I originally wrote the following back in 2009
Unoriginally around these parts, my parents are Christian, all four of my grandparents were devout Christians, my aunts and uncles are Christian, my cousins are Christian, my... whatever else is Christian. All authentically, too. There aren't any phonies in the bunch. Thus, my falling away from not only Christianity, but any form of religion whatsoever, bucked several generations of family tradition.
Not a day in my life passes where I don't give serious thought, often aloud to myself in my car, to religion. I debate with myself and anyone interested what our world would be like if it was created by an entity like the Christian God, and how that alternate reality compares with what I see around me. Such constant refining of my thoughts has given me many reasons to divorce myself from the church.
Before going any further, it is important to define exactly what it is that I don't believe. Against very tall odds of all the places and times I could have been born and lived, I find myself in the 20th and 21st century United States, so my de facto religious option was Christianity. (Had I been born elsewhere in a different time, I would address those gods, which should be the first red flag.) My rejection is of a Christian god possessing these three important qualities:
Many of my ensuing arguments will consider these three bullet points as universally accepted within the Christian community, so it is important to agree on them before continuing.
Without further adieu, Why I am an Atheist.
My overall thesis, if this personal exposition has one, has two parts. The first is that Christianity is a work of fiction. Every last detail of the Bible and any related text is completely fabricated, without any truthful element of divine... anything -- and this is true not only of Christianity, but almost certainly every religion ever practiced. The second part of the thesis is that if by some incredible slap in the face of logic a god does exist, I count myself as his enemy.
If religions are fiction, why then, a theist might ask, are they so universal? Why since time immemorial has man found his way to god, albeit through different names and mechanisms?
Mankind is a naturally inquisitive species. Caveman did not invent fire or the wheel without a desire to figure out his surroundings. He learned how to make rocks sharp to aid hunting, bows and arrows to strike animals from afar, and countless other tricks that helped him survive. This characteristic of mankind has never changed -- we hate not knowing how something works. Thus, when science fails, the human mind is unhappy leaving the rest to mystery. Everything must be explained, and any stones left untouched by science are overturned with the only other tool in the shed -- mysticism.
Inclement weather is Zeus's personal lightning bolt, rain comes from the rain god, sea patterns are the work of Poseidon, human fertility and sexuality is the work of Athena, or whichever god it was. The point is, humans hate not knowing.
Fast forward to modern times and the same principle holds true. Granted, science has taken an awful lot away from religion, but a few things still remain. Science doesn't know where all the universe's matter came from or what sparks an original thought, and on those details religion is all too happy to step in. But how is this different than the mystery of lightning being explained by Zeus? The last of the modern "miracles" still attributed to god are almost certainly just tomorrow's scientific discoveries waiting to happen. Just considering the contrary highlights this -- what are the odds that after everything science has claimed so far, this is the time where its limit has been realized. We were wrong all those other times we thought the wonders of life just outside of science's grasp were the workings of god, but this time we're right! It makes absolutely no sense.
I'm reminded of a famous quote by Charles H. Duell, the head of the United States patent office, at the dawn of the 20th century. He said, in support of shutting down said patent office (and thus losing his own job!):
"Everything that can be invented has been invented."
It's the kind of short-sightedness that is mocked in grade schools fifty years later.
Nothing about the Bible makes any sense. At every turn, god's motives are as scrambled as a child's first attempt at epic fiction. If Christopher Nolan had written the Bible I might believe it, but its actual authors fell short in so many ways. Just to name a few:
God's "perfect" plan failed on step one.
How did an all-powerful and all-loving entity's creation fail at the very first opportunity? Theists are so happy and quick to blame themselves and humanity for "not being good enough for god's perfect plan", but this has got to be the most fundamentally flawed thinking I've ever heard. Why does god get no blame in all of this? He is the all powerful force at play here, after all. He did have absolute control over every last detail of our existence. He also knew exactly how everything would play out, thanks to his complete mastery of time. The blame for our shortcomings or inability to perform must at least be shared with god, right?
