Happy Humpday, atheists! Here's a story sent to me by Benjamin:
Before I became an atheist, I suppose I was what you might call an honest, sincere, innocently deceived young-earth creationist. I was also a fundamentalist christian (just a sidenote - Fundamentalist Christianity here in New Zealand is not quite the same as American Fundamentalist Christianity - there's a bit less racism and less of an association with right-wing politics).
So, I was raised as a Christian by my parents (who are still devout Christians). Strangely, up until the age of 15 or so, I didn't really have any specific beliefs about the origins of the universe, life, or modern species of organisms (that is, I sort of vaguely believed that God created everything, but didn't have any specific ideas as to how he did it). At one point, I even think I would have been open to the concept of theistic evolution (i.e. that God used the Big Bang to create the universe, that he used Evolution to create modern species, etc.). I have been interested in various fields of science for quite a long time, and have often looked up scientific facts and theories related to topics that interest me. I have the most interest in science out of anyone in my family, and have at times, when I hear them repeat old wives' tales (for example), said "Well, actually...<insert scientific knowledge here>".
Anyway, I started to be home-schooled at the age of 9, and stopped at the age of 13 to go to high school for a couple of years before we moved to the USA shortly after I turned 15. During the first period of my home-schooling, I wasn't exposed to any specifically young-earth creationist concepts. However, when we moved to the USA, I was home-schooled again until we moved back to New Zealand 4 years later. During this time, I actually was exposed to Creationism, and I accepted it for two reasons: it was the only information as to how the universe, life, etc. could have begun that I was given, and it agreed with the beliefs I held at the time. Even then, my belief in Young-Earth Creationism wasn't really solid. I was still open to various other ideas, such as Day-Age Creationism (where the "days" of Genesis are actually periods of millions or billions of years) and the idea that Noah's Flood was actually an account of a relatively small local flood. I still had no proper idea of what Evolution was, aside from the creationist caricature of it, and I also had no idea of the proper definitions of the terms "hypothesis", "theory", and "scientific law" (you know, "Evolution is only a THEORY, not a fact!").
During our time in the USA, we almost entirely spent time around other Christians, which of course meant that my faith was pretty much constantly being reinforced. However, there were some problems - a month or two before I turned 17, I discovered internet porn. Since mainstream Christianity considers lust (and anything sexual that doesn't involve sexual desire for or sexual activity with a spouse in a heterosexual marriage) to be a sin, I hated myself for consuming it, but I still kept going back to it from time to time. I would beg God to help me overcome my sinful tendencies, and it would seem to work for a time, but I would always "relapse".
I mentioned above that my belief specifically in YOUNG-EARTH Creationism wasn't really solid. That changed when in the last year of our time in the USA, I read a book called "Thousands, Not Billions" (a young-earth creationist book, obviously) that supposedly "disproved" the concept of the universe being billions of years old, thus leaving no room for the Big Bang or Darwinian evolution. In our first year back in NZ, my faith in Young-Earth Creationism became even more secure when I watched (please forgive me) some lectures by Kent Hovind (I didn't know then that he had no idea what he was talking about). From then on, I was confident in the idea that God created the universe 6,000 - 10,000 years ago, that he created the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, the stars, as well as all plants, animals, and other forms of life in 6 literal days.
There were some times when I doubted my faith, though - but I would always hold on for reasons such as "obvious design" and "irreducible complexity." I would think to myself, "Does God really exist?...Yes! The world and the things in it are too complex and well-designed (I now know that this is not the case) to have formed by chance!"
After we came back to NZ, we weren't surrounded by devout Christians as much as in the USA (in case you didn't know, the New Zealand population is only about 37% Christian and 48.5% non-religious, about 14.5% other religions/undeclared). My faith started to slip away, little by little without my realising it. Over the next few years, I randomly came across various little bits of information that poked holes in my mental defenses of YEC. These included:
1) A comment on some website I can't remember from some scientist whose name I can't remember that reveals that there is no real controversy between Creation and Evolution - there is a consensus among most scientists with relevant expertise that Evolution is pretty much a fact.
