From Why Evolution is True, I’ve learned of a curious Christmas gift that William Lane Craig is offering to atheists: Five reasons why God exists.
There are several responses already – my favorite for its philosophical rigour is Richard Carrier’s.
My take tonight is somewhat different. Rather than a rebuttal of Craig’s points – something I couldn’t do as well as Carrier anyway – I’d like to offer a Friendly Humanist’s gift to William Lane Craig, and to any people out there who are honestly doubting the existence of God.
So here are my Five reasons it is safe to question your beliefs. (Mainly aimed at religious believers, but the premise should work for any belief.)
It seems that many people fear or distrust nonbelief because it lacks the anchor of religious morality. I’m not going to get into how rusty and unreliable that anchor is – this is an uplifting Christmas gift, not a rant.
So just consider this: if, in fact, there is no god, then every good deed people have done, every uplifting principle, every act of compassion and moral progress, has come from people. So, if there is no god, then we have within ourselves the resources to be good, to improve our lot, that of our fellow humans, and of other creatures. Follow your reason. If it leads you away from belief in God it will not lead you away from morality. (Nor, if it leads you back into belief, will it lead you away from morality.) Millions of people are good without belief in God. Millions are good with belief in God. It is safe to doubt. It is okay to doubt.
Similarly, many rely on belief in God for a sense of meaning.
They may fear that, by letting go of the belief in God, they will lose any sense of meaning in their lives. Fear not. Because if there is no god, then all the meaning and inspiration you have ever felt came from you, yourself. Whatever you believe, you cannot destroy the source of meaning. If the source is God, he’ll still be there if you doubt him. If the source is you, you will still be there regardless of your belief or disbelief in God. You may doubt God, but you can still believe in yourself. Millions find meaning in their lives without leaning on belief in supernatural creators. It is okay. It is safe.
If you are starting to sense a pattern here, that’s fine. Patterns are everywhere in the universe.
Anyway, what about love? Many people say “God is love” – I’m not always sure, but I think some mean it metaphorically and others literally. Whatever the case, if God-the-person does not exist, that doesn’t change the fact that most people through the ages of human existence have experienced love in some form or other. If you come to believe that God does not exist, that love will not magically vanish. It remains. It is a fact; God is only a theory. (On the other hand, if God does exist, the love remains too.)
Millions of atheists live full lives, with love and all the other emotions and complexities of human living. It is okay: life without god belief is not life without love.
One of the most puzzling attitudes I sometimes hear from believers is this: that rejection of belief in God is somehow a rejection of the sense of mystery.
This is insane. (Especially under the common belief that God helps explain things.) Its insanity is only exceeded in the claim that science destroys mystery. (These are connected, since atheists and humanists tend to look to science to explain things that religions have historically covered.)
Science is about answering questions, it’s true. But it answers questions from our perspective. Early scientists explained things that we saw all around us: gravity, disease, light, life. The more we learn, the further out the bubble of mystery gets. We’re now learning about minute diseases (viruses and prions), about incredibly distant objects (quasars), and about objects so tiny that they can’t even be called objects any more (quarks, strings, and I don’t know what). No matter how far science pushes back our ignorance, there’s always another “why” or “how” question sitting on the other side. Imagine our knowledge as a bubble. The bubble gets bigger and bigger, but there’s always a vastness of ignorance outside it. And the larger the bubble gets, the more questions we have at our fingertips to poke to the other side.
Anyway, I don’t know if that analogy makes sense. It’s late Christmas Eve, and I’m feeling more than thinking my way through this. I can testify, as a working scientist, that every experiment I run brings up a handful of new questions. (Whether or not that experiment answers the original question I was working on.)
Ask any scientist, and you’re likely to get an answer on the same line.
So, if your belief in God goes away, you will never lack for mysteries to quench your soul with.
Okay, the answer here is largely predictable, but it’s worth saying anyway. All the companionship and community you have ever experienced – that was provided by people. If God exists and happened to inspire it, that’s swell. (And I’d venture that any god worth calling “good” wouldn’t take that gift away if you ceased believing in him for good reasons.) If he doesn’t exist, then that support and companionship still happened. It came from the people themselves.
There’s more, though. There are places in the world where, although there is community and love, it is conditional. You need to be part of the tribe. A fellow believer. So yes, some human communities are so broken that they cannot give true, unconditional shelter to those in need. But there are many people, many communities, that do give real support, unconditional acceptance. These include religious people, non-religious people, and folks who don’t worry about the God question one way or the other.
Thanks in large part to the loud, annoying, irrepressible “New Atheists”, there is a growing community, worldwide and locally, online and (in more and more places) offline, of people you can safely share your doubts with, or your newfound disbelief.
I don’t know who is better at it. My experience is that religious and nonreligious people alike are largely accepting of folks, and don’t meter out their friendship based on how alike you are in beliefs.
The point is not who is better at it. The point is that, if you grow away from your belief in God, wherever you end up, there is a place for you to feel safe and wanted in this world. There are thousands of places.
Now, in case I didn’t make it clear enough in all of that, this is not a post about why you should become an atheist, or a humanist. It is not a prod to push you away from a belief that you hold dear, or a belief that you are comfortable in.
This is a good-news post. It is for anyone who is doubting but afraid of where doubt might lead them. It is for anyone who is afraid for a friend who is doubting. The message is this: doubt away. Test your beliefs. Try on new ones, keep the old ones – follow your heart and your reason. Do not shy away from what seems true because it seems wicked, or meaningless, or inhospitable. Because it’s not. What is true is true, whether we believe in it or not. Love, meaning, goodness, mystery – these are facts of life, there for anyone to grasp.
So, to all of you out there, believers in gods of all kinds, nonbelievers, doubters and questioners, closeted or jubilantly out, may you have a great solstice season, a merry Christmas, and many more exciting trips around the sun.