As a programmer, I immediately think to a hypothetical piece of software I am writing. Figuratively speaking, I am all-powerful in this realm because I can write whatever code I want. I also have (figuratively speaking again) complete mastery of time because I can test in advance everything that a user can do with my program. Obviously, I will want my software to be as stable and user-friendly as possible, especially if I have unlimited love and empathy for it.
Now imagine that, while being the greatest programmer to ever live, with unlimited time to test my software to eliminate bugs, and unlimited dedication to said software's quality, that I intentionally write it to completely fail in the worst possible way immediately after it begins executing. If you fully imagined this just now, you should have felt opposing gears grind against one another deep within your brain.
In this scenario, my boss could correctly accuse me of purposefully sabotaging the program and the company. After all, since I knew with 100% certainty that my product would fail at the very first execution, and I had ample skill to fix it because I am the world's greatest programmer, why didn't I take action? Why did I allow my program to fail?
Better yet, why did I force it to fail?
It would be an action without any possible explanation other than, as my boss accused, the company's doom was my ultimate goal.
Returning now to theists' insistence on blaming themselves and humanity for their "shortcomings"; would it make much sense for me to say to my boss, "Don't blame me, blame the software. It's really its fault that it broke! It should have been stronger!" No, of course it wouldn't. As the programmer, it would be my fault, because I wrote the broken code.
With this in mind, I formally revoke all apologies I ever made during childhood prayer for "sinning". Screwing up is a part of being human because we were created by natural selection, an endless series of duct taped solutions that has created a complicated and haphazard product certainly not fit to be held to a standard of perfection.
What exactly are god's motives behind anything he's ever done?
As an aspiring author, I've spent a lot of time deciding why my characters are doing what they're doing. Sure, the bad guy doesn't like the good guy, but why? And sure, the good guy is doing a set of deeds to win the heart of the reader, but why? He doesn't know about the reader, so he must have his own reason.
All of this practice has given me at least one skill, and sadly that is not to get published. It is, however, to spot when another author has blatantly skipped this all-important step.
Let's start from the beginning, when god allegedly created the heavens and the earth. Why did he do this? Was the all-powerful, all-loving entity bored and lonely? Is he a vain narcissist that needs human approval and praise to lift his low self-esteem? Was he depressed and in need of a friend? Those questions may sound silly, but I mean them. Why did god allegedly create me? Surely it wasn't out of love and a desire for me to get to experience life, because Earth is awful and I have a greater than 50% chance of ending up in Hell. To be honest, given any chance at all of ending up in Hell, I'd rather just not exist. Skip me, please.
Maybe he created us because heaven is so incredible that we just must experience it. Maybe all of this run around is justified, and we just have to wait until we die and then we'll all understand. But then, if this is the case, why didn't god just spawn us in heaven directly? Why are we even down here wasting so much time in the first place? If heaven is that great and god is all-loving, shouldn't we have just started out there?
Moving past the fact that our mere existence makes absolutely no sense if there is a god, there are plenty of other head scratchers in god's "perfect" plan. Anecdotal evidence is everywhere:
Why did Sodom and Gomorrah have to be smited? That made about as much sense as the world's greatest programmer taking a sledgehammer to his computer out of anger that his program failed (that he intentionally wrote to fail). Sorry programmer, write better code next time. And speaking of that story, Noah's flood falls into the same category. No developer throws his computer into the river after intentionally writing broken code. It just doesn't make sense.
Why did Abraham's wife (I think it was her, but it doesn't matter) get turned into salt for turning around and looking at Sodom and Gomorrah as the cities were smited? Fiery rain was consuming two of the world's metropolises and she got turned into a pillar of salt for wanting to see the show? If you didn't want her to look, try not designing her to love bright, flashing lights (which we still love, if the 4th of July and holiday decorations are any evidence).
Why did the Jews have to wander in the desert for 40 years because Moses took credit for creating water? That's just about the meanest thing I've ever heard.
Why did you even ask Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac? At that point you're just bored with your infinite power and are playing around with it at our expense. Sure, you stopped him at the last second, but there were plenty of other human sacrifices in your honor you didn't stop.
Why did whatever that guy's name was have to be eaten by a whale? And, do whales even eat man-sized objects? I thought they ate plankton.
Why did you send your son (Or was it yourself? There's some confusion there.) down to the Earth to endure the worst possible death men had conceived of by that time? You're sounding like a classic masochist. And what was the goal of this? To rescue us from Hell, a thing you created? Oh thanks! Please hold the phones while I frolic with appreciation.
There's about a thousand more of these throughout the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, but you get the point.
The criteria for admittance to Heaven is just silly.
The New Testament is supposed to be a grand message of hope because the keys to the kingdom of Heaven were no longer a rigorous assessment of our works and deeds, but instead a simple check on whether or not we believe in Jesus.
You mean to tell me that the difference between infinite pleasure and infinite pain is whether or not we believe in a god that has been in hiding for 2,000 years? How is this better than requiring people to make an honest effort to be nice? Sure, I could see introducing some leniency into the judgment system with the New Testament, but scrapping deeds altogether? That makes less sense than everything we've discussed so far!
To be fair, there is one possible explanation for why this mechanism was put in place to accept or reject applications to heaven. The authors of Christianity implemented a "you screw up, you pay up" system of tithing and donations to the church that made sure sins were forgiven and all that mattered was your belief in Jesus' existence. How convenient! The scam is so obvious here that I can barely stand the thought of how many have been duped. Most people today can spot a charlatan when they see one, but the sad reality is that that is almost certainly how all of Christianity came into existence.
Hell and the Devil are the ultimate, unrealistic antagonist.
And the real kicker here is, they were both created by the protagonist, and for the exact purpose for which they're being used. How do I know this? Because the protagonist has complete mastery of time, so any misunderstanding or hijacking of his products would have been foreseen and are thus inexcusable.
I liken the existence of hell and the devil, and our supposed chance of ending up there, to a parent that has children just to torture them. Think about it; why is an all-loving god even considering something as awful as hell, let alone implementing it and then threatening us with it at every turn? Theoretically, he knows that not all humans will end up in heaven, so he also knows that a certain percentage of his creations are destined for eternal, infinite torture. He knows this.
Now you're starting to see why, if the Christian god does exist, I am his enemy.
The "gift" of free will is a lame excuse for god's miserable job creating earth and the humans that live on it, yet for some reason I hear this every time I discuss the other problem areas with a theist. Let's consider why the "gift" of free will explains nothing:
First, allow me to repeat that if there is even the slightest chance I will end up in a place like hell, I'd rather sit the whole thing out. Existing is not important enough to me to risk something like hell, and certainly some gimmick like "free will" is trivial next to the risk it comes with. I want a rain check for the whole thing.
Second, if I was an all-powerful, all-loving god creating a race of beings on some interstellar rock, I could see the inherent value in giving them free will. After all, if I don't then I'm really just writing my own story, and that's not likely to be exceptionally fun for a lonely, all-powerful god with no one to read his work. Plus, for the creations' sake, everything will seem so much more authentic if they're making their own choices. If they find out that they're are all just puppets hanging on my strings, they're likely to become pretty disillusioned with their lives.
So I've settled on giving my creations free will, and the only remaining question is implementation. The lone parameter I need to consider during the process is, of course, what will be the absolute best for my creations. (Because, you know, I'm all-loving.)
Considering all of this, I see only one option for how to design my creations with free will and in a way that benefits them immensely: they must all be very very nice. Benevolence abounds in this scenario where my creations do whatever they want, but I've designed them to be very interested in the common good and their fellow man. People help people whenever possible, capitalism isn't needed because communism works perfectly, no one ever wants.
That scenario sounds awesome! Too bad it's nothing like reality in any way whatsoever.
