Why do I believe what I believe? For starters, why do I believe in God? I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself those questions and trying to answer them. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that I believe in God because … well, really, because He wanted me to and because I chose to. But He orchestrated some factors to help me in that choosing. I’ll do my best to explore those factors in this post.
Last post, I stated that we all believe what we believe largely because of authority. There are many different sources of authority, and we use many of them in turn for choosing our unique and individual belief sets. I also mentioned last post that, in order to access absolute truth, we must take some source as an infallible one. (Otherwise, we have nothing but a whole bunch of conflicting opinions on every subject imaginable. Essentially, there would be no absolute truth. And that is an inherently self-contradictory and unlivable position.) The three authorities we tend to take as infallible that I talked about last post were parental authority, religious authority, and scientific authority.
The pathway of belief that I chose brought me out to the spot where I’ve rejected parental authority and scientific authority as infallible but have embraced a particular religious authority as infallible. That pathway, however, started for me with parental authority and led me through scientific authority.
Those factors God orchestrated? I can’t speak to what it looks like from His perspective, but from my perspective, I think I believe in a God today because my parents told me there is a God and then science came along to confirm it for me.
As with most kids, I started off believing whatever my parents told me was true, but as with most kids, I soon began to question if everything my parents taught me could possibly be true. Especially in the culture I live in, we’re all given a lot of help in learning to question the reality of a God. We can’t get too far along in our education or just in living life without doubts regarding this belief being flung at us.
It’s interesting that the people doing the doubt-flinging will often tell us that their reasons for doing so are scientific ones. I say “interesting” because when I’m tempted over and over to doubt this belief I hold, one reason I always, in the end, come back around to clinging to it is science.
I’ve stated that I don’t believe science to be an infallible authority, but I do see it to be a valuable authority. I recognize that “science” really means “scientists,” and scientists are only human. Scientists make new discoveries and leave old ones behind. Scientists change their minds. Scientists contradict each other. Scientists are prone to biases; to the push and pull of various desires in their interpretations of their discoveries (aka: their beliefs) that the rest of us are prone to.
I’ll always hold some false beliefs. I can’t know anything with absolute certainty. I can only try to get through life as best I can by deciding what I believe based on the best evidence available to me. That means I must weigh the evidence, even the scientific evidence, for myself as much as I can. But I also recognize that scientists have a lot to teach me once I carefully sift through the evidence I have at hand.
And here’s the reason I say that because of science I always come back to clinging to my belief in God in spite of my doubts: I see the scientific evidence leaving me with no truly viable alternative other than a belief in a Creator God of some sort.
I like to think of myself as an honest person, but I have the same push/pull of desire (or bias) in my belief set that everyone is susceptible to one way or the other. I admit that I want to believe in God. Sure, I was raised to believe in God. I don’t want to disappoint my family and closest friends by deciding not to. I don’t want to give up the meaning it brings to my life, without which I’m afraid I wouldn’t see any meaning. But regardless, I’m an honest person, and I value truth above my desires. I believe quite a lot of things I don’t want to believe but have been convinced of. So I think I’ve tried to examine the evidence for and against God just as honestly as my bias will allow me to. There have certainly been those moments (a lot of them) when it equally seems that a belief in God is impossible for me to go on clinging to. In those moments, I’m always brought back to the question, “Well, then, what are my alternatives?”
My alternatives really come down to a) Nothing is what it seems, anyway, b) Everything is an accident, or c) There is a Creator.
I’ll tell you up front that the only alternative I could accept over c) is a). Perhaps what we think of as reality isn’t really real. Maybe mind is the only true reality. We’re living in a sort of a dream world or the matrix (if there is a “we” at all. Maybe I’m all on my own. Maybe mine is the only mind in existence. Who knows?) However, what I can know is that I have existence—my mind has existence. If nothing else is real, consciousness is real. I think, therefore I am. Who or whatever “I” am, “I” exist because “I” am conscious. I can’t find any way around this truism.
But if “I” exist (and I do), then this fact matters. “I” matter to me. My experience of consciousness matters to me. There may be no way to prove or disprove whether or not anything else exists, but I know I do, and to me, I matter.
The quest, then, is to try to do the best I can do with my experience of consciousness.
I’ve heard of those who’ve decided to embrace the belief that mind is the only reality, but they certainly find themselves unable to live consistently with such a belief. They live as though there is such a thing as a physical world and it’s all real. In that case, why bother believing it’s not? There’s no way to logically argue for or against such a belief. There’s no way to arrive at this position from any sort of evidence-based examination of it, and there’s absolutely no practical help in getting through one’s experience of consciousness to be had from it. For those reasons, I’ve set it aside.
It’s true that sometimes a belief in God looks impossible to me, but then nothing would make any sense at all. So, this “mind is the only reality” idea looks to me like my only viable alternative. (Who expects dreams to make sense, after all? If nothing is real, it doesn’t have to make sense. If my mind is the only thing in existence and I can’t really know or learn anything about a real reality, I don’t have to try to figure out where my mind came from. It just is. Maybe it’s always been.) But if this idea happens to be true, then so what? Where does it lead me? How does it help me? What good does such a belief do me? Absolutely none. It’s good for nothing, and so I disregard it as nothing. I can’t possibly know one way or the other if it’s true, so I set it aside as untrue or at least entirely irrelevant to my life and get on with the business of believing in a real reality. And believing that the real reality is (at least somewhat) what we think it is.
