Many voices of disbelief

March 18, 2011 • 5:48 am

Given the majority sentiment that there can be no evidence in favor of a god, I began wondering why many of my readers are atheists.  If one is an atheist because of a lack of evidence for god, that presumes that there could have been evidence in favor of god.   Even if you reject gods because—as Grayling argues, and I agree—they’re so obviously man made, well, that too is empirical evidence against a god hypothesis.

I conclude that many readers are atheists because they simply feel that it’s logically impossible for there to be a god, or because the very concept of god is incoherent.   Maybe I’m mistaken, though, so I throw this question out to readers, soliciting their views.  I do this in all seriousness, as I’m trying to understand.  I’d be delighted if you’d answer this question in the comments:

Why are you an atheist?  Does it have anything to do with a lack of evidence for god, or are there other factors involved?

It’s only fair for me to answer as well, and it’s completely due to a lack of evidence.  The scenario, in which I suddenly realized at age 17 that there was nothing supporting the existence of god, is described in a 2008 Chicago Tribune piece by Jeremy Manier, and reprinted at the Dawkins website.

Or maybe this is the reason:

(Cartoon from SMBC, h/t to Carl)

Note: The title of this post is taken from Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk’s excellent book 50 Voices of Disbelief, in which some of my readers have already published their reasons.

381 thoughts on “Many voices of disbelief

    1. That’s an empirically based reason, then. Again, readers, be explicit about the role of evidence, if any, in your atheism.

  1. I count myself lucky to have been raised in Australia by staunchly atheist parents.
    Never believed in any gods, including Santa.
    Have not only not seen any evidence that I should believe in one of the thousands on offer, but have seen bucket-loads of evidence that I should not.
    This was quite obvious from the age of four, as I remember it.

    There were no other factors involved.

      1. Australia again, and same here, parents not so staunch (Mum is vaguely spiritual, Dad a staunch Atheist), but never had religion really.

        I do remember (like many people it seems) being bugged by the contradictions between my science knowledge (from books, docos and parents) and what I was being taught in scripture (compulsory). My books talked of evolution (including the ever favorite dinosaurs) and my scripture teacher insisted it wasn’t true.

        I also remember having a revelation about superstitions at around 6 or 7. I was avoiding the crack that would break my mummas back when I suddenly thought ‘but that isn’t real’, coz I’ve stood on the cracks and…’ It was like something opened up and I started realising that lots of things people said weren’t true, that didn’t stop my imagination taking over and I spent many years scared of ghosts and things. But I think this was an important moment.

        I have investigated religion a lot, but more out of cultural curiosity and wanting to understand. So far nothing has ever seemed more useful or more awe inspiring than the scientific/cultural worldview I already have.

        1. I’d say around 11-12 that I really started to take on Atheism. I had always been interested in nature and science and it was years of mounting evidence in that arena that led to the conscious change. Nature and the universe were amazing and I wanted to know everything about them and God seemed superfluous to the picture.

          By 15 I am sure I was an Atheist in the present sense, as I have bad angsty teen letters that spell it out. Not anger at God, but anger at the uncaring universe and my crappy teenage life; an understanding that /this/ is all there is. Perhaps a period of nihilism as I let the reality of a terrible world hit me. I also read and thought lots about religion and philosophy during this period (not a short one). Movies and games with these themes also helped me explore them more. My investigations left me where I began, only with a little more knowledge to hurt my teen brain.

          But since then my understanding has grown and with my release from teen angst (many years ago now) I continued my exploration in a more positive direction. Ideas about the evolution of co-operation and its equal importance in the scheme of things became more salient to me and interactions more obvious. But again, these things only reinforce my feeling that God is unnecessary.

          The ‘New Atheism’ was a kick to action because I’d noticed creeping fundamentalism and religion playing with politics. I was afraid to offend people by being ‘proud’ of my Atheism. I realised through the movement that Atheists needed a voice too.

          I now study Sociology of Religion and everything I learn re-enforces my view that humans are doin it for themselves. There are so many different ideas on how the world works, I don’t really find any of them convincing as an ultimate option, but we have some good ideas.

          The good ideas rely on a method that attempts to overcome human errors and expects evidence that we can view again. I know where I stand.

          Proudly Atheist.

  2. I had a questioning mind at an early age. I wanted to know how things worked. I too was also regularly thrown out of Sunday School for asking questions and being generally cheeky and non-serious.

    Another possible factor is that my father died when I was very young, and so I searched around more for real father figures to identify with.

    I was agnostic most of my life, open to anything (such as the paranormal or any other ‘mysteries’) with a great interest in the New Age, Self-Help books and Buddhism up until about the age of thirty.

    At aged thirty, and reading about the Creation vs Evolution debates, I realized that I was an atheist and rejected the supernatural and embraced naturalism.

    Now I fully embrace New Atheism or Neoatheism, rejecting all religions as harmful.

    I consider all my various perspectives as a natural and logical progression toward naturalism.

  3. Lack of ANY evidence is secondary for me. Primary is the full flush of soft evidence against it.

    God seems to line-item match the temperaments of his adherents

    That either one religion out of all religions are true are none are. (Why would one think they would still be Christian if born in India)

    The clustering of other types of broken thinking that surrounds religious thinking.

    Inability to define a god’s qualities.


  4. I disagree that there can be no evidence of god.

    If we found embedded within the fabric of our universe a message which read “I am god, I created the universe, live with it” – then if this information could only have been placed there as the universe was created I personally would accept a conscious creator of the universe.

    Now, what I agree cannot be proven is whether or not this creator is supernatural, because as soon as we observe something we would assume it to be part of nature.

    1. There is a Mr. Deity T-shirt along these lines.

      We would still have to decide whether such a message would be evidence for god – or of a much more advanced civilization messing with our minds.

        1. Or a much less advanced civilization who discovered how to do one amazing thing!

          They would use Comic Sans of course.

    2. …’a message which read “I am god, I created the universe, live with it” –

      In which language & a language from which age? Perhaps that message appears in Linear A! Binary perhaps, or using some form of mathematics? Any message would have to be able to be read and understood.

        1. I was thinking about that one as well (but what base to use?)
          For me such a message would indicate some “higher power” that at least could set the laws of the universe in motion (although the universe as a simulation is just as likely as god in this case). Or … It could mean than given enough randomness in pi digits every sequence will appear at some point.

          For myself, I don’t think there could be evidence to rule out completely the existence of a creator (either a god or the simulation programmer) but this hypothesis is just not needed. In addition it cannot be tested.
          Even if someone the size of the Sun appears out of nowhere and claims to be god, there would be simpler explanation: highly advanced aliens and physics we don’t understand would be simpler than assuming a god (even if the physics in question just allows said aliens to mess with 7bil minds)
          It’s even easier to dismiss the Abrahamic god as even if we had irrefutable evidence the Book is factually true, a Von Deniken class alien would be a better bet (after you rule out Penn and Teller of course)

          1. Now I think about it, whoever can manipulate our brains like that can just as easily just make everyone believe It is god

          2. (but what base to use?)

            Any positive integer base above 1.
            Curious, but true.
            Eventually, the pattern is strictly guaranteed to appear.

    3. If some religion’s holy text clearly specified the message and where to look for it, and later on the technology to verify it became available, and then it was verified, that would be decent evidence for that religion.
      Insisting that a pattern you’ve found is meaningful after the fact wouldn’t be convincing.

    1. That’s how I’d put it too — just doesn’t make sense. My parents were mainstream Protestant missionaries, so my upbringing was suffused with Christianity of a fairly benign form, but it stopped making sense to me about the age of 10. It just didn’t add up. Not so much a lack of evidence, per se, but the whole story just didn’t comport with the way the world seemed to work, as far as I could see.

      It took me a lot longer (well into my 20s, perhaps later) to realize that even a more sophisticated sort of spirituality (e.g., Karl Jung) didn’t really make a lot of sense either.

    2. Ditto – CofE until 18 or 19, but no personal experience of my personal god, and church doctrines which became increasingly incomprehensible the more I tried to understand them, killed my belief.

      40 plus years later my rejection of belief is more extensively based, much better informed and a whole lot firmer, but god’s silence, the lack of evidence, and the bizarre beliefs are still central to my rejection of religion.

    3. If there were an omnipotent God, He (let’s assume YHWH here) would be able to convince any mortal of His existence if He wanted to, whether or not said mortal accepted in advance the possibility of such evidence.

      Moses’ burning bush story is an attempt at describing such evidence.

      1. but this kind of evidence is just lame: any magician in Vegas would be able to top that.
        The creator of the universe is David Blaine?

  5. I was four and they convinced me there was a god. I was very happy to make the connection that whenever god relieved himself it rained. I felt very smart.

    But there were problems. It did not rain s$$t, and it bothered me. Also, their image of god on a cloud throwing roses didn’t make sense, for no roses came falling. I kept the case of god open.

    By 13 I was a deist. Surely there must be a god somehow, how else is there anything at all? By 17 I realized that didn’t make sense either.

    So yeah. Evidence all the way.

    1. “It did not rain s$$t, and it bothered me.”

      Just give the AGW denialists a few more years of legislative authority and fecal showers will be quite commonplace.

  6. I started reading before I started talking. By the time I started school I was already reading on the level of children twice my age (according to some academic standard that was probably bunk) and I got into mythology pretty heavily. So I was quickly scared out of my mind to the point of insomnia by the idea of supernatural monsters behind every closet door and hiding in every shadow.

    My mom sat me down and explained to me that stories involving magic and talking animals weren’t real. Since she had always told us kids that Santa was make-believe, this was the final nail in the coffin of any belief in the supernatural that I could have ever had. When I stumbled across some “Bible for kids” thing, I filed it in the category of “stuff that isn’t real” and left it at that. When I heard adults talking about “God” and “Jesus” I thought they were putting on a show for us kids the way they did with Santa and the Tooth Fairy(who I once set an elaborate Rube Goldberg trap for when I was very little).

    When I finally found out that adults actually believed that stuff, it screwed up my trust in the sanity of the human race for years and years.

  7. I’m an atheist because there is no evidence or need for the god hypothesis.

    On the question of certainty, I take the approach of being a 100% certain unless extraordinary evidence is presented. No point in arguing on the evidence if there is none at the moment.

    Leaving some uncertainty in your belief like Richard Dawkins is in my opinion unnecessary. Belief in god is all or none. It is implied that being rational and scientific involves accepting new information and the ability to change your mind.

    Having said that I agree with PZ and Grayling on this one. I could imagine technology that would give an entity power enough to appear god-like. However, I am sure my modern mind would want to understand how it works rather than worship it. In this sense the gods of antiquity have been killed by modernity.

    Keep up the good work Jerry!

  8. I apologise that this is a long, narrative reply however it seemed like a good question and I wanted to answer it fully for my own little space of the internet as well as yours. 🙂


    For me, I was exposed to the idea of religion in my late teens, I always kind of knew it was there but I didn’t know that it was overly important to people. I thought it was just a sort of social club.

    My overwhelming reaction to this shiny, new concept can be summed up as “non sequitur”. I was rather stupefied to find out how into this stuff some people were. The biggest shock of all was the the more that they were into it seemed to be directly proportional to how many non sequitur lines they delivered per minute.

    I became a small time skeptic and years later while in my third year of university a dear friend invited me to a skeptics day at his church. I attended and heard everyone out and took notes to help organise my thoughts. They made some very bold claims and given me a great deal to think about. My world view had been challenged. Is the world only 6000 years old? It seemed like an important question.

    I left with a borrowed book from this friend called “The Skeptics Guide to God” with intent to find out answers for myself. I didn’t believe in gods but even if my friend was wrong about deities, he could be still be right that evolution isn’t a strong theory.

    I went through the book line by line. I copied down every factual claim and with the help of Google and, every students best friend, Wikipedia did my research. I tried and I tried night after night for my friend to be on some sort of intellectually respectable position.

    Alas, no. There was no evidence for any position he held. In fact, there was only evidence that he was dead wrong in every way.

    And that, Jerry, sums my situation up very well. I am a non-believer firstly because the believers can’t make rational sense for their case and secondly because they cannot provide any evidence for their reality-breaking dogma.

  9. Brought up by atheist parents. My father was brought up in a VERY strict protestant home. He ran away from “confirmation camp” at age 15, and his mother did not speak to him again until the he was supposed to have been home. He was ignored, and later said the three days where he “did not exist” were the happiest of his youth :'(
    So I do have some of his vitriolic hatred of priests and the church. Not rational.
    Apart from that I simply never, ever understood the comfort of belief. I find comfort in knowledge. And exhilaration, and warmth and serenity and a lot of things that make life worth living.
    Blind faith … meh. I don’t want a half-life.

    1. Your father could have gone to the nutty extremes like Aleister Crowley – he was brought up in the Plymouth Brethren an evangelical sect, & of course became a satanist called ‘The Beast’.

      1. I admire my father’s decisions – at a very young age – very, very much.
        He was unable to let go of all the emotional baggage (sp?), but he totally distanced himself from religion (and became a socialist, atheist psychologist = antichrist)

  10. I have never believed in god/s even at a young age I found the idea silly. I still remember my sister mentioning god when I was around 5 years old and I ask her where did god come from. She said the sand and I laughed. I didn’t realize then that was the the best answer I was ever going to get.

  11. I’m on the there-could-be-evidence-but-there-isn’t side, so I’m comfortable saying that it’s the lack of evidence for (and the presence of evidence against) gods that’s most relevant to me.

    I have to say too, that I’m pretty unconvinced by the claim that we can discount the existence of god(s) because the notion is incoherent.

    Pretty much any notion is incoherent if you push it far enough. We philosophers struggle with the notions of causation, causation, knowledge, necessity, etc. etc. The fact that we have a lot of trouble making good sense of these notions is not itself good reason to think that these things don’t exist.

    And it’s not like science is much better off. We don’t have clear notion of the ontology of quantum mechanics, for example, or of how quantum reality is to be squared with relativity. The notion of a biological species is controversial enough that the lay person isn’t likely to grasp it. And so on.

    The point is that we often have good evidence for the existence of something (or for the truth of some claim) even though we don’t have a perfect conception of what the thing is (or of the precise way to state the truth claim).

    We should hold god talk to a different standard. It’s the evidence (or lack thereof) that matters. (Unless you’re interested in the philosophical question, then we shouldn’t be satisfied with vague claims, and a clear consistent conception is required.)

    1. Last paragraph should start
      “We should NOT hold god talk to a different standard.”
      (I’m willing to let most typos stand, but I feel that one needs correction.)

    2. If “god” is nothing but a sticker waiting to be applied to a paper on some presently unknown phenomenon in nature, then it currently has no meaning (or, as Grayling implies, it has infinite meanings). So why even use the word? To answer my own question, because the word “god” doesn’t apply to unknown phenomena but to known phenomena.

      We’ve had people say that their god is a lot of things: creator, designer, causation, the perfect, beauty, love, a space king, the ultimate magician, a powerful immortal that commands some part of nature, the interconnectedness of life, the feeling of transcendence, the cosmos, frozen waterfalls, etc. These conceptions of what a god is have been deconstructed into oblivion by science. Theology is just beating a dead horse these days.

      I find it exasperating to see people with their sticker book of deities out waiting eagerly to slap one down on the next new thing in science or on some inadequately documented incident. I certainly don’t think atheists should encourage that.

  12. I’m not sure that your question is reasonable – it wasn’t lack of evidence for god that made me atheist – although lack of evidence certainly stopped me becoming a theist. Personally I think atheism is the default position and absent strong parental/social pressure that’s where one is most likely to end up. Having been raised and educated in the UK and postdoc’d in San Francisco I was never exposed to biblical literalism until I took a faculty position in the Bible Belt in my early 40’s. And it’s a bit too late by then to effect a conversion.

    I do not remember ever thinking of bible stories as any more significant than any other form of literature. Distinguishing between reality and stories/parables is not too difficult even for children. Being raised in a country with a state church and compulsory religious education paradoxically seems to mean that the whole thing wasn’t a big issue. I don’t think we were ever taught that the stories were true – I distinctly remember at the age of nine discussing in class whether the “feeding of the five thousand” story is literally true or a parable about encouraging people to share, with no firm opinion from the teacher in either direction (just sowing the seeds of doubt perhaps?). Perhaps we just had good teachers at that age. I think what was obvious even back then was how much religion could be a force for evil in the world – we grew up with home grown terrorism from a catholic/protestant war in Northern Ireland that spilled into our lives periodically through the 1970’s.

    Essentially though I just grew up as a “couldn’t care less” atheist/agnostic. That didn’t really change until the aforementioned move to the bible belt. The level of religiosity here was so offensive that it forced me to read and learn a lot more about the subject and hardened my basic beliefs. If your question the religious crazies down here their views are essentially incoherent. They have no basis for picking their own particular rendition of god and no compelling (or indeed any) evidence for his/her/its existence. There do seem to be a large number of people who attend church simply out of habit or a sense of social obligation, they would likely self report as “christian” – and the bible thumpers would probably say that they are not – but it is probably worth separating them as a sub-group from the fundies. As a result of this disturbing social scene I moved further towards the atheist position (perhaps another log shift on the Dawkins scale). Despite the discussion here earlier in the week I’m still not convinced that one can be truly atheist – there would seem to be a tinge of doubt in everything. However perhaps if I really understood enough maths and logic I could get over that.

    1. I think I agree. Atheist seems like the default position.

      In spite of regular church attendance from an early age, mostly for the choir, I don’t think I ever really believed. Deep down I thought the whole notion of god and Jesus and all that was just plain silly.

      I professed belief, and it got me through a rough patch in my early teens – not the belief, but the fact that the people I went to youth group and church with liked me, unlike my schoolmates. Fundamentally, though, it was silly and embarrassing.
      My mother told me I never believed in Santa, why did I pretend to believe in god?

      Ultimately it was a theologian who started me on the path to disbelief. He was a rare creature, didn’t care what you believed or didn’t so long as you knew WHY. His son, my then boyfriend,was a nonchristian.

      I started reading, soon openly acknowledged a total lack of belief in the existence of Jesus, considered converting (a lifelong hebrophile), realized I didn’t believe in a god, played around with pantheism for a while and then finally admitted to myself that I did not believe, had never believed and that I had never, in all my years of liberal religion been given or led to anything that would cause me to believe.

      It was silly and it made no sense.

      I cannot conceive of an argument that would change that, that would give me a reason to believe.

      1. Just revisiting this thread – threads get old fast here! Hadn’t seen your comment before, and just wanted to echo your “deconversion” story. Mine was nearly identical.

        It sounds strange to say, but yes, I’m not sure I ever really believed, despite attending regularly in my youth, for all the reasons you mention: friends were at church, not school; I played piano for the choir; and I suppose I felt I was doing the “right thing” by fulfilling a perceived obligation. But I don’t think I ever REALLY bought it. It’s a funny thing, but it’s tough to say whether I did or didn’t. I suppose the fact that I’m not sure must mean I WASN’T gung-ho.

      2. My story is so similar to yours. Minus the theologian and the nonchristian boyfriend.

        My conversion was caused by a priest’s sermon on “cafeteria Catholics” and what bad people we all are for picking and choosing only parts of the religion that we agree with and like. My hypocrisy alarms went off and I realized that unless I was prepared to believe in things like transubstantiation, an actual physical god/jesus/spirit being who knows my every move and thought and virgin births, I wasn’t really a catholic/christian/believer at all and shouldn’t call myself one.

        I guess it was somewhat ‘lack-of-evidence’ based but also just a feeling of not wanting to be a big fat hypocrite like the rest of the churchgoers in my community. I wonder if “hypocrisy alarms” are so universally sensitive among other atheists.

  13. I was raised Catholic, and when I was very very young, the seeds of doubt were planted by an older friend who said “Isn’t it possible that Jesus wasn’t divine, but just a man who was a great moral teacher?”, and I had no answer to that.

    But it is the evidence for evolution that impelled me to affirm my unbelief. In molecular biology and systematics (my current grad school research area), god is not a necessary condition. It is Science, glorious science, that gave me unwavering ground to aver my rejection of the supernatural. That, and reading some of Dawkins’ books…

    Now I’m proudly a Gnu, and I have many, many friends who feel the same as I do.

  14. When I was 12. Started questioning and reading other history books. God was created to explain the unexplainable at that time. As science and rationality explained how our world worked, the role of a ‘god’ became less and less.

    You could say lack of evidence, then, is one of my main reasons. Common sense is another.

  15. I was born that way and never saw any reason to change. My parents are not religious, neither is my immediate family (well, some are mildly religious, but nobody is of the “you’re going to hell!” type). My parents taught me to be curious and ask questions.

    I don’t have room in my life for such nonsense as a god or religion, and I don’t need the false comforts that religious beliefs bring. I’ve found fulfillment in so many other aspects of life… why cheapen it with fantasies?

    I’m studying to be an entomologist/evolutionary biologist. I have enough to keep me occupied with the natural world, the “supernatural” is all superfluous make-believe fluff.

    Sometimes I get annoyed at having to use the word atheist, because it implies such importance of religion, that I would need to define myself that way. While I have done what I can to learn about religious beliefs, I would greatly prefer to never have to think about it at all! Of course, in conversation I’ll still unabashedly say I am an atheist, but I would love there to be a day when the word is unnecessary because religious beliefs are scarce enough that we don’t need to use them as the yardstick of normalcy.

  16. Well, I was fairly sure from a fairly young age that there probably were no gods. But the final straw for me were the scientologists. If you want to convince me that your religion is right, you should be able to show conclusively that the scientologists are wrong. The very fact that there is more than one religion in the world means that it is all bunkum, and can be dealt with as a purely cultural phenomenon.

  17. I think the modern incoherence is a reaction to the overwhelming disconfirming evidence rather than anything built-in to theology so I certainly wouldn’t say that it’s a big stumbling block for me. I think we’ve a general idea what a “god” would be and if we found anything like that even if it lacked the three ominis then we’d call it a god and everyone would probably agree it was a good label.

    For me, I rule out the personal gods who care about us and have the power to affect our lives via the problem of evil or the problem of suffering – there’s just too damn much of it, way way too damn much of it. Clearly we’re on our own.

    If I had some doubts, this is supplemented by the problem of faith as a source of knowledge, our willingness to make things up and believe in falsehoods, and the marks of human-origin of the religions. These bring a level of emotional conviction as the claims of religion jar so violently with fairly simple observations.

    What about deism? Dawkins’ Ultimate 747 argument helped convince me that anything which might resemble a god must be complex and therefore must have either evolved or been created by an evolved being and I think that if it evolved it’s an alien and not a god. That was the final nail in the coffin and convinced me that anything which might exist must lack several essential traits of god-hood and so no gods can exist.

    (All the rest about how crappy the evidence is, the incoherence of “supernatural”, etc is just icing on an already rich cake.)

  18. I was raised a conservative Christian and was so most of my life. I was a true believer who believed that god would be revealed through history and nature- there was no doubt in my mind. At that time, I was hoping to go into ministry but the issues of women in ministry continued to crop up which always bothered me (why does the church have so many problems with equality in so many areas?). While attending a conservative theological seminary, (I was majoring in OT studies) it became clear how similar Judaism was to other ancient religions- how much they borrowed from other cultures nearby, etc. The “evolution” of god in their theology seemed to be completely ad hoc- fitting political desires rather than a higher direction. After reading Walter Brueggeman’s ‘Theology of the Old Testament’, it became clear that my conservative background had been founded on a human construct- I had no idea who god was/is if it was based on the bible because the bible was written by people with motives other than revealing god. This was a major shakeup for me and I cannot tell you how emotional it was for me. I remember sitting in my car, weeping, and thinking that I had been tricked, duped into believing that the bible had been inspired by god– now I learn that it was written by ancient men for political and religious purposes?!?!? And if the OT was a series of fictional stories written for political gain, what made the NT any different? Liberal theologians seemed to be making things up in a pretty ad hoc manner (although they didn’t EVER admit it). Either the bible was a divinely inspired book or it was a book that was still being twisted to fit what people wanted it to be. And the latter conclusion is what I kept coming to.

