How I went from Atheist to Agnostic
Whenever atheists hear that I am an agnostic, they assume I am just one step away from becoming a true atheist. Then comes the bombshell...I was an atheist but moved to what I consider a true agnostic. Before I move on, I will explain the definitions that I am using. Opinions on these definitions vary and in some cases, there is no “correct” definition, but I go with the following, based on related studies.
Atheist-One that claims know there is no god or higher power. (This will be the more controversial definition because I know many atheists would not agree with this. This is however the popular definition that Christians or other believers would use.)
Agnostic-One that does not believe we can know whether or not there is a god/higher power/force or what have you. Many consider agnostic to mean simply “I don’t know.” This is not the definition I am using because it is an unsure and lazy view. I do not know because I do not think we can know.
Deist-One that believes in some type of higher power or god, but one that is not a personal god that can produce revelation or interfere in life in anyway. This would be what many would call the “first mover” or “unmovable mover,” the thing that set the universe in motion.
Theist-One that has a belief similar to the deist god, except it is a personal god that can become involved in our world. This is generally the god of their favored religion such as Christianity.
To continue, do not freak out and think I went from atheist to theist, or something more in that direction. I went from atheist, to agnostic because of intellectual and scientific reasons, because of the knowledge I gain. I actually consider myself an agnostic atheist. I am a true agnostic because I do not think we can know. This is the only honest intellectual position that is based on observable, empirical evidence. Agnosticism is my conclusion, atheism is my opinion. I find it more likely that there is no god as opposed to their being one. I believe we can reasonably conclude there is probably not a god, though not logically.
What is the reason I went from atheist to agnostic? I will explain the brief story of my change in opinion.
(I will tell my story of Atheism to Agnosticism next, but at the end of this I will also provide my story of Christianity to Atheism)
Atheism to Agnosticism
That experience led to my “conversion.” I had concluded that God did not exist. Using my logic, I reasoned that even if God did exist, and I was standing in front of him in heaven, being all-knowing, he would know that I did not really believe. I figured that I had given ample opportunity to see a sign or feel something and did not. This is when my fear of hell disappeared. I was no longer afraid of not believing. Overcoming this fear allowed me to proclaim myself an atheist.
Like many atheists, I was bitter and mad. I disliked the military’s favoritism of Christianity. I always brought up that the way they were running things favored Christians, even though we had Muslims and atheists in the military. I continued on like this. I never really disliked Christians, but I saw their reasoning as inferior. Simply put, I saw myself as smarter or better.
After getting off of active duty and working as a personal trainer for a year, I decided to go to college. I enrolled at the University of Minnesota with plans of majoring in Kinesiology. Being a new student, I was at the bottom of the list for signing up for classes, so I took some stuff for fun. I ended up taking Ancient History (Western) and History of the Crusades. To make a long story short, I switched from Kinesiology to Religious Studies and Ancient Mediterranean Studies. I loved history and religion plays such an important role in it. It would also give me the chance to look at the Bible as a historical work. Around this time I also became interested in Ancient Astronaut Theory. This is an important point which I will address in a bit.
I figured the best way to validate or invalidate the Bible was to actually study the context and history of it. I thought the most logical place to start with the beginning, so I started with the study of the Hebrew Bible. I started learning about the historical context of the Bible and the link to other cultures and religions during the time. Another thing I studied was how religious beliefs in general came about. I started to see Ancient Astronaut Theory a legitimate possibility. Remember, I considered myself a pretty smart person.
Over the next few semesters I took additional classes in philosophy (of religion, morality, logic epistemology, and others, ) science, history of science and the philosophy of science. I also started interacting with a campus atheist group called CASH (Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists.) During this time and continuing on, I really had my eyes open on a number of things and come to come conclusions.
First: The God of the Hebrew Bible does not exist. There is nothing extraordinary or unique about the Bible. I have another blog about this topic... http://athans-athansblog.blogspot.com/2013/06/rejection-of-god-due-to-bible.html I also learned that pointing out contradictions in the Bible is childish because if one actually understands what it is, we would expect this.
Second: Ancient Astronaut Theory is a joke. I know most of you already know this, but let me explain my errors. First, they doom themselves by coming out with more and more material. They think it is evidence, but it is all just contradictions. But here were the big errors in my reasoning. Logic, Ignorance, Authority.
Their entire argument is not a logically sound argument and uses deductive reasoning from a flawed premise. They start with the premise that aliens exist. As is the case with arguments that begin with “God exists.” THIS is the exact premise they need to prove. They assume it to be correct and work backwards. This is not a logical argument.
They made claims such as “we don’t know how the pyramids were built, therefore aliens built them.” Well actually, we do know how they were built. We actually have answers to nearly every single question they ask and ways to explain their points. Their entire argument is dependent on an ignorant audience. They need people that do not know much about history. When I realized this, I became upset and tried to figure out if the proponents were trying to deceive people, or if they were just idiots. This leads to the finial bit.
