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Why I am not an Atheist.

31 December 2009
For those of a certain mindset what we call art is simply the misfiring of an ancient evolutionary need to value the sight of things. The apes from which we evolved enjoyed the sight of their children, their family, and their home, and therefore survived better then those that did not, and so we came to enjoy a broad range of images, sounds, and sensations. The pleasure we receive from flowers, art, and music is nothing more than this impulse inaccurately triggered. The need to protect those of our own family or species also forced us to evolve compassion and love… for the sake of the continued existence of a complex molecule known as DNA. We have no purpose on earth other than survival: that is, to exist and to go on existing as long as we can; and since we are merely chemical, the meaning of our existence is merely chemical: reactions will continue as long as there is fuel for them. But since the universe will likely end as a thinly distributed cloud of gas at an extremely low temperature, none of this matters; everything will end the same anyway.
The person who thinks the way I just described is seen by most atheists as a rational individual. It is all constructed logically and inescapably from an assumption that there is no God. Without God, all that is left is science, and science makes no moral or humanitarian judgments. But I find that assumption incompatible with the inborn belief that I and everyone I’ve ever known shows signs of having. The inborn belief that the state of the world and the condition of the people in it matters; or likewise in the importance of my morality or immorality. Nevertheless many modern secular people try to hold on to both the assumption that there can be no God, and the belief that their own morality and the state of the world matter. There is thus no escape from this perception of the world, or from the uncomfortable feeling that the state of the world and its inevitable conclusion will be unacceptable.
In truth it really doesn’t matter if the atheist’s world-view is comfortable. The important question remains whether it is true. Scientific progress has, so they tell us, been slowly but surely painting the silly theists into a corner, and Freud has effectively demonstrated that, quote, “The whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude towards humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life.”
If all of this were true, then why would an otherwise intelligent, logical, devastatingly handsome and well-dressed man such as myself, (yes I am kidding) ever hold to so simple and barbaric a belief as that of the existence of God? Trust me that I would be an atheist if it were possible for me; nothing is more inconvienient to my ego then the idea that I am not master of my own destiny; that something or someone has a greater right than I to my being or sense of self.
Science says almost nothing about the existence of God, despite what the religious and the antireligious fanatics would like us to believe. Science is, at its base, empirical; it never gets beyond the idea that if something worked every time we tried it, it will likely work every time we try it in the future.
Notice that I say likely; no field, except perhaps mathematics, is equipped to give us any certainties. Science offers the best models we have, not to explain, but to describe the world; models within models like a series of Russian dolls. Newtonian physics is simpler but less accurate than atomic theory, which is simpler but less accurate than quantum mechanics. Each model describes not what is ‘True’ but simply the behavior of a particular system on a particular scale. Each is very useful, and expands our knowledge of the behavior of the system known as the universe but by definition says nothing on the possibility of things being outside of that system. Interestingly, at the base of this particular chain – quantum mechanics – we can find the Heisenberg uncertainty principle: there is a theoretical limit to one’s knowledge about the position and momentum of any particle. Thus there are things about this world one simply cannot know. Atheists like Richard Dawkins might condescendingly scoff at this idea when held by theists, thinking it typical evasiveness on their part, but here it happens to be a sound scientific theory.
 For those of you reading this who hold an atheistic view, please consider this. It might be for you still a wide open question whether religion is true, but let me explain what religion certainly is not: Religion is not merely an evasion for those too weak to handle human mortality, nor is it an obsolete pre-scientific explanation of the world and its behavior. Do not make the mistake of thinking that those who came before our current time believed such things because they were stupid or illogical or that they did not know the normal course of nature. As GK Chesterton said “A man can be a Christian to the end of the world, for the simple reason that a man could have been an Atheist from the beginning of it. The materialism of things is on the face of things: it does not require any science to find it out. A man who has lived and loved falls down dead and worms eat him. That is Materialism, if you like. That is Atheism, if you like. If mankind has believed in spite of that, it can believe in spite of anything. But why our human lot is made any more hopeless because we now happen to know the names of the worms who eat him, or the names of all the parts of him that they eat is, to a thoughtful mind, somewhat difficult to discover.”
 The men who penned the texts of the world’s great religions may not have known that gravity is a force of attraction between two masses, but they knew that objects fall when dropped and that a man cannot normally walk on water. If they wrote about such things it is either because they saw them and they were unusual, or for some other more obscure reason. This does not prove that they are true, of course; but one cannot disregard them simply by citing the nature of those who observed them. And if you think religion is for the weak and atheism for the strong, I invite you to read the biography of any Saint of your choosing. Do not think the likes of St. John Chrysostom or St. John of Damascus to be weak either in mind or in heart. There are certainly those who turn to religion for comfort in their suffering, but just as many turn to atheism to escape from moral obligation. It will do no one any good to speculate about the psychology of believers.
Nor can we trust that the more modern of beliefs, such as Atheism, are correct due to their newness, or because they are widely-held or popular. Countless times have ideas come into and gone out of style, and so it is only to be expected that many of those of our own age will, as well; we simply cannot know which ones. Communism, fascism, eugenics – each had a long and successful span as the vogue intellectual belief. And even were no one at all to believe in a thing, that would not make it false. Truth is truth no matter who does or does not believe it.
You would not presume to have the final word in the value of a historical interpretation without first working through and studying those who have worked and written on the subject before you, so do not disregard religion, without first reading and studying those who have lived it fully and written about it.
It seems no one can agree exactly what form The Divine takes, and people tend to stay with the religion in which they were raised. How then, you might wander, can anyone be so arrogant as to believe that they have found the one “Truth”?   Consider that ten people may have similar but different answers to a question involving a geometry. One may believe the answer to be 3.2, another 3.1, and yet another, 3.14. The teacher might even have 3.14159265358979, which is even closer, but still not the exact value of Pi. No one has or could ever have the exact answer, but it is only the Richard Dawkins’ or the Christopher Hitchens‘, or the Fredrich Nietzsches’ of the world that claim that therefore the answer does not exist, or that therefore it cannot be approached .
Most people do retain the morals and secular beliefs of their parents; the children of politically left-wing or right-wing parents tend to share that position, and the children of ethical parents tend to be ethical, which does not prove that that belief does not matter or that there is no correct answer. Remaining with the beliefs of one’s parents would be problematic only if it is due to ignorance or apathy. In the end, everyone must and does form their own conclusions for themselves.

