Why I Just Couldn’t Be An Atheist, Even If I Wanted To

Why I Just Couldn’t Be An Atheist, Even If I Wanted To October 9, 2014

couldntbeanatheist

I love my atheist friends, but I just couldn’t be one– even if I wanted to.

At least once a year I head up to Mount Desert Island, Maine, to spend time with one of my best friends, Terry Firma, who writes for Friendly Atheist here at Patheos. Regardless of what’s going on in our individual lives, somehow our conversations always have a way of drifting back to the different way we see the world– one through the eyes of a theist, and one through the eyes of an atheist. While our cherished conversations will often span the gamut of philosophical topics over midnight cappuccinos, one of my favorites has been when we engage in mutual self reflection in an attempt to understand how and why we arrived at such different ways of viewing things (and how and why we’ve been able to become such good friends over the years in spite of that.)

Ironically, we sure do share a lot in common– we share the same frustrations with Christian expressions that don’t reflect love, share many compatible political views, both built families via international adoption, and a host of other commonalities which have certainly been the foundation of our close friendship these last seven years.

Where we diverge however, is on the question of God… I believe one exists, and he believes one does not.

The questions we’ve asked each other have resulted in a lot of inner reflection for myself as to why I believe that God exists. While there are some ancillary reasons as to why I believe in God, over the years I’ve tried to trim those down to the foundation in order to discover for myself the real reason, the primary reason, upon which all of my other beliefs stand.

What I’ve discovered about myself in that process was surprising. Turns out, the primary reason why I believe God exists wasn’t because the Bible tells me so, and it wasn’t because of life experiences.

The foundational reason I discovered for my belief in God was quite simple, really.

I believe in God because of what I see in the evening sky.

Growing up in the foothills of Maine on a dairy farm, we lived far beyond light pollution, and the evening sky captivated me from a young age. As I’ve traveled the world– from the Mayan ruins in the Guatemalan jungle to the islands of the South Pacific– that same evening sky has always filled me with awe and wonder as I gaze at the vastness of the heavenly bodies.

And, when I look up at all that twinkles back at me as I stand on this pale blue dot in the universe, something in my being screams out, “You are not an accident. What you see, did not come about by accident.

You see, when looking at the universe, the atheist and theist face the same dilemma of two choices: either matter spontaneously came to exist (nothing created something) or, something has eternally existed (either God or matter itself). These are simple options, yet deeply complex at the same time. For me, I am just unable to believe that at some point nothing existed and at a later point everything existed– without a creator who caused things to come to exist at a starting point.

All things considered, I think the fundamental difference between a theist and an atheist, is that we look at the evening sky and just see something different.

For me, the option that nothing existed (no matter) then everything existed (all matter) without there being a creator to cause it all into existence, makes as little sense to me as a God belief makes to them. That leaves me with the option that something must have eternally existed (matter or God), and when it comes to that option, believing a creator eternally existed just seems to make more sense (though both options are bit mind boggling.)

This big, beautiful universe must have come from somewhere. It’s all too complex, too beautiful, to purposeful, to have all been a self-creating cosmic accident.

Without a belief in God, I just personally can’t make heads or tails of it all.

A case in point, and what prompted me thinking about this today was a story that came in my newsfeed regarding some photos taken by the Hubble Telescope. A few years back, the telescope pointed itself on a dark area of the sky that appeared to have nothing, as seen in the image, here:

LaiAt1t

After taking an image over the course of several months (a really long exposure), here’s what it saw from this seemingly empty part of the evening sky:

IuZ79ZSSo, in an empty part of the sky where nothing appeared to be, there’s really up to 1 trillion stars and 10,000 galaxies… representing just a sliver of what must exist beyond our own line of sight.

Images like this simply remind me that the universe is beyond anything my mind can comprehend. It’s so big, so unfathomable, so amazing, that I’m just not able to bring myself to believe that it spontaneously came to exist all on it’s own– out of nothing.

In my mind this all had to have come from somewhere, it must have come to exist at a certain point in time, and the only way I’m able to understand that is to believe in someone who could have been the cause behind it all.

And so, the reason why I couldn’t be an atheist even if I wanted to, isn’t all that religious-y at all. It’s not even a complex philosophical opinion.

It’s just the simple fact that I look up at the sky at night and I see something that screams “created” back at me.

I get that many of us look up there and see something different, but this is what I see.

And a simple answer or not, this is perhaps the foundational reason why I believe in God.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Exactly! I always tell my kids from the inception of my new journey away from fundamentalism, I see God in the sky and as much as I’d like to just say, “forget it” I look up and see a creator. I can see nothing else.

  • Adam

    I’m in the process of grieving the death of my brother, so I know that right now I’m not really in the right frame of mind when it comes to God or belief or anything. A friend of mine gave me C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed, and there’s one part that keeps going around and around in my mind. He says this:

    “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.'”

    Not only am I struggling with the same thing, but I’m a pastor. Which means I have the pressure of coming out of this incredible dark time in my life with my faith intact, because I have hundreds of eyes looking at me and if I can’t reconcile tragedy and God, and I struggle with belief, and I’m a PASTOR for goodness sake, how in the world can they have hope in their lives when they go through similar circumstances.

    Sorry for bleeding a little here. Just thought I would share my thoughts.

  • Wow, Adam. So sorry about your brother. This must be a really hard chapter for you. I’ll be praying for you and hope that you’ll find a path forward through this chapter.

    Peace,
    Ben

  • Junius Stone

    Good stuff, sir. Not my only reason, but certainly the mystery and glory of the heavens are a key part of my own connection with the Divine.

  • Mike Hitchcock

    This is a lovely and moving article, but the argument is for a deist rather than a theist creator. As an atheist, I also struggle with the idea that that all this comes from nothing, but to make the leap from the idea of some kind of creative intelligence – which I think , if it exists, will forever be beyond us – to the psychopathic bully of the Old and New Testaments and the Qur’an is completely beyond me.

  • $120619225

    But none of that is a reason to believe in the God you believe in. Essentially what you’re saying is that you believe that an effect (the universe) had a cause. That seems like commonsense to most people (me included), although there’s an argument that’s quite beyond me as to why that’s not so in the case of the universe. But even granted that existence itself argues for a creator, that’s not a reason to believe in Christianity however you want to define it.

    Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that There Is Something Going On, but I could never believe that the Something bears any resemblance to any given religion at all.

  • Thanks. This piece wasn’t designed to be an argument for Christianity, was just giving the most basic reason why I believe that God exists.

  • mikeatle

    I agree. The terribly crippled god of the bible and koran is feeble compared to the intelligence necessary to create such a wondrous universe. Of course, we are still learning, as the pictures from Hubble suggest. Who knows what we will learn if we can keep from killing ourselves in the name of that puny god.

  • Jim High

    Benjamin, have you ever made any water? I haven’t either, but I know that H2O put together creates water. No God needed or required. Now expand this to the whole of the universe and try to understand it as a process like making water. Personally I consider the theory of the Big Bang to just be man’s current theory of the beginning universe and that we will know more later. i.e. I don’t think the universe was created from nothing in a Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. Maybe the universe itself is infinite and eternal. I can’t understand that concept any better, something with no beginning or ending, and no edges. But the concept of the gods and now a God was dreamed up by ancient men who knew nothing about Life, our World or the Universe. So I can’t stay with that old out-of-date theory either.

  • Psycho Gecko

    This is little better than someone trying to prove a god by saying “Just look at a tree!”

    Except we know where trees come from. We know how stars are formed and how they die off. There is no point in the universe where we suspend the laws of physics and go “and now God makes something happen.” Everything we’ve ever found about the universe has had a natural explanation. As someone else has commented, this could still theoretically point to the idea of a Deist deity…but what reason do you have to believe in one?

    If you are making some choice to believe in a deity, then why? What evidence do you have to believe a deity exists? Why should someone looking at the stars see your deity instead of no deity or instead of an entirely different deity?

    Without some sort of evidence, you’re just staring up at the rest of the universe. Yes, it’s wonderful, huge, and awe-inspiring. It’s a thousand times more wonderful than being holes in a covering over earth or than if you had to ignore all stars more than 6000 light years away. But a sense of wonder isn’t proof, especially with how often it can be felt by others who don’t take it to mean your god exists.

  • $122284574

    If the only think keeping you a theist is a natural awe and wonder, you’d probably do well as a scientific pantheist.

    “Pantheist Statement of Principles, which embodies the following basic principles: Reverence, awe, wonder and a feeling of belonging to Nature and the wider Universe…” pantheism.net

    If you need magi‧cal fairy tales, you’re probably good staying where you are.

  • Sondra Carr

    He’s not trying to prove anything here. He’s simply stating his belief. Which is perfectly fine.

    My mind is able to think “I don’t know” about this subject and be fine with it. Some others aren’t able to think that or they can’t fathom without the answer. These aren’t better and worse options – they are personal mythology. And frankly, I think that as long as they are just being offered as such, they should be respected.

    Benjamin, as an agnostic with about half and half religious and non-religious friends, who all LOVE your blog, I want to tell you that I really appreciate the way you speak about your beliefs and how you represent believers. I’d been saying for quite a while that the Christians I saw in the media didn’t match the Christians I knew in real life and you and now others are beginning to change that.

    Those of us freethinkers who are also speaking out and not represented by the more verbal and jerky components of our numbers get what you’re doing and applaud you. And there’s nothing at all wrong with sharing your personal beliefs because you’ve made it very clear that you’re not about to institute any laws making it impossible for those of us with differing ways of seeing the world to live freely, nor are you engaged in a battle to change our minds in a condescending way and really, that’s all we (or anyone) should be expecting of others.

    Thank you!

  • HappyCat

    Foundational reasons are always the most basic and at times the most personal. Once I was able to shrug off the most painful parts of fundamentalism, I was able to relax and revel in my faith, because I was no longer obligated to persuade anybody of it.

  • Yes, hydrogen and oxygen create water, but they aren’t “nothing”, they are preexisting elements that came to be by some cause. If you keep asking, “but where did that come from?” both sides ultimately reach hard questions about the existence of matter itself.

  • Daniel Mote

    Wonder is most definitely not proof, but it does help explain why he believes in a god. Also, are you the same Psycho Gecko from Worm and Legion of Nothing?

  • Thanks, Sondra– that makes my day.

  • I feel like the main reason I believe right now is habit. I think “yes there’s a God” is about as logically feasible as “no there isn’t.” How we can know this being and whether past teaching I’ve received is appropriate is another question.

    My husband is a professional astronomer by the way. I find that in general, whatever they believe about God, people who spend a lot of time staring at the sky tend to be imaginative and open to possibilities. It’s clear there’s so much we don’t know!

  • Paul Julian Gould

    I’ve said elsewhere and before that the ultimate difference between myself and an atheist has nothing to do with a sense of wonder or appreciation of beauty…

    Difference ultimately is that I ascribe personality, awareness and will to the Supreme Absolute whereas an atheist does not. The late Dr. Carl Sagan was one of the most spiritual people our world’s been given, was an atheist, or at least a thoughtful agnostic, and he incorporated much of his spirituality in his novels… “seems like an awful waste of space” was really one of the most simple yet profound things I’ve heard. (Spirituality… if that word doesn’t work for you, substitute what does… doesn’t mean “religion” as such, and never has.)

    I’m not ashamed or embarrassed to be a theist, but I, aside from the various signposts left throughout history, have no need any longer to label that which by definition defies description and labeling… Whether possessing personality or not, the infinite by definition cannot be adequately described by the finite.

  • Adam M

    I love your comment “The terribly crippled god of the bible and koran is feeble compared to the intelligence necessary to create such a wondrous universe.” I have felt the same way. If it wasn’t for the teachings of Jesus I would probably be some kind of a deist.

  • Paul Julian Gould

    Just as an aside, it can be made in a controlled environment, with hydrogen, oxygen and some electrodes…

  • Paul Julian Gould

    Or, perhaps a panentheist… somewhat different emphasis, but similar.

  • Paul Julian Gould

    For me, it’s not proof at all… You and I would be sensing the same wonder in such an event, and that would be the focus… Whether or not it’s ascribed to or in appreciation of a personality is really a secondary and lesser matter in the long run, isn’t it?

  • Jim High

    I guess a clearer way to say what I intended would be to say – God is a process, not a being of any kind. I look at the night sky and marvel at the on-going process of creation.

  • Timothy L. Northrup Jr.

    Three Things: 1) I fundamentally agree with you on this point, even if I have to concede that using a term like Time presupposes the existence of a universe and that somehow the Creator has to be outside of time to create time itself, which is even more mind-boggling. 2) There is also my instinct to ask Why–there is no, to put it Aristotle’s way, effective cause to the Universe if there is no Creator, and that concept is equally hard for me to imagine. 3) r there are some striking parallels to how I got to know a friend of mine from college, with his skepticism. And I similarly still love the guy.

  • Timothy L. Northrup Jr.

    Pardon me for picking on this point with you, Mike, because I see your point. However, there isn’t much of a difference between an Theist and a Deist God other than his involvement in the universe post-creation. In some weird ways the Judeic-Christian-Islamic view of God is both Deist and Pantheist, (God is both aloof creator and present everywhere in everything) and I think that colors our view of Theism, but all Theism requires is a God who actively creates and then stays attentive and active. If anything, that makes Ben’s vision here seem more Theist than Deist to me.

  • Gary Taft

    Being raised as a fundamentalist, I was taught to believe in the Judeo- Christian god.

    At 52 years of age, I still believe in “God” as it were, but I continually struggle in believing that said “God” is …….a loving god. As a kid, it was easy to believe that God was loving. As an adult, not so much. As an adult, I am not ignorant of human suffering and horrific violence in the world, past or present. It is hard for me to believe that God is actually loving. It is hard for me to believe that all of this is for a purpose. And if it is, couldn’t an omniscient God come up with a better plan… if there even is a “plan”.

    In March 2013, I learned that love is deceiving as I buried my 21 year old son through sudden death. No warning. While we all want to believe that love is a many splendored thing, there is a very dark side to love. So much so, that I now give pause to ever loving someone again. Contrary to what many say, loving someone is not worth the risk of such loss and pain. The pain of loss far outweighs any good times that were had.

    So I believe in God. I believe in God for the same reason as Ben does. I look up at the sky. As far as a loving God, just not feeling it anymore. I dont like the way this world is set up. With all due respect, I think a loving God could do better.

    Perhaps God is loving. Perhaps God just turns the other way, or maybe God simply is not as powerful as we think God is

  • I grew up in the church, but struggled to find my place after moving away from home. I continued wrestle with questions about God and religion into my 30’s, until my husband and I adopted our son. Now, when I look at him and think of the path that brought us together, I no longer question God’s existence. It guess my son is my version of the night sky. One of my oldest and best friends walked away from the church and is now an atheist. While we don’t have the same belief set, we are still best friends and are able to respect and love each other. http://www.mypostadoptionlife.blogspot.com

  • And for additional clarity– this is just my most primitive reason. There are obviously more reasons, and some precise reasons why I’m a Christian, but in this piece I just wanted to convey the most primitive thing in my heart that draws me toward belief in a creator.

  • Melissa Davis

    You’re pretty much just one gap away from jumping on the agnostic train and choo-choo’ing the hell away from believertown.

    Good luck with your journey. I’m glad you and your friend have remained close. :)

  • Mike Hitchcock

    “However, there isn’t much of a difference between an Theist and a Deist God other than his involvement in the universe post-creation.” You are more than welcome to pick on this point, Timothy! It seems to me , though, that it is a vast and important difference, not just theologically but in the effect it has on those who believe. Can you imagine a world where people either accepted or didn’t a deist entity, but had no opinion on (her??) character? No doctrinal differences? No religion? Or at least, only one religion? Where we could all draw from the great teachers without killing others who preferred their lessons from elsewhere?

    You may say I’m a dreamer….

  • Mike Hitchcock

    I wish, Benjamin, that voices like yours were the ones most often heard from Christians. Sadly, the loud-mouthed bigots, who seem to me the furthest from Christ’s message, are the ones so often heard spewing hate and intolerance at the tops of their voices. Kudos, bro – please keep writing.

  • jeffstraka

    “Without a belief in God, I just personally can’t make heads or tails of it all.” // Read Lawrence Krauss’ “A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing”. Really. Get outside the Christian bubble and read some science.

  • Terry Firma

    It’s a very good follow-up question though, isn’t it? I would even say it’s an inevitable one. You’ve explained why you’re a deist, but not why you’re a Christian. The ready answer, as far as I can tell, is that you were born in a culture that’s steeped in Christianity, so you became a Christian more or less by default. There’s a likelihood bordering on certainty that if you’d been born in Islamabad, you’d be a Muslim; if you’d been born in Jaipur, you’d be a Hindu, and so on. To me, this drives home the folly of organized religion, all of whose followers believe that their god(s) and saints are the ones who are really, really real, and that the folks from the other tribes got it wrong.

  • Terry Firma

    I understand, but if God gave us brains, I think we have to pull away from the “primitive,” and make more sophisticated arguments.

  • tmalatesta

    The argument, that “‘Something’ cannot exist without having been created by a God who exists without ever having been created,” has never been an argument that held any meaning for me.

  • Taylor Weaver

    Krauss doesn’t really explain “nothing”. He equivocates his terms, which is, obviously, a fallacy. What he means by “nothing” is not the “not anything” or “absence of existence” that others believe calls for an explanation. Really, Krauss needs to get out of his own bubble and read some philosophy! The subject is much more difficult, philosophically, than guys like him want others to think. And, the fact that Krauss, Hawking, Tyson, et al. debase philosophy so often just reinforces an image of ignorance, not sober, reflective thought.

  • gimpi1

    I can understand both yours and Terry’s position (created vs random). However, it’s the leap from created to Christian that I’m struggling with. The Deist notion of a creator who starts the ball rolling and then just lets things unfold is quite different from the Christian concept of God. How did you get there from here?

  • gimpi1

    “And there’s nothing at all wrong with sharing your personal beliefs because you’ve made it very clear that you’re not about to institute any laws making it impossible for those of us with differing ways of seeing the world to live freely, nor are you engaged in a battle to change our minds in a condescending way and really, that’s all we (or anyone) should be expecting of others.”

    Well said, Sondra. And yes, Ben, that’s what I enjoy about your blog. The chance to discuss belief or lack thereof without being lectured, condescended to or pressured is welcome relief for those still searching.

  • gimpi1

    My husband is a geologist, and I can say that folks who spend a lot of time staring at rocks are also imaginative and open to possibilities. Perhaps it’s the process of staring, not what is stared at that does the trick :-)

  • gimpi1

    When my mother passed on, my grandmother said, “The hardest thing I can imagine having to do is bury your child.” I wish you healing.

  • Hi Gimpi– I’ve been planning on writing about that. For me, it was the resurrection of Jesus– I started at the biggest claim and worked backwards. Once I came to accept the resurrection as a historical reality the other stuff just all fell into place for me. There’s a great book called the Case for the Resurrection if you’re interested investigating deeper.

  • I don’t disagree… just starting at the beginning with this post though.

  • Psycho Gecko

    You might also look more into Terry’s position. People often use the term “random” when talking about things occurring naturally, but that’s usually not the case in the sense that they’re using the term. I’m not entirely sure what you’re considering random, though.

    Then again, part of the problem is that for the scientific view, you have to read up on the Big Bang, abiogenesis, and evolution, whereas Christians just have the Book of Genesis.

    Not quite as easy to keep up with when the Bible is the less verbose option.

  • Psycho Gecko

    Hey, I admitted I was wrong that time about the crucifixion thing. Now welcome to the comments section, Daniel Mote. Though I don’t think they’d care for one of my usual famous welcomes here, and I don’t actually follow this one so much. Usually when I look in on the Progressive Christian channel, it’s for John Shore and/or Unfundamentalist Christians. This post had a provocative title, though.

  • gimpi1

    Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll pick it up. Who’s the author? Bear in mind, though, I’m a hard person to impress. My father “rose from the dead” after traumatic brain injury. He was DOA,toe-tagged and in the morgue when an attendant noticed him moving. He apparently “came back” spontaneously. There never was a good medical explanation for what happened. He lived another 47 years.

  • Psycho Gecko

    I think part of the problem is that we’ve heard this before from people who use it as the end or as the whole argument. We’re a bit cynical toward this particular argument.

  • Where you’re born and raised is definitely the big factor in why you become something, but for me, the bigger question is why did I choose to remain a Christian once I was old enough to decide to reject it? For me, as we’ve talked about before, the resurrection of Christ is probably the biggest factor.

  • gimpi1

    I’m moderately informed on biologic and stellar evolution, better on deep time and planetary evolution, mostly by osmoses. My husband’s a geologist. One of my favorite books that he guided me to is “Annals of the Former World” by John McPhee. Its accessibility to the non-scientist made it much easier for me to get my head around these concepts.

    Do you know of any good, accessible books on stellar evolution and abiogenesis?

  • Psycho Gecko

    So if you were born in Greece, you’d be a Dionysian, and if you were born in Egypt, you’d be an Osirian.

  • “whereas Christians just have the Book of Genesis.”

    That’s an uniformed stereotype. You’re assuming that all Christians have a fundamentalist approach to understanding the creation poem.

  • Psycho Gecko

    Seeing as John 1 doesn’t go into a whole lot of specifics, Genesis is the part of the bible concerned with the origins of the universe, Earth, and life. Is there another section in the Bible which discusses that topic in any sort of depth enough that you’d describe it as not fundamentalist?

  • Gen 1 wasn’t written as a science text book. We have actual science text books that do that, and even Christians read them.

  • It’s by Lee Stroble. You may or may not connect with it, but it was a book I valued and would be worth reading and exploring.

  • Or in other places, a Psycho Gecko.

  • That’s fair. I wasn’t intending to give irrefutable proof in 900 words, just wanted to tell my own personal feelings as to why I’m drawn to be a theist.

  • Psycho Gecko

    True, but the only ones that assert the claim that a deity exists and created the universe are the ones based on the assumption that Genesis 1 was written as a science textbook.

  • Jeff Preuss

    Not the only ones. One can believe that God created the universe, and believe that Genesis is a metaphor and a parable to explain that creation, rather than a literal scientific explanation.

    I believe God exists and created the universe, but I also believe in evolution.

  • Robert

    Amen. Good article.
    The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands. – Psalm 19:1 HCSB

  • Psycho Gecko
  • I’m with Jeff. So, looks like you’ve now met two.

    I’m surprised you didn’t notice in February the amount of blog postings around the internet in the lead up to the Ken Ham debate.. most of the stuff I was reading were from folks like us– believe in a creator God, but don’t believe Genesis was a science book.

  • Psycho Gecko

    I was referring to textbooks, actually. Most of our side of things was more about people who didn’t like the idea of a debate in the first place. As far as science is concerned, there isn’t a debate to be had.

    That, and I think they were worried that debating techniques like the Gish Gallop would make Nye look bad and lead to some people thinking Ham had a point. I believe references were made to Christopher Hitchens vs. William Lane Craig. And others who were more worried about it being a giant fundraiser for that Ark theme park AiG is building.

