The other day I got an email from Anne which I will post below. She asked some basic questions and I thought I'd share my answers with you (with her permission, under a pseudonym for her privacy). So here is her email:
Well I am new to religion totally as neither of my parents knew what to believe so they taught me nothing. I have so many questions and not nearly enough hours to google! lol jk

If you dont believe in a higher being such as God like the Christians what do you believe? (***Now please dont think I am questioning your beliefs I simply need a better understanding of what you hold to be true in this world.***) Do you believe that things happen simply because we choose that is how it should or is there a force behind events? I have gathered you believe in evolution but how were monkeys first placed on earth? And then how was earth created? I believe it is truely unknown to begin with but do you have a theory?

darwin-awardMy reply:

First, question everything. Don't take my word for it. Research everything yourself.

I have a couple of questions for you.

Your parents taught you nothing about religion? So you picked up bits and pieces as you grew up from other people? That's interesting. Are they atheists then? Or do they just never talk about religion? Perhaps it just doesn't seem like an issue to them? I am curious if they've said anything to you at all. What kind of school did you go to? Did you go to public, private or home school? In which state? And how old are you?

Raising a child without teaching them anything is not what I'd consider ideal. My idea of a great foundation for a child is to teach her how to think critically, to think for herself. I recommend teaching a child about all religions from around the world and throughout human history, then asking questions to help the child form her own understanding about it. I would also share my personal opinion on the subject. But most people don't raise their kids to think for themselves.

It sounds like you're searching for something to believe in, but I would ask why you need to believe in anything that isn't real?

I will speak for myself only, as I'm sure other atheists have come to their lack of belief in different ways.

I grew up as a christian. I went to church and believed jesus died for my sins. I was terrified of burning in hell and got baptized 3 times in 3 different churches to try to make sure I'd get into heaven and not burn for all eternity after I died. Looking back I think it was a horrible burden as a child, to be so afraid of a god that was supposed to be loving. It made no sense.

I studied the three major religions (judaism, christianity and islam) in my 20's and realized after several years that is was all created by man. It hit me about 10 years ago that I no longer believed in gods of any sort and I was actually an atheist. A more detailed history of my deconversion can be found here.

Your question is incorrect. You asked if I no longer believe in a god (or any gods for that matter) then what do I believe in. The answer is I go out of my way to avoid beliefs as a general rule. You see, I don't want to believe, I want to know (Carl Sagan said that). I want evidence and reality. I prefer facts to fantasy or wishful thinking. I have no need of beliefs that are not based in reality.

What do I hold to be true in this world? That's a different question. I guess the answer to that is what has been observed in our brief human history. I value the accomplishments of humans, the amazing wonders of nature in all its forms, the cosmos in its vast scale. I look at history and see how far humans have come. I see how we've evolved our culture and societies, how we've learned great, amazing technologies and thought deep, profound concepts that have advanced us tremendously in a relatively short period of time. These are all real things that we can look at and examine and understand to the best of our abilities. Something else I hold true is that I am fully responsible for my own actions, as well as my inactions. I can't pawn that off on some fantasy being. Actions and inactions have consequences.

Do I believe things happen simply because we choose that is how it should be or is there a force behind events? No. Neither of those has any basis in reality. The first is wishful thinking and the power of suggestion. The second is looking for a supernatural god to explain things you don't understand. Neither is real.

Something happens because of cause and effect. I hit a key on my keyboard and a letter pops up on my monitor. A thousand things happened to make it show up. Just thinking and wishing for the words to appear on the screen does nothing. Your thoughts do not leave your head and transform the universe. This is a common false belief in the new age worldview. It is completely bogus nonsense without any basis in fact. If you have a thought and then you take that thought and turn it into some kind of action, that's when things start happening.

In all of science there is zero evidence of anything supernatural in the universe. Everything that has been explained is natural. While we don't have all the answers (and probably never will) about the beginning of the universe as we know it, or how it will end, if it will, and other questions, we know an awful lot now and it's all completely natural. There is no evidence of any sort of god needed to make it all work as it does. What we call the laws of nature work just fine without any kind of divine force.

