Archive for February, 2013

Why am I an atheist?

February 4th, 2013

I am sometimes asked: “Why are you an atheist?”

I was raised Catholic, and so the myth of Santa Claus was an important part of my childhood. “Santy”, as he is known to children in Ireland, was more important to me than Jesus or God simply because once a year he had a tangible effect on my young life and I was presented (literally) with evidence of his existence.

But when I was nine, I overheard some older kids saying that Santy wasn’t real, so I put this thesis to my parents and they confessed that Santy was just a story adults tell children. I immediately accepted this reality, firstly, because the very people who had told me Santy was real were now telling me he was not and, secondly, because it dawned on me that nothing was going to change as a result of this new weltanschaüng: life would go on and once a year the presents would still arrive.

The next day I told my best friends, who were actually just two kids I hung around with and another kid who liked to bully us. Their reaction was not as philosophical as mine. They ridiculed me. “So where do the presents come from then?” the bully challenged me in a condescending tone. Before I could answer, I was ostracised from the group. They were not willing to have their weltanschaüng challenged by one of their peers. I was an a-santyist and therefore I was tainted.

I am still an a-santyist, but why? Firstly, because the claim that there is a person who travels the entire world in a single night, riding a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, giving presents to all the good boys and girls, is so astoundingly contrary to how nature is observed to behave that only a child who had been indoctrinated with this idea since before it could speak would believe it. Or perhaps an adult who had never been told by the people who mattered that it wasn’t true. Secondly, because there is no evidence for such a claim.

I have no evidence that Santy does not exist, nor would any sane person expect me to present evidence for his non-existence in order for me to justify my lack of belief in Santy.

I imagine that no matter how religious someone is, they will find the above account of how and why I stopped believing in Santy perfectly reasonable.

Now read that account again and replace “Santy” with “Odin” (the Norse god on whom the Santy myth may be based).

Does it seem reasonable to you that I should be atheist in relation to Odin? The stories about him are astoundingly contrary to how nature is observed to behave and there is no evidence for them.

Santy and Odin: I put them in the same category, along with unicorns, elves and mermaids.

Now read my account again and replace “Santy” with “Quetzalcoatl”. Does it seem reasonable to you that I should be atheist in relation to Quetzalcoatl?

Now read it again and replace “Santy” with your god. Now do you understand why I place him/her/it in the same category as Santy, Odin and Quetzalcoatl?

When a religious person triumphally challenges me by asking: “If there is no God, who made the universe?” (usually in a tone reminiscent of “Checkmate!”), what I hear is: “If there is no Santy, where do the presents come from then?”

Be religious if you want to. I don’t care. I only care if your beliefs constrain the lives of people who don’t share them. But let’s not pretend that your belief in flying horses, elephant headed gods, parthenogenesis or talking snakes is a more reasonable stance than my lack of belief in them.

I have the same questions in my head about life and the universe as any religious person but the difference is that when cannot find an answer, I don’t go making one up that involves talking snakes.

Astoundingly contrary to how nature is observed to behave. No evidence.

Here is a video I made earlier. Enjoy it. It has dots.