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My Leap of Unfaith

2013 July 22
by pam artiaga

I’ve decided to start reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, one of the atheism books that my brother has been trying to convince me to read for a couple of years or so. It’s the first atheist book I’ll read, not simply skeptical (I’ve read a few of those), but truly blatantly atheist. At least, that’s what I gather from the books’ summary:

“In The God Delusion [Dawkins] attacks arguments for the existence of God; accuses religions of fomenting divisiveness, war, and bigotry; and castigates believers in intelligent design.”

I am an atheist myself, so it may come as a surprise that I haven’t read a book that argues the existence of ‘God’. I guess, if someone were to ask me why, I can only say that “I’ve only just gotten around to it” — the reading, not the atheism.

I’ve been an atheist for a while now. Well, not that long of a while. I came around about a few months after my graduation. At least I think I did. The timeline is a bit blurry to me. What I do know is that it has been a lifelong questioning on my part. That sounds dramatic, but it’s not. I’ve heard of atheists who used to be huge believers, then something happened to shatter their faith and they’ve had to struggle with that and books like The God Delusion helped them see things for what they really are. That’s not what happened with me.

I’m sure The God Delusion changed the views of a lot of people, so I want to write my thoughts on atheism before I read the book and see if it changed any of my views afterwards.

I’ve always been a doubter, a skeptic, as a kid. Maybe not with everything, but definitely with the idea of a divine being controlling everything in the universe. I remember that as a kid contemplating the question in my room while staring at my closet, I once thought, “God, if you’re really real, open this closet”. It didn’t open. I chalked that up as ‘God’ being too busy to attend to the questionings of a little kid. I am ashamed thinking about it now. I was never religious, but the Catholic indoctrination was still strong enough that I didn’t listen to my own doubts.

The question of the existence of ‘God’ came to me on and off over the years. I know I was very serious about the question during my early elementary years. It went to the backburner of my mind during my late elementary years and through all of high school. The question was still there, and there were times when I wanted to pull my hair out trying to figure out the answer, but most of the time I ignored the confusion and focused on other things. I don’t know why, but my years in a Science high school somehow did not give me time to think about it that much. I did think about it enough that by my high school graduation, I know I hated going to church not simply because it is f*cking boring but mostly because I could not abide by the silly traditionalist ritual. I knew by then that I did not like religions, but that was not the end of the tunnel.

I was in college when I read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I hesitated to name it here because it is truly awful. I didn’t always think of it as awful, but I realize now that the book was more sensationalism than substance. I hate it even more than I probably should because I once liked it. One good thing about that book, however, was that it got me thinking about the question of the existence of ‘God’ again.

I thought long and hard about it, and this time with the resources and knowledge that I didn’t have as a seven year old child. I thought about Science, about the Theory of Evolution, and the expanding universe, and the stars and galaxies and finally about the Big Bang. At that point, I reached a dead end. I can still remember that moment. I was in Madam Hermosa’s Humanities (or Literature?) class and obviously not listening to the lecture, when I got to the question, “What was before the Big Bang?” I got so stumped at that question that I had to conclude at that point that ‘God’ does exist. Otherwise, how would the Big Bang happen? Silly, stupid me.

I stopped questioning for a bit after that. I thought I had gotten my answer. Much later, I got to thinking that ‘God’ was just an idea people made up to answer questions they couldn’t figure out at the time. I didn’t entertain the idea for very long because, like I said, I thought I had gotten my answer and I hated changing my mind. But around the time of my graduation (I couldn’t remember whether it was just before or just after), my brother and I got into an argument with a few people (let’s call them Bellatrix, Narcissa, and Andromeda) about atheism. Bellatrix gave the very discriminatory argument that people only became atheists so that they’d be thought of as ‘cool’. I was so pissed off by that narrow-minded nonsense that I had to argue for atheism even though I wasn’t sure about it at the time.

Afterwards, I was still stewing over Bellatrix‘s illogical arguments when I realized: “You know what, my arguments were actually pretty sound.” Any programmer who’s gotten stuck at a particular problem then suddenly coming up with a very elegant solution will know my thoughts at that moment. Basically, “yes, this is awesome”, and “yes, I’ve figured it out”, and “I can’t believe I didn’t think of this earlier, the answer was right there!”

