Over the years I’ve talked to a number of people who find themselves unable to commit to belief in God, but equally unable to reject belief. They say they would like to believe, for they cannot think atheism is true, but they find themselves unable to give assent to a particular religion or set of beliefs about God. God may be there, somewhere, but maybe she’s unknowable? We can be sure of scientific information, they may think, but spiritual matters are somehow beyond our ability to know.
For some, their belief can depend on their mood or circumstances – some days they believe, some days they doubt.
I was wondering if there is any way forwards for these people when I realised there are at least some things they do feel we can know. Radical doubt doesn’t necessarily permeate their lives, it may only cripple their ability to feel sure about God, and it may only be temporary.
And that started me thinking ….
What spiritual or ethical things do I ‘know’?
There are many things fundamental to being human that almost all of us take for granted. We believe, generally without thinking about it, that the external world is real, and there are other people, other minds out there. Life isn’t just a computer simulation or a dream.
But what else?
Perhaps one of the most prevalent of beliefs is that some things really are wrong and other things really are right. Most of us believe that, deep down, even if we don’t feel sure about the right answers to many ethical questions. For example we feel quite sure that pedophilia is “wrong” and caring for helpless babies is “right”.
(There are some people of a more philosophical mind who deny the objective reality of any ethical statements, but it is difficult to see them carrying this belief consistently into everyday life. Their head may say we have no way to say genocide is wrong, but their feelings will likely find this difficult to live with.)
So I started to think about what else I or others might believe is both true and important.
10 things we can all believe?
In the end, I came to a list of ten:
- I am therefore I think?
- We can know truth and reality through science, history and experience.
- Some things really are right and others are wrong.
- Only God can explain the universe.
- The world is sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly.
- People are capable of good and evil.
- Some people seem to experience God.
- Religion can be good and bad.
- Jesus really lived a life we can know about.
- No-one has all the answers.
I wonder what you think of that list?
I’m guessing you’ll find some of these statements quite obvious, but a few of them rather questionable, if not outright impossible to believe.
Perhaps #4 will be the hardest for some to accept, but there is good reasoning behind it. If the universe is everything material that exists, then any worldview that is materialistic or naturalistic is saying that there is nothing more or “outside” the universe. Which means there is nothing else to cause it, no reason for it to exist, no explanation for its existence. The only non-material external cause that seems capable of being the explanation is God, so it seems it is either God or no explanation for the universe’s existence. Of course this doesn’t prove God’s existence, for many people are quite happy to say the universe is a brute fact with no explanation, but statement 4 is still true for them.
You may like to read how I justify that whole list, in 10 things we can all believe?.
I’d be interested to know what you think about that list, and what would be YOUR list.
What difference does it make?
But how does that list help us move from doubt to some belief (whether positive or negative) about God?
If we agree that we can know some abstract things such as what is on that list, then we have a little solid ground to stand on. Some of these “facts” have implications about the existence of God. Some are hard to explain if there is a good God, others are hard to explain if there’s not.
Perhaps a list like this is a window into a reality that you have been wondering about for a long time. Perhaps if you follow the trails you’ll reach some sort of conclusion that had eluded you previously. Perhaps defining some important things we believe we can know will help in better defining the questions we have about God.
What do you think?
Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash