Take One

Veritas non erubescit.

(That is, truth does not blush.)


by SCRVPVLVS, revised 6/27/2000 (previously published 11/17/1999)

Harrumph. You said you wanted to know.

How did you decide to be atheist?

I didn't take a decision. I discovered that I was. One day I realized I had known the truth for some time.

How can you know there is no God?

This question is usually put, not to learn something, but only to make a point that one can never prove absolutely that God does not exist. But when I say I know there is no God, I don't mean I have factual, certain proof of that proposition. I mean I am convinced of it.

And incidentally, if you want to hear the "snick" sound of a person's mind closing to you, ask me questions not to learn something but only to make your own point.

What convinced you?

Like many people, I try to make sense of the world. I am interested in finding true answers to Big Questions such as:

I observe and reason, and I study the observations and reasoning of other people. I have learned that many people reason poorly. Since sloppy reasoning is evidently human nature, I have become very skeptical both of my own reasoning and of that of others. I am willing to accept only that which has very strong reasons behind it.

I am willing to accept modern science or Christian Science, GUT* or ESP,* Creationism or Evolution as the answer to a Big Question, as long as there is a sufficiently strong reason why I should believe it. The emerging pattern is that the answers strong enough for me to believe are always modern science. The others offer answers, often to the same questions, but unlike the scientific answers they depend on weak reasoning or simply contradict the facts. This pattern is so consistent that I have concluded that religion and spiritualism are based on fundamental errors in observation or reasoning, or else outright falsehood. Hence I no longer give them much consideration when it comes to finding true answers to Big Questions. Yet I would still pay attention if there emerged a strong enough reason to.

I respect and honor the religious beliefs of others. I still find religion a fascinating object of study as a part of finding out what is around me. I just don't accept its answers to the Big Questions.

How can you respect and honor other beliefs when you know they are wrong?

If I want to learn from someone—or teach someone—it is a great mistake to dishonor what they say, especially when the person is expressing heartfelt beliefs. I explain my disagreements with religion with respect.

It helps to remember that despite claims of independent thinking, people largely inherit beliefs from their family and community. I see this as natural, not ridiculous.

Who created the world?

What do you mean, created?

Everything has a cause. The world cannot just have existed forever, something must have created it.

I don't think we know whether or not the world has existed forever. Were you there? But if the world has existed forever, everything would have a cause, so causality is no objection to this notion.

What I mean is that everything has an origin. Therefore the world itself has an origin.

Everything in my experience has a cause. Nothing in my experience has an origin. The particles of the world are in motion, always recombining and moving around, but without violating the basic notion of conservation of mass and energy. As a new leaf grows and unfurls, it may seem to have come from nothing, but there are strong reasons to believe that the plant transformed soil, water, air and sunlight into leaf. Hence if my experience is any guide, it's possible that nothing has an origin.

How can you believe the world was not created?

I observe that people can and do believe just about anything.

God is too subtle to be found by science. Why not seek him in your heart with prayer?

The object of my search is not God. Nobody does this. They seek true answers to the Big Questions. At one time, I thought God was the source of all truth, hence I was very interested in learning more from him through prayer. At present, I don't, so I'm not.

What about the soul? If you are no more than a biological robot, an animal, how do you explain your experience of consciousness and free will?

Inventing a soul does not explain anything. It merely trades words around. The question becomes, why should a soul have consciousness and free will any more than a body?

But that is what we mean by "soul".

If "soul" is merely a name for consciousness and free will, then it isn't an explanation.

The soul is more than that. It survives bodily death.

Now your question has become: if I am nothing but a biological robot, how is it I survive bodily death?

Consciousness and will are tenuous things. You would have me believe that they are properties of my immortal soul, yet they flicker in and out of existence. I lose them when I sleep or get knocked on the head. They change radically if my brain is injured. It is more reasonable to conclude that they are material, or to put it another way, that my body is my soul.

But if there were facts showing that the soul survives bodily death, you would reconsider your position?


Jesus survived bodily death and was seen by many, and the fact is recorded by contemporary scholars, including Luke the physician.

Many more living people today, including physicians, bear sincere witness to seeing Elvis alive than ever bore contemporary witness to seeing Jesus alive after he was executed. An unreliable argument, unless you would also have me believe Elvis is alive.

