Why I am an Agnostic

I am 55 years old and 5’8½” tall. I live in a universe 290,909,091 times older than I am, and 1,296,092,390,800,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times taller – and that’s just what we can see of it. (And yes, obsessive as I am, I did just sit down and work out those figures from scratch).

From my exceptionally limited spatial and temporal vantage-point, then, what do I see? Well, what I see is a creation. Plain and simple. Trees coming about by chance? Mosquitoes? My cats? Me? Pull the other one. Look at so much as a single leaf in detail and… well, forget it, squire. That didn’t just manifest itself through the random collision of atoms.

Only… well… here’s the problem. An accumulation of scientific evidence points in the direction of ‘Yes, it did’. The evidence is compelling. I go with it. God is not sitting there in his workshop turning out kittens and bunny rabbits and blades of grass and Mount Everest and the Andromeda Galaxy on a lathe.

Well, we’ve pushed a creator out of the picture somewhat, but let’s be sensible here. We’ve not killed it off altogether. What created the environment within which all this takes place?

Consider Man as a maker of steel. He does not sit at a work bench with a pile of carbon atoms to the left of him, a pile of iron atoms to the right, and assemble from them an ingot atom by atom. He builds a furnace within which the conditions are right to feed the raw materials which will, by natural inclination, assemble themselves into steel of their own accord. Natural forces do the hard graft, but Man creates the environment within which this will happen.

God as furnace-maker then? In terms of my own thinking I am now at the age, historically, known as the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinkers rarely believed they had put paid to God by discovering the mechanistic universe. Rather they had just pushed him back a bit, denied him providence, said ‘No, not every blade of grass that grows, not every sparrow that falls but, rather, the creation of the environment in which these things happen of their own accord’.

Thank you Sir Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin, now back to li’l’ ol’ me. God as a maybe. But what is the ‘maybe-God’ we are describing here?

This is about to get offensive to Christians, to sound haughty and arrogant, but sorry, it is my belief. The Christian God comes too nicely packaged. It is too certain. It is too shapely, and known, and understood, and friendly, and nice, and it’s done this and it’s done that, and it was here when and there when, and it said this and it said that and it said the other. Well sorry, no. That’s not God, that’s my Uncle Bill. Moreover, the biggest event in its existence, or one of ’em anyway, was a single historical instance in which it revealed itself unambiguously to humanity by dumping its son off into a little village in the middle of the desert 2,000 years ago pre-radio, pre-television, pre-internet, forgot to provide him with even a scribe to take notes at the time, and said ‘There’s your proof!’ Well… no. Sorry. I could do a better job than that, and I can’t go with the idea of a universal creator who’s not as clever as I am.

Mohammed did a rather better job as an emissary, admittedly. At least God got him to get his daughter to take dictation, but still… could have done rather better.

Moses? Well… you know…

So here’s where I take issue with some clever-clever atheists. They think that if they can reject that then that’s put paid to God. Goodbye. Nice to have dreamed you. Have a nice day. Well, sorry, no; not clever-clever; silly-silly. All you’ve actually done is reject the Judaic notions of a creator and, let’s face it, that was pretty easy. You have not rejected any possible conception of some creative wotsit. You’re not an atheist if you stop there – or, at least, not a very bright one. All you’ve done is deny the various faiths arising out of Judaism. That’s a little like saying ‘Because the Singing-Ringing Tree is just a film made in Czechoslovakia with the aim – apparently – of giving small children nightmares, oaks and elms too do not exist’.

You gotta do better than that, guys.