    Initially, I simply rejected the church but in a strange my conservative christian roots kicked in. I was still clinging to the idea that there was a god, I simply needed to get away from Christianity. I was attempting to develop a concept of god but my ideas of who god was had more to do with who I was and who I wanted god to be rather than any divine inspiration. This seemed as ad hoc as the OT authors and it felt wrong to me. If there was a god, there should be more clear OUTSIDE evidence and understanding for who god is/was. (The final nail in the coffin was Hitchen’s ‘god is not great’ and Harris’s ‘Letters to a Christian Nation’ whose argument for atheists being humanists made me feel more secure about leaving the strappings of religion and a need for a higher calling behind)

    So, yeah, lack of evidence has definitely been the defining characteristic.

  19. I am an atheist because everything i have learned about life, the world, the universe, science, religion and especially people tells me that it was man who created “God” and not the other way around.
    I am also an atheist because religion has no intellectual or emotional hook for me.
    I dont reject the possibility of the universe being created or guided by some sort of creative intelligence or even an intelligent creator…..i just reject the monotheistic versions, because i see no evidence for them.

  20. I’m perplexed by the “there can be no evidence argument,” too — It seems that such an argument places the conclusion before the evidence, and is therefore inherently unscientific. I’m totally coming at this from the same angle as (I perceive) you are — that there is (a) no evidence for God, and (b) there is substantial evidence that many of the claims made by religions about God (e.g. creation myths) are false. When I hear a given religious tradition make a claim about the age of the Earth, for instance, and then I see contradictory evidence (I’m a geologist), that undermines my trust in the whole enterprise. That’s the route I’ve followed into atheism — if the religious authorities cannot be trusted to tell me the truth, and there is no independent means of verifying their central, primary claim, then why bother with it?

    Along similar lines, I wouldn’t bother with unicorns or the Tooth Fairy or Bigfoot. I could be convinced that any of these are true, if someone showed me a Bigfoot corpse, or took me on a safari to a place where unicorn herds roamed, or if I watched the Tooth Fairy come in through the window, pry my head and pillow up with a crowbar, and drop a gold coin on my mattress. Ditto for God — If a deity wanted to get me to believe in it, all it would have to do is pop by the office and introduce itself, and then show some evidence of its supernatural ability with me being permitted or encouraged to independently verify the supernatural nature of that demo. I’m sure then we would have a conversation, this visiting god and I, about the various claims he/she made about the nature of the world, and how those match up with measurable reality.

    This is a provisional acceptance of the “there is no god” hypothesis. That provisional acceptance is the way I deal with every other explanatory statement (hypothesis or theory) that attempts to describe reality and has evidence which supports it. I’m provisionally convinced of atomic theory, evolution, anthropogenic climate change, and plate tectonics — but I’m also aware that science has a long history, and our ideas about the way things work may evolve with time and new information. I’m willing to change my mind if the evidence suggests that I need to change my mind. (Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”)

    If there were any evidence, I’d be interested in examining it. There being no convincing evidence that I have seen, I remain an atheist on a provisional basis …and I expect to be one forever.

    1. I’m imagining a world that is full of seemingly supernatural events, like deities popping by to introduce themselves. These events have resisted every attempt to model them with predictive laws; the only rule seems to be that you can’t guess what miracle will happen next. The ratio of miracles to scientifically understood phenomena is close to 1.

      Then we would expect most people to be supernaturalists, but there might be some who held by faith a belief in naturalism. They would insist that all the miracles were illusions.

      Now it seems that i’ve described pre-enlightenment civilization!

      Of course from a slightly different point of view we still live in a miraculous world. If we consider scientific axioms such as conservation of laws under time, coordinate and velocity changes as miracles, that is.

    2. …and I expect to be one forever

      What is the difference between that and having faith that no evidence of a god will present itself to you in your lifetime? To me, it is the same difference between saying there are no gods and never can be and saying there is a god. One is completely justified (expect to be atheist forever/no gods ever), the other would have to turn science upside down in every way to be true from the social aspects to the most fundamental physical laws.

        1. Just working off of what I’ve experienced so far — no evidence so far for God, unicorns, Teeth Fairies, etc. No reason to expect any. When the evidence shows up, I’ll re-evaluate. Expecting something (lack of evidence in the future) based on experience (lack of evidence so far) isn’t the same as faith — it’s a logical prediction.

  21. I’ve been an atheist as long as I can remember. It just never made sense to me to believe in something that you couldn’t test or see. This was early enough when I didn’t know what the scientific process actually was.

    Religion itself was always bullshit to me not just because of the silliness of stories like Noah’s Ark, but because of the way people worshiped. It was scary how they followed others so easily and with such strange cultish language. It was my grandpa who really scared me off at an early age. I would tons of television, play videogames, watch movies, and all the while I would see tons of stuff that used science and taught life lessons about tolerance. The whole world acted in a child’s eyes a specific way. Then my grandpa came along and had me go to church one day. Everything they said contradicted not only the science, but the moral ideas and actions people actually took in the real world. It may sound silly, but was it religion that gave me my Nintendo and Super Mario Bros? The coolest stuff growing up was never religious. Bill Nye the Science guy didn’t have to mention God for me to get interested in the universe.

  22. I was raised in a catholic home with veeeery uneducated parents, and was very devoted to the faith until after I graduated high school. My conviction derived from the thought that faith was “right.” That it’s arguments were ironclad and it’s evidence insurmountable.

    Then I started trying to figure out what those arguments were and the evidence was. That was the beginning of the end.

    I boght a copy of a Lee Strobel book (don’t remember which one) and a copy of The God Delusion and read them both. Then I read the bible cover to cover, then I read the god delusion again. Then I read atheist and theist blogs and realized that all the evidence that I thought I had was, at best, not evidence at all. That everything I was told was Wrong with a capital W.

    And that was the biggest turning point for me, that religion was Evidently Wrong. The whole process took years, and I waffled between Catholic, Universalist, Deist and Agnostic before finally settling on Atheist. But Evidence (and also the flaws of all the possible arguments) played a major role for me.

  23. False choice. Why do we need to choose between “Lack of Evidence” and “Logically Incoherent”? I’m an atheist for both reasons.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. I think it pivots on the distinction: ‘Do you think evidence for a God could ever be produced or never be produced?’

      I don’t see why ‘never, unless it is’ is a dishonest answer.

      1. I think that’s a great answer.

        To the question “Are there any gods?” we can safely reply, “Absolutely not.” But we can’t answer the question, “Is the claim that God exists coherent?” with such certainty.

        Dawkins’s “There almost certainly is no God” is wrong. He should have said, “There are no gods — not even one. Furthermore, the claim that God exists is almost certainly incoherent.”

  24. My family went to church seldom and I cannot remember religion ever being discussed. My only religious exposures were Christmas and Easter, which were much more only about toys, games, and vacations. As a young teen, I absolutely devoured science fiction and fantasy. I re-read Asimov, Tolkien and Herbert many times, often staying up late into the night. My final english term paper was about black holes.
    College, however, led me on a detour. I was fully involved in the political left as well as post-modernism in the social sciences and humanities. I am embarrassed to admit that my final paper in ecology was a post-modern critique of EO Wilson and sociobiology. I am sure it was awful, had no supporting evidence, and was full of BS (although I did make an A!).
    After undergrad, I was part of pagan and new-age culture for many years…searching…searching…uh, evidently nothing. I lived at Roshi Philip Kapleau’s zen monestary for a while in Rochester NY (trying to prove there was nothing), studied African drum and dance in Senegal, ‘cut’ coffee in Nicaragua. I mention these because they were all part of my search for understanding and meaning.
    After these experiences, and more, I had to admit that all these methods of explaining ourselves and our world were completely made up and that the only way we can get the right answers is through empirical, rational, methods that yeild testable answers and predictions. I have also learned that while these answers are more or less provisional, that doesn’t mean everything has the same probability of being correct. In the human scale world, there are right and wrong answers to most good questions (out post-mod..out!).
    So I have no need for that god, woo, thingy. Plus, even if I did, it isn’t there.

    1. Uh..shorter version,

      No evidence for ‘it’ came first.
      Lots of evidence against ‘it’ came second.
      ‘It’ is an incoherent concept came third.

  25. I was raised a Catholic (though from 14 considered myself a Protestant when I found out what transubstantiation actually entailed) & was reminded every every week in Mass & pretty much everyday in school how God was constantly looking out for us & loved us & was generally ‘there’, but always found it odd how it just didn’t tally with what you experience in everyday life. An all-loving God that doesn’t actually interact with everyone & everything just seemed odd – after all, my parents told me they loved me & they showed affection towards me which would appear to support their claim(!), but you get no daily affection from God.
    However, I reasoned, Jesus existed since it said it right there in the NT, & while God as described in the OT was a bit barmy (though those passages were never read out in church or in school), the NT was written when there were Romans about so historical records were accurate by that time, I thought. At 15 I then found out that the resurrection story, the lynch pin of the whole thing, was added on to Mark’s Gospel later. This didn’t sit right with me at all. Then at 16 I read Terry Pratchett’s (+ Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen – an excellent book, I recommend it) which gave possible reasons for why the idea of a god could have been made up & that was it for me, that model made so much more sense than the one I’d been brought up with.
    It was only after this that I found logical reasons for why God didn’t exist, for instance if you went to Heaven but your spouse went to Hell, how could you ever be happy in Heaven? (Some people don’t agree with this mainstream assumption of Heaven which comprises of eternal bliss, I realise, but I was brought up believing that’s what it was so it works for me).

  26. I was raised Pentecostal, which means I was in a fundamentalist religion. It was so deeply instilled that it became a long journey to get to where I am now.

    It started, I think, because I realized how logically incoherent the teachings were. That lead me to a point where I considered myself agnostic.

    Then, as I considered the most basic question, “Is there a God?”, it was the lack of evidence that allowed me to embrace my inner atheist.

  27. A post saying “hey everyone, talk about yourself” should get plenty of replies.

    As with many people above, I don’t recall ever believing in any gods, or santa or the tooth fairy or anything. As I remember it, I always knew it was my parents who bought the presents and that god was just something you were forced to sing about in assembly at school.

    So, in the absence of childhood indoctrination, and the total absence of any evidence whatsoever to support the existence of any gods whatsoever, of course I’ve stayed non-religious.

    So, my reasons are entirely empirical, but possibly only because I escaped early indoctrination. I like to think I would have worked it out anyway even if I had been indoctrinated, but who knows?

    In response to all the earlier discussions, I reckon the best way to put it is to say that your subjective probability that god exists is epsilon, in the mathematical analysis sense, i.e. an arbitrarily small number.

  28. For me the evidence came second. First was the utter incomprehensibility of the stories, and distinctive lies and agendas that fell behind the promotion of religion. The realization that this was all I was ever seeing fit right in with the subconscious knowledge, from a very early age, that religious events took place in a world entirely unlike my own. The more people tried, the worse they made it. I was in my early teens.

    Later on, as my understanding of critical-thinking and following the evidence grew, I could see that there was no evidence for any deity, and that what we were surrounded by were intricately interlocking examples of very simple physical rules. There were (and are) no weak spots – everything offered support for some aspect of a natural universe, and for other bits of evidence at the same time. It was, as they say, an airtight case.

    The best evidence that’s ever been offered in support of a deity has been laughable, though I’m always open to hear something challenging – it hasn’t happened yet. What many never seem to realize is that, even with their best hypothesis, they’ll still have to explain why we have the conditions that we do. Evolution, geology, cosmology, et al are all remarkably imprecise to fit into the concept of a planned universe.

    1. My story coincides with Just Al’s almost perfectly.

      Socialized to be a believer. Came to see that the stories made no sense. Looked at other religions; saw their stories made no sense. Looked at naturalistic evidence; saw it made sense.

    2. The realization that this was all I was ever seeing fit right in with the subconscious knowledge, from a very early age, that religious events took place in a world entirely unlike my own.

      Ah, so you compared religious narratives to reality and found they didn’t match. That would be using evidence to reach a decision, the evidence being what you knew about reality. So why are you saying evidence was secondary?

      I would go so far as to say it is impossible to conclude that religion is false without appealing to evidence, and I’m as perplexed as Jerry why so atheists seem to deny this.

  29. Lack of evidence is certainly very important, and not just in the sense of Russell’s Teapot. For oh-so-many of the claims of gods to be true, there must be evidence, and the lack of said evidence is as much ironclad proof of lack of existence as the relative calm and quiet in my kitchen right now is proof that there isn’t a herd of angry elephants on a rampage in there.

    But it goes beyond that. In order for there to be evidence for, say, a “gleeblefarb,” we have to know what a gleeblefarb is. Is it bigger than a breadbox? Is it animal or vegetable? Because, if we can’t even define it, then everything constitutes evidence both for and against its existence!

    And so it is with gods.

    If we take the traditional types of definition, gods are entities capable of performing miracles. (Gods aren’t necessarily the only entities capable of performing miracles, and thus that isn’t the entire definition; however, if the entity can’t perform miracles, then we know that, whatever it is, it’s not a god.)

    That’s all well and good, but what are miracles?

    Well, traditionally, they’re instances of the impossible — like walking on water, turning water into wine, parting the Red Sea, riding a flying horse into the sunset, taking possession of the soul of a plant and thereby causing it to talk and spontaneously combust, causing abiogenesis and designing the eye and the flagellum, that sort of thing.

    But here’s the rub: either those things are truly impossible, in which case they didn’t happen; or they happened, in which case they’re (obviously!) not impossible. Either way, they’re not miracles.

    So, if miracles aren’t real, and if you have to perform miracles in order to be a god, then we know that gods aren’t real.

    For many people, a miracle isn’t an instance of the perfectly impossible, but rather an instance of something they’re not capable of doing themselves. Sure, it’s possible for an entity to kick off the Big Bang; it’s just that it’s not possible for a human to do it. Therefore, any entity that can kick off the Big Bang is a god.

    But that fails, too. I can’t fly without mechanical assistance, but birds can. Therefore, birds are gods. Again, this sort of definition falls flat on its face as soon as you try to put it to the test.

    At the end of the day, it is logically conceivable that we may one day encounter an entity with powers incomprehensible to the human mind. Perhaps it’s an alien civilization that’s build a Dyson Sphere. It might be the programmers of the Matrix. Maybe it’s Alice’s Red King manifesting himself in his dream as Lao Tzu’s butterfly. We can be overwhelmingly confident that that hasn’t happened yet, but there’s nothing saying that it’s impossible for it to happen sometime in the future.

    But, by any definition I’ve ever encountered, if we’re supposed to attach the “god” label to such an entity, our ancestors of not very many generations ago would have had to attach the same label to us. We can also be confident that it won’t be long, now, before humans are restoring limbs, creating realistic dream words in computer simulations, and so on; therefore, our future selves of a century or so from now are also gods. As a result, I don’t find this definition of the term, “god,” very useful either.

    And, there’s another essential element to the common definition to the term: the end of inquiry. What’s the origin of the eye? Goddidit. And don’t you dare pay any attention to the man behind the curtain!

    If we were to encounter one of these alien Matrix butterfly kings, we could either slap the “god” label on while asking, “Why bother?”

    Or, we could say, “That’s interesting. I wonder how it works?” and break out the observational instruments.

    The former is a god. The latter is a natural phenomenon worthy of investigation. I have no use for the former, but the latter would be most fascinating, indeed.



    1. Ben, I’ve have appreciated your comments here and on other blogs for quite some time — and even by those high standards, this is brilliant. I certainly hope you are writing a book.

    2. Yes well said Ben!

      Evidence for an all powerful entity could never be conclusive. There can be no finite evidence for an infinite being. We could never be certain we have complete knowledge. Therefore the existence of evidence for an uncaused cause is logically impossible.

      Nevertheless, as long as people still have the emotion of fear and other faculties intact, i’m not sure anyone could be certain that they wouldn’t believe in a God if that entity had the power to make all our dreams and nightmares a reality.

      1. CJ wrote

        “Evidence for an all powerful entity could never be conclusive. There can be no finite evidence for an infinite being. We could never be certain we have complete knowledge. Therefore the existence of evidence for an uncaused cause is logically impossible.”

        I disagree with your assertions statement “that there can be no finite evidence” and “the existence of evidence … is logical impossible”. Those conclusions do not follow from the arguably true premises that the evidence “couldn’t be conclusive” in the sense of “certain we have complete knowledge”. The “certain complete knowledge” standard is impossible, impractical, unecessary, and therefore mistaken as the minimum standard for claiming supporting evidence about ANY claim. If the definition of supporting evidence is that it must be complete and absolute then we cannot claim any knowledge about anything at all. Accordingly, we always claim knowledge provisionally, on the weight of the evidence. THAT is the proper, practical, reasonable, sensible, consistent, universally applicable, single standard. And on that single standard basis, the same standard we apply daily to evaluating all claims, we certainly can have evidence that either disfavors or favors a universe that stands on its own or that is a product of intelligent designed by a creator god. The available evidence that we have about how our universe functions, is all, entirely, favoring the former conclusion over the latter conclusion.

    3. Let me add my “well said!” This touches on pretty much every salient point I’ve ever considered as I progressed from half-hearted believer to full-blown atheist.

      1. With the exception, I just noticed, of the thing that kick-started my journey: as Jerry notes above, religion has human fingerprints ALL OVER it. It’s manifestly a human invention.

    4. But it goes beyond that. In order for there to be evidence for, say, a “gleeblefarb,” we have to know what a gleeblefarb is. Is it bigger than a breadbox? Is it animal or vegetable?

      How do you know what a breadbox is? Or what an animal is? Or a vegetable? Were these concepts you held prior to interacting with the world? If not, then you are skipping over a great deal of the evidentiary collection process without recognizing that you are doing so.

      It impossible for words to have any referents to reality unless you are willing to cite evidence. The need for evidence is that basic.

      1. You’re right. But so is Ben. The problem is that the term “god” has preceded its actual referent, while normally, phenomen are encountered first, then given a name, etc.

        The problem is compounded by the fact that “god” has so many possible referents, none of which are defined in absolute, explicit detail.

        1. Very true. I’m just pointing out the implicit assumption in the statement “the concept of god is incoherent” is always going to be “based on everything we already know.” How we know things is at the root of this discussion. I submit that any assertion of knowledge that omits the importance of evidence amounts to solipsism, which is an extremely weak position from which to argue against much of anything.

        2. A shorter summary of my main point is this: We cannot say that god has no referent in reality unless we go out and look at reality. And the only way we can build up a coherent picture of reality is via the accumulation of evidence.

          1. I’m not understanding what your beef is with Ben. Surely the two of you (and I) agree about how one achieves “a coherent picture of reality.”

            Perhaps it was this passage that threw you off:

            But it goes beyond that. In order for there to be evidence for, say, a “gleeblefarb,” we have to know what a gleeblefarb is.

            Perhaps you don’t like him saying that the matter “goes beyond” questions of evidence. But the point is not that definitional questions are more basic than (or logically prior to) evidence. The gleeblefarb problem “goes beyond” the problem of evidence in the sense that the gleeblefarb problem is about human behavior. The reason that people argue about what “God” means is that someone with total contempt for the evidence invented the idea of God. That was a social decision, a social gesture, and it has had profound social results.

            Yes, evidence is fundamental. Evidence comes before everything else. But there is another way to talk about this stuff, at the level of social interaction, where we can ask questions like, “Why would one person deliberately deceive another?” Such considerations are no less valid than epistemological ones.

    5. Clear and compelling.

      Miracles as arguments from incredulity. Nice.

      (Don’t you just hate it that xians are so keen to label quotidian events that fall in their favour as miracles?)

  30. I believe there is no god because of the lack of evidence, and because of science, and because of the way I reasoned things out during my formative years. I don’t see the logic in god, though I do understand how humans came up with the concept and I cannot blame not-too-bright people for believing in it.
    I figure that if god wanted me to know he existed then I simply would not have to guess about it, to wonder if there is a god, to look for evidence of a god.
    Some people see it the other way around; they see god everywhere. They see wonders of nature and figure that it’s evidence of god.
    I came to my conclusions when I learned about dinosaurs and other sciency stuff as a kid. I sat in church listening to sermons and they didn’t make sense to me. Then in high school maybe some existentialist reading for English class corrupted me further.
    For me, that is really all there is to it.

  31. i was always bored by bible stories (to which i had to listen in elementary school), they seemed so much worse than what my parents gave me to read.
    i think that’s really it. at home, we never discussed questions of faith. until the age of 15 or so i did’nt even know if my parents – or any member of my family for that matter – was religious.

    but that’s the real exception here in austria, where most people are catholic. i’m thankful for it, because i wasn’t influenced in any way, just taught to think for myself.

  32. I lean toward Jerry’s position, but with a little bit of a difference. For me, the question “is there a god?” IS meaningless and incoherent. The term “God” is undefined (intentionally I think) so that people will “fill” it with whatever notions they have, which of course strips it of any precision and utility. Now, if we ask about specific deities– “does YHWH, Allah, Jesus, etc. exist?”– it’s a different story. We can demand evidence based on the specific definition at hand, and even though no Christian (at any rate) is going to be able to come up with a consensus definition it is logically possible that there is one and therefore becomes a falsifiable question. The reason I’m an atheist is because when evidence is demanded believers refuse to comply, or they offer trivialities (“the proof of God is written all over his creation”) and the older I get the more sure I become that no evidence (or even a coherent definition) will ever be forthcoming.

  33. I’m an atheist because the idea of a god just doesn’t explain anything. It’s meaningless. Sure, it offers “answers” but I can give you answers about anything – they just won’t be the right ones!

    I was raised in a Catholic house – very Catholic in that the importance of god and prayers were taken for granted, an assumed part of reality. I went to Catholic school where ‘Religion’ was just another subject along with English, math or science. I did well in school but was always more concerned with having fun and being a kid than sitting in the classroom, whatever the subject, and I think this allowed me to abandon faith in something I never took seriously in the first place. Despite the religiosity of my upbringing it was never oppressive. I have fond memories of my school, and am still close to my family (despite their ongoing Catholicism). I would have to say I became an atheist fairly recently, but I had stopped believing in god a long time ago – the idea of ‘god’ was just something I never felt the reason to oppose, or resist, or argue against. It was just irrelevant to the world I live in, and still is today.

    The difference now is that I’ve started to see the need to articulate my reasons, which is why I’ve changed from not believing in god, to being an active atheist, outspoken when necessary, but certainly opposed to religion as a social force and god as an idea. What confirmed me as an atheist are not arguments from the gnu atheists or ye olde atheists, but the weakness of the arguments for god from Christians and other defenders of religion (and the fact that all they have are arguments, but no evidence!). I’m an atheist because the burden of proof isn’t on me to prove anything, and, from everything I know of the world I can’t conceive of any possible evidence that would convince me otherwise.

  34. As a child, I always questioned the stories I was told from the Bible because they didn’t make sense, but was told that God could do anything he wanted. Since all the adults I knew said that, I just accepted it. I still questioned in my mind, but kept quiet about it. In my early teens, many of my friends were being “saved” by an evangelist at the local church so I went and got “saved” myself. Wanting to be a good Christian, I began reading the Bible from beginning to end. By the time I finished, I was an atheist. Since age 14, everything I’ve learned has supported that decision, and there has been not a shred of evidence against it. The discovery of evolution for me was especially gratifying, even though everyone around me closed their mind to it. Of course, living in the Bible-belt of the south has not been easy, but I would never give up my intellectual integrity just be folded in the arms of the believers.

  35. For me it was a mixture of education and repugnance at the morality that was preached by the Catholic church.

    I was fortunate (and I use the term with wry cynicism) enough to be educated in an accommodationist-style school; in as much as evolution and the Big Bang were not regarded as controversial but as consistent with Christian belief. That already does a lot to weaken the power of religious claims, knowing that the foundational text is not strictly speaking, literally true.

    I also was very aware as a teen of the cognitive dissonance enforced by living in a modern liberal society where I fully agreed with contraception and equality for women; while quite the reverse appeared to be endorsed by the morality of my Church. That puzzled and troubled me for a long time. Trying to hold to hold both sets of values is almost impossible, and I found myself increasingly alienated from an institution that seemed incapable of providing good reasons for their archaic and misogynist rules. I can remember throwing the Bible across the room one afternoon, disgusted my one of Paul’s anti-female diatribes. I was quite prepared to accept that what he said was what my Church endorsed and therefore “correct”; nevertheless I had by then decided that I had on this issue to refuse to accept Church doctrine regardless of whether that made me “bad”.

    Then at university I did a course in Roman and Comparative Law where I had the opportunity of seeing for myself just how manipulated and deliberately fabricated the supposed foundational holy texts of the Abrahamic religions were.

    At that stage I wouldn’t have described myself as an atheist, but I realised that I couldn’t bring myself to believe in any of it: it was too preposterous, too fabricated and morally dubious.

    I probably retained some sort of weak deist philosophy for a while after that, mostly out of fear of dying, until science rudely disabused me of my hope for “surviving my own death” (as Hitch puts it).

    I suppose it is partly due to a serious lack of evidence, but I never realised I was looking for any. It just slowly became apparent to me what a fraud it all was.

  36. My mother brought us up in a New Age woo-filled belief system, but my father was agnostic, so the idea that Mom could be wrong was present from early on. Still, I generally believed in her BS until about the time I hit high school. By then, there was too much evidence to the contrary for me to believe in an all knowing, all loving god. T’was the old problem of evil that first shook my faith – evidence to the contrary.

    I was more or less agnostic, with spiritual, woo-filled leanings, until I had a crisis of faith at age 25. A personal experience brought the problem of evil home for me and made it impossible to ignore. I could no longer support any belief in my mother’s god. I spent the couple of months desperately searching for conclusive evidence, one way or the other, for a god and an afterlife. I could find neither, and I was trapped in a life-consuming funk until I heard an interview on NPR with some Richard Dawkins guy. He pointed out that it isn’t reasonable to assume that something exists until proven otherwise, and that it doesn’t even default to 50/50. In the rest of our lives, we don’t believe in something until we find positive evidence, and there’s no reason to give the supernatural an exemption or free pass. That’s when I became an atheist. (Again, lack of positive evidence was the deciding factor.)

    After joining the online atheist community, I realized that the god concept was incoherent – at least, I have never come upon a meaningful definition. Until I am presented with a coherent concept, nothing will look like positive evidence for a god.

  37. I think that I have to agree with the other commenters who consider atheism to be a default position, rather than an opposing position to theism. I guess what I mean by that is that no one is asking, “Well, what evidence could convince you that there’s a giant invisible salmon in the sky, controlling everyone’s thoughts and actions?”

    Substitute in god or any similar deity, and you basically are asking me the same question.

    Growing up in Judaism (and still considering myself a Jew, not just ethnically or culturally, but also religiously), I learned nothing about an afterlife. A lot of my Christian friends had trouble dealing with this, constantly probing at my beliefs, wondering why Judaism taught that there was no afterlife. I had to explain to them, it’s not that I sat there in Hebrew school and our teachers had us repeat over and over, “There is no afterlife, there is no afterlife.” It never came up because it’s not … well, it’s just not there. We didn’t learn that the afterlife wasn’t real; it was a non-issue, something that never came up, much like a giant invisible salmon.

    Finally, I really hope that people get the SMBC shared in this post. I think it’s hilarious.

      1. Yes, I agree.

        Probably the reason why I bothered with religion for as long as I did was because I assumed that my mother and my priest would not deliberately deceive me.

        The truth turned out to be more complicated than that, but religion is pretty irrelevant outside of community-building in the modern world; so but for familial loyalties I would have abandoned it far sooner.

      2. Which, incidentally, is a rather good rule-of-thumb if one is to survive to reproductive age.
        Which is also why some memes have co-opted or parasitised this crucial short-cut in order to ‘selfishly’ reproduce themselves, to the (often profound) detriment of the host, much as the malaria parasite tends not to kill it’s host in normal circumstances.

        1. Funnily enough, Christian tradition makes the point that even family is to be abandoned for the sake of faith. Jesus makes this clear on more than one occasion in the New Testament.

          On the other hand, the Church also likes to bandy about the slogan “The family that prays together, stays together”. This proved not to be the case in my family: my mother’s non-optional prayer evenings brought out mutinous thoughts in her children, mostly because the constant endless repetitions were mind-numbingly dull.

          1. One only has to look at Amish, Mormons and Scientologists to see religions that clearly put their commandments above their supposed ‘family values’. It breaks my heart to see people discarding their children for the cold comfort of a pew.

            1. I think it’s even worse than that. Mormon (and other fundie) dogma are considered to be “family values.” Even when it’s plainly obvious that the dogma is causing the family harm. If the dogma results in harm, the family is just not “faithful” enough.

      3. Yes. But I got lucky with my parents.

        I suppose we’re all unconscious atheists when babies in the sense that we do not know about the concept of a god and therefore we do not believe in a god. But then, most people I imagine, with our tendency to listen and trust our parents influences what we think such as the god hypothesis.

          1. But agency is not the same thing as godliness. I think Michael Kingsford Gray’s comment (above) applies here. Humans have evolved certain intuitions; and religious memes are “designed” to hijack those intuitions.

      4. I think the default position is trusting whatever your parents tell you.

        To a point. It is (usually)very adaptive for altricial offspring. But don’t most of us hit a wall sometime in the general area of puberty when it dawns on us that our parents are fallible humans after all? And isn’t that where at least some of us start to think for ourselves?

    1. huh, really? judaism doesn’t talk about heaven or hell? that’s news to me… and quite interesting, that puts a big hole in my “people believe in religion because it sells them immortality” hypothesis.

  38. I must split my answer into two parts because my atheism evolved in two parts–early age skepticism of Catholic explanations and later, advanced knowledge of evolution, astronomy, chemistry, and molecular biology that proved how everything came to be and how religion was irrelevant.

    My atheist bedrock goes like this:
    1) We know the Big Band happened and how all of the elements followed including rocky planets with carbon and water
    2) We don’t know how the first replicators started but eventually, I think we will using chemistry and reverse engineering of bacteria.
    3) Once bacterial life was established, everything that follows admits a straightforward evolutionary explain.
    4) We evolved, therefore ALL human belief was manufactured in the last 100,000 years including God belief.

    I share Jerry’s point of view that I could be convinced that a deity exists but that none does nor is there evidence for one. I appreciate Grayling’s philosophical point that such a thing is incoherent and a flawed historical conjecture from the start. We can say there is no evidence for God now, or in the past (using retrospective criteria of evidence), but I am loathe to say there can be no evidence in the future.

    I am a 7.0 (Dawkins scale) atheist for eternity until some evidence arises at which point I’ll become a 6.8. Is that an agnostic or incoherent position to take? I don’t think so.

    1. We know the Big Band happened and how all of the elements followed including rocky planets with carbon and water

      Could not help LOLing at the Big Band!

  39. I became an atheist because the supposed evidence for god’s existence turned out to be fraudulent, pathetically weak or (usually) completely missing.

    At the time, I thought most of the “god” concepts were coherent enough that they might be true, although after having read some recent criticisms of those concepts, I’d have a difficult time defending any of them now. As such it’s hard to think of any evidence that would convince me wholeheartedly to accept theism again.

    Even the 900-ft Jesus (or whatever) could always just be a clever trick or a hallucination. I think I’d always be looking behind the curtain for a naturalistic explanation.

  40. If I can remember through the haze of time, I have always doubted the belief that there is any god since I was a teenager. I was brought up culturally Jewish by parents who were not very observant, although some members of the extended family were quite observant.

    My problem over many years is what I now know as the Problem of Evil. I could not fathom that there could be a deity, given the suffering I saw everywhere. The closer that came to me or my family and friends, the more I had a problem with it.

    I didn’t truly become an atheist until about a half dozen years ago, after reading the books by the “New Atheists”.

    The complete lack of evidence is my main reason now for being an atheist, backed up now by my further self-education of the Problem of Evil, the current research on the implausibility of any of the Abrahamic religions claims of history showing no evidence even of any of the characters having ever being real, and by reading dozens of books by atheists.

  41. My atheism was the result of a perfect storm of different things hitting me when I was about sixteen.

    I always had a line between science and religion as a kid… I thought that Jesus was real, but at the same time the stuff that was completely scientifically impossible in Genesis was straight up discarded. My parents and pastor were also willing to admit that all good people go to heaven, even when they don’t believe in Jesus (even though I’m sure Martin Luther disagreed). That held me in faith for a long while, but at the end of the day, I trusted science, and I liked religion, but I never really trusted it to be true.

    I met my first atheists (a history teacher and a fellow student) when I was 15, and my first creationist, and I was amazed by how stupid the creationists were, and how well read the atheists were. Lutherans had always made fun of Baptists and the other crazier sects, but were our beliefs any less crazy? I used to believe in UFOs and Bigfoot too, but that was all thoroughly crushed by Carl Sagan and others.

    On a more personal note, my first crush in high school was this girl who had a lot of problems with suicide and depression. I remember praying a lot for her, both that she would be happy, and that she would like me. As neither of these things came to pass (though she is doing much better today, she never had an easy time of it in high school), I started wondering what the point of prayer was, since God obviously wasn’t giving me want I wanted.

    When I went to a magnet school to finish the last two years of high school, I was away from my parents, church, and with a bunch of other students who loved talking about this stuff. After a time I realized I was always arguing against the naive religious people, and that I was an atheist.

  42. I’ve always been an atheist. I remember my best friend in the 1st grade asked me if I believed in God (he came from a religious family), and I said no.

    Later in life, I read up on many different religious traditions and they all seemed incoherent and silly, so atheist I stayed.

    My immediate family is non-religious, but believe in all manner of other supernatural things, ghosts, “energy”, alternative medicine, and so on. Even those I was mostly skeptical of from a young age, though not entirely. And now I’m entirely skeptical of these sorts of claims.

      1. Perhaps, but that’s “atheism” (absence of religious belief) in a very different sense than the way an adult accepts atheism (usually an actual, reasoned rejection of religious belief).

        If there were no religions to reject, or if they were rare or without influence, atheism would have little meaning — it really would be the default position.

            1. By your curious logic:
              “Looking for my keys” is the same as “believing in automobiles”.

  43. I went to catholic school from 1st grade to fourth grade in Gary indiana no less. In 2nd grade the nuns would tell/explain to us the concept of purgotory and it just struck me as not fair to punish people this way by a god that is suppose to love us. By the 4th grade it didn’t seem fair for the christian god to punish people who didn’t happen to live in palastine in the first century for not even knowing about the christian god and his avatar jebus. So you could say that I rejected it on philosophical grounds to be later reinforced on factual grounds, or a lack of evidence.

  44. I had pretty much the exact experience that Gawdzilla in comment #1 had.

    I was in 3rd grade Sunday school, and the nice lady told us a story about a flood and a great big boat and how all the animals walked to the ark. I thought (to myself), “that couldn’t have happened.”

    For me, it was very much like the realization that there was no Santa Claus. Just a lifting of the veil.

    So, there was no empirical sifting through the evidence; just an induction that proposition A (the ark) must be false, therefore proposition B (the premise that a god exists) is probably false as well. Now, I was 8 at the time, so I didn’t formally think like that. I do remember being put-off by the fact that they were trying to lie to us kids.

    But I didn’t rebel, and in fact participated for years in the motions of faith. But as a teen, I found it impossible to be in a church service without thinking how trite and silly it sounded.

    For a long time, I was agnostic about the “any” god concept – deism is the last refuge of the faint-of-heart. But the god of my parents? No, that one actually never took.

    Only later did I start looking at the arguments for god with a critical eye. I think the phrase “thin gruel” was invented with those arguments in mind.
    I became a frank atheist after trying and failing to find some coherent ontology for such a creature.

    My digging into cosmology — the Big Bang and all that — really sealed the deal. When you think about it, the larger the universe is, the less likely it is to have been built with us in mind. Plus, the fact that the universe went along quite nicely for 14+ billion years without us should also serve as a clue that our appearance on this little blue ball is nothing more than happenstance.

    Biology and evolution really had nothing to do with my atheism (sorry). Although now the all-natural processes involved in life are surely a compelling supporting argument against belief in the supernatural.

    1. My first religious memory was a Sunday school teacher telling me that the rainbow is a sign that it’s not going to rain for 7 days (OK it’s garbled and it should have been that the rainbow is a sign that the next holocaust won’t be due to a global flood) and I thought, ‘yeah, right …’

  45. For me, it was realizing that religions are human handiwork. I was quite devout growing up – God on the side of the oppressed and all of that – but was always bothered by the tenet that those who do not accept Christ are condemned. That didn’t seem fair. That didn’t seem like God. Ah, but it did seem like something people would say to push an ideology.

    So, no, lack of evidence for the divine didn’t really do it, although it may have convinced me that I had no choice if I wanted to be honest.

  46. When my daughters reached school age, I wanted to be able to explain the scientific support for creationism so I started to objectively research it. Every claim I checked turned out to be “wrong” (a hoax, misunderstood science, stretched past the breaking point, etc) and every “quote” I checked was taken so far out of context that they could be considered to be deliberate attempts to deceive. On the other hand, evolution was supported by solid facts and research.

    This was devastating to me as a fundamentalist, so I started to look at the Bible for events that should have left evidence and would show that God had caused them, e.g. the Flood, Tower of Babel, Exodus etc. Not only did I not find anything that suggested that these events might have happened, but generally the evidence suggested that remarkably different events occurred. I also spent some time investigating miracles and it rapidly became apparent that they are nothing more than subjective claims of “supernatural” while having natural explanations

    I guess in my case it in not just a completely lack of evidence, but that the existing evidence suggests that many of the Bible’s claims can not be true. Once I reached this point, I also began to realize the inconsistencies and problems with claims about the nature of God.

    I have not rigorously checked other claims for a god or gods but it seems clear to me that any god that claims to have been involved in creation in any way is highly likely to be completely false.

    1. Bully for you! It is so much easier to accept authority than do one’s own investigating. Your daughters are fortunate.

  47. I would say it’s the incoherence — theodicy, in particular. Not so much the incoherence of gods, per se, but the incoherence of a monotheistic God. Say what you will about Homer and Thesiod, but at least it’s a coherent theology. I’d rather live in a world where an earthquake and tsunami is the result of Poseidon and Hades fighting over a nymph than one in which it’s the fault of human sin.

    That said, now that we know about subduction zones and wave propagation, we don’t really need Poseidon and Hades anymore.

    If God were somehow shown to exist, it doesn’t necessarily follow that God should be worshiped. Show me the God of Abraham, and I’ll show you a monster. I’ve had enough of sucking up to emotionally manipulative bullies, thank you.

  48. Although I consider myself an atheist (and an a-teapotist, a-fairiest, a-spagetti monsterist, etc.), I am slightly uncomfortable with claiming that the only reason for this is due to a lack of positive evidence for god. I certainly have not been presented with any evidence, and this is an crucial basis on which I base belief, but the very notion of “evidence for god”, or indeed evidence for anything ‘supernatural’ seems incoherent to me, since “evidence”, at least in the scientific sense in which I am used to using it, is empirical (and hence natural) by definition. This would therefore exclude, a priori, the possibility of there being evidence for anything supernatural (since I assume that god qualifies as superatural).

    I am reminded of remark made by Carl Sagan in the context of the possibility of finding extraterrestrial life:

    “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.

    Logically, that is correct.

    But, lack of evidence AND a lack of the possibility of evidence, means that the hypothesis is neither supported nor coherent. This puts belief at 0.

    However, my outright disbelief, is grounded on the positive (empirical!) evidence that Grayling has nicely pointed out; namely, the fact that ‘Gods’ (and other magical beings) are obviously man made. This puts belief in the negative.

      1. Gah–now that you mention it…!!

        Fortunately the odds of anyone “finding” it would be vanishingly small; but…it is now possible.

      2. I wanna troll the skeptical community – you know that one operating room in England where they’ve put a word near the ceiling that only someone having an out of body experience could see? i want to infiltrate the building, maybe get a janitor job, and climb up and read the word. next i move near the hospital, and go on a bacon intensive diet. wait for my heart attack, and with luck i get taken to that room, and with further luck they revive me! Then I take my miraculous story to the media. Epic troll!

        1. I would advise you to “get a life”, but it seems that you wish to “get a death”.

  49. I was raised in a very conservative sect (the Church of Christ, specifically the subset that believes instrumental music at worship is bad and wrong). The standard line in that church was that the bible is the perfect word of god and contains no errors. It was pretty easy for me to conclude based on actually reading the thing that this wasn’t true.

    I came to that conclusion as a preteen. Later on I looked for evidence for christianity’s overarching claims historically speaking and found it pretty lacking. No real proof of a lot of Old Testament claims, no real proof of New Testament timelines, no mention of all this supposedly miraculous and notable stuff in contemporary claims, etc.

    A lot of believers will try to claim they have some support for all of this (biblical archaeology is something one of my religious relatives was really into reading about, for example). But there’s no better evidence for this particular god than there is for any other deity they’ve got no problem not-believing in.

    I know some people also find evidence completely irrelevant when it comes to faith. For me it’s a pretty central question (“Why believe in this particular god? Why not believe in Zeus instead?”)

  50. My mother and grandmother brought me to mass every week, and I also went to the Catholic version of Sunday school. I followed along, but never thought about or questioned it.

    When I was seven, and in church, I suddenly thought “This isn’t real”, and I never changed my mind. No conflict, no worry, it just seemed to be empty ritual so I didn’t feel anything on not finding it to be true.

    I dutifully went to mass, confession, communion, confirmation, and all that, until I was eighteen and left my parents’ house. Never asked anyone questions, it seemed futile. Never told anyone in my family, I haven’t felt the need to.

    I remember, in later years, desperately trying to think of sins to confess! None sprang to mind.

    AS I got older, the lack of evidence became apparent to me, but I already was a solid atheist, so it didn’t even confirm my views.

  51. The title of this post is taken from Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk’s excellent book 50 Voices of Disbelief , in which some of my readers have already published their reasons.

    If you guys haven’t read that book, get a copy and do so. It’s good.

    1. It’s funny, but since my library got an automated (non-person-involved) checkout system, I’ve been much more liberal in my reading habits.

      I’ll check it out (literally).

      1. Isn’t it nice? I always felt a little self conscious checking out Hitchens and what not.

        But at the same time it is nice to get a smile and a wink from a librarian.

        1. Funny you should say. I was serving a rotation in circulation one afternoon when a college kid presented me with his library card and The God Delusion at checkout. I asked him if he had read Harris’, The End of Faith, and he said that he hoped to read that next. He said his friends at college would give him a hard time when they saw him reading these books.

          So I winked and smiled and said “Courage”.

  52. I grew up Evangelical Fundamentalist Christian. I always had bent for science though. As I got older, I noticed how science and a literal interpretation of the bible just didn’t go together. Then I learned when things were written and how the bible was pieced together. I also learned how we trick ourselves. So that is what turned me away from religion. I guess it was evidence that everything I was taught was wrong.

  53. First of all, I’m assuming your question is more specifically on a theistic God rather than a deistic “god”. Not that it would change much my answer.
    I’ll give four reasons:
    1. Lack of evidence
    2. Logical implausibility of an all-knowing and all-powerful entity
    3. Since the childhood I’ve been bothered on a daily basis by the sound of bells produced by a catholic church opposite where I live
    4. God is the anagram of dog. I prefer cats

        1. I hope so. I’ve seen nothing so far to indicate that his scat fetish is anything but a love for all things Ella.

      1. Ah, but “tacs” is the acronym for “total access communication system” of which “dog” is quite apparently incapable.

  54. I considered myself an agnostic since my teens and basically forgot about it. Although, if you had asked me, I might have allowed for a deist-type god. Until I read the God Delusion. That set me down the path of actually looking at evidence. No evidence for a god, plenty of evidence that s/he is unnecessary for the universe to be the way it is.

    Here’s what I wrote on Ophelia’s site on this subject: “I can’t think of anything that, if true, I would ultimately accept as proof of God, that I wouldn’t first say: “Wait, it’s a trick. Let’s figure out how they did it.”

  55. WAIT! I want to change my answer.

    I became an atheist solely for the following reason that has not yet been forwarded by Russell, Dawkins, Dennett, Coyne, or Grayling:
    Why would God create humans with an opposable thumb if he also made it a sin to rub one out?

      1. The solution to this philosophical quandry in my 12 year old brain was easily resolved:
        ‘Better give up theism and work it out myself.’

  56. The nature of the observed universe told me there was no supernatural. It looks completely random to me, thus I have no need of envisioning a purposeful creator. Lack of evidence.

    But, I suppose there could conceivably be evidence, someday. Put me about a 5.9 on the Dawkins scale.

  57. I grew up in an Irish catholic household, mass every sunday, communion, confirmation etc. Even for most catholics in that culture there are a lot of things that are obviously fake or manmade (the church rules regarding contraception being a prime example that is almost universally ignored in developed catholic majority societies).
    Well for me I think that during my teenage years I started to realize that more and more additional things that were taught by the church also fitted into the manmade category. I remember reading ‘The Origin of Species’ when I was about 11 or 12 but that didn’t turn me into an atheist. I think I still had this notion of Jesus as a superhero, or the ideal human archetype to be emulated and this protected some degree of faith from being discarded. In my mid teens I read ‘Why I am not a Christian’ by Bertrand Russell. At the time I didn’t know who Russell was! I just thought the title seemed provocative and interesting so I bought the book and read it. THAT did turn me into an atheist as it showed me that Jesus, if he actually existed, was fallible and it pointed out some incredibly immoral teachings of Jesus himself (like hell!)
    By the way I am not in the category that there can be no evidence for God. My own view is that there can be some evidence for certain kinds of Gods (Greek or Norse Gods, for example, or Jesus returning) but that that evidence will only be partial rather than completely convincing.

  58. I came at atheism through applying my skepticism of the paranormal to all supernatural claims — including the Big One. Therefore, solid scientific evidence for the paranormal (ESP, PK, dualism, ghosts) would change my mind about how plausible God is. It would place its existence on the table as a live option. It would be a beginning.

    I was raised a ‘freethinker’ — with no religion — and absorbed a sort of cultural Christianity from the culture, along with a lot of vague but inspiring “spiritual but not religious” inclinations. Perhaps God was a sort of consciousness which runs through all things, a life energy which disposed us towards what is Good. That worked. I read Emerson and some New Agey writers and became a “Transcendentalist,” embracing a lot of very nice stuff and poetry about potential and love and everything tied to everything else in a harmonious cosmos where all things happen “for a reason” and souls continue forever on their collective journey towards spiritual growth and understanding. How very nice. Nothing but nice.

