This is a story I’ve probably already told a few of my current readers but for those I haven’t told, here goes:
I was raised to be Christian, and until I reached early high school I thought the universe was under 10,000 years old. To be fair, for the majority of this time I really had no reason outside of having been told this and just accepting it. It wasn’t long after I began researching that my worldview began shifting.
DISCLAIMER: this is my subjective experience regarding my slow shift from Christianity to atheism, so the views and reasons expressed for various aspects are exclusively subjective. The main purpose of this post is to offer insight to my past for those who are curious about some of the elements that inspired my walk.
This begins with a former friend of mine who remains in my memory as the primary example of how to not be an atheist. Also how to not be a jerk overall, but that’s a little more on the nose. I’ll refer to him from this point on as Jeff, instead of using his real name.
Jeff whole-heartedly believed that subscription to religious ideology was indicative to low IQ and all-around incredulity. He would compare all religion to the claim that, somewhere between the Earth and Mars, orbited a teapot. You couldn’t see this teapot because it’s too small to track visually or by its local gravitational effects, but it is there. And if you don’t believe it’s there, you turn into a fart when you die.
Any argument he had was based completely around insults and faulty logic, and that especially bothered me when I was a Christian. Who does he think he is? There are plenty of intelligent religious people, they just also believe in a god! At the time I wasn’t familiar with formal logic or the science itself, so all I could really do at the time was ignore him.
Enter Alan, which again is not his real name but what we’ll call him for now. Alan was very well read compared to the majority of our class, and especially compared to Jeff. I forget if he was actually religious at all, I mostly remember his debating Jeff just because he knew Jeff was a too cocky for how little he actually knew. Sometimes when Alan and I would be hanging out in the school library, Jeff would happen by and engage Alan in debates regarding the existence of a god. Whenever Jeff posed pretty much any point, Alan would dissect his argument and lay out all of the flaws in Jeff’s arguments.
I was always blown away by how thoroughly Alan would eviscerate Jeff’s points, so I naturally asked him where he learned to debate like that. He then provided me with literature about formal and informal logic, and it sucked me right in. Ad hominem, post hoc ergo propter hoc, arguments from authority or ignorance, the list goes on!
I was never a really clever or motivated guy, so all of this intellectual sounding material that I could also intuitively grasp was a breath of fresh air. One thing I learned in all of this was that sounding intelligent held it’s own power and intimidation, so this was also around the time bullies started leaving me alone.
As well as books about formal logic, Alan provided me creationism literature from authors like Jason Lisle and John Sanford. Taking Back Astronomy, Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Human Genome, I now actually had arguments to support my worldview instead of just blind faith. Also, I now knew exactly why Jeff’s arguments were nonsensical.
A problem arose in my ideology, however; I noticed that logical fallacies flowed from the young Earth perspective. The main problem I would tend to notice in my studies or in watching debates was the fallacy of ‘affirming a disjunct – concluding that one disjunct must be false because tbe other disjunct is true; A or B; A, therefore not B’*. In this context, A is ‘young earth creationism’ and B is empirical data that isn’t compatible with A.
Basically, young earth creationism, in my experience, is an ideology that disposes of new evidence if it can’t be reconciled with the preconceived notions. This goes against science and reason in general, and this realisation (and a little bit of secular research) is when I stopped subscribing to young Earth creationism.
So what does this have to do with atheism? Plenty of religious populations also find modern secular science to be accurate, they simply believe a god set it all in motion. Well, this was just my shift from Christianity to agnosticism (the claim to not know if there is a creator or not). Years of research and consideration later, my calling myself an atheist is well summed up in Christopher Hitchens’ atheist proposition; “It may not be said that there is no god, it may be said that there is no reason to think that there is one.”
That is to say, I don’t see any reason to suspect that there is a supernatural realm of any sort. Sure, there universe is vast, mysterious, and there is so much we don’t yet understand. That doesn’t mean that there will never be an answer, and it definitely doesn’t follow that the explanation is a higher power. To suppose that is an argument from ignorance, and makes no real contribution towards a solution.
I am aware of the logical fallacy fallacy, which states that a flawed argument doesn’t necessarily speak to a false nature, but it absolutely doesn’t speak to a truth either.
I have philosophical reasons for my beliefs as well, but this post has gone on longer than I thought it would anyway so let’s stick with what’s here, and I’ll perhaps I’ll explore that in another post.