Thursday, March 29, 2012

One man's journey down the path of atheism, part 2

Last week, Mr. James Salmonsen spoke of the first part of his journey down the path of atheism. You can find that post HERE.  Now he is ready to talk about part 2 of his journey.


Greetings readers. In my previous article, I told of my first steps toward anti-theism. I left off as I went into college where I identified myself as “spiritual” instead of “religious”.

The next leg of my journey took me a few years of school and study. I had left the LDS church, although I still found myself defending it from some truly IGNORANT people. When I say ignorant, I don't just mean they “just didn't know”. I mean they had a few scoops of dipshit in them too. I had one guy ask me if it were true that when Mormons were married in the temple, doesn't the guy performing the ceremony get to have sex with the woman first?
During this time, I took my first astronomy class. (That's the one without the horoscopes). This was the first time I realized exactly how BIG the universe was.

Big is such an inadequate adjective. We do not have a word that can describe how large the universe is, because with our limited human minds, we cannot even CONCEIVE of how large it is. I could throw a number at you – 28 billion light years in diameter – 300 sextillion stars – a large factor of that number in planets and moons. All of this is irrelevant, because humans are not capable of visualizing such space. And this, my fellow insignificant specks – is just what we can see with our most advanced technology. It is possible there is more. There has been speculation (no proof) of layer upon layer of alternate dimensions. What if our universe is to the whole of reality as a single galaxy is to our known universe? No proof as of yet, but an interesting thought. Suffice to say, what we DO know of the universe is quite enough for my point.

Before you go catatonic thinking of that, I'm going to go into reverse. The same concept of infinite outward space going the other direction. The SMALLEST thing visible to the naked eye is just the start of what we have learned about the (lets call it) microverse. Things we can can only see with an optical microscope are huge compared to things we can see with an electron microscope. We can drill down further to protons and neutrons and make accurate hypothesis toward their nature. And, we have hypothesized things even smaller. But, you get the idea. The normal human brain cannot conceive of these things.

Next, we can talk about other forces. Gravity: force so strong that light can't escape. Temperature: 15 million (estimated) kelvin in the heart of our teeney weeney star we call Sol. (100 degrees Celsius = 373.15 kelvin) Mass: Stars so great they almost equal the diameter of our entire puny solar system. Time: Billions of years (estimated) from the birth of this universe until now. With the possibility that we are simply in a cycle of expansion and contraction of our universe that has been going on infinitely.

Please click HERE for a nifty animation demonstrating size. Don't play with this while under the influence of hallucinogens.

I remember explaining this idea to my LDS mother during a visit home from college. This was the same trip where she asked me if my girlfriend thought I was a virgin, and I burst out laughing. (Mother had some revelations that day.)

The sum of all human knowledge in reality is small. It is fragile. It is incomplete. Much of it may be wrong. We have expanded that knowledge and applied it in ways that would have been inconceivable to people even 200 years ago.
Faith had no part in the construction of this marvel, at which I sit to impart
this supreme knowledge to you, instantly, from hundreds of miles away.
Do not tell me that being an atheist means I do not believe in something bigger than myself, or that the world holds no joy or wonder.

At this point in my life, I could no longer believe in a higher power. I was no longer “spiritual” in the sense that I believed in some entity out there watching over us. It makes no sense that an entity so powerful - so impossibly unknowable – cared if any of the billions of human beings:

  • Went to church on Sunday.
  • Had sex before marriage.
  • Stole items from each other.
  • Mumbled wishes in the night.
  • Believed in one or another of the hundreds of religions on the planet.
  • (Insert any religious belief here)

At this point in my life, I was agnostic. But, I still had a way to go.

Thanks for reading.


  1. I think sometimes we do not know if we know too much or too little. When it could be that all that we know is actually taught to us, because after all, once we were just a clot clinging in the deepest and the darkest universe womb of our mother.