    Sometimes theists claim that the atheists’ lack of belief is the result of their rebellion against authority: they just don’t want to have to obey the strict and demanding God of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. But the God I don’t believe in is the fuzzy feel-good God of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Deepok Chopra, and Karen Armstrong: what the hell’s not to like?

    It’s just wrong, is all

    When I believed I was very intrigued by all the evidential support that “matter is not all there is” — the claims for the paranormal. The evidence was overwhelming. Reading about all the amazing successes happening in the Psychic Sciences had helped to persuade me that Mind was not bound to this physical world: there were forces and energies of consciousness which pointed to a spiritual foundation for reality. Transcendentalism fit right in — so that I no longer know which came first: the spiritual belief, or the evidence that I was on the right track.

    And yet I was confused: why wasn’t this body of evidence accepted by the vast majority of scientists? They should have been all over it like ticks. And yet — this stuff was not found in the science section. Perhaps this seemed suspicious to me because I had not been raised with religion, and compartmentalization was not seen as a high virtue. I thought reality should all fit together.

    So I decided to read what the skeptics were saying about the Psychic Sciences. What were their reasons, and did they make sense? That would be being “open-minded.”

    And of course the floodgates were then opened. I hadn’t realized that being “open-minded” was the paranormalist’s code word for being a True Believer. I thought it meant that you had to seriously consider the other side.

    Thus I think the case for God would have to be a cumulative case. It would have to dismantle the strength of the cumulative case for naturalism. IF you take mind-body dualism, ESP, and PK away from the concept of God, then you no longer have anything that resembles what people mean by God. Dualism, ESP, and PK can all be tested in some way.

    Since strong evidence for their existence would support the existence of God, their failure undermines it critically.

    1. I lost my belief in UFOs and Bigfoot and all that when I accidentally checked out a skeptical refutation of Chariot of the Gods.

      And you know what, I kinda liked debunking… its like a disaster movie for ideas.

      1. Wow, I had forgotten about that. As a teenager I found Chariots of the Gods inspiring. I loved it. It made me happy. Then I saw an article that went through von Däniken’s points one by one and revealed him to be a shameless liar. Oh it was sad — still, I would never wish to go back to not knowing. That would be much sadder.

    2. fantastic! this is was very much my path as well; I followed all the purported evidence. Time and again it came up short. finally there was no denying the naturalist worldview.

  59. Raised fundamentalist Protestant. Deconverted between ages 21-23 primarily due to logical incoherence of god(s), with lack of evidence being a corollary to logical incoherence.

  60. For me, it is the lack of evidence for gods (or supernatural stuff), compounded by the fact that other much more likely explanations exist for the “why are we here”? question, all having to do with the laws of physics and with a knowledge of biology. I see no need for a god hypothesis.

    I went to Catholic school as a little kid (not my choice) but very early on, I started asking too many questions and the nuns agreed to let me sit out the religious classes. This was made possible by the great secular laws of my country of birth, Uruguay, where nobody could be forced to attend religion classes, they were NOT considered part of the mandatory curriculum, even if one attended a religious school.

  61. Finally, at age 62, the evidence coming from cosmology, history, evolution, biblical criticism and philosophy (especially theodicy)reached critical mass and blew my firmly-held Catholic beliefs to smithereens. The radiation from that blast still warms my life.

    1. This is the sort of story I would love to hear more about. Especially, more about the consequences of making such a dramatic shift so relatively late in life. (I’m about that age myself; and very grateful that I came to my philosophy before raising my kids. But then, I didn’t start with the burden of Catholic inculcation!)

      1. Consequences? A family of ten remaining siblings fervently praying for me and some of them telling me so, completely at a loss to understand what has happened. I describe trying to explain it to them as something like building a bridge across the ocean starting from the middle.

        1. Sounds as if your parents took the Catholic teachings pretty seriously, eh?–ten remaining siblings! Thank you for the response, and that’s a delightful simile.

          –Diane, an only child

  62. I’m an empirical atheist–by that I mean that I’ve never seen or read about anything that seems even remotely convincing for a interactive god. I was brought up a secular christian (like you call yourself a secular jew) where god/jesus/bible were part of our culture, but not an important part of our lives. The “problem of evil” led me to my first real questions about god as a teenager–a good friend of mine was diagnosed with leukemia and died within a year.

    I liken the quest for understanding god to the quest for understanding electricity. A thousand years ago, electricity would have seemed like magic and certainly all that we can do with the power of electrons is god-like compared to the capabilities back then. But we’ve studied it, learned a great deal about it, and can harness its power, even if it is still a bit mysterious to the layperson. But if you could never predict if the switch would turn on the light bulb, and indeed if some people couldn’t even agree on which light bulb would turn on (or not) then wouldn’t you get tired of paying your utility bills for something that never seemed to work?

    I think I’ll side with you on this one Jerry–I hold the position of atheist tentatively. The burden of proof is extraordinarily high (healing lots of amputees would be a good start, eliminating earthquakes & tsunamis would be another). But I also understand it could be difficult to tell the difference between a really advanced intelligence from a super-natural god. If we find either, then we can debate the difference (which may be purely semantic if they are that powerful).

    So, lack of evidence that makes a difference in human lives is the primary reason I’m an atheist.

    But its also pretty easy to counter the question “Do you believe in god?” with “It depends on what you mean by god.” The definitions get so fuzzy some times its hard to be clear what we’re debating. If we’re talking about a non-interventionist deity, I would say that what I believe doesn’t matter. We cannot, by definition, tell the difference. If we’re talking about god as a metaphor for universe (which some very liberal theologies come very close to doing), yeah, sure, I believe in god/universe. That argument then boils down to “but I don’t see any reason I have to worship the god/universe. I’ll just live my life the best I can, thankyouverymuch.”

  63. My writer friend L.Sprague de Camp taught me a way of thinking he called non-dogmatic non theism. Sprague conceded the gods might exist, but he doubted it. In other words, if you introduced Sprague to a genuine miracle working god, Sprague would believe in him. But Sprague was not holding his breath waiting for it to happen!
    I also recall reading Will Durant’s Story of Civilization series at age 16.
    The constant litany of dead and discarded gods and the constant nastiness associated with religion made me very wary of the gods!

  64. I was brought up in a fairly staunch Catholic household. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t find religious claims very hard to accept. I remember wanting to believe and wondering what had convinced all the adults I knew. For many years I just thought that full acceptance would just come to me one day, like a divine revelation or epiphany of some kind.

    I was never thrown out of Sunday school because I tended to keep my doubts to myself. I distinctly remember two incidents that I think definitely helped to consolidate my doubts. The first was a story one of the nuns told us about a warrior. I can’t remember now who he was; only that he was a fierce barbaric raider. After a life of pillaging, murder and rape he finally met his match one day on a battlefield. Knowing that he had been mortally wounded he fell down on his knees and asked for God’s forgiveness. And do you know… God did forgive him and he went to heaven!

    I think I was about 7 at the time but I remember wanting to ask how anybody could know whether he was in heaven or hell but somebody beat me to it. The nun just smiled and said something about how we knew he was in heaven because we know that God forgives those who ask for his forgiveness. This would have been in the early ’60s so ‘WTF’ hadn’t been invented yet but I definitely experienced a very strong WTF!!11!! sentiment at the time.

    The other story that sticks in my mind was about a 15 year old boy in our parish who had choked to death. He was only half way through high school but had expressed a desire to become a priest and was on track to go to a seminary when he graduated. One afternoon he came home from school and his parents weren’t home yet so he got himself a coke and an apple and went outside to do some weeding in the garden. When his parents came home they found him dead in the garden having choked on a bite of apple and asphyxiated. We were told that, while this was very sad for his family, we should really be rejoicing because he was such a near-perfect human specimen than God had decided he deserved his heavenly reward immediately and called him up to heaven.

    After thinking about these stories I came to a few conclusions:
    A) nuns and religious people make shit up,
    B) religious people are always preaching about doing unto others and being upstanding, model citizens but then they undermine their own message by telling us that even murdering rapists can go to heaven and
    C) being a kind, caring, moral, upstanding citizen is no protection against dying young.

    My overall impression was that they couldn’t possibly believe all the shite they were preaching because it was just such batshit insane, contradictory gobledegook. By about age 16 I decided that God must be a sort of adults version of Santa Claus and that really intelligent people didn’t really believe a word of it – they just pretended to because ‘other people’ seemed to need/want it all to be true.

    1. God must be a sort of adults version of Santa Claus and that really intelligent people didn’t really believe a word of it – they just pretended to because ‘other people’ seemed to need/want it all to be true.

      Bing, bing, bing!

      That sentence of yours summarizes things nicely.

      I justy found out yesterday that Ansel Adams was an atheist. (One of my heros.)

      1. I’ve wondered about Ansel Adams, a hero of mine as well. Is there a cite or a link for his nonbelief?

  65. Why are you an atheist?

    I don’t like the service at the post office. You know, it’s all “rush rush! get’cha in, get’cha out!” Then they’ve got those machines in the lobby, they’re even faster, no help there. You might even say, I hate the post office. That, and my parents. Lousy beatniks.

  66. I am an Atheist because my dad was an Atheist, and I was not conditioned from an early age to believe in fairy tales. The only way for an adult to believe in fairy tales is for the adult to be scared into believing them as a child.

    As I got older, I realized that some people actually believe in God (and I never have) and I find the whole thing ridiculous. I always assumed people treated God like Santa Clause.

    Alas, no.People are fucking insane. There is no logical reason to believe in fairy tales.

    1. Agreed – people have to be insane to believe the crap that is passed off as fact in (insert your religious text of choice here).

  67. I’m an atheist primarily because of the lack of evidence for god. This part of my non-belief has resulted from years of study and contemplation. My other main reason (and initial reason) would be the logical inconsistencies that exist with most religions’ conception of god (e.g. a loving god and the existence of suffering). I’m 41 now and I’d like to say that I’ve been a non-believer all of my life but I think I first identified myself as an atheist when I was about 15. My upbringing up to that time was mildly religious. I often like to say that my parents are Roman Catholic-lite. That basically means that I went through the hoops that your usual Catholic child would go through (confession, confirmation, etc.) but we weren’t regular churchgoers.
    I often say to people that I’ve always been an atheist because I seriously never bought into Christianity. As a child I couldn’t reconcile the idea of bad people going to heaven just because they repented and accepted Christ. Even at a very young age, the only reason I found myself clinging to any fragment of belief was out of fear – fear of death and punishment. It took me a little bit of maturing to realize that those aren’t reasons for believing in anything, but I got there.
    At any rate, to wrap up before this post gets too long, a couple of observations from my experience: I think kids are born natural skeptics – religious indoctrination subdues that natural skepticism. I think one of the worst things you can do is give a child religion – particularly the kind the demands total subservience. It cripples a part of our humanity.

  68. 1. Because I’ve looked at religions quite carefully and:
    a. They contradict each other (and are equally fervently held/advanced and for long periods)
    b. The believers follow their parents (90+% of the time)
    c. The stuff they propose is ridiculous
    d. Morality is clearly independent of a person’s metaphysics

    2. Because I realized that the reasons people advance for their belief are just silly/foolish/uttery without evidentiary basis. (All the arguments for gods are ridiculous.)

    3. Because the world/universe looks exactly as I would expect if it were the product of nothing but nature and exactly NOT as I would expect it to look if it were specially-created. (E.g.: evolution by natural selection, physics, chemistry, paleontology.)

    4. Age and experience: The more you know about the world and people and religion, the less plausible religion becomes until it simply winks out to nothing in a skeptical and restlessly inquiring mind. It’s obvious to me that atheism is the only possible conclusion for a well-informed, fully-adult Homo sapiens.

    By the way: I’m right now re-reading WEIT and loving it the second time around!

  69. I am an atheist because I was raised that way. So far I haven’t seen any compelling evidence to change my mind. The fact that every religion knows that they’re right, and that their faith is incompatible with other religions doesn’t help.
    If prayer worked I might change my mind.

  70. I would like to make claims of intellectual, philosophical or scientific reasons for my being an atheist, but that isn’t the case. My parents laid down a foundation that ignored the supernatural. When I had a question of “why is…” we would look for the answer at the library.

    It was a real shock for me to be plopped into an alien environment of sunday school when I was 8 years old. I was resentful of that intrusion, but at least it was a liberal Congreagational Church because of the minister.

    So over the years I’ve added additional reasons (or baggage) for being an atheist. I would add that I’m a very hard 7 on the Dawkins scale.

  71. It happened for me when I was in grad school, which I presume to be before most of your readers were born. I was working on a thesis and considering how the differences between certain species I was studying might have arisen. Consequently, I thought it would be helpful for me to read Darwin’s Origin. So I bought a copy and read it. That pretty much did it, but then I bought a copy of Julian Huxley’s Religion without Revelation, and there was no going back.

    1. Thank you. I’ve been trying to think of the name of that book for awhile. Huxley really made the case for a righteous naturalism.

  72. I became an atheist for the free ponies and baby barbeques, but I stayed for lack of evidence. I’m still waiting for my pony.

  73. I’ve been following this debate fairly closely. I think at this point no evidence would convince me that gods exist. But, I can picture an alternate universe where I would believe in gods (i.e., Christian prayers are answered at very high rates, the Bible matches historical/scientific evidence, etc.). I guess whatever evidence would be presented in the future would need a very compelling argument for why it wasn’t previously available, and what changed (Greta Christina made this point her original post on the subject). But, having lived in this universe for all my life I think I would assume hallucinations, mental illness, or super advanced technology for any evidence presented for gods.

  74. Of the numerous gods people have told me about over the years, there have been absolutely no verifiable claims about any of them. Furthermore, numerous claims are made which are obviously false. Given that, the existence of a god is inconsequential. Why should we make up and believe delusions about the properties of a god? Even if there were a god (a situation proposed purely for philosophical purposes), there is no evidence whatsoever that the god (or gods) demands any sort of attention from us humans.

    1. “Why should we make up and believe delusions about the properties of a god?” This is really two questions. 1. Why should people make up ideas about gods? To trick other people into paying them a salary. 2. Why should other people believe those ideas? They shouldn’t.

  75. Waxing pedantic, the phrase “lack of evidence for” involves a colloquial conception that isn’t quite exactly correct. It’s more exact to phrase it “lack of evidence more likely to be correctly described via”. (Questions of how that likelihood gets determined gets into some relatively technical mathematics. Loosely speaking, it’s a relative of Occam’s razor by way of Church-Turing automata theory.)

    In so far as “gods” are well-defined, the proposed descriptions associated do not fit the evidence well by the mathematical criterion; in so far as “gods” are not well-defined (particularly, “defined” in a sense akin to what Smullyan referred to as a pseudodescription), the term is ipso facto meaningless.

    In a more anthropological sense of “why”, I spent a fair bit of time arguing on the Internet with a creationist, about the same time as a friend pointed me to a couple mathematical papers associated with Occam’s Razor. Only very short “creed” of axioms is needed to get to the result (essentially, traditional set theory), most of which are implicitly relied on by anyone who accepts that eight is the cube of two. Apply Occam’s Razor to God, and the above-mentioned conclusions result: the explanations without God are more likely to be correct.

  76. Almost entirely (lack of) evidence. Growing up in the 60s-early 70s, even in far-away Alaska, and in a western-style Catholic family (it’s an ineffable mystery, don’t you know) – there wasn’t some kind of implicit assumption that grown-ups knew shit from shinola. I took a look at the morons around me, and assumed the adult population had a similar percentage of morons in it.

    I’d say lack of evidence plus the positive realization that some people will, in fact, believe absolutely anything — that induced what I think is a healthy disdain for fellow human beings. Life since has been watching others get taken in by scams, fall for the latest corrupt politician, and whinge skyward about their troubles. I’ve (and my very few friends, who are like-minded) taken a tougher road of figuring out what we know and how well we know, and why we know — what sources of information to trust.

    Until this general discussion came up, though, I had not thought too hard about there NOT being evidence, in principle, of “supernatural” stuff. There’s plenty of bizarre stuff that could happen, in principle, that would qualify – given what we do know, and how well (to what precision) we know it. Call me a rube. And anybody wanting to quote me Arthur C Clarke, just shove it. He was wrong, and you watch too much Star Trek.

      1. Not entirely. It’s a sentiment I kind-of agree with in principle, but kind of falls apart in practice. The quote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

        I was using this as shorthand for the frequent fantasist rebuttal that any kind of weird shit imaginable (reanimated corpses, regenerated human limbs, 900-foot tall levitating tap-dancing Jesuses speaking to everyone on the planet simultaneously) could have high tech behind it.

        To be fair, it’s not ACC that was “wrong”, but how that quote gets abused in discussions of hypothetical clearly non-natural events. Also, the argument from the Q comes up, which is nothing more than a stupid plot device from Star Trek.

        1. I disagree. Why is advance technology a fantasist rebuttal? Surely presupposing a creator deity is by far the greater fantasy?

          ACC wasn’t alone: Robert A. Heinlein said, “One man’s magic is another man’s engineering.”

          1. Because advanced tech like McCoy’s “tricorder” healing wounds and advanced tech somehow raising clearly dead things back to life has been and always will be fantasy. As fantastic and stupid as God belief itself. The original question that brought up the discussion of “what evidence” already has a fantasy taint to it, as the evidence that might convince is so preposterous that it will never, ever happen, anyway. Heaping hypothetical TECHNOLOGIES that would somehow emulate these impossibilities is an even stupider rebuttal to a question that is silly to begin with.

            You think a limb-regenerator dead-arising levitating 900-ft tall Jesus that simultaneously speaks everyone’s language is even POSSIBLE? Really? Why don’t you go try to invent one, Edison.

            1. …meaning, a “technology” that emulates the above. If something like that appeared for me and seemed corroborated by others, I wouldn’t be somebody going “Wow… those Q sure are advanced”. I’d be in the middle of an emotional-psychological crisis. I wouldn’t be babbling Jeebus, Jeebus, Jeebus and clutching a New Testament, but I probably wouldn’t be wondering about any “tech” that made it. I’d be in meltdown, most likely — wouldn’t know what to think. It’s a more complicated way of saying that I’m not in the “tech can do anything” camp. Some things are, in fact, quite impossible.

              1. I disagree: It is so preposterous that I would be looking for chicanery.

                Which is one answer to your “fantasist” objections: The technology does not actually have to do those things; it merely has to convince us that those things are being done.

                Although I think deceit a more likely explanation, how can you assert that these things “always will be fantasy”? Asking me (Edison? I’m flattered) to invent it may be like asking a Neanderthal to invent an iPad. Your assertion sounds like an argument from incredulity.

                Oh, and McCoy never used his medical tricorder, a diagnostic device, to heal wounds. To do that, he used anabolic protoplasers.

  77. My parents were divorced when I was a baby. Growing without a father made the concept of “God, the father” alien to me. I was sent to Sunday school purely for social/cultural reasons but never believed the stuff about talking snakes, walking on water, etc. I knew that wasn’t possible. When I was in grade school, Watson and Crick published their DNA studies. I was so fascinated by this science, this reality, that I wrote a paper about DNA. So, short version: I’ve always been an atheist because reality can be examined, tested, and proven, God can’t.

  78. I don’t know if this is the case or not, but it seem to me a large part of why I am atheistic, is because I am autistic.

    1. David: This is a fascinating concept (my stepson is somewhat autistic.)

      Can you please elaborate on why you think so? I’m not doubting you at all, I’d just like more information.

    2. I think that’s also the reason why I’m an atheist. I have Asperger’s syndrome, and have no urge to impute agency to inanimate objects. Hidden motives in other people are just that, hidden, and often it takes me days to realize what they were. Religion just didn’t seem to be a needed explanation for the world. All the reasons, lack of evidence, inherent contradictions etc are to me all just rationalizations added on to justify my original view that there’s no need to impute a conscious agency to create everything.

  79. When I was 10 and my family and I were living in Germany, I was introduced to the horror that was Hitler and the Holocaust, primarily because it was the mission of the base diplomats to insure that the Americans who were stationed there did not commit a cultural faux pas. The introduction to Hitler and the Holocaust became for me a tearing need to understand it. I believed in God, and I held God responsible for failing to stop the slaughter of innocents.

    It is not my question, whether there is evidence or not. The evidence argument is new for me, just in the last year or two. It was never that there were either logical or evidential arguments one way or the other about God’s existence. It was that, as constituted by the Western religious tradition with which I am most familiar–the God concept is responsible for much of civilization’s troubles, and must be repudiated. It’s an evil thing.

    As I write this, it’s occurring to me that theodicy, where my disbelief lies, is a logical argument. Well, there you go.

  80. I just haven’t heard of a god concept yet that makes sense or if it does make sense it’s not worth calling god or has no evidence to support it.

  81. I remember going to Sunday School (Presbyterian) at a fairly young age around Easter-time and believing in Jesus and his ressurection 3 days later – drew a cool picture of him rising through the air with a halo and everything. Indoctrination at a young age does work, which is why they do it, I suppose.

    However, my parents were never very religious and we didn’t go to church on a regular basis, and that is probably what enabled me to break out from under it fairly easily once I got a bit older and started learning about Science (Biology in particular). I went through confirmation as a total non-believer for my parent’s sake between grades 7-9 as my Aunt was one of the teachers, and that actually helped me to realize that I am an atheist.

    Overall, it is the absolute lack of evidence for a god (pick your religion) and the scientific method that have led me to become an atheist. Their non-sensical beliefs about the age of the earth and universe as well as their rejection of the fact of evolution boggles my mind.

  82. Agnostic throughout my teenage years, finally realizing that yes, the overwhelming lack of evidence makes accepting His non-exisistence far more reasonable than just saying “I don’t know,really”.

  83. I was born an Atheist, like everyone on this planet, and well-meaning but ignorant people indoctrinated me into fantasy-land. I, like others at an early age, began to question everything, including religion. I have mentioned before that I spent many a Sunday in a corner memorizing scripture before I could have lunch because I had doubts about the whole pile of crap. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I finally broke away, and decided that there was, and never has been, any god that created all this stuff. It’s not because my brain is puny, but because there is, in my mind at least, too much evidence there is no god. What occurs on the earth is too dynamically tuned for me to believe a god snapped it’s fingers and all of this started.
    So, I believe there is lots of evidence against the god idea.

  84. At first, it was not out of atheism that I didn’t believe: it was because the stories were unbelievable. (I have to explain that, watching the movie “Bambi” I couldn’t understand why everyone was crying since it was not a real fawn. Oh, by the way, I was punished for telling my classmates that it was a fake fawn.)
    Some 40 years later, the Jehovah’s witnesses went every week for several months, but were never able to prove the existence of their god. So, it’s only at about 45 that I became an atheist, because there were no evidence.

  85. I’m grew up an atheist. I remain an atheist because there is a perfectly reasonable, naturalistic, explanation for religiosity. That explanation suffices to reject the god hypothesis as not worthy of consideration.

  86. Several years ago, I was “open options” when it came to religion. I had no professed beliefs, though I aligned pretty strongly with Christian theology and values due to my culture and upbringing.

    That changed as I learned more about the natural world. I reached some sort of psychological threshold after reading WEIT, and I found my mind letting go of the need to posit the existence of a supernatural god. I’ve basically been an atheist ever since.

    I always use the term “letting go,” because it seems that humans have a strong tendency to believe in gods. For some reason, many people are perfectly okay with positing the existence of some magical being who is just “out there” and who is responsible for whatever thing we’re trying to explain. I believe this is the seed that religion grows from, and it is a seed that can also be extinguished with enough real understanding of the universe.