And then I consider b). Even on my own, I think I would find b) to be, quite literally, unbelievable. Nonsensical. Fairy-taleish. A much greater leap of blind faith than the clean, quiet prose of the creation account in Genesis 1 that some see as fairy tale. I’ve had a look at the evidence of those who proclaim that it’s not only possible but probable, even inevitable, that everything just … sort of … happened, and I find their “evidence” to consist of nothing more than the rankest bias. They just don’t want there to be a God. That those who believe so are desperate to believe it is the main impression I come away with. I find the so-called “scientific” explanations for how everything could have come to be without some kind of designing intelligence back of it utterly lacking in evidence. The evidence put forward for these explanations is evidence for pieces of the theory, but those pieces do not support the whole all on their own. There is no explanation—none—for the whole.
Consider the origin of the universe: Now that there is consensus among scientists that our universe is not eternal, they are left with zero scientific explanations as to how it could have come into being without some help. And when we get to the origin of life, we’re faced with the same problem. Similarities between the DNA of one species and another do absolutely nothing to explain how the DNA could have organized itself into its information-rich, trademark double helix all by itself. Out of dead matter. That vital piece of the theory is left entirely untouched. Of necessity.
So that brings us to a). The scientific arguments presented by theistic scientists (while admittedly biased) are sound and (as far as I’ve seen) unconquerable. (It doesn’t have to matter that these arguments are biased. Bias does not determine truth. If I happen to believe the truth because I want to believe it, just because my bias is involved doesn’t make the truth untrue. Bias must give way to evidence if we’re to be honest seekers after truth, but none of us can start without some bias or other. Bias is possible to overcome through evidence, but the evidence for “no God” or for accidental origins I’ve seen to be so weak, I feel no need to overcome my bias of a desire to believe in God.)
I’m no scientist, so I’ll direct you to a couple of talks by a couple of scientists who make the case in a way that’s accessible to the layperson. Here’s one on the origin of everything, and here’s another on the origin of life. They’re long, but well-worth the watch when you have time.
It’s this kind of scientific authority and the weakness of the other side that keeps me convinced in a belief in God.
“But,” someone will tell me, “All this isn’t evidence for God. There is no direct evidence for God. Negative evidence isn’t evidence. The evidence for God is really an argument from ignorance. It’s God-in-the-gaps kind of thinking. Ignorance of how the universe and life came to be and came to be what it is today doesn’t have to mean that there’s a God-figure back of it all. Primitive people have always assigned God’s mysterious ways the role of explaining what wasn’t previously understood. The more we learn, the more we understand, and this process will eventually leave no room for God. The gaps are closing.”
But this is really future-scientific-discoveries-in-the-gaps kind of thinking. Why is this superior to “God-in-the-gaps” thinking? True lovers of knowledge have always wanted explanations for things and have always looked for the best options at hand to explain things. Plugging the holes in our scientific knowledge with the God-explanation is the best option we have at present. It’s using our observational skills to arrive at what looks like our most likely alternative of the moment.
When we see design and order and pattern, especially information-bearing design, order, and pattern, without knowing the cause, we conclude that an intelligence caused it. For example, if I’m out hiking, and I run across a design that looks like, “A + B” carved into a tree or written on a rock, I immediately recognize that here is an intelligible pattern. It’s an information-bearing design. I know what it means if not who put it there. So without having to see the source in action, I jump to the obvious (and true) conclusion that this information was the product of mind.
This is the intuition that causes us to plug God into the gaps in our knowledge as the best explanation. The universe is full of intelligible information. It’s made up of intelligible information. The more we learn about it, the more obvious that becomes. The truth is, the gaps are not shrinking; they’re widening. The more we learn, the more vastly unlikely it starts to look that everything could have come about by pure chance.
The belief that the supernatural is the proper bridge for our gaps is not strictly a scientific one, but that’s okay. There are other ways of learning and knowing besides the strictly scientific ones. And now let’s talk for a moment about a phenomenon called “scientism.” Scientism is basically the religion of science. It’s the deification, in a sense, of scientific discovery. Some people think that scientific knowledge—knowledge which relates only to the purely physical—is the end-all, be-all of all knowledge possible. This is why those who are devout believers in scientism plug the gaps in their knowledge with “future-scientific-discoveries-in-the-gaps.” They believe science is the only acceptable method of arriving at a true belief-set. But this mindset is not science. It’s faith. It starts with the unproven assumption that the physical is all there is. But the physical is not all there is. Many everyday realities are outside the realm of science and the purely physical.
Science has limits. Science can determine the time of death of a murdered body. It can’t speak to the motive behind the murder. That must be discovered by other means. Science can have some say on the “who” of the murder with DNA evidence. It can’t begin to address the “why.” Science is the study of the purely physical, and most of our lives and what makes them worth living is beyond the grasp of science.
And so I believe in God. Not as a scientific fact but largely because of the scientific evidence. As far as science has advanced, and the more it advances, the more it moves us in this direction. God is presently the most reasonable explanation for the scientific evidence. Science can never prove the existence of a God outside the realm of the physical, but it can push us in that direction. It can push us to the brink of a belief in the supernatural. Only faith can step off.
Ever since I saw the movie about a hundred years ago, I’ve thought that one scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was the most perfect illustration for why I believe in God. (It’s been a long time since I saw the movie, so please bear with any of my inaccuracies and take the illustration for what it’s worth.) Indiana Jones has followed the clues in his quest to the spot where an invisible bridge must certainly be. The evidence is too strong. He must be at the right spot. But the bridge is hidden. It doesn’t reveal itself until he takes that first step of faith into what looks like thin air with a long, long fall to the bottom. But because of the evidence that brought him there, he takes that step into seeming-thin air, and he finds something solid-yet-invisible under his foot.
I would never recommend to anyone that they dive off the cliff in a blind leap of faith into any belief system (including mine). I would recommend following the evidence where it leads. And then taking an evidence-based step of faith off into the unknown. And that starts with a belief in God.
But which God? That will be the next topic I want to talk about. Next post.