Hello. My identification is “Jasper”. I am a socially anxious biped, and apparently I’m going to write a couple posts here while JT goes off and does things.
For the most part, I wish to remain anonymous, mostly due to fears of future potential employers searching my name, though some effort could probably reveal who I am. I just don’t want to broadcast it. That’s actually why I stopped participating in Facebook debates. My family is aware that I’m an atheist, though it’s a hush-hush topic, for the most part. I didn’t realize (thanks Facebook) that whenever I commented on some group/page, that Facebook was broadcasting everything I was saying to everyone I knew. I don’t tend to pull my punches, so that generated some awkward moments.
So now I don’t anymore. I dug plenty to see if there was some option I was missing – but nope.
We stopped going to church when I was 8, because we moved, and never got back into it. My parents seemed concerned about the fact I hadn’t had First Communion… but they never did anything about it. I had a sinking feeling, because as far as I knew, that was bad… like knowingly driving down the road with a suspended license. Apparently it wasn’t that big of an issue. That’s the first clue I got that the religion thing was fishy.
When I was 12, my mother told me, completely randomly, that if I truly believed, I could move mountains. Of course the idea of psychic powers intrigued me, so there I was in my living room, looking out over the terrain, straining to get those mountains to move. It didn’t happen. My response wasn’t, “gee, I guess I don’t have enough faith“, it was “this doesn’t work“. It was little things like that – making wishes on birthday candles that never came true,similarly breaking wishbones, that slowly clued me into two facts:
- There seems to be a disconnect between what people believe, and what’s actually real
- Just because a parent says something, doesn’t mean its true
That’s not to say I automatically rejected whatever parents said, but I took what they’d say with a grain of salt
In grades 6 through 8, I was engaged in the school’s “science fairs”. My friend and I had won 1st place the first two times, and were going for a third. I wanted to win 1st place so badly that I prayed for it, and cut a deal with God. I haggled that if I won 1st place, I’d quit swearing, and read the Bible. Lo and behold, I won – not just 1st place, but with a “Best of Show” trophy as well. Just like Jephthah, I upheld my end of the bargain.
It took years, but I eventually had an epiphany about the incident. I realized that I wanted the prize so badly, that not only was I bargaining with God, I was also working very hard at it. During PhysEd during the winter leading up to the science fair, we were outside in the field, doing cross-country skiing. We weren’t required to ski, as long as we at least were walking around the field. I chose the latter, notepad and pencil in hand, jotting down notes about the project. I realized that the effort I put in won the day, and that I had simply mis-attributed the source of the win to something that had to detectable impact.
Frequently in debates with Evangelicals, I’ll be deluged by their personal testaments and experiences. Well, what about my personal experiences, where I succumb to confirmation bias, priming, and the placebo effect? What about my life’s sum experiences that only indicates that I’m interacting with a natural world, with the occasional cognition error that tricks me into believing false things? Why does your personal experience count more than mine?
Such disconnects were apparent in others, when my online interaction really started with Fark.com, in the early/mid 2000s, as “drasancas”. Back then, it wasn’t unusual for me to spend 13-hour stretches arguing against the anti-gay marriage crowd (and no, the arguments haven’t changed).
Despite most of my family being religious, with a Catholic background (not active anymore – part of the “nones”, basically), they defer first to science, and have no problem accepting evolution the Big Bang, etc. They don’t limit their god to the Bible, and are okay with the idea that God set evolution up to work as it does. Of course, I disagree with that notion too, but I don’t argue it.
That’s how I entered the fight. I believed in God, but I still found those darned creationists to be crazy, and spent countless hours arguing with them. Clearly, the evidence favored evolution. That’s how I met my first “God bot”, a fellow named “bevets”. This person was truly the master of godbotting – the master godbot; one godbot to rule them all, and in the darkness, bind them. It was a low-grade miracle if you could get this guy to form an original thought, and didn’t just respond to everything you said with a selection of 15-20 mined quotes.
