Thursday, 1 November 2012

I love you guys...

I'm not drunk.  Well, maybe very slightly, but I love you all anyway.

This morning I asked a question on Twitter: "Question for atheists; had you been born before we knew anything about reality (say 500 years ago) do you think you'd have been an atheist?"

I've had a lot more answers than I was expecting, which is always lovely in itself, but what's made me really happy is how honest everyone was willing to be about the extent to which their ability to reason and reject religion has been a product of the time in which they're lucky enough to have been born, and the opportunities they've been lucky enough to receive.

The vast majority of people who answered said they think they'd have been theists or deists if they'd been born before we knew so much about the universe as we do now:

I love this, beautiful tweeps - I don't think one could ask for a better rebuttal to the common claim that atheists are arrogant than the fact that so many of us are willing to state that we'd have been believers too had the fortune of our birth been different.

Even the few people who were prepared to say they think they would have been atheists five hundred years ago were for the most part very hesitant about it; there was a lot of hedging going on:

Again, this is great; even when giving the more controversial answer, everyone was completely happy to say that they were only conjecturing, that they couldn't be sure. Again, how far from arrogance could you get?

For myself, I'm going with "not sure", too.  If I had to place a bet on what my own beliefs would have been five hundred years ago, I think I'd have to go with deism.  I'd realised conventional religions were rubbish by the age of eleven or twelve, before I knew any science to speak of, so I'd like to think I'd have got that far.  Then again, ignorant as I was at that age I still knew that the earth went around the sun, that there had been dinosaurs, and that logic mattered... I don't really think it's possible to answer the question with any conviction.

There was one tweet I got in reply to my question that echoed my own thoughts very accurately:

THIS is the other reason all the answers I got to my question made me so happy. I agree with Adrian; the atheist movement has grown unimaginably even in my own lifetime.  More and more people all over the world are rejecting religious superstition, and we're becoming more vocal and more recognised.  This is what science and modern education allow; not everyone gets over their indoctrination, of course, but the point is that so many people now have the opportunity to do so.  Information is freely available to so many of us, and for some people all it takes is an awareness that there is an alternative to religion to pique their interest and make them seek out that information.

This is why I think we need to be sure we're heard.  We don't need to be rude or cruel, but we need to be sure that everyone we can reach knows that there are people in the world who don't have religion at all, that non-belief IS an option and that there is a whole community of people waiting for them should they decide to make the leap.


  1. If I had been born 500 years ago, I think I would believe in God. It took a long time for me to become an atheist. It didn't happen until I was thirty years old. At first I was Catholic for many years. Then as I started to question, I became "spiritual" and finally, I ended up where I am now at the age of 41.

    In a world that doesn't encourage questioning, I never would have arrived at the conclusion that I did.

  2. I became fully atheist at 34, so I think I would have at least believed in gods. I'd always questioned religious beliefs throughout my life, but never cottoned on (that there was no God) until I started studying psychology at university.

  3. I was pretty much an atheist by 18, so I probably would have given the local priest some grief 500 years ago!
    It was more my scepticism that influenced me rather than modern cosmology, so I think I would still be an atheist, although probably more a covert one!

  4. If it took me until thirty to lose my religion, and that development owing largely to reading a lot of history, science, etc., it strikes me as highly unlikely that I would ever have seriously questioned the God idea.

    Granted, I would have been a different child and young adult then than the one I actually was, but still, we're talking pre-Enlightement here, (mostly) pre-scientific revolution,way before Darwin and Bibilcal historical criticism and the modern findings of archeology.

    It's humbling and disturbing to think about.