Why I'm an atheist (in a nutshell)

I'm an atheist for many reasons, but this quote from Richard Dawkins (from River Out of Eden), perhaps more than any other, sums up the biggest one:
"The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."
When I was in college, I worked as a physical therapy tech for a couple of years. I saw some pretty heart-wrenching stuff, but one stands out above all others: I saw an eight-year-old girl who was dying from a brain tumor. Her parents had to watch their daughter become weak and emaciated; and they had to watch her slowly lose her cognitive functions, to the point that when I met her she was in a nearly vegetative state.

Most of us are shielded from this kind of thing in our day to day lives, so we don't have to think to much about its implications. The believer will always try to rationalize with shallow maxims like, "The Lord works in mysterious ways," or "It's just part of God's divine plan." This is simply an excuse to avoid confronting the elephant in the room: that "God's divine plan" is, for all intents and purposes, completely indistinguishable from randomness.

If you look at the suffering in the world, you'll never find any rhyme or reason for it, nor any pattern to it.  It is truly, utterly random and meaningless. Dawkins' last sentence is powerful stuff, but it's also liberating. When that eight-year-old girl got cancer, it wasn't anyone's fault. She didn't get sick (or fail to get well) because her parents lacked faith, or because God was testing them (or her), or because it was part of some mysterious divine plan that for some reason involves giving brain cancer to kids. It's just a cold fact of our existence, a product of our imperfect evolution. With God out of the picture, we don't have to waste time figuring out who to blame; we can grieve, and go on living our lives in peace, absent unfounded anger at imaginary forces malicious or cruel toward us.

The Problem of Suffering
A World Without God


Popular Posts