When I was still a churchgoer, I remember a series on Wednesday nights that focused on apologetics.
Apologetics in this context, of course, refers specifically to arguments for the existence of God, for a young earth creationist view point, for a literal view of the bible, etc, etc.
I ate this up at the time. It seemed so incredibly logical to me as a young teen. I couldn’t understand why anyone would refuse to accept God’s word, given this reasonable explanation to it.
And in that moment, there it was—that little nugget of doubt. If people can still resist this message, WHY? If it seems so reasonable and logical, how do they refute it?
It was in part this doubt that led me to exploring thought experiments that featured arguments opposing what I was hearing and studying. I was literally arguing with myself and challenging my beliefs.
I didn’t have any formal exposure to alternative arguments at the time. I had a very crude understanding of the theory of evolution, I had a small grasp of the idea that humans are capable of being good that was really more of a gut feeling. In general, it was just exploring the issues, poking around at the arguments in my own head and looking at why I wouldn’t believe them.
This process took, obviously, a long time. I’d say well over ten years that I poked at my faith, settled for a while, then poked at it some more.
I am not one of those Christians that explored all of the arguments and options and alternatives and came to the conclusion that there was no deity out there watching out for me. On the contrary, all I had were the doubts, and through that, I came to an intense feeling that there is no god.
Quite literally, I was sitting next to my husband on the couch one day and I turned to him and said, “I don’t believe there is a god. I think…I think I’m an atheist.”
From there, I began my exploration of nonbelief. What did it mean? How did it work? What did I need to read to start out with?
It was very important to me to build a firm foundation to grow from. The indoctrination of my youth was still there—is still there—and it’s a force that I’ll quite probably always struggle with.
Because I have devoted now so much time to thinking about God and belief and Christianity, it’s kind of shocking—and almost insulting, honestly—when people (especially Christians) try to argue me out of nonbelief.
It’s an unspoken assumption—the same one that I had, actually, in those apologetics sermons all those years ago—that if I only thought about it a little harder, I would come around. I would understand.
And it completely ignores the possibility that I have thought about it, and that that thought process itself is what has brought me here, to this moment and these conclusions.
This thought actually occurred to me while reading a piece written by Richard Dawkins that was included in The Portable Atheist, which I am currently reading and adoring.
Dawkins is discussing the idea of improbability and the argument of irreducible complexity, and I see in that thought process myself. I made those arguments. I accepted them, and couldn’t believe that there were people who could look at the eye and see anything but the beautiful majesty of a created object. I was one of the ones quoting Darwin, thinking I had defeated his theory with his own words, when I had not even read Origins yet:
To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.
And yet, on the other side, there was the argument against irreducible complexity, the obvious proof that the eye passed through many compilations—the gentle slope of Mount Improbable, as Dawkins pointed out.
I find one common argument—and I know my fellow nonbelievers reading this will completely relate—is Pascal’s wager. Yet a logical look at the premises of the wager shows a very strong argument against it, and that too is an argument I’ve considered personally.
The idea that I haven’t really considered it is a pervasive one. After all, if I really considered the possibility of hell, wouldn’t I want to avoid it?
It’s there: that persistent disrespect of the idea that, through thinking for myself and considering the arguments that are available, I’ve been able to formulate my own belief (or in this case, nonbelief).
The same can be said of the variety of other arguments—from design or improbability or personal experience or authority, the first cause, the transcendental, and so many more.
It’s not that I don’t know them. I’ve considered them, and I don’t find them particularly compelling.
But, I am admittedly still new in this whole atheist thing—so I’m going to keep reading, keep exploring, keep thinking, and if I find one that changes my mind, I’ll let you know.
In the meantime, although this was not in the slightest the point of the piece that I was reading by Dawkins above when I formulated the premise for this piece, I'm personally more committed to not assuming that someone hasn't considered all of the arguments simply because they don't agree with me. It's a different way of debating when you accept that perhaps--just perhaps, of course--your ideological opponent is just as informed as you are.
In its own way, it's rewarding though--this acknowledgement and respect for the other, even when you disagree.