What about out-of-body and near death experiences?

The world's religions do not teach that their truth is proved by such experiences. A good thing, too, because they are a natural phenomenon. Healthy fighter pilots have the same experiences when high turning forces deplete the blood from their brains.

Don't you see any difference between man and the lower animals?

No. Obviously there are differences between species of animal, but the only difference that I see between humans and other species of animal is that I happen to be one of the humans.

If you have no soul, where will you go when you die?

To dust and ashes.

Love from hatred man cannot tell;
both appear equally vain,
in that there is the same lot for all,
for the just and the wicked,
for the good and the bad,
for the clean and the unclean,
for him who offers sacrifice
and him who does not.
As it is for the good man,
so it is for the sinner;
as it is for him who swears rashly,
so it is for him who fears an oath.
Among all the things that happen under the sun,
this is the worst, that things turn out the same for all.

Hence the minds of men are filled with evil,
and madness is in their hearts during life;
and afterward they go to the dead.
Indeed, for any among the living there is hope;
a live dog is better off than a dead lion.
For the living know that they are to die,
but the dead no longer know anything.
There is no further recompense for them,
because all memory of them is lost.
For them, love and hatred and rivalry have long since perished.
They will never again have part in anything that is done under the sun.

Go, eat your bread with joy
and drink your wine with a merry heart,
because it is now that God favors your works.
At all times let your garments be white,
and spare not the perfume for your head.
Enjoy life with the wife whom you love,
all the days of the fleeting life that is granted you under the sun.
Anything you can turn your hand to,
do with what power you have;
for there will be no work, nor reason, nor knowledge, nor wisdom
in the nether world where you are going. Eccl 9*

If there is no God, why not be purely selfish?

Purely selfish is exactly what I am. I am the only one who can satisfy my needs. I do this in part by making relationships with others, and by necessity that means I treat them with respect, aided by my ability to empathize. I married, for instance, because I wanted my wonderful wife to be mine. Morality is necessary for any relationship. Religions teach the particular variation on morality that they think best, but nobody needs religion to find out that you can't simply have anything you want.

Once I believed right and wrong could be captured in a Book. I tried to think and do what the Book said was right. Then I believed right and wrong were determined by the amount of pleasure or pain resulting from a decision. I tried to think and do what seemed to make others happy. Now I believe right and wrong are another way of saying that my choices ennoble or diminish me. I try to think and do what will, by my own reckoning, transform me into a nobler person. And I believe that is the true message of the Book after all.

Why not exploit everyone but your friends?

Selfish reasons. Practice changes the person practicing. Practicing exploitation makes me less able to think of strangers as potential friends and more apt to thoughtlessly exploit the friends I have and need. Consequently by practicing exploitation of others I will end up with few friends. This illustrates the general principle that I must consider what I become through my actions, lest I be diminished by them.

Why not believe in God just in case?

You mean Pascal's wager. Pascal argued that if you don't know God exists, you should bet that he does. For, if right, your gain is infinite (the kingdom of God), and if wrong, your loss is finite. But if you bet against God and win, your gain is finite, and if wrong, your loss is infinite (destruction). In the mathematics of wagering, even a small chance of an infinite outcome is a stronger position than even a large chance of a finite outcome. Hence the smart money is on God.

Pascal's wager is wrong. First, it's impossible. It's nonsense to claim a belief in something that you know or are pretty sure you know is untrue. Second, it wrongly assigns a finite value to this life, for, if there is no afterlife, then this life is as infinitely precious as a kingdom of God would be. If you bet on God and lose, you spend some of this infinitely precious life in vain, which in the mathematics of wagering is as bad as betting against God and being destroyed. Third, weren't you taught in Sunday school that gambling is a sin?

The world is full of very cunningly designed creatures with features such as eyes and opposable thumbs. How could such things come to be without the help of a designer?

From only a few ingredients come all the amazing creatures of the world.

Mix and simmer for millions of years. Awesome things happen.

May I pray for you?

Certainly. Maybe it will help you. In my terms, I honor your sacrifice of infinitely precious lifetime in my interest.


*GUT - Grand Unified Theory

*ESP - Extra-Sensory Perception

*Eccl 9 - New American Bible.

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Copyright © 1999, 2000 SCRVPVLVS. All rights reserved. 1