Those who follow Pharyngula, the science blog of P.Z. Meyers, will have seen regular postings from fans entitled “Why I am an atheist.” In reading them, and similar missives over the years, I have noticed a very common thread – anger at religion. They go on at length about religious atrocities, inconsistencies in holy books, and various indignations at a god they don’t believe in. Is this the best that people can come up with? I am often mad at the way our government does things (regardless of which party is in power), but I don’t want to tear the whole thing down and live without the benefits that our society derives from it. Just being mad at something is not a good enough reason to ditch it, or even say that it’s wrong. There must be a decent basis to propose an alternative.
So why am I an atheist? It’s because I simply don’t find a god to be necessary. It may be an interesting philosophical time-waster for debate, but the existence of deities just doesn’t seem to be required, at least not with our present level of understanding. That poses an interesting question: can we only include a god once we know more about the universe, not less?
A brief examination of our knowledge, at even a layman’s level of education and understanding, should, in my opinion, negate the need to include a god in our universe. Let’s take a look at history as we presently know it, and see where it leads.
Suppose we begin walking backward through time, and we observe all that has gone before. We see civilizations suddenly appear, and watch in reverse as they shrink to their early forms. Next we see primitive tribes, then small family units, until humans and pre-humans gradually disappear. We see a world dominated by megafauna which gradually shrinks, a dim, cool world in which small animals curry through the undergrowth, and suddenly a blinding flash is followed by a streak of light as an asteroid climbs away into space. Suddenly we are surrounded by dinosaurs, and as we travel further back they too shrink and fade from existence.
We see the first land animals crawling back into the water, the plants recede, and soon the surface of our world is barren. We stand beside a small pool, where a slimy substance, if our trek were played forward, would evolve to become all the life we see today. Or it may be a deep-sea hot water vent, another possible starting place for life. Whatever, the fact remains that it started somewhere.
We don’t yet understand how life began from non-life, but do we need anything other than nature for it? On our voyage back through time we have seen things discovered by science, and explained naturally by scientific study. Everything back to that point has been natural! EVERYTHING! So why, at this stage, do some throw their hands up and say “Can’t explain it, must be a god out there.” I see no reason to do so.
But let’s step over that puddle, or swim away from that vent, and keep going back. The Earth becomes hotter, eventually it’s a roiling mass of lava, and then it cools and becomes more diffuse. Eventually we’re floating through a gradually dissipating cloud of dust and gas, and then we see the second huge flash of our journey. It’s the backward image of the nearby supernova that sent out shock waves, compressing the gas and dust in our vicinity to form our solar system. We see the distant stars begin to converge, and they soon coalesce into an incredibly tiny point of light – the Big Bang.
Science has figured out what was happening just a few milliseconds after that event, and as it probes further it will discover what was going on even closer to that point. And again, everything back to that point has been natural. But again, some will look to the skies and proclaim that some supernatural entity must be responsible. Why? We don’t yet know what went on at that very instant, but only a few years ago science didn’t know what was going on a few hours before it. And there are many of us who can remember when the phrase “Big Bang” was new, and in fact was a derisive term thrown at those who held to the ‘steady state’ model of the universe.
Our journey is not yet complete, either in this fantasy or the reality of scientific investigation. Soon we will know what was going on even closer to that brief instant in which everything in the known universe appeared from that tiny point. And eventually, perhaps within our lifetimes, we will know what happened at that time, and even before.
If at that stage we find a god, or an entire committee of them, so be it. But until then I’m not going to bother myself getting angry at something I see no need for.