October 01, 2017
There are many contributing factors to my atheism, but they have always been a disorganized cloud of thoughts buzzing around my head. I've always wanted to take the time to really examine and organize these thoughts. Some are small, some large, but all contributing to this overall view that religion (and Christianity specifically) is completely wrong.
I didn't start out as an atheist. I was brought up going to church and buying into it all. I was never an overly-enthusiastic church goer, perhaps all along I knew something wasn't quite right with it, but the overall picture I believed in. Over time, small cracks in my belief began to appear, some of which are listed below. For me, the rejection of religion wasn't a sudden affair -- it took at least 5 years, perhaps longer, since the first cracks appeared to where there were enough of them to bring the entire thing down.
The reasons on why I'm an atheist below are noted with the severity (or size of the crack I guess). Early on, many small cracks appeared -- enough so that I started to look for more. Eventually I found a few major issues, logical in nature, that made large enough cracks that there really was no going back.
Before I list my reasons, there are a few notes:
In the text below, I come at a few of these form the Christian standpoint that he exists, so I'll say things like "he made me", or "he sent a flood". This is mainly just to make points easier -- obviously I don't actually believe that he exists since that's what this whole article is about.
I also take into consideration the characteristics of the god as described by Christians. For example, I find that many of god's actions as described in the bible are petty and child-like. This of course doesn't mean that a petty and child-like god can't exist, but it lends to the notion for me at least that this being likely doesn't exist, especially when this description contradicts other descriptions of the same being within the same text.
So, here we go:
The Free Will Problem
Many religious people believe that their god is omniscient ("all-knowing"). He knows everything about the universe, everything that has happened, and everything that will. The issue with this of course, is that if such a being were to exist, it removes our ability to have free will.
Let's pretend that I am omniscient and we travel together to our local coffee shop. Choosing your coffee this morning may seem like a hard decision, but since I know everything, I know you'll eventually choose the latte with a bit of vanilla in it. In fact, not only do I know the coffee you will choose that day, I know the coffee you will choose on every other day of your existence, both in your past, but more importantly into your future. I'm omniscient -- I can't be wrong, otherwise I wouldn't really be omniscient. Next Tuesday you'll order a capuccino, three years from today, you'll order a mocha, and the day before you die you'll have an Americano. Since I can't be wrong, you are forced to "choose" whatever I know and predict you will choose. You have no free will. It is all determined since I know everything that will happen. **
It may seem like the easiest way to handle this if you're religious, is to hold onto the god-knows-everything stance, but say: "ok, I guess we don't have free will then." Unfortunately, at least with the Christian god, you are also supposed to be judged for the actions you take in life -- which perhaps is fine if you have free will. If god is really all-knowing, and thus I don't have free will, being sentenced to an eternity in hell based on actions that I really couldn't control seems a bit harsh. It's difficult to reconcile that with another common attribute of god -- that he is all good and all-loving. How could an all-loving god be ok with a system where I am forever tortured for actions that I had no control over?
The best solution if you're a christian, is to let go of the "all-knowing" aspect of god. That way,with our free will intact, he can happily send people to hell for eternity...which still doesn't seem like the actions of an "all-loving" god, but whatever I guess.
** For the record, I don't actually believe that we have free will.
The Problem of Evil
The problem of evil is likely the most-well known major issue with Christianity and other religions that boast an all-powerful and all-loving god. It seems like most children even come to this one pretty early on in their lives. I'm pretty sure I asked it when I was young, and likely got the usual answer of "we don't know god's plan"...or some variation of that. The basic question is:
"Why would god allow bad things to happen"
I can't really improve upon this succinct version put forth by Epicurus:
- Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
- Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
- Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
- Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
I'm in my late thirties now, and I've yet to find an answer to satisfy this one. It's obvious that bad things do happen and that there is incredible suffering in the world. Young children face illnesses that no one should have to face, women are raped, people are tortured, starvation plagues large swaths of the world, people are discriminated against based on skin color or whom they like to have sex with, etc... With an all-powerful god, it's hard to reconcile a purpose large enough to justify it all.
"But look at all of the people who were brought together as a result of this person's suffering" a Christian would reply. But why wouldn't an all-powerful god who loves his creation not just build a universe where suffering isn't needed to bring people together? Perhaps one person's suffering saves millions of people's lives through some weird circumstance. But even when the stakes are larger, why create a universe where that is necessary?
The most obvious solution is that a god who is all-powerful doesn't exist.
Faith is the center of most religions, and is treated as a beautiful and honorable thing. In reality we should be terrified of such a concept. Faith is the belief of something without proof. Faith is coming to a decision that can't be backed up with logic or reasoning. It is the building of your belief system purely based on what other people, either through spoken word or from holy texts, tell you. Let that sink in.
After much pondering, I'm not even entirely sure how you would make a decision if you have multiple faith-based options in front of you. If I were choosing my next religion between Christianity and Pastafarianism, what principles would I base my decision on in choosing the right one? In my everyday existence I make decisions based on logic and reasoning, but in choosing between these two great faiths, where logic and reasoning don't even apply...well I guess I'll make my decision based on what everyone else around me is doing, which hardly seems like a good way to decide what is true and what isn't (and looking at religious maps of the world, it appears as this is what most people do).
