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Honorable mention — Julianna Schoenwald: Relinquishing certainty for empiricism 

By Julianna Schoenwald

When I am asked by well-meaning family and friends why I do not believe in god, what is usually meant by the question is why do I reject Jesus Christ and the god of the bible.

Conversations surrounding this topic usually follow a common formula: The believer may first beseech me to consider one of many worn-out arguments, likely one that illustrates a profound scientific illiteracy, like proposing a preposterously young history of the planet or spontaneous generation of biological life by means of magic. They may attempt to invoke an urgent repentance by suggesting that morality would decay without divine dictatorship, conveniently omitting the countless obscene biblical moral commands and the Judeo-Christian legacy of torture, religious warfare, human rights violations, and intolerance. They may also say that life itself would not be worth living if God was not there to imbue life with purpose. Then, when all that has failed, they may try to frighten me with images of eternal torture in the lake of fire reserved for apostates and sinners like myself.

Though many arguments can be leveled against belief in God on the grounds of naturalism and moral philosophy, my fundamental reason for disbelief is fairly simple: there is not a modicum of convincing data to suggest that I should. I am under no illusion that I have any obligation to provide a reason not to believe in something for which I have no evidence. I have no inclination to wager my bets, as Pascal did, in the direction of everlasting life with the god of Abraham, and I am not deprived of a moment of ease in pondering life after my death. All of the evidence from disciplines like physics, biology, and neuroscience suggest that the matter of which I and my consciousness are made will decompose and return to the Earth. I am reminded of the French philosopher and mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace, who famously told Emperor Napoleon, when asked about the absence of god in his model of planetary motion, “I had no need of that hypothesis.”

My desire is to orient my worldview around evidence and constantly update my beliefs as new information becomes available to me. However, this inclination is not shared by much of the believing community. Instead, the religious approach accepts credulity as a virtue, which they call faith. As Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Most often, religion and faith are employed as antidotes to the insecurity brought about by the uncertainty over the nature of our reality. Believers opt to forfeit their intellectual freedom for the peace of mind brought about by a packaged set of metaphysical and moral dogmas,

Julianna Schoenwald

and, as a result, they become ideal hosts for ideological possession. The philosopher Bertrand Russell articulated it best in his famous essay “Why I’m Not a Christian”:

Fear is the basis of the whole thing — fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death.… Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look around for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a fit place to live in.

Julianna, 22, is from Grand Rapids, Mich., and attends Grand Rapids Community College. She plans to pursue a career in chemistry, using her eventual degree to engineer sustainability solutions and research biochemical processes.