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On Beyond

I'm a hack. If you want a good blog, go to my wife's blog

28 November 2005

I Believe

In my previous, extremely long post, I talk about what I "believe". Well, I need to tell you a little bit about what I mean by "believe". My dear brother Mike once told me (hey, do you think that my dear brothers have too much influence on me?) that to believe something means to absolutely confident that it is true. He used the example that if you ask someone if they believe in God, and they say "Uh, sure, I guess so", then the answer is "No". Belief in God is to be certain in his existence.

Well, I guess I don't believe in God. In fact, I don't believe many of the things that I have previously told you that I believe. It's not that I've been lying to you. It's that I don't believe much of anything if such a standard is held to the work "believe". I find that I have doubts about most things.

My lovely wife said to me a few weeks ago that she still didn't know if I believe in God or not. I told her that I believe in God, but not the way that she does. Patti has a built-in belief in God. God is real, she feels Him, she experiences Him. I don't have any such belief. My belief in God is a decision that I have made.

I've had one experience in my life which I would explain as "having felt the hand of God". It wasn't a big moment in any outward way. Oh, are you curious? Okay, I'll tell you. I was working as an electrician, attaching some wires to this and that. I heard the song "Prince of Darkness" by the Indigo Girls. At the line "I will not be a pawn for the Prince of Darkness any longer", I felt deeply struck by the fact that I was just such a pawn, and that unless I made an active effort to serve the Prince of Light, I was serving the Prince of Darkness. That was my moment.

Anyhow, back to my point. My point was that, outside of this one experience, I've not had a "sense" of God. My life both before and after that point was spent searching for proof, or some tangible awareness of the existence of God. After some 35 years of my own life, and musing on the fact that people have been conducting the same search for millennia, and no one has yet come up with proof, I felt trapped. How can this be fair? I cannot find proof that there is a God. While I may not have conducted the search with the degree of enthusiasm that some people have, I know that those people exist, and they haven't found it either. There is no proof. On the other hand, if there is a God, the consequences of not believing in Him could be disastrous.

I was quite torn on this question. If there is a God, he's apparently decided to create a universe devoid of any proof of its Creator. Such a universe looks empirically exactly like a universe which has no creator.

Now here's something funny - for a zillion years or so, man had little understanding of how the universe works. You've got some individual huge steps forward - Euclid, Newton, etc. But the understanding of the building blocks of the universe - space, time, matter, energy - the elemental understanding of the Universe has only started being unraveled in the last century and a half. As we've gotten to the elemental, we've also started to believe that there is no God. We've largely decided that a belief in a Creator of those elements is mere superstition. Hey, there is no empirical evidence, it must not be true.

What's so funny about that? Well, what's funny about that is that as we've delved deep into the universe, we HAVE found clues - clues mind you, not proof - of the existence of God. Reading Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time", I was struck by the fact that his work seemed in an almost miraculous way to point to the existence of a Creator. So much so, that I was expecting him to write something to the effect of "So you can see, there must be a Creator". Instead, he wrote something more to the effect of "I don't believe in God, so I burned that theory to the ground and started on a new one". Which, of course, is exactly what a scientist shouldn't do. Not that a scientist shouldn't question results that they find doubtful, but generally speaking a scientist should believe the empirical evidence once they confirm it, even if they don't like it. Anyhow, that's an aside. The bit that is funny here (in my mind, anyhow), is that astrophysics have taken us full circle. Primitive mind, believes in God because there are no better explanations. Middle mind believes in God out of culture and tradition. Modern mind gives up on the superstition and devotes itself to science, only to find that science does indeed provide clues of the existence of a Creator.

By the way - you'll need to read the book yourself for the explanation of how Hawking's theories point to the existence of a Creator. Far to complex for this forum, even assuming I were capable.

So now you've got at least some hint from science that there might be a Creator. Then you've got Pascal's Wager, which is, at least, a compelling start. The short version of the Wager: "If God doesn't exist and I believe in Him, I've lost nothing. If God does exist and I don't believe in Him, I've lost everything."

I have something of a variant of Pascal's Wager. Or, perhaps, you could call it a union of Pascal's Wager and Occam's Razor. The short on Occam's Razor: "If two equally plausible explanations exist, the simpler is correct". So, to equally plausible explanations for the existence of the universe:

  1. The Universe was created by a Creator
  2. The Universe just happened

You know, heck, I don't know that Occam's Razor even comes into play here, in that I don't know that the two explanations are equally plausible. Seems to me that empirical evidence would suggest that things don't just happen. The creation by a Creator is, in fact, a more plausible explanation. Now assuming that there is a Creator does still leave an obvious hole - "where did the Creator come from". Now there is a simple answer "We can't know that", and that sounds like an excuse to not have to dig for an answer. There is a more subtle answer: "We can't know that". What's the difference? Look, we exist in a universe. All of the power that we have to perceive and conceive of anything is limited to this universe. There is no reason whatsoever to suppose that this universe is all there is, yet there are no tools that allow us any access to anything outside this universe, it is a closed system. If that is the case, then understanding where God comes from is a question for philosophers, not for scientists. Scientists are limited to those things that can be demonstrated with experiment, and that means that they are limited to whatever confines God may have put on the universe.

I make that argument not because I don't think that we should delve deeper into the creation of the universe. I think we can did as deeply as we wish, but we will always come up short - there will always being one more step that we need to go to understand the source, the true origins of the universe. That one step will never be bridged by science, only by belief.

Back to the beginning of this little essay. I don't believe anything. But I've had to make some choices about how to behave. And since my thoughts lead me eventually to find that the existence of God makes more sense than the absence of God, I make that the start of my journey. I've made some other decisions along the way. Decisions which have the outward appearance of "beliefs", and each decision that I make leads to new decisions, and they all look like beliefs to an outside observer. So take whatever I say with a grain of salt.


Blogger Nancy said...

Stephen, this is very interesting. I like the thought processs. I also like that I am writing this message on my laptop. yeah.

04 December, 2005 13:34  
Anonymous Teresa said...

C.S. Lewis lays out an interesting argument for proof of the existence of God in the first half of Mere Christianity. And Tolstoy's character Levin goes down some similar paths at the very end of Anna Karenina (starting in Part 8, chapter xi).

19 January, 2006 17:49  
Blogger Stephen said...

The first time I tried to read Mere Christianity, I was unimpressed with the "logic" that Lewis used. It seemed to me that there were big holes in it. But the most recent attempt (I still haven't finished the book), I realized that the holes were necessary. That is to say, there is no incontrovertible proof of the existance (or non-existance) of God. For that matter, there is no incontrovertible proof of anything. One can always fall back to the point that every proof is still dependent on our perception of reality and the facts. Since our perception is subject to question, so is every proof based on it.

In real life, though, we choose to accept certain basic facts. One of these is the most obvious solution to a problem is also the most likely solution to the problem. It turns out that if you read Mere Christianity with the intent of disbelief, you will find plenty of points to argue against. If you read it with the intent of belief, you will not be disappointed.

I suppose I should try to find a copy of Anna Karenina and see just where that takes me.

24 January, 2006 12:22  

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