Disclaimer: I am an Atheist, and I am most likely an hypocrite too.
A long long time ago, humans showed up. Well, according to science, we didn’t really show up. At some point, the very first living particle showed up (several billion years ago). Some of its descendants became simple cell bacteriums, who invented phososynthesis, which was a pretty big innovation at the time.
Later on, some of their heirs eventually (about 900 million years ago) became complex single-cell eukaryotes, the ancestor of the entire animal kingdom. I could go on and on, but since I’m basically just paraphrasing this Wait But Why post in reverse order, you could just go read it. The pictures are adorable, plus he’s funnier and more knowledgeable than I am.
Long story short, at some point one of our ancestors was considered a human. This civilisation was pretty dumb at first, but they improved very fast. Then, one of them asked that damn question.
He was immediatly answered
But, unfortunately, that was not the end of it. During the following decades and centuries, people just kept asking that question, wondering about the more philosophical part of it. Of course, they also wondered why they were the only species around asking those questions.
That was the market. There was a huge demand for answers, and absolutely no supply of it. According to the law of supply and demand, when there is a large demand and no supply, then there is a huge market for making the supply. Furthermore, this supply will probably cost a lot and/or be of poor quality. A bunch of dudes got together and decided to create this supply. They wrote a book, and started selling their answers to the world.
Of course, many religions started out in a similar way. A bunch of people decide that making a product, no matter how low quality, would satisfy the masses.
Being an atheist, after the great religions appeared, was seen as extremely weird, sometimes a crime, for centuries.
Of course, at first religion was our only answer. As science figured out a different answer in many fields (like evolution), religion felt threatened. Religion was a good thing as long as it served to keep the masses disciplined and optimistic (like a kid who behaves because Santa is always watching, for example). But it only gave answers to things we didn’t understand, to avoid panic. The problem is that it also gave much power and resources to the people maintaining that religion (priests, etc). Logically, as soon as science manages to prove something beyond any reasonable doubt, religion should step away, and keep to explaining things we can’t understand. That’s the whole point of faith, believing in something without proof. Believing in something that has been proven false times and times again is not faith, it’s just willful ignorance or stupidity.
But since whenever something switched from “god made it” to “this event made it”, the church lost a little bit of credibility, they also slowly lost power. The people in power didn’t like this, and this is why they decided to actively fight evolution and pretty much every big discovery that went against the Bible.
Nowadays, at least in America, there are a lot of atheists. But the problem is, atheism has also become a bandwagon sort of thing. When science and religion got more and more divided, science got the reputation of “smarter”. This means that any idiot out there with no critical thinking whatsoever that wants to look smart will say they are an atheist. Not every atheist is an idiot, and not every religious person is smart, of course. But nowadays, if you want to look smart and you don’t have any hardcore faith or beliefs with either side, regardless of whether you are truly smart or not, you’re going to pretend to be an atheist.
For most of the things science has sort-of figured out, it’s easy to accept it. We have ancestors in common with monkeys. Aerodynamics can be abused to make giant metal containers fly. We managed to trick fancy rocks into doing math for us. Most of science’s discoveries are either irrelevant to our lives, or useful. It’s easy to side with science.
But some of science’s discoveries have unfortunate implications.
Everything follows the laws of physics. Seems pretty obvious, if we find something that consistently won’t follow those laws, then we are wrong about the laws and we update them. At any point, everything we see follows the laws of physics as we know them.
Now you probably won’t find an atheist doubting that. I think most religious people won’t doubt that either.
But it implies that your own body and brain follow the laws of physics. it implies that the chemical reactions and electrical impulses in your brain work in patterns following physics. It implies that not only is free will bullshit, but the entire idea of consciousness would be an illusion. Our patterns just happened to make us think that we think. We are simply complex enough to fake it but not smart enough to tell the difference between real and fake consciousness.
Now that’s where you’d lose most religious people. God gave us free will, etc. It doesn’t matter how it works, but God did something to allow us free will. Some sort of God-magic (they call them miracles usually. I think magic has less credibility).
But that’s also where you figure out who is a real atheist, and who just wants to look smart. If you are truly atheist because you believe in evidence and data above all else, especially feels and magic, then you would agree. Unless we ever find evidence to the contrary, we have no free will. Right now the data is on that side. But if you are an atheist who doesn’t really care about evidence, just looking smart by pretending you care, you’re going to have problems with that. Admitting that you are not just a puppet to chemical reactions, but actually nothing at all (as for your mind at least, you most likely have a body), is hard. It takes a lot of humility. I am not special. I am nothing, born by complete chance. My life has no meaning, and any pleasure I can derive for it is just specific hormones being released in my body. I spent an eternity not existing, was born, will die soon, and will spend another eternity not existing.
This is not fun at all. It can mess up your sense of self-esteem and happiness. When the fun of looking like a smart person fades out, and the dread and existential crisis of realising you are basically just a slightly more complicated tree, and will probably soon lose all relevance when those fancy rocks mentioned earlier start beating us at everything, are you still an atheist? When it stops being about “not answering to god and doing what I want”, and it starts being about truly accepting our fate as an irrelevant part of the immense background noise in the universe, being an atheist is no longer fun. Or it’s fun is some sort of nihilistic sociopathic kind of way.
At that point, cognitive dissonance sets in. “I am smart, therefore I am an atheist and believe in data. But in this specific case, the data is everything I hate. Therefore this specific case must be wrong”
You will hears justifications like:
The brain is extremely complex and we don’t understand it yet, so we can’t say for sure that there is no free will.
That’s right. But every single thing we understand about the brain at the moment follows the laws of physics. We haven’t found any evidence of different patterns in it, or any physics-disregarding patterns. They are just too complex for us to map them yet. If any evidence of free will shows up, I’ll be extremely glad to change my mind. But until then, if you’d rather believe in something unlikely because it is not totally disproven, then my friend, you are religious. If you’d rather not decide what you believe in until we disprove that unlikely option, then you are an agnostic.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being religious or agnostic. But if you really want to call yourself an atheist, please believe in science. It’s the only non-god source of information we have.
But if you don’t want to believe in extremely likely events according to data, then feel free to accept the fact that you are religious, you just aren’t part of the big monotheist religions. Or agnostic, it works very well when you want people to understand that you have your doubts about god but aren’t comfortable with an entirely boring and depressing data-filled life either.