The “A word” — and why I use it

This is not my deconversion story. I’m sure I will share that, in pieces and over time, as would be fitting. But this is not it.

Instead, this is a simple address to the advice my kind, compassionate and insightful father posed to me on the night I came out as an atheist. “Perhaps you could cool it on the A-word? It scares people.”

Theism is the “belief in a god or gods”. Etymology tells us that adding the prefix “a” negates the meaning. So, atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods. That’s all. It is not a claim that no gods exist. It is a belief statement only.

Why not identify as agnostic? That’s not so scary. Agnostics don’t eat babies. Or at least as many babies.

gnostic is one who claims knowledge. About anything. So an agnostic is one who does not claim knowledge. Since so few claim to know with 100% certainty if there is a god, most of the population is agnostic on the matter. Most people are agnostic theists (I don’t know if there’s a god, but I believe there is) or agnostic atheists (I don’t know if there’s a god, and I don’t believe there is).

Agnostic is not a softer form of atheist.

Owning labels changes minds. Slowly. Ever so slowly. But eventually.

I am not convinced of the claim that a god exists. I am an atheist.

You know an atheist. Do I scare you?

(Huge thank you to every atheist ever, of whom this post is completely and utterly derivative.)

6 thoughts on “The “A word” — and why I use it

  1. Congratulations on your courage to ignore all of the compelling evidence, beginning with the intricacies and multiplied billions of pieces of integrated information and complicated processes in a single living cell. You certainly have more courage than I do. I’m sure I couldn’t handle cancer of any kind from that vantage point. Hopefully the Dr. can keep his hands steady as he offers treatment, and seeks to help you reach your 90th birthday. Wishing you all the best.

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  2. Paul:
    I read this with some sadness and some reflection of what happened to me in University. I went the opposite direction and came to faith in classes where the professors were teaching evolution and natural selection. Life has been busy over the last number of years, so you may not have heard that story
    I am trying to keep up with reading your blog, but can’t keep up replying to things I see in it.
    In University, I was trying to sort out a number of issues in my head. Here is one section of the story. The professors in Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry taught us about the chiral nature “handedness” of molecules and how chemistry ordinarily produces racemic mixtures (left and right in equal mixture).

    They also taught us about how human proteins are made exclusively of left handed amino acids. (The whole “handedness” issue is a big one. How do you get a racemic substrate system to produce only left handed amino acids etc? We never got a good answer how this works!) The primary structure of one molecule of insulin is how the individual amino acids combine one to another. There are 2 proteins that form insulin one has 146 amino acids in it. There are 41 amino acids and the chance of getting this one molecule is 41^^146.

    This is complex enough but we get into a series of hypervariable mathematics when we look at how this chain folds on itself. These fold in a complex fashion that is called the secondary and tertiary structure. That one also folds up with the other protein chain in a quaternary structure to make a functional insulin enzyme.
    In the 1980’s the professors said that there was no way to calculate the probability of the tertiary and quaternary structures forming there are of course several other ways for them to compact on themselves. Only one makes a functional molecule
    Ockham’s razor -simplest explanation the most likely one to be right
    Scholastic dishonesty appears on the other side too because they ignore the most obvious solution.
    There a whole set of assumptions given in the full title of Darwin’s book. We don’t hear a lot about that tthese days! You may remember a professor Philippe Rushton and his teachings and the backlash against them. He got material from Darwin’s book!

    You may know that the Eddington number is the number of electrons in the universe. It is 1.57×1079. As such, numbers larger than this are hard to get the mind around. The number for the primary structure of the one molecule alone is 2.9271372137126113130121162407158×10^^235. The professor was telling us this formed by chance. I was forced to disagree based on statistics (p< .01).
    We learned about "selfish DNA" in cell biology and that has since been answered.
    Behe speaks of "Irreducible complexity" in Darwin’s Black Box. Certain parts like the flagellum of bacteria are so complex that it is in the last 20 years that they have been better understood. Natural selection would work against any organism having any component of this structure being an advantage without the rest.
    We have no model that we have made that can spin 100,000RPM in one direction and spin the other at a moment's notice and without slowing down. This is one of the simpler components in a cell. If you get a chance, have a look at Behe’s books. The original books were pitched at a level that I can understand after having some final year courses in Cell Biology and Cellular Ultrastructure.

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    1. Jim — I’ve been waiting for you to chime in. Welcome.

      The most compelling evidence for evolution has come about in the years since I left university. If my math is right, that would also be in years since you graduated as well. Feel free to correct me on this point.

      I have definitely read and am quite familiar with Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box” and his other works like “Of Pandas and People”. I assume you are also familiar with Behe’s personal testimony in the famous Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial. Days of evidence about the bacterial flagellum, in particular, were presented showing now-well-known evolutionary adaptations that lead to this motor one piece at a time. Behe was ultimately unable to convince a Christian judge that intelligent design was anything beyond psuedoscience.

      I’m sorry that your professors said that anything happened by “chance”. I don’t know of any serious scientists who would make such an assertion. You deserved better instruction.

      I see how the small number of words used to say “God did it” as an answer to any hard question would seem to fit the general interpretation of Ockham’s razor that the “simplest answer is the best”.

      However, the better description of his principle is that “among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected”. In such a case, the assumption of an all-powerful being that is infinitely more complex than the phenomenon it attempts to explain seems to make deity-based solutions the least likely to be true.

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