Not long ago a co-worker asked me, point blank and in that tone that indicates careful incredulity: “How can you not believe in God?” The question spawned this answer which I thought it might be amusing to put down in print.
Throughout history mankind has had a need for some form of higher authority to bring reason to the mysteries of life. Why does the sun come up every day? Why does thunder make such a loud noise? The ancients assigned such phenomenon to a wildly varied list of dramatis personae but today, in this enlightened day and age, we don’t need to resort to such a panoply of gods. We just need the one (or three depending on how you look at it) and he takes care of only the most inscrutable of life’s questions: Why are we here? What happens to us after we’re not? Where do babies come from?
To Christians, God is the motive force behind existence. God rules all and knows all. God knows what choices we will make and what we will do because, after all, he is God. Anything less would be un-godlike. Not only does he know what we will do but he cares deeply about us and only wants the best for us. Well, ok, let me amend that. Depending on your particular belief system, God may be a spiteful God but his son, Jesus, is the redeemer. For some God and Jesus seem to be somewhat at odds. God is the ancient tyrant, ranting against man’s sins while Jesus gave himself to wash away those sins. For the sake of simplicity of argument though, let’s just say for the moment that God is ultimately on humanity’s side. Now, let us not confuse that concept with the idea that he will act in the best interest of every individual in his creation. It’s very possible and in fact more the rule than the exception that God often acts AGAINST the apparent benefit of certain individuals. Some people, as pointed out in a previous post, will be mysteriously stricken with fatal diseases at an early age. Some will be struck down by bolts of lightning. Terrible things will happen for no reason which is apparent to us but it’s OK because it’s God’s will and it’ll all work out for the best.
To the atheist or agnostic, there is also a motive force behind existence. It rules all but does not, necessarily, know all. Depending on your particular scientific belief system, the universe may or may not be deterministic. The cosmos may be a huge, incredibly complicated clockwork that functions based on certain immutable laws or it may be a seething mass of randomness even down to the level of quantum noise in which particles are spontaneously created and annihilated in a huge and furious froth that happens all around us every second. For the atheist there is order to the universe and a law but ultimately, that order is utterly and brutally impartial. The law will bend for no man and ultimately we exist merely to the extent that we can learn to adapt to the circumstances dictated to us by those physical laws. Terrible things will happen for no reason which is apparent to us but it’s OK because that’s how chance works and it’ll all work out for the best.
At their hearts, these two sets of beliefs aren’t really ALL that different. They both feature a ruling force that binds the universe together. They both describe, but don’t bother to explain, the random terrible things that happen to people every single day. The only real core difference is whether we believe that the universe gives a crap about us. To Christians, the answer is a warm and happy: Yes, Jesus Loves Me (the Bible tells him so). To the Atheist, the answer is a resigned: No, and if I’m not careful I’d better watch my step lest I fall into an open manhole or be mauled by a bear. Personally, the latter concept makes much more sense to me. As comforting as it would be to think that creation centers around me and my progeny and that God’s looking out for me, I just don’t see it.
There is also a logical perspective on this that I simply can’t ignore. The question is: Does the Christian God exist? The answer, obviously is either yes, or no. If the answer is no, then all of this is moot anyway and therefore irrelevant. If the answer is yes, then it follows that I am a created being and that I was created by God in my current form with my current faculties of observation and reasoning. Even if you dismiss this partly to say that my current properties are not a direct creation of God but instead a function of my upbringing and environment, then it should be noted the environment too is of God’s creation by definition. So if we presume that God exists, then he’s responsible for what I am and what I am is a person who disbelieves in his existence.
So, I, as a presumed creation of God am left with two choices. Either I can continue to disbelieve in him or I can throw away the evidence of my senses and my reason and choose to believe anyway. (I will throw away the wildly popular option of pretending to believe as this is merely a form of disbelief.) To me, the latter seems a monumentally greater sin than the former. If I refuse what my reason tells me, then I am throwing away God’s greatest gift. Man is, above all, a thinking, rational, reasoning creature. If God exists, then he built this reasoning behavior into us from the very beginning or else we developed it as a consequence of living in what he created for us. God, if he exists, WANTS us to be rational and think about the universe we live in. He doesn’t want sheep that mindlessly bleat at his command. He WANTS us to ask these questions and to ponder and to come up with different answers and argue and use the faculties that he gave us. Logically, I am forced to disbelieve in God. If he doesn’t exist, I’m right. If he does exist, then he made us to think and reason for ourselves on purpose and I cannot betray that gift.
As a bit of an aside, the idea that God, if he existed, would want us to be reasoning creatures is pretty strong. If the world was created in seven days, then why all the fossils betraying what appears to be billions of years of evolution? Why create other galaxies and star systems trillions upon trillions of miles away that we can only see with hundreds of years of research and effort? Why create atoms that are so outrageously complicated that even now we can’t fully understand their inner workings? Everywhere we look, both outward and inward, the complexity of creation is astounding. If God wanted us to merely accept what we’re told why tantalize us with such intricacy of detail? Why distract us with such things if our purpose is merely to serve him? If God wanted us to be mindless sheep then atoms would be solid spheres and all the practical questions of existence would be readily and easily apparent so that we could get on with the real business of worshipping him.
Finally, a few things should be noted here before I close. Firstly, I’m not trying to talk anyone out of their religion but merely stating my own viewpoint. If you have a certain set of beliefs then by all means stick to them. Above all my respect for anyone is based on their level of self-consistency with their own beliefs. Secondly, I should state for the record that I realize that I’m vastly oversimplifying the Christian worldview. Not for the least reasons is that Christians themselves don’t seem to agree on much in the first place. Whether your God is forgiving or spiteful, I think the same logic applies unless you reason that the complexity of the cosmos is really put here just to trick us and distract us so we can all go to hell. Regardless, go with God (or not).