Written by Fraser Barratt.
I used to be an atheist. In fact, I would have proudly told you I was an “antitheist” – I didn’t believe in God, and I was positively glad He didn’t exist. My world of deduction and logic simply left no space for a bearded man in the sky pulling the strings. The universe didn’t owe me a God, and I didn’t want one either, thank you very much.
Looking at the world this way is like an unfinished book. A few chapters in, I felt I already had all the information that I needed. I was utterly convinced by the scientific method and the elegant way it could deconstruct life’s big questions. So I stopped reading, and put the book down. Anytime my curiosity resurfaced, I would refer back to what I had learnt in Chapter 1 and re-convince myself of how right I really was.
This world and its inhabitants owe an indescribable debt to science. I personally owe it my family’s livelihood, my future career, and probably even my life in some way. Its power and beauty are often put down by artists and religious zealots alike. The scientific method – observation, hypothesis, experimentation – is the most powerful tool we have to understand the world around us. However, we must be careful not to overstretch its limits. Not all questions are susceptible to logical induction or deduction. In fact, it can be mathematically proven that there are some hypotheses that cannot be proved, despite being correct. The idea that all questions – physical and metaphysical – can be solved by the scientific method is scientifically unfounded. Furthermore, it is often said that questions about the universe that cannot be tested through scientific enquiry, such as “why are we here”, are simply meaningless. I used to believe this. There need not be an answer to these questions, so why bother asking them?
The truth is, we all believe in abstract concepts, no matter how pragmatic we claim to be. Take love for example. The feeling we get when we wake up next to the person we love, and we watch them blink as the sunlight hits their face. The look in a mother’s eyes when she sees her child for the first time. The pain we feel when our heart is broken: the emptiness, the loneliness, the physical ache in our bellies. These can all probably be explained by fluctuations in serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline etc., but I have yet to find someone who can look me in the eyes and say that they believe that this is it and there is nothing else, however silly they might feel about it.
Love underlies our reality. It exists in a different plane altogether. Like parallel vectors that never cross paths; both nonetheless real. This may sound farfetched, but it’s really no more extravagant than the latest scientific theories about 4-dimensional space-time or the multiverse. These underlying planes are where God may or may not be. Just because we cannot see or detect His presence, we can entertain the possibility that God may exist by listening to our instincts telling us that this might be the case. When discussing spirituality in the book “Letters to My Son”, Kent Nerburn illustrates this perfectly: “only a fool refuses to walk in the sunlight because he cannot see the shape of the sun”.
Every known society or civilisation of human beings has had an idea of God: Ra, Yahweh, Mithras, Osiris, Allah, and countless others. This does not prove the existence of a God, but it demonstrates the feeling that we all have that there might be some meaning to it all, or some purpose for our miraculously improbable existence. Some say that this is a childish response to not being able to answer questions. In some ways, this is true. Why does it rain? Why does the harvest fail? These problems that used to belong to religion have now been claimed by science. However, to dismiss this as ignorance is to dismiss that childish sense of wonder altogether, that has been so carefully and deliberately beaten out of us by ourselves and others as we “grow up”. We leave our dreams about the world aside, and we learn to eat the facts.
Nothing of what I have said proves the existence of God, and certainly no God in particular. I only mean to suggest that we should not dismiss our true feelings on these matters too readily.
Imagine you wake up, over the rainbow in Oz, and you set out to find the Wizard. As you wander the strange landscape, you meet other wanderers. Some tell you they know the way. They all try to lead you in different directions, convinced theirs is the right way and everyone else’s is wrong. Some paths appeal to you, others do not. Some people gently invite you to find your way with them. Others say the Wizard doesn’t exist at all and you’re wasting your time. Imagine that, after years of wandering, struggle, and doubt you get there in the end, you pull back the curtain, and it’s been a runny-nosed old hustler all along.
Wouldn’t you still be grateful for the journey?