The explanatory power of science, and the fallibility of human intuition.
There are many roads to atheism.
1. Comparative religion – being aware of the beliefs of other religions and the arbitrary nature of these beliefs. They can’t all be right, but they can easily all be wrong. Most children simply adopt the beliefs of their parents, yet all come to feel they have the one true faith.
2. Cosmology – knowing the immense age and size of the universe and how tenuous the thin film of life on the surface of one planet that orbits just one average star in one average galaxy among hundreds of billions of galaxies. Look at the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, with its vast field of galaxies, and ask yourself if God really cares about your sex life?
3. Neurology – Crick’s Astonishing Hypothesis that the mind is simply the product of the brain. Hormones and neurotransmitters can affect your personality – in fact, how these chemicals interact with your neuronal structure IS your personality. There can be no afterlife once you have a basic grasp of the cognitive sciences. Furthermore, it’s easier to explain the origin and continuing beliefs in the various religions once you are familiar with the biases and thinking fallacies inherent in the human brain. Humans can use rationality to justify just about any proposition, but it is only evidence that can distinguish which of these alternatives is correct.
4. Evolution – knowing how life developed, in particular, the anthropological history of Homo sapiens, also undermines any notion of a personal creator. Humans are simply bipedal apes with large brains and language that developed a sophisticated social culture since the last ice age, but the gap between humans and other apes is much less than between apes and, say, insects.
5. Extinctions – 99% of all species on Earth have become extinct. This undermines any notion of a intelligent creator. Historically, it was mass extinctions that eroded that beliefs of early intellectuals in the late 1700s and early 1800s, even before Charles Darwin published 'On the Origin of Species’.
6. Natural disasters – the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 or the Asian Tsunami of 2004, both occurring on religious holidays, gave atheists confirmation that there is no benevolent God and gave agnostics and theists doubt. There have been thousands of natural disasters, that could be easily preventable by a supreme being that loves us, but the world makes more sense from an atheist position (less questions need to be asked) than from a theist position.
7. Logic. Adding a Creator to the beginning of the universe doesn’t explain anything. Firstly, who created the creator? If the answer is that the creator was always there, why not simply say the universe (or multiverse) was always there in some form? Secondly, there is no way of distinguishing which variety of possible creator to believe in.
8. Awareness of wish-fulfillment. One should be particularly critical of one’s beliefs if you wish something to be true.
9. Evolutionary psychology – once you realise that concealed evolution in humans gives rise to certain tensions between the sexes (e.g. the man doesn’t know 100% if the child is his), then the emphasis on female chastity in a resource-limited environment like a desert is understandable. The Abrahamic obsession with promiscuity, virginity and other sexual matters, has a human origin – there is nothing divine about it. Other polytheistic cultures in rain forests have less of an emphasis on female chastity.
10. Confidence. Knowing about the universe and casting off the superstitions of religion is liberating. Some people imagine that it may be depressing to be an atheist, but atheists don’t feel they have to grovel to some powerful deity in the sky. They are their own masters. Obviously, some personalities are more anxious than others, and atheism can consequently meet with more resistance in some people than others.
11. History. Every time in human history where we assumed that God must have to intervene there in order to explain something, we have later found out God is unnecessary, that there is a perfectly natural, rational explanation. God doesn’t make it rain or make women fertile or cure diseases. Science’s explanatory power and efficacy is far superior to theology or prayer.
Posted: June 1st 2007
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