Why I Am an Atheist
PZ Myers has been running a series of submissions from readers in which they explain the origins of their atheism.
Why I am an atheist is easy: to the best of my observation, after a lifelong interest in and study of science, the universe behaves as though there are no supernatural entities or influences. No gods, no demons, no angels, no fairies, no magic, no psychic powers.
How I got to be an atheist is slightly more involved. I’ve been interested in scientific things since literally before I can remember. When I was a year and a half old, Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, and I’m told I was constantly repeating “Man in the Moon! Man in the Moon!” A few years later, I was all about dinosaurs, and aspired to become a paleontologist because I could envision no nobler career than digging up dinosaur bones. Then, in sixth grade, an inspirational teacher rekindled my love of astronomy and space exploration, and I eventually earned my master’s degree in astrophysics.
I was baptized, as an infant, in a beautiful and famous Lutheran church in Namibia. Through fifth grade, while living in New Jersey, my family did in fact attend church — a highly eclectic church, called EBUCC, the East Brunswick United Church of Christ. The congregation had people with all manner of backgrounds; my dad called himself the “token heathen.” I enjoyed Sunday School every week, but primarily for the prospect of seeing my best friend, who lived one town over and didn’t attend my school. Also, EBUCC met in a wonderful old building with the world’s best climbing tree, a huge spruce with limbs like ladder rungs, out back.
But when my family moved to Colorado in the late 1970s, after a couple of half-hearted attempts, we gave up finding a church and stayed home on Sundays. I didn’t miss it. Even in junior high and high school, without really forming a conscious opinion around it, I found myself staying silent during the “under God” bit of the Pledge of Allegiance, or the “to God” bit of the Boy Scout oath. I couldn’t even tell you why. I suppose even then I was an atheist, and trying to be honest to myself.
Still, for a long time I didn’t use “the a-word,” calling myself things like “Christian sympathizer” or “semi-Taoist agnostic” or a litany of other adjectives. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started paying attention to the serious harm that religion does in the world (eclipsing, in my opinion, the many fine and selfless contributions of religious people), and embraced the term “atheist” — and now, I would count myself as an atheist… plus.