It is a struggle with which I like a multitude of other have spent a great deal of time on in thought, and study, and -yes- prayer. It is a slow and fitful spiritual climb, but the view from the height makes it worthwhile. I still have a very long way to go myself, but at least I now know the direction; I have found meaning and value for my life and for myself. I’ve found something solid to pass on to my children.

If God does exist that is the most important and most beautiful fact of human existence. In God, human beings have purpose other than mere survival for survival’s sake. Love has value beyond that of the simple biological instinct for procreation, and the choices we make have consequences beyond that of arbitrary and inevitable chemistry. If this seems too good to be true it is only because we have been trained to think that that which is good must be false, as there is no objective reason to believe that something is true or false on the basis of whether you prefer it.

Our time in this life pales in comparison to eternity, therefore you must admit that the question of eternity is more important than any other you will ask, as all others involve directly only the seventy-or-eighty so years you may have here. If you decide that those years are the only ones for which humans exist, so be it, but do so deliberately and soberly. There are various valid individual points of view, but there are no private Truths. You can’t embark on a search to find ‘what’s works for me.’ There is one, and only one, correct answer, and though we mortals may never know that answer for sure, that is only more reason to think, and study, and seek answers.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 31 December 2009 10:19 pm

    Interesting post–albeit, the highest virtue (I believe) for us to acquire is loving each-other– in-spite of an eternal bliss. The intent behind our beliefs are more pertinent than their conclusions–thus making emotionalism less admirable in the long run.