    Most Christians I’ve encountered are more along the lines of Ken Ham/the Evangelical channel when it comes to taking things literally from the bible. I even saw a Southern high school class get taught about evolution once. The teacher passed out this little comic book, like a volume of Garfield to give you an idea of its appearance, and said they needed to read that over the course of the week.

    No tests, no assignments, no homework, no telling students not to sit around chatting with their friends instead of reading. Not even technically a violation of any amendments.

  • WilmRoget

    “are the ones based on the assumption that Genesis 1 was written as a science textbook.”

    No. Bear in mind, historically, the literalistic approach to Genesis 1 is a relative recent invention, more a response to evolutionary theory than anything else. For most of Christian history, the creation account was seen as metaphor and mystical, not literal.

    But don’t let that get in the way of your prejudice.

    One of the huge mistakes that atheists on line make, day in and day out, is that of defining all Christians and all of Christianity by what they see while channel surfing past tel-evangelists. Defining Christianity by modern American fundamentalist/evangelical tv clergy is like defining all people of color by O.J. Simpson.

  • WilmRoget

    The argument ‘that doesn’t hold any meaning for me’ stopped doing anything for me when homophobes started using it to justify homophobia.

  • Psycho Gecko

    If that were true, then I’d have expected there to be no objections to Charles Darwin when he published his theory on evolution. Just like there would have been no objections to disproving geocentrism.

    It appears that the reason the formal concept of Biblical literalism is so recent is more because the idea that the Bible may not be literal is so recent. They didn’t have to defend the notion that the Bible was something to take literally back before people started showing how parts of it were scientifically impossible.

    It’s like how fish wouldn’t necessarily know the concept of “wet” because they have no idea what “dry” is, for the most part.

  • WilmRoget

    “If that were true, then I’d have expected”

    Sorry, but your expectations do not define historical reality.

    “It appears that the reason the formal concept of Biblical literalism is so recent is more because the idea that the Bible may not be literal is so recent.”

    Appearance and reality are clearly two different things in this case. Christian thought on the matter is far more nuanced, varied and complicated than you either know, or are willing to acknowledge.

  • jeffstraka

    Krauss is a scientist, and his area – physics – is actually a category under the umbrella of philosophy. So, even if HE (and Hawking and Tyson) don’t see it, that’s how most see it. So he, and other scientists are INFORMING the philosophical discussion. Now, just because YOU don’t agree with the need to redefine what we think “nothing” is, doesn’t mean the science is wrong. Our language is obviously limiting. http://www.richardcarrier.info/philosophy.html

  • Taylor Weaver

    It isn’t “redefinition”. It is equivocation, and thus Krauss, and others who equivocate, are thereby changing the discussion. They question regarding the concept of “nothing” is not answered, because what is discussed is “some thing”. And, yes, as is quite obvious, those who denigrate philosophy are engaging in it, which makes them look even more silly. Either way, Krauss takes more steps back than he does forward for the question of “Why there is something rather than nothing?” Though, if you have some sort of enlightenment regarding the subject then I entreat you to expose the valid “informing” that Krauss does in regards to the question. As long as it doesn’t involve side-stepping through changing the concept that we are trying to understand (that is “nothing” as meaning “not anything”, or the “absence of that which exists”).

  • Jeff Preuss

    Oh, I don’t deny those people exist, as I’ve butted heads with them myself. I grew up South-adjacent. :)

  • tmalatesta

    Okay. You lost me here. What are you even talking about?

  • Psycho Gecko

    And yet the bible said otherwise, so Christians didn’t exactly leap to support those views I mentioned up there. In this revised concept of history you believe in, I suppose the Scopes trial never occurred and Galileo was never persecuted for his anti-geocentrist heresy?

  • Thanks for the thoughtful discussion. I grew up with the fundamentalist image of God as the Man in the Sky. I long ago outgrew the idea of an anthropomorphic deity concerned with my personal life along with most of the rest of what I was taught as “THE TRUTH.” It seems to me all religions represent imperfect attempts to understand what I like to call “The Mystery” that underlies the cosmos and, on a much smaller scale, human existence. What if God, rather than being an entity distinct from the cosmos which manages creation, etc., is the process that shapes the cosmos? Or is the cosmos itself? What if God is actually evolution?

    I sometimes describe myself as an agnostic gnostic. I doubt that human beings can ever fully grasp what by definition is greater than ourselves. Hence it makes little sense to me to say that God is this or that. At the same time I very much believe that the sense of the sacred that I experience when looking up at the night sky, visiting a gothic cathedral, watching my cats play, being with someone I love, etc. is very real. My favorite definition of God comes from a wonderful book by Michael Eigen entitled “The Mystical Psychoanalyst:” ““God may be a name for the infinite unknowable, which is a name for whatever God is a name for, which is unnameable.”

  • Lisa Martinez

    Gary, I buried my 14 mo son 12 years ago. He was backed over twice by someone driving our van when I couldn’t find him. I understand. I don’t have time to write much right now but if you ever do need to talk to someone who is going through/has been through this, you can let me know. I know there’s a difference in the ages, but the anger… The anger is the same. But I believe He loves and is love. And this after wrestling…still wrestling. And my sons name was Benjamin.

  • Woah, Mr. Corey posted an essay about atheists thirteen hours ago and it’s taken me this long to make a comment. Sorry, sorry, I’m here now. Been a very long week, very busy, many important things to do.

    Also I just got my first Xbox. Guys…so much movement and colour. Anyway….

    I know, first off, that you’re not making an argument for being a Christian, but for not being an atheist. But likewise I could do the exact same thing and make an equal argument for not being a Christian. Where you look up into the sky and say ‘It’s so big, there must be a creator behind it,’ I look up and say ‘We’re so small, there’s no way whatever’s behind it inspired a piece of literature that mandates how and when we can eat shellfish.’ Or any other part of the Bible for that matter. When I look up into the heavens, I realise that I do not matter to the universe or whatever cosmic forces are behind it. At all. And there is nothing in the Bible that seems significant next to the night sky because it was written by a very small and insignificant part of the universe.

    Likewise, I can look up into the night sky and think of all my ancestors who did the same and all the thousands of competing explanations that they came up with, none of which have ever shown any evidence of being valid except those which followed the scientific method. But you and Terry touched on that below, so I’ll just leave that as an affirmation that I agree with him.

    And as a final note, I don’t believe the universe was an ‘accident’ either. I believe it’s the result of cause and effect dictated by scientific laws that have been proven to be valid. As to what the original Cause was, the spark of the universe per se, I don’t know. And I’m okay with not knowing.

  • Th

    Perhaps the Earth’s interior and your husband’s interior meet in a numinous shared space, a real space that has coagulated into seemingly separate exteriors: your husband’s body and the rocks’ bodies.

    And perhaps God is imaginative and open to possibilities as well. :)

  • Dorfl

    I won’t try to convert you, but I kind of want to explain how I, as a physicist, think about this.

    The human brain seems to be wired to think in terms of time flowing from past to future, with causes in the past having effects in the future that in turn cause effects further on in the future. The problem is that that picture is really only an approximation that happens to be useful on a roughly human-sized scale.

    First of all, time doesn’t actually flow from past to future, any more than space ‘flows’ from left to right. Space-time is a huge four-dimensional volume, containing everything you’d think of as ‘past’, ‘present’ or ‘future’. Your childhood is there, filling up some volume of space-time. You writing the post above fills up a smaller volume. Your old age* fills up yet another volume. There is no special part of space-time called ‘now’. ‘Now’ is just a convenient shorthand for “places with a time-coordinate close to that of this statement”, just like ‘here’.

