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Old 07-06-2010, 01:45 AM   #61
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Palestinians deserve their own state without religious oppression within or without.
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Old 07-06-2010, 01:47 AM   #62
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A thing I like about Christianity, or any form of theism for that matter is that, indeed, it fills our curious instincts. I like to think that the world is not only what it seems, and that it can be more. That there is more to the planet we live on, the universe, and the meaning of life that none of us even know yet.

Or maybe this is due to the artsy, emotional traits I have. Either way, I think this is one of the beauties of life; curiousity and the hope for something greater than ourselves.
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Old 07-06-2010, 01:51 AM   #63
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What more do you want than the awesome wonder of the material world?

Is it not richer to know that the flowers beauty is a lure for insects and the colours we see formed to help our tree climbing ancestors find ripe fruit.

A scientific worldview which demonstrates how unlikely we are makes the world much more engaging than the parochial stories of iron age tribes.
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Old 07-06-2010, 01:52 AM   #64
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A very sound debunking of a common question
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The best talk I heard at the International Congress of Logic Methodology and Philosophy of Science in Beijing was, somewhat to my surprise, the Presidential Address by Adolf Grünbaum. I wasn’t expecting much, as the genre of Presidential Addresses by Octogenarian Philosophers is not one noted for its moments of soaring rhetoric. I recognized Grünbaum’s name as a philosopher of science, but didn’t really know anything about his work. Had I known that he has recently been specializing in critiques of theism from a scientific viewpoint (with titles like “The Poverty of Theistic Cosmology“), I might have been more optimistic.

Grünbaum addressed a famous and simple question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” He called it the Primordial Existential Question, or PEQ for short. (Philosophers are up there with NASA officials when it comes to a weakness for acronyms.) Stated in that form, the question can be traced at least back to Leibniz in his 1697 essay “On the Ultimate Origin of Things,” although it’s been recently championed by Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne.

The correct answer to this question is stated right off the bat in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Well, why not?” But we have to dress it up to make it a bit more philosophical. First, we would only even consider this an interesting question if there were some reasonable argument in favor of nothingness over existence. As Grünbaum traces it out, Leibniz’s original claim was that nothingness was “spontaneous,” whereas an existing universe required a bit of work to achieve. Swinburne has sharpened this a bit, claiming that nothingness is uniquely “natural,” because it is necessarily simpler than any particular universe. Both of them use this sort of logic to undergird an argument for the existence of God: if nothingness is somehow more natural or likely than existence, and yet here we are, it must be because God willed it to be so.

I can’t do justice to Grünbaum’s takedown of this position, which was quite careful and well-informed. But the basic idea is straightforward enough. When we talk about things being “natural” or “spontaneous,” we do so on the basis of our experience in this world. This experience equips us with a certain notion of natural — theories are naturally if they are simple and not finely-tuned, configurations are natural if they aren’t inexplicably low-entropy.

But our experience with the world in which we actually live tells us nothing whatsoever about whether certain possible universes are “natural” or not. In particular, nothing in science, logic, or philosophy provides any evidence for the claim that simple universes are “preferred” (whatever that could possibly mean). We only have experience with one universe; there is no ensemble from which it is chosen, on which we could define a measure to quantify degrees of probability. Who is to say whether a universe described by the non-perturbative completion of superstring theory is likelier or less likely than, for example, a universe described by a Rule 110 cellular automaton?

It’s easy to get tricked into thinking that simplicity is somehow preferable. After all, Occam’s Razor exhorts us to stick to simple explanations. But that’s a way to compare different explanations that equivalently account for the same sets of facts; comparing different sets of possible underlying rules for the universe is a different kettle of fish entirely. And, to be honest, it’s true that most working physicists have a hope (or a prejudice) that the principles underlying our universe are in fact pretty simple. But that’s simply an expression of our selfish desire, not a philosophical precondition on the space of possible universes. When it comes to the actual universe, ultimately we’ll just have to take what we get.

Finally, we physicists sometimes muddy the waters by talking about “multiple universes” or “the multiverse.” These days, the vast majority of such mentions refer not to actual other universes, but to different parts of our universe, causally inaccessible from ours and perhaps governed by different low-energy laws of physics (but the same deep-down ones). In that case there may actually be an ensemble of local regions, and perhaps even some sensibly-defined measure on them. But they’re all part of one big happy universe. Comparing the single multiverse in which we live to a universe with completely different deep-down laws of physics, or with different values for such basic attributes as “existence,” is something on which string theory and cosmology are utterly silent.

Ultimately, the problem is that the question — “Why is there something rather than nothing?” — doesn’t make any sense. What kind of answer could possibly count as satisfying? What could a claim like “The most natural universe is one that doesn’t exist” possibly mean? As often happens, we are led astray by imagining that we can apply the kinds of language we use in talking about contingent pieces of the world around us to the universe as a whole. It makes sense to ask why this blog exists, rather than some other blog; but there is no external vantage point from which we can compare the relatively likelihood of different modes of existence for the universe.

So the universe exists, and we know of no good reason to be surprised by that fact. I will hereby admit that, when I was a kid (maybe about ten or twelve years old? don’t remember precisely) I actually used to worry about the Primordial Existential Question. That was when I had first started reading about physics and cosmology, and knew enough about the Big Bang to contemplate how amazing it was that we knew anything about the early universe. But then I would eventually hit upon the question of “What if they universe didn’t exist at all?”, and I would get legitimately frightened. (Some kids are scared by clowns, some by existential questions.) So in one sense, my entire career as a physical cosmologist has just been one giant defense mechanism.
Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine
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Old 07-06-2010, 02:05 AM   #65
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What more do you want than the awesome wonder of the material world?

Is it not richer to know that the flowers beauty is a lure for insects and the colours we see formed to help our tree climbing ancestors find ripe fruit.

A scientific worldview which demonstrates how unlikely we are makes the world much more engaging than the parochial stories of iron age tribes.
I agree. There's awesomeness everywhere we look, in nature and science, etc. But the fact that there could be more to all of it is exciting to me. What if we could figure out every mystery we could never solve? Natural phenomenons, supernatural things, stuff like that? Yes, some things are better left unknown, but these are things I could really give two shits about.

I'd rather not get into these massive, religious debates. I don't think I'm religious enough to know exactly what I'm talking about, and frankly, I just don't take religion all that seriously or passionately, at least for now. There's some interest and concern over it for me, but it's not my number one priority in life right now. Like I said before, maybe someday it will be a huge part of my life, but presently, it's not.
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Old 07-06-2010, 02:31 AM   #66
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A scientific worldview which demonstrates how unlikely we are makes the world much more engaging than the parochial stories of iron age tribes.
To you, perhaps. To others, not so much -- because science, for all its accomplishments and achievements, is still only one part of the story.

Was privileged to screen a fascinating documentary last week by a prominent director who's undergone something of a life change. He's started asking some deeply profound questions of both faith and science. One of the interesting moments in the documentary -- supposedly Darwin only used the phrase "survival of the fittest" twice in his book; he used the word "love" 49.

Part of what the film explores is something called Noetic Sciences, which I found fascinating and illuminating in the ways that it explores humanity through both science and faith. I don't know much about Noetics, but it's worth exploring...
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Old 07-06-2010, 02:40 AM   #67
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Honestly, I really do think both science and religion can exist together without having a paradox. Yes, evolution and creationism are contradicting, but for some reason I think they are both true...Don't ask me how. I can't explain it, since I'm rather..naive, you could say.

And that's why I'm done with this thread now. I can't make any promises though. What if something interests me?
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Old 07-06-2010, 02:37 PM   #68
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You fool I'm obviously a Muslim.


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i'm not an atheist, i'm an agnostic. but i'll try to quickly tell you how i got there.

let's put aside organized religion. i'm really not all that upset or betrayed by the Catholic (i am a baptized and confirmed Catholic) Church's teachings. obviously, i think they're wrong, to put it mildly, but i also know that it's a human institution -- so, whatever, i think. i absolutely reject the rules of organized religion as having any sort of divine approval. certainly the 10 Commandments have lots of great suggestions, and certainly there's much that's beautiful about most of what Jesus taught, many people have made their own lives (and the lives of others) better because of these rules and the inspiration. but not me. maybe when i was a child, but no longer. i don't place any more credibility in those above and beyond my own lived-in experience.