So I guess what I trust is cause and effect, physics, and human interaction with the material world. No need for a god or a creator. It all works just fine on its own.

Yes, I accept evolution as a fact, as most scientists do. Your next statement is also quite wrong. Monkeys were never placed on earth. This would say that some divine being put monkeys on the planet like a child placing dolls in a toy house. Did you learn the prevailing theories of how the earth was formed through natural cosmic events 4.6 billion years ago (or thereabouts) in school?

To go back in time, and again this is my rough explanation (you really need to read up on the specifics as I am not a cosmologist or a geologist and I'm doing this from memory) about 14 billion years ago (roughly) there was the Big Bang. All of matter expanded from a singular source (called a singularity) outwards, and even now it continues to expand. Swirling gases condensed to form stars and crashed together and cooled to form planets. I guess you could say, after the Big Bang, the rest of the formation of stars and planets has been the effect of that event.
I recommend Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson as a great astrophysicist. He's easy to understand and very interesting. Here's a 5 minute video you might like.

Also, PBS has a timeline of the universe here.

These are rough and simple explanations of prevailing theories as I know them. As I've mentioned, no one knows how exactly the Big Bang happened, what the universe was before the Big Bang, or how exactly life on earth first formed. The thing about science is we never stop asking questions. Usually asking a question brings up a dozen more that are unanswered, but it's all so exciting and thrilling to observe the universe in all its intricate and natural majesty, and to try to understand it. And again, there is no evidence of any sort of god or supernatural being. Everything so far discovered and understood is all natural.

While no one knows exactly how life first started on earth billions of years ago, we are coming up with interesting ideas for how amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) were first able to form in the primordial soup that was on the planet. It was a very different environment, and little one-celled organisms most likely formed bio-films on the ocean floor and probably in volcanic steam vents. (Again, this is my understanding. I am getting this from memory, not a science text, but I recommend you study it yourself so that you know a bit about it straight from different scientists)

Through natural selection and adaptation, the little bacteria evolved over billions of years, branching off, adapting to different environments and through different environmental pressures. We are not evolved from monkeys. But we share a common ancestor from long ago. In fact, I should make it clear, we now know that all of life is connected genetically. You have billions of bacteria living on you right now, and you share a common ancestor with that bacteria, your pet cat, the fish you ate for dinner, and the whales that live in the ocean. I recommend watching a great video and playing with an interactive tree of life here. Here is a link to the video with David Attenborough. It's 6 and a half minutes long, basically just a rough overview but it will get you started. Here is another great tree of life video (10 minutes).

I hope that makes sense. Please consider looking into learning a basic understanding of biology and maybe some other science. It will help you understand so much more about the world. Get some good books on evolutionary biology, cosmology and astronomy. You might find it amazing and interesting. Look up the show Cosmos and Carl Sagan. He was so awesome at explaining the universe.

Look up David Attenborough. He's a naturalist and explains natural history quite well. Try a museum of natural history. You could check out the NY Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian in D.C., and look to your local library in the science section. Look for scientists who are peer reviewed and stick to subjects they are experts in. Follow up with other sources to verify what you read. Never take anything at face value.

I have to ask, why do you feel you have a need for a god and a religion? You were lucky not to be brainwashed into believing something false to control you. Why do you feel the need to grasp onto one now? Religion is about controlling how people think, feel and live through fear, guilt and promise of a reward after death, which can never be tested or proven.

Oh, and because it is often a reason people think they need religion, I will say that being a good person is its own reward and there is ample evidence that morals are evolutionary, not directed by a supreme being who likes the smell of burning goat-flesh. Millions of atheists are moral and happy without such delusional beliefs based on iron age goat-herders.

I hope I answered your questions. I hope you are now asking many more and that those questions will become a lifelong quest for information and knowledge about the world and the universe, and our humble place within it.


If you would like to add to what I have said, I would love links to great videos, sites or books that might be helpful in explaining the Tree of Life, evolution and the Big Bang, etc. Please don't resort to ad hominem attacks. We all start somewhere. Let's give Anne the benefit of the doubt and encourage her to ask questions and seek answers.

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