Passive No More; Ex-Agnostic Says Thank You

My personality is as middle of the road, non-confrontational compromiser and peacmaker as you can find.

Religion wasn’t something I thought about seriously or often, but related ideas inevitably would float about in my mind sometimes. I considered myself an agnostic in every sense of the word, and even took mild offence at atheist who derided the position as invalid or a cop-out.

Wikipedia says, “In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves there is a God, whereas an atheist disbelieves there is a God. In the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grouns to justify knowledge whether God exists or does not.” and I embodied both definitions:

I didn’t really believe in any god, but it also seemed to be a possibility I couldn’t rule out for certain. The idea of a god had intrinsic appeal, although even when the possibility occasionally did flit across my mind, it was more often a deistic god than a theistic one.

More precisely though, I also believed that given what we are (humans) with our limited (human) abilities, we can’t know or be sure about a higher power that exists beyond our world. And if we cannot know about it, then it can’t matter what we think about it.

To elaborate: We seem to gain knowledge in two main ways, namely through the senses observing the physical world, and through pure abstract thought, reasoning things out. No one today would say God, heaven or hell is physical in a way that we could find them and prove them through science. Neither can we arrive at the conclusion of God by reasoning or thought experiments the way we can reason about logic or maths. God seems to inhabit some separate spiritual realm which doesn’t intersect with our world. If we can’t access it, how can we know it? if we can’t know it, what can it matter what we think of it?

Frankly, I was terrified of the topic of religion, because it is such a sensitive topic and there are always strong opinions on all sides and I am a person who instinctively tries to avoid conflict at all cost. I also hated getting into discussions or even listening to ‘the other side’ of the issue because I felt I didn’t know enough; If my knowledge on a topic is patchy, of course I shouldn’t say too much. If i enter the discussion and can’t think of an answer, it would seem like I ‘lost’, when it could in fact just be due to my lacking knowledge. If I listen to an argument from an expert on the other side, I’m sure to be swayed by his arguments, he’s an expert! I’m defenceless against him!

Well, now I DO think that’s a cop-out. It’s okay to be unsure; in fact, given the myriad of opinions out there and how much people love complicating life, it seems only reasonable to be unsure. But what is not okay is being unsure because you refuse to even look. If you’re unsure, examine why you’re unsure. Is there anyway you can perhaps make yourself a little less unsure? It’s okay to be unsure; it’s not okay to be unsure AND sitting happily on your bum, content to use ignorance as a excuse forever.

I was an agnostic, leaning maybe towards deism, haven’t really ruled out theism for sure, but also sympathizing sometimes with atheism, which appealed to my cynical and science/logic side. But a religion, if true, shouldn’t be in conflict with science, for science is merely the observation of the physical world, so that shouldn’t be a true barrier. And so, a true agnostic at heart, I went in with as open a mind and heart as I could manage: I honestly know that there’s so much I don’t know such that I can’t conclude anything for sure. I admit I don’t have the answers, and you say you do, so I’m all the more willing to listen, willing to understand, willing to try. Above all, I crave understanding. Understanding of how this can work, of how it can make sense.

Now? I think atheism is the most coherent position. I think I’ve been forced to explore and examine why I think what, and it has only cleared and focussed my world view into something more sharp and concrete. So for that, I thank you.

Is it ironic that you said the one thing you wanted was for me to know Christ, and you did the one thing you thought was necessary (a sign from god himself) to achieve that, and all that has brought me from my very neutral position to a more extreme and antagonistic one? To the point that I now find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with positions like that of Richard Dawkins, when previously I found him too confrontational, too extreme?

Ironic maybe, unexpected maybe not. That’s an overwhelmingly common theme in de-conversions: it all started with wanting to get closer to god or serving god more, and then the harder they searched, the harder they prayed, the more they cried out to god and the more furiously they believed… the more they found their faith crumbling around them.

I said it before: there was no gaping holes in my world view then, no searing cosmic questions that I needed answering. There’s even less uncertainty now. This doesn’t mean I’ve closed the doors or refuse to listen to or hear what people who believe have to say. On the contrary, I’d really really like to hear from them, because if there’s one thing for which I still crave for understanding, it’s how their world view makes sense to them.

But I’m not going to do so at the expense of my own beliefs anymore.

Your world view is an interconnected web of ideas and beliefs. They need to fit together like a jigsaw. It’s a framework in which you place your experiences of the world, the lens through which everything is viewed. If EVERYTHING I encounter can be understood from within this framework, it makes no sense to add a component that clashes with existing components and that raises more questions than it answers.


Mere Christianity and Morality

I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Chrsitianity and shall post some of my responses here. You may read or listen to Mere Christinaity here.

Summary of Chapter One: The law of human nature

1. There is a universal standard of Right and Wrong that men expect other men to know, that is obvious to everyone and did not need to be taught.
2. This moral law is the only law people are free to disobey.
3. Moral standards across cultures are more similar than they are different; details differ, but the main thread stays the same. Trying to imagine a totally different morality would be as impossible as imagining a culture in which 2+2=5.
4. Even people who claim that there is no Right or Wrong will claim that something is not right when an injustice is done to them, contradicting themselves.
5. People may make mistakes just as they may get their sums wrong, but morality itself is objective. In fact, everyone breaks the moral law, and our reaction to breaking it, namely being anxious to make excuses and shift the blame away from ourselves, further shows how much we truly believe in it.

C.S. Lewis’ argument at the core is that people will find in themselves an objective moral law, and where would such a law come from if not from God? Francis Collins also uses Moral Law as something (the main thing?) that points towards the existence of a supernatural moral law-giver in his book, The Language of God. Some articles expounding similar ideas here and here.

In general, it’s a very compelling argument because I think it’s a very intuitive feeling for people to want to believe in an objective Right and Wrong. Before I started thinking about this, I thought objective morality had to be right. Subscribing to relative and subjective morality just seemed like a really bad idea that would lead down a slippery slope towards immorality. It also just felt ridiculous, against conventional, rational thought and counter intuitive. And yet, when I read Collins’ and Lewis’ arguments, I felt less than convinced. And the more I read and think about it, the less convincing they become.

Then I watched this three part video series on youtube. It’s not flawless, but it’s very good. All arguments for a Moral Law sounded weaker than ever after that, and I was no longer so wary to let go of the concept of absolute morality. (Although I have yet to redefine and clarify my concepts. Future entry, maybe?)

I think that the explanation of morality given in the videos can be used to counter all of the points proponents of the moral law argument make.