  2. Too many religions are fear based as in "Do as we say or you won't be saved." or "You have to be perfect or else!" which turns a lot of people off.

    The size of the universe from big to small is just amazing and something our small minds can't comprehend it. We know time and space exist, yet we can't understand it. There is so much complexity to planets, galaxies, anatomy that it does seem like someone designed it all. Questions like "When did time start?" we can't answer, of course, but we know it had to start somewhere. It's questions like this that make me believe.

  3. I always feel that religion evolved precisely because of how little we understand verses how much we wanted to believe we understood. It's funny to realize that it's only by becoming so advanced (relatively) that we start to comprehend just how little we truly understand.

  4. I think we can all agree that organized religion is a man-made concept. Spirituality taps into a higher consciousness that every culture and civilization embraces. You're on quite a journey.

  5. So there's another part? I would agree that people have a terrible time grasping huge concepts. Things like space and time we're just too small to understand.

    It's like when I sit on the edge of Lake Huron and it looks like this huge ocean but really if you look at it on a satellite photo it's just a tiny part of the world.

    When perceiving time and space we're sitting on the edge of the lake, unable to fully grasp its relative size, which is why our views of "God" and the afterlife are so childish that for most people their perception of it hasn't changed much since they were still in diapers.

  6. The problem with many religions is they deal with absolutes in a world that is unknowable. That causes doubt and religion's only defense is to call on faith to its members when they have questions. As science marches on and learns more about the universe, religion is ill equipped to provide answers. Most times it means they end up in conflict with science when instead they should be embracing it. If a religion ever arose that preached tolerance and true understanding I swear it could be the best thing that could ever happen to humanity. Big business and big government need a counterbalance and religion should be that voice. Instead it gets co-opted by strict adherence to ancient scriptures written by men that didn't fully understand the world around them. It's really too bad.

  7. I'm really enjoying these posts. Have you read the book Fringeology? It's a book touting, more or less, how the study of science and the study of the paranormal don't have to be at odds. It was a really great book and each chapter focuses on something else. He has a whole chapter in their related to atheism and fundamentalist christians that's really fascintating.
    He also talks about how astronauts, when they first see the earth, have a spiritual epiphany that literally changes them and how they veiw themselves and their lives.
    And there's a chapter on lucid dreaming, which is really cool. I gave high marks to that book

  8. interesting, I cannot even imagine not believing in a higher power!! Just looking at the perfection and beauty in the spring flowers on my porch makes me wonder how anyone could ever doubt.

  9. I believe there's a physiological/neurological reason for spiritual thought.

    I will say that recent scientific research in neurology has shown that they might have found the part of the brain that is responsible for spiritual thought.

    The parietal lobe is responsible for giving us the feeling of being a part of something bigger in this world. Along with the frontal lobe (used in meditation and/or prayer) and your limbic system, all of these parts work together to give humans this spiritual experience.

    So we just might be hard-wired for spirituality. Neurotheology is so new, we're still learning new stuff about the brain everyday.

    What's interesting is how people that are spiritual and those that are atheists are using this new knowledge to support each of their respective sides.

    I have another observation. I've noticed that nearly 100% of my atheist friends came from (what I would consider) a fundamentalist or "radical" religion. In fact, I think every atheist I'm personal buddies with grew up either Baptist (especially Southern Baptist), Pentecostal, and Mormon (LDS).

  10. loved the little film. Makes you see just how miniscule we are. But how does one estimate the size of the universe without asking, what's on the other side/beyond?

  11. Oh, how interesting. I had a journey in grad school with similar results but it was through world cultures and looking at all the various belief systems people have and becoming convinced no just god could actually be favoring one over another. I played with goddess/mother earth ideas for a while, but sort of settled on thinking the bigger thing is energy--and all energy is connected--makes us all part of one bigger thing and to harm any part is to harm ourselves, if that makes sense. (it explained the reason prayer actually works--one of the pieces straight atheism didn't cover and mattered to me--and was also consistent with it not mattering WHO prayed or what they beleived.)

