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Wednesday, 2 January 2013

From Atheist to Agnostic

I was an atheist for almost my entire life. I could not believe that God existed, so that's how I described myself.

I believed in Christianity as an ethical system, so I would call myself, as the great Oriana Fallaci, a 'Christian atheist', expression which has simarities to 'secular Jew'.

I have recently realized things that cast serious doubts on my previous way of thinking.

The moral validity of Christianity was in no question before and is in no question now. But it is the issue of the existence of God which is not so simple as I mistakenly believed.

Science in itself is too limited to provide evidence to prove or disprove it, as I've always known, although Newton himself, for example, made God part of his theory as absolute time.

But, paradoxically, it is not the content of science, namely what is inside it, that gives us an indication here, but rather its limits, what is outside it.

Science's laws of nature can explain many of its phenomena and have the potential to make us understand even more.

But there are three moments which require an enormous leap of faith in the NON-existence of God to believe that science can ever explain them.

These three moments are: the origin of matter, life and consciousness.

Science can understand pretty well what happens after those key moments, but it cannot explain them.

In successive posts I'll deal with these further, but for the moment I want to report how Melanie Phillips, in her book The Book Turned Upside Down, describes her conversation with Richard Dawkins in 2008 following a public debate between him and John Lennox.

'I asked Dawkins whether he believed that the origin of all matter was most likely to have been an entirely spontaneous event. He agreed that he did think so. I put it to him that he seemed therefore to be arguing that something could be created out of nothing - which surely runs counter to the scientific principles of verifiable evidence that he tells us should govern all our thinking'.

Think about it: people who do not believe in God usually adduce as reason how we have never experienced anything with God's attributes.

But the alternative theory, that matter, ie something, arose from nothing, also describes an event that we have never experienced.

Atheism activists and scientific triumphalists, of whom Dawkins is the most famous, misleadingly portray this conflict about the existence of God as one between the rational believers in evidence-based theories (as they, the atheists, modestly consider themselves) and the irrational, superstition-bound theists.

But the reality is entirely different. The question of whether the universe had a Creator or emerged from nothing is one which can be answered, either way, ONLY with reference to, and belief in, an entity or event of which we have absolutely no experience.

Both our senses and evidence here do not help at all.

It is a work in progress but for the moment, not being able to choose one or the other explanation, I call myself agnostic.

1 comment:

  1. My family is quite devout (or as devout as the CoE permits), and I was bullied a bit for it in school. I began to read Nietzsche very young and after that became a pretty uncompromising atheist. Oddly I wrote an article 'In defence of the Bible belt', before I read this. I feel pretty much the same as you. I definitely wouldn't call myself an atheist these days. I also like Fallacis 'Christian atheist' concept. Martin Amis said - in the presence of his dying friend Christopher Hitchens - that atheism is too undeservedly confident of itself and that he prefers to be agnostic. I think atheism comes more from forces of reaction than of reasoning. People see the evil practiced by some religions and make a simple judgement based upon their emotions. And yet emotion has a very complicated relationship with logic and can be deceptive.