Honorable mention — College essay contest: Gabriel Lebon
Religious belief discourages skeptical inquiry
By Gabriel Lebon
In basic training, I had the privilege of attending several Muslim services. I had never attended one before and thought that it would be beneficial for me to learn more about the second-largest religion in the world. I initially planned to attend only one service, then I would move on to other interesting-sounding services, but I ended up attending four. The chaplain was very charismatic and informative, funny even. He made some compelling arguments for why some of the tenets of Islam make sense over its Abrahamic kin. I gave genuine consideration to the idea of learning more about the faith with the intent to possibly one day convert. However, I could not bring myself to take this step. At the end of the day, converting to Islam, or any other religion, would have required me to deny basic facts I know about the universe and to accept, as dogma, principles that I have always believed to be a matter of debate.
As a child, I was fortunate enough to be raised by parents who did not instill their religious beliefs in me. They wanted my siblings and me to come to our own conclusions about the nature of the universe. Because of this, they did not force us to pray, attend church services, or read the bible. (My parents were not Christians, but their views were influenced most by Christianity). They did, however, teach us about evolution and to be skeptical toward fundamentalists whose beliefs contradicted scientific consensus. Partially as a consequence, I became an atheist as a teenager. None of the major Abrahamic religions of the world appealed to me, since their holy books fundamentally contradict a mountain of scientific data concerning the age of the planet and the origin of our species. How could I accept any part of these texts as legitimate when they contained such bold, improbable claims?
Since organized faith was largely out of the question, that left me only with spirituality or some kind of personal relationship with the supernatural world. In time, though, this proved to be incompatible with my skepticism. The more I learned about the universe, the less mysterious it seemed. There was less room for things to be explained by powerful and anthropomorphic unseen forces. The universe seemed to behave in a predictable fashion, as if governed by laws. There did not appear to be an intelligent entity pulling strings, guiding the universe toward an ultimate fate. No supernatural phenomenon was necessary to explain the things I saw around me. Biology showed no evidence for the existence of a soul. Psychology showed that we were molded by our environments [and genetics]. It looked as though we were bound to our flesh; part of it, not separate from it. If there were no soul, there could be no afterlife.
Now that the existence of a deity that intervened in our lives appeared to be extremely unlikely, I was left only with deism. The only likely way for god(s) to exist was for them to have created the universe and then to have stepped back, no longer interacting with their creation. I found this explanation of our existence to be dissatisfying. Where did the divine come from? Why would they create the universe? For what purpose? I found the notion that the universe had always existed in some form or spontaneously came into being to be just as perplexing as the notion that a creator either always existed or came into being spontaneously. It just required fewer steps.
Being religious would require me to deny knowledge accumulated through millennia of skeptical inquiry in favor of dogma from absolutist authorities who have sketchy credibility. The rejection of religion comes easily to me. I see it as the inevitability of having a healthy, skeptical mind.
Gabriel, 20, is from Grovetown, Ga., and attends Arizona State University, where he is majoring in computer engineering. He currently serves as a software developer in the U.S. Air Force and plans to become a software engineer in the aerospace industry.