    So I wouldn’t say it is the evidence against god that changed my mind. I would say that learning about the natural world taught me what it was like to really understand something, to really have an explanation for something. And that little seed of magical thinking inside my head was nothing compared to that. So my mind let go of it.

  87. Yes to pretty near all of the above. One part of my atheism I don’t see mentioned is the blatant and obvious hucksterism of the Jimmy Bakers, Swaggerts, Pat Robertsons et. al. If they represented religion, I want no part of it.
    I recall years ago an interview with Billy Graham, in which he was asked can we be religious without god, or church, I forget which. He replied can a car run without a mechanic? To which I thought… an awful lot of mechanics know very little about the true innards and workings of a vehicle and are only after my money… same with religion.
    So many of the religious people I have come in contact with appear to me to be self-absorbed hypocrites… not people with whom I want to associate.

  88. I never found a lack of evidence to be terribly persuasive on this or any other issue.

    I grew up in the church and was more effected by the positive evidence for lies and hypocrisy all around me. A quite evident inability to ask searching questions about doctrine or provide intelligent analysis of scripture made it clear that the main reason most had for believing was social conformity. This led me quickly to agnosticism. I only made the leap to atheism when I realized that it was fear, not reason, that kept me from giving up my uncertainty. I decided being possibly wrong was preferable to being eternally undecided. I gave up my fear of being wrong and haven’t looked back.

    The requisite evidence was my observations of the behavior of the religious and my observations of my own fear reactions and felt motivations.

  89. I became an atheist because the bible stories my parents, siblings, teachers and clergy told me were indistinguishable from fairy tales.

    There just wasn’t a good reason to believe in any of these silly things.

    I remain an atheist for the same reason. It’s lack of evidence. But that position holds regardless of whether I think such evidence could possibly – in principle – turn up or not. But my position is that I can’t think of anything that would constitute evidence for gods. At least, evidence that was immune from the application of further magic and incoherence.

    There’s no good reason to believe in any gods if evidence is in principle possible and there’s no good reason to believe in any gods if it isn’t.

    The point of evidence is that it provides reasons to believe things are true.

  90. Why are you an atheist? Does it have anything to do with a lack of evidence for god, or are there other factors involved?

    It’s a lot of things. There are other factors, and the lack of evidence is one of them. At this point it’s hard even to tell which one or ones is/are foundational.

    The overarching reason is that there’s no good reason to think there is a “god.” No good reason includes no evidence, but it’s not restricted to that.

    One compelling sub-reason is that nobody knows anything about it. They all pretend they do, but then when you ask them questions, it becomes apparent that they don’t. The whole thing is a fraud; smoke and mirrors; a con game; a ponzi scheme. I’ll keep saying it’s real if you’ll keep saying it’s real, for century after century.

    Another compelling sub-reason is that “god” means everything and nothing. There are no rules. God is compassion; god is love; god is the ground of all being (wut?); god is a person who loves you but just dropped a house on you; god is The Law; god is The Good; god is the authority who says women have to be whipped and stoned to death for being raped. It’s all over the place. This makes it obvious that it’s a fraud (see above) and an imposition.

    One more compelling sub-reason is that the first two (and others) mean that certain human beings are able to allocate the power to interpret “god” for everyone else. This is a bad illiberal unjust authoritarian arrangement, and I hate it. I hate it like poison. It makes me hate the very idea of god. I’m an atheist partly because of the con game that allows clerics to push non-clerics around.

    1. Nice post Ophelia! Like Hitchens, many of us wouldn’t have such a problem with religion if it weren’t for religious elites acting like thought/behavior/action police not keeping to themselves.

  91. I was a staunch Catholic till my early 20s. I cannot put my finger on any particular line of evidence that ‘converted’ me to atheism. It was more a gradual, unnoticed erosion of faith that hit me all of a sudden one day when I realized that I didn’t believe anymore. What keeps me atheist is the fact that religion is so obviously man made, I can see that now! But all those years of brain washing are hard to shake and I do think there can be evidence that would convince ME that there is a god. While I really cannot conceive of that evidence, depressingly, I think I could be suckerd again

  92. At first I became an atheist because of reasonable arguments for the non-existence of a single, omniscient being outweighed, but did not extinguish the possibility of some supernatural force.

    Then I became very interested in the human brain. Once I learned all the fantastic details that we humans know SO FAR (which is a rather small amount, truly) about the 100 billion neurons, the 100 trillion synapses, it became clear that all memory (that is, what distinguishes any individual from any other human) is biologic, and when you die, the sodium ions, the calcium ions, the enzymes such as the PKM zeta enzyme, the phosphorylation that has taken place dozens of times as you read this sentence, all these processes stop. The chemicals remain, travel nowhere, so there is no vapor, no soul, no transfer of being to some afterlife. No afterlife, no god.

    All other constructs about “what would it take to convince you…” are irrelevant nonsense language constructs, such as “Where is North of the North Pole?”. Not worth exploring if there is no afterlife, not any more possibly successful than digging for gold in a sack of flour. You die, you’re gone, that is all.

  93. My story is not so different than others here. My parents (christians) sent me to sunday school and at the time they were interesting stories and while not enthusiastic about god, I supposed it must be true (even though my prayers seemed to have no effect on anything). As I grew older and became interested in mythology in general, the problem of other beliefs led me to doubt all religions. That, dinosaurs and plate tectonics gave me enough information so that by the time I was 16 I reached the conclusion that all religions were wrong and told my mother I was an atheist. Fortunately, that never became an issue. Now that I’m nearing 60, the lack of evidence in gods only adds weight to my thoughts. In conclusion I have to say I’m in the camp of PZ and others, the god hypothesis makes no sense.

  94. My rejection of religion comes in three parts:

    1). “That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence,” (Christopher Hitchens most often gets credit for this expression). I would go further, however. “That which is asserted without evidence MUST be dismissed without evidence.”

    2). Every new god people “discover,” different from all other gods, further minimizes the possibility any god is real and bolsters the case that something in the human mind is particularly amenable to superstitious nonsense

    3). Superstitious beliefs typically reinforce beneficial behaviors, which suggests superstition was selected. For example, the common belief that deities grant the faithful support & protection and/or heightened capabilities bolsters confidence, which research (Wrangham etc.) shows improves performance. The hope in a positive, supernaturally-directed outcome that is common to many faiths helps keep depression in check and encourages continued exertion. Many faiths forbid non-reproductive sexual practices. And religion favors a degree of group cohesion (willingness to sacrifice, murder and steal from competing groups, hierarchical obedience etc.) essential for strong groups.

  95. I think igtheism better describes many of us who feel that “god” is an incoherent hypothesis with no supporting evidence. I don’t know why this term has not caught on more with the “atheist” crowd.

  96. I’m not so sure accepting empirical evidence against gods in general (for instance, as Jerry notes above, that they can be observed to be human inventions) excludes the idea that positive evidence for gods is not really possible.

  97. because the very concept of god is incoherent

    This one. I didn’t used to understand when atheists would bring this up. But then I started really thinking about it, and sure enough, it makes no sense.

    I suppose that “god” could be so incomprehensible that we can’t wrap our puny minds around it, but it seems silly to waste time over something like that, so evidence really doesn’t enter into it for me.

  98. I’m sure I’ve listed these before, but…

    1) In high school, freshman biology class I became fascinated with the way that everything made sense in terms of evolution. My teacher wasn’t especially good, it just seemed intuitive as soon as I took a semi-serious look at it (I was in 9th grade after all). So that was the end of a god being involved in the creation of life.

    2) Still, I was raised catholic and it’s not an overnight job to let go of God. Probably another 6 months or so, I still thought that God could be involved as a supervisor and would look out for you. This made less and less sense as I studied world history and learned about people who couldn’t possibly have been involved with the Christian God.

    3) By the time I was a senior in HS, I was reading Bertrand Russell, including Why I Am Not A Christian. I was in the camp of “we don’t really know,” but I don’t think I thought much about evidence for God, just that there was a lot of evidence against the god everyone around me was talking about (well, not everyone; I had a GF in HS who was atheist by upbringing).

    3) College: Serious science student, God seemed more and more ridiculous.

    4) World and personal events discredit religion and make it really impossible for there to be ANY kind of God. Took a look at the Bible, found it ludicrous in its myriad contradictions, inconsistencies, atrocities, etc. Listened to Apologetics try to weasel around the fact that their god looks like a monster. The supposed “evidence” for God is so flimsy, it insults my intelligence more than the basic claims about him/her/it.

    5) But I guess I remain open to evidence of some sort of being. It’s really hard to imagine what kind of being this would be. We’ve already seen that this being is not necessary for the operation of the natural world. And it’s awfully hard to imagine a sentient being that cares about humans given the results of major disasters on whatever scale.

  99. Raised UU without much interaction with True Believers. I actually thought that everyone else thought that God was just a cool story like the Santa or the Greek pantheon (I loved the Greek Gods when I was a kid), only God was more popular because he was supposed to be more powerful and had more celebrations.

    When I started reading newspapers I finally began to understand how wrong I was, but by that time I was on the math and science teams at school and way too far gone to even entertain the idea of the supernatural. I mean just watch Scooby Doo and you know that every mystery ends with a guy trying to game people.

    Today I disbelieve for many reasons: the problem of evil, incoherency, lack of evidence, and hell, just plain spite – God doesn’t like sex or disobedience, thus he is evil. I can’t help but read bible stories as if Satan was a rebel against an evil tyrant at this point, and, lord help me, I love an underdog.

    P.S. I’m from Arkansas and everyone swears using god language all the time. I’ve thought about switching to godless curses, but it just comes natural to my lips. Besides it just sounds hilarious to me.

    1. I’d totally love to find some godless curses to use. I hate (in an amusing sort of way) letting a “God damn it” slip from my lips. Other more body-function related curses work well (e.g. Piss Off!) but it sure would be sweet to see a full list of non-religion related curse phrases.

    2. Used to bother me, too, but I’m just not imaginative enough to come up with substitutes in the heat of the moment that don’t sound contrived. Cusswords are what they are. And in a way, it makes a certain sense that atheists would use god-words in anger when provoked. Who better to “blaspheme?”

  100. I am an atheist because the concept of god is incoherent. It took me a long time to come to that conclusion. Raised in the home of a missionary, sent to a Christian boarding school, indoctrinated from an early age, I always had doubts, but never really managed to shake off the early childhood indoctrination. What brought faith completely to an end for me was twofold. First, the fact that there is no solution to the problem of evil, try as one might, a task which became completely impossible for me after having read Darwin’s Origin. The second problem lay with Christian morality. There is no basis for it. After arguing the case for recognition and acceptance of gay Christians and for assisted dying, it was clear that there is simply no basis for settling these questions — or any other moral issue — from within faith traditions.

    In other words, belief systems which claim to answer the question “Why are we here?” cannot answer the questions “Why do we suffer?” or “What should we do?” Such a belief system is incoherent. Gods are not an answer; they are the problem, because they force us to look outside of humanity for the solution. The answer must be a human one. There is no reason to suppose there is any other.

  101. As an aside, I was one of those positive atheists everyone is always denying they are, long before PZ and SZ adapted Hume to declare that “positive evidence for a creator is impossible.” I thought it was really, really unlikely, but I’d rather go to hell anyway than worship God.

    I know it’s not a logical reason to disbelieve btw, but humans aren’t logical, and I’m cool with that. I prefer to emphasize the emotional disgust I have at faith and tyranny more often honestly.

    Stop saying faith is illogical and start saying it’s stupid and wrong. That’s the only way to win an argument with an intentional dunce.

    1. Stop saying faith is illogical and start saying it’s stupid and wrong. That’s the only way to win an argument with an intentional dunce.

      I rather like that!

  102. My rejection of religion comes in three parts:

    1). “That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence,” (Christopher Hitchens most often gets credit for this expression). I would go further, however. “That which is asserted without evidence MUST be dismissed without evidence.”

    2). Every new god who “reveals” himself/herself is different from all other gods, further minimizing the possibility any god is real and bolstering the case that something in the human mind is particularly amenable to superstitious nonsense

    3). Beliefs common to religion typically reinforce beneficial behaviors, suggesting superstition was selected. For example, the common belief that deities grant the faithful support & protection and/or heightened capabilities bolsters confidence, which research (Wrangham etc.) shows improves performance. The hope in a positive, supernaturally-directed outcome that is common to many faiths helps keep depression in check and encourages continued exertion. Many faiths forbid non-reproductive sexual practices. And religion favors a degree of group cohesion (willingness to sacrifice, murder and steal from competing groups, hierarchical obedience etc.) essential for strong groups.

  103. I’m not an atheist; I don’t have any term to describe what I am, which is, I guess, an absence of any belief in the supernatural. (I do, however — and it’s a knee-jerk thing — pray once in a desperate while to the football gods, but that’s probably a different matter entirely. We’re not discussing the human instinct for domestic pantheism, in which I am a believer.)

    Here’s why I don’t believe in that one “god”: when I was around 11, growing up in a godless home, I decided to test the hypothesis that there was a “god.” I set tasks for “god” and for me: I’d pray for a full week (the whole physical bit I derived from illustrations — on my knees, hands composed, side of the bed before I went to sleep [or, most likely, before I got into bed and kept the light on surreptitiously so I could read, a comical battle I had with my mom virtually every night.]

    Meanwhile, I contrived “god”‘s task: I put a key on one side of a drawer in my dresser and informed “god” that if “he” wanted me to believe in “him”, “he just had to slide the key to the other side of the drawer. So simple, so easy.

    “He” didn’t do it. And that was the last time I considered believing.

    1. We need to know – which football gods???! If the words Man Utd bubble forth from your lips, depart foul fiend!

  104. There are two separate questions here: Why did you become an atheist, and why are you an atheist now?

    I think both of my answers ultimately are empirically based, but only the first hinges on what I would call “evidence” per se.

    So yeah, I became an atheist because there were just too many manifest contradictions in pretty much any theistic viewpoint I’ve ever heard of. That still leaves the door open for deism and probably even a sort of pantheism (a door which will be closed when I give me second answer), and maybe even the possibility of an afterlife of sorts (though obviously not one which could ever interact with this world, as the utter lack of credible evidence attests). The Evidential Problem of Evil weighs heavily on any attempt to believe in a good god, and evil or capricious gods ought to be easy to detect.

    But that’s not really why I’m an atheist now. Being raised Mormon, i.e. having been exposed to the god hypothesis as if it were legitimate for as long as I can remember, that made it difficult to notice what I do now: That the whole idea is just so prima facie implausible, that pondering the evidence seems redundant. The wild success of methodological naturalism IMO makes a rejection of philosophical naturalism seem rather stubborn and impish — and from a perspective of philosophical naturalism, the god hypothesis is just kinda, well, stupid/i>.

    If you were an adult human who had never heard of god(s) or religion or the supernatural, and then you heard about it for the first time, you’d think the person telling you was on crack. It’s a ludicrous notion, so plainly fabricated, so clearly implausible, so obviously just a wild and rather poorly thought-out ghost story…

    I think this is what PZ et al mean when they say that no evidence could convince them. I stop short of that, only saying that I cannot imagine any evidence that would convince me, because for every single possible piece of evidence I can think of, there is a more plausible nontheistic naturalistic explanation. It’s just conceivable that this could be a failure of imagination on my part, and so that’s why I stop short of PZ’s position. But I am with PZ in that I consider neither the lack of evidence nor the evidence of lack to be the main factors here. The hypothesis is just so inane to begin with, that an examination of the evidence (which, sure enough, yields the same answer) seems unnecessary. I don’t need to enumerate the evidential arguments against “the dragon in my garage”-type stories, because they are bald falsehoods right on their face. It’s a dumb, implausible idea, and I can more or less assume out of hand that any apparent “evidence” in favor of it has some better explanation.

    1. If you don’t mind a digression, I recently was called out by some Mormons over at OnFaith for being ‘ignorant’ by talking about how the Book of Mormon was fabricated history, and it lead me to wonder just how much the whole Jews coming to America story and the Book of Mormon factors into LDS life. Is it treated like the vast stretch of Bible stories that you never hear mentioned in Church, or do these people just not want to own up to the fact that Joseph Smith fabricated the thing?

  105. This basically a re-edited version from an article on my blog

    When I was a child I was dimly aware of religions but I did not understand the differences between them. But I didn’t really think too much about it. Religion was never a fundamental part of my childhood and I accepted what I was told; that they all “led to the same god”. And I was busy having an enjoyable childhood and religion didn’t come into it.

    But as I grew older, perhaps when I was about 13 years old, I was exposed to the basic ideologies of certain religions in school. That got me thinking. There seemed to be some fundamental differences between these religions; how could they all lead to the “same god”? No one at school asked questions; what was it that I did not understand? So I undertook my first steps into critical thinking. I started to look at what these religions were saying and I found that they were NOT saying the same thing; in fact, they were at odds with each other. Well, you can imagine, the more I looked the more I found that religion was nothing more than an invention of the human mind.

    I was lucky; my parents did not force any religious doctrines on me. I was given access to science books, and my parents subscribed to science magazines which I eagerly read, excited at how humanity had progressed, increasing the knowledge and understanding of the world. So I was given the opportunity to ask questions and not accept everything on blind faith.

    It was at this time that I also stopped believing that we were being visited by aliens; it sounds silly to have believed in that alien nonsense now but at the time I was heavily influenced by various scifi/UFO magazines and books. At first it seemed so rational but only because I believed everything I was told. But then I started asking questions and the “evidence” no longer seemed rational. Previously I had not questioned anything and believed most of the nonsense told to me such as Erich von Daniken’s “Chariots of the Gods”. But now I was questioning. The BBC’s excellent Horizon science episode “The Case of the Ancient Astronauts” was a real eye-opener. I saw, for the first time, how people lied, distorted the truth and made fraudulent claims, and that liars such as Daniken could get away with it; all because of people’s unquestioning acceptance of claims.

    So at around 13 years of age I found that I could not accept existences of mythical creatures be they gods, aliens, or unicorns without evidence. Evolution, based solidly on evidence, provided a convincing mechanism for development of life on earth. And scientific descriptions for the formation of the solar system, the stars, the galaxies and the Universe are compelling in their evidence. A god was nowhere to be found or even needed. In fact, a god in the universe that we had explored did not make sense.

    With that I declared myself an atheist; I do not totally and utterly discount the existence of a “god” but argue that the nature of the universe does not seem to require a god and, if anything, the gods of our ancestors are being pushed further and further away such that the probability of there being gods decreases all the time.

    From a practicable perspective all that this declaration meant was that I did not pray or undertake in any religious practices (not that I did before of course) but now I thought about the things that I did or didn’t do, and I also found it easier to question and explore. Perhaps it was just the general awakening of critical thinking in my life at that time, part of the development that we all go through as we grow up. Life carried on, and being an atheist at school did not matter but I did begin to question everything and think critically. I had not realised how much nonsense there was in the world until I started looking with an open but questioning mind.

    The other thing of note was that our school had a visit by none other than Cliff Richard, and great fanfare was made of this event. I was perhaps 17 years old at the time. What did this man say? Well he had the arrogance to tell us that, unless we believed in and accepted Jesus Christ, then God would bar us from Heaven. Yes, such arrogance but perfectly in line with his religious beliefs. At least he was telling it like it is with none of the “all religions lead to the same god” nonsense. Here was a major proponent of Christianity saying that despite all the good that a person does in life, that person would never be let into Heaven unless they took Jesus Christ as their saviour. That was another point in my life where I actively started researching, to determine what religions were saying and found the barbarity and injustices expounded by the god of the Jews, Christians and Muslims. Other religions also came under scrutiny and were all found wanting.

    I guess it was at college that I really had discussions with others on atheism, religions and the existence of gods. The discussions, whilst not heated, were quite lively. But these discussions were with friends, and I appeared to be the only atheist around. I was not looking around for fellow atheists or going to debates; my discussions were informal occasional chats with friends at places like pubs or fast food outlets. So, although I was discussing such topics, it was not a central part of my life.

    After graduating and getting a job in engineering, life was pretty quiet on religious discussions except for the unfortunate Jehovah’s Witnesses who wound up on my door step. But then the Internet happened. I suddenly had access to material at the tips of my fingertips. I found quick and ready access to critical thinking and raging arguments on USENET. The web is what made the Internet go mainstream. And this led to blogs, and now we have Facebook and Twitter. And I found excellent resources on evolution, critical thinking, sceptics, and the fight against nonsense. It was this opportunity for people to express themselves that encouraged me to start my own blog which gradually began to discuss nonsense.

    So that’s my story. Incomplete but with the major set pieces described.

  106. I am not exactly an atheist – I am a Disbeliever.
    Before I was three, I knew that inerrancy does not exist, not in word nor deed nor book.
    I went to Sunday school, choir practice, youth group and confirmation class (Episcopal) because no invitation was needed and got along fine except with people who were sure of Knowledge.
    I eventually realized that Belief is the root of evil: belief in god, no god, communism, capitalism, nature, nurture, whatever. When there can be no doubt there is no right.

  107. I was raised evangelical, but ‘fell away’ after I couldn’t make sense of religion in general.

    I work in infectious disease, and find the enormous amount of suffering in the world to be inconsistant with the warm and fuzzy personal god I was raised up to believe in. But I feel gulty that this is one of my reasons for being an atheist, is there something horribly wrong with this line of thought?

    1. Absolutely not!

      It’s a subset of the “Problem of Evil” which no theologian has ever been able to wriggle out of. The Probelm of Evil has convinced many that (at least the western idea of) God is bogus.

  108. Why are you an atheist?
    My parents were religious, CofE, my mother being taught by nuns at one stage, & I suspect as for many teenage girls it held attractions. My father had been a choirboy before the war. I think they were like many of their generation – reasonably liberal (well my father was, my mother being more conservative). I became a cathedral chorister when I was 10 so I lived with daily singing of religious services 6 days a week for most of the year. When I was about 12 or 13 they were holding confirmation classes & I did not put my name down. I was told I could just go along & didn’t HAVE to be confirmed – but of course I was. It never meant anything to me – god/religion. I liked the singing & the music, & think that I learnt from that, but the god stuff was never meaningful to me. My parents were not fundamentalists – regular chruch goers. My religious upbringing was much like that Richard Dawkins describes in the God Delusion. I learnt about the Bible in RE lessons in school that were reasonably modern & critical in terms of textual analysis. I heard lots of it everyday – I always enjoyed (as a snotty-nosed boy) the violent bits of the psalms that rarely get quoted & never sung. I was always interested in Germanic & Celtic mythology so it was clear that the biblical god was not unique. The biblical god was obviously a mish-mash of confused ideas from various people (vide the story of Onan!). The bible was never considered a final word on anything either at home or at school.

    Does it have anything to do with a lack of evidence for god, or are there other factors involved?

    I never felt that there was ANY evidence for an afterlife. Ecclesiastes showed me that even ancient people were capable of thinking that there might be emptiness & purposelessness in life, but that you just got on with it, suffering and all. I ALWAYS accepted evolution & recall vaguely discussing whether animals had souls & if not when a ‘soul’ might have entered humans in prehistory – it was just too silly & illogical. I retained a loose association with church things for a few years but it was merely social. I am now something of a nihilist I suppose.

    I can honestly say I have never believed in a god, deistic or theistic.

    Yes – “evidence for what?” is a good phrase.

    Happy Dynamic Living!


  109. This almost sounds like a trick question. What “other factors” do you have in mind?

    People all around me talk about gods. I look into it and find out that there are no gods. When I announce my discovery, people call me an atheist. If the topic had never come up, we all would have been happier.

