Why I am an atheist

Why I am an atheist:

  • The burden of proof lies on the one making a positive claim.

Atheism is not the claim that there is no god. That is a common misconception. And I can understand why people might think atheists are saying that. First, it’s a common tactic of believers to try and create this strawman. It forces atheists to defend a position they don’t hold, and if the atheist is aware enough to say, “No, no, I am not making that claim”, then the believer is going to have the upper hand in the rhetorical department; at this point, the believer can accuse the atheist of moving the goal posts. That isn’t what is really happening, but to explain as much would start to burden the atheist with too many arguments. They can all be successfully made, but most people aren’t too interested in hearing anything beyond some hollow talking points. Second, for all practical purposes, it makes sense to say there is no god. It’s convention to speak in such concrete terms. It’s exactly like when everyone says unicorns don’t exist. If we got down to the nitty-gritty, of course (I hope) we’ll all say unicorns could exist. But then we’re practically inviting people to misinterpret our position. “Oh, so you think maybe there are unicorns out there? Ha!” And when once again it becomes necessary to explain a nuanced position against such short rhetoric, the explanation is left in the dust; people are susceptible to talking points. See: The number of articles about ‘Climategate’ when the ‘story’ first broke versus the number of articles when the lengthier explanation of exoneration and confirmation of scientists was released.

  • Science has been consistently filling holes in our knowledge.

Since humanity began to emerge from the science-killing grip of the Church, discoveries have  routinely been made which eliminate the need for gods as explanations. Motion of the planets? It’s a product of gravity. Lightning? It’s a product of how our atmosphere works. Life? It’s a product of evolution. At no point do we need to invoke any god. There is no reason to think science will not continue to do this; its power is only limited by our imagination.

  • God is not an explanation.

I accept that God is a possible explanation for the Universe, but I reject that he is a plausible explanation. If we’re going to use principles of the Universe in order to posit a God – every force requires an equal and opposite force – then we need to apply all the principles of the Universe. God therefore requires a force. That brings us to an infinite regress. One solution would be to say God is eternal, but why claim that? Because we need to claim it? That is no reason at all. And how about all the other principles? We know complex things only come from simpler processes. Everything eventually breaks down into simplicity, so to propose something that is necessarily complex (he had to create a Universe, after all) is to explain nothing. And finally, why are we inserting intention into all of this? We have no evidence of it. Why not propose an exo-verse sort of Nature, a Nature which always existed? If we’re going to just start making it up, let’s at least keep it simple.

  • Humans attribute cause where it does not belong.

Humans have the unique ability to understand causality on a deep level. We evolved the ability probably for tool use and social purposes mostly (Lewis Wolpert would be a better source on that than I). From its original use, we have used a perception of causality to believe a lot of ridiculous thing. That’s why we have such problems with separating our anecdotal experiences (‘My 95 year old uncle smoked all his life and never got cancer! Cigarettes aren’t so bad!’) from real sources of cause (Cigarettes kill). We used to do it with the weather (and some of us still do). We constantly do it with mundane everyday events (‘I was late getting to work, so I avoided the pile up accident. It was fate.’) We even see it on those Facebook profiles that say everything happens for a reason. We see cause everywhere; we don’t always attribute it correctly. I think that’s the case with belief in God. See: Paley’s Watchmaker.

  • People lie.

I find it more believable that someone would lie about talking to a god than the claim that a god actually exists and talks to humans. And sometimes people are delusional. And sometimes they are mistaken. And sometimes they tell stories with good intentions, and one huge game of Telephone later, we have all these holy texts. And as Bart D. Ehrman taught us, sometimes even the most well intentioned of scribes mess up. (Other times they have their own agendas.)

  • The purpose of Life.

Simply stated, the purpose of Life is to reproduce for the sake of replicators – that is, genes. That isn’t the purpose of human life. We create our own purpose. And maybe a few other unique species create their own purpose in a sense. But I’m not talking about life. I’m talking about Life. We are machines driven by the genes within us. Those genes are there to exist. They aren’t consciously concerned with anything. They are just chemically engineered by nature to replicate. And they do it damn well. In fact, most of the best ones to ever be able to do it are gracing the Earth right this moment. That is the why to Life: genes replicate. That’s their story in a nutshell. How they replicate is a pretty interesting tale, too, but that’s a different chapter. It’s the part of the story that says gene replicate because that’s what genes do that is one of the reasons I am an atheist.

This list is not exhaustive.

One Response

  1. The most successful life is bacteria and (maybe) viruses. A fascinating look at the complexity is: Microcosm: E. coli And The New Science of Life by Carl Zimmer

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