After I came to the conclusion that if a higher being existed, it was clearly neutral and uninvolved in our existence, I began defining myself as “agnostic,” in that I felt any questions about god’s nature or existence could not be resolved during our earthly existence. I believed god could not be proven or disproven on the basis of earthly evidence. I was content with this definition, and put my questions about god aside.
In 2009, I began reading some books about religious history, that focuses tangentially on the role of theology and philosophy in society:
- July 2009: God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism, by Jonathan Kirsch
- August 2009: The History of Hell, by Alice K. Turner
- September 2009: The Real History Behind the Templars, by Sharan Newman
- October 2009: In Mormon Circles: Gentiles, Jack Mormons, and Latter Day Saints, by James Coates.
- April 2010: The Case for God, by Karen Armstrong
At about this time, John also began watching some YouTube debates between atheists and believers, usually with Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins representing the atheist side. I would watch these with him.
He would also spend a lot of time watching The Atheist Experience. At some point during this time frame, I came across a definition of atheism that essentially put the burden of proof on the believer. Paraphrased, it went something like:
“Atheism is the lack of belief in god or gods in the absence of sufficient evidence.”
Essentially, this definition — so revolutionary to me — asserted that I did not have to defend my lack of believe in other supernatural claims, such as leprechauns, unicorns, mermaids, or magical wizards. Nor was I required to defend why I did not believe in other gods, such as the Norse pantheon, Greek pantheon, Egyptian pantheon, or the varieties of Hindu deities.
So why, when it came to the Westernized Christian version of god, was the burden of proof being placed upon me, the non-believer? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and there was none available.
With this definition — that I would be more than willing to accept the reality of god if sufficient evidence were provided — I was comfortable defining myself as an atheist.
I do not feel comfortable asserting that I know all the mysteries in the universe, or that I know anything for a certainty — but I do feel comfortable stating that current scientific evidence provides more than reasonable explanations for the mysteries of the universe than religion ever has, and those questions as yet unanswered will be addressed more satisfactorily by science than religion.
Given the available evidence, I can no more believe in any god or gods than I can in pixies or leprechauns. That said, if sufficient, replicable evidence is provided to prove the existence of the supernatural — whether it be god, ghosts, or the fey folk — I will accept that proof of their existence.
By the way, I finally read Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great in 2011, and wow. That book is awesome. I think everyone should read it. For religious people, it’ll better help you understand where atheists are coming from. For atheists, well, it’s a good book. For people who are doubting their religion, it makes some really good points and will speed up the questioning process. Had I read Hitchens back in 2007, my deconversion from belief would have been a good year and a half quicker.