How I Became an Atheist

Note: I was going through my old computer files when I found something I wrote in 2003, describing how I became an atheist in 1980. Here it is.


What brought me to atheism was a growing unease with what I was being told about the Bible.  I'd left Jehovah's Witnesses several years earlier but continued studying diligently.  I had just finished reading the last of the C.S. Lewis commentaries.  But something was wrong.  I studied and studied scripture, but it just felt less and less right.

Then, one evening, I was lying in bed and an odd thought popped into my head.  I asked myself, “Have you ever personally seen anything happen that was incontrovertibly the Hand of God?”  I gave it some thought, then answered my question, “NO."

I then asked myself, “Do you think there's even the remotest chance that an angel might appear before you in this, your moment of doubt?”  I knew the answer that was welling up in my heart: “NO.”  Such things don't really happen now.  “Did they ever?” I wondered. “How could I know?”  This was an strange and novel perspective. I toyed with it for a while.

I continued, “If there was, in fact, no God, would things be different from the way they are, right here, right now, at this precise moment?”  In a blinding flash, the answer crashed into my skull, “NO!"

Suddenly (and this might sound odd), I noticed that the walls looked “solid” to me. Before that rude awakening I'd always imagined — without realizing it — that the world was suffused with spirit creatures coming and going.  But now they were gone.

I've been an atheist ever since.

So now I don't believe in God; I don't think the idea of God explains anything in a way that is more compelling than other points of view, such as Science or Buddhism.  As a result, I chose sides by picking the one that exhibits the greatest ability to admit error — Science.  Followed by Buddhism, which seeks to eliminate the error-making processes (though it is, unfortunately, not an inherently self-correcting system of thought).  Theism, while comforting, comes in dead last when one requires this kind of honesty, because it demands faith, which is the eternal enemy of frank appraisal.


Note: My current opinions about faith, Science, and Buddhism are more nuanced than they were in 2003. But I still don't believe in gods.



Chasing, chasing, ever chasing, 
seeking how to end the chase.
Fearing, fearing, ever fearing. 
Fear is gone? Then where are you?
Dragging, dragging, ever dragging, 
still encumbered by the past.
When we're gone, what will come after? 
Joy perhaps; there can be joy.
Something's blocking, we don't get there. 
What is blocking? You 'n' me.


The War on Drugs and Wombats

Have you ever heard of something called “The War On Drugs”? It's the ongoing battle against the evils of ... well, you know.

By the way, today I learned that former Playboy model and all-around famous person Anne Nicole Smith had died. She was only 39! How did it happen? According to Wikipedia:

“... her death was ruled an accidental drug overdose of the sedative chloral hydrate ... combined with other prescription drugs in her system ...  Klonopin ... Ativan ... Serax ... Valium ... Benadryl ...and Topamax ...”

That does sound accidental, but she really must have been super tense to have loaded up with all that stuff.

The Wikipedia article also reported:

“No illegal drugs were found in her system.”

That's good, right? Imagine the scandal if she'd decided to relax with some cannabis instead of taking all that government-approved stuff.

Oh, wait, it's impossible to overdose on cannabis. Well ... umm ... just say no to drugs, kids. Even the legal ones, apparently.

Y'know what strikes me as weird? This country (USA) has a lot of people shouting that the government needs to get out of our lives. They'd prefer that the government go bomb people overseas or something — anything to keep Big Government off the back of the little guy at home. So, for example, they'll protest publicly against socialized medicine. After all, that sort of thing simply encourages people to get sick, which means that everybody eventually becomes lazy and catches Communism.

Oddly enough, the same people are quick to beg the government to intervene in our lives — to save us from ourselves — when it comes to drugs, abortions, gay marriage and launching wombats with catapults. Actually, I'm against that last one, too. Save the wombats!


What Question Should I Ask?

While making dinner tonight, I reflected that I eat a lot of rice — about 300 pounds per year. I really like rice!

It suddenly occurred to me to type the following search term into Google:

how many pounds of rice does an american eat each year

I used to carefully type in search strings, using quotes and OR's and all the other Google goodies, but I've seen that my wife gets results quite quickly by just typing in her question. I did so in this case and almost immediately discovered that the average American eats around 25 pounds of rice per year.

It's amazing how much the Internet knows! (Science fiction fans will note that it's getting to be like the fictional computer Shalmaneser in John Brunner's novel Stand on Zanzibar.) How did we get by in the days when a simple question about rice required a week's research at the library?

The internet sure is smart! Much, much smarter than me. But ... is it in any sense aware of anything? Not in a human sense. Not even in an insect sense. Is it aware in any sense?

Once I started musing along these lines I tried this query on Google:

qualia "what is it like to be the internet" OR "does the internet have qualia"

To my utter astonishment, Google returned only two hits. One of the appearances was an apparently dead link and the other was an article that mentioned that the question was asked at a “Rationally Speaking” seminar. I get the distinct impression that the question wasn't taken very seriously.

What stuns me is that the question is asked so rarely. We don't know what qualia is, exactly, but apparently we're so certain about what it is (or isn't) that we can scarcely imagine that the internet might have it in some way.

Okay, so maybe I'm just wacky, asking stupid questions. If that's the case then the lack of results simply demonstrates how nutty I am. However, my next search really puzzled me:

"does an insect have qualia"

No hits. Not even one.

This isn't the first time I've written an article about questions that aren't being asked. But now that I've come to this point, I have to wonder which questions I haven't been asking that I need to ask!

How on earth does someone find the answer to the question, “Which questions do I need to ask?”

I suppose I could just ask the internet. But it seems to be a bit biased.