Science fiction presents some baffling themes around causality; for example, the future is the past because events are synchronous in all places at the same time. The current everyday understanding of causality is equally bizarre, however, since a causal chain of events cannot lead back forever, without having a prime initiating point that is outside of these rules.
The dictionary definition of “Atheist”, as a non-believer in God or Gods, isn’t accurate because anecdotally there seems to be many people who think the doctrinal teachings of religious institutions are cultural-based anachronisms – and so would be labelled “atheist” for not adhering to definitive religious beliefs about deities – yet believe in some higher spiritual power that they cannot define. This type of thought is different from believing that the universe’s purpose and function is completely explicable in terms contained within itself by matter and its interactions.
There are a lot of belief jumps in this sentence: The universe is a purposeless collection of matter that mindlessly configured itself by chance out of nothing, existing in time with causes and effects that had no beginning. A reasonable-minded adherent might be aware of the glaring uncertainties in this position, but state it is more parsimonious to adopt a materialistic concept of reality, than implant a God belief system as an additional layer in the theory. Yet the certainty with which many proponents preach this position as absolute truth, suggests a type of commitment witnessed in religious belief.
An Agnostic would state that the ultimate “why” questions are unanswerable, so from a practical perspective we should just be concerned with the “how” questions. The materialist’s objections to Agnosticism – based on the burden of proof for God being on the proponent – misses the point to an Agnostic who has already ruled-out religious explanations of God, but not higher meaning and purpose to reality. A particularly zealous materialist might overplay the remit of verifiable facts by stating that opinions about ultimate meaning are irrelevant if they are not scientifically falsifiable – ignoring the fact that their own conceptual model for reality contains unfalsifiable conjecture.
My own instinctive opinion is that I believe religions share the same spiritual root, although the core message was often corrupted by the doctrines and institutions that arose. This is my personal version of “spiritual but not particularly religious”. As I am most familiar with Christianity I can be labelled Christian; however I do adopt a filter and select only what resonates with me, mindful that the scriptures were written and edited by early practitioners of the religion; and that the Biblical canon was decided upon by the politics of powerful men in ecumenical councils, rather than being the unadulterated teachings of Christ. Looking back in history, the cruelties that have been perpetrated by professed followers of the religion, represent the antithesis of the message of Christ; for real spirituality – the root of Christianity – is always inspired by love, joy, harmony, peace and reconciliation.
I believe that there are different modes of awareness. When I am inclined towards mystical impulses, I subscribe to something along the lines that: form ends on death, but time is just a perspective from one vantage point because the past, present and future are really one; all things are really a part of each other, connected and strands in the great tapestry of life; and maybe we have one foot in this life and one in other dimensions of reality. Maybe there are incalculable vantage points.
There is a part of me that is uncomfortable with uncertainty, but even my purely rationalistic inclination finds a materialist concept of reality difficult to accept, given the absurdity of a microorganism thinking the explanations of how and why reside in the realms of the observable petri dish.
I believe that to thrive at being a good human being is the purpose – and in doing so is helping the macrocosm of the universe to unfold as it should.
1: Why is there something instead of nothing?
3: Given an infinite amount of opportunities anything can emerge from the chaos, including our world.
1: But why are there infinite somethings compelled with energy, rather than nothing?
3: There was no beginning, our universe probably burst forth from another universe and so on. It has always been so.
1: But where did the first universe come from?
3: Not everything has an answer yet, but no doubt it will be explained with the advance of scientific knowledge. Even if the goal is not reached, there is no need to include supernatural causes in the equation. Logic requires that we deal with verifiable facts, adopting the most efficient explanation.
1: Time does not make sense. The existence of things does not make sense. Can we not postulate the existence of something beyond time and space that created everything? Can we call this God?
3: There is no need to do so. We may not know what the variable x is yet, but we should not start invoking imaginary entities.
1: Something doesn’t feel right.
3: There is no evidence for the existence of a God or Gods, the world is explicable in terms of scientific explanation.
1: The fact is that I have always believed in God, it’s not a considered opinion or the product of upbringing, it’s just what has been instinctive to me.
3: Ok well a cognitive scientist may explain this as a natural propensity to religiosity, there by natural selection to give a purpose for the survival of the organism.
1: Is there any meaning?
3: A person may look at the nature of the universe, see the randomness of outcomes, the cruelty and enormous suffering and decide there is no benevolence at work here. They may look at evolution by natural selection and decide there is no plan here. The universe, although magnificent, does not care about us – we must make our own way and make our own meaning in the brief window of opportunity for existence.
1: Suddenly you’re speaking with feeling, maybe your outlook is motivated through sympathy and outrage at the sufferings in the world.
3: It is logic replacing delusion. Myths and fairy stories aren’t needed anymore.
1: I admire your beliefs more than belief systems motivated out of fear or desire for self-reward. I don’t care what you believe, as long as your actions are kind.
3: My conclusions are not beliefs. Religious delusions have been the cause of so much of the worst in humanity.
1: Religions are subject to corruption, yet the spiritual path can be found in the different traditions.
3: A God is not necessary to be spiritual, to behave with morality and to appreciate beauty in Nature.
1: You do have a belief system. You believe the universe ultimately has no purpose and its existence can be completely explained by rules contained within itself – when in fact there is no way of knowing the ultimate causes of things. You believe the answer to the mystery of existence is that there isn’t one.
3: I am offering the most logical approach to understand the world.
1: I don’t believe that the world would exist without a purpose. I believe in the possibility of a reality beyond this reality, beyond cause and effect, time and space. In this life I see the purpose as feeling connected with the world, being present and alive, feeling love, creativity, beauty and joy. The true reality of experience may run far deeper than what our senses show us.
3: I deal with facts and what can be observed, not imagined.
1: Reality is tenuous – it can be anything depending on what our senses show us. Whether what they are showing is objectively real is unknowable. I think you have too much faith in the material surface reality of things, a reality that in itself does not seem complete.