Get to Know an Atheist

Today is a bit of a departure from the norm as this blog will feature guest blogger Kale Garrison from Saint Louis, Missouri. Kale originally posted this essay on The Thinking I was impressed with his story and asked permission to share on this site. What follows is Kale’s story in his words:

Author’s Note:
I find myself diving deeper and deeper into the discussions of politics and religion, not necessarily because I like arguing, but because recently I’ve discovered I have something to say. I’m normally one of the quiet types, not one to get into trouble or involved in something that could turn nasty at any moment. This is mostly because no matter the argument or opinion I happen to have, I’ve never been able to support or defend it because either I’ve lacked evidence or supporting facts, or I was simply unable to organize my thoughts into something that would be coherent enough to defend. Recently however, that’s changed, and that’s what this paper is about.
– Kale Garrison

I had a rather interesting and enlightening discussion with my father one night on the topic of religion. I had asked him what his beliefs were if he had any, and if he didn’t then why that was the case. At first, he cocked his head in confusion and asked what brought this up. I told him that I was delving into the topic recently and I wanted to hear his views. See, he was raised a Catholic. His parents are very religious to the point of sending us religious birthday, mother’s and father’s day, and Christmas cards – basically doing everything short of telling us straight that we need to accept God into our hearts.

My mother was raised a Christian as well, so we all went to church when I was little; it was a Presbyterian sect of Christianity and every Sunday, me and my brother had to dress up and go to church.

As a child, I was bored and uninterested with the Christian faith. True, in part because of my youth and innocence and the fact that I would have rather slept in and played outside or watched movies, but even then I was unconvinced of the whole idea. I just really didn’t understand who we were praying and singing to, much less why we needed to worship.

In February 2001, we moved across the Missouri River into St. Charles. I left all my friends behind, my school, my scout troop, and yes, even our church. My mother had stopped going to church long before that, I think due to issues she had with the management of the church. But that year, my brother and I were released from our obligation to join my Dad when he went. I wasn’t really sure how my brother felt about it, but I was, well maybe not ecstatic, but I was certainly glad I didn’t have to go anymore.

Then 9/11 happened. 2998 people dead and nearly twice as many wounded in the World Trade Center attack. My father confessed that’s what did it for him. As it turns out, in the two years before that, his reasons for going to church were not theist in nature. (He has a degree in Electrical Engineering, so he was the head sound guy for the church.) He told me that for someone to hurt or kill innocent people simply because their faith demands it was simply absurd and, quite frankly, downright stupid.

He said if someone were to ask him about his theology, all someone would have to do is to find the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field picture taken by the Hubble telescope. From September 2003 to January 2004, scientists pointed Hubble to the darkest place they could find in our sky, where no light seemed to illuminate from. (I think the angle ended up being quite close to being parallel to our galaxy’s axis of rotation. They pointed it away from our galaxy’s disk, either above or below it for you Laymen out there.) They exposed Hubble to the same spot for a period of several months, snapping exposures lasting on average about 21 minutes in the same spot every day, while using different filters of light.

What they found when they combined the photographs into one was astonishing. The picture showed no less than 10,000 galaxies in the field they were looking in.

My father theorized that if there was an all-knowing being residing in our universe, where there are more galaxies in our universe than there are stars in our galaxy, why would he/she/it care about the needs and desires of a people inhabiting a little speck of dust in our little corner of existence?

Quite frankly, I’m inclined to agree. I’ve identified myself as an atheist for quite some time now, a number of years, in fact. And yet, for all the observation and discovery of our world, our universe, there are people who insist on telling me that God, Yahweh, and/or Allah created it all, and that I should worship them.
I’m going to be honest here; I’m still solidifying my position on faith, religion, and atheism. Like most everyone else on Earth, I gather information from my surroundings and I try and piece together opinions and beliefs from relevant information. Really, the only way it differs from person to person is what facts and observations they take in and how they construct their views on the world.

But I will say this: given my basic understanding of theism and from what little I know about Christianity, I find it absurd. I know next to nothing about Judaism or Islam, so I cannot say for sure what I think of them. However, from what little I do know about them, and given the fact that all three share a common origin with Abraham, I can speculate that the other two are just as ridiculous. I know nothing at all about other religions like Hinduism or Buddhism, so for the sake of argument, Christianity will be the focus of this paper.

Forgetting that part for a moment, there are two things I want to point out right now. One: Telling me that something you believe in is absolute fact without giving any supporting evidence to your claims is both ignorant and childish. If every person on Earth who believed in something was right about their beliefs, independent of everyone else’s beliefs and ideas with or without any facts or observations to support their own, the world or even the whole universe would cease to exist. There would be so many contradictions that the world/universe couldn’t possibly accommodate everyone and their philosophy. And as such, quoting scripture, be it from the Bible or Quran, does not prove that God exists. When one quotes scripture, that’s all that happens; you read a book. The Bible was written by man, not by God. Therefore, if one were to prove that God exists, one would need more than scripture written by man, because scripture alone is not enough.

In the case of the Bible, it’s a conglomeration of works from multiple authors who constantly contradict each other on events and details mentioned in the book. Therefore, before anything else happens, the events must be straightened out and the details confirmed. To do this, one has to perform research and archeological projects to find evidence for the events in the book. Only after the events are proven to have taken place, then one can start performing scientific experiments and see if there is evidence to support any and all supernatural occurrences mentioned in the Bible.

Which brings me to my second point: Trying to prove God exists with scientific theories, models, and facts that you do not fully understand is just as bad as trying to prove it exists with your sole beliefs. Grabbing at random facts that you heard someone discuss or found on the internet and trying to tie them in to you beliefs only demonstrates one’s inability to think. The way scientific process works is that you gather facts and form theories that fit with the facts, not form theories and then try to find facts that fit the theory. It’s like trying to build the foundation for a building after you’ve built the first, second and third stories; it doesn’t work. In order to support or prosecute an idea or theory, one must have evidence to fall back on to make an educated, well-formed opinion based on said facts. You gather facts using observations and measurements, you organize and present them in a clear order, and then you interpolate a theory or idea that fits with the facts.

Though people often confuse the two and misuse them, a belief is not the same as an opinion. An opinion is a view based on logic and facts. A belief is a feeling that something is true or real; a faith in something, regardless of whether you can or cannot prove it’s real by scientific means. Therefore, one cannot say a deity is real because deities are believed to be there, not known to be there. So a deity is by definition something that nobody can prove or disprove its existence, no matter how many people happen to believe in it and appreciate the moral compass that could come with it.

That being said, I think it’s safe to say that anyone who claims their religion to be the one true religion is wrong, because anyone can say that about any religion. There’s no way of proving or disproving any religion in the world, so it is pointless to try and prove which one is the right one.

I’ve also heard the argument that it takes just as big a leap of faith to believe in science rather than any religion out there. Everything about that statement is wrong for a multitude of reasons. First: atheists/scientists do not ‘believe’ in science. We think it’s a valid perspective of the world because the observations and discoveries that come as a result of science make sense to us. In other words, we do not ‘believe’ science is ‘real,’ we think science is real.

Second: A leap of faith implies that we do not know the answer so we’re just going to make an assumption based on a belief. The first part is true; we don’t know all the answers, and chances are we may never know. That’s why science is not absolute, because new discoveries are made every day. Sometimes they support with our current theories, sometimes they don’t. When they don’t, we adjust the current theories so that they fit both the present facts and evidence as well the new discoveries. We do not change the actual evidence we have, merely the theories that they support. But we don’t stop there. Scientists continue to make observations and perform experiments to try and better understand our universe every day of every week. Just because we may never know everything doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Third: We don’t need a leap of faith to accept anything we discover as fact. Again, faith is being misused here. In this case, it is not a matter of faith, but a matter of trust. As a sentient organism, (like all the other animals in the world) we usually possess five senses which we use to observe and gather information about the world around us. These senses are the only tools we have to perform such a task. Therefore, we must trust in our senses and ourselves if we want to be a part of this world and the people in it. We understand there is a possibility (however slight) that someone up in the sky is somehow pulling all the strings and giving us the results we observe in science. But we don’t know. All we have to go on are the senses we are provided as sentient beings and the facts that are gathered in scientific observation and postulation. And every human being on Earth has depended on these senses and observations their entire lives just like all the people who came before us. It’s worked for us so far, and I see no reason why that shouldn’t be enough.

I’ve heard many an argument that God helps people find happiness and meaning with their lives, or that God provides a moral compass that would otherwise be elusive to us were he not there to guide us. That’s great; whatever helps you sleep at night. But that’s no reason to take God to be real. Presenting the effects of a morally conscious deity on a people does not give or take credence to its existence, because they have nothing to do with each other.

On that note, why do we need an invisible man in the sky to give us a sense of morality? Is it really that difficult for the average person to assess what is right and what is wrong? This sense, this moral compass, does not have to come from an imaginary being. For example, I can go out into the world and point out someone from every religion who has some sort of moral sense. They raise their children with love and compassion, teach them to respect others, and are overall good people.

What do they all have in common? They’re human beings. We are fully capable of determining our own moral code, and here’s why. Morality is not something that has to be learned or passed down from generation to generation by means of a 2000 year-old story. It is ingrained into our DNA, into our very nature as social beings, and it is enforced by those who came before us.

Our ancestors developed early behaviors to ensure the survival of their species by staying in groups. As a group, they were better protected from dangers than any individual. They were more successful in hunting and gathering of food. It was these behaviors that allowed them to learn to suppress their own desires for the greater good of the group and leave the stepping stones for the evolution of morality. And the presence of morals isn’t limited to our ancestors. The basis for morality has been found all over the animal kingdom. Wolves hunt in packs for many of the same reasons as our ancestors did. Chimps, bats and dogs have also displayed altruistic behaviors and reciprocity in certain situations, like refusing to obey commands when presented with different rewards for the same task and remembering who helped or ignored who.

After all this, is it really necessary to worship any deity? What has God done for us that we aren’t fully capable of doing ourselves? What we can do, what we are capable of is only limited by our imagination, but religion has only proved to stifle this basic aspect of ourselves. Religion is holding us back, keeping us in line, stopping us from thinking for ourselves. Some will continue to argue that religion has done many good things in this world. But any good that religion has done, particularly Christianity, is drastically overshadowed by the damage it has done and is doing, and it will continue to do so if we do nothing.

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