    1. Truly! We feel no need to explain our A-leprechaunism or our A-Thorism or our A-Mithrasism!

      Just shows how pervasive and assumed the western J/C/I monotheos is in our culture: To not believe that particular fairy tale requires an explanation! Holy crap!

  110. There’s a long version, and a short version. The long version involves “discovering” fundamentalism, getting into the debates, finding myself siding with atheists more often than fellow believers, reading “The God Delusion”, and so on.

    The short version, however, is simple. When I was about 21, I was forced to confront the question “why do you believe in God?”. Of course I had a lot of answers, but they were all cliche and unoriginal. I had no personal answer. I had no original understanding. In that few minutes, my faith disappeared into thin air.

    Understanding scientific explanations of the natural world, and recognizing that, despite what most people think, science and religion are naturally opposed, only strengthened my atheism.

    So there you go. That’s the short version.

  111. I think I came to the conclusion that for the world to exist as it is , any God that existed would be only worthy of contempt not worship. After that I stopped wondering about the evidence. I guess this makes me closer to the apathetic agnostic variety.

    it’s logically impossible for there to be a god,
    Hmm. We sometimes ask believers that how would a universe that is created differ from a universe that always existed with no supernatural cause with the implied that if you cant come up with an answer then nothing would ever convince you.

    Conversely it seems that for some atheists, our or the universes existence is proof that God is logically impossible.

  112. I am an atheist because the bible is just nonsense, and no diferent from any set of myths. I really found this out when my church was ripping itself apart due to one member claiming to have a direct message from God, and wanting to go to the “horse’s mouth” for what God really says. I was losing my faith and prayed and prayed not to. And I got bupkis. Lots of reasons to not believe.

  113. I was raised in a household with no religious feeling or activities at all, so I didn’t really get exposed to it until my adolescence, when my parents married people who were very involved in religious traditions. I explored it a little then, but it didn’t really seem to be positively *about* anything, and the Abrahamic religions seem to have mixed feelings about women. I guess I didn’t see an upside.

    In retrospect, religious questions are simply not of tremendous interest to me on a day-to-day basis. I find comparative religion and history interesting, though, like art history.

    1. For this reason, we got our son the Kid’s Book of World Religions and we’ve gone over it with him several times, explaining what people believe. We also explained to him that it’s generally not OK to tell people there is no God (in the US.)

      It’s a good book. I think it’s intended for believers but it does a fair job of laying out the basics of many major world religions (pretty much every one you can think of except druidism, wicca, modern “paganism”)

  114. I was raised by atheist parents who encouraged me to make up my own mind about religion. I always loved mythology and read it extensively as a child. I had a book of Old Testament illustrated stories as a child, which I classified with the myths of other cultures. I loved fantasy, fairy tales, science fiction, but I also loved science and history. I could tell them apart. It never occurred to me that anyone would care to propose evidence for fairy stories. Evidence is for science. Fairy stories are imaginary; you have to suspend disbelief to enjoy them, and ignore the holes and illogic. And so with myths. Suspending disbelief is an effort. Not something I could do indefinitely. What would be the purpose of that?

  115. The problem of evil started my questioning but what accelerated my doubts was the level of idiocy exhibited my true believing fellow Evangelicals after President Obama was elected (e.g. his Muslim religion, birther conspiracies). A key doctrine for an Evangelical is the gift of the Holy Spirit as a wise counselor in-dwelt in those who give themselves to Christ. The emotional immaturity and petty ignorance of these privileged believers made me think that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was either a superstition or this “person” of the trinity was shizo-affective conspiracy theorist. My belief in belief was soon lost.

  116. For further comment on this question, I can highly recommend to all two Ricky Gervais movies:

    Ghost Town
    The Invention of Lying

    Both show the absurdity of religion well, especially TIOL. They are very funny. Ricky Gervais rocks.

  117. As a kid I grew up in a catholic environment (school, neighbors, Boy Scouts, friends) while my mother was an atheist and my father became one when I was about 12 years old. It was very helpful to have parents (partially) atheistic. But I was sent to a catholic school – apparently that was the right thing to do for ‘good’ people. I certainly have a lot of good memories of that time, but also many bad ones. And many of those bad memories are related to religion and faith. I still feel a physical repugnance when thinking of those boring religion classes frequently larded with sadistic horror stories… The story of Abraham eager to slaughter his son Isaac was for me an especially shocking example of moral degradation. Then at an age of 15 and 16 we were introduced to the catholic ideas about sexuality and procreation. That was really depressing! At that age I was an atheist, nonetheless it took me years to rid myself of the squalor of those misogynistic and perverse vision on love, women, sexuality. And at that age I was also disgusted by the anti-intellectual stance of religion: faith instead of inquiry and curiosity, boring cliches instead of a worldview based on exiting facts and scientific theories, the vicarious shame felt when having to witness all that submissiveness and sanctified stupidity. Antidotes to all these soiling attempts to catholic were books, films, studying biology, loves and friendships.
    I recommend Nicholas Humphreys lecture: “What Shall We Tell the Children?”

    1. Those religion classes…..It happens that I am very nearsighted, and luckily I discovered that when I took out my contacts and everything was out of sight, it became out of hearing too. The words hardly penetrated my brain and I could think undisturbed.

      I’ve never been bored enough to do that anywhere else.

  118. My intellectual reasons for not believing in God is the lack of evidence, and specifically the realization that the existence of multiple, conflicting religions implies that no one anywhere has any real knowledge of God.

    My emotional reason for not believing in God is that I’m a now grownup. It struck me in my early teens that believing in the supernatural is not what grownups do. Or, at least, it’s not what people who act like grownups do.

  119. As a child in Sweden in the 1980s I was exposed to moderate Xianity on the radio, in school around Xmas and at the occasional wedding and baptism. As far as my bit-rotted memory can recall, I used to skip the religious bits of hymns when we were marched to church for the last day of school. I think I thought of Jesus, God and pals as fictional characters from an early age. It seems reasonable that I would have asked my mother about that stuff at some point, and she perhaps explained it as a fiction among others.

    More recently I’ve gone from “bah, that’s just silly” to “there is no evidence for the existence of any god and the concept is silly” and then to “the very concept of a god is ill-defined (and silly)”.

  120. Two things: when I was five, we had a comic book on Adam and Eve and how it was bad to eat from the tree of knowledge. I couldn’t figure out why knowledge was a bad thing. (Of course I didn’t know *what* knowledge… but still it bothered me.) Then, at 17, I thought: “you know, there’s no evidence for life after death. So all this stuff must be wrong.”

    What still amazes me is how I could go along with all the totally implausible fairy stories while being immersed in a culture which took it for granted; but, which when looked at with the slightest skepticism, are obvious nonsense. Cultural reinforcement is a powerful thing.

  121. I’ll give a longer answer on my blog. But in a nutshell: I was raised Catholic and took it seriously. As I grew older I read the Bible and was horrified. I then found out that the priests didn’t take it all that seriously.
    Then I began to interpret the rituals more and more symbolically. Then, by the time I was midway through graduate school, I realized that I believed NONE of it.

    Atheism: I am an atheist with respect to all of the gods that I’ve heard of; frankly believing in them is ridiculous. The word salad gods make no sense (among these, I prefer Miranda’s Holy Rabbit)

    I remain agnostic to the possibility that there may be some god that I haven’t heard of that might be plausible, but such a god doesn’t interact with our senses and, well, its existence can be pondered as an intellectual exercise, period.

  122. Raised Catholic, atheist now because:

    never got answers in the religion classes they sent me to (lack of evidence)
    made no sense to me (incoherent)
    religion seemed like a very human thing
    didn’t like how people could use religion
    saw an isomorphism between the Santa myth and other religions that no one believes in now

    So when I stopped believing in Santa, I stopped believing in any magic bearded man that judges you. (And no, I didn’t stop believing when I was 25, it was at the very young age when kids stop the Santa business.)

  123. We all depend upon evidence and reason for learning. Evidence and reason can help us draw conclusions about nature, not some proposed realm beyond nature that includes or is “God.” Thus, the existence of “God” is beyond our grasp. It is unknown and unknowable. In other words, the agnostic position is defensible. As an agnostic, one can choose to believe either that: (A) one or more God-notions is true or (B) no God-notion is true. An agnostic who chooses to accept some God-notion(s) can only do so based upon faith or faulty logic because those are the only alternatives to drawing conclusions based upon evidence and reason. The main (if not only) justification for basing beliefs on faith is that it helps support beliefs that are somehow comforting. Faith offers a security blanket and a thumb to suck on (as Asimov suggested). But faith is a misguided approach when seeking truth about nature. To believe based upon faith is to disregard evidence and reason–our useful tools for getting closer to truths about nature. Since I’m more interested in understanding nature as it is than in grasping comforting, unverifiable, faith-based (or illogically-based) ideas about what is beyond nature, I’m an agnostic who chooses not to accept God-notions. What do you call an agnostic who chooses not to believe? Answer: An atheist.

  124. At the most basic level, I think that theism is the idea that mind or intelligence constitutes the foundations of reality. Mind is more basic than matter. Reality is thus based upon the values and purposes of an agent, rather than impartial natural phenomena. That is really what it is all about. So, at a very general level, such a thesis could be true. Perhaps a future science and philosophy might discover something of this kind. I don’t think anyone should be confident enough to rule it out as impossible. At the moment however, given reason and the evidence that we actually possess, theism is extremely unlikely. Atheism shouldn’t be motivated by any of the negative effects that theistic beliefs can have in society (though they can be highlighted nonetheless), it should just be motivated by the plain old lack of evidence for the thesis that it rejects.

  125. As a teenager I fell naturally into skepticism about God as it became clear to me that the stories of Jesus, Moses, et al. are no different in kind from stories of King Arthur, Paul Bunyan, and so on, and that the Bible belongs in the same class of literature as the Iliad.

    At around 19 I had a particularly vivid dream in which I was trapped in a falling glass elevator about to crash fatally into the ground. In the dream I reflected that if ever there was a time for God to make himself known to me, this was it. So I opened my heart and nothing happened; I was alone in there. Then the elevator went smash and I woke up. That’s the point at which I knew I’d moved beyond mere agnosticism into full-blown atheism.

    As an adult I’ve had time to consider the question from a variety of angles, and while the lack of evidence for any sort of god is certainly a factor, for me the central point remains that religion is clearly a human artifact and God a fictional character with no relation to reality.

  126. I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family, and I remember the moment when I lost my faith: I was 17, and I was in the middle of reading Atlas Shrugged, when it suddenly dawned on me that everything about our world is exactly as you would expect it to be if there were no God. I realized that there was simply no reason to believe God existed, and that everything made far more sense under the assumption that he did not in fact exist. In an instant, my faith was gone — though it took me a while before I told anyone about it, and before I stopped living a religious lifestyle.

    1. everything about our world is exactly as you would expect it to be if there were no God

      I like this, more succinct version of my idea on this. Basically, if something is equivalent to not existing, assume it doesn’t exist.

      Like the, “God only helps those who help themselves.” If I tried to use that logic anywhere, people would think I’m a jerk. “Sorry, I only write software if you write it yourself. Then give me credit.” And there’s of course the, “A long history of scientific discoveries and highly trained medical professionals cured me. It was a miracle!”

      If you were instantly atheist, how did it take you a while to stop living religiously? Did you still pray? If it’s more cultural, people around here seem to call that a “cultural [whatever.]”

      1. It’s difficult to instantaneously change your daily routine, especially when you’ve lived your whole life among religiously observant family and friends. So at first I continued going to synagogue, for instance, even though I didn’t actually pray. It took several months until I completely phased out all my religious behavior.

        1. Gotcha. I went atheist when I was a kid, so my parents were the ones that made me go to church, wasn’t my choice like it sounds was the case with you.

  127. Auschwitz, 1968.

    I stood before the iron gate at age 8 and realized there could not be a god worth worshiping. The point was brought home a few days later when I saw the Russian tanks rolling towards Prague. “New boss, meet the old boss.”

  128. It’s really all about the lack of evidence. But I can’t discount how I got started down that path. I always found the religion of my childhood to be a dreadfully uninteresting affair. And the woefully inadequate answer I received as a small child when I asked my mother who was more powerful, Santa Claus or God, may have played a part.

  129. As I have answered in the past, I’m an atheist simply because there is not sufficient evidence to believe in any definition of god I have ever heard. The argument that there could not be evidence for god only works for the general western definition that PZ and others assume. as the default definition.

    I responded to PZ here, but I doubt he’s seen it:

  130. I think this article went over my head a bit. Are you saying that by using the reasoning that there is no evidence, therefore we don’t believe, we’re allowing for the possibility that a god or gods would necessarily have attributes that would be measurable and observable?

    1. If the existence of gods depended on things that couldn’t be observed, how would you know that this god wasn’t really some figment of your imagination?

      “Just knowing” doesn’t cut it; Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jews and others “just know”…

  131. At 17 it was 1968 and the Age of Aquarius. I had a summer job at a pathology lab and worked with a monk, a Mormon, several Catholics and a couple of atheists. I was given a free copy (score!) of the Book of Mormon which I read cover to cover and I think I got a planet out of the deal which is pretty cool.

    It was a time of discovery and I was reading Lao Tsu, the Maharishi Yogi, Bagavagita and all sorts of stuff. I was moving away from my Episcopal roots, however, I remember clearly when everything clicked into place.

    I was talking with the lab manager, Al, who was a terrific scientist and I admired what he did in the lab and how much he knew and one day at lunch we were kicking around religion and mystical ideas and he said this:

    “I stopped believing when I learned to think for myself.”

    By Jove, that was it! Religion did your thinking for you, but I could do it all by myself. That was it. I was done and I never looked back.

    That said, I love the Christmas season. Lights, trees, feasts, presents, Christmas morning, the music, yep, I’m a nut for Christmas. Only a grinch would complain about peace on Earth, good will towards men. And if there’s a buffet going I can become a cultural Jew faster than you can say cheese blintz!

    1. I found living through all the happy horseshit of the Counterculture instrumental in arriving at atheism myself. I was 18 in ’68…

  132. I can’t be certain that there is no god anywhere, in the loosest and most impersonal sense of the word, one that implies an utter lack of creative intelligence or consciousness. Frankly, whether or not such a god exists is of no importance to me.

    However, I can be certain that none of the gods I’ve heard about so far exist. Anthony Grayling is correct in that these gods are so obviously invented. No matter what angle a theist takes, there is no positive evidence for it, and the fact that so many claims either prove untrue or otherwise fall flat is evidence against their existence.

    For example, Mackie clearly demonstrates that God cannot be both all-powerful and omnibenevolent as long as evil exists–and all but the most hair-splitting theologians acknowledge the existence of evil, because it necessarily must exist for their theology to be coherent. I happen to know a few theologians, and the answer to this problem is always the same: define the words benevolent, omnipotence, and evil until they don’t mean anything. But when they do that, we still have a situation where god is claimed to be supremely good, is able to do all things, yet bad things still happen. So here we have a situation in which what is commonly claimed of God is demonstrably false. If what is claimed of God is not true, then what do we know of God? Nothing. If we claim to know things we do not know, or claim to know things that are not true, we’re guilty of a delusion. Delusions are necessarily deviations from reality. Isn’t this negative evidence for the existence of a god? Isn’t this positive evidence that god is imaginary?

    An increasingly popular tactic I’ve encountered is denying the application of logic to God entirely. But if logic doesn’t apply to God, and God is illogical, then statements such as “God both exists and does not exist” are therefore true, and God disappears in an Adamsian poof of logic. Making logic apply to God pays better (not great, but better) dividends to those who are arguing for its existence. But even here, you can see people reaching ever farther to try to salvage their case for belief, which to me screams desperation. If the evidence for god is so great, why must it be taken to these lengths?

    Biblical literalists are easy to handle, since they rely on the infallibility of their text for their faith to remain coherent. All it takes is a single inconsistency in the text for their system to break. Besides the disparity between what is claimed of their god and what he actually does in the Bible, people will try to claim the “interpretation” loophole (funny how a monolithic document such as a literalist’s bible is now open to interpretation; another sign of desperation). But there are also things that are not open to interpretation. Direct contradictions exist. Conflicting records exist. For instance, who was Joseph’s father? Jacob, or Heli?

    I’ve barely scratched the surface of reasons to doubt the claims of believers and have not even touched the reasons why disbelief is preferable. The point is that on an individual basis, the gods promoted by the world’s religions are demonstrably invented. While I can’t say for certainty that no god exists, I have no problem saying specific gods X, Y, and Z don’t exist.

  133. I am a 7/7 atheist.

    Nevertheless, I realize my rationale (and others’!) just might be erroneous, so I cannot rule out there being some evidence that might convince me that “God” exists, but I have absolutely no idea what such evidence might look like.

    (I can envision some things – a violation of the second law of thermodynamics, perhaps – I might regard as highly suggestive, with the same reservations as Ophelia, but nothing that would be conclusive.)

    How did I get to this point? (With some elision.)

    I went to Catholic church with my mother when I was a small boy, stopped when my grandmother died, but I don’t think my faith then had any more conviction than my belief in Father Christmas.

    I think I became an agnostic through intuition rather than rationalization. An early interest in mythology showed me that there was very little to distinguish between dead and living religions. How to know which, if any, was true?

    And I think this view was reinforced by reading much sf by Asimov and Clarke – and Asimov’s non-fiction. I guess I gained a humanist perspective through osmosis.

    As an older teenager and later I read more on ancient and modern traditions, with interest, but without finding anything compelling in them. But I still felt that, perhaps, there was something “out there,” and still called myself an agnostic. (If I’d known then what I know now, I might have called myself a pantheist or panentheist.)

    Throughout this I’ve seen no remotely compelling evidence for “god” and plenty for a wholly naturalistic worldview.

    But it is only within the last few years that I started thinking more critically about my worldview – coincident with the publication of The God Delusion (which I still haven’t read, however!) – and realized that any notion of “god” was inconsistent with my naturalistic outlook.

    Then, within in the past year I discovered Gnu Atheism in the blogosphere (*looks around*), and have sparred with fundies on Twitter, which has sharpened my thinking and my convictions.

    Jerry says, ”If one is an atheist because of a lack of evidence for god, that presumes that there could have been evidence in favor of god.”

    I’m not sure that that logically follows. Isn’t the only presumption that there could in principle have been evidence? There could, in principle, be evidence that the moon is made of green cheese…

  134. My “a-ha” moment probably came when I first developed the ability to recognize when someone was trying to pull a fast one on me. A quick glance at religion, and well you do the math.

    Factual claims that don’t hold up to testing, more plausible (natural) explanations for many of the Divine Experiences, understanding of the human needs to assuage fear of death, loneliness & purpose etc., understanding of the way powerful memes insulate themselves from scrutiny, seeing the nature of cult dynamics (groupthink, social pressure) in addition to the afforementioned bullshit detector all combined to make it pretty clear to me.

    At the end of the day, if something sounds too good to be true it probably is. God would be the ultimate “too good” concept. Throw in all the incoherence and inability to even define it and yeah…bullshit.

  135. Why are you an atheist? Does it have anything to do with a lack of evidence for god, or are there other factors involved?

    Depends what you mean by evidence, Jerry. That humans believe in made-up things like Santa Claus, and that they engage in storytelling involving fictional characters; these were both evidences for me that God too was made up. These aren’t empirical investigations on God, however, which is what the discussion is centring over.

    I often say that there could be evidence for something godlike, but to call it God in the sense that is referred to in classic theism is unjustifiable no matter what the evidence is. After all, how do you get evidence that God is:
    a) immaterial.
    b) eternal.
    c) beyond space-time.
    d) omnipotent.
    e) omniscient.
    f) the grounding of being.
    g) the source of goodness.
    h) ultimate simplicity.

    I’m betting that no empirical evidence could begin to demonstrate the existence of such a being. Like I said above, I think you can show evidence of something, but to call that something God is to make a leap of faith. That speaks to the poverty of the concept as being incoherent and unfounded, not that atheists are close-minded to the evidence.

  136. I was raised in a conventional Catholic family, and actually enjoyed going to church when I was little (They talked in the secret code of Latin back then, which was so exciting!), but never took the theology seriously. So much of it was obviously fiction, even to a six-year-old kid. I just assumed that religion was some relic from the past when people were simply less educated, and would quickly disappear. I’ve never felt that belief in a God would be helpful to me in any way in understanding how the universe works, and I have not really thought deeply about it, to be honest.

  137. I became an atheist before I knew the term existed, somewhere around age eight. It was an entirely intuitive conclusion – given what I knew of the world, even at that young age, the idea of God, as depicted by Christianity, seemed absurd.

    There was no explicit weighing of evidence, though I’m sure the complete lack of any was a part of my subconscious reasoning.

    Despite ridiculous claims to the contrary, proving a negative is trivial (see modus tollens, for example). I see all gods, as depicted by existing and historical religions, as already disproven.

    It’s the nebulous god concept promoted by people who claim to be Judaists or Christians (there are no such “liberal” Muslims) – which has nothing in common with the god belief that’s actually defined by their religious texts – that defies absolute disproof by epitomizing the very concept of incoherence.

    Because the concept is completely undefined except by analogy to an already-disproven god from those religions’ ancestry, I cannot think of any evidence that would support it.

    But it’s not my job to imagine evidence for a claim that I’m not making. All I can be reasonably expected to do is evaluate what others claim is evidence for their belief, which I’m perfectly willing to do. They haven’t come up with any yet.

  138. Athest since the age of nine,I was made unwelcome in the scouts for not wanting to participate in prayers at the end of meetings. God never made sense even then. 40 odd years on I would say that the universe as we observe it does not show evidence of any supernatural components and as far as any specific understanding of gods is concerned totally rules them out. As has been pointed out, if we ever did see evidence of a “higher power” by definition it would have to be natural and of our universe. Ergo, not god.

  139. Like Michael Kingsford Gray (post 2) I am an Australian. My parents were atheists who shucked off their religious vestments during world war 2. Nevertheless they educated me at an anglican (episcopalian) school where I learned about the anglican concept of god. The principal reason I am an infidel is ‘godists’ never give you a god model which can be tested. Their god concepts are just vacuous noise.

  140. One major factor for me: the existence of many, many conflicting religions, both existing and extinct. And they all seem to have taken themselves extremely seriously. They can’t all be right, but they can all be wrong. And if people are so clearly capable of being so very wrong about religion, it’s far more likely they are all wrong.

    It’s one of the reasons I’m in favor of teaching world religion classes in public schools.

  141. Have never believed. Growing up in a world in which biblical-style miracles never took place made it clear to me in early childhood that a book describing a world in which they often did must be a work of fiction, even if some historical background had a basis in fact.

    I knew I couldn’t prove the non-existence of god, but I had certainty that no such entity cared if I believed in it, as it could so easily have rectified my non-belief had it had the slightest such inclination.

    All experiences I have had since childhood have strengthened that attitude and have made religious belief seem progressively more baseless and ridiculous. One reason it seems even sillier now than it did then is that as a child I assumed that religious grown-ups did have some better reasons for believing in god than they were sharing with children and that such further evidence, even if I still found it unconvincing, would be accessible to me in adulthood (just like the then still-mysterious details of human reproduction). I find it laughable that now, as a grown-up, there really are no better reasons on offer for belief in god than the ones I considered so inadequate when I was still far from fully-grown. It greatly detracts from my ability to feel any respect for believers.

  142. Several reasons:

    When I was very young I wondered how there could be different churches all different but all claiming to be right. No – someone had to be wrong.