    Space-time may or may not be bounded. It may have finite extent along the spatial axes, in which case we’d say that it has a finite size. It may have a finite extent along the temporal axes, in which case we’d say that it has a finite age. The important thing here is that if it has finite temporal extent, then there is a place where time ends. There is no ‘before’ that point**. But the human brain is not really wired to deal with an absence of time. Intuitively it feels like this implies, in your words, first “nothing existed (no matter) then everything existed (all matter)”. It is very difficult to get an intuitive grasp on the fact that you cannot go back further than a certain distance in time, that you cannot refer to anything prior to the universe creating the universe.

    The second point I wanted to make is that the division of things that happen into ’causes’ and ‘effects’ is not a fundamental property of how reality works. It’s an approximate way of describing things that happens to work as long as you’re fairly close to the Big Bang, but that gradually ceases to work the further away you get. Very much like it’s useful to talk about ‘up’ and ‘down’ here, but those terms get less meaningful the further away from the Earth you get. So talking about anything causing the universe is very probably not meaningful. Again though, it feels like it should be meaningful, because our brains have only evolved to have an intuitive understanding of how things work at this place in space-time, on a human-sized scale.

    * Uh, unless you get hit by a truck, I guess. For reasons involving statistical mechanics, it’s a lot easier to extrapolate what things are like in the direction we call ‘past’ than the direction we call ‘future’.

    ** Well, ish. I’m side-stepping the question of whether points in space-time form an open or a closed set.

  • Ron McPherson

    I’m so sorry for your loss.

  • gimpi1

    Thanks. I will read it. That’s the only way of knowing if it will speak to me. I appreciate your patience.

    I’m skeptical, but not passionate about that skepticism, if that makes sense. I want to believe there’s more than the physical universe, but, because I want that to be true, I distrust some of my feelings. I tend to second-guess anything that I want to believe, and have a perhaps abnormally high standard of proof.

    Perhaps I should have gone into engineering. It might take me decades to design the bridge, but it wouldn’t fall down:-)

  • javaholic

    Loved reading this post. As far as reasons for belief go, this one, “the splendor and beauty of the vast universe,” is about the best one out there, as it does not require adherence to dogmatic, rigid doctrine that often disenfranchises and denigrates people and beliefs the authors of said doctrine don’t like. Though it does lean more toward the deist than the Christian avenue, it still remains a powerful motive for belief. I still subscribe to the scientific explanation in that the universe’s origins were entirely natural, and its beginning (if it can be said to even have had a beginning) being ’caused’ by a natural event or force. This explanation is the one best supported by available evidence, and requires no supernatural intervention. But I share Benjamin’s awe and appreciation for the immense beauty of the night sky, and, like Benjamin, feel truly privileged to be able to view it in a way our early ancestors 200,000 years ago never could.

  • Shiphrah99

    Yes! ^This, a million upvotes times this!^ WORD!

  • Shiphrah99

    Agreed. The Bible teaches us about MORALS and uses every literary tool available to do it. It is not a history book, it is not a science book. It is a book of religion and spirituality.

  • Daniel Mote

    Ha thanks for the welcome (I found Worm a little too late to get one there). As an unholy combination of engineer and Baptist, I’m always looking for articles/blogs in this vein. Thanks for pointing me to Unfundamentalist Christians, I hadn’t heard of them.

  • Thanks!

    I think our positions may be closer than you realize. If I’m hearing you correct, it doesn’t sound like you believe that nothing created something, or that something spontaneously came to be without cause, but that a force created/caused something to be, which is what I believe to. The key difference would be that I have a name that I call my force.

  • Ahah! I just got you to admit you believe in a cause. I call that cause, God. You even capitalized the word… coincidence? I think not.

    Welcome to theism, friend. Don’t know why it took you so long.

  • Sven2547

    Uh oh, you have a column with “Atheist” in the title.
    Release the hounds!

  • Psycho Gecko

    Believe it or not, I am trying to get better toward Christians. There might be some here who doubt that, but I am. After all, I wouldn’t want to be controlled by irrational prejudices. I still need to work on this odd, irrational prejudice toward Mormons, but my few dips into the Mormon channel around here just made that worse.

    It helps somewhat to move out of one’s bubble to get a sense of what other people really believe, like having to be reminded that not all creationists are Young Earth Creationists.

    Of course, that also means fewer rants of my particular humor around.

    And I’d hardly call Baptist and engineer an unholy combination, unless you specialize in patching up solid surfaces to prevent leaks.

  • Asemodeus

    “Ahah! I just got you to admit you believe in a cause. I call that cause, God.”

    Without any evidence to show for it.

  • Sorry Mr. Corey, not quite. While neither of us know with certainty what the caused the formation of the universe (if anything), you believe it was something primarily supernatural whilst I am of the opinion that the origins of the universe were entirely natural without the necessity of forces beyond the explanations of scientific law. So the Irish Atheist remains firmly an atheist.

    But if we’re going to play this game, I’ll place my bets on you becoming a writer for Patheos Atheist within five years. If I’m wrong I’ll take you and Mrs. Corey out for dinner.

  • He’s a friend of mine, I was just kidding around.

  • Well, I’ll bet that I don’t… and I’ll buy you dinner if I’m still here on one of the Christian channels. Either way, we’re getting some food.

  • Pierre

    The argument from design ignores two very important things:

    1) Have you ever compared your “designed” universe to a non-designed universe? In other words, one can’t know if something if fine tuned unless they’ve seen something that isn’t fine tuned which they can contrast it against

    2) If I were to show you 100 dice which all showed six, how would you know I hadn’t rolled the dice enough times to get every combination possible and then simply tossed out all of those in which not all 100 landed on six?

    Are you willing to critically evaluate the method through which you came to the conclusion there is a god merely based on your observations of the universe?

  • DC Rambler

    Well..I used to be envious of people like Ben that were so confident about God..I spent half of a century in a variety of churches and it just never seemed to affect me like it did everyone else…I tried..I said all the prayers, read the Bible..nothing..Now I study the Bible for the lessons and the stories as well as many other spiritual and non- spiritual forms of enlightenment. I enjoy Ben and the people who comment here and learn so much from the lively conversations. I met a wise man once who, when I asked him what faith he followed, he replied, ” Depends on the day..Someday’s I am Catholic and someday’s I am Buddhist..other days I have no religion at all.” He was my doctor…

  • Brian

    Ben, something that puzzles me is that you seem desperate to have an answer, so desperate that you are willing to make one up. Atheists look at the night sky in awe and wonder, but don’t feel the need to pretend they have the answer. They have theories based in scientific understanding and might postulate from time to time, but in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter.
    Desperation for an answer will open you up to bad beliefs. If you believe the Bible is the words of the Creator, then gay people are sinful (evil). The end of the world is coming soon (take no thought for tomorrow). Life is merely temporary, eternity is what matters most. These are bad beliefs that arise from a single misstep in believing something you can’t demonstrate to be true.

  • To start, I am an Atheist.
    On the question of creative force behind the universe, at present I can say that I don’t know because even if we have some idea of how the universe started we certainly don’t have a good idea of what came before that. It’s certainly possible and even plausible that it could have been created by a sentient entity, but I don’t think that’s necessarily proof that that entity is/was all powerful, all knowing, or even still with us. That’s not infeasible. Creations can live beyond their creator and do far more than their creator ever realized or intended. Perhaps life is a ‘bug’ not a feature.
    What I can say for sure is that the preponderance of evidence says that if there was a creative force behind the universe, it has shown zero interest, or zero capability in interacting with human beings. So I see no reason in attributing characteristics to this hypothetical entity or offering it worship. I am interested in still attempting to pierce the veil of mystery about the beginning of our universe with scientific research, and I somehow have the suspicon if we ever do find something out it’ll only lead to more questions. Not that I mind that, that’s really the great thing about existence, there’s always more to figure out.

  • Stacey (the kids’ Aunt Tasty)

    Here’s a crazy thought: What happens if we find out there’s a God, and It’s not supernatural? (Yeah, I don’t know, either, guys. Call me Virginia Woolf.)

