Saturday, March 13, 2010

Maybe I am an atheist after all

I think I had my first real atheist experience today.

A few weeks ago I tried a direct route to becoming an atheist: I took a good, hard look at the thing in my mind that I call God, and (refusing to talk to it as I always have before) said to myself, "That's not real." That seemed like a good step, but I couldn't sustain it. I got tired of repeating it to myself.

Today I had an experience that sounds more like what I've heard from other atheists, who say that they just sort of noticed one day that they didn't believe any of their religious indoctrination. I realized today that, if nothing else, the creation myth in Genesis really is a myth, and I haven't believed in that myth, or any other kind of special creation, for a long time. This was not always the case. I have trouble remembering what my exact beliefs were in the past, but I remember a couple of points very clearly.

I remember discussing the origin of life with some religious friends at around age 25, and being quite convinced that life could not have arisen spontaneously. I remember being sure that a living thing would have to possess a "will to live," as I so unimaginatively said it back then. I also remember being very sure that the human eye is an excellent example of irreducible complexity. This one stuck with me and disturbed me even after years and years of reading about evolution and trying to be irreligious. I remember the relief I felt, maybe seven years ago, when my daughter's babysitter of all people told me about a science show she had seen in which a plausible story had been told about the evolution of the eye. I now understand that eyes are downright easy: they've independently appeared and evolved at least 40 times. I hear that squids' eyes are way better "designed" than human eyes. Something about the convoluted route that human optic nerve impulses take to the brain.

Now I have no problem believing that we really are descended from primitive life, that life originated spontaneously and hopefully has in many other places besides Earth, and that the universe really did start from nothing. Sure, this last one is hard to grasp intuitively, but I don't need to use God to explain it. I can just leave it unexplained (or perhaps just unintuitive--physicists probably can explain it).

So maybe I am becoming an atheist just by continuing to think. I hope so. It would be nice never to fear hell again.

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