body, or a “spirit realm” called either heaven or hell. I was certainly told about all of those things, of course – along with Santa and the Tooth Fairy – but I simply and quite honestly thought it all equally silly nonsense for kids. The Tooth Fairy and Santa didn’t take long to dispense with, as I’m sure it doesn’t for most kids, but it seems as if, somehow, I just applied the same kind of thinking to god.

I went to Sunday School and heard the Bible stories specially prepared for children. I was told that “Jesus loves me,” though nobody else at the time seemed to, and that “god sees the little sparrow fall.” I noticed, though, that god didn’t hold out a single deified digit to prevent that fall. Then I checked out those Sunday school stories – I read the book (yes, that book, the Bible), from beginning to end, before I was 11 years old.

What horrors I found there! And what nonsense!

Now, as it happens, I was also a big fan of National Geographic (the only place I could see naked bodies back then), and everything I could find on dinosaurs and as much science as I could understand. The Bible didn’t come close to being as believable as any of my other reading material. The god I found there was not, most assuredly not, the god I heard about in Sunday school.

What Did Other People Believe
And then, I discovered (perhaps I should say intuited) quite early on that most of the people around me who thought of themselves as believers – and who were supposed to be my role models in religious belief – didn’t seem believe much either. Or rather, I should say that they may (I couldn’t tell) have held some belief about the existence of god, but they most assuredly did not give much evidence of believing any of the Christian dogma that I was learning about.

“What an astonishing statement,” I hear you say. “How can you possibly know what somebody believes or doesn’t believe?”

Well, I know that people “believe in” gravity when I see them step back from the edge of the precipice, or that fire burns as they quickly draw their hand back from the little explosion in the fireplace. Their actions give them away. I know that people believe that they actually have a chance at winning the lottery, else they wouldn’t buy a ticket, which given the actual odds is pretty much exactly like tossing your two dollars into that precipice. Beliefs inform actions. Where the action is inconsistent with a stated belief, I must assume that the action is informed by some other belief, unknown to me and perhaps even to the person performing the action. But what I do know is that the claimed belief cannot be strongly held internally, or it would prevent the action that is inconsistent with it.

Let me provide a couple of examples.

There is wildly inconsistent use of Bible texts. Leviticus is used to label gay people as sinners worthy of death (or at least hell, perhaps), but seems remarkably ineffective in getting its message about the evils of pork chops, bacon and shrimp out to the masses. I for one (and I knew I was gay before I was ten) couldn’t see why one verse was dutifully adhered to, to my cost, while others right around it were studiously ignored. That seemed to have a whole lot less to do with believing anything at all about god, and was more reflective of personal tastes. In other words, hypocrisy.

And I was told that faith, not good works, was needed to please god. Except, of course, when it was good works, not faith. I decided early on that good works couldn’t be what people believed guaranteed entry into heaven, because those works were in remarkably short supply. And, of course, it doesn’t take much actual observation of people to see how routinely the commandments are broken. I saw a graven image in practically every church I was in, but if you’re going to flout a commandment, I suppose church is the place to do it.

Every believer seems more concerned about his own soul, its disposition after death, then about the condition of his fellow humans who are still alive. The Bible is chock-a-block with prohibitions and "though-shalt-nots," but how much better than “don’t get your hands dirty” might be the enjoinder to soil them dreadfully helping those in need?

And sex! Don’t even get me started on the religious view (at least the Christian one I grew up with) of sex. (Yet, as a science reader I knew that sexual reproduction was only one of the options god had open to him. Nature, however, needed sexual reproduction as the surest route to evolution and the continuation of life through changing conditions.)

It Started with My Upbringing
I was a battered child. Through all the torture of my growing up, I bore the pain and scars. Those who inflicted them went scot-free. I paraphrase David Hume in saying, if god could have prevented my pain but didn’t, then he shares the blame. If he wanted to help me, but couldn’t, then he was weaker than those who were hurting me, so I’d be better off bowing down before them than god. It was certainly clear to me that god was not simultaneously interested in and capable of my protection, or else I would not have been so horrible hurt.

And nothing I found, either in the Bible or in church, answered my questions about why that should be so.

And then I began to see that the world – supposedly the work and pride and joy of a loving god – while often beautiful, awe-inspiring, grand and mysterious, was also a world of unspeakable horror, visited without rhyme or reason upon the just and unjust alike, as were all its many pleasures. And I wondered how it was possible to lay all of the beauty – yet none of the horror – to god’s account. And there were no answers.

Ah, but then I was told about Satan! The Devil, eager to cart everybody’s soul off to Hell, which would be permitted for eternity for quite finite (often mild) indiscretions. Poppycock! Balderdash! Rubbish!

If god is omnipotent, then Satan must be nothing by comparison. Infinity is infinitely greater than anything finite. Therefore, Satan could hold no sway – there cannot be two omnipotent entities in a single universe – by definition – since both would be unable to best the other – a clear failure in the definition of omnipotence. Thus, if god exists and moves in the world, then he’s responsible for it all, including how ludicrously unfair it is.

Such a god, when I thought about it, was completely unacceptable to me.

Answering My Objections
No theist has ever actually answered my objections, although I answer all of theirs. Instead, when I raise what I consider to be a killer argument against god, they simply move on to another statement, usually unrelated. I’ve observed this many, many times in debates, for example between Sam Harris and

But the truth is, the counter-argument to “red and green make purple,” is not “yellow and blue make green,” no matter how true the latter statement might be.