I made the assumption that the people talking about this stuff were actually in the position to be talking about it. When I looked into it, almost none of their “experts” even had degrees. Of the ones that did, they were in a totally unrelated field. But all of a sudden these people know more than Ph.D.s in the area? There is a reason Ph.D.s have spent their entire lives studying a topic…
Third: Logic, Epistemology, Scientific Reasoning, History, Science. I learned that we actually have methods of knowing things and logic is actually more than someone’s opinion of what makes sense. Logic is very different than one’s reasoning ability. I also took classes in biology, philosophy of science, and the history of science. We have very precise ways of doing science and knowing things and also that scientific thought has changed over time. It is this part that led me to my agnosticism. To start, the question of a god is not a scientific question. God falls into the realm of supernatural. Supernatural things cannot be scientifically tested because they cannot be falsified. We simply cannot prove there is no god. That being said, I see no reason to invoke a god and I have not seen any reason to NEED a god. Historically, the idea of a god is not unreasonable and actually most of the smartest people did believe in a god. Newton and Darwin both believe in a god. It has not been until fairly recently that we could make the conclusion that a god is more unlikely than it is likely. On that same note though, there are VERY important details that have yet to be answered.
If we are scientifically honest, we cannot conclude that the universe has a creator or a purpose, or does not. To quote astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson:
Does the Universe have a purpose?
“Not sure. Anyone who expresses a more definitive response to the question is claiming access to knowledge not based on empirical foundations. This remarkably persistent way of thinking, common to most religions and some branches of philosophy, has failed badly in past efforts to understand, and thereby predict the operations of the universe and our place within it. …
So in the absence of human hubris, and after we filter out the delusional assessments it promotes within us, the universe looks more and more random. Whenever events that are purported to occur in our best interest are as numerous as other events that would just as soon kill us, then intent is hard, if not impossible, to assert. So while I cannot claim to know for sure whether or not the universe has a purpose, the case against it is strong, and visible to anyone who sees the universe as it is rather than as they wish it to be.”
You can read the full answer here http://www.templeton.org/purpose/essay_Tyson.html
Besides not being able to answer THE question, we cannot even answer all of the questions here on earth. Another thing that has never been demonstrated or observed is how exactly the first life came about. We can show that the foundations of life can be created from non-living elements, but we have not shown how we can go from simple proteins to life.
Though I believe we have enough evidence to reasonably conclude there is no need for a god, the fact of the matter is that we have not answered the two biggest questions that need explaining. This is why I went from an atheist to an agnostic and that is why that should be the correct progression. It was not due to the need or want of a god or some personal revelation, it was science. Though atheism is my opinion, many people that are much smarter than I, would disagree with that opinion. (Click on that link above for opinions of other experts.)
I will end this bit here, but I do want to talk about what I learned about atheists from the CASH group and other interactions. That will be posted in an attached blog in the near future.
As promised, Christianity to Atheism...
Christianity to Atheism
Like many reading this, I was raised Christian. But I was raised a “liberal Christian.” I do not mean this in political terms, rather the degree of Christianity. My parents and Church were pretty open to progressive views. I was baptized, went to Sunday School, and was Confirmed. My family went to Church mainly only for the holidays and even less after my sister was Confirmed. My dad now makes the claim that he does not believe in God. I did occasionally go on Church trips and youth nights at the Church (mainly to see the girls though.) These experiences actually started leading me AWAY from the Church.
I remember asking Jesus into my life during a Church camp thing. You know what I felt? Nothing. Numerous times I asked God for a sign or feeling…anything at all. Again, nothing. It irritated me that God would not give me an answer and I started to doubt him, but was still afraid of not believing because of the possibility of hell. I also took a World Religions course in high school that exposed me to different views and religions. I found Wicca interesting, but I did not become a Wiccan like many rebellious teens decided they were.
After graduation I went straight to Active Duty Air Force. Like many, I sought after religion for comfort while in basic training. I had some ups and downs. I acquired a Rosary. Not knowing what it was, I simply wore it like a cross. Apparently someone in my flight was extremely offended by that and went off on me. I remember thinking what an asshole he was. I meant no disrespect, but was simply looking for comfort, yet he could not see this. Naturally this made me bitter. At the same time I was forming a friendship with another person. He was a Mormon. I started to go to the Mormon services with him and reading The Book of Mormon. Like many, I found their beliefs laughable. At the same time, I enjoyed spending time with them because they were good caring people.
In Tech School I was a Chaplin assistant. Not much to say about it, it was a good experience. My first station was Ramstein Airbase in Germany. Naturally I started going to the Chapel on base. I was rubbed the wrong way there, especially after hearing about the crimes the previous Chaplin had committed. I went to a couple different Churches, one being a place off-base. This Church was off base, but was generally made up of Americans. This place was the final straw for me. Being a new member, he singled me out (I was a very shy person.) He asked me if I had ever sinned. I said of course I had. He told me that it is possible for me to live a life without sin. I told him that was not possible (this is what I had always been taught.) He still continued to single me out and assured me I could. I left very bitter. I went back to my dorm and asked God for a sign. Guess what happened? Nothing…