Thank God

Steve Mendelsohn

I am a devout atheist. I used to be a theist—perhaps not a devout theist but a theist nonetheless.

I became a theist at a very young age as a result of people whom I trusted telling me that God exists and convincing me that the existence of God was necessary to explain the world around us. Over time, my belief in the existence of God became less and less necessary to explain the world around us.

And now I am a devout atheist. I fervently and wholeheartedly believe that God does not exist. I don’t know that God does not exist, but I certainly believe that God does not exist.

I do not believe that there is a god who created our world, and I do not believe that there is a god who assists in running our world.

As a devout atheist, I do not believe in miracles. I do not believe in the occurrence of otherwise inexplicable events resulting from the suspension of natural law, events that run counter to our understanding of the laws of science, that can be explained only by invoking the existence of God.

I do, however, believe in the existence of limitations in our understanding of the laws of science. I also believe in science itself, and I believe in the advance of science—the fact that, over time, our understanding of the laws of science has grown and will continue to grow.

When Einstein suggested that moving clocks run slower than static clocks and that moving rulers are shorter than static rulers, he was not talking about miracles; he was talking about the advance of science.

And just because we cannot explain something today, that does not mean that that something is a miracle and must therefore be the handiwork of God. It just means that we haven’t figured it out yet. Our ancestors who didn’t understand the science of thunder, who concluded that only God could be responsible for such an occurrence, were wrong. We now know that thunder is not a miracle. And our ancestors (and too many of their living descendants) who concluded that only God could be responsible for the exquisite variety of life on earth were wrong. We now know, thanks to Darwin, that that variety is not a miracle.

Furthermore, and significantly, I am quite content with my atheism. I am comfortable with my belief that miracles do not happen and that God does not exist. I have come to accept my mortality and the inevitable nonexistence of my consciousness. I’m not happy about it, but it doesn’t keep me awake at night anymore.

One of the implications of my disbelief in the existence of God and miracles and my belief in the sufficiency of science and natural law is my belief in probability and statistics. I believe that, in an (honest) coin toss, the probability of heads is 50 percent. And I believe that the more times someone flips a coin, the more unlikely it is that the coin will keep coming up heads every time. The probability of someone flipping heads two times in a row is 25 percent. The probability of someone flipping heads three times in a row is 12.5 percent. And the probability of someone flipping heads fifty times in a row is less than 0.0000000000001 percent.

If someone were to flip a coin and get heads six times in a row, I would not conclude that that was a miracle and that God must surely exist. I would appreciate the unlikelihood (less than 2 percent chance) and rarity of such an occurrence, but it would not make me a theist again. However, the more heads in a row that come up, the harder it is to explain such occurrences as the result of natural law. If someone were to flip a coin and get heads fifty times in a row, that would seriously threaten the current devoutness of my atheism. Maybe not six times in a row or even seven times in a row—but fifty times in a row might very well threaten my disbelief in miracles and invariably lead me back to the theism of my youth.

I am very nearsighted, and I hate wearing glasses, so I wear disposable contacts. Every morning, one of the very first things I do is put in a fresh pair of contacts and, every evening, one of the very last things that I do is take out those contacts and throw them away.

Under my current prescription, I wear -3.25 diopter lenses in my right eye and -2.50 diopter lenses in my left eye. Apparently, my right eye is “worse” than my left.

Like many of us, I am a creature of habit. Whenever I put in my contacts (and whenever I take out my contacts), I always start with my right eye and then I do my left eye. Always.

My disposable contacts come in blister packs of five contacts each. Whenever I am in the middle of a pair of blister packs, I keep the partial blister pack of -3.25 diopter lenses for my right eye and the partial blister pack of -2.50 diopter lenses for my left eye in my glasses case.

Because I am so nearsighted, whenever I pick up the first of the two partial blister packs, I never know whether I am picking up the -3.25 diopter lenses for my right eye or the ‑2.50 diopter lenses for my left eye until I bring it close enough to my face to read the label.

About a week or so ago, I started noticing that I kept picking up the -2.50 diopter lenses for my left eye first. When I realized that it was happening each day, I kept getting more and more amazed at the growing unlikelihood of the situation. Perhaps there was some scientific explanation for this phenomenon. Perhaps I was putting the contacts in my glasses case in the same order each evening. To test that hypothesis, I took both packs of contacts out of my glasses case and then randomly pick up one of them. I still I kept picking up the -2.50 diopter lenses for my left eye first.

As this continued to happen day after day for a week or so, I began to wonder to myself how I could continue to explain this increasingly unusual occurrence as a result of natural law and not as a suspension of natural law—a miracle explicable only by virtue of the existence of God. Would this finally be the straw that broke the camel’s back of my atheism? Would this be the piece of irrefutable evidence that tipped the balance scale of my beliefs from “no God” back to “yes God”?

And, then, today, it finally happened. After a growing number of consecutive days of first selecting the -2.50 diopter lenses for my left eye, I reached into my glasses case this morning and, lo and behold, picked up … the -3.25 diopter lenses for my right eye.

Thank God.

Steve Mendelsohn

Steve Mendelsohn, professional patent attorney and amateur philosopher, is the author of Shallow Draughts: Faith in the Absence of Free Will, which (as suggested by the subtitle) is about faith (we all have it) and free will (none of us have it). Shallow Draughts was written, primarily but not exclusively, for his fellow atheists who have yet to give up the ghost of free will. Steve came to have his belief in the absence of free will via the psychological process of automatic, involuntary, subjective evidence weighing (AISEW, for short), which is just another name for faith. Steve has no choice but to live happily near Philadelphia with his wife, Lynn; kids Lauren and Jack; dog, Lilly; and cat, Leo.


I am a devout atheist. I used to be a theist—perhaps not a devout theist but a theist nonetheless. I became a theist at a very young age as a result of people whom I trusted telling me that God exists and convincing me that the existence of God was necessary to explain the world …

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