So god obviously didn't agree with me on how to solve this issue. What other options would I have? Well, maybe free will isn't so great after all. Maybe it's too complicated (not likely though, since I'm all-powerful), and I just want to take the easy way out. Remember, I can't compromise my all-loving nature and pick a creation-unfriendly solution. The only option left would be to script the entire universe, but to script it in such a way that really good things keep happening. I can even keep this illusion of free will a complete secret because, again, I'm all-powerful and I can do anything I want. There should be no chance the creations will ever sniff out my secret, and this security blanket will consume roughly 0.000% of my resources because, again, I'm all-powerful.
Sadly, this second scenario also bears no resemblance to reality. What a bummer.
Free will's presence should not be a package deal with evil human beings, earthquakes, floods, and a sun that gives us skin cancer, despite theists strange belief to the contrary.
For these reasons, the argument of free will rings hollow to me and I am officially not considering it as evidence of the Christian god's existence.
There's one main flaw in how awesome heaven is advertised to be: if this whole thing is real, not everyone will be there. And you know what that means? People will be missed. You know what it will be like to be in heaven and still sad because of everyone you miss? Less than perfect. To make matters worse, they're not just not in heaven, but all the way down in hell, burning alive in infinite pain forever. What a wet towel on an otherwise awesome heaven!
And if this isn't the case because some mechanism is in place (like god wiping our memories of anyone not invited upon our entering the pearly gates) then the whole thing is a fraud. The only way it can be truly perfect is if everyone is there, and since that's clearly not how the Bible says the system works then it's going to be a pretty sad day in heaven when the last person finally enters.
Imagine that the gate is closed for the last time, God announces proudly that the last believer is in, and the party is finally going to start! Only... your husband or wife wasn't on the roster. Now you're alone, forever, while they're in hell. Good luck enjoying yourself!
Why is the universe so big? A programmer rarely spends months writing frivolous extra code he knows will never be executed just for the sake of bloating his program. It would make absolutely no sense.
If a god created us, there must be some reason for all the extra space. Maybe there are multiple projects all running in parallel. Maybe other planets far beyond the Hubble telescope's range also have humans/aliens/something else entirely, and god is monitoring all of his creations at once, having a grand old time watching us all screw everything up.
And if not, I seriously ask, why is it so big? Why are there stars millions of times larger than our sun? Why are there gas fields trillions of times larger than the largest star? Why is there more space between galaxies than I can even fathom? Why are we such a completely irrelevant spec in the grand scheme of the universe? If a god did create us, I'm starting to think we're low on his list of priorities, or he forgot about us altogether.
I also wonder why, if "the heavens and the earth" were all created approximately 6,000 years ago, we can see celestial objects further away than 6,000 light-years. Did the Christian god create those other objects first and then wait a few billion years to create Earth? If so, did the Milky Way already exist? Was Earth dropped into an already functioning galaxy around our current sun? How exactly did all of this play out?
Maybe the initial state of the universe, fresh out of god's creating hand, was such that light was already mid-travel through space, as if it had been in existence for billions of years. That would explain a lot about how everything clearly has existed for longer than the Bible says it has, but really hasn't. But then again... wouldn't that be awfully tricky and devious of god to do? Were this true, one could reasonably accuse god of actively hiding from us by covering his tracks. Is he rooting for us to go to hell, now?
It's complicated though, and that is often confused with elegance, but make no mistake about it--the human body is a mess if held to a standard of perfection. Nothing about the human body (or life in general) in any way screams of intelligent design. Let's consider these truths:
All known life is powered by DNA, an unbelievably long instruction manual that is under constant barrage from its environment. Whether it be toxins in our diet, radiation from the sun, or random chance mutation, many forces labor to alter our DNA. Occasionally this works out well (as evolution attests), but usually we just get cancer and die.
Our bodies require energy to operate, and they acquire it in the most inefficient way you could ever imagine. First we eat food, grinding it up in our teeth in preparation to swallow it. Then it sits in our stomach where acid essentially rots the chewed food on fast forward. Our circulatory system then ships the rotten food to every last one of our many trillions of cells, who use the food's molecules to repair themselves and spawn new cells. Then, about once a day, we have to discharge everything we don't want in the form of hot, sticky, awfully smelly shit. I don't know about you, but nothing about that seems "divine" or "elegant" to me.
