Monday, May 14, 2007

Affirmation

There was no defining moment, no flash of insight, no inspiration that led me to the conclusion that there is no God. Nor was it desperation or despair. I have not lost faith, I have simply put it in a better place.

In retrospect, I've been on this road of discovery since I was a child. I grew up Catholic - very Catholic. But God was not apparent to me, as I was told he should be, as others claimed he was. I wanted to believe, but I doubted.

My doubts deepened when I became a scientist. Like every scientist, I developed the skills of critically thinking and reason. These skills brought me insight into the wonders of the universe. But, when I started to turn them onto my religious beliefs, those beliefs began to evaporate. How could one interpret the self-contradictions of scripture, I wondered? How does one decide which passages to believe, which to ignore? Why is God speaking with so many voices, if only one is correct?

Eventually, I wondered why I held these religious beliefs in the first place? The answer was simple and, at first, dismaying - I held them because my parents did, because I was told to, because it's what people in my society do. But, had I grown up in another time and place, I might have been a Moslem or a Hindu or an Animist. I might not believe in my God, but in "False Gods". Like millions of others, I might be damned to eternal suffering for simply doing as I was doing now, believing what I was told to. So why would my loving God not make himself apparent daily to everyone and spare millions from damnation?

And, I wondered, if God is something that is passed on from generation to generation, how did He first become known? Could religion have had an origin other than the divine? The answer was again dismaying - of course religion could have a mundane origin, and it did. God, all Gods , are a response to the human need for order and reason. We created them so that the loss of a loved one, the occasional triumph of bad over good, and especially our own mortality have meaning and reason.

God did not create us, we created God. But in doing so, we created hope, and reason, and comfort. We created community and belief. These are not things beyond us, that we are given, these are thing OF us. They are ours, to craft, to use, to give. I was initially dismayed at where reason led me, but no more. I do not despair that I lost God, I rejoice that I found Us, our better natures and our hope. The grace and strength in each of us, and the power to use them, are intrinsic to our natures. They are ours, and ours alone. I have found a better place for my faith, in you and me. This I believe.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nicely expressed. I often think to write something similar but get bogged down in trying to make it too complicated and then get bored and give up.

Anonymous said...

Warren, you have a talent for expressing such a simple and compelling response to the awfully 'complicated' and controversial issue of god. I've read much about the subject and virtually all the time you see people descending into polemics and dogma wars.

You will do well to work towards to become some kind of public spokesman for science in an era (in the US anyway) where a very large percentage of the population is moving full speed backward towards the Middle Ages where religious fundamentalism reigned, the Bible is everyday reality, and science must be destroyed.

Anonymous said...

Hi Warren,
You may recall we shared some song lyrix a ways back...
Just wanted to relay my appreciation also, for your poignant and eloquent description of the realization more & more people are slowly acquiesing to.
Sadly, children are still used as the device to propagate religon from one generation to the next. Then, they have to make the slow, torturous discoveries such as you elaborate on to transcend their own programming. We can only hope that voices of reason will prevail above the howling of the masses.

Jimbo

Anonymous said...

You say you don't believe in God, yet you end with a statement about your god. A strange thing to say.

Your faith is where your god is - your religion is where your faith is.

You are right, if all you have in or for your beliefs are from or based on other people, you have nothing to stand upon. Knowing Jesus Christ is a matter of relationship not form and ceremony. If you don't take the time to truly seek Him who is the Creator then you are stuck with worshipping the creation.

From what I can see, humanistic science is as much a religion as hinduism, islam, etc. People seem to forget (included in this are scientists and anti-science proponents) that science is a methodology for discovering how nature and the natural world works and is not about how it came to be. Philosophy and religion deal with the questions of beginnings and expecting science to answer these kinds of questions is taking science into realms of religious thought. My background is engineering, science and computers.

If you choose to believe there is no supernatural existance (in whatever form) that is you choice. As is the choice to believe in something outside the natural world. One however should recognise that science cannot be used to deal with beginnings or even one off events. There are no repeatable experiments to be made, nor a testable hypothesis to be made.

I find it fascinating that my God (God the Father, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit) will not take away the one thing that man tries to take from each other - free will - the right and responsibility to choose our way of life. Yet because I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, those who don't believe are quite ready to ridicule my choices and vehemently want to prove me wrong. Yet that is their choice. There are also many who are so-called believers who want to do the same to everyone who doesn't believe as they do.

I can understand your path coming from a catholic background. For many catholics (as well as other groups) there is very little substance and almost no experience of anything divine - huge amount of pomp and ceremony though.

All I can say is that Jesus Christ died for your salvation and to cleanse your sins as He did for me and I am no-one special (except to Him, my family and friends). It is your choice whether you want to seek Him out. He won't force you, but you do have to choose and in choosing live by the consequences of your decision.

I think of a man here who has just been set to prison for murdering a number of people. He has laughed (in court) over his actions and is unrepentant. He is now on being held responsible for his choices and actions whether he cares about it or not.

May you actually find insight into life that leads you and your family to a fullness of relationship and hope. Jesus does love you, but He also won't compromise on His nature - that is why He chose to die for each of us. His Law requires the death penalty for the crimes committed - and our crimes are really unspeakable when you look into the full effect of what each of us has done. We are unable to do it for ourselves, but He could in our place. We have the choice to accept the payment and live in Him or reject the gift and pay our own price. I think I prefer His payment to mine.

regards

Bruce
(a disciple of Jesus Christ - Victoria Australia)

Anonymous said...

Bruce:
You're yet another of those fundamentalist preacher rampaging all over. Like those who came before you in the 2000 years of Christianity, you explained nothing. Go ahead, bury your head in an ancient book, live the life of a self-righteous Jesus freak, worship bottomless faith. Your kind have contributed nothing to understanding the natural world, nor to a healthy society. Except endless religious wars and destroying the minds of millions. Go back to your church and try not to come out again to poison everything.

Warren said...

Thanks to those of you that had nice words to say about my "Affirmation". It's good to hear that I am not alone. Bruce, I am honestly glad that you have a belief that sustains you, even though I don't share your beliefs (neither in God nor in the role of critical rational thought). It is my wish that everyone find a path that brings them hope and peace. I do not need for us all to be on the same path - indeed, I think it is impossible for us to be. I resent those who want to steer me onto their path because it is the "only true way", and so I certainly do not want to do that to you. If my experience resonates with others, if they can take some wisdom or solace from it, then I am pleased. If not, then that is fine too. I think a little more tolerance would go a long way in our world today. Apparently, and unfortunately, it is abundantly evident that not everyone agrees.

Anonymous said...

Good Afternoon Warren,

Just a clarification of your responce. Your words "critical rational thought" don't seem to jell correctly. Were you saying that I was critical of rational thought or that my rational thoughts were critical?

If the first then the previous responder was even less rational if the latter then you are correct in that I am concerned over the modern propensity to turn science into a religion.

A thought for you - you may even want to write an entry about it. Science is a tool for discovery - where does ethics come from to wisely use that tool? It would be interesting to see how you perceive ethics in science and on what ethics would be based.

For Anonymus (Excuse the following comments Warren)
Just some comments on your comments.
"You're yet another of those fundamentalist preacher rampaging all over." Most people who know me, (most of whom are not christians) dont't consider me rampaging all over or a preacher for that matter. I am most certainly not the gentlest person, though Jesus is working on me to become so.

"Like those who came before you in the 2000 years of Christianity, you explained nothing." In what way and in what areas have christians not explained anything. If you knew your history, the christian reformation of Europe lead to the rise of printing, universities, hospitals and social welfare and science.

"Go ahead, bury your head in an ancient book, live the life of a self-righteous Jesus freak, worship bottomless faith." I am sorry to say that self-righteousness is the bane of christian living and takes you far from Jesus Christ. If all you have met are those who are self-righteous then you have never met any representatives of Jesus Christ. That ancient book you seem to dislike has over the years given me much incentive to try to understand the natural world around me.

"Your kind have contributed nothing to understanding the natural world, nor to a healthy society." This is an interesting comment, again I don't think you have ever studied any social history as it is christians who have created the original institutions that cared for elderly, sick, homeless and unemployed.

"Except endless religious wars and destroying the minds of millions." Again an interesting comment - Nazism (from which WWII arose - If I understand the figures correctly, more people died in that 5-6 year period than in many decades of war from previous centuries) came out of a particular "scientific" method and philosophy. Communism arose out of particular "scientific" principles. The atomic bomb arose in part to the "logical thinking" of particular scientists of the 20th century.

"Go back to your church and try not to come out again to poison everything." In truth, unethical and unscrupulous people whose focus is on power and wealth are the ones that have poisoned this world and the societies in it. As a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ, I have a responsibility to make a difference for the better. Am I perfect - No. In this life I have already made many many mistakes and i expect to make more as my years go on. However, if in the end, my life has made even one other person's life more bearable and hopeful then my King will have received great praise. May the hurts in your life be healed and may you know and live life to the fullness that it is meant to be lived.

regards

Bruce
(a disciple of Jesus Christ - Victoria Australia)

R3 said...

