One of the joys of doing this blog has been reading comments from its readers. Your input has motivated me, impressed me, and made me think. A heartfelt “thank you” to all who have taken the time to add their voice to this conversation.
In this and the next few posts I will respond to some of these comments. In each “response” post, I will choose comments that bear on a specific topic, with this post being devoted to perspectives on atheism and theism. In some cases, what you see here is just a portion of the original comment. To read the complete comment as it was originally phrased, go to the comments section of the original posting.
Comment #2, Post #1:
...I may be a "Fool" but I'm not an Atheist, Theist or some of those in between. I am a Christian & believe in God. I respect all other religions except the fundamentalists...
...The attempt by mankind to explain the creation of our planet, God, gods or other Supreme Being depends not on theories but upon Faith in an unknown event which I believe is an intangible that can be argued but not proven.
...All the formulas, theories, & word definitions perhaps are man's creation yet to be proven true or false. In my opinion, "Faith" in God/god/Supreme Being, as intangible as it may be, is the only answer regardless of religious belief.
I agree with you completely that the question of whether there is a deity responsible for the creation of the universe is no better answered or proven by science than by religion. Although we can go a ways in disproving some specific description of a deity, we can never prove there is none. Despite your denial, you are a theist in that you believe there is a god. But being a Christian you must deal with the far more complex issue of Jesus and the miracles attributed to him and the miracle of his own rising. Great Man? Messiah? Aspect of God or son of God? What is your belief in this area? Or does it really matter what is myth and what is history?
Comment #3, Post #1:
Science is a wonderful methodology -- a tool that helps us explore and describe our universe in all its immensity and minutiae with increasing accuracy. …[It] can tell me the probability that my baby will have brown eyes, but it cannot explain the loving bond that ties me to that child. The joy we experience in meeting our children's children, who are our link to future generations and thus to eternity -- that ... is bound up with Faith.
I am a scientist, and the more I learn about the intricacies of our universe, the stronger is my faith in a Unified creative force that brought it into being.
I love Julius Lester's description of prayer as our Lovesongs to our Creator, or however we each may understand the notion of God. I don't know whether God lost interest in our world after creating it, or if God maintains a personal relationship with each of us. I can't prove it, but I do believe that God hears my prayers and cares about all of us. For me, God exists in the infinity of time and space and love.
So I guess you'd count me in the Theist camp, though I've never thought of myself as a fundamentalist. The closeness I feel with God, and my gut-sure certainty of God's existence does not require that any one else's path toward Faith or Doubt or Wondering or Agnosticism or Atheism be the same as mine. In the words of Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?"
You are most certainly not a fundamentalist. Your description of your beliefs is consistent with what Einstein and many other scientists and cosmologists, who have said, in essence: “There is a god out there and I can sense it and appreciate the unification of its architecture.” Your penultimate statement, however, is very consistent with that of a theist who has been influenced by his/her religion to believe in a particular god that hears prayer, and that has relationships with humans. I admire and envy your ability to live in both of these perspectives at the same time.
Comment #5, Post #1:
…it is impossible to prove or disprove the existence of a God. The question then becomes if there is a God what has it done and what does it continue to do. And if you believe god created the universe or the multi verse, as is more popular today, where did god come from? It seems to me that believing in the creation of an all powerful god is probably more difficult than believing that random events created the multiverse, as if you believe that random events did it that's the end but if you want a god there is no ending of trying to find the origin of such a god.
While you are right when you say it’s impossible to disprove the existence of a god, there is one situation in which a god’s existence could be proven. That is, if there were a god and that god wanted to prove to our and/or other species that it existed. Thus, the questions a theist must address when developing a theory that a god exists is: Why would a rational god not want us to know that it exists? Or why would a rational god want us to not know it exists? I also question your assumption that the god must be all-powerful in order to exist. A god could have had no origin, could possibly be infinite in time within the Kosmos, or it could even be the Kosmos itself, and yet could be limited in one of several ways. We’ll explore this in later posts.
Comment #3, Post #11:
As a self described "atheistic agnostic", the issue of a god or a God or a greater power larger than ourselves is a non-issue. The question of a greater power, which I believe is unanswerable within our limited ability to understand our universe, is to my mind nothing more than a philosophical head game whereby the goal is to arrive at a similar conclusion to the question of "how many angels can fit on the head of a pin".
As an agnostic, I cherish and revel in the ability to doubt everything. ... I hold a similar view to that expressed by Jean Paul Sartre in his existential work, "Being and Nothingness". Sartre stated that even if one could prove to him that a god exists it would mean nothing in how he would live his life. For Sartre and existentialists, god is a non issue. Life is meaningless and the important and crucial matter in life is to find and bring meaning and purpose to one's life.
Therefore, the real question of our lives does not involve the question of the existence of a greater power. The question and discussion we should be having is how to create meaning and purpose in our lives which is reflected in our resulting behaviour. Good religion or good spirituality should focus on how our lives should be lived… Within [at least ] Judaism, there is a strong current of thought that doubting the belief in a higher power is not an impediment in being part of the Jewish tradition and the Jewish people. The importance of behaviour over belief in a higher power has been an acceptable part of the Jewish tradition.
Saying “I am agnostic” is simply another way of saying “I don’t know and it’s not an issue that’s high on my priority list.”
To me the most significant part of your comment is to be found in the reference to Sartre, and the question as to whether a god is required to bring meaning and purpose to human life. There has been a god, in reality or in our imaginations, ever since we became sentient, and god, as understood by one religion or another, has had profound impact on our lives through a wealth of myths, literature and laws. The Western world is, in many ways, characterized by its legacy of ethical and moral values inherited through so many generations of religious belief. The idea of a god has clearly affected how our species has developed.
This does not prove that it is impossible to construct meaning and purpose in the absence of belief in a god, or at least, without reference to the convictions and structures that have grown out of humankind’s belief in a god. The point is simply that so far, this has been humankind’s most productive way of approaching the problem, and the alternatives are less well tested.
We have witnessed here four very different comments on the subject of theism vs atheism. Two were identifying themselves as theists of different faiths, one as an atheist, and another as an atheist who is querying why it even matters.
I will respond to more comments in my next posting, including ones that have been made to posts 1 to 16, and as well as any comments to this post or simply ideas you have that are not specific to any post. Feel free to comment on anything.