There were few important points that I’ve figured out during and after that argument, and that I still stand by until now:


‘God’ is a human invention

‘God’ is just an idea we humans made up to answer questions we couldn’t figure out. Humans from the hunter-gatherer and early agricultural era believed the gods controlled the weather and the growing of crops because they didn’t know how it worked at that time. After they’ve figured that out, they thought that the gods controlled the planets and the sun and the turning of the earth. They believed that the earth was the center of the universe, but Science proved that wrong. They believed that ‘God’ controlled what kinds of plants and animals lived on earth, but Science proved that wrong.

For every new discovery in Science, the ‘realm’ which this so-called ‘God’ could control became smaller. So who’s to say that years from now, we won’t have a sure answer to the question of what happened before the Big Bang?

I know that faith and belief is a comfort to some people, and I won’t begrudge them that. But for me ‘God’ is a crutch that is used to support ignorance, a quick-fix patch on the dark areas we still don’t understand.


Satan and societal norms

This was a question presented to me by Narcissa during our aforementioned argument: If ‘God’ didn’t exist, then how come people still do good things? Why haven’t we descended into chaos?

For me, while the question seemed to be open to the idea of the non-existence of ‘God’, it still assumed the existence of the other divine and not-so-divine beings that the multitude of faithful believe in. Basically, I think she assumed that even though I didn’t believe in ‘God’, I still believed in the existence of ‘Satan’. I’m sure a lot of atheists have been thought of as ‘Satan’-believers. All I can say to that is, “Excuse me, what?” It is called A-theism. A meaning “without” and theism meaning belief in a deity. An atheist does not believe in any deity of any sort, good or bad.

(I always get these sorts of questions whenever I tell people I’m an atheist. They ask something that assumes I still believe in some divine being. Someone once asked me that if I’m an atheist, what do I do about being baptized a Catholic? The answer to that is “nothing” — I do not believe in baptism. It is nothing to me. It is on the same level as hanging socks for Santa, or hiding teeth under the pillow for the Tooth Fairy.

These types of question annoy the hell out of me. That’s just an expression — I don’t believe in hell either. :/)

As to why humanity hasn’t descended into chaos if ‘God’ doesn’t exist, what I said to Narcissa was “societal norms“. That is Social Science 101. We have them to keep the relative peace and make life a bit easier for everyone. If social animals like ants and lions could live together peacefully, then I’m sure human beings could as well. (Although we haven’t really been good with that, have we? But that’s another issue altogether.)


Agnosticism and the apparent arrogance of atheists

From the Wikipedia entry, Agnosticism “is the view that the truth values of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, as well as other religious and metaphysical claims—are unknown and unknowable”.

Atheism, on the other hand, actively rejects the claim of the existence of divine beings. That may give an impression of arrogance. A lot of people who have the same skeptical turn of mind as atheists prefer to take the agnostic point of view. I have nothing against agnostics. I have been an agnostic for a very short time myself, and I think that agnostics simply haven’t taken that one last leap in favor of logic.

First and foremost: ‘God’ is a human invention. I think that once those people who prefer not to ‘take a side’ properly digest that, they’ll realize that they are being held back by an idea that the early humans invented to explain things that they couldn’t understand. I think, I hope we know better now.

Also, atheists are not claiming that “‘God’ does not exist, and that’s the end of that”. Now that’s an arrogant statement. We are saying — or at least I am saying — that the current evidence we now have points to the non-existence of God. This is the Null Hypothesis and until someone comes along with any evidence otherwise, I will continue believing that the Null Hypothesis holds true. (On a related tangent, the burden of proof does not fall on us. We are not the ones making an outrageous claim, it should not fall to us to prove the default position.)


I hope that through this exhaustingly long post, I did not sound disrespectful to believers or agnostics. I try very hard not to disrespect other people’s beliefs as long as they do not harm others. I know I slip a lot of times, but on this particular issue, one person’s opinion almost always offends someone else. And for what it’s worth, there are things I wish I could believe — particularly the claim that everyone and everything is connected through an undetectable ‘force’ that I equate to Dust, Lifestream, and the Force — but in the end, I can’t believe them until I have proof. I know that faith and belief are great comfort to others, but I am happier being skeptical.

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