I’ve reluctantly set one foot outside the closet without fulling stepping out. My closest friends and family know that I’m an atheist, and I don’t consciously hide my secularism. However, I haven’t embraced my atheist outing with full confidence, and I’m not sure exactly why. Now that I ponder the names of some accomplished atheists, I feel almost embarrassed by my reluctance. On whose shoulders would modern physicists stand if not on Einstein’s*, Feynman’s, and Hawking’s. Practically all biologists are atheists: Darwin, Dawkins, Watson, and Crick just to name a few. The best philosophers were atheists: Epicurus, Hume, Mill, Marx, Russel, Camus, and Dennet. Social Scientists: Freud, Pavlov, Chomsky… Technologists: Turing, Gates, Wozniak, Zuckerberg… And many others including Andrew Carnegie, Clarence Darrow, Richard Strauss, Sam Harris, Cristopher Hitchens, Linus Pauling, Paul Dirac, Subrahmanyan Chandresekhar, Peter Higgs, Warren Buffet, Carl Sagan, David Suzuki, Stephen J. Gould, and so many more!
Of course I’m not an atheist because others were or are–no matter how much I respect these others. After all, I respect some theists and religious folk as well: Mendel, Collins… . It’s not enough to point to a list. No, the reason is something different–it’s critical thought based on evidence (without faith).
I think that if you speak to any intelligent critical thinking religious person (they do exist), she or he will tell you that faith is the essential ingredient to religion and, in general, theism. Faith is the only reason why an intelligent critical thinker can remain a theist. Faith. I think that’s the key difference between someone like Francis Collins and Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. And when I was a theist (never a religious one), I idolized faith on a podium as something necessary and spiritual. I remember finding offence and revulsion at Christian Science attempting to prove the existence of god. Of course, I still feel the same revulsion now, although for different reasons. Back then, I felt that the futile task of proving the existence of god was destructive to spirituality as it would mean the end of faith. I felt that the world would lose something of great value if it had lost faith.
I don’t feel that way about faith anymore, which is the key to my atheism. In fact, I strongly believe that the single greatest thing that would modernize society for the better is the complete loss of faith. It’s the key to a secular, prosperous, peaceful new world. The end of faith.
Faith is the battleground for the war between the religious and the secular. I think that any intelligent person can look at the facts to conclude that science answers all valid questions better than religion. Religion still has jurisdiction over unanswerable inquiries like, “why are we here?” and “what’s the purpose of existence?” (Richard Dawkins has the most articulate response to this in his speech, “the Purpose of Purpose”, and it’s available on you-tube to watch.) But the reason why I stopped valuing faith is very simple–I went back to the very meaning of it.
The definition of faith, when stripped of its theological complications, simply means belief without evidence. Why should anyone value belief without evidence?–real, substantiative evidence? For, as Hitchens put it, “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
And then there are the evils of religion. These, however, don’t explain why I’m an atheist, but, rather, a why I’m a “New Atheist,” which is another topic for another blog.