  2. 23 November 2011 8:15 pm

    Thank you. I (almost) wish I could reread this as an atheist. I wonder what affect it would have on me. It would probably just make me angry which is a pity. But I would like to see it from another point of view. I tried to hate God and also made a sincere effort to lose my faith in him. Not at the same time of course – that would be silly. Apparently I have no choice in the matter for which I can never feel sufficient gratitude.

  3. Gentleman Ranker permalink
    26 November 2013 5:24 pm

    Well, I’m an atheist. Not a Dawkins New Atheist™, shaking my fist at God and you (I’ve actually never read any of his books, though I’ve seen video of him). No, I’m just a common “atheist by default”, since my parents … who were emphatically not upper-middle-class liberals … didn’t raise any of us in any sort of faith system, never baptized us, and never took us to church. We grew up thinking that was more-or-less normal. Mom grew up Roman Catholic and everything she ever said about it was an angry horror story. Dad came from a Primitive Baptist family and never said anything about it at all. I’m not sure which had more effect.

    So I like to think I came by my atheism honestly.

    I don’t hate you nor do I think you’re stupid. I don’t feel any need to change your mind about anything nor make your children into apostates. Of course I do disagree with some of the points you make (what a surprise) but maybe fewer than you think.

    Your example of π (hereinafter “pi”) is interesting, though I’m not sure I grasp your point. According to Wikipedia, pi has been calculated to over 10 trillion digits, though in practice no one actually uses more than 40 or so. There are not “different answers” to pi, just different degrees of precision. Pi is pi, and we can demonstrate that beyond any argument; the only question is how many decimal points you want or need. Anyone who says pi is two-point-anything is just plain, demonstrably wrong.

    There’s actually a certain amount of science in scripture. Gideon’s fleece [Judges 6:36-40] and Elijah’s encounter with the prophets of Baal [1 Kings 18:21-39] seem like decent examples of scientific enquiry. One can find other “if … then …” sorts of statements in scripture, though most of them are not quite so directly testable.

    But there’s nothing like pi.

    The Argument from Design (visible in Rom 1:19-21 and Wis 13:1-9) is not like pi. Anselm’s ontological argument is not like pi. William Lane Craig banging on about kalām cosmology is not like pi.

    Of course, pi does not tell us how to live our lives or anything at all about right and wrong (a Pythagorean might disagree, if you could find one to ask). Pi is clearly true, but is only useful for calculations involving circles.

    In the case of Christianity, though, I think there’s another issue.

    Paul seems to go out of his way to emphasize that the “wisdom of the wise” is not what will bring someone to Christianity [1 Cor 2:4-15, 3:18-20, 4:20]. Christianity seems to be not so much reasoned as perceived [2 Cor 2:15-16] St. Ambrose of Milan apparently agrees [De Fide V.42.

    But if it is “not word, but power” that brings people to Christ, what is this power? Sincerity? Example of life? Calvinist predestination? Miracles? Not an easy question; Peter himself (if you hold that it was him) says that Paul could be difficult to understand [2 Pet 3:16].

    St. John Chrysostom does give sound advice to the inquiring heathen. I particularly like “For if you accept without more ado just what you are told, this is not acting like a man …”. But even taking his advice is not easy.

    Not all Christians have winsome ways, even if we become interested in their doctrine. I think you may agree, and won’t belabor the point.

    And which Christianity are we talking about? This seems to have been an issue from the beginning. Once you get past a simple tract or the Sinner’s Prayer, things can get confusing pretty quickly. Who has (or, where is) the “one, and only one correct answer”? To which of the one true churches should I apply? Which translation of which scripture has the reasoned force of π ? If I can’t take what seems to be Chrysostom’s advice, and decide “because I prefer it”, what do I do?

    My point is not that I’ve refuted anything you said (nor have I tried to), but rather that it may be more difficult than you suggest.

    Last but not least, while there certainly are jerk Atheists™ who have some groundless grudge against you, not everyone who doesn’t believe is like that. Some of us are doing what we can with what we have, having realized that no matter what we believe or do, someone somewhere will say that we are going to Hell.

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