Sunday, October 31, 2010

Young Atheist

When I turned 10, our family started going to church regularly. This was a result of neighbors inviting us to their church. I started going to Sunday School, and it was a struggle to fit in, but I tried to learn the material in order to fit in and not appear stupid. Regardless, I soon came to see a conflict between the science that I loved and some of the things I was taught in Sunday School.

As I thought about this conflict, I came to the conclusion that science had given us a better picture of reality than was known by ancient religion. I chose science over religion, consistent with my overall preference for new things over old. In the same way I preferred an automobile to a horse and buggy, or an electric light over a candle, color TV over black and white, the Apollo spacecraft over the Mercury, or heliocentrism over geocentrism. Even in my short lifetime, I had seen that things were progressing, continually getting better as scientific knowledge advanced. Religion was part of the old knowledge that was surpassed by the new.

About this time I discovered Star Trek reruns and became and instant fan. In Middle School I got hold of any Star Trek related book I could, and I completely bought into the Gene Roddenberry vision of the future, where scientific and technological advances had solved all of our problems. My mind was always on the future, and I became interested in other works of Science Fiction. Anything that was old, classic, or even contemporary was uninteresting to me.

While looking for Science Fiction books to read, it didn't take me long to discover the prolific Isaac Asimov. While some of his books were a little too difficult for me in the beginning, I found plenty of others I could consume. I soon discovered that he wrote as much or more non-fiction than he did fiction.

Asimov had a doctorate in Chemistry, but he wrote widely on all kinds of matters of science, including what I like most, which was astronomy. I had at least a couple of books of his that were collections of articles on a variety of subject matter, and it was difficult to tell from their titles, what the subject was. I remember one article called, "The Judo Argument," in his book, The Planet that Wasn't, which turned out to be about arguments for the existence of God. I was happy to see that Asimov disproved several of the arguments that believers put forth for the existence of God. However, what surprised me was that in the end, Asimov said that it is not possible to disprove the existence of God either. It surprised me that someone whom I considered to be a great man of science admitted that he could not disprove the existence of God. Asimov himself was not a believer, but he did not side at that time with extreme atheists who unequivocally denied the existence of God.

Before reading "The Judo Argument," I had assumed that the non-existence of God was an open and shut case for science. I agreed with Asimov that there probably wasn't a God, but I also agreed with him that to be intellectually honest, we must admit that God's existence was not disproven. Still, I retained my preference for the new over the old. In fact, I remember in 8th grade that a friend of mine was all excited about a book, The Hobbit, but I was completely uninterested because it was not about the future. I remember this same friend had also developed an interest in religion and wanted to talk about it, but I was not at all interested. By now I found the whole thing annoying.

However, things were about to change. It was 1977, and my best friend Chuck, who no longer lived in town but kept in touch with me by letter, was telling me about a new Science Fiction movie coming out. The SF movie and TV landscape had been pretty bleak since Star Trek ended in 1969, and I was skeptical that Hollywood could make a good Science Fiction movie, but I was going to keep my eyes open.


cd_starkey said...

8th grade... "The Hobbit"... hmmm... hmmm...

Gregory said...

Yes, you know who I'm talking about. Of course, I later changed my opinion of The Hobbit as well as many other things.

Anonymous said...

I just saw this on the wall of one of our classrooms, and then I read your post. I'm sure you've already heard it before:

"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." -Albert Einstein

Gregory said...

That's a good quote, HM. We need both faith and reason, as both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have made a point of saying. Unfortunately today, many champions of faith are willing to disregard reason, and many champions of reason have therefore become enemies of faith. We need people like yourself who will show that both can and should work together.