The Importance Of Being Atheist
How I became a scorn to Religion.
In my early twenties I used to be like most people: A non-believer who assumed ‘God’ would one day ‘reveal himself to me’ and that I would subsequently become a believer. ‘Perhaps there were unavoidable psychological pressures that simply didn’t come into play when you were younger, . . . you know, like with sex?’
As a History mayor in college I wasn’t really interested in religion (or sex for that matter) anyway. Most of the time I was just busy writing and correcting the towers of papers we had to write and I really didn’t have time left for much else. Although, whenever I finished a paper, especially one I was particularly happy with, I used to treat myself. Not to a beer in a bar mind you; satisfying my inner-nerd I used to go down to the City Library where they had years and years of ‘Nature Magazine’ neatly bound together and I would spend the remainder of the day browsing through articles on physics.
To note: There once was a time I didn’t believe General Relativity was actually true!! ‘An absolute limit to speed, what’s up with that Einstein?’ But ‘Nature’ explained it to me and convinced me. It showed me the experimental proof and I accepted it. I also learned to accept Quantum Mechanics and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which frustrated my neat-little-deterministic-world even further. On the flip side I also learned about lasers and stars and nuclear fusion and the many wonderful things science could produce and explain.
Then one day, . . . the Library was closed.
So I turned to the relatively young internet to get my physics fix. A search-term combination of ‘Physics’ and ‘Universe’ gave me a paper by Steven Weinberg, Nobel-laureate in physics, based on a lecture he had given for the ‘Conference on Cosmic Design of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C’ in 1999. It’s title was: “A Designer Universe”.
In that lecture Weinberg addresses some of the remaining validations of Religion which are often accepted at face-value. He shows, using science, that one of the most quoted arguments for ‘Fine Tuning’, regarding the formation of carbon atoms from Helium nuclii is not as ‘Fine’ as supposed once you consider the actual formation process in stars. Against the moral argument, how Christianity helped abolish American Slavery, he puts forward the many non-religious advocates that preceded those times and how, the counter argument (to keep slavery) was almost exclusively based on scripture. ‘God’, he argues, not only commands evil through the bible, not only allows evil to exist by granting ‘Free Will’ to the Nazi’s (who exterminated Weinberg’s family in WWII), he also allows evil from things like ‘cancer’ who neither have the ability to obey command or that of ‘Free Will’? Evil is no argument against the existence of God, says Weinberg, it is an argument toward the absence of divine benevolence.
For me this was the first Anti-Religious argumentation ever. Since then, with the rise of the so called New Atheists, many have followed. Still this lecture has held its own very well during the decade that followed it. To illustrate the importance of this moment on my life: That day I printed the text on the University Printer, paying for each costly page from my scant money; Today, 15 years later, . . . I still have that print-out!
“With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil–that takes religion.
In an e-mail message from the American Association for the Advancement of Science I learned that the aim of this conference is to have a constructive dialogue between science and religion. I am all in favour of a dialogue between science and religion, but not a constructive dialogue.
One of the great achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for intelligent people to be religious, then at least to make it possible for them not to be religious. We should not retreat from this accomplishment.”
I remember when I was quitting a 7years smoking habit. I felt so proud for having cut down to three cigarettes a day that I rewarded myself with a fourth and eventually a fifth, all the while feeling profoundly content with my ‘accomplishment’. Religion is like that as it lets otherwise intelligent people believe nonsensical things because of strong emotional ties, socio-cultural entrenchment and habit.
The Importance Of Being Atheist is not that it makes you smarter. Its importance is that it is part of good mental hygiene. Like smoking, a belief in ‘God’ is pretty harmless by itself, but it makes people exponentially more vulnerable for the cancers of religious autocracy. A child, when it has struck someone out of anger or frustration will usually feel shame when it calms down. But tell it these are witches, infidels or the spawn of Satan, deserving of this punishment and worse, and it will find worse things to do to them and feel profoundly content with its ‘accomplishment’.
The Importance Of Being Atheist is that it frees you from a ‘celestial dictatorship’, dictated to you by corruptible human beings, and allows you to devote your limited time to productive things in the endeavour to better the world. The upside of Atheism, though it won’t make you rich or popular, is that it takes very little of your time. That is also why most things you find here are not about atheism ‘an sich’ but rather a moral reflection on the world, its past and future, convinced that religion is part of the problem, not the solution.