I have been a christian believer for more than 60 years, but I still have doubts and unanswered questions. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say that I’m absolutely certain about God.
I am troubled by the amount of suffering in a world that I believe a loving God created. And I wonder why God doesn’t make himself just a little bit easier to “see”.
Yet I am quite sure I could never be an atheist. So what is there about atheism that prevents me thinking that it’s not true?
Atheist conclusions I cannot believe
Atheism is essentially a hypothesis, that there is no God and no gods. And we test hypotheses by how well they explain the evidence.
I cannot be an atheist because I don’t think it explains the evidence.
I cannot believe in an autonomous universe
If there’s no God then how can we explain the existance of our amazing universe?
I cannot believe all this vast array of galaxies and stars, all this energy, the amazing extent of space and time, all appeared out of nothing and for no reason.
Nor can I believe that it has always existed, for if it started an infinite time ago, everything that could ever happen would have happened long before now.
Neither idea makes any sense to me, yet atheism seems to require either one or the other.
Furthermore, the universe is held together by physical laws that will only work if a bunch of physical values (like the size and charge on fundamental particles, the value of the various fundamental forces, and so on) are within extremely fine ranges. Physicists have estimated that the probability of this happening by random chance, as atheism requires, is infinitessimal.
The only scientific explanation for this improbability, that there may be very many universes, and we are just the “lucky” one, doesn’t really make atheism more feasible for me, because such a remarkable “multiverse” seems just as unlikely as our remarkable universe.
I cannot believe people are purely physical
Atheism generally implies that the world and everything in it must be purely physical, because what is there in atoms and energy to create anything else?
But I cannot believe human beings are purely physical, and I don’t believe that people can live as if that were true.
For if I am purely physical, then there is nothing going on in my brain, nothing controlling my brain except physical processes. And we know how physical processes work, according to quite strict laws. Chemical processes and electrical signals work according to laws, and there is nothing else in there. So any choice I make is determined by those physical processes.
So it is hard to see how I can choose anything except what those physical processes determine, for they are me, there’s nothing more (if atheism and physicalism are true).
I cannot believe that. It doesn’t accord with my experience. And it is self-contradictory, because the conclusion that atheism is true would be determined by those processes rather than by the truth.
What’s more, if my brain processes are determined by physics, then it is hard to see how I can reliably think logically. Again, my attempt at logical reasoning will be at the mercy of physical processes which know nothing about logic. So I just cannot believe that, for if I did, I don’t know if I could believe my own brain!
Finally, human society requires that we all can live together in peace most of the time, otherwise each group or tribe would be dysfunctional and would easily fall prey to other groups. So our societies evolve ethical values and laws which aim to keep everything working efficiently and peacefully. Such values don’t need to be objectively “right”, they just need to work.
But the strange thing is, most of us can’t help think some of these values are really objectively true. I, and most likely you, strongly feel that killing or torturing babies, grandmas, and most likely anyone, is repugnant and really wrong. And if we don’t think that, we’d probably be considered a psychopath.
So most of us (even atheists) naturally recoil from a conclusion that atheism seems to lead to. But if there’s no God, what can make moral values and laws actually true?
So because I believe humans really do have free will, the ability to reason and the ability to make truly moral choices, and because atheism implies a purely physical world that doesn’t allow for freewill, reason and ethics, I cannot be an atheist. I cannot believe that, and I cannot live that.
The things that happen to people
Some people have amazing experiences which seem to come from beyond this physical world:
- people pray and ask God for healing, and while often they don’t receive what they ask for, sometimes they do, in ways that medical science cannot explain;
- some people seem to experience God speaking to them or appearing to them in a vision, and this often changes their lives dramatically;
- others have an overwhelming experience of the divine, where they feel love and peace and a sense of awe, and this too has strong and beneficial effects in their lives;
- and without any fanfare or anything dramatic, millions of people experience what seems to them to be God guiding them, comforting them, changing teir lives and lifting them out of negativity and hurtful emotions and experiences.
It would be easy to dismiss these experiences as being evidence of weak minds and fanciful thinking, but studies show that most people who have these experiences have good mental health.
I cannot believe that every one of these apparent experiences of God is a result of imagination or an unhealthy mind. There are too many healings which defy medical expectations. Too many people’s lives are changed in positive ways.
So although I’ve never had an experience that was obviously more than “natural” I cannot make myself discount them all or explain every last one of them away, which is what I’d have to do if I was an atheist.
I can’t dismiss Jesus
Jesus was arguably the most influential person who ever lived. The originator of the world’s biggest religion. An inspiration to so many people who have set up hospitals, aged care facilities, schools and aid and development programs. (And yes, some have killed and done evil in his name, but they clearly weren’t following his teachings.)
In his life he challenged the status quo, healed, gave respect to those who were disrespected by their society (women, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes) and inspired people with his ethical teachings. He hated hypocrisy, stood against the prevailing power structures, but loved and mixed with the common people, who loved him in return.
And when he was executed, his followers said they had seen him alive again, and this belief motivated them to set out to change the world. Which they did.
I cannot believe the stories we have about him aren’t substantially true. The historians generally support this view as a reasonable conclusion.
And I can’t believe he lied or was totally mistaken about who he said he was – God’s agent on earth. I can’t dismiss his teachings and say all the stories about him are false.
So I can’t be an atheist, who must conclude that Jesus was a mistaken idealist. I just can’t.
The evidence is overwhelming to me
If atheism is true, if there’s no God, then I’d have to believe all those things that are the logical conclusions of atheism.
Even if I could find ways to explain one piece of the evidence by atheism, the rest of the things I couldn’t explain would be sufficient to throw my atheism into doubt.
So while have doubts and questions, so many questions, they don’t make a dent in all those reasons why I can’t be an atheist.
What I can believe
All these thoughts lead me to think that the most logical explanation is that a creator God purposed to create human beings (via evolution) who had freewill, plus rational and ethical capabilities, and who were capable of loving each other and responding to him. Such a God also makes sense as the God of Jesus.
What about you?
What can you believe, and what can’t you believe?
I’ve made a lot of brief statements of what I can’t believe, and why. You can read my reasons in more detail via these links: