What *Really* Made Me an Atheist?

What *Really* Made Me an Atheist? August 22, 2016

by Dale McGowan
Author of Atheism for Dummies

For years, people told me why I was an atheist. I was mad at God. I just hadn’t found the right church. Something bad happened to me. I hadn’t tried hard enough.

Thanks for playing, but here are the top 10 actual reasons I’m an atheist today.


1. I confronted my own bias toward belief

Most people don’t seriously investigate the God question because (as Bertrand Russell put it) their will to believe is stronger than their wish to find out.

Santa belief is a perfect parallel. At first, I had no incentive to doubt the story. But at some point, questions started to peck at the back of my mind: How do the reindeer fly? How does Santa get around the world in one night? How does he get into my house if we have no chimney? For a while I ate up even the most ludicrous parental answers (“The reindeer eat magic corn!”) because I still wanted to believe. A child at this stage rarely asks directly if Santa is real because she doesn’t really want to know yet. The will to believe is stronger than the wish to find out.

In time, the answers become less satisfying, and the urge to know the truth starts to overtake the will to believe. That’s when the direct question comes at last: Is Santa real?

A loving God solves many of my deepest problems, including injustice and insignificance and death, so whatever doubts I have are easily shooed away by the religious equivalents of magic corn. I had to recognize my tendency to drift toward answers that fit my preferences, my confirmation bias. It’s the most human imaginable thing, but it really mucks up the search for what’s actually true.

If someone says he can cancel my death in exchange for my signature, I’d be inclined to sign. But once I became committed to seeing the world as it really is, I had to ask some serious questions and follow the answers wherever they went.

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