Q: Does God exist?
A: I don’t know.
Some of my fellow Christians, upon hearing the exchange above, would think that the man answering is either an agnostic, or a back-slidden Christian. I believe that it does Christians no good to hold stubborn, inflexible, and argumentative attitudes when conversing with others about faith, as it makes us appear small and closed-minded, when the majority of us are not. I also believe that one doesn’t need to be in a crisis of faith to admit that he doesn’t know if God exists or not, for we’re required by God to believe on faith, not know with facts.
I, like most of you, burst into this world covered in human viscera, owning no knowledge or faith. All of us, then, start life with nothing, and gradually attain knowledge and faith as we grow. We’re all on a quest to figure this whole life thing out, and we depend on the experiences and insights of those long dead to help us get to Truth.
We all take different journeys to find and understand truth, and the quality of those journeys vary. Some will take low-quality journeys through superstition, hearsay, and ignorance – through soap operas, romance novels, and tabloid magazines. These will develop sub-par minds that are satisfied with porn and explosions, lolcats and media reports.
Others will take high-quality journeys through the minds of great scientists, philosophers, and artists – through non-fiction and quality fiction, biographies, history, and math. These will develop reasoned minds that are never satisfied, but are constantly craving evidence, facts, theories, and thought-provoking entertainment.
These two types of minds weigh evidence differently, and arrive at different Truths – one, I must say, more true than the other. These minds are also found in all societies, through all classes, and within all races, religious beliefs, and lack of religious beliefs. The quality of the believer, then, does not always reflect on the quality of the belief.
Confusing Fact & Belief
A great error occurs when a man confuses belief with knowledge. I can believe God exists, but admitting that I don’t know he exists doesn’t mean I’m agnostic. It simply means that I have a different mind that values evidence and research above invigorating sermons; that values introspection and philosophy above the latest self-help book from Joel Osteen.
(Of course, it’s a tad haughty of me to believe I have a reasonable mind compared to all “those other” people, but then again everyone reading this believes he or she is also of the latter mindset, because we’d all like to think that our years of effort cultivating a personal philosophy have been productive. So I’m not ashamed of being a tad arrogant here. If you believe you own a low quality mind, please sound off in the comments – I’d love to hear from you).
Let us also remember that Christians are never commanded to know. We’re only commanded to believe. “Believe in him…” and you will be saved, says the Bible, not “Know with your mind…” And yet, the Bible clearly wants our beliefs to be grounded in knowledge, for it commands us to “Study, to show yourselves approved…” so you can divide word from truth – or, to say more clearly, God admires those who study before they believe; those who can see the difference between empty words and reasoned words.
The Quality of Belief
When asked what the weather will be like tomorrow, I respond, “I believe it will rain”. I can’t respond “I know it will rain”, because I don’t know. I’m not in tomorrow yet, and I can’t see, at this very moment, whether or not it is raining. I simply believe.
The quality of belief is different. If I say, “I believe it will rain” because my knee aches, then I have a low-quality belief. I may believe it, but I have a high chance of being wrong. On the other hand, if I hop onto Google and check the weather report tomorrow, then I have a high-quality belief, for my belief is based on observable evidence – the satellite images of looming rain clouds, for example. I am more likely to be correct, but it is still mere belief, not fact.
Christianity demands of Christians belief. When I say “I believe there is a God”, I do not say that because my pastor told me to say it, or because I enjoyed the colorful felt cut-outs from Sunday school, or because all my family members have said it. I say it because I have tried to collect evidence during my 32 years on this particular journey, and the evidence I have found has engendered faith within me, leading to belief.
This, incidentally, is the same reason I believe in evolution, and why so many atheists and agnostics (those who have high-quality reasoning processes developed from consuming high-quality evidence over the years, that is) believe in science. We don’t believe in science just because of what our textbooks say, or because that nifty documentary on The Discovery Channel had such cool animated dinosaurs. We believe them because we’ve gone out on our own, to satisfy our own curiosity, and weighed the various evidences to find the most true ones – we’ve separated word from truth, as the Bible says.
The Circle of Belief, The Static Fact
This process requires that we continually re-evaluate what we know of science, because the evidence is constantly changing. Recently, an intact hominid skull was found that obliterated what many have believed as fact about our ancestors. The shape and age of the skull is baffling, because it was shaped like a modern human’s to an amazing degree, but its age is 1.8 million years old – a time when modern humans should not have existed similar to the form we do now.
The impact of this find has caused leading scientists to admit that most of the various branches of our human evolutionary tree never existed. That is, there never were such species of human as Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis. They were, in fact, all part of the same species, Homo erectus, which is the tree to which we belong.
Instead, the researchers admit that, even today, human skulls vary to an extraordinary degree. Many of the hominid species we were taught in school were established by the shape of a skull. But skull shapes today vary even more than those found of our ancestors. In short, scientists made a mistake when they invented species of man that never existed, based on poor evidence.
This, one might say, is fine, because it simply proves that science is self-correcting. The fact that we are revising what we know of our ancestral heritage proves that science works. And this is true, science does work – but only when wielded by those of us with high-quality beliefs and reasonable minds.
The Economist recently ran an article explaining why science, in actuality, is not self-correcting. Because there is so much money at stake, and so many reputations that hang in the balance, scientists often sweep new evidence under the rug and suppress new discoveries in order to maintain the power that they have. I encourage you to read the article, as it is an honest, and shocking, look at the pettiness and humanity of scientists, whose proclamations have driven the destinies of colleges, school curriculum, and even politics.
It’s good to believe science, but only if we approach it with a reasonable mind – only if we’re willing to say “I don’t know” to some of the claims science makes. Similarly, reasonable minds must re-evaluate what we believe about Christianity as new evidence emerges. For example, I once had a friend tell me that early humans never got drunk because early alcohol was diluted so much that drunkenness was impossible. This explanation was necessary because my friend believed any sort of drinking, even moderate drinking, was a sin – a belief that is hard for a Christian to hold considering Jesus’ first miracle, which was turning water into wine. Since Jesus popped wine into existence for the party to enjoy, it infers that Jesus approved of moderate drinking (after all, it’s hard to say that Jesus is against drugs if he shows up at a party with a bag of crack pipes to hand out). So my friend believed that ancient booze was barely alcoholic only to support an unsubstantiated belief about sin.
This belief, then, would change for reasonable minds upon the discovery of the Pythagorean cup. This ancient drinking vessel had a hole in it, which would leak wine if filled too full, encouraging people to drink in moderation and not get drunk. If ancient booze was not alcoholic, then such devices would not be needed. The fact that they exist, then, prove that ancient booze was indeed alcoholic. Of course.
(Let’s also remember that the Bible extols us not to get drunk – a thing it wouldn’t have to do if getting drunk was impossible).
All possible beliefs are held by people who posses various levels of reason. It’s our job, then, as responsible members of the human race, to support our beliefs with critical thinking – not to prove those beliefs right but to find truer truths. I believe God exists, but I don’t know God exists, and we never will know until we meet him. I will believe God doesn’t exist when evidence proves he doesn’t exist (which it can’t), in the same way that I believe evolution is true, but I don’t know it is true – and I will believe it is untrue only when evidence proves it to be untrue. I cover this philosophy in greater detail in my post: Faith vs. Evidence.