    I do like the bigness and smallness angle though--and I can see how that would play in.

  12. Cool story. Just got into a discussion about the infinite universe with facebook friends today.

    I too had just left the Mormon church when I began university. I studied psychology and when I came across a little bit of knowledge about "cognitive dissonance" I turned agnostic.

    I looked up Einstein on the web and twisted one of his quotes that made it seem like he believed in an after life. If Einstein could still believe, so could I.

    Thank "god" I got over that and am now happily atheist. I don't need a book (the bible) to tell me how to behave, or how to feel compassion for others.

  13. To momto8: That idea is called, "Argument from beauty". I see flower. Flower is pretty. There is a God. This, however, is countered from the opposite side of that coin - "Argument from ugliness". Or, Argument from murder, suffering, poverty, death, etc...". I see unimaginable levels of death, pain and suffering in the world. I see murder. I see starvation. I see priests raping children. I see genocide. There is no God or Gods. The opposite side of that coin puts the lie to much of what religion says about a "loving, caring God". The truth is, neither of these arguments is proof FOR or AGAINST the existence of a God or Gods. In fact, I would like to point out the irony that many of those "pretty flowers" got to be that way due to many generations of humans "fiddling" with their nature using what we know from studying natural selection, evolution, biology and many other fields of science.

    True Story.

    I would say look at the big picture, at the whole - and not through rose colored glasses.

    Thank you for your comment.

  14. Interesting. Astronomy made me less religious but more spiritual. Most people think you need to be religious to be spiritual, but I don't believe this. God isn't a Judaic/Christian old man with a white beard. As Joseph Campbell says, God is a manifestation of the great forces at play in the universe. God is an abstraction.

  15. James- It's interesting to hear about your journey and I look foward to Part 3. I believe in a lot of things. I do believe in God, in science AND in the unknown that we'll never figure out.

  16. I read this and the previous post. I'm interested to hear the rest of the story.

  17. Isn't it interesting that we're the center of our universe in relation to size. I heard that somewhere, and it stuck with me. We're not the largest, and we're not the smallest, just somewhere in the middle.

    There was also a bit about the universe tending towards iron, but that's another story...

  18. You said it makes no sense an entity that powerful would care about human beings. Well, we are powerful compared to our pets, yet we love them and take care of them. We are more powerful than our babies, but would die for them.

    Just because you can't understand how God could love us and die for us isn't a valid argument.

  19. Count me among those reading and enjoying these posts. Good stuff.

  20. Definitely--things on the universal and microverse scale are impossible to conceptualize. They're just so different from what we usually experience.

    Interesting post!

  21. It is interesting to read about your journey. I am a believer in many things, Christ, science, love, and compassion. And more than anything, to pay it forward and make someone smile each day.

  22. When religious (or spiritual) folk try to indicate to me that some Being had a hand in something good that happened to them, I want to vomit. Seriously. So a great almighty Being cared whether I had this job or that, about my income, etc. but apparently cared nothing at all about the babies that died in the Tsunami, the helpless elderly who died in Katrina or the sea life that was destroyed when the oil rig blew up in the Gulf. Hmmmm. . . Cared nothing about those big events and those helpless creatures but cared whether I got paid a dollar or two more an hour. That's one weak-ass all power being. Good post!

  23. A great, honest, and brave post. Thank you for sharing your views. And thanks to the commenters for also being thoughtful, no matter what their beliefs are.

  24. By agnostic, do you mean you know more than anyone else? If yes, well then congratulations on figuring it all out.

  25. Well, I certainly know what the definition of agnostic is.

  26. a good post, james

    for those interested in humorous, if stingingly thoughtful, analyses of life on this planet, especially in 'america', including religion, rights, governments, and much more, go to youtube and watch george carlin's videos... but only if you have an open mind - he REALLY makes you question what you think you know...