How I became an Atheist – part 2

At the end of part 1 things weren’t too bad. I was probably around 17 years old and was mostly just becoming angry at church feeling like it was anti-intellectual regarding Deep Time and evolution. But, something inside me also wanted me to show them. I thought if only I could show them (i.e., as Bill Nye did in a debate this year), then they would understand.

The remainder of my high school days I went from church to church. But, the religion thing had little to do with it. The main reason me and my best friend would go was for sociality and meeting girls. Of course taking communion made me feel absolved, but I think I barely listened to a single word blasting out of the pulpit. My thinking was if these teachers can’t get something as simple as Big Time, how can they possibly provide an adequate interpretation of a 2000 year old text that was not written to modern people?

Then, came university. I approached church the exact same way. I was just there to say “Sup, yall” and meet hot chicks and take communion to make myself right with God. It’s the developing skeptic’s triad of church activities.

Then, I met my future wife. She had an eyebrow ring, tattoos on her feet, and was into traveling. I had long dirty hair, looked like a grunge rock star, and had a mysterious personality. Match made in heaven, I know. But, remember in my triad, one of the factors that kept me going to church was to meet girls. Once we got married after university, I lost a major reason to go to church.

After university my first job was in basic science, specifically the study of protein structure-function relationship. As I got more and more into the scientific literature I actually became addicted to science. I would work so many hours making hypotheses, performing experiments, and read every article I could find relevant to my field. This is when I really developed an appreciation for scientific method and skepticism. One of my first projects was to verify work from a Japanese group of scientists. It’s nothing against their credibility, rather this is how science works. If you publish something, be prepared to have it scrutinized and possibly even retested if it’s important enough to another research group.

This is when skipping church actually became just not going at all. Sundays were for sleeping in.

Fast forward about one year. I was skating by the beach with an atheist friend when he asked me a question that hit like a baseball bat to the head, “How can God send people to hell for an infinite period of time for committing finite crimes?” It didn’t matter that I could argue against this notion of hell, what this question did was send me on a journey to figure if this whole religion had any truth whatsoever.

I dove into the debate headfirst and made a commitment to seek out anything, I would not hide my eyes from anything anyone was saying about God and religion. This is exactly what I did! I really liked Hitchens and Harris, they were particularly eloquent, even able to criticize atheism which to me gave them credibility. These are some of the things that I concluded:

(1) Every single argument for God’s existence can be refuted.
(2) The whole Christian narrative of God saving the world 250,000 years after humans evolved is absurd.
(3) The idea of Jesus absorbing God’s wrath is absurd.
(4) The Mosaic Law and the Canaanite genocide are immoral.
(5) The bible is misogynistic through and through.
(6) There is no evidence for a worldwide flood.
(7) Organized religion is tyrannical and people that fall into it simply have not studied science and reason or have not taken it seriously enough.
(8) I see no evidence for an all-good God in a world plagued with pain and suffering, particularly the innocents, the infants and children.

Needless to say, I quickly graduated to agnosticism.

I need to admit something. I never “came out” as an agnostic or atheist to my family or even my wife. I feared the consequence, but I have a feeling they suspected it after all the heated discussions. I recently asked my wife what she thought all those years and she said she basically knew it the whole time. She’s smart. 🙂

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How I became an Atheist

Although I have been doing philosophical blogging as of late, I thought I would interject a personal story. Sometimes, perhaps often, a person is easier to appreciate than an idea.

This is part 1.

My journey to atheism began as a child. I grew up in the northern Texas which is renowned for its religiosity. We had a church on every street corner and every denomination (or non-denomination) from A to Z was listed in the phone book.

My family for at least two generations had been committed Christians. My grandfather was a benevolence minister; he literally had a job finding poor families and taking them groceries and supplies. I love and miss him dearly. My parents were fundamentalist Christians. They belonged to a denomination that believed they were right, so naturally everyone else was wrong. In addition to black and white thinking and their sense of doctrinal superiority, they held to a strict literal interpretation of the creation story in Genesis.

This is where it all began. As a child I was obsessed with dinosaurs. (Velociraptor was my favorite. The dinosaur skeleton shown above is a Velociraptor 😀 ). But I wondered, why are dinosaurs not in the bible? After all, the bible was supposed to contain all of world history since the creation. It vexed my poor little brain. Somehow I learned that dinosaurs might have been mentioned in the book of Job chapter 41 as the Leviathan. This was wonderful news to my ears, I had my answer: dinosaurs were in the bible! They must have gone extinct within biblical times.

Fast forward about five or so years to a thing called Youth Group, a sort of mini-church meeting for teenagers. There we were taught that evolution was evil and completely false. Also, I remember at a large church service (>1000 people) the preacher argued that evolution was statistically as impossible as a monkey randomly typing a Shakespeare sonnet. They successfully convinced me that evolution was untenable and that the bible was right all along.

As I was developing my beliefs at this particular church, the overall experience was fraught with negativity. There was excessive petty infighting and a good dose of hypocrisy that even a kid could see. [Insert examples here]. I thought maybe this is not God’s fault, but this reasoning did not make it easier to continue going to church.

Even though I was a Christian one of my best friends in high school was an atheist. We would play chess, video games, debate, play guitar, and create untold mischief. What was interesting is that we had such different beliefs and different consciences, yet we had a strong friendship. I actually had trouble making Christian friends. Most of my real friends seemed religiously ambivalent. I find it a great irony that God would make me such a conscientious Christian teenager yet only fit in with the ambivalent and the atheist. It didn’t seem ironical at the time, it was frustrating to feel like an outsider. Was this teen angst or did it source from a deeper religious frustration? Maybe a little of both.

One day I bought a book about science and religion, my first real exposure to the subject. I had to read it slowly because it was so dense, but I devoured that book like a Velociraptor (had to get that one in). The book was sympathetic to evolution. When I could see the evidence for evolution clearly laid out before me and how the creation story does not have to be read with literal days in mind, my world was suddenly turned upside down. Cognitive dissonance, a very uncomfortable state, ensued. When the calamity began to settle, I decided I could no longer reject evolution. I did not know what to do with religion anymore. . . I would have to try to make evolution and religion work together. . .

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Do you have a similar experience? Do you know someone with a similar experience? Feel free to comment or question about anything.