If you ask a Christian or other religious person, evidence for their god is all around us. The good people in the world, the planet, the universe we live in are all evidence. Of course all of these could be evidence for a myriad of other explanations as well. I don't see any direct, incontrovertible evidence that the god of the bible is responsible for everything around us.
Born Into It
Growing up, I was only exposed to Christianity and so it makes complete sense that most people choose the religion of whatever their parents were. This is easily seen by looking at a map and how religions dominate areas of the world. I think this was one of the early red-flags for me. While this doesn't necessarily mean that one of these religions isn't true in itself, it does cast serious doubt onto all of them.
A Childlike God
God creates universe. God creates man. God requires all men to acknowledge his existence or face an eternity in hell. It all seems so childish and circular.Sure, I guess a childish god who needs to be praised could be the reality, but I just have a hard time believing that a god who is powerful enough to create the entire universe would be so petty and demand that we acknowledge him and sing praises to him.
Flood and Mass Genocide
Man does wrong, and as punishment, wipes out every living land-based creature on the planet, except for those critters that were lucky enough to fit on a boat (hey, why do all of the fish in the world get a free pass, but all of the zebras on the planet (except for two that received the boat ticket) get killed off?).
If it were true, it would be genocide of epic proportions, and along with it the mass killing of millions of innocent animals. Even if all of the people living on the planet were bad, it seems like harsh punishment, especially since god made them, and predisposed their genetics to certain behaviors. God presumably is also powerful enough to flood the entire planet -- it would seem like with that amount of power he could have found a better, more humane way of solving this little issue.
As a promise to never kill off all of humanity and a large swath of the animal kingdom, he sends a rainbow that he'll never do that again. This too has always struck me as odd, since it would seem as though this is god admitting on some level that he made a mistake (which I would agree with). But this kind of blows the whole idea that god is some perfect, infallible entity. If I were capable of believing any of this, I would likely be struck with fear at this thought. If he's capable of a mistake as large as this, what else could he end up doing?
An Evil God
The flood story above is probably proof enough that the god of the bible has some issues controlling his behavior and would be likely considered just plain evil. There are many other passages in the bible that make one question the moral character of god (I discovered this article questioning whether God, not Satan is actually the evil one - https://www.news24.com/MyNews24/What-if-God-was-actually-the-evil-one-20121025). One of the bible stories that has always stuck with me is the story of Job. The story goes that to test Job's faith, god basically kills off his entire family, quite a few of his servants, his livestock, and strickened him with illness. This seems pretty evil to me, and certainly not the actions of a good, moral being.
Related to the concept of the problem of evil, it has never made much sense to me on how a character like Satan would be allowed to exist when there is an all-powerful and all-good god in control of it all.
He Made Me So I Can't Believe
This is similar to the problem of free will. Basically, if god made me, he made me with my various brain structures and chemical composition which influences how I behave and how I process the world around me. Basically he built me to rely on my logic and reasoning skills, perhaps moreso than in other people, which makes it improbable for me to believe in things that I personally don't see evidence for -- faith isn't really available to everyone. I really have no choice in the matter. It would then seem to be pretty harsh to send me to hell because of how he made me.
God Either Doesn't Know How it Feels, or He's not All Good
This was one of the earliest independent thoughts I had while growing up, that really made me question whether any of this religion thing makes sense. I haven't seen it expressed too much elsewhere, but it still sits in the back of my mind as fairly sizable hangup. According to Christians we will all be judged when we die to see if we go to heaven or hell. I was also taught that God is a perfect being and all good. To sum it all up, it seems pretty unfair to be judged for our very human actions (we're human afterall) by a being that is perfect and doesn't really know what it's like to be human -- he can't. To take a severe example, I don't doubt that for some murderers, the desire to act how they do (which is a product of their brain chemistry, upbrininging, etc..) is overpowering. It seems that to be fair, the god doing the judging should have to know what that feels like -- to have that desire and to experience it so powerfully that even if he doesn't go through with a murder but even the profound desire to would make him unholy and a being that you couldn't then argue as being omnibenevolent.
Arguments against common reasons for the existence of a God
A God is Needed for Morality
I always seem to hear from the religious that you can't be moral without the existence of a god. I've never actually understood why, partly because I think that our morals are easily explained as a result of the process of evolution. Everything from murder to theft, and even our views on sexual behavior seem to make sense in the context of evolution -- that what we view as morally bad practices are also bad for the advancement of the social group, and thus the species. For example, a group that doesn't frown upon murder and where its group members happily murder eachother probably aren't going to be around long enough to pass their genes on (and interestingly, we can find the killing of other groups morally acceptable if necessary, such as in war). I certainly don't believe that morals can only come from a god, so using our morality as evidence of a god doesn't really work.
God is Needed Since Something Needed to Create the Universe
There seems to be the need for many to attribute the universe we inhabit to a creator. I'm hardly the first to come back by asking the question of who then created god? Often times the answer is that god has always existed, to which it makes sense to just ask why the universe couldn't have always existed, at which point a god isn't really necessary.
How Can It Be that the Universe Is So Finely Tuned For Our Existence Without a God to Do the Tuning?
If the universe weren't so finely tuned, I wouldn't be around to question it. (anthropic principle). There is also quite a bit of debate on whether the universe is as finely tuned as some make it out to be. It may also be possible that life is pretty common, and can even if the variables that "tune" our universe were wildly different, that life would still evolve.
The Built Environment