Monday, January 27, 2014

The Atheist Dilemma

For the last four years, I've made it a goal of mine to try to understand atheists.  I stress that word - understand ­- because no amount of logical thinking leads me to a resolution wherein I might agree with them.  I mean, I know God exists from my own personal interaction with him, so that won't change.  But I had hoped to at least be able to understand their point of view - to be able to follow their line of reasoning to a point where I could say "You know what? I get it.  I see why you believe there is no God."

I mean, I can understand why some might ask "How do you know your God is the right one?" or "How can you claim to know God's intentions?" or the ever common question of "If God is so good, why does he allow bad things to happen to innocent people?"  I understand these questions.  I have answers of my own, but again, they come from my personal interaction with God - something that the non-believer wouldn't have had without first taking a step of faith.  So I can see why someone who does not have a relationship with God might ask these things.

What I can't fathom is why people claim the absence of God to be an absolute fact.  Not one specific God, mind you, but any God.  The statement "There is no God" to me is akin to being handed a sealed box and told "There's no cookie in this box."  If you haven't opened the box to find out, how can you know for sure?  We've explored such a small fragment of a fragment of a fragment of the entire universe.  How can humans presume to know so much from that small fragment that we can actually say "There is no God."?  We haven't explored the entire universe - the entire cookie box, so to speak - so how can we say for sure?

I've talked with a lot of atheists over the past four years.  I've tried to engage them in debate.  I've tried to get them to explain to me what it is that makes them so certain that God does not exist.  Most of them sidestepped my questions.  I'd get responses like, "I'm not here to teach you.  Go look it up yourself," or the ever common "I can't help you if you're too stupid to see common sense."  It's hard to get any real answers from them.  And if they did afford me the opportunity to ask deeper questions, most stopped replying at that point.

Part of the problem, I've noticed, is that atheists state you cannot use religious texts to support your claims, nor can you use the idea that "God did it" to explain things that science claims to be impossible.  So trying to get them to acknowledge the possibilities of a divine being would mean trying to do so through human means - scientific means.  Of course, we have no scientific evidence that directly links our universe to a God, so atheists conclude there is no God.  The most confusing circle of logic for me is when you ask them how science proved there is no God.  They state it is not up to science to prove it - it is up the religious community.  Then why do they cite science when trying to support their claims that there is no God?  "You can't prove a negative," they say, meaning you can't prove it if you say something doesn't exist.  But you can - I can open the box and see whether or not there is a cookie inside.  If it isn't, I've proven there is no cookie.  With God, the universe is the box.  We have yet to explore the entire thing, so how can we say if the cookie is there or not?

The argument of Russell's Teapot has been brought up on more than one occasion.  If you are unfamiliar with it, the concept came from a philosopher named Bertrand Russell.  He stated that if one claimed a teapot was out in space orbiting the sun, it would make no sense for people to believe him just because they can't prove him wrong.  My problem with this notion is that technically, there are circumstances in which his claims could be verified.  If we had spacecraft traveling longer distances, or if we used a satellite or unmanned craft, we could verify or disprove the claim.  But for the sake of argument, let's just say we couldn't verify his claim.  Does that mean that it is a fact that there's no teapot out there?  Or would it be more reasonable to say  "There could be a teapot, but we have no way of proving it."?  Because regardless of whether or not it could be proven, if the teapot is out there beyond the reach of human observation, then the claim is correct.  How, then, can we say for a fact that there is no teapot based solely on a lack of observation?

Science is often quoted by the atheists I've spoke with.  The concept that science has learned how the various systems and mechanics of the universe work - systems that were once attributed a God or Gods - seems to make some atheists believe that the only reason early man believed in God was because we couldn't explain things like eclipses or the rising/falling of the sun.  Once science learned how they worked, atheists say the need for God disappeared.  Again, this seems illogical to me.

This argument could be compared to a man who discovers a car for the first time.  He disassembles it, studies it, reassembles it, and figures out how to use it.  That's what we've done with science - we've learned how the various systems of the universe work, how the human body works, how the earth has changed over the years, and invented ways of managing all of it in our day to day lives.  None of this explains how the car (universe) came to be or who assembled it in the first place.  If matter can neither be created nor destroyed, then we all must have come from some unknown piece of original matter.  OK, so where did that come from?  And whatever the answer is, how then did that come into existence?  How did the space in which this matter resides come into existence?  How did the very laws of the universe come to be formed, and what holds them in place?

I don't say these things to somehow "prove" God did it all.  I say them to illustrate just how little we know - too little to be able to say for sure that he didn't.

One person encouraged me to watch a Discovery Channel special where Stephen Hawking explains his theories about how life in the universe began.  I watched the entire special online so that I could learn what this well-known and highly-respected scientific mind had to say about the origins of the universe.  Unfortunately, zero questions were answered.  If anything, it gave me even more questions to ask.  Hawking postulates that the beginnings of the universe itself spontaneously popped into existence from nothing.  Comparing to a certain type of particle (I watched this a while ago, so I don't remember the name) that has been observed to pop in and out of existence randomly and spontaneously, Hawking says it's very possible that the same could be said of the initial makings of our universe.  How this argument disproves God in his mind is beyond me - if anything, it supports the Christian Genesis story.

