John on his steps into atheism and humanism

07 November 2015

My parents were ‘Anglo-Catholics’, this is the extreme ‘high church’ end of the Church of England spectrum. Naturally, as a young child, I believed everything my parents said; so followed their religion. However, I did start having doubts even before my teens; and never received satisfactory answers other than ‘God moves in mysterious ways’. I did question how people could become Christian before Jesus was born; and also realised I was only Christian because I happened to be born of Christian parents. If they were say Hindu, I’d be Hindu. Furthermore, all religions teach that all other religions are wrong; hence at most only one religion can be correct – what were the chances I was born into the ‘correct religion’?

In my teens more unanswered questions arose. I am interested in the evolution of man. Six million years ago we were no more than just one branch of the ape family (so animals, and presumably couldn’t comprehend a religion); yet now we have ‘souls’ and understand right from wrong. So, question arose, at what exact step, in one particular generation, did we suddenly have souls? Another worry was that identical twins separate about ten days after conception, yet souls are put into us at conception. For the first ten days identical twins are a single being, so only have one soul? After that innumerable further unanswered queries hit me!

I am disabled, but haven’t always been. It was interesting to see which of my old friends remained friends and helped me – and which didn’t. There was no statistical difference between ‘believers’ and ‘atheists’. Religion didn’t seem to make people ‘more morally good’. I suffer much pain, and see many others unfairly suffering; why should a god make a world with so much injustice? A simple explanation is that there is no god, and serendipity (together with man’s own actions) dictates what happens to us.

Religion is a ‘belief’; something people are sure about but cannot actually prove. I realised there is no real proof because there is no god. No-one has succeeded in publishing a paper in a respected scientific journal proving there is a god; equally, if the existence of god were questioned in a court of law, no lawyer can prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that a god exists. Being a scientist, I work by “Ockham’s Razor”; that is, one goes for the simplest explanation of the facts until (and if) proven wrong. Invoking a god doesn’t explain anything – it introduces as many ‘unknowns’ as ‘explanations’. On the other hand, for example, the theory of gravity explains why things fall, but also explains why the earth and the moon are in stable orbits. More things are ‘explained’ than ‘unknowns’ in Newton’s theory – so a good working theory.

Becoming a ‘Humanist’ for me took three distinct steps. First was the realisation here was no god, this fact took some time to become apparent to me. It took the accumulation of many illogicalities for me to eventually come to this conclusion. It then took me some years to ‘admit’ to friends I was an atheist; they knew me as a Christian. It took some nerve to announce this; it must be similar to ‘coming out’ for gay people. However, I felt much better having informed people of my views. And now, I am without those earlier doubts in my beliefs.

Religions do provide a useful ‘glue’ in society, e.g. ceremonies for birth, marriage and death. I did find I missed this ‘glue’. Also, religions do give one an automatic group to ‘belong to’, one prefers to be with ‘like-thinking’ people. In the Humanists I found such a group, so joining them was my third step. A set of friendly, caring people who didn’t need a god, but believed in respecting and caring for others (they also provide the social ceremonies one occasionally needs). What finally encouraged me to join was a friend I respect who was already a member; and talking to some people at a local Humanist stall in the local shopping street. I found I agreed with all their views, and like them as people.

Hence my transformation from being a Christian to being a Humanist. No more doubts!