No Answers From Scripture(s)
Answers from Judeo-Christian scripture are no better to me than answers from other scriptures, or from Shakespeare or any other fiction. In fact, every answer from scripture is easily refuted, and almost always by a different selection from the same book. If this were not so, there would be no need for the very busy apologetics industry.

God’s Greatest Creation
I’ve seen the human race at work. God’s greatest creation is responsible for a list of horrors too long for recitation here.

But it’s not just the evil that men do. It’s the sheer bloody stupidity of so much of the race. Watch the football hooligans in the stands, or in the streets after the game. See this creature, a little lower than the angels, this “piece of infinite in faculty,” as it watches endless hours of “reality television.”

I’ve heard Joel Osteen, a “good Christian” describe gays and lesbians as “not god’s best work.” Yet Osteen seems unable, at least in this particular case, to follow the one thing that Christ is said to have really insisted upon – to love his fellow man without judging. Having failed at this single Christian duty, he still considers himself to be, one must assume, among “god’s best work,” and therefore competent to judge the “sins” of others.

Guessing Game
A universe with god, well actually, with all the gods that humanity has created, is an endless guessing game, with poorer odds of being right than the lottery. What does god want? You’ll never figure it out by observing and trying to make sense out of who suffers and who enjoys happiness. If we can’t tell here on earth, what hope have we of understanding the rules by which one merits “heaven?”

No god worthy of the position could possibly have arranged to be so variously, and badly, misunderstood. One hundred thousand religions later, and still no agreement on who or what god is, and what He/It wants.

Spirituality Needs Art, Not god
Spirituality is not aided by unwarranted fear nor unjustified hope, but rather by deeper understanding of ourselves and our universe. For true spirituality, put aside your scripture and turn instead to art – any art.

Too Many Beliefs, Too Little Reason
I do not believe in god for the same reason that I do not believe in ghosts, the Yeti, Sasquatch, Loch Ness Monster, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, fairies, gnomes, ogres, gremlins, banshees, nyads, dryads, djinn, fairy god-mothers or spontaneous human combustion, among a rather longish list of other nonsense routinely held to be reasonable by far too many people.
• Every “fact” of science can be demonstrated again and again in controlled experiments. Not a single “fact” of such pseudo-scientific or religious nonsense ever has been, nor ever can be.
• When a theory of science is finally shown not to fulfill some criterion or other implicit in itself, then the theory is either corrected or discarded. Pseudo-science and religion are immune to that sort of self-correction, since there is never going to be any evidence to “disprove” their assumptions anyway.
Morals and Ethics
Throughout my entire atheist existence, I’ve managed to behave both more morally and more ethically, with more concern for my fellow man of whatever condition, than many of the religious people that I’ve known. I am in myself proof that morality needs no god – Torqemada, for example, is proof that god does not guarantee moral behaviour.

What a tragic notion must be held by the faithful that if, by some calamity, they lost their faith in god, they would suddenly be unable to restrain themselves from theft and murder. The atheist is in no doubt at all that – should he suddenly believe in god – he should continue to behave as morally as he did before.

The problem with morality guided by religion is that religion (at least the human ones that I’m familiar with) is manifestly unintelligible. If this were not so, there would not, could not, have arisen about 100,000 of them in the course of human history.

God’s Infinite Mercy
I could never believe in both Hell and a merciful god. Mercy is not needed at all except by those who are not worthy of it. It is completely wasted on those who don’t need it.

Religion Gone Bad
I have seen human nature – that good people do good things and bad people do bad. But to get a whole church or mosque panting for the deaths of the homosexuals, the idolators, the “sinners” of every sort – yes, that takes religion.

If anything must exist, it might as well be the universe as god. Is a naked singularity so much less likely than a consciousness without any other sort of existence, (or means to support itself)? Why propose a middle-man, which only complicates matters?

Original Sin
Few things offend me as much as the idea of “original sin” – that I (the child abused by those most accountable for my security) inherit guilt along with their genes. The Bishop of Hippo would excuse god for deformed and still-born children on such a vile supposition, but I will not.

Mostly, I am an atheist because I think. Even as a little kid, I was happier with books and quiet time than on the playing fields. Peaceful walks in natural surroundings, hours with a magnifying glass (and later microscope) examining the wonders of the pond, under rocks, around the roots of trees – these were the things that occupied my mind.

None of my thinking led me to any notion of god. Nothing made me understand that there was any other purpose to my existence than what I chose to make of it. My parents gave me life, but it is mine to live, not theirs. They can hope anything they like for me, but I will go my own way.

My Purpose, Not God's
I am not interested in being the object of “god’s purpose,” whatever that might be (and I challenge anyone to tell me what it is). I’m the object of enough other purposes over which I have little control. Regarding a meaning or a purpose for my life, I prefer my own. And at the least, I have some hope of knowing what it is.

Allen Earle is a Moderator with InterfaithForums.

Where your ideas and beliefs count

Below is the “signture” he provides at the end of each of his posts on the IFF.

evangelicalhumanist: Greek "eu"=good and "angelos"=messenger. Spreading the good news of Humanism.

To learn more of Mr. Earls views, please visit his web site at:

1 comment:

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