Forget the Judaic God. Forget even the word ‘God’, it’s so loaded with anthropomorphisms that ‘He’ may as well be the bloke down my local corner shop. But consider the possibility of some creative wotsit that brought about the environment of the universe. When doing so, forget the words I’m using to describe it, they function within human language. It’s not going to be a ‘he’ or a ‘she’. It’s not going to be ‘good’. It may not ‘want’ this or ‘want’ that. It may not be anything you can even begin to conceive. It may not even be a ‘something’, just an ‘isness’, a first principle the only distinguishing feature of which we can actually comprehend is that its ‘existence’, (again the limitations of language), means that creation is not mere happenstance. Anyone who proclaims with certainty, that the universe is happenstance is not adhering to the scientific method. Considering how perfectly the universe is seemingly tailored to all that we see around us – the ‘anthropic principle’ – rule that isness out at your peril as a person who wants to lay claim to rationalism as a creature aged somewhere between 5 and 105 years old, between 4′ and 7′ tall. You simply do not have the evidence.

Okay, I’m aware this is a variation – barely even a variation – on ‘the God of the Gaps’, something I have argued against myself. This is the idea that if we don’t know something, posit God as an answer to that which we do not know and bingo! Sorted. However, I would argue against that as any sort of proof. Clearly it is not a proof at all, we may place anything in those gaps. All the ‘first principle’ gap permits reasonable doubt, and that doubt is very reasonable as anyone familiar with the anthropic principle would have to concede. However, there are alternatives. Multiverse theory, the one I prefer, means a creative principle is not a necessity. However, there is no more evidence for the multiverse than there is for a creative principle.

I am, then, strictly speaking, an agnostic. My working hypothesis is atheism, but that is all it is – a working hypothesis.

4 thoughts on “Why I am an Agnostic

  1. Well said! Even our attempt to articulate existence, let alone a divine wotsit or Prime Mover, is hobbled by our language itself. And our apprehension and comprehension of Being are limited by the tools we have developed to measure and to see with, including our own minds. But ain’t it wonderful to make the attempt? I find that an hour or so in the midst of nature recalibrates my perception of life and meaning, and while I don’t accept any religious narrative as an adequate metaphor for our life and meaning, let alone a cause of it, I cannot help but be truly awed by the inter-dynamics and incredible design of this matrix of living. (I was going to say ‘living things,’ but the thing is not the point, to me. More and more, for me, life represents a miraculous dynamic that just happens to manifest, to some degree, in living forms. And perhaps we cannot ‘nail this down’ or satisfactorily perform this existential game of ‘pin the tail on the donkey,’ because dynamic potency is the centre of it, and not something remotely anthropomorphic. Existence is a muscled verb, that we like to see in terms of nouns, because that’s comforting for us, and is, for now, the limit of our articulation. Science and mysticism, I’m sure, will at some time/space juncture, apprehend and speak the same. And, if then, the question of God seems to be answered, it won’t last more than a millisecond, as eternity, infinity and everything else, phenomenal and noumenal, continues to elude our grasp. (Aren’t words fun?) 🙂 Great post, Peter. You are always worth reading.

    • Thanks for the thumbs-up. I tend to be a little wary of elongated opinion pieces, but this one has generated some good feedback. I may go to town on them now…

      Indeed, look at the world around us and it’s difficult not to have a sharp intake of breath at something as commonplace as a leaf when it’s considered on anything more than a surface level. It seems ‘obvious’ that such a thing was created, and even though I myself have atheism as my working hypothesis, I can’t – as some atheists sadly do – see how a lack of belief in a creator is in any way obvious while theists are to be derided for their folly. The burden of proof lies upon us if it is ever to be established, given the evidence of a creator of some description is so apparent.

      Many thanks for the thoughtful response. It makes the writing of such a long post well-worth the effort.

    • I’m not sure, George. Let me summarise and see if it makes it clearer.

      To be an atheist, you need to believe that the universe is pure happenstance. I cannot see there being sufficient evidence that this conclusion may be drawn empirically, and – moreover – that there is plenty of evidence to say the universe most assuredly is not pure happenstance, (the anthropic principle in particular).

      All we may do in terms of the evidence is say the jury is out, and declare ourselves agnostic. We may then, of course, posit some ‘creative force’ or posit its non-existence as a working hypothesis for further analysis, (atheism being my working hypothesis), but to call oneself an atheist and to cite science as justification is, to say the least, premature, (and, I suspect, always will be).

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