From Religion to Atheism to Beyond.

by Pitt Griffin on February 14, 2016 · 0 comments

in Atheism, Religion

“God is silent. Now if only man would shut up.” ― Woody Allen

I was raised a Christian – an Anglican. In my teens, I lost my faith. Or more accurately found the courage to admit to myself that I never had faith. It took years to finally embrace atheism. Habits are hard to break. Superstition and indoctrination aren’t easy to discard. Eventually, I was able to bask in the light of reason. I was a newly rational being.

It didn’t last. There was something unsatisfactory about atheism. It’s not that I reversed course and reembraced the church. Hardly. It was that I was unhappy that I defined myself by something I didn’t believe in. I didn’t want God in my life even if it was only in abnegation. So I redefined myself as a ‘secular humanist’ or just a ‘humanist’.

But there was still a nagging doubt. I knew I didn’t believe in the Christian God. Or any God created by man. But I thought it arrogant to presume I should ‘know’ there was no God. I satisfied myself that whether God existed or not, he was irrelevant. Either he had started the ball rolling and wandered off. Or he was still around but had no interest in the affairs of man.

It was an unstable philosophy. I was kicking against the pricks. Even an irrelevant God must have some nature. To say that you didn’t believe in that God was to say you didn’t believe in a God of that particular nature. Therefore, if you have no idea of what the nature of God might be, how could you say you didn’t believe it.

Let me clarify. When I say I don’t believe in unicorns, or yetis, or the Loch Ness monster I can picture clearly what I don’t believe in. But if someone tells me that there are fantastical creatures quite beyond the ability of humans to describe I can say that I don’t believe in them – but what am I not believing in?

And then the scales fell from my eyes. To be an atheist is to say that you do not believe in any God that humans can conceive. But that leaves the possibility of a God that is beyond the reach of human conception.

Let’s do a thought experiment. In the human gut live trillions of bacteria. Let’s imagine one strain acquired intelligence. Their understanding of where they lived would be limited to what they could ‘sense’. And their senses would not be like ours – they don’t have our sensory apparatus  – except in one way. Their senses would be limited.

Unaided, we can only touch the things we can reach. Taste only what we can put in our mouths. Smell and hear only things in our vicinity. And there are things too small, or too far away, to be seen. We had no idea of microscopic life before the microscope. Nor of planets beyond Jupiter before the telescope.

Now back to the bacteria. Would they have any sense of us? Would they have any sense that we were alive in a similar way to them? It is hard to imagine how. Sunsets and satellites are beyond abstractions for them. Would they know emotions? Would they have hope? Awareness would not bring them knowledge of anything beyond what they could sense. And reason based on that knowledge would be similarly constrained.

And perhaps that is our relationship with God. He exists, but He is unimaginable. No human vocabulary can describe him. I can’t do anything about that God. And that God has no knowledge of me. Whether God exists or not is a matter of complete indifference to me. I shall say no more on the subject.

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