so, rules aside, and getting to the real meat of the issue -- is there a deity, is there something beyond this, is there something within me that will continue after my body dies. that's the real issue, isn't it? that's what's at stake?

well, for me, through a combination of experience and learning more and more both intellectually and emotionally, it really does seem to me that there isn't a God. it's all so explainable -- religion -- and the big question is: why does there have to be a God? the universe could continue just fine without one. it seems entirely irrelevant to existence. we obviously don't need God to live and function. isn't it more logical that existence simply is, that it's not willed into being, that it's not designed and crafted, and that there isn't a love and logic behind it all. i think we can create all that for ourselves, and that's powerful and beautiful, but i really do think, deep down, in creeping moments, and it almost fills me with dread, that there's no there there, there's only what we put there.

let me talk about that dread. that dread, to me, feels awful, but it also feels like it's where religion comes from. that it's brutal, but yet honest, to actually face the dread -- that we are alone, that we are big bags of water on a rock floating through space, that none of this means anything *beyond what we allow it to mean* -- and process it for what it means: there is no God. it seems to me that the dread is so unbearable, that it makes you wake up in the middle of the night feeling as if you are drowning, that the thought of blankness, of nonexistence, of nothingness, is so terrifying, that religion gets us through the night, but that it is, ultimately, comfort. and it feels, i don't know, brave to stare the dread in the face and call it what it is.

that's where i am.

however, i do want there to be a God. a God could logically exist (though it seems that this position is more complex than that he doesn't, and therefore is less likely to be true). and i do find other people's experiences compelling. it's certainly not for me to tell them that what they experience isn't true, even if i can easily explain it at least in my mind. i also find it compelling the stories of being in a room when someone actually does die. i have not experienced this, but i'm told that it does feel as if something has left the room, and when you see an actual dead person, there's such a remarkable, tangible difference that it does feel as if the body is inhabited by something. but what?

so that's why i come down as an agnostic. because i can't absolutely rule it out.
I second A_W: a beautifully honest post.

Like nathan, I too have a hard time relating to the dread you describe. God has been so much a part of my life for all of my life, and feels so real to me that I've never thought to contemplate much what if He's not really there. It's kind of akin (though certainly not the same as) as wondering if your whole life is actually a dream--you know, none of it's real. It's something you don't see much point in dwelling on most of the time. This is one thing that I find that those who do not believe have a hard time relating to--they don't seem to realize how real and how experiential God is to at least some of us who came to believe. They tend to think of faith as more about theories and ideas and fears about the afterlife than about a real Person we feel we are actively engaging with. Of course, I'm not saying every religious person feels this way--I'm sure ther are those for whom faith is primarily about theories and ideas and fears. Unfortunately, many of us are not very honest about where we're really coming from. We become practiced at saying the right words and "looking good" to the faith community. I always find spiritual honesty such as you've expressed inspiring though.

My internal debate is less over whether God is real and more about His true nature. I've reached the point where I feel that God is way bigger than any religion's attempt to describe Him. I've come to appreciate the messy struggle that all of us are in to make meaning of this life, and to believe that God is appreciative and understanding of that struggle as well.

On another note, all around us we see evidence of creation--by that I mean, what we as human beings have created--our attempts to create order, beauty, meaning. For those of us who believe, I suppose it doesn't seem so unlikely that we are not the only creators.
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Old 07-06-2010, 02:41 PM   #69
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I don't doubt for a second that religion can be (and has been) used to exploit fear in the populace. From my experience, however, I can't relate to the dread you're talking about -- mostly because I think that, while fear can be used to motivate people in the short term, genuine, reflective people can't be kept there. And some of the most genuine and reflective people I've met -- regardless of their denomination or religious affiliation -- have been those who have decided that there is something more there -- not out of fear, but out of genuine curiosity. It's that curiosity that fueled the discoveries of some of the world's foremost artists, scientists and mathematicians, many of whom were also deeply, profoundly religious people.

i think you might have misunderstood what i meant by "the dread." religion doesn't make people fearful, it's what is used to combat the dread and the fear that we're cursed with by being aware of the fact that one day we are going to cease to exist. and the world will once again be like what it was before you were born. nothingness. religion absolutely is used to frighten people into behaving a certain way, but that's not what i'm getting at. what i'm getting at is the gripping existential crisis one feels when faced with our inherent meaninglessness. perhaps you haven't experienced this, but it is something i genuinely feel from time-to-time. religion has nothing to do with it. it's the blankness of non-existence that can be crushingly terrifying.

but then again, i wasn't bothered by it before i was born, so maybe it won't be so bad.

it seems entirely logical, to me, that "God" was conjured up to combat the curse of self-awareness.