My alternate proposal: look at how plants work. Sure their cell walls and lack of muscles mean movement is a non-option, but photosynthesis works really well. Plants get all their energy from the sun and never have to use a bathroom because they just constantly emit colorless, odorless carbon dioxide. Now that's elegant! So... why exactly didn't humans get that system?
Our bodies are under constant attack from the environment. Trillions of bacteria exist everywhere at all times, many of which will kill us if they take root in our bodies. To combat this, an army of warrior cells runs around in our blood and tries to eat them, but if anything slips through the network then we're in serious trouble. Before modern medicine, this usually led to getting sick and dying. (By the way, a big thanks is owed to science for minimizing that design flaw!) If I was an all-loving god, I would probably lean toward creating a world that worked without this layer of bacteria, thus alleviating my creations of having to deal with a whole host of problems.
We get old in a very unflattering way and if we survive for long enough will lose all mental and physical capacities. If we're really lucky we'll become a complete burden on our families as we float through our final years, no longer even sentient enough to say, "Just put me out of my misery and get back to your lives before you're as old as me!" This doesn't seem very elegant.
We spend a third of our very short lives sleeping. What a waste! Good computers never need to be turned off because their designers actually give effort during the design and creation processes. I wish the same could be said of the Christian god.
How about the fact that we die at all? Why is that acceptable? Immeasurable grief has resulted from the fact that death is possible. Right now, stop and imagine that whomever you love the most on this earth dies in a car accident today and you never get to see them again or even say goodbye. Your sorrow would be inconceivable! You would be inconsolable for weeks, and it would be months before you recovered. Sadly, tens of thousands of humans have endured that exact sadness, and millions something similar. If a god created us, he overlooked eliminating this bug (which would have taken him precisely zero seconds). The word "negligence" comes to mind.
Thanks for giving us the ability to die, god. Remember: if a god exists, I am his enemy.
As Shakespeare said, "Brevity is the soul of wit." And as Antoine de St. Exupery (whoever he is) said, "Perfection is attained, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." I'm sure there are other quotes that echo this sentiment, and I'm also sure we all agree with it. Simplicity is elegance.
What about the human body is simple? Absolutely nothing, of course. It's the most infinitely complicated thing ever conceived of (even without the brain, which by itself dwarfs the rest of the body). And even more damning is that, when you look closely at the body, everything starts to look like a patch job to make the thing before it work.
I am reminded of a city built without any planning whatsoever. Streets run right through prime real estate, bus routes are detoured by a hundred different things, city workers are constantly repairing everything, and it's just a general bee hive of a city. Any good city planner would look at the human body and shudder, but any all-powerful designer should create something to inspire awe from city planners.
The phrase "going around the block to get next door" comes to mind. Put simply, our bodies are a mess if perfection created them.
Mathematics has a principle called standard distribution, and it states that the vast majority of a large set of diverse items will hover close to the set's mean (and median, if the distribution is even, which it normally is). It also explains that there will be extremes in both directions, but the expected quantity of those types is very low, especially as the subject becomes more extreme.
This makes sense, and we can observe it everywhere. Most people have average intelligence, but a handful are pretty smart and another handful are pretty dumb. Everyone also knows a few people that are hauntingly brilliant, and another few so stupid you wouldn't trust them to cut their own steak. It's a bell curve, and it applies to all sorts of things.
Now let's consider events with this idea in mind, because theists are all-too happy to attribute highly unlikely and positive events to the workings of god while ignoring the obvious calamities around them.
A Christian friend of mine once needed new tires on her car and was unsure how she was going to afford them. She made little money as a social worker and had no time for a second job with all the volunteering she does, so she was quite the candidate for god's intervention. Playing further in this direction, she did the only thing left in her mind and prayed for help with her tires. Then one day while dropping off food supplies at a local shelter one of the workers noticed that her tire tread was low and simply offered to buy her new tires. How incredible!