While I considered myself a believer, in reality, I was just going through the motions. Going up against these vacuous creationists caused me to examine my own position, and I realized one day, that in fact, no, I didn’t believe anymore. “I guess that means I’m an atheist”, I noted to myself; no bad events or experiences. Religion wasn’t really reinforced while growing up, and we were left to our own devices. I finally let it go.I stopped debating on Fark, and focused more on college/work for a few years. I still read Fark, but rarely comment anymore. In mid 2008, an entry came across the “videos” tab, entitled “Best Caller Ever!” I watched it. It was a public-access quality video of two guys talking on the phone with some guy, who was challenging the hosts on some topic about religion/God/atheism. The caller was especially good at answering his own questions, thanks to some Socratic questioning from the hosts. They were happy enough with the call the vaporize the microphones with their yelling/cheering.
That was The Atheist Experience I tuned into… a public-access TV show thingy.
I didn’t think much of it at the time. I didn’t know that any such thing as atheists on TV shows existed, which was a curiosity, but “why would I want to watch some people I agree with?” I still felt a lot of stigma about atheism, and watching them felt icky… like hanging out with some KKK members – despite being one of them (atheists, not the KKK). A few days later, I re-watched the YouTube clip, and noticed it had the “related videos” with additional clips. I watched more. I found out they had full episodes. At the time, they were 1.5 hours of pure atheism. Through the next month or so, I churned through the entire archive they had.
Then, I started listening to the Non-Prophets… and then the Reasonable Doubts. It was great! In a world where I’m otherwise my own island of rationality, to be able to listen to people whom I could relate… it was a breath of fresh air, that I didn’t realize existed previously.
I may have been an atheist before The Atheist Experience, but between that and the Non-Prophets, I awoke as an activist – someone who started thinking “I’ve got to do something!”
I’m an activist about as far as my social anxiety will allow me. I program as a career, so clearly, websites were the way to go – so that’s what I did. They don’t always pan out. For 16 months, I spent an average of an hour a day, every day, working on a project that ultimately flopped. Others, that I put a fraction of the energy into, seemed to do much better. Often, simple and straight forward works much better.
Atheist FAQ is my primary project that’s been brewing for a few years. By far, the hottest topic is morality. I was going to write an article about why I don’t find presuppositional apologetics convincing, but when someone submitted a question “how does the sunset without a god“, I figured my audience would insta-eyes-glaze-over on presuppositionalism.
Evolution FAQ was pretty much a copy/paste, to address the common questions/misconceptions about evolution, though it’s still fairly young.
Anthropogenic Global Warming FAQ… could use some work. It’s a dry, but important, topic.
I realize AGW and Evolution aren’t exactly atheism topics, but they’re apparently important enough to the religious to also fall into my radar. Outside of general scientific appreciation, I don’t know that I’d care that much about evolution, if it wasn’t for creationists obsessing over it. If there’s anything from science that kills religion’s credibility for me, it’s not evolution, it’s psychology.
Outside of counter-apologetics, I’ve taken an interest in the problem of First Amendment violations. I created another website to attempt to catalog, and depict, how widespread the problem with secular violations are – Secular Map. Can’t seem to get the damn thing on the search engine radar. The nature of the information is difficult to generate impressions for. I have a long queue of entries to add, usually by paying attention to the Friendly Atheist. This is an example of a project that’s not going anywhere, but haven’t given up on yet.
Outside of work/personal life, that’s what I do these days. Work on science/secular projects, while sporadically yelling at people online, which I’m finding that I’m having less and less patience doing. Why do I do it? I care about where humanity goes, and how well it does. I see religiosity as the equivalent to the onset of Alzheimer’s on an entire civilization. I believe it benefits us all to ensure that what we think is true, is actually true… otherwise, we’re going to have a hell of a hard time making good decisions.
When it comes to projects like Atheist FAQ, I figure, if I ever only help one person ever, who’s struggling with the questions, the time and energy put into the site was worth it.