Why I’m an atheist

Over at Pharyngula, PZ has started a daily feature where people email him about why they’re atheists and he posts their email. He’s been inundated with them, so I’m going to post this here for now.

There’s a load of reasons for people to not believe in ANY gods – whether the Roman ones, Greek ones, the Abrahamic one (the one worshipped in Christianity, Islam and Judaism). Mine are as follows, in no particular order:

1 The whole idea that EVERYTHING in the universe has a cause makes no sense to me. For instance, I had a cold this weekend. Why did that happen? It just did – viruses cannot reason and decide “I think I’ll infect this person today”. An extension of this idea is “The universe exists, therefore it MUST have a creator”. Well, who created them? And before somebody mentions the Big Bang, there’s a slight problem there: experimentally, we can’t actually see back to the Big Bang itself – the experimental measurements only go back to around 400,000 years after the Big Bang (off the top of my head), when the cosmic microwave background radiation appeared. There are alternative hypotheses (scientific hypotheses, which are what most people mean when they say “theory”) such as the Big Bounce model, which arose from a computer simulation in 2006. And finally, subatomic particles have been observed to appear from nothing and disappear very quickly afterwards, in accordance with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

2 That brings me on to my second reason: the existence of a god or multiple gods isn’t needed to explain the world around us. Religion probably started as a means of explaining the world around us, but nowadays it just doesn’t do it in enough detail. Could somebody tell me what Zeus said, if anything, about subatomic particle physics? What does (for instance) the Bible say about DNA? The scientific method works; at describing the world. Thunderbolts were once though to be the wrath of the gods – we now know it’s an electrostatic discharge that occurs when there is a strong enough electric field inside a cloud, although I will admit that the mechanism for how it initially forms isn’t quite understood. We also know how diseases work via germ theory and other advances, made using the scientific method.
Finally, something from xkcd: Planck explained blackbody radiation by stating that such radiation exists in discrete levels instead of being continuous, and in doing so he managed to explain something that had been puzzling people for decades. That was also the start of quantum physics, one branch of this being quantum mechanics. This came along in the late 1920s, and (quoting Professor Frank Imbusch, my lecturer in solid state physics) within three years, all of chemistry had been explained. That was solved by sitting down and thinking about the problem, and most likely not praying.

3 But enough science. On a more personal level, my dad’s family are Presbyterian (i.e. Protestant) and my mum’s are Catholic – and I got sick of catching fire or exploding every time I entered a church. Do anyone have any idea how annoying it is to have to sew myself back together every bloody week, or to run out and jump in the pond with my arse on fire and turn the entire pond into steam? Okay, humour aside, I do have to point to The Troubles. It was initially a civil rights issue: the Protestant majority started discriminating against the Catholics. Part of this was due to the Catholics being predominantly nationalist, but a large part was due to religious reasons. On purely practical terms, what’s the difference between somebody who’s Protestant and somebody who’s Catholic? About as much difference as there is any two humans – in other words, it’s completely meaningless. What’s the difference between a Sunni or a Shi’ite? Who cares, as long as they’re not being a complete dickhead?
TL;DR version: People kill and hurt each other over entirely meaningless differences. None of which makes any sense to me.

4 Organised religion does a lot to piss me off. One example would be the Catholic Church: for starters, everyone’s heard of the child abuse problems, but the church has constantly dodged the issue. It took them 400 years to apologise for arresting Galileo. It colluded with Franco’s regime to separate children from their families. And the current Pope claimed that condoms may spread HIV, although he then claimed what he meant was “they shouldn’t be used as contraceptives”.
Lest I be thought of as being a Catholicphobic bigot: an evangelical church in London claimed that prayer alone would save people from HIV, which has caused three deaths. Just look at the human rights records of countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.

5 One final reason: religion is, in purely practical terms, useless. Praying about a problem might make you feel better, but does it actually SOLVE the problem? No. If you want to get something done, get up off your arse and do it!

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About Philip

I'm a physics graduate, sci-fi writer, budding game designer, and amateur human.

3 responses to “Why I’m an atheist”

  1. Olwen :) says :

    I understand some of what you’re saying, but I think you’re looking at this in a very black and white sense. There is more to life than science and what we know and there is still plenty we don’t know… As a non-physicist I would say I put a lot of faith in things I cannot see and that I don’t understand which I feel isn’t any further a stretch of my belief than believing there is more to life/the universe than what we can prove.

    I object to all forms of extremism, atheism included, as I believe we all should be tolerant and respectful of each other. I don’t worship or follow any specific deity, but I do believe that we need to behave in a more respectful way towards our planet and hostess, Mother Nature. I wear my pentacle with pride and respect for previous civilisations and their mark on our world.

    (Hope that made sense!!)

    • Philip says :

      There is more to life than science and what we know and there is still plenty we don’t know…

      I never said there wasn’t, but if it can’t be described in terms of natural phenomena, then I’m not interested. Which is why I don’t believe in ghosts or anything else that’s supernatural. If somebody could prove to me EXPERIMENTALLY that a supernatural phenomenon exists, I’d probably start believing in it – they make the claim, they have to prove it.

      But I agree with this:

      I believe we all should be tolerant and respectful of each other

      at least up to a point: if somebody starts using their beliefs as an excuse to be an absolute prick, then I won’t respect that individual – and I hope I haven’t come across as one myself.
      Mick Jagger says it best in Sympathy For The Devil:
      “So if you meet me, have some sympathy, have some courtesy, have some taste.
      Use all your well-learned politesse, or I’ll lay your soul to waste.”

      Here, the “Devil” isn’t a god’s sockpuppet – it’s us humans. Good piece of music, if you’re interested (but then, it’s the Rolling Stones).

  2. Olwen :) says :

    This quote made me laugh: “I don’t spend much time thinking about whether God exists. I don’t consider that a relevant question. It’s unanswerable and irrelevant to my life, so I put it in the category of things I can’t worry about.!

    ~ Wendy Kaminer (Lawyer and Writer)

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