Sunday, 21 October 2012

A 21 year old student on a quest to rediscover my faith

I am a 21 year old student on a quest to rediscover my faith in Christianity. I was an atheist but, through the all too human fear of death and the fear of a meaningless life, I decided to once again find belief. However, the problem has always been that I am too scientific to just 'accept' the existence of a god. I have begun talking to a local priest about all this but, though I like him very much and am grateful for the help he has genuinely provided, I am beginning to feel that I am still not much further towards the answer and am restless to acquire it. He gave me copy of your book 'The Way The World Is' and I am finding it very interesting as it tries to answer those big questions in a scientific, logical fashion that the vicar deduced was the direction I wanted to go in. It has been perhaps the greatest stride I have made thus far.

Sadly my quest for faith seems more and more null and void at the moment: my personal heroes are all atheists, there is so little 'evidence' for a God and there is so little 'reason' (I feel) other than fear of death and lack of meaning to believe. This is all rather sad as I would prefer to have faith but I cannot, for the life of me, find it.

Response: But lack of meaning is a HUGE problem.

In the light of Christ so many things make sense, from fundamental physics (anthropic fine-tuning) to relationships to art to our ability to understand the world (to the extent we do) to our deep intuitions that Love is the most important “thing” in the Universe.

To an atheist almost everything that makes life worth living is an “illusion”- yet it is only an “illusion” if you are determined to see it as such.

But could it not be that humans favour love beyond all else because strong social bonds help our society to expand and progress? Indeed, with our weak forms, isn't a deep affection for each other the only thing that CAN keep us alive? I'm an art student, so I like to view the World as being deeply meaningful and yet everything seems to have a logical basis to do with survival. I'd love to believe in an afterlife, but what is there to make me even consider that I may somehow continue after my body stops? Is it so hard to believe in an end? I mock beliefs in magic and yet isn't the faith I seek that of a sort of hocus-pocus?

I have a true regard and interest in religion but, though I have searched for over a year (even speaking to a vicar about it) I cannot truthfully believe (I have tried to 'trick myself' that i do believe but...well, not a good aproach!). The fact that most the people I know socially and people I admire as role models are atheists acts as a sort of 'nail in the coffin' for me...Although I do understand we must all attempt to be independant thinkers.

Certainly many true beliefs are adaptive but that doesn’t make them false. We believe in gravity in part to avoid falling off cliffs.

If the mainline atheistic worldview were true then, amongst other things:
  1. There is no reason to believe that human reason leads to true beliefs as opposed to beliefs which promote survival value.
  2. There is no compelling reason for people to behave morally or altruistically when it doesn’t suit them to do so.
  3. There is no free will so no possibility of real moral choices or real love
  4. Love is an unimportant epiphenomenon
  5. Life has no meaning
  6. The fine-tuning of the universe is incomprehensible (or a freak accident because there are 10^200 other un-knowable universes)
  7. Aesthetic value is purely a function of our biology.
  8. There is no good reason to continue living and certainly no good reason to devote lots of time and resources to bringing up children. Indeed (in a delicious irony) atheists on average have far fewer children than replacement (eg Dawkins has one child,  Polkinghorne and I each have 3) and therefore the people who claim that the only purpose of life is evolutionary success are in fact evolutionary failures.

Now it could be just tough that these things were so, although if it were true it would be a “true belief which does not promote survival value” and therefore should not be possible for people to hold by (a).  But there is a beautiful, deep and true alternative which does not suffer from any of these problems. We know from Quantum Mechanics that deep reality is usually unseen and a bit counter-intuitive.  The same is true of God.

Further question:  I must admit I don't understand the 'without a God there's no reason to behave morally' arguament. Surely acting morally is in the best interests of a) human survival and b) self-preservation (annoying, angering or endangering other people is, on a primal leval, the easiest way to put yourself in danger or be excluded from the social group.). The fact we seem 'designed' to believe in God also makes evolutionary sense: cultures that are bound together by a faith and fear of a higher order, seem to flourish. Order equals success: The Egyptians, Vikings and, indeed, the entire western World owe their creation to religious faith (even in conquest and empire it has been one of the most powerful motivaters).

The situation for me feels a tad desperate. As I said in a previous email, I've talked to a vicar about this and still feel NO nearer to faith. What should I do now? What is the next constructive step?
All my heroes are atheist and, as I look up to them as superior intelligent beings, it knocks my attempts to believe further when it turns out they are faithless. Yesterday I discovered Steven Moffat (my main inspiration in life (I adore creative writing)) is also an atheist. If these men are so smart, I can't help thinking to myself, then isn't atheism a smart and powerful arguament? Perhaps that is my most childish view within the matter as there are many clever and influencial men/women within religion...But, none the less, it is a thought of mine and it would be to put myself in denile not to detail it as one of my reasons for...this struggle to accept.

I WOULD like to believe but have so many doubts I don't know what to do nor know if I can continue trying to find faith given all the my thoughts on the subject. I'd love (as some have suggested me to do) just to accept, perhaps pray...and then see...but I have tried and I cannot do this.

My family have been very supportive in my search and I am grateful that, whether I can be a theist or will be, in fact, an atheist, so many people (including yourself) have attempted to help me find the answer.

Further response:  Thanks very much  for your email. I think the next constructive step might be to find a local Alpha Course and go on it.  I guess you’ve read our Questions of Truth and this might help with some of the Science issues but questions of faith are much deeper.

To respond to your specific point about morality: I chose my words carefully: There is no compelling reason for people to behave morally or altruistically when it doesn’t suit them to do so.  Of course it’s a good thing if other people act morally but why should we not “defect” (to use the technical language of Evolutionary Game Theory)? Appealing to “do as you would be done by” doesn’t solve the problem – why should an individual accept this?

And I guess you may accept points a and c-h.

I too enjoy Sherlock (although as my daughter points out the original Holmes is a much nicer character than they have made him in the “update”).  But with the best will in the world, comic writers are not reliable guides to truth. As you have said, you need to make up your own mind.

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