2) A comment on (of all websites) TV Tropes page on the Golden Mean Fallacy/Balance Fallacy (I can't remember which) saying that Creation and Evolution are not equal in terms of scientific weight.
3) The fact that my previous understanding of the word "theory" was wrong.
4) A comment on TV Tropes that said that there is pretty much no doubt among scientists with the relevant expertise that birds evolved from reptiles (I learned much later that from a cladistic point of view, this means that they ARE reptiles).
5) The discovery that Kent Hovind was convicted of tax evasion etc.
Even before I came across those facts, I still knew some things about evolution that some creationists still seem not to know - an example would be the time when my family and I (that is, me, my parents and my siblings) were at the dinner table, and one of them made the infamous objection "if humans evolved from apes, why are there still apes" (I don't remember exactly how the worded it). I strongly felt like saying "Well, actually, according to the theory of evolution, apes and humans evolved from a common ancestor, not one from the other..." I resisted this impulse, however, because I don't like arguing. My understanding of the theory of evolution at this point was still quite limited (I was still thinking of apes and humans as being separate - I thought of it as the monkey-ape ancestor giving rise to monkeys and proto-human/apes, which then gave rise to apes and humans), but it was gradually becoming less and less of a straw-caricature.
Near the end of the next year, I realised that I didn't have any evidence in my own life of God's existence. The faith I had up until that point, unlike the faith of many modern Christians, didn't require me to believe in spite of evidence. I thought that I believed BECAUSE of the evidence (e.g. historical evidence of the existence, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, evidence contradicting an old universe, evolution and so on). Those 5 points poking holes in my YEC beliefs caused me to think to myself, "I haven't ever witnessed or experienced anything I can definitely say was supernatural. How do I know God exists?" I kept asking myself "Do I believe in God? I don't have any evidence in my own life of His existence." I asked myself this question many times over the next few months. The answer gradually shifted from "Probably" to "I don't know", and finally to "I don't think so." At this time, I considered myself to be an agnostic. Since I no longer believed in God, the Big Bang, Cosmic Evolution, Abiogenesis and Darwinian Evolution seemed like the only reasonable explanations left for the origin of the universe, the stars, planets etc., life and species, respectively.
It was only later that I realised (with the help of the writings and videos of a few internet atheist humanists) that the god of the Bible is kind of a horrible person. I realised that even if such a god existed, I would not want to worship him. I discovered that verses in the Bible that my mind had previously glossed over show God condoning and/or commanding things such as rape, murder, the death penalty for seemingly minor infractions (such as disobedience to parents, or adultery), and genocide. I even discovered relatively recently that the God of the Christian Bible is sort of a hybrid of two separate gods from a pantheon in an ancient polytheistic semitic religion. I also realised how ridiculous the story of the talking snake in Genesis was. After realising and/or discovering all these things, I found that I had become a definite atheist.
I have continued to learn more about the various a-theistic (that is, not involving a god) scientific explanations for the origins of various things (the universe, celestial bodies, life, species) and what I have learned is fascinating. The world really is amazing. I have also realised that the world that creationists believe in (especially YECs) is really small. It was fascinating to learn how amphibian-like animals evolved from fish, how reptile-like animals and amphibians evolved from those animals, how mammal-ancestors and reptile-ancestors evolved from the reptile-like animals, how birds evolved from dinosaurs which evolved from archosaurs, etc. The world really is amazing, and the scientific explanations for the origins of many things are much more interesting than just "God did it." I also feel so much more free now that I'm not limited by religious morals, and can just rely on my own natural empathy and tendency towards altruism that most human beings share for my moral standards.
Thank you for sharing your story, Benjamin. It is no small feat to go from Young Earth Creationism to atheism. You have my respect.