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I find that artistry and spirituality have a great deal in common. I'm part of a faith community that believes that creativity is the natural result of spirituality. There is a phrase in Latin, "ex nihilo" -- out of nothing. Art is created from nothing -- the same way that, at least according to myth, the world was created. Most of the artists I know who have endured -- and whose work has endured -- have tended to create not out of terror, or even necessarily out of a desire to arrange chaos into order, or out of a desire to process personal trauma (though all those things may have something to do with it) -- but because, at their core, they had to. Created in order to create.

or they create in order to combat the void and imbue their lives and the world with meaning, because there is no objective, independent-of-us meaning? are you saying that for some there's an intelligently designed creative impulse and that we're imitating a Creator? or, does it also seem likely, that because we do create, we also create our Creator? perhaps that's more likely, that we explain the world to ourselves because there's ultimately nothing to really explain? that we have to create the structure, meaning, and purpose because it isn't there to begin with?


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It makes me wonder if the impulse to create is connected to the impulse to believe. If one takes a coldly clinical approach to life, art and spirituality could be seen as two sides of the same coin -- they serve no objective, functional purpose in day to day life, they are fairly subjective and experiential by nature, and they frequently are ultimately futile attempts to make the invisible, visible. However, it may well be that art and religion give voice to the soul and fill in the canvas of the human experience.
i guess i disagree -- i think art and religion are very functional and very useful to people, and they help us get through the day (and night), and they help us explain ourselves to ourselves. we certainly "need" these things, but that doesn't mean that there's a divine purpose in anything or that there's an immortal soul in an artist. we can talk about inspiring ideas, the life of the mind, the life of emotions, and i take your parallels between the two worlds -- the difference is that while i can compare the feelings that a piece of art might inspire or that worship might inspire, at the end of the day, there's clear evidence of the art, not so for "God." though both may well have been created by human hands. art's not claiming to be anything more than it is, whereas we're insisting that "God" is something more than what we might experience at said ecstatic worship sessions, that it exists independently of us at some level, whereas we won't say that of art.




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I don't think genuine, reflective people are moved by art out of fear. Rather, they are moved because somehow, against the odds, someone created a piece of work that expressed what they felt, or experienced. I think religion -- at least, the best kinds -- serves much the same purpose. Having been a part of ecstatic worship experiences, I can say that there's little fear in the room when the Spirit's in the house -- just an ecstatic sense of wonder.

but does that wonder go any further than you? i'm sure you feel a spirit, but that doesn't mean anyone else does, and that doesn't mean that there's a third party in the room that exists independent of your sensory abilities. this is where i think experiences like this are "real," if not "objective."

and religion is claiming an objective truth, often via subjective experience.

that's why i can't say, "no, absolutely not," but that's also why i do say, "well, it seems quite likely that there's no there there."
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Old 07-06-2010, 02:43 PM   #70
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This is one thing that I find that those who do not believe have a hard time relating to--they don't seem to realize how real and how experiential God is to at least some of us who came to believe.


could you please explain the experiential part. this makes me very curious.
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Old 07-06-2010, 03:07 PM   #71
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could you please explain the experiential part. this makes me very curious.
I like how you accidently included the lol--kinda changed the tone of my post.

I will explain it. Give me a few minutes though. I'm bouncing between threads and a Skype chat so I'm kind of all over the place right now.
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Old 07-06-2010, 03:44 PM   #72
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I like how you accidently included the lol--kinda changed the tone of my post.


oh, weird. totally unintentional.
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Old 07-06-2010, 03:54 PM   #73
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i think you might have misunderstood what i meant by "the dread." religion doesn't make people fearful, it's what is used to combat the dread and the fear that we're cursed with by being aware of the fact that one day we are going to cease to exist. and the world will once again be like what it was before you were born.
And you suggested that religion fills this gap for people -- which again can become very exploitative in the hands of some. But I do think that genuinely religious people are actually quite reflective -- and that sooner or later, the dread of nothingness, or the dread of Hell, or the dread of Judgment Day, becomes replaced by something more akin to wonder. I'm not afraid of Nothing on the other side -- I don't lose anything on this side if that's all there is -- but what I've experienced confirms that there is, in fact, a very big Something there. It's Something I've spent the vast majority of my life exploring, and something I continue to. I think a lot of us are in the same boat.

