I was raised with religion, but began to have doubts as a teenager. I began to reject religion as a whole, and in the last few years reached a point where I feel that religion is ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong – I accept that it works for some people; it just doesn’t for me. My big problem is that the rules of religion are expressed by men, either written down or passed orally from one generation to the next. One can claim that a religious tome was inspired by a divine presence, but the fact of the matter is that it was written down by a human who claimed divine inspiration, or merely copied (and often reworded) from another work written by one who did the same.
Take the Bible, for instance. Sections of the Bible were written down in ancient languages over many centuries, and then translated along a string of other languages, re-worded by the church, by Kings, and by anyone else who wanted to press their interpretation of the words within it. Anyone who has studied another language knows that something is often lost in translation. Arabic, for instance has numerous verbs that would translate to the same word in English but each of those words has a slightly different nuance before translation. Some of those words used to hold entirely different meanings when they were part of various tribal languages and dialects before being incorporated into the Arabic language as a whole. This is true of virtually all languages. English is certainly no exception.
That being said, I have rejected religious writing as merely collections of moral stories designed to manage behavior appropriate to the time in which they were originally presented. Without any evidence of what a divine power might be like or want, I am left with one very basic, logical assumption about a supposed creator. I believe that such a being, in order to be divine, would have to exist outside the laws that govern reality as we perceive it. Think of a computer program. The programmer writes the code that determines what the program can and cannot do. A program may only be able manage numbers with no more than 4 digits, for instance. It has no concept of 5-digit (or more) numbers, whereas the programmer does. The programmer is not bound by the same rules as the program. This is how I see a divine power – it is the programmer and reality is the program.
Believing in a divine power is another matter entirely. We have some understanding of the processes by which our reality is created and evolves, we know many of the laws that determine why things happen the way they do. Essentially, we can see at least a portion of the code, and we see more of it with every scientific advance. What we do not see is how that program, with all the lines of code that manage our perception of reality, came to be.
There are many theories about the creation of the universe (think of the universe as the program for reality), including the very popular Big Bang Theory, the idea that the universe expands and then contracts continually, various religious myths, and so on. We know that the universe as it exists currently is some 13.8 billion years old. We can tell from the rate it is expanding that 13.8 billion years ago, all the matter in the universe can be traced back to a single point. What we don’t know is what caused matter to expand from this single point in the first place.
Our concept of reality holds that everything must have a beginning and an end. People are born, they live for a while, then they die. Matter decays over time, breaking down into simpler matter and shedding various component parts. We know that at some point, the universe is projected to reach “heat death” – after the stars have all burned out and when the total energy of the universe is spread so much that the temperature at every point in the universe approaches absolute zero. We expect that things do not simply spring into existence at random, and we expect that at some point those things will cease to be (at least as we know them).
A divine presence would not have to be bound by these rules. It could truly be eternal, existing outside of space and tame and able to change the rules and content of the reality, much as the programmer can modify his code. I have to admit that there is simply no proof for this – it is merely a belief that likely will never be proven. In fact, it is just as likely that there is some other explanation for reality. I freely admit that I only have a 50% chance that my belief is correct – and that I simply have no idea whether or not a potential divine presence even knows or cares that we exist, or what it wants us to do if it even does. I’m fine with that.
We can say that the universe could have sprung into existence as the result of some clearly explainable scientific law – but we don’t really have a concept of that. The idea of something from nothing violates the laws of conservation of mass and conservation of energy. As we can never fully grasp eternity, we can’t really grasp the idea of everything that fits our perception of reality having simply always existed in some form or another, and we certainly don’t know why all matter in the universe would have expanded out from a single point in space and time (why in the first place, and why at that particular moment?). The best we can do is conceive that it is something that is, at least for now, beyond our understanding.
A divine presence sits on equal footing at this point, but I lean toward it because to my mind there is nothing in nature that could have initiated the creation of reality. Think of it as a coin toss, where you know one side is heads, and the other is some unknown symbol. You can guess “heads”, and if it lands on heads you are correct, while if it shows the unknown symbol, you are not. You don’t know what the unknown symbol is, so all you can guess if you don’t choose heads is “not heads”.
My view of the universe is constantly evolving, but for now “heads” just makes more sense to me. That is why I am a Deist.