I often find myself wondering, with everything going on in the world, how one could possibly still believe in a higher being, against all the higher evidence. Are these people ignorant? Stupid? Both? We look around us and see a world run by technology. A very limited knowledge of history shows that people are living longer, healthier, and better lives now than they were even 100 years ago, let alone during the times of Pimpmaster JC. iPods work and prayers don’t, and we have numerous ways of communicating with each other anywhere in the world or even out in space, potentially to beings many light years away.
And yet, God is the powerful one. God, the dude who had his people enslaved in Egypt (well… not really, but so the story goes) and rather than rescue them, said he made their enslaver’s heart a rock so as to make his punishment worse (which to me, is akin to the “I meant to do that” excuse that I adopt when playing video games). The guy who can’t even make a simple set of rules to follow that don’t contradict each other, or explain to his followers an origin story that doesn’t contradict evidence. This is the guy who says that pi equals 3.
But, as a self-described rationalist, there are a number of things that I am not very rational about. I have a deeply engrained arachnophobia, for instance. I know I’m thousands of times bigger than a tiny spider, but I can’t look at one without my hair standing on end. Additionally, I constantly find myself looking for patterns where patterns cannot possibly exist (the latest related to Net-Flix DVDs) and, late at night, I confess, that I still have an occasional fear of that monster in my closet from my pre-teen days. These are just a small sample of the nasty irrational habits I hold onto.
I can take a step back from these feelings, however, and see that I’m being ridiculous. Though things may feel correct, as Carl Sagan once said, “I prefer not to think with my gut.” We have the ability to think our way past irrationality when our “hearts” are telling us things that aren’t true (the “heart,” of course, still being the brain where all of our thoughts, rational or otherwise, originate).
When talking to the religious or others who hold irrational beliefs, I think it’s important to take that step back and realize that having these strange feelings is part of being human, for whatever reason. It’s not condescending to suggest that everything does seem to be divinely designed, but then point out that when you dig beneath the surface, divinity is not the most elegant solution. Or that it would be nice if there was another world after this one, but there’s nothing to suggest it other than a few isolated cases of near-death experiences, likely created by oxygen-depleted brains and bodies pushed to their limits.
As is often the case, people aren’t going to be converted on the spot. But spoken elegantly, our words can make an impact and create the first flake that leads to the snowball. My atheism developed through lots of introspective thinking, however, the thinking began by a short paragraph I read in Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World. I hardly think my case is unique. Atheism is a personal choice, not an outside conversion and though you can lead a horse to water, you can’t make him drink.