    Later when I learned more about the world it was other religions than xtianity. Most of them claimed to be right – but how could that be?
    As I grew older I realized that the stories themselves didn’t make any sense – logically incoherent and self-contradictory. At the age of fourteen I realized that if I were god I wouldn’t have organized everything the way that the gods of all these people had.

    By this time I was heavily immersed in mythology and knew the stories of Asgard and the norse gods, of the greek pantheon, Of Glooskap (though I still have a soft spot for that numbskull Ableegamouch – he reminds me of so many bosses and fellow workers over the years), of Rama and Shiva and Hanuman, of Jizo and Quetzalcoatl and so many others – all mythological and ywhw was obviously just another of these.

    Later I took a lot of time to study xtian religion itself and also its scriptures. Once you see how the sausage was made and how bogus the scriptures are, how they’ve been twisted and forged over the centuries and you see the establishment of xtianity as a political exercise intended only to unify the roman empire, it’s impossible to take any of it seriously. And none of the other religions present a better picture. Who honestly believes, for instance, that the earth is supported on the backs of four elephants who are standing on a turtle? or that the world is resting on the shoulders of a giant named Atlas? Just as who could believe that the mother of Yeshue bar Yussef wasa virgin or that she was “assumed” bodily into “heaven”. At what altitude did she find herself unable to breathe and suffocate? And did she arrive in heaven DOA? Same with Yeshue himself reported in the ‘inerrant word of god’ to have done a similar stunt and continued upwards until too small to see……If they didn’t call it religion no-one would believe it – so I don’t.

    So I guess my best evidence for rejecting religion is the falsity of scripture, which anyone can verify for themselves if they wish to do so.
    There are other factors though. Yeshue bar Yussef is reported to have said “by their fruits you shall know them” – referring to false prophets and others who would wish to exploit the gullible. This is a good test and when I apply it to the pope and cardinals and many priests and mullahs and imams and anglican bishops and TV ‘evangelists’ I see that they are not men of god despite their claims and I wish not merely not to follow them but to oppose them as I can.

  143. I don’t see evidence for souls…

    without souls that can suffer or be saved, gods just seem irrelevant.

    That would be by number one reason for disbelief in gods.

    Lack of evidence would be number 2– and lack of a coherent definition would be number 3.

  144. Magic isn’t real. And religion works exactly as you’d expect it to work if it wasn’t real, and not at all like you’d expect it to work if it were real. So that’s that.

    I guess that’s an evidence based reason.

    But I could also see a… lets call it logical reasoning sans evidence based reason for rejecting the idea of a god. God as defined by western theology tends to involve a lot of ridiculous traits like “ground of being” or “necessary being” or “greatest being possible” or “infinitely [whatever].” Some of these are logically inconsistent. Others are logically incoherent. Others couldn’t possibly be differentiated by evidence from other traits. For example, what evidence would distinguish an omnipotent being from a really powerful being? Still others couldn’t be evidenced at all: what evidence would demonstrate that something was the basis of all morality? Is/ought probably prohibits that.

    Now you could certainly come up with evidence for something roughly like a god, but the specific ideas of god that most people talk about seem like they’ve been augmented by theology so much that its probably pointless to even expect them to be supported by evidence.

    Not that this really matters though. There’s lots of evidence that should shake my atheistic leanings very easily. A good start would be any simple demonstration that magical powers are real. I don’t even have a stringent definition of magic. Just levitate or cure amputations by prayer or something and I’ll admit that everything I’ve ever thought about religion is in jeopardy.

  145. “… that presumes that there could have been evidence in favor of god.” Yes but, scientific training means one should be open to the possibility while not necessarily expecting it will occur?! In other words, don’t you have to say there is a possibility even though you might attach a vanishingly small probability to it? I may have – i.e., did – become an atheist because of an experience in church that was too contradictory to ignore but I now articulate it as “there is no evidence I’m aware of; if there was any real evidence, we’d all know about it and we wouldn’t be talking about “faith”(Hitchens or Dawkins – I can’t remember but it’s a great point); I do not expect to be provided any evidence; I do not think it worth my searching for evidence.”.

  146. My attitude is that there could have been evidence for gods but the world doesn’t look anything like a world run by magic and built entirely for our benefit would look. A world run by magic would look like Disc World or perhaps like one of the universes from various computer games, Mario galaxy maybe. If we really were at the centre of the universe I might be more inclined to believe, because that would be some evidence for the magical man theory. But our universe shows no evidence for any god, so the reason I don’t believe is, no evidence.

    Then when I read more about things I realised the concept is incoherant and that nothing could change my mind. It’s nature all the way down. The reason why we ask for evidence is to force the believers to examine their beliefs themselves, not because we may be convinced by it, for a start there isn’t any and in thousands of years they haven’t managed to improve their arguements so it’s not likely to happen now.

  147. The world only makes sense if there are no gods.

    A la Daniel Dennet, absence of evidence is evidence of absence, when there should be evidence, but there isn’t any.

    I expect there to never be any evidence for any god in the future, because there never has been any evidence in the past.

    Humans have made attempts to contact a god since the dawn of the human brain. No contact yet.

    There are no gods.

  148. RE: evidence. Scientific training makes me (at least pretend to!) reserve some doubt about the total impossibility of evidence. OTOH, it also causes me to think that the possibility of such evidence appearing is some number with a fair number of zeroes to the left of it before coming to a decimal point. And scientific training also makes me interpret such low probabilities as essentially indistinguishable from zero. So it becomes more a matter of semantics than anything else—but sure eats up a lot of time that might be spent on more interesting subjects.

    I have a slight problem with the use of “tentative” as Jerry and some others have described their stances because to me that word connotes a position somewhere in the middle of the possible probability range, whereas I think most of us would use an adjective (if one exits) that connotes an “extremely unlikely (yet not zero, that we know of, anyway)” possibility.

    I’m an atheist for many of the reasons already listed. Earliest reasons were the obvious similarity between god-myths and all the other fairy tales we hear as children, and realizing that the fact one could choose what strain of religion to believe in (thank you, 60’s) meant none of them could be the “true” one. Without having heard the wonderful statement about everyone being able to have their own opinions but not their own facts, I arrived at a similar understanding independently (as I’m sure is true for most of us). Adding hard sciences and math to the equation in college cemented the absurdity of the concept of a personal deity. (Deism itself seemed less easy to dismiss, although for a while I’d have said it was the least parsimonious choice. Then along came multiple universes and now I’m not so sure anymore!)

  149. There are already 261 replies, so I doubt my own contributes anything, but here goes anyway.

    I’m an atheist because I’ve been impressed with the quality of thought and evidence proffered in most scientific disciplines, which puts in stark contrast the muddy and contradictory thinking that pervaded my religious upbringing and education.

    My belief was weakened by the fact that I experienced no connection with God, despite seeking it and earnestly praying multiple times per day for a decade. He never answered me in any convincing fashion, and eventually I couldn’t fool myself any longer.

    I do think the God concept is vague and incoherent in most believers’ minds, but I don’t see why there couldn’t be evidence for or against specific well-defined god concepts.

  150. Born and raised by atheist parents god was never a consideration when i was growing up.

    I am yet to hear a coherent enough formulation of the god hypothesis. Until someone can present to me a testable hypothesis for god, question of evidence doesn’t even come up.

    That is why I am still an atheist.

  151. The religions that make truth claims about the nature and existence of god are so adverse to reasoned skepticism and demand dogmatic acceptance, thus they are not a pathway to truth. What I am left with is apathy to the concept of god as I have no logical reason to believe in it.

  152. Religious dogma couldn’t stand up to young questioning mind and first-run viewing of Cosmos. Serious Pwnage ensued.

  153. Seeing as how so many others have so eloquently outlined their own reasons (with which I largely agree) for why they are atheists, I just wanted to add my 2 cents.

    The lack of evidence for god (any god) is damning and surely important in any rational persons statement of (lack of) faith. However, evidence, or the lack thereof means nothing unless there is a definitive logical statement that it confirms or contradicts. There is no standard idea of “god” or any such deity, no way in which to adequately setup a suitable “god hypothesis” that would not be inherently contradictory with many other such hypotheses. I became an atheist, after many years as a devout and sincere Christian, not because I saw no evidence for god (though there was none), but because I had no way of describing “god” that wasn’t immediately incoherent or plain wrong.

    The more I read and understood, the more I realized that no one has any idea who or what “god” is, or how he/she/it might be placated or otherwise contacted. So I must agree with PZ Myers when he said that we should stop letting the faithful think they can “convince” us by dropping some wonderful, magical piece of “evidence” into our laps and shouting “HERE! THIS IS PROOF OF MY GOD!” Their “god” is a logical impossibility, and any scrap of fluff they put onto the pedestal of “evidence” is so much dung and manure, a futile gesture of a dying breed unwilling to let go of the days when just the mention of some deity’s wrath would squelch all dissent.

    In short, I am an atheist because “god”, any “god”, is a logical impossibility. Would some future evidence as yet undiscovered that proved undeniably that some deity exists in some fashion somewhere in the universe convince me to change my mind? Perhaps. But I’m not going to hang my hat, or give religious nutters the world over even a semblance of respectability for their trumped up nonsense.

  154. I’m an atheist because I can’t find any plausibility in anything approaching a literal interpretation of the mythologies of the religions I’ve been exposed to, and to me that’s not a doubt, it’s a disbelief. To me a concept of deity that could be contained in a religion as generally practiced is probably going to be either incoherent or implausible as well. I think there _could_ be a coherent concept of deity, but I have yet to see a religion based consistently on one, and to me that makes atheism a reasonable alternative.

  155. It’s been said, but as a young Tennessean Christian-raised atheist, I’ll add my voice to the discussion. When I first began questioning the tenets of my Presbyterian upbringing, I called myself agnostic. But to me now, “agnostic” means there may or may not be a deity – defined, of course, in the way that humans define “deity.” The whole “toothfairy agnostic” concept, built on the idea that you can never definitively disprove the existence of a god, never held water for me. “Atheist,” to me, means, not that you completely reject the idea of anything supernatural in the universe, but rather that you don’t believe human notions of deities are correct. It’s not about limiting oneself only to scientific facts that humans are able to gather. To me, you can be an open-minded atheist who recognizes the possibility of some supernatural force(s) in the universe but cannot see a conceivable reason to connect this to a god or gods in superstitious religious texts. If you reject the idea that humans have special (supernatural) knowledge about the way the universe was created, you must be an atheist – not an agnostic, which, I think, gives more credit to religious superstition (“it might be true”) than is due.

    1. You can be an open-minded atheist who recognizes the possibility of some supernatural force(s) in the universe but cannot see a conceivable reason to connect this to a god or gods in superstitious religious texts.

      I like this very much. It’s not inconceivable that some day we will run into some real phenomena that most human beings would be happy to call spiritual—healing by “the laying on of hands,” for example. (See Linda Nagata’s The Bohr Maker for a science-fiction version.) But this discovery would go no distance at all toward demonstrating the existence of any of the gods we have been hearing about for the last 5,000 years. Even if we verified the existence of an “afterlife” — I forget who first pointed this out — even then, we would not have seen evidence for any god.

  156. Not only a lack of empirical evidence, but a lack of any reasonable justification, of the type I would require for any other claim, whatsoever. Causes that are agents are by their nature complex and unlikely causes. Furthermore, if anything we tend to overestimate the likelihood of intelligent causes, because our minds are biased towards dealing with intelligent or social obstacles, which were highly relevant to our evolution but seem to be relatively rare types of intelligence in the universe at large.

    With that prior improbability on one side, and nothing to balance it out except an irrational bias, it is proper to reject such a claim out of hand, whether it is possible to empirically test it or not. Different god claims are testable to different degrees. None are reasonable given the current state of evidence. Not only are they unreasonable, but they aren’t even special. There are literally dozens of sci-fi ideas about the nature of the universe that are more plausible than any god hypothesis. Gods have such an disproportionally large degree of attention that there’s little point in giving the idea any credence or respect at all unless one shows up to be studied.

    It also seems like the idea of the supernatural is rather ridiculous. To quote the inimitable comic “Girl Genius”, “Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science.” The idea of something empirically observable but insusceptible in principle of scientific analysis proposes something that is either causeless (and therefore utterly lawless and inexplicable even as an extra-scientific phenomenon), or something that is caused but unpredictable in principle from those causes, which seems absurd. Until something shows up which compels belief in the supernatural, such a concept is of no use whatsoever in constructing a picture of the world. Even if there were ghosts and goblins and gods, I think it is almost certainly the case that this “supernatural” should be treated identically to any confusing but natural thing under study.

    My atheism comes, in short, from the observation that religions are composed entirely from fantastic and/or confusing, ridiculous claims.

  157. My parents were godless, but they let us believe whatever we wanted, and supported the illusions of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. The Maryland school system supported Christianity by having students recite the Lord’s prayer every day.

    California had abolished that practice by 1961, and within a couple of years I found myself riding home on a school bus, passing a church, noticing that I hadn’t thought about God for a while, and startled myself realizing that I didn’t believe it anymore. At all. Just Santa Claus again.

    I was, I think, 11 or 12, passionate about astronomy, fairly well-grounded in biology, awakening to an interest in girls, so it seems that God failed to compel my interest, and how could He?

    My brother and sister relate similar experiences, and their children are also resolute, not to say devout, atheists. That’s not to say that the kids didn’t stray from the fold; most of them did get involved in faith-based groups, but so far all of them have freed themselves.

    So far, fun-loving atheism is proving not only heritable but contagious.

  158. Two reason, one it is the lack of evidence.

    Second, if there really was a god, I would do everything in my power to fight him, as all the evidence shows that if there is a god, he is a real bastard.

  159. I became an atheist after reading The Selfish Gene. This didn’t make me think about a lack of evidence for a god,it made me think that a god just wasn’t necessary.

  160. I actually did believe in God when I was younger, and up until my early twenties. I went to church ocasionally, mainly because my family or parents made me, but I did actually pray often and genuinely believe. I can honestly say I stopped believing when I got a little older and matured. I used to think that my prayers would actually be able to bring me luck in a way, and everything, but eventually I started seeing that my prayers had little influence on anything that happened. Eventually, when I started seeing that things weren’t really influenced by anything other then random occurences, I began to have doubts about my prayers, and god and religion. Then I got into the arguments for and against religion, god, and evolution and it became harder to believe, and actually a lot easier to move away from it. After this, I realized that Science isn’t perfect, but it answers a lot of the questions on life, where we’re going and where we are coming from.

  161. For me it was a 4 part journey.
    1-In seminary I just finally blew a mental fuse with the continued…”you are evil and have original sin” nonsense that I left and soon realized catlick dogma is BS. 2-From there to Buddhism and philosophy, and 3-finally-nothing.
    4-After reading 100s of blogs of all sorts I realized that atheism sounded right bu then changed to A-theism, as I don’t believe or dis-believe in S/He/IT. Its that S/He/IT is completely irrelevant as the universe is where I exist and the rules are made ‘with out g0d’. IF there is something beyond then I will deal with it when I get there.

  162. After being a card-carrying theist, baptized, confirmed and married in a church, most of my ‘rites of passage’ have been within the theist milieu.

    When I die, my family and friends are having a wake, drinking to my ‘health’, cremating me in a cardboard box, and having my ashes scattered on the little hill located in the middle of my 14acre property. I want my last right of passage to be as far away from theism as I can get.
    It is just so obvious from any cursory reading of sociology, anthropology, etc., that religion is nothing other than a geo-culturally dependent variable of the independent variables of everyday social and physical reality. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    Christianity is simply crap.

  163. I became an atheist after reading the bible, but I remain one because of the evidence – the fact that virtually all conceptions of god are inconsistent with what we know about the universe. For me, this comes as close to positive proof as can be possible.

    That is, to be convinced of the existence of a god, I would need to be shown that everything I currently perceive as real is in fact not. Since the same “brain in a vat on Mars” argument applies for evidence of any kind, for all practical purposes I am certain that god does not exist.

  164. I have never been a believer but sometimes wanted to be. There is no evidence, true, but I could also find no version of a god concept that satisfied. I would like my existence to continue and be part of something more than myself but none of the ideas I have come across help me in any real way. Additionally I am thoroughly a Kantian liberal and every religion seems to be built around authoritarian structures. I think faith and authoritarianism both destroy human potential and limit the world we could have. And before anyone brings it up I am a sane human, not a moral relativist.
    The lack of evidence is a lack of evidence everyday, in everyway, in every detail of the world so it is a very conclusive lack. I just cannot summon any belief or hope of a belief and would not like it much if a god did exist.

  165. I was raised Catholic. It was a long and complicated journey to atheism. Lack of evidence for god did play a role. I often challenged god and practiced superstition, but I didn’t get the results I wanted. I thought sometimes I was asking for too much. It all seems stupid and ridiculous now, but a lot of this occurred in my youth. As I learned about the world, science, and other religions, Catholic dogma and religion seemed ridiculous. It made me angry. I was bamboozled! But I’ve lightened up.

    I might believe in god now if all of my prayers had been answered. But those were the prayers of a kid and a Christian. We’d be living in a “perfect” Christian world. It would be a bore. Getting to atheism was hellish at times, but thank goodness I got past my fears of challenging god, my beliefs, and my superstitions. I do prefer my life without belief in god, saints, ghosts, and other superstitious nonsense. Life is more interesting.

    1. I haven’t issued a challenge to GOD in some time. So here it goes…

      Dear Jesus, if you are here, I know you can hear me. If you are here, ride down a rainbow on a white horse carrying pink cotton candy in your right hand and a sword in your left. The cotton candy is for me. The sword is so you feel a little more secure in holding the cotton candy.

      Okay… right… NOW!

      1. Well I waited and nothing happened.

        I’ve given god numerous chances in the past. Because this is a public challenge, and because I’m a nice guy, I think it is only fair to give him another shot. So here we go…

        Last chance god…(drum roll please)…NOW!

        1. Nothing. No surprise. I tried this crap for years growing up and not a scrap of evidence. I just looked outside. I don’t even see any cotton candy!

  166. My goodness there are allot of responses! My reasons for being an atheist are:Lack of evidence in a God, the bible’s baseless assertions made by men in a pre-enlightened age, the bibles violence and cruelty based on “Gods” demands of submission to him, and the facts of evolution. B.T.W. no amount of reason or evidence will counter peoples faith. FAITH TRUMPS EVERYTHING!

  167. I am an atheist because I believe that science, reason and logic rule over fantasy, supersticions and mythis. I am not educated in science but I do trust that science, when combined with reason and logic reap sound pieces of evidence that support thruth to Atheism.

    I was brainwashed Roman Catholic in Pennsylvania. Anyone that was not Catholic was “Public”. It took me years to realize that religions are based on lies and that the supernatural parts of religion are mere fantacies and myths. I was considering becoming a priest from the ages of 18 – 24. Now, at 47, I am finally coming to grips with Atheism and I find all religions repulsive.

    So to answer the question why I am an athiest I would have to say it is mostly because of the unthruths all religious dogma preaches. I believe any intelligent, educated, wordly person (including religious scholars) must know that religions are man made and based on illogical concepts. The only reason religious scholars keep the lies going is because of money. Reliigons take in billions of dollars. We know that many people will do anything to protect their money making business. That’s why I am now a Proud Athiest. I regret that it took me years to “come out” of this second closet!

  168. 1. complete absence of evidence. 2. the behavior of religionists in history. 3. the outright irreconcilability of religions, even those deemed “similar” 4. corny religious music and infantile prayers

  169. No, it’s not for lack of evidence; the evidence for there not being a god is overwheming to me. Every day all I have to do is contemplate current happenings on this Earth and that our solar system keeps a’spining in the immense universe. Evolution is a fact. If the Bible, Koran and especially Joseph Smith’s rediculas book of Maroni are the evidence that these “persons” present to us, they are all laughably poor, no, really no evidense at all. The first only a copy of more ancient, supernatural Mythology, the second we know the source of it’s near unintelligble ranting by someone who had the Bible read to him, and the third, a con man of witching rods and other hocus pocos. I am moving more every day past Richard Dawkins 6.9 point towards 7 in being a radical atheist. If someone says to me, ‘I hear you are an atheist.’ I say yes but it depends on what YOU mean by an theist.’ They invariby answer, “An atheist is a person that doesn’t believe in God.” I answer, no that is not I; I interpret the word litteraly from the Greek, the same language your New Test. came from, A,no + THEOS, god (deity); There is no God! Believe and belief are weasle words!

  170. So, I just finished reading through all of the 283 (so far) responses to Jerry’s wonderful question.

    And I am most thoroughly impressed and quite heartened. So much sanity and rationality!

    I think there’s great potential for this thread to be useful beyond the initial group catharsis.

    First, any of all y’all who encounter believers who misunderstand why people are atheists or who are interested in understanding why people don’t believe, send them here. This thread should do wonders for dispelling misconceptions and enlightening those who mistrakenly believe they’re already enlightened.

    Second, I rather suspect that an enterprising student of sociology should be able to perform some sort of an analysis on the thread. Certainly qualitative, but probably also quantitative. Yes, the respondents are self-selected, but they’re self-selected from a readily-identifiable and not-insignificant group: vocal participants of the atheist web-site-osphere.

    Lastly…I’d like to thank everybody who answered Jerry’s call. I enjoyed reading the responses, and I think the world is a (slightly) better place because this thread exists.



    1. Seconded.

      I felt heartened last night after checking in, and am determined to continue reading everyone’s posts.

      I have a much clearer sense of the different paths we walked to be here and yet it seems that I could have quite a good conversation with most everyone here.

      Thank you.

  171. I was raised on fairy tales and fantasy novels. Religions were obviously a story someone made up. They usually had all the elements of a good fantasy novel: angry deities, adventures and sacrifices. The old testament is like an epic horror film, with god dishing out death and destruction. The Rig Veda is full of great stories, but is an extremely boring read a lot of the time. I loved the old Pueblo myths, too. Objectively, how could one myth be the true one? Isn’t it much more likely they are all just stories.

    I had some fuzzy spiritual beliefs but lost them gradually in my teenage years when I realized they possessed absolutely zero explanatory power, and mostly just served to make new-age goofballs some money.

  172. It’s complicated…
    If I have to choose, the short answer would fall in the empirical camp. But actually, no matter how I look at it, I come up with the same answer.

    I grew up without a religious narrative, not as an “atheist,” but in a family where religion was just not a part of our lives. I lived next door to Jehovah’s Witnesses, across the street from Christian Scientists, and when Kennedy ran against Nixon I learned that “Protestants are good, Catholics are bad”! So my atheistic views started as a combination of:
    (1) “God” never having been part of my life
    (2) The plethora of beliefs I encountered, not all of which could be true, which leads to the logical conclusion that none of them is!
    (3) My own thoughts that if there had been an entity capable of creating the universe, it would be way incomprehensible to us, rather than the anthropomorphic creature of the Bible. Why would it bother creating us, and why would it want to be worshipped or care what we believed?

    As I learned more about science, I saw that everything could be explained, and I didn’t see any “evidence” for the supernatural in my life. As I learned about the vastness and weirdness of the universe, I couldn’t believe that it had been created just for us!

  173. I remember an incident from when I was about 5 years old. I heard the story of Cain and Abel, and wondered about the wife Cain found, afterall their parents where the first humans, right? I remember asking the pastor about it, I don’t remember the answer, but it didn’t satisfy me. In hindsight that was my first step towards atheism. In my early teens I kept asking myself: “Do I believe all this stuff?” For a long time the answer was: “Dunno” For a while I was very much into parapsychology and all that, but I realised soon that the scientific values where scant.

    The answer to “Do I believe all this religious stuff?” became “No” when I was 20. I had no name for what I was, this was 30 years ago in Germany and it really didn’t matter. But after reading “The God Delusion” I found my label, I’m an atheist. I’m a gnu atheist, even.

