It may be unpardonable to some of you reading this, but, despite my deconversion from Christianity and my deep contempt for the evangelical church, I am still not an atheist. Don’t worry, this isn’t come kind of “gotcha” moment where I have lured you in just to blindside you with some kind of slick evangelism trick. To be clear: I think the Bible is fully untrustworthy and is not a source of spiritual knowledge or ethical principle. Likewise, I believe that the God represented by the modern church bears no relationship to any reality that can be perceived and is, like His supposed “Word,” unreliable as repository of ethics, love, knowledge, and ultimate truth. On these and other grounds, discussed elsewhere, I am not a Christian. Nor am I a Jew, a Muslim, or an adherent of any other religion. But the simple fact remains: disbelieving the God of the Bible and those other faiths does not mean that I believe in the utter absence of anything transcendent, higher, other, unexplainable, or above our current understanding.
First of all, a definition. While Wikipedia may not be the best source of scholarly information, it is a good jumping-off point and source of basic understanding, so I will start there. “Atheism is in the broadest sense an absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is a rejection of the belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.” So, to my mind, atheism is the firm assertion that there is no god or gods. Many atheists who take the time to think more deeply into their philosophy (for lack of a better word) would say that they do not have to prove the lack of any god, for the burden of proof is on the theist to provide proof. In any case, it is impossible to prove a negative, to prove that something doesn’t exist, so the burden is on the theist to provide concrete evidence.
For me, this just doesn’t hold water. To say that the known religions are nonsense and that we have no observable evidence of any deity whatsoever does not conclude the issue. An analogous example, one that you might roll your eyes at but I have seen posited by legitimate scientist recently, is that of finding extraterrestrial life. OK, don’t label me a crackpot just yet. I know I wrote about ghosts earlier, but I’m using this to make a point, not to audition for Ancient Aliens. For decades science has searched for life elsewhere in the universe. None has yet been found and a number of theories have been posited as to why. It could be that no life exists elsewhere in the universe. Or perhaps it is just too far away. Maybe any alien life that does exist is at a different stage of development and isn’t able to interact with us or reveal themselves just now. Could be that aliens have seen us and just don’t want any part of what we have to offer. But my assertion is that maybe the fact that we are judging “life” by our standards means that we just don’t know how to see them; we are looking in the wrong place for the wrong signs. We are defining all life by our standards and may be missing something that simply doesn’t comply with our notions. We don’t see proof because we simply don’t appreciate it as proof.
So, back to the subject at hand. The fact that we don’t see any definitive evidence for god, gods, The Force, whatever, may just mean that we do not possess the tools to see them. But the simple inability to see and understand does not mean that nothing else exists. For this reason alone, I am happy to label myself agnostic rather than atheist.
Referring back to our friends at Wikipedia, “Agnosticism is the view that the existence of God, of the divine or the supernatural is unknown or unknowable. Another definition provided is the view that ‘human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify either the belief that God exists or the belief that God does not exist.” We simply don’t have the tools. This is not unheard of. Bacteria and viruses were unknown before the microscope. The vastness of the universe was unknown before the telescope. The American continents were unknown until Columbus, or the Vikings, or… whatever. Ignorance of bacteria did not mean people didn’t get sick. Their reality was not contingent upon human observation.
I believe there is danger in absolute certainty where there is not enough evidence. Atheists are quick to point to the believer’s unwarranted faith as irrational. They would say there is no evidence for God and that the Bible itself is so rife with contradiction, plagiarism of other faiths, scientific denial, and outright untruths that it cannot be used to as evidence for a transcendent God. I would suggest that absolute disbelief is on identically shaky ground. In fact, hard atheism is equally as untenable as evangelical Christianity in my mind as certainty can’t be guaranteed no matter how strongly one believes. That actually sounds a bit like faith to me.
Perhaps my background in belief is so strong that I simply, psychologically, can’t let go of the need for “otherness.” I accept that. I also am perfectly happy to say that I don’t have all the answers and I may not even be equipped to search for them. To me there is a certain joy in the idea that there may be more out there than we can perceive, but that there is adventure in the investigation.