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it seems entirely logical, to me, that "God" was conjured up to combat the curse of self-awareness.
And from the other side, it seems logical to me that the blessing of self-awareness goes hand in hand with the awareness that there's something bigger than us.

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or they create in order to combat the void and imbue their lives and the world with meaning, because there is no objective, independent-of-us meaning?
I don't know that this is entirely true. Art may be subjective, but I don't think it is completely so, because enough people can be moved by a particular piece of music, or a painting, or a film, that it becomes part of a collective consciousness (or unconsciousness). At that level, something has become objective, because regardless of the interpretation of the art in question (you and I may react to Beethoven's Ninth for completely different reasons), we are still reacting to Beethoven's Ninth, and not Urgel Grue's Seventh. So I think that art and religion function much the same way.

Or, as Bono puts it, "If fifty thousand people show up to listen to us, I tend to think they're right."

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religion is claiming an objective truth, often via subjective experience.
Sure, but so does art to an extent -- the way the artist sees the world is the way the world is, at least to the artist. And again, if enough people respond in the same way, are we still dealing with a completely subjective reality?
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Old 07-06-2010, 04:37 PM   #74
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could you please explain the experiential part. this makes me very curious.
It's the sense of God is a real Person, not just an abstract conception. It's not quite "I hear a literal voice in my head that talks to me" (I can see A_W shrinking in horror already, ), but a sense that He is there. At least for me, that's how it is. Some Christian believers claim to have God literally telling them to do this and that--I don't though. I'm too conflicted about what God is really like to feel safe trusting an impression that God wants me to do this or that. But nonetheless, I do have a sense of His presence. On my best days--when I feel Him the most, I feel loved and feel that no matter what happens things will be alright in the end. There are other times when I don't have that feeling so much emotionally, but I still trust that He is there even when I can't feel it. There have been times in my life when I felt extraordinarily close to God, in tune with Him. I can recall one weekend at a missions conference in the late nineties when the sense of God's presence was so amazingly palpable. Everyone who was there felt it (at least that I talked to) and what really stood out for me was how all the usual nonsense--conservative this/liberal that, just fell away and the main thing we all felt was love and that God was very close to us. It's hard to explain and I know it probably sounds incredibly corny (and not a little kooky) but, hey you asked.

There have been other times when I felt very distant from God and very uncertain about what I believed. I went through a real wilderness period after reading John Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven. It really made me question how I approached God and the practice of my faith. It's when U2's "Zooropa" and "Pop" finally clicked for me. I used to hate "Zooropa", couldn't even stand to listent to it--didn't understand it lyrically or musically. And during that period, it suddenly made sense. "Zooropa" became and still is one of my favorite U2 albums.

But even in all that, there wasn't a sense, that maybe God isn't real. It was more like, am I really going to take at face value what I've always been taught about God and what it means to follow Him. I became convinced that if God asked me to do what he asked of Abraham in sacrificing his own, I would have to say no. Sorry. I'm out. And I wasn't sure how to process that and still have faith in the God of the Bible. It was a few years, but I finally drew conclusions I could be at peace with. I wrote a post about it at my faith and religion blog at Faith Journeys You can read about it if you'd like.

So through all of this there is this sense, sometimes very clear and emotional, sometimes a drier, kind of choice to trust that God is there. And that sense is very hard to argue away or "reason with", if you will. Again, it's akin to if you were to start trying to convince me that my wife and son weren't real--just figaments of my imagination. As long as I continued to feel their reality it would be hard for those arguments to mean much to me. I would guess that those who don't believe have either never had that sense of God's reality or did at one time, but don't any more. I think of a good friend of mine--she was one of the teachers I worked with in Saipan. She lost her faith, ironically, not long after she returned from the mission field. (A further irony--her mother, who left her when she was a baby--also lost HER faith after serving as a missionary as a young woman). We talked a lot--it was really hard for her because a lot of people were really devastated by her sudden rejection of Christianity. What I sensed was that whatever sense of God's presence she had once felt had faded, and that is why she was able to lose her faith. Her reasons were many of the philsophical arguments and so on that we've discussed, and a lot about how damaging the Christian church and theology is, but at bottom I think the reality of the presence of God just wasn't there any more for her.