    I like you; I keep learning from you both. Thanks a bunch for that.

  • Stacey (the kids’ Aunt Tasty)

    Please accept my condolences for your profound loss.

  • Stacey (the kids’ Aunt Tasty)

    Please accept my condolences for the profound loss of your child. My nephew died suddenly as a toddler. While I was not his mother, I still grieve with his mother.

  • Taylor Weaver

    Much like how many cannot navigate the biblical literature keeping in mind genre, so many cannot read blog posts and recognize the specific nature and purpose of a post (even when stated by the author numerous times).

  • Tie-dye One

    Jesus taught alot about how we should treat each other. I don’t see where he said that Genesis 1 was written as a science textbook.

  • thomaskp

    Yes, that’s right Jesus never said that “Genesis 1 was written as a science textbook.” In fact I’m pretty sure that the words “science” and “textbook” are not even in the bible. Way to keep us all honest. LOL

  • thomaskp

    Or maybe, just maybe “God” is whoever you perceive him (or her) to be.

    From unspeakable terror to heavenly bliss we are Him and He is us. Just something to think about.

  • Thank you for such a thoughtful discussion. It is rare to find a place where believers and non-believers can have a discussion without the usual ranting from the extremes. I long ago outgrew the idea of an anthropomorphic deity who is concerned with every detail of my life. Religion seems to me to represent the imperfect attempts by human beings to understand things that are beyond human understanding.

    But I do resonate with the sense of Something Greater that I encounter looking up at the night sky, watching a hummingbird, being with someone I love, standing awestruck in a gothic cathedral, and countless other glimpses of what I regard as the sacred. But I don’t think that has anything to do with the existence of a personal God. In my view the wonder of the cosmos doesn’t invoke a Creator as described in the Bible so much as it points to the fact of Something so much beyond my understanding that anything I or any other human being can say about it is bound to be inadequate. One of my favorite descriptions of God paradoxically defines God as that which cannot be defined: “God may be a name for the infinite unknowable, which is a name for whatever God is a name for, which is unnameable.” Michael Eigen in “The Mystical Psychoanalyst.

  • Matthew

    “If it wasn´t for the teachings of Jesus I would probably be some kind of deist.”

    I too struggle with the view of God (mainly in the Old Testament) versus the life and ministry of Jesus. My wife and I have talked some about this very topic. It´s hard to get one´s head around it, but I think what you said (and what I quoted above) is really the key.

    Maybe it´s our limited knowledge (compared to that of a superior diety) or maybe it´s our biblical interpretation that keeps us from rightly understanding — but the person and work of Jesus seems to point to something else.

    If Jesus is indeed the Son of God sent to show us the heart of the Father — then what Jesus did, what he said, and how he lived his life (coupled with the promises offered in his resurrection) becomes very good news for us. What I mean is, God the Father could have sent someone who looks and feels a lot like the kind of diety so often descibed as primitive and wrathful by so many … but he didn´t. Why? I suppose because that kind of diety isn´t who he truly is when fully understood — after all God is indeed love.

    Admittedly I still struggle with this stuff (even as a Christian). I recently discovered a book entitled “A God of Vengeance?” by Erich Zenger. I am hoping to get it for Christmas and maybe it will help me to understand all that “stuff” in the Old Testament (mainly) that is so troubling.

  • angie

    One issue with an atheist’s scientific argument is that knowing the mechanisms by which something was built does not mean that there is no builder. We would never assume that just because a robot built a tower that the tower was not designed by a human or that the robot was not built and designed by people. So why would one assume that because evolution created us that evolution was not designed by God?

  • $122284574

    The literalist approach to Genesis is as old as the Bible itself.

    Luke 17:26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man.

    Romans 5:19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

    1 Timothy 2:14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

  • $122284574

    I’d bet against you, loss aversion because of too many sunk costs will be the deciding factor.
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunk_costs#Loss_aversion_and_the_sunk_cost_fallacy

  • $122284574

    Is your thought on the Resurrection (myth) as “nuanced, varied and complicated” as your thought on the Genesis creation (myth?)

  • Rachel Hedin

    Holding you and your loss in my heart and grateful for your sharing it with us. That’s a brave and holy act. For what it’s worth, I don’t think that you could be a shepherd if you had no serious doubts. I wish more pastors would see their struggles are just as much a gift to their flock as their strengths. You can give your church a lot of hope just by needing them.
    I’ve never struggled with athiesm, but I have often wanted to be a deist, if only to avoid blaming God and raging at him for the tragedy I encountered as a nurse. He. Gets. It. Praying that you can rage and mourn right into his lap, and let yourself be loved by His kids in your flock.

  • Rachel Hedin

    Not sure if this will be helpful for anyone else, but I got to believing in a present and engaged God because I couldn’t survive as a trauma nurse without that. Tried deism many times when I was too angry and broken to get into it with a higher power but after a couple decades just got grateful for His presence.
    I think it was Kierkegaard, or maybe Nietzche who said God is a crutch? I’m okay with that, because life breaks us. Not a very scientific answer, but honest.

  • Brandon Roberts

    Really loved the article. And I have no problem with atheists either I’m just not one myself. And yes some can be jerks but every group has it’s jerks.

  • Lark62

    I don’t know what you mean by stellar evolution, but two good books on evolution are “Your Inner Fish” by Neil Shubin and “Why Evolution is True” by Jerry Coyne. Neither of these are religious, both both present facts plainly without editorializing.

  • Lark62

    Likewise, we can look at life on earth and compare the “design” of living things to what we would expect if a designer started from scratch. Our bodies make sense only if the various parts evolved and were adapted from earlier species. Otherwise, what is the explaination for vestigial legs in whales?

  • Lark62

    I’ve read through the comments and see only polite conversation.

  • Lark62

    Serious question – what is the thought process that leads you from admiring the unfathomable vastness of the universe to believing in a god who communicates only to a small iron age tribe, who tells them to rape and murder their neighbors, and who is absurdly interested in their eating habits and sex lives?

    I can understand wonder at the universe. I can’t reconcile that with the god of the bible.

  • $122284574

    Eating habits are actually economically based, and then people invent gods to help enforce what are actually quite rational economic rules. Take, for example, the Hindu’s apparent absurdity related to cows. Marvin Harris argues it is all reasonable…

    India’s Sacred Cow by Marvin Harris
    Marvin Harris suggests an answer to such puzzles. In this quite famous article, he suggests that India’s sacred cow is in fact quite a rational cultural adaptation …
    sociology101.net/readings/Indias-sacred-cow.pdf

    Of course, enforcing rational economic guidelines with irrational religious belief muddies society’s ability to modify the rules as economic conditions change.

  • $122284574

    > It is equivocation

    You keep saying that. Can you cite some examples from Krauss?

  • cipher

    You value a book by Lee Strobel? His books are written to bolster the “faith” of the already-convinced, or the want-to-be-convinced. The man couldn’t put together a coherent argument if his life depended upon it.

    I think that if you find anything Strobel says convincing, you’ve lost the right to call yourself a Progressive Christian.

  • Taylor Weaver

    Hey Will, nice to interact with you again.

    Most of my understanding of Krauss’ position comes from watching debates he has been involved in. Usually it becomes rather obvious that he is shifting around in regards to what he means by nothing (the more relevant debates in regards to this are the two he has had with William Lane Craig, which are easily accessible on youtube). But here is an interview of him with Harris. http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/everything-and-nothing

    He speaks of different orders of “nothing” here, but ultimately, even though he claims that he speaks of a “nothing” that precludes laws, he states, ” Not only can something arise from nothing, but most often the laws of physics require that to occur.” And, that “nothing is most often unstable”. And, ” because we are talking about our universe, and that doesn’t preclude our universe arising from precisely nothing, embedded in a perhaps infinite space, or infinite collection of spaces, or spaces-to-be, some of which existed before ours came into being, and some of which are only now coming into, or going out of existence. In this sense, the multiverse, as it has become known, could be eternal, which certainly addresses one nagging aspect of the issue of First Cause.” In which it becomes quite obvious that “nothing” is actually a “something” (the multiverse).