I'm religious, Catholic, but I found myself thinking more and more like Warren.
Oh God... (God?)

Warren said...

Bruce: By critical rational thought I meant using rational thought as the criterion for decision making, as opposed to using the criteria of emotional appeal or dogmatic traditions, say. I don't accept that scientific criteria such as Occam's razor or the Copernican principle cannot or should not be applied to the question of God, which I understood you to say. And please, no apology needed for addressing invective against you.

Michael said...

Bruce

I believe ethics has very strong scientific roots in the evolutionary development of empathy and social cooperation. I am not very "plugged in" to the scientific community so to speak. But I assumed that this would be the standard non-religious interpretation of human ethics?

Also I am a bit puzzled by your argument about a lack of "testable hypothesis" for science to describe events of immeasurable time spans (I apologize if I am misinterpretting you but I believe this is what you were saying?). Does this imply anything more than the fact that since science may have no explanation that we ought adopt a Christian one?

I agree with you on most of your logical statements but given the fact that you are speaking on a scientific forum where faith based arguments will not touch the hearts of most readers, I think your argument misses the crucial issue of what reason we have to believe in a Christian God. Mind you, we are all people who make a living out of our ability to reach conclusions based on rational thought. You seem to have many arguments as to how rational thought will never disprove His existence. But many people fall from grace because they stop seeing a reason to believe. What's yours?

Anonymous said...

Good Evening Warren,

Thanks you for the clarification.

In relation to Occam's Razor , one thing that has puzzled me over many years, is that Occam's Razor seems to be given lip service in some endeavours in science but in the development of ideas is completely ignored. One such area is the increasing complexity of astrophysics. it reminds me of the increasing complexity of the epicyclic universe that ended being replaced by a much simpler model.

The Copernican Principle has its place but to apply too broadly misses a fundemental problem we face. This problem relates to the direct measurement of the physical characteristics in remote regions, whether on Earth or in space. An example, if you have never experienced a desert because you have always lived in jungle, you can't even comprehend it.

Both of the above have their place and ignoring each of them has it place as well.

In relation to your comments Michael, testable means just that, events that are one off or have happened long in the past which we can no longer directly observe, by their very nature cannot be tested. From everything I was taught at school and then university (science and electrical engineering) testing directly requires repeatable behaviour and or results. We as humans have enough difficulty with short timeframes of years, decades and centuries, let alone much longer ones.

I suppose one of the things I have observed historically (not scientifically) is that when a civilisation changes the basis of it technology, many of the results that were previously obtained using a different technological base become mythic and unbelievable. On the basis of ones current technology, if it is not possible in on that basis its not possible at all. Most people take as it as a given that the modern world is more advanced than peoples of previous centuries and millenia. The question becomes - Why? Can we build the structures of previous times? We don't even know how they built them. We have many ideas, but factual evidence? So then how can we say (as a part of "science") that we know how things came to be in the physical world around us.

The methodology of science is a wonderful tool for discovery, but as I implied in an earlier comment, it shouldn't be the basis of your "religion". There are many things that science cannot measure or investigate. You can't put good under a microscope, nor can you put evil there. You can't measure love or hate. These are things that are based in something other than the natural world (even though there are those who would try and dispute this). So if simple things like these exist and can't be measured by science then it is just as possible for God to exist and not be measurable.

I am alive because of miracles by Jesus Christ. I believe and live by them. Can I prove to you in a repeatable testable scientific way that these have happened and still happen? No, I can't. Do I live by them and expect them to happen? Yes I do. Do I then throw science out the the door? No, because it has its place as do many other things.

Making the distinction between philosophy (under which all religions, faiths,political beliefs, etc fall) and science (a methodology) is very important to being able to make real progress.

Ethics comes out of philosophy (beliefs) and should be a driver not a follower of science.

Your beliefs are the result of a lot of factors but is ultimately your choice (if you take it). Can all your beliefs stand up to the methods of science? Only you can answer that for yourself.

regards to all and for those with a long weekend ahead enjoy it well.

Bruce
(a disciple of Jesus Christ - Victoria Australia)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it is the postulations of the String Universe physicist Paul Davies? It brings to thought the situation with the Platypus that silly Australian critter with the duck bill and the mamamillion body and it lays egss" the academy of sciences that enlightented group declared it an impossibility and accused the man who brought in the pelt of sewing it together! Where there are so many egos gathered there is very room for intelligence?