Sometimes skeptics attack religious belief on the basis that it amounts to just believing random claims that someone else made, without any direct, personal, empirical confirmation. But this criticism can be thrown right back at them: How, for example, can a believer in evolution know that all the facts supporting it are necessarily true? After all, all the research data that has been published supporting evolutionary theory are essentially just claims that someone else made, and nothing but a certain kind of “faith” guides the lay science acolyte in accepting them.
Evolution as a specific example aside, I intend to show here that atheism per se can be deduced solely on empirical experience. That is, immediate, personal, first principles.
There is a multiplicity of religions, many claiming exclusive truth, and all making claims that are far outside my experience of reality and reason and consequently, outside of my ability to accept. Further, in none of these religions can I find any satisfactory explanations for existence, suffering, or death, so I can therefore find no comfort or purpose in their teachings.
I have no personal experience of any immortal soul or consciousness. I had no consciousness before conception, no memory of early infancy when my mind was still too young to form a robust sense of self, and when I have undergone general anesthesia for surgery, my consciousness has completely winked out of existence for whatever external time duration that was. I have no reason to believe that any sense of self can possibly survive the death of my physical brain.
I see a natural cosmos that, rather than being specially created as a home for human beings, is wholly indifferent to us. Nature brings both warm, nurturing sunshine as well as deadly hurricanes and lethally cold winters. Night and day come and go, as do the seasons, without regard for our preference or convenience. I can look through my binoculars and behold a dead, apathetic moon, and a lifeless ball of gas that we call Jupiter. Our galaxy itself is not unique. I can look up in the night sky through my lenses and see others.
I see both beauty and ugliness in the world, both good and evil, both pleasure and suffering, all without the apparent intervention of any theistic god. People fall in love and live long and happy lives together. Some give selflessly to charity. But children also die painfully of bone cancer, and humans enslave and traffic each other for profit. I cannot help but view every circumstance and every event as explicable as the result of either human will or as the blind mechanism of nature.
I sense a deep and ancient kinship between us and the other inhabitants of the animal world, with that kinship being closer to some species than to others. I see in vertebrate animals our same spark of sentience.
Without regard to any “authoritative” science–completely ignoring any genetic, fossil, molecular, or experimental evidence, and based simply on my own observations above–I find that human existence overall makes the most sense in light of evolutionary theory. Religion serves a social function: to provide meaning and comfort and strength to those who seek it, and to cement group bonds. Love propagates the species and protects the offspring; charity and altruism fortify social bonds, inflate self-worth, and possibly forge future alliances. Morality ensures intergroup cooperation. And the physical evolutionary relationship between ourselves and the rest of the vertebrate kingdom is self-evident.