Surely that was the work of god, right? It just has to have been. Well if it was, so was this:
A 17-year old boy was charged with manslaughter for mindlessly kicking a rock down a cliff while hiking in Colorado with his church group, completely unaware that another Christian youth group was on a lower trail. The rock he kicked tumbled down and struck 16-year old Audra Brownell, killing her instantly while she enjoyed a peaceful lunch with her boyfriend. The poor girl is dead, her boyfriend watched his sweetheart die in the most senseless way imaginable, and the unlucky 17-year old boy is facing prison time for having grown antsy on his group's bus. Hmm... not so great of providence there, and on a Christian-themed vacation no less. Mega-oops.
Countless other stories come to mind, and they're nicely listed for us here.
It escapes me how every positive thing is always attributed to god, while a free pass is handed out for the world's abundance of negatives. Whatever way you look at it, it's a two way street. He either get's all the credit and all the blame, or none of either. To me, none of either is the clear choice because the world isn't much more than a bunch of bell curves.
Yet for some reason the Bible tells us that being "God-fearing" is a compliment in the purest sense, and people still carry on the idea. Remind me again, why exactly does an all-loving god have any interest in being feared?
If you're wrong, you're missing out on HEAVEN! (Which most people fail to realize would be pretty lame as described.) This cold fact is the result of calculated decisions made by Christianity's creators. Calling the world's bluff about infinite torture is not a decision to be made lightly, and the implications of failure scare many people away from the ledge of freedom. Fear of hell has got to be the single most effective mechanism at keeping people Christian because only it has the capacity to over-shadow the mind-numbing silliness of the rest of the religion.
I know this because, as unhappy as I am to admit it, the indoctrination of my youth and subsequent belief in Christianity left me terrified of hell. I even tried to convert my friends because, damnit, I couldn't stand the thought of them being there forever! Then it eventually occurred to me that if I, a weakling mortal, was capable of wanting absolutely no one to ever end up in hell, that an all-loving god should be way ahead of me. Sadly, it seems he is far, far behind. Maybe this god figure should worship me!
If my current reader is a theist, the odds are vastly in favor of your religious ways being attributable to one thing: your parents' religion. If your parents were Christian, the odds overwhelmingly favor you being Christian. If your parents were Muslim, you will almost certainly be Muslim. If your parents were Hindus, you are destined to hate beef.
This means something else, too. If your parents had been ancient Greeks, you would worship Zeus. If your parents had been Vikings, you would worship Thor. And as Richard Dawkins famously said, if your parents were tribesmen in the middle of Africa, you would worship "the Great JuJu up on the mountain." And in all of these scenarios, you would be exactly as adamant about your religion as you are in the present scenario. As Richard Dawkins also said, it is only by an incredibly minute chance that you were born in present-day America and are thus Christian.
Sadly for theists, almost no one changes religions. No single religious experience is so powerful as to win droves of converts from the others. The vast majority of children of religious parents have two possible paths to follow: honest, brutal, and nerve-wracking assessment of their religion and a conversion to atheism, or fear of hell and a devout life of self-neglect.
This is the quintessential final nail in the coffin of any religion. There's no coming back from the fact that Christianity is a set of rituals passed down from parents to children, identical in every way to preferred sports teams. Sure, some children are raised by Yankees fans but are drawn to the Red Sox, but not many. Similarly, the vast majority of Christianity's flock is simply monkey-see-monkey-doing what their parents did.
Assuming you agree with the above comments, the next question is, of course, "What now?"
The debate of "Even if Christianity is false as an explanation for the universe's origin, is it a net good thing or bad thing for humanity?" is an entirely different can of worms, but as a spoiler: I don't think religion should influence a single decision any human ever makes. Ever. And since it does, I wholly condone the complete abandonment of religion by all of humankind. However, like I said, that's an argument for another day.
And agree or disagree, a more relevant next step is that I'd like feedback on what you've read. I'd like to know your reactions to what I've written. Agree or disagree, if this post didn't
TLDF-nuke your brain, leave a comment below.