Dear reader, I have a question for you. Have you ever looked at Atheism and thought, “Oh man… That seems so much easier…” There have been times in my life where I have looked at a confident atheist with a deep jealousy and longing for that kind of certainty. Religion is tiresome because you are constantly putting your faith in what often seems like a great story and some vague spiritual feelings. There is a particularly poignant scene in Carl Sagan’s book “Contact” in which the main character Ellie is talking with an evangelical preacher. At this point in the book, they have picked up an alien transmission, and are working on decoding it. The aliens had encoded it using binary and including helpful keys for translating so that anyone with an understanding of Mathematics could interpret the message accurately. Ellie argues that the aliens used something universal and unmistakable because they wanted to communicate with us. If the aliens, who are obviously not God are able to communicate truth so clearly, why would God choose to use the written word and religious systems to pass on His truth. If God REALLY wanted to communicate, then He could have sent us a message in the digits of pi or in the cosmological constants. Ellie, who would love to believe in God if she could, gives up and decides that God either doesn’t exist or He doesn’t really want to communicate with us after all.
I really resonated with that conversation. If God were to leave His signature on something as unchangeable as pi, then it would be easier to believe. I do not say that because God needs to prove Himself before I will believe, but because I want to believe that God truly wants to commune with us. How beautiful would that be? It would be like finding a note from your mom in your lunch box. If your mom also created the lunch box. Also the universe.
One time when I was working through some really deep depression, I decided to walk around a baseball diamond at night and pray like I was walking a labyrinth. I told God how low and destitute I was, and how distant I felt. All I wanted was some affirmation that He was paying attention, so I told him that I would walk around the diamond five more times, and if He did not show up before then, I would assume that I was alone. Each time my foot touched home plate, I felt a strange combination of hopefulness and dread. I couldn’t figure out if it would be worse for Him to appear or to remain absent. If God showed up in the middle of my belligerency, then I imagined that I would be in a great deal of trouble. As if the divine, disembodied hand that wrote on Belshazzar’s wall would descend to that baseball field and wag its heavenly finger at me for my lack of faith. On the other hand, if I crossed that plate and remained in that lonesome darkness, then God either doesn’t exist or didn’t care to show up when I needed Him.
I don’t know what I wanted to happen. All I know is that I wanted something.
What I got was nothing. My foot crossed the plate and I said in my heart, “I’m alone”.
I would like to say that I had this mountain-top experience that made my faith utterly unflappable, but I can’t lie. This is the internet! What I have is four years of subtle changes, slow learnings, and an entirely uninteresting story that brings us to today. That being said, I think that I made a fundamental flaw on that baseball diamond that atheists all around the world make all the time. Here’s what I mean…
As I walked around the baseball diamond, I decided that I no longer needed God to exist in order to explain my life and the world around me. I was already creating new systems to support my existence in the likelihood that He and His disciples didn’t drive up in their heavenly Honda (they were all in one “Accord”… no? ok nevermind…). Here is how the argument goes: I cannot prove that God exists, therefore God does not exist. Therein lies the flaw in the logic. Science deals with what can be seen and measured. God is, by nature, unable to be seen or measured. Therefore, God can neither be proved nor disproved by science and reason.
Evangelical Atheists like Richard Dawkins would have you believe otherwise. He has decided that science answers enough of the questions about existence that God is unnecessary and therefore irrelevant. He has written entire books about the terrible evils that religion has inflicted upon the world, and how Reason is what will save us all.
I don’t buy it.
Science is impartial. It is cold, calculating, and precise. Science is ill-equipped to delve into meaning. I love this example. It comes from Alister McGrath’s book “Surprised by Meaning”. He says that you can parse out the chemical makeup of a cake down to its very molecular structure, run tests to determine the temperature at which it was made, and what kitchen it came from, but none of that can tell you that it was a birthday cake. The meaning, the intention, the purpose behind it is completely lost to science, and that is the way that it should be! Knowing about physics helps me to understand why cars sound lower when they are moving away from me, but it is my faith that gives it meaning and creates a cosmic symphony out of a noisy city. God has shone light on the value of human life, and I wish to preserve it because He told me to, and not just because it is good for the species.
The big mistake that Dawkins and others make is drawing reason and purpose out of science. Dawkins will say that the purpose of human beings is to pass along genetic information, but that is not a leap that science can make. Science can say that genes are passed along by humans, but to say that this is the purpose of humanity is treading on dangerous territory. Atheists claim to not have “beliefs” and instead rely entirely on truth. Meanwhile, the very basic statement that there is no God is a statement which is inherently unable to be proven and is based on faith. I think that Stephen Hawking said it well in his new book “The Grand Design”. According to him, modern discoveries have made God unnecessary for explaining the Big Bang and the development of life. That’s great! Not needing God to explain a natural phenomenon and declaring that He does not exist because of that discovery are completely different. If you want to be an atheist, by all means, go ahead. However, if you think that science and reason prove your atheism, then you are sadly mistaken.
Earnest Hemingway famously said that “all thinking men are atheists”. I would strongly disagree. Atheists, like their fundamentalist counterparts have stopped thinking. The true sign of a person who has stopped thinking is a person who knows for a fact that something unprovable is true without a doubt. Beware the atheist who claims Reason as their God, and beware the religious person who rejects every religion that does not look like their particular brand. Both have stopped thinking about the most important, meaning-giving, life-defining aspect of human existence.