When faced with these questions, most atheists reply with "Well, we are still learning and experimenting every day, so the questions we don't know the answers to will one day be answered."  But for me, the important questions will not be answered.  You can tell me how something works, but if you cannot tell me how it came to be and why it happened that way, it will not disprove the existence of God.  You can describe how each of the processes of the universe function together and why they are necessary, but if you can't tell me what makes them go, why they work that way, what fuels the engine of this plane of existence, then you cannot rule out the possibility of a God as the driving force behind it all.

Contradictions in religious texts are another hot button topic for atheists - if there are apparent contradictions in the text, then it must not be true.  First off, most of what seem to be contradictions can be explained by differing points of view.  Think of it this way: You're walking down a crowded New York City street minding your own business.  You hear a commotion behind you and turn around to see a car smash into another car.  The two of them then hit a bus while fleeing pedestrians run in all directions.  Some are knocked over and trampled, others escape just fine, and still others stand still watching the chaos.  The police arrive and start interviewing people.  Do you think each person's account of the accident is going to be identical?  It's unlikely.  Does that mean the event didn't occur?

Other contradictions arise from scientific discoveries that seem to counter the Bible's claims.  The great flood, for example, is often cited as being scientifically impossible because the atmosphere can only hold just so much moisture.  This is where the "God did it" argument gets so much flak. But is it impossible that God did it?  Well, to disprove the idea, one would first have to disprove the existence of God.  We already know we can't do that, so how can we rule out the "God did it" possibility?  Yes, it seems like yet another easy answer to explain something that, at the time, couldn't be otherwise explained.  But again, without disproving God, we can't know that for sure.

And why is the existence of such a divine being so impossible to begin with?  We see differing levels of intelligence in our own world.  A dog can't perform complex mathematical calculations.  A monkey can't draw up designs for a suspension bridge.  We are the most intellectually superior beings on this planet.  But what about the universe?  Are we really so pompous as to think that there is nothing out there that might possess a higher level of intelligence than we do?  And if there is something out there with an intelligence beyond our own, why is it so unfathomable that this level of intelligence might allow it to manipulate the laws of time and space in ways we cannot? 

One atheist recently argued with me that the ability to imagine something doesn't make it exist.  "I could tell you that there are sixteen magic unicorns living in the core of Mars, but that wouldn't make it true.  Without empirical evidence to support that claim, one would have to conclude that it is false."  Just because you can think of an absurd concept doesn't automatically mean that ANYTHING we cannot observe ourselves is automatically untrue or nonexistent. How can we presume we are so intelligent that we know whether or not there is a divine being? How can we presume that the fact that this being has never physically shown itself to us means it isn't there? How can we presume that our understanding of scientific principals is the highest understanding there can ever be? For that matter, how can we presume that this is the only universe? How can we presume there are no other planes of existence - alternate dimensions or universes where God may reside? Humans can't even make it back to their own moon, yet they presume to know enough to declare no sort of divine being could have ever existed.  It boggles my mind.

During these conversations, I've been accused of being unable to think objectively, rationally, or logically. How is it objective, rational, and logical to assume that there is no God when we have not discovered each and every place intelligent life may exist? How could humans possibly have observed the presence or absence of a God if we've not yet explored every inch of the universe (or other universes, if there are any)?  I've yet to have an atheist provide any real answers to any of these questions.

Another argument often posed is that a loving God would not allow the injustices of the world to happen.  People seem to think that God's purpose is to heed to every request/demand we have and solve the problems of society. We still have world hunger? Blame God. Men raping women? Blame God. Children dying of disease? Blame God. The problem is that they are placing God on the same level as humanity and judging his actions accordingly. But as the creator, he is above any other being and therefore above judgment. How arrogant are we to expect to tell a divine being what he should or should not do?  He possesses a higher level of intelligence and understanding than human beings are capable of, and to expect to understand everything he does is unreasonable.

In reality, man has been given free reign over the Earth. These things don't get fixed by God because they're not God's responsibility to fix. They are our problems, our trials, and our responsibilities.  If our children are starving, it's because we aren't taking care of them.  Not God, but us.

The final, and possibly the most common, argument against the existence of God is the actions of people who claim to follow him.  Religious zealots wage war on unbelievers.  Homosexuals are shunned by churches.  Priests are molesting children.  It's easy to highlight the belief systems of these types of people because their actions are quite the opposite.  Religion is an easy front - in the eyes of the offender, saying "God told me to do it" provides a way of shirking moral responsibility for their crimes.  But man is responsible for man's crimes, no matter who they try to blame.  If someone walked into a mall with a gun and started shooting everyone in the name of atheism, it wouldn't mean that all atheists are evil.  Further, this entire argument holds no water because the shameful acts of an evil man have no bearing on whether or not God exists - regardless of what the crime was. 

So, sadly, after all of this I find myself no closer to understanding atheists than I was four years ago.  I just don't see how it is logical to state "There is no God" without proof.  The atheist will respond to that statement by saying "I don't see how it is logical to state "There is a God" without proof.  I can understand that, but it makes far more sense to me to at least acknowledge the possibility rather than write it off entirely.

I'm sorry, guys.  I really do want to understand.  It just doesn't seem rational to me.

God bless,