My life is dominated by rational thought. Having just finished my undergraduate degree in chemistry at a public university and now as I'm just about to start in the Master's Program for synthetic organic chemistry, I find myself in awe at nature's prowess but even more so at man's ability to understand it. The rational thought that got me to where I am today is the same rational thought that first got me asking questions, and asking questions is the fast track to becoming an ex-Christian.
My father died when I was six years old of lung cancer. So my mom sent me away to a grief camp for kids who had lost loved ones. There were sermons every night and during a candlelight vigil I finally broke down and let all of those emotions that never seemed to surface come bubbling out and streaming down my cheeks like a torrent. They told me that my dad was watching me from heaven, an angel.
I grew up going to church like most American kids. My family was not super religious and we went to this non denominational church where they played "rock" music and talked about how God loved us. There was hardly any fire and brimstone in his sermon and aside from praying over meals at home, religion was largely absent from life. But I was a Christian nonetheless. My mom would sit on the couch cradling a box of tissues, bleary eyed while she watched "Touched by an Angel" and I would often imagine my dad lovingly staring down at me through holes in the clouds during long road trips. As I started puberty I found my thoughts becoming more sexual in nature and I was ridden with shame and anxiety for I knew that my dad and God knew what I was thinking. It was inescapable, this sin, and I had a very real, palpable, deeply psychological fear that they knew everything.
However, there is another side to my childhood. I was intensely interested in science and the natural world. I collected bugs, ravenously devoured every piece of youth science literature I could get my mitts on and had made Einstein my hero by sixth grade. I was convinced that I wanted to be physicist. I was in the gifted program, made straight A's and had even run a booth at an elementary science fair of sorts where I explained all day the mechanics of ocean waves. Science came naturally to me and was very intuitive. My mom and dad (and later step dad) had not been to college and neither had their parents. They hardly knew anything about science and I quickly eclipsed them in the field by middle school.
I found church becoming more and more boring. I began to detest having to go. The pastor would assert things as truth with no proof. Well the Bible was proof (according to him). But that got me to thinking, and thinking is cancer to religion. I started to ask questions. Who wrote the Bible? When was the Bible written? How do I know the Bible is true? If God is good why does he take life and cause pain? ("If God takes life he's an Indian giver"- Modest Mouse) I've never seen a miracle but can they really happen? If the Bible is false how can God exist? Why are Christians the only ones going to heaven?
It was like the flood gates had opened. The questions kept coming and I was not finding answers. But the damage was done. My faith was starting to waiver and by the end of 8th grade I was a closet atheist. High school only exacerbated my "condition." Biology taught me that species can evolve through natural selection in populations. Chemistry showed me how the fabric of matter was held together. Physics showed me that for every action there is a reaction and that makes the future deterministic. And history taught me the extent of the evil that religious intolerance has wrought. I realized that blind faith was the root of many global problems and that nature could be explained by scientific inquiry and process.
So there it was. The chains were lifted and I was a full blown atheist by 11th grade. No question in my mind. I wasn't very open about it but I was pretty damn sure about my decision. To add insult to blasphemous injury, I bought a copy of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins and watched him mercilessly decimate every Christian argument in the books.
It was a refreshing but terrifying feeling. Like jumping out of a plane with a parachute on. Relishing the cold wind as it whips and laps at your face but aware of the omnipresent ground growing nearer every second. Panic stricken that the chute might not open but enamored with the feeling of total release. What if I was wrong? Had I already damned myself to hell?
The chains were lifted and I was a full blown atheist by 11th grade. College was a great experience. The thinking and questions and long hours of study gave me confidence in my beliefs. The reasoning became less convoluted and more succinct. Science merely observed and measured nature and then deduced arguments based on facts. I learned dozens of theories. Molecular orbital theory explained and articulated the complex chemical binding of atoms. VSEPR theory predicted exact geometry of molecules. Quantum mechanics showed how when classical mechanics breaks down at the Angstrom level, there is still an order to the universe even if it's a probabilistic one. Quantum mechanics was based on model after model. Particle in a box, the harmonic oscillator, particle wave duality. And then there were experiments with EVIDENCE! EVIDENCE to validate extraordinary claims. And these quantum mechanical calculations could be manipulated by statistical mechanics to relate directly to thermodynamic data. I was making links, forming synapses in my brain. I took a class on Darwin. Not on evolution but on Darwin. We covered those who came before, the formative history of Darwin, his adventures on the Beagle, his amassing of biological evidence, his publishing of "On the Origin of Species", his friendship with Alfred Wallace, his personal struggles with faith, and his everlasting impact on the world.
Then I found myself conducting research in the lab. I synthesized novel compounds. I was manipulating nature using all of those laws and theories that I had spent so many years learning about. They predicted the outcome of my decisions in the lab just as they predict the weather outside and the origins of life and the universe.
Now, at this juncture, I find myself as far away from God and religion as is almost possible. It is superstitious. It is presumptuous and judgmental. It is brazenly unfalsifiable at its core and proudly wields this as testimony of its "inherent truth".
I write this testimony of my personal journey because I cannot stress enough the importance of questioning, thinking, and rational thought. I implore all readers to digest as much scientific knowledge as possible. Many will find it challenging but the human brain can understand it as it cannot understand God. And I mean read real scientific literature: textbooks, peer reviewed papers, and patents. The more you know the more you realize you don't know. It is a humbling endeavor but your mind will forever be free.
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