When I was a second-year, I attended a meeting of Scientific Understanding and Reasoning Enrichment (SURE) and met, among others, a guy named Cameron Moody. Moody was the one who had the big idea to write a column in the Nexus about atheism. At that point, I would not have even identified myself as an atheist. It turned out that I didn’t truly understand what the word meant.
At that first SURE meeting, the discussion slowly morphed into a comparison between agnosticism and atheism. I came down on the side of the agnostics: “’Cause, like, who knows, right?” Finally, when Cameron could bear it no longer. With a knowledge bomb, he stopped the entire discussion cold. He explained that “agnostic” was an adjective, like “tall” or “ugly.” One cannot properly be “an agnostic” any more than one can be “a tall.” Just as one must be a tall person or an ugly bigot, one must be an agnostic something. With respect to gods, that means either an atheist or theist. I was an atheist and had not even known it.
I was floored. I quickly realized I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did. And the hits just kept coming: I would go to the meetings and hear stories of coming out as an atheist to Catholic, Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness families or having to argue about evolution or homosexuality with family and friends. These people were smarter, better educated and braver than I was or had ever had to be. Since that first meeting, I’ve been hooked on the community that SURE creates. After the first meeting, I accosted Cameron in the hallway and practically begged him to let me be a part of his project to spread the knowledge that atheists are not all soulless cynics with neck beards.
From weekly meetings to parties on DP to formal debates with the Philosophy Club, SURE and “Ask an Atheist” have been a huge part of my life. It has been my greatest accomplishment to be able to learn from them all and, as I graduate, I have nothing but love and appreciation for my fellow writers and everyone at the Nexus who has helped to make this column happen. Goodbye, Gauchos, and thanks for reading.
Connor Oakes is SURE to find success in the wide world beyond UCSB.
Four years ago, I arrived at this public institute of higher learning. I felt as if I were some clever and noble intruder. Since, for me, truth was a matter already settled by divine scripture, I had a somewhat haughty contempt for professors and academic types who would presume otherwise. The Earth, I knew, was six thousand years old, as a literal interpretation of the first lines of Genesis makes clear. How ridiculous and how deceitful it was, then, that this “Old Earth” business could be taught seriously. Defiantly, I regarded both evolution and natural selection as myths that were wickedly funded by the state.
Eventually, and thankfully, this ultimate stupidity and arrogance eroded and dissolved as I learned the principles of radiometric dating and of plate tectonics. Having a “theoretical” understanding, backed by evidence, was a new thing to me, and I was utterly fascinated. The most significant revelation, however, was seeing how ideas developed over time. “Natural theologians,” as they were called in the 17th century, wanted to study God through his creations. (John Ray is a good example.) Yet, as their investigations became more rigorous and scientific, God seemed to become increasingly less relevant. Their explanations of natural phenomena, they found, worked fine without assuming the existence of God.
That “did it” for me. God became unnecessary and unintelligible and — because He falsely threatened eternal suffering for unbelief — absolutely immoral. And so I resolved never to stop fighting the abject illusions with which religion imprisons people’s minds.
I am now not merely an atheist, but rather an anti-theist. By that, I mean to say that if Judaism, Islam or Christianity were actually true, life on earth would positively be a horrible and bleak existence. Unlike people of faith, I do not wish to be forever owned as a “child,” overseen by a “Father” who will never die and never tire of commanding my obedience, my worship and my praise. As Christopher Hitchens used to say, to wish for this is to wish to live in an eternal North Korea.
So don’t be content to believe what others have thought before you; always take the risk of thinking for yourself. More happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come to you that way.
In his spare time, Brian Gallagher enjoys long walks on the beach and radiometric dating.
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