    For the most part he spends his time waffling around with the concept, but when he finally gets around to the concept of “nothing” as understood by philosophers, he mentions that the only possibilities are that it occurred through “some divine being who is not bound by the laws or they arise by some less supernatural mechanism.” (p 172 of Universe from Nothing). Of course, here a mechanism IS something. Now, I realize that this is a popular book, but come on. When you claim to advance the discussion that philosophers and theologians puzzle over by turning “nothing” into “something” (despite not quite getting that that’s what you are doing) you are ultimately wasting people’s time, and detracting from the discussion (all the while petulantly and belligerently poking fun at the discussion and the importance of the question).

    And, in the end he asserts that “what is really useful is not pondering this question.” (178). What?

    Many (not just theists, though the truth content of a critique has nothing at all to do with the metaphysical/theological presumptions of the critic) have already provided hardy critiques of Krauss. He just covers his ears and continues to clown around in philosophy, while at the same time proclaiming philosophy is useless.

  • $122284574

    Ok, thanks. It’s just to me just a philosophical quibble (although they can be lots of fun to contemplate) about what nothing/something is on the other side of the Big Bang. Today, my theory is that the supreme deity is a Whale, and that she exploded herself into the Big Bang and “created” the universe and a 70% water earth for the universes smartest creatures. ;) (And yes, whales are smarter.)
    seashepherd.org/whales/the-intelligent-whale.html

    There seems to be no effective way, as much as we try, to get away from teleology in science, whether cosmology or biology, and it may not be a bad thing, if one can de-anthrocentrify the teleology.

    Francisco Ayala “Teleological explanations in evolutionary biology.” Nature’s purposes: Analyses of Function and Design in Biology. (MIT Press, 1998)

  • $122284574

    It could be that the supreme deity is simply Bacteria, especially when one considers:
    1) pan-spermia as a possibility of the beginning of life on earth.
    2) we humans have many times more bacterial cells in our “body” than actual human-DNA’d cells, and are actually “human microbiomes,” sort of like Gaia is a macrobiome.
    3) the first ever bacteria has theoretically lived forever.

    God was in the beginning! God is in us! We live forever through God! :)

  • I don’t have any loyalty to labels, so I couldn’t care less if I’m a good progressive or not.

  • Lark62

    I understand how leaders could and did (and still do) use religion for personal or political advantage. But the issue here is the reality of a diety. If the vastness of space proves a real diety, how does one get from there to the biblical god?

  • Matthew Steele

    “It appears that the reason the formal concept of Biblical literalism is
    so recent is more because the idea that the Bible may not be literal is
    so recent.”

    St. Augustine wrote about non-literal interpretations of Genesis over 1500 years ago.

    Bellarmine wrote, about situations where scripture conflicts with observable facts “…we
    should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages
    of
    Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and we should rather have
    to say
    that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false
    which is
    proved to be true. ”

    It might appear that, if you don’t do a lot of research into the history of theology, but if you look below the claims of modern evangelical pastors, then you’ll find that, historically, stubborn literalism was often frowned upon.

  • Matthew Steele

    I will say that Galileo was persecuted for continuing to teach, as fact, a hypothesis which merely saved the appearances. It wasn’t until later that heliocentrism could be PROVEN.

  • Matthew Steele

    The act of finding out something would prevent it from being supernatural.

  • gimpi1

    I’m glad you found a belief-system that helps you. We all get through the slings and arrows as best we can.

    For me, belief doesn’t seem to work that way, however. To my knowledge, I don’t “believe in” anything. I accept those things that have been, to my satisfaction, proven by the preponderance of the evidence. I’m always ready to reconsider anything, if new evidence comes forward. I can’t will myself to “believe” something that doesn’t meet that standard. For me, belief isn’t a choice, it’s a conclusion, always tempered, if that makes sense.

    I think people are hard-wired differently, and I have one of those mutant-brains that works oddly. It’s served me well in many aspects, but not so well in some. For instance, it took me a good 10 years to accept that I loved the man I finally married, and that he loved me. I kept second-guessing my own feelings, and picking over his actions for “evidence” of his feelings.

    I guess you shouldn’t build a marriage (or, perhaps a faith) the way you build a bridge:-)

  • Stacey (the kids’ Aunt Tasty)

    Yes. As I said. Might not prevent it from being “god” though. :-)

  • Stacey (the kids’ Aunt Tasty)

    See? Fun ideas. :-)

  • gimpi1

    I’ve heard “stellar evolution” as referring to the Big Bang, Inflation, the production of heavy elements in the hearts of stars, the process of 2nd-generation solar-systems such as ours forming from earlier stellar remains, that sort of thing.

    I’ll follow up with “Your Inner Fish” and “Why Evolution is True.” Thanks

  • Rachel Hedin

    It’s really good that you have so much understanding about how you process information and seek truth. For me, logical empiricism is my tool, but if I’m honest, intuition is my default. May we all be open to using both well as we learn and grow into our worldview and faith.

  • gimpi1

    Your last sentence is a good wish for everyone. I second it.

  • MesKalamDug

    I don’t see how the hardcore Calvinist ideas about predestination differ from Deism. Chronologically it is quite possible that Deism, so called, really
    is just Calvinist predestination.

    I am a theist because I have experienced the presence of the deity in meditation. Without that experience I would be an atheist because there is
    no physical universe evidence for god. Given the existence of a deity and a universe it seems reasonable to postulate that the deity created the universe.

    But there is no evidence that the deity intervenes. In fact, the deity could not intervene because the deity is outside time. This is, of course, exactly
    what Deism claims. What I am saying is that Deism is a Christian position that is at least implicit in Calvinism. There should also be Islamic Deists and Jewish Deists and Buddhist Deism and so on but I don’t know enough to
    comment on them.

  • PremiumOsmium

    What you’ve described there is a deist view of god. A god that set everything up and put the universe in motion. But where do you go from there? Because that view says absolutely nothing as to whether this god has done anything since then.

    And if you believe that the Bible contains at least some accurate description as to what this god has done in the intervening eons since the beginning of the universe, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. Because the Bible does not describe a god who just sits back. It describes a god that speaks directly to people, that causes miracles, and that has a whole bunch of commands on what to do and what not to do. It’s a god that cares about how people have sex!

    And in my journey of deconversion, I did come to realize that being an atheist isn’t something that you can want. It’s like whether or not you believe that the Earth goes around the Sun, or that humans and chimps evolved from a shared ancestor. You either believe in a god or you don’t.

  • PremiumOsmium

    That sounds a lot like me. I went through a quasi-Deist phase before I went full Atheist. I didn’t see any evidence that god, even if it existed, interacted in any meaningful or observable way with the universe. And even if it did, there was no way to know what was “genuine” or not.
    Of course, the very hypothetical nature of an all-powerful god wouldn’t lend itself to experiment and observation, would it? If you had a god who selectively intervened when and how it chose, you couldn’t exactly predict what it would do in any given situation.
    Eventually I got to thinking that, even if god exists, and even if it does intervene in human affairs somehow, there’s still no point in worshipping it or praying to it. God will do whatever god wants to do, regardless of whether we ask for it or not. In fact, it would be pretty presumptuous of us to petition an all-powerful all-knowing deity for favors, right?
    And from that point, it was really just a short walk to discarding the idea of god entirely.

  • PremiumOsmium

    But would a god even be necessary? Evolution is random mutation + natural selection + time. If you want to say that god has some hand in choosing the mutations or which creatures breed, I suppose you can, but isn’t that just adding in a step that doesn’t need to be added?

  • BT

    For me, it started by throwing out nearly everything I thought I knew and starting over. The one thing I couldn’t throw out was the feeling I had when seeing a child abused or someone neglected.

