When I was growing up, my family used to watch as many intellectual PBS shows as possible. One of these was a show called, “Meeting of Minds.” This show created a fantasy round-table discussion among historical figures, with actors playing the historical figures and their discussion scripted and moderated by Steve Allen. Ever wonder what Martin Luther would say to Voltaire? This show would give you Steve Allen’s take on it. As much as possible Steve used actual quotations from the people being represented. It was so well done that Several years ago I bought all of the scripts. Interestingly, they are available for performance without royalties.
In season 3 of the show, which aired 1979-1980 (which made me 8-9 years old) included a pair of episodes where the panelists were Saint Augustine of Hippo, Empress Theodora of the Byzantine Empire, Thomas Jefferson, and Lord Bertrand Russell. It has been a while since I have read it, and because my family is currently moving to a new state my books are in boxes, so these quotes are paraphrases based on my memory. My recollection is that Empress Theodora angrily asked Russell, “How can you sit there hating God?” To which Russell replied, “I don’t hate God. I simply don’t see evidence that he exists. You can’t hate something that you don’t think exists.”
This interchange made a lot of thoughts that I’d been having coalesce into a unified whole. Hearing the argument phrased that way made me realize that the real issue isn’t how you feel about God, but whether there is any evidence to support the supposition that he exists. Russell clearly didn’t see any. Neither did I. At that point, I realized that I was an atheist. More importantly, however, that I was someone for whom evidence was primary. And that set me on the path to becoming a scientist.