Sunday, January 15, 2012

How Isaac Asimov helped me embrace my atheism.

I am an atheist, out and out. It tooke me a long time to say it. I've been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrepectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I'm a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally I am an atheist. I don't have the evidence to prove that god doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time." --Isaac Asimov

I have admired Isaac Asimov for many years.  I knew of his fiction for years, first being introduced to him through his brilliant short story Nightfall (which, if you haven't read, I have included a link to the entire story, it is one I strongly recommend to everyone).

It wasn't until a few years later that I encountered one of his books on religion.  The book, In The Beginning, pulled me in and I soon found I could not get enough.  In it, Asimov took the book of Genesis and looked at it from three different angles: how the religious see it, how such writings came to be as they are now, and what science says about the idea in question.

I had known for a long time that something was seriously wrong about religion and that it didn't fit quite with reality, but I was still something of a deist bordering on agnostic.  But this book helped me along the road to leaving belief in the past.  Finally someone else who saw what I did and didn't try to give some lame excuse as to why religion didn't match up with reality.

Years later I discovered that not only was the whole thing ridiculous, but it could actually be damaging and rather terrefying.  Not just for the harm it does to the vulnerable mind, but how it views those who do not believe in their specific brand of magic.  Not to mention the often downright rage they would express to those who dared to actually doubt the concept all together!

These people had made not believing in an invisible man in the sky such a terrible thing that to consider it openly was one of the deepest of taboos.  It was so strong that someone who had such a powerful mind and, through much of his life, was such an open atheist, was pushed to hide his own views.  Views that he knew made sense, that were the only ones that really did make sense in light of the evidence.  But still he hid them because they were frowned upon.

If someone such as Isaac Asimov could be bullied into such a belief then what does it mean about so many others, including myself?

But instead of the 'dangerous' view that far too many often claim it is, atheism is, to me, as it was to Asimov, freeing.  It was the universe laid open for us to scrutinize and wonder over.  It was finally no longer being afraid of ones lack of belief and openly saying "there isn't enough evidence to support the view and it isn't one that is important enough to waste any more time considering further".  It is finally being able to look at religious belief in the same way one does believers in the Loch Ness Monster and not think that ones has to suppress such views.

The quote that I started this article is a prime example of these views.  It is his looking back and realizing that he had been silly the whole time and should have just been open with himself the whole time.

To be clear, when Isaac Asimov says that he is an "emotional atheist", he is not meaning what so many theists claim.  He is not someone who 'believes' atheism is accurate like a theist believes in their particular patented version of a deity..  It is the feeling of elation you feel when you realize that the universe works without the need for a 'man behind the curtain'.

It is seeing the workings of a cell or the life cycles of stars and realizing "I can understand this!"  followed soon after by "Wait...what?  I can understand this?  A critter that evolved as an overly complex way of replicating strands of amino acids can look at the universe and say, ok, I see how that works!"  If that does not instill within you a sense of awe then I pity you to the point of sadness.

Some theists may cling to the end of the quote where Asimov says "I don't have the evidence to prove that god doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time."  They point their finger and go "Aha!  You don't have any evidence and you still believe there is no god?  Where is your science now!" and then, I imagine, go feel rather pleased with themselves and bet Jesus would give them a high five.

To which those of us go on to ask them, at least those of us who have patience for it, whether they have evidence that the tooth fairy does not exist.  Our imaginary theist might respond saying the idea is absurd, they have never seen a tooth fairy and that parents are the ones who have the absurd tendency to hoard discarded dentition.

"Exactly" is the only needed response.  The believer might not see it, but I do.  It is obvious to the point of absurdity and to waste any further time with it seems meaningless.  The only reason myself and others must is because we are surrounded by people like those we have such conversations with and some of them seem to think we should just sit back shut up or get what's coming to us.

So here is to you religious extremists.  You are the reason we have to step away from the adult conversations and deal with such silly ideas as invisible sky daddies.  I would much rather be doing what Asimov and many of my others heroes have done and still do today and get to excitedly talking about things like evolution, stellar formation, the big bang, quantum physics, and the possibilities for xenobiology.

Not to mention other things more important then whether their deity exists such as what I'm going to have for breakfast or where my jacket is.
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krissthesexyatheist said...

I haven't read that story. thanks for the link. Fo sho no one fer sure knows if there is or is not a Gawd...but I think that after examining the evidence, or lack of, that it points to atheism...I admit that I/we could be wrong, but I doubt it.


Cyc said...

You certainly should, there is a good reason that it has been voted the best sci-fi short story of all time.

I doubt it to, and that doubt is something that should be mentioned far more often. I know it is different from region to region, but it seems I spend far to much time being the only one putting forth evidence in conversations instead of just looking at such people and saying "isn't that cute, you still believe in god" and then giving them a lolly and sending them about their day.