  174. I went to a Christian school, where we read a lot in the Bible (not such a bad thing as far as acquiring language skills is concerned). What turned me into an atheist, at about the age of ten, was the realization how immensely implausible it was that the creator of the universe would be bothered with the affairs of one particular group of primitive people in the Middle East a few thousand years ago, even with the private lifes of individuals, while this same god had been conspicuous by his absence ever since. Christianity is so evidently made-up and nonsensical that it will always be a mystery to me how intelligent people can fall for it.

  175. Interesting to read the responses here, and to me it would be even more interesting to tease out some patterns in it. I wonder for example if there are people who are motivated more by disillusionment than others, having had some initial attraction to God beliefs, and others who never found those meaningful at all. That might help explain why some atheists feel more threatened by religion than others.

    Also, the assumption that people form opinions by reasoning from evidence is an attractive rationalist hypothesis, but I’m not sure I find it entirely plausible. Why do all of us as atheists fail to find God beliefs meaningful or useful, when so many others do. I’m just not convinced that it’s because we reasoned purely from evidence and they just blindly accepted fairy tales without evidence. That just seems a little too self-congratulatory to me.

    1. I thought about that as well Todd, but I came to a different conclusion.

      Many people here seem to, like me, be attempting to reconcile the cultural narrative that we were born in to, re: religions, with our experiences. Not that we just started one day deconstructing religions rationally. That part comes after too many contradictions emerge directly from our experiences.

      1. Oops, I left out what I was responding to which is

        I’m just not convinced that it’s because we reasoned purely from evidence and they just blindly accepted fairy tales without evidence.

    2. “some atheists feel more threatened by religion than others”?

      Do you actually know an atheist who is threatened by religion? I sure don’t.

      1. I expect that there are thousand of atheists in, say, Iran, or Pakistan, or the USA who feel mortally threatened by religion.

          1. Yash, you’re right, that’s not quite what I was talking about originally, but I don’t make as much of a distinction between those kinds of threat as you seem to be making. I think a lot of us feel threatened by the potential for religion to become a force for totalitarianism when it mixes with politics, and that’s part of what leads to it becoming the more direct kind of threat. Or don’t you see it that way at all?

      2. Yes, I know several athesists who feel very threatened by religion, particularly a friend in Pakistan. And I suspect that many of the anti-religious atheists feel threatened by it, although in a less direct and physical sense. More in a political sense.

        1. You said:

          I wonder … if there are people who are motivated more by disillusionment than others, having had some initial attraction to God beliefs, and others who never found those meaningful at all. That might help explain why some atheists feel more threatened by religion than others.

          I don’t understand what connection it is you are claiming to see between the “disillusionment” and the “feeling threatened.”

          1. Yashwata: The connection I envision is that people who have experienced an indoctrination from an early age and overcame it are more likely to see religion as threatening because they recognize the effort it took to fight the indoctrination and the effect it had on their early life. Those of us who avoided that kind of early treatment, I am imagining at least, may not see why it should be so difficult to deal with because they haven’t had to deal with it in that manner. Just my thoughts, I can’ speak for any perspective but my own.

              1. No “Reply” link on your comment — I guess you can only go so deep — so I’ll put it here.

                Theists have accused me of being an atheist because of some kind of neurotic reaction to the idea of religious belief. “You feel threatened by the divine serenity we derive from our faith,” they might say. As a result, I have become neurotically sensitive to that preposterous suggestion.

              2. Yashwata: “neurotic reaction to the idea of religious belief.”

                I’m glad you clarified that. Although I think the idea of a pathological fear of an idea and some sort of reactance in response is plausible in theory, that definitely isn’t what I was referring to here. I meant a real fear with identifiable consequences.

  176. As a child I was God-soaked; Sunday school, Daily Vacation Bible School, church choir, prayer meetings, testimonial nights, Bible competitions, Christian Service Brigade, baptized in the baptismal, under my grandfather’s painting, while the church organ, donated by a great-uncle, played. I prayed hard, loved Jesus with all my heart, but I never got the feeling of bliss that everyone talked about. Then when I was 12 I discovered masturbation. Wow! How could anything that felt sooo good be bad? Then I started noticing the hypocrisy of some of the church goers. I began having more trouble believing the stories; especially when they said everyone who didn’t believe just like we did were going to be tormented in Hell forever. Then I discovered science and history in the form of World Book Encyclopedia, then in school. By the time I got to high school biology, taught by a wonderful guy named Bob Martin, I just sort of forgot about religion. It was still there, a dark presence deep in my brain, gibbering about Hell and Damnation, but I just sort of ignored it. I drifted along as a wishy-washy agnostic for many years. When I started hearing about Intelligent Design, and since it was now the Age of Google, my research led me to Austin Cline’s About Atheism, then to Panda’s Thumb where I followed the Dover war, then to Pharyngula. Finally, a couple years ago a friend loaned me a copy of The God Delusion. Then, like Saul on the road to Damascus, the scales fell from my brain and the world made infinitely more sense. I was finally able to openly admit to myself that I no longer believed in any god or gods and that religious belief made absolutely no sense. I re-read the Bible, read the Quran and the Book of Mormon. All I found was sadness, hate, evil and simply unbelievable nonsense. I read Dennett, Harris and Hitchens and they made a lot of sense. I became more aware of the out and out lies spread by supposedly religious people whom I have now come to despise. So now I call myself an atheist. I can see no evidence whatsoever for any gods, nor do I see any need to evoke any gods to explain anything in world. Still, sometimes late at night, when it’s quiet, I still hear that nasty little imp that was implanted deep in my brain as a child, but now I know its not real.

  177. I don’t believe in God or any gods for the same reason that I don’t believe in Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, or Santa Claus. The arguments for God’s existence, whether ontological, teleological, or cosmological, simply are not convincing, while the arguments against God’s existence, especially the arguments from Evil and from Scale (for the latter, see “The Non-Existence of God” by Nicholas Everitt), are quite convincing. The “God of the philosophers,” i.e., the classic omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Being cannot exist, as those attributes are internally and mutually contradictory. The God of the average believer, is, on the other hand, not very different from the Zeus of the ancient pagan Greeks, and thus not much more than a cosmic tyrant at best, and a comic book super-hero at worst. In any event, there is no evidence for such a being actually existing.

  178. I was brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness. A very strict cult (aren’t they all?) Demons were all around, ready to pounce on a child if you were not following the ‘truth’ or reading ‘blasphemous’ material. When I moved away to work, I found it pleasing to miss the 5 hours of indoctrination. Guilt and fear of ‘Jehovah’ ensued. Many years later, after marriage & kids, I one day spied in the library ‘Did Jesus Exist?’ by G A Wells. Reading it, I had an anti-religious experience.
    Suddenly those strange passages in the bible made sense. It was BS, for writers personal motives! One thing stopped my absolute freedom, the problem of altruism in nature. A reading of The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins explained it completely in evolutionary terms.
    I had my childhood stolen, but I got better. Of course, the God hypothesis is completely ridiculous.

  179. Always been an atheist, because:

    a. There is no evidence whatsoever to support any God hypothesis, or attributed miracles (lack of evidence).

    b. Logical incoherence in the concept itself (anecdotal evidence).

    c. The world operates as is without the need of any divine or supernatural agent (negative evidence).

    Today, I have even more reasons than that.

  180. The more supreme, ineffable, and “omni” a god is, the less capable any evidence would be of demonstrating its existence. Any claim to an absolute, eternal truth requires a basis of equal weight, and no such thing can be found here. Even if such evidence did exist, the fact that we filter everything through limited, frail, untrustworthy human perception would taint it irrevocably by the time we had a chance to consider it.

    My personal path to atheism started with pursuing for a while an evangelical Christian faith. When I fell out of that, it was in part because I realized I was called upon to believe in a god who would determine our place in eternity based on decisions made temporally. This is an explicit contradiction right in the Bible: the whole point of the book of Job is that human understanding is nothing before the vastness of God, and yet the New Testament makes clear that our choices on Earth will be held up to God’s perfection and found wanting, for which his justice demands punishment. Even the so-called “free gift” of salvation requires a temporal choice on the part of the recipient in order to go into effect. At its best, that allows the theologian to slyly have it both ways; at its worst, it makes God into the most horrible monster imaginable.

    Not every modern theology is so strict about judgement, but the core logical problem exists for any claim about the absolute: Our faculties are too limited for us to confirm it. Visions can be hallucinations; apparent violations of physical law can be undiscovered natural phenomena; memories can be distorted. Any “evidence” of the supernatural is ultimately an attempt to disprove naturalistic explanations, which is a philosophical impossibility.

    The only “god” that a human being can justifiably recognize is so fuzzy and limited as to be hardly deific at all. Often these are gussied-up aspects of simple human experience, like feelings of connectedness or love or transcendence. Interesting – potentially fulfilling, even – but not godlike in the way that those who call themselves “theists” and “atheists” mean it.

    Even though I do identify with some definitions of atheism, I consider myself at core an agnostic in something like the original sense: I think that knowledge of the divine is impossible to recognize as such. Even if you did encounter genuinely divine knowledge and acknowledge it, you could only do so mistakenly. 🙂 So while, yes, there could be a being or beings who are “greater” than my perception with creative power over me and the universe, I literally can’t conceive of the evidence that they could present that would adequately substantiate the claim of their own identities. They might through hands-on experience convince me of attributes like their physical power and access to other realms of existence; perhaps by taking me there, they could even convince me about the afterlife and what steps I need to take to determine my place in it. But as functionally sure as I might be in those facts after having had the chance to test them, they could never add up to the full picture of omni-whatever, at least not while I remain a temporal, limited being myself.

  181. Lack of evidence. I graduated from not caring (apathetism if you will) to not caring and not believing. I have yet to see anything that would induce me to proclaim faith. Religion seems to exist for the same reasons as other human endeavors: to gain wealth, political influence, etc for itself. No different from modern corporations except for religion’s lack of honesty in seeking profit. And the occasional oil spill….

  182. lack of repeatable evidence for the supernatural hypothesis + overwhelming evidence for natural processes making everything we can observe = no need for the supernatural hypothesis.

    i was technically agnostic until my late 30s, when research into consciousness and latest findings from neurobiology finally dispelled the last doubts i had. cartesian duality was the last place where ‘magic’ was hiding out for me, but i eventually grokked that qualia are nonsense; you get qualia when you ask the question wrong.

  183. Like some of the other people who commented here, I was raised in a very religion soaked environment. When I married my husband, I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t a believer as well. I mean, it all made such sense. There just HAD to be a god. Then I started reading stuff to find an argument to present to my husband, so he would “see the light.” Instead, my eyes were opened. When I wasn’t saturated with the lies and brainwashing techniques that seem to be intrinsic to religion, I began to let myself acknowledge all those contradictions that I had noticed but glazed over. Honestly, and this may sound stupid as hell, but for me the ultimate evidence of evolution being true, for me, was presented by Richard Dawkins when he described how the sinuses drain on the top. This was for me, my AH HA moment! I thought, wow, how bloody dumb would a creator HAVE to be in order to put the drain hole on TOP? If we were ALWAYS upright, as the religious tell us we were, then it would have been designed differently, right? So that is why I don’t believe in a god anymore. Our sinuses drain from the top.

  184. Here’s why I am an atheist:

    1) Lack of personal experience. I was born into born-again Christianity and never even thought to question it until I went to college. I subsequently realized that Philosophy and Comparative Religion courses in college tapped into a subconsciously-building doubt due to a specific lack of experience of Jesus’ or the Holy Spirit’s presence, which I was told by both church and Bible is a self-evident fact of every true believer. I asked Jesus repeatedly for assurance and help in my unbelief – yet there was never any answer. Not even close.

    2) Cultural issues: Having been exposed to Comparative Religion courses in college, as well as meeting people of different faiths (e.g., Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu) in college that I never met in my “Christian bubble” as a youth, I realized that the conflicting claims of all religions makes it improbable that they can all be true.

    3) Philosophical reasoning: towards the end of college and thereafter, I delved further into both the theistic and atheistic arguments for and against the existence of gods as well as the supernatural. I found all the pro-theistic/pro-supernatural arguments, however sophisticated, simply wanting. Furthermore, in the past 10-15 years I’ve been an avowed atheist, I’ve read and continue to read books by prominent academic and popular Christian writers (including Francis Collins, Donald Miller, etc.) and find their arguments not only wanting, but downright infantile.

    4) and the writings of Nietzsche. Tom Clark has a nice compilation of all things naturalism-related, as well as the latest reports from the various sciences, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, etc. Nietzsche is grossly misunderstood by most, but the key works for me were/are: The Gay Science, On the Genealogy of Morals, Beyond Good & Evil, and The Antichrist.

  185. I was raised a staunch catholic and when I left high school I firmly believed in God though no longer called myself catholic. It took about 6 months of university before I started to question religion and from there about 2 years to give it up completely. Anthony Grayling talked about 2 types of proof, it was the first kind, formal deductive proof that caused me to give up my religion. None of it made any sense, the beliefs of the christian faith are logically incoherent and contradictory. Those that are not fail the second proof test (scientific proof).

    To me the question of whether god exists is similar to asking whether there is a box somewhere that contains Tuesday. No evidence could ever convince me that the statement is correct because it is nonsense. For god to exist the entire universe would have to be very different god requires mathematics itself to function differently let alone physics and the other sciences. I will concede that it is theoretically possible to construct a universe where God could exist and where evidence of god could be produced. For that universe to be this universe all the sciences and systems of logic would have to be shown to be wrong and changed (quite substantially). I think this too is what Anthony Grayling was saying when he said you have a lot of work to do [evidence wise] before you are able to come to a position where you can ask what evidence would convince you of god.

  186. Dear Prof Coyne,

    Thank you for your excellent question, Prof Coyne. I will give my answer but I would first like to speak words of appreciation to atheist scholars and atheist ‘everymen’ as well.

    I found your website months ago through reading other excellent atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and ‘weblogs’ like Debunking Christianity. I especially enjoy Mr John Loftus and his website from where I discovered your current article. I will bookmark your website to read now. But I can already tell I will appreciate your sophistication and intelligence, along with Richard Dawkins and several other atheists. As for Mr Loftus, he is very easy to read and I frequently feel moved by his ‘everyman’ perspective on life. Although Mr Loftus is not what I would label a thinking or intelligent person, but I believe the other atheists I mentioned are intelligent and think deeply on issues, it does not considerably matter because Mr Loftus speaks to our hearts. While other atheists might be intellectuals, he is not as smart but he is passionate and fiery. His passion and fire make up for what he lacks. If our feelings and emotions are ‘right’ brain phenomena, and logic and reason are ‘left’ brain phenomena, Mr Loftus is more the ‘right’ brain to other atheists’ ‘left’ brain. But we all need to work together to make a ‘complete’ brain. His passionate feelings and emotions are the wind that drives atheism forward while other atheist scholars are the ones who ground atheism on firm intellectual foundations. I will mention my appreciative comment on his website as well.

    My story is that I am 42, a mother of two teenagers, one boy and one girl, but whose successful businessman and soon to be ex-husband left me over 15 months ago for a younger and more attractive woman. We were Roman Catholics who did not believe in divorce. But now we are getting divorced. After we became pregnant with our first child and at his strong request, I myself left a reputable American doctoral programme years ago and thus my dream to become an academic and scholar. It’d be an understatement to say I’m devastated. He and the Church ruined my life and my dreams, and my children’s lives as well. My first reason is therefore a personal reason. I apologise for such strong language but I hate my husband and I hate the Roman Catholic Church for what they did to me and my children. I should say another reason I appreciate Mr Loftus is because he has publicly revealed he comes from a similar background to mine. He too had marital problems when he allegedly ‘committed adultery’ with another woman. But there is no such thing as ‘adultery’ as it is an invention of the Church. His wife was a Christian shrew. But what is worse is Mr Loftus’ Church would not help him. He therefore had to leave his Church and wife. I applaud him for his bravery.

    But I also have factual and intellectual reasons. Through reading many atheist scientific columns, articles, and books, although I apologise I haven’t read your books but I would like to, I have become convinced that atheism is true and there is no god or gods.

    My deepest thanks once again for all the good work you do to tell people the truth, and thank you for giving us the opportunity to share our reasons for why we are atheists. I will definitely visit your website again.



  187. The short answer is: a severe lack of evidence for god, as in, none.

    The long answer follows.

    First off, one should know that I come from a very religious background. My grandfather has been an Apostolic Lutheran pastor for my entire life, and my mother became “born-again” at some point after getting pregnant. When I was a child, the family would play “Bible Trivia,” and I kicked butt because I enjoyed me some Bible stories.

    Around about the seventh grade, I started thinking, and one thing that kept going through my head is that the deck was stacked against humanity from the start, if one believed the book of Genesis. God was omnipotent and omniscient, so he knew exactly what sort of creation he’d made, and the consequences thereof. So, here’s Adam and Eve, with one rule to follow: don’t eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. What follows is well known of course, the “Fall of Man.” What got me though is that God should’ve, indeed must have, seen it coming from the very start, and took no steps to prevent it. There are many that could’ve been done: don’t let Satan in the garden, don’t make the bloody Tree, make sure Adam and Eve really are obedient and not prone to disobeying just cuz of a few honeyed words, just to name a few.

    What this would mean then is that God wanted it to happen, knowing full well he was still going to lay the blame at the poor human’s feet and punish them accordingly with pain, misery, and no access to immortality (the given reason for being kicked out of Eden is not the sin itself, but so as to keep them from eating of the Tree of Life). That’s an eyeopener for a child of that age. That made God out to be someone rather despicable, as opposed to the loving, forgiving deity I had been taught to worship.

    Another way in which the deck was stacked, according to the teachings I had received, is the simple math about the causes of sin: the devil, the world, and our own flesh. The only saving grace was to pray to Jesus to make you a good person, and give you strength to resist temptation. “For all of sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Rom3:23. Well, yea, when things are set up like that!

    I’m pretty sure, though I don’t exactly recall, that before I concluded I was atheist, I concluded first that God just flat out didn’t deserve my worship. And this led me to believe that there was no God. Yes, I know, crappy reasoning. God could’ve existed but really just been that rotten. I make no excuse, except that I hadn’t been taught critical thinking in my life.

    I won’t go into all the details of the teenage years that cemented the “God, if existing, is rotten” idea, and the conversations I had with my Grandfather during Youth Bible Study meetings that didn’t help the case for religion. I will say that I gained a better understanding of evolution during that time, which my family’s church views as the enemy (when my Mother gave me a subscription to Discover magazine for my 13th birthday, she warned me that if I started talking about evolution being real, she’d take that subscription away — I kept my mouth shut), and this understanding helped further the belief that God doesn’t exist.

    I backslid around the time I was 18 or 19, when I had a powerful emotional experience that I believed was my soul touching another. This I took as proof that souls existed, which meant there was an afterlife, and more in heaven and earth than were dreamt of in my philosophy (thank you Shakespeare). I spent the next few years trying to understand that experience, and figure out which of the New Age beliefs, or combination thereof, were right. I still viewed the Christian god as horrible, so I wasn’t about to go there! However, I continued to read about science, one of the loves that has remained with me since early childhood, and eventually, I simply couldn’t maintain the belief that anything genuinely spiritual/supernatural had actually happened to me, or the belief that there was any sort of deity looking down.

    So, I became agnostic. Some more time passed, some more study took place, and eventually, all I could admit to is “atheist.” Frankly I find myself more satisfied with the evidential conclusion then I did with my past views. I have even come to view the world with more wonder and awe than I did when I believed in the supernatural.

  188. I was a gullible idiot. Unlike all of you smart people that saw through the lies and brainwashing at an early age; I swallowed the whole catholic doctrine. My parents, teachers, priests and nuns wouldn’t lie to me would they? I went to catholic schools, we had religion instead of science. Catholic doctrine was taught the same as math, english and history. It was all taught as facts. I was too stupid and gullible to realize the difference between religious fantasy and fact. Religious freedom? There is no freedom for children raised with 24 hour brainwashing. We were repeatedly mentally raped. I was so terrified of their hell that I figured my only salvation was to become a priest. Fortunately, a year in the seminary with a good library and it was obvious even to me how much suffering and pain the catholic church had inflicted on millions over centuries. No sane person would be part of that organization. I was no longer a catholic but it’s easier to remove two hands full of cholla cactus than get all that catholic crap out of your brain. Took a long time and a strange journey through buddhism, hinduism and zen. I am convinced by own unfettered logic, long study and reason that there can be no god as described in the bible, koran, etc. At 61, I stand free and proud with the rest of you; a product of 14 and half billion years of wonderful evolution. And a final word to the Catholic Church: fuck you.

  189. I suppose there are quite a few coherent and logically possible god hypotheses, if you ask the right people. I’m not going out of my way to learn these hypotheses and determine how they could be proven.

    I was never personally presented with a coherent religious belief system. I live in a secularized Lutheran culture where religious practice is not so much faith-based as tradition-based. Discussion about religious beliefs is not encouraged because someone might get their feelings hurt. I was raised to respect the tradition and ignore the lack of content. Eventually, it started to creep me out.

    I’m actually quite curious about what the people in “my” church supposedly believe, but that’s elusive to find out. People here don’t like being told what to believe, so the church doesn’t tell them. As a teenager, I read (unlike anyone else) the official Cathechism and thought that if only I thought it a little harder it would make sense. Years later I realized that it was just a collection of vague references to some obscure theological concepts that most people would feel outlandish to think about.

  190. Reasons for not believing in god:

    1. No reliable evidence for any gods

    2. The arrogance of the religious to explain exactly what god is without any supporting evidence. (Plus they’re not all the same)

    3. A perfectly plausible and evidence based explanation exists (science) for much of what we see around us. Therefore there is no reason to postulate a god to explain it.

    4. The fact that life was not created for humans in mind is not a problem. I would much rather accept life for what it is than live my life hoping that some made up deity is true.

  191. Born and bred LOL an atheist.. I was presented with the other- well okay the christian- argument/s for god/religion.. it/they came up far short as did/do many of the christians I interact(ed) with.. the memorable ones anyways. The ones who told me as a child I was going to hell due to my lack of belief in god.. my 7 yo response to that was well if I don’t get to go to heaven due to lack of belief in god.. I cannot go to hell as I do not believe in the devil either.. that threw their little minster’s daughters brains for a loop. Although I continued to be told of my destiny of hell as they were playmates..
    I am a self-diagnosed Aspie and logic tells me that the whole god thing makes no sense and science is beautiful both in its failings and its successes.. and its ability to be wrong is what makes it right. For me and in general. Occam’s Razor can apply- god is unnecessarily complex for the situation.
    God has had much bad done in its name and not nearly enough good for it and religion to be allowed a seat at the grownups table.

  192. I was an adult Sunday school teacher and also taught a weeknight Bible study class at my church. The more I studied the Bible the more doubts I had. Once when doing an 8 week study of Genesis and Exodus I remember asking myself “Do I really believe any of this?” The answer that came to me was no. I didn’t really believe all the Apologetics I had read that attempted to rationalize these stories. People told me to pray but that didn’t seem to help either. I also realized how little knew about Biology, Chemistry, and Astronomy and began to read more on these subjects and try to understand more about the universe I live in.
    For me the “evidence” that the Church offered just wasn’t compelling and that’s why I’m an atheist.

  193. It took me a while to get around to responding to this. Actually, I don’t recall having any religious beliefs at any point in my life. My brother and my best friend since childhood both agree that I have never in my life professed a belief in anything vaguely religious, and the