One other thing. There are those who do not believe in God--but when I hear about the God they don't believe in, I have to respect their lack of faith. If I ever lost faith, I think it would be because the type of God I was seeing would be too terrible to contemplate if he were real. It would be better to believe such an awful God did not exist at all. And that's my struggle, which goes back to my childhood and my Bible-beating (and wife-and-child-beating) father. In my mind there has always been a war between his conception of God, and my understanding of a God of love. If I ever became convinced that the God of my father was the right idea, I think I might give up on faith all together rather than accept that such a monstrosity was running everything.
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Old 07-07-2010, 08:41 PM   #75
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i'm not an atheist, i'm an agnostic. but i'll try to quickly tell you how i got there.

let's put aside organized religion. i'm really not all that upset or betrayed by the Catholic (i am a baptized and confirmed Catholic) Church's teachings. obviously, i think they're wrong, to put it mildly, but i also know that it's a human institution -- so, whatever, i think. i absolutely reject the rules of organized religion as having any sort of divine approval. certainly the 10 Commandments have lots of great suggestions, and certainly there's much that's beautiful about most of what Jesus taught, many people have made their own lives (and the lives of others) better because of these rules and the inspiration. but not me. maybe when i was a child, but no longer. i don't place any more credibility in those above and beyond my own lived-in experience.

so, rules aside, and getting to the real meat of the issue -- is there a deity, is there something beyond this, is there something within me that will continue after my body dies. that's the real issue, isn't it? that's what's at stake?

well, for me, through a combination of experience and learning more and more both intellectually and emotionally, it really does seem to me that there isn't a God. it's all so explainable -- religion -- and the big question is: why does there have to be a God? the universe could continue just fine without one. it seems entirely irrelevant to existence. we obviously don't need God to live and function. isn't it more logical that existence simply is, that it's not willed into being, that it's not designed and crafted, and that there isn't a love and logic behind it all. i think we can create all that for ourselves, and that's powerful and beautiful, but i really do think, deep down, in creeping moments, and it almost fills me with dread, that there's no there there, there's only what we put there.

let me talk about that dread. that dread, to me, feels awful, but it also feels like it's where religion comes from. that it's brutal, but yet honest, to actually face the dread -- that we are alone, that we are big bags of water on a rock floating through space, that none of this means anything *beyond what we allow it to mean* -- and process it for what it means: there is no God. it seems to me that the dread is so unbearable, that it makes you wake up in the middle of the night feeling as if you are drowning, that the thought of blankness, of nonexistence, of nothingness, is so terrifying, that religion gets us through the night, but that it is, ultimately, comfort. and it feels, i don't know, brave to stare the dread in the face and call it what it is.

that's where i am.

however, i do want there to be a God. a God could logically exist (though it seems that this position is more complex than that he doesn't, and therefore is less likely to be true). and i do find other people's experiences compelling. it's certainly not for me to tell them that what they experience isn't true, even if i can easily explain it at least in my mind. i also find it compelling the stories of being in a room when someone actually does die. i have not experienced this, but i'm told that it does feel as if something has left the room, and when you see an actual dead person, there's such a remarkable, tangible difference that it does feel as if the body is inhabited by something. but what?

so that's why i come down as an agnostic. because i can't absolutely rule it out.
I was in this frame of mind a few years back, but at this point I can honestly say that I don't want there to be a God (some "Big Daddy" "Father Christmas" figure looking down and punishing us for our alleged sins? Horrible, horrible idea, IMO) and I don't want there to be an afterlife either (living for ever? Again, the very idea strikes me as horrible. Everything has a beginning and end).

I am also not entirely convinced that belief in an interventionist creator-god is necessarily innate in the species: historically, Christianity supplanted the old Pagan religions, which seem to be more about rebirth/renewal than living for ever and other odd, and comparatively modern ideas.
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