Saturday, 25 October 2008

Why am I an atheist?

I have just asked to be included in the Atheist Blogroll (see sidebar), a worldwide community of similar minded people to myself. Please have a look at some of these blogs, I know you will find lots of interesting reading.
Why am I an atheist?

This is a good question because I never went through any kind of deconversion. I guess I was simply never religiously indoctrinated. Born in the UK in the 1950s and living in rural West Yorkshire, my schooling was Church of England, though my parents were raised as Methodists. I have dim memories of Sunday school at the local Chapel but religion was rarely, if ever, discussed at home. It was just what people did. Christenings and weddings were what churches were for to me, I was much older before my first funeral. At school we had daily morning assembly, with hymns, and celebrations for Easter, Christmas and suchlike. Most of this just passed me by but I always enjoyed the singing and was a member of the school choir for many years.

One of my clearest early memories is of my father lifting me up to look into a birds nest in a hedgerow and seeing a clutch of chicks with gaping mouths. I guess I was about four. I could take you to the same spot now, fifty years later, the hedge and the fields are still there. Though they do not seem so vibrant any longer.

I had an early passion for the natural world and lived surrounded by fields and common land, this is where we played as kids.

Keeping caterpillars in jam jars - there began my awakening - metamorphosis. Butterflies, bees and wasps through the long summer days, moths battering the windows at night. Beetles, spiders, ladybirds and daddy longlegs. Pond dipping for dragonfly, damsel, caddis and mayfly larvae. Gammarus shrimp and bloodworms. When given a microscope I found there were cyclops, hydra and daphnia. Spirogyra, volvox, paramecium, euglena, amoeba. Oh, and brine shrimp from dust-like eggs, wow!

Tadpoles! Frogs, toads and newts. Sticklebacks and minnows. Angling for roach, chub, perch and tench. (It broke my heart in later years when I took my wife-to-be on a walk round the small ponds I knew from childhood. All of them were gone bar one. Filled in, drained or built upon. We went home, I took up a spade and dug a pond in our garden. The next spring it was full of spawning frogs).

Rabbits, chickens, dogs and cats. Hedgehogs, rats, mice and voles. Cows, pigs, sheep and horses. The call of the cuckoo in spring, robin redbreast in winter. Magpies, wrens, thrushes, sparrows and starlings. Visits to the seaside. Starfish and anemone, crabs, shrimp and lobster. Dab, plaice and mackerel.

And then there were fossils...

I never really needed to be taught about evolution. Man, the interconnectedness was obvious from the world in which I lived.

My elder sister bought me a telescope for Christmas one year, and another world opened up. Craters on the moon, Andromeda, Saturn! A mobile library visited the village once a week so I began to satisfy my thirst for knowledge there. Chemistry, physics, maths and electronics (how I failed to kill myself I am not sure). Then into the '70s: drugs, girls and music. Ahh, music, it is so important to me. Strip me of all else but please leave a tune or two in my head.

Always I have tried to find deeper meanings to my experience of life and this has taken me through meditation, martial arts, LSD and finally real research science. Thirty years later I now appreciate that true understanding is having the ability to ask the next question. Learning never ends. Questioning reality never ends.

The legacy from my family I now realise was vast. They gave me the freedom to explore and learn independently. For that I will be eternally grateful.

So why am I an atheist? Because there is no other way to be.

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