    I had a constant, persistent outrage and the only words to describe it were “God damn it”. It was a overriding feeling that this was not supposed to be, that we were not made for that.

    If there is a way that shouldn’t be, a God damned way, then there is a way that it’s all supposed to be.

    From that huge monstrous leap, it was a short walk on over to a church.

    Faith doesn’t look like it once did, but it’s still faith.

  • bdlaacmm

    Adam,

    As an amateur astronomer, I couldn’t agree more with you. Every chance I get, I get as far away from city lights as I can with my telescope and just look. That’s all, just look.

    I flat out do not understand how anyone could do likewise without going away filled with the certainty of God’s presence. The Psalmist had it right: “The Heavens declare the glory of God.”

  • Norman Conner

    Ben I couldn’t agree more with you. Every time I struggle with faith, especially as a pastor, the one verse that comes back to me over and over is “The heavens declare the glory of God.” I always loved as a child laying on my dog in the back yard and looking at the stars at night. Now as an adult, nothing stops me in my tracks like an amazing sunrise or sunset.

  • paganheart

    “Religion seems to me to represent the imperfect attempts by human beings
    to understand things that are beyond human understanding.” That and your Eigen quote pretty much sum up my own views of God or Deity or The Divine. Well said.

  • Lark62

    Yes. And any honest look at evolution shows it to be heartless.
    Example – There is an insect that lays its eggs on caterpillars. As the eggs hatch, the caterpillar becomes the food source and is slowly eaten alive.

    Most animals in the wild that do not die of starvation will be eaten alive.

    Evolution cannot be reconciled with a personal, benevolent god.

  • Jerry Lynch

    A good many years ago, I read this reflection of someone whose name I cannot recall. Paraphrasing, he said if he found a watch on the beach while strolling, would his mind begin to wonder at how nature created and designed such a marvelous device. And that’s what it is like for me: to daily see the marvels of all that is around us simply cries out, as you said Ben, “Creator!” Any other conclusion just seems patently absurd to me. And that is for me, not you or you or you. It’s nothing I insist on in another. But if asked why I believe in God, I usually respond “Your ability to form that question.” That, or to simply say, “Consider water.”

    I also need to add what a wonderful discussion this generated. More proof, in my eyes.

  • Pierre

    Ben, perhaps I’m sticking my nose in where it doesn’t belong. But could you please take a moment to think about this: Doesn’t supernatural equate to anything which can’t be explained by known laws of the physical world? If so and your claim is that the universe has a supernatural origin, then aren’t you in a sense claiming you just don’t know?

  • John Powell

    How can you say that this being has not interacted with humanity? According to what criteria do you base this? Perhaps you just aren’t aware of it or this being works in ways you can’t understand. I get that this position may sound indefensible, but your saying “What I can say for sure is…” is indefensible as well. You can’t support your statement. I also think your concept of the creation outliving its creator is possible, but again, indefensible. You can’t know, but you seem to have drawn conclusions and base your life on them.

  • $122284574

    Same way you get from thunder to Thor. ;)

  • sharon peters

    Kane will be a dead man in half an hour and
    nobody’s gonna do anything about it. And when he dies, this town dies too. I
    can feel it. I am all alone in the world. I have to make a living. So I’m going
    someplace else. That’s all.
    HIGH NOON (1952)

  • Colin Nunn

    Your faith is inspiring. You believe in a nothing which created everything in its unimaginable complexity. All hail Nothing. Praise your glorious existence.

  • Mark R Garvey

    I thought I saw a typo. first paragraph. in the eyes of an atheist? Great article! I have some children that need to explore the magnificence
    of the universe to think carefully about intelligent design

  • gimpi1

    Actually, for me, this goes the other way. I see things such as child-abuse, disability or suffering and I have a hard time accepting the existence of a Deity that could intervene, but doesn’t.

    Why, if God is good, is polio a thing? Ebola? Resurgent Calderas? We humans can be pretty awful, and we inflict much suffering on each other, but the natural world causes as much or more pain. I would change that, if I could. God, presumably, could, but does not. I have a hard time with that.

    Of course, perhaps God can’t change that. There may be limits that I don’t understand. But if we can develop vaccines for smallpox and polio, why couldn’t God simply create us with immunity? Or not permit such viruses to evolve in the first place?

    I have more questions than answers, at this point. But that’s OK. I can keep working my way through them.

  • gimpi1

    Thank you for the description. It is hard for human beings – living on a small planet, with brief life-spans and limited perceptions – to get past those limitations and reach for the larger reality.

  • Just because I don’t believe in your personal quest for immortality doesn’t mean I believe in a Nothing. Now do you have something to say or are you going to stick with unimaginative strawmen?

  • Colin Nunn

    Strawmen?? What straw men? Don’t think I created any, but you certainly do. Rather than look around and see the truly incredible evidence for special creation you, as the Bible says, refuse to acknowledge that evidence in order to believe what you want to believe. The result is that you and many others have your own gods – that of wealth, or sport, or work, or the worship of your own intellect as though you have the capacity to come up with absolute answers to what, how, and why the universe exists. I counsel you to seek answers rather than create them. You’re not really capable.

  • Deborah Jane Pearson

    So sorry about your brother. I am also grieving for my boyfriend who died two weeks before our son was born (sudden death). I am struggling with similar issues, either God doesn’t exist or He doesn’t care how hurt we get. Maybe I should read that book too. Anyway hugs to you and your family xx

  • Adam

    Thanks Deborah. Grief is a crazy thing. My mind constantly races trying to think if there was something I could have done to save him. (He took his own life.) I’m still hanging onto my belief in God, but right now I have this attitude, “I’ve been through enough. Leave me alone please.”

    Sorry to hear about your boyfriend. Such a tragic situation.

  • Adam

    Thanks Rachel. It’s hard to know that line between being authentic as a pastor so that your church knows you’re like them and you struggle with things as well, and sharing too much of your doubts which creates confusion and more doubts in their minds. But they are doing a good job of taking care of me and my family.

  • Adam

    Thanks Ben. It’s been rough. Just trying to hold on to some hope somewhere.

  • Rachel Hedin

    Sometimes, I think that the balance can be found in the motivation for our authenticity/transparency. When our goal is to show people we’re just like them in the midst of their own crisis, it’s hard to avoid the trap of forcing them to be responsible for our emotional response to their situation. Awkward. But when the motivation is to be transparent as a means to facilitate community and interdependence as we work through the big questions of life…that’s pastoring with a new kind of relevance and compassion. That’s the body of Christ in action. I don’t know you and I can’t completely understand all you’re going through. But as I pray for you, along with asking God to hold you close I pray that he’ll gift you and your church an even deeper community as you walk through this pain. Knitting your broken heart to his and to your church family in a way that strengthens you all. Blessings, friend.

  • Deborah Jane Pearson

    I think I have found myself envying my atheist friends because they just don’t expect supernatural miracles. When I came home (35 weeks pregnant) and found Scott I just held him and screamed up to God “please give me my boyfriend back please please” over and over until I ran to get help from my pastor and his wife. I was taken into hospital as precaution for me and the baby, and i lay in that hospital bed crying all night and pleading with God to bring him back.

    Even now three months after his funeral and cremation, I get moments where I pray for God to make it so none of this has happened and that Scott is alive again. I am filed with unbearable sadness and loneliness since Scott died.
    And I suppose when I prayed those desperate prayers I really believed that God raises people from the dead so why won’t he do the impossible for me and Scott? ? Then I get angry because I can’t understand why God allowed this awful tradegy to happen.

    So I do envy my atheist friends because rather than struggle with the “where is my damn miracle” feelings they just a accept that life is tragic sometimes.
    I guess I have a lot to process in addition to grief and loss I am also trying to raise our son alone – something I never thought would happen.

    Death and grief suck.