Archive for February, 2004

How can you believe something so stupid?

Tuesday, February 24th, 2004

I have recently been having what you might call “doubts”. It all started on our lab Christmas outing – as usual, I was closely questioned about being a Christian from all angles. I enjoy the questions about theology and so on, and I think I answered them fairly well, but the question that really stung boiled down to this:

How can you believe something so stupid?

At the time I talked about how yes, my beliefs are arbitrary in some sense – I can’t say why Christianity is true but Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and others aren’t, but I argued that atheism is arbitrary too, and that it goes against the weight of history – the overwhelming majority of people have believed in the supernatural. I held my ground ok, although I don’t think I convinced anyone!

It was only afterwards that I realised I had been knocked sideways by this question. It wasn’t intellectual content of the question that was the problem, it was the weight of the opinions of people whom I know to be intelligent, open-minded and sensible. How can I believe something so “stupid”?

I guess my first realisation was that I do believe it. It’s surprising how much one conversation can shake the foundations, but I was left still believing it, but wondering why I do.

Another thought I had was the fact that on issues like this, science (my collegues are scientists) is just as old-fashioned as Christianity. We both try and argue from an early 20th century position – using certainties and “facts” as if they are undeniable. The argument from the position that atheism is obviously true is dying out rapidly. Several of my collegues are struggling themselves with the fact that they are just as unsure as the rest of the world. One describes herself as “an atheist with a bit of wikka” (i.e. earth-mother hippie stuff) and another probably doesn’t believe in God but if he did he’d be a Quaker. People were really interested in what I had to say, not just as a curiosity.

So maybe their opinions weren’t all I should listen to. And, in a typically our-generation attitude, I turned to my feelings for some evidence.

And I found some.

Basically, it makes sense. When I look back at my life, I see God working in it. If I assumed God didn’t exist, lots of things just wouldn’t make sense.

I hate it when you hear a testimony where someone had some awful problems and then they were sorted out, and now they’re telling you about it. This article is starting to sound a bit like that, but that’s not really how it is. I am recovering from being knocked sideways, and I am feeling better, but that question hasn’t gone away. I know if I were in their position I would ask the same thing.

Yesterday I thought about it like a marriage. I have promised to my wife that I’ll stay with her no matter what. Even if I go off her completely, I have promised to work for her good – to love her in the practical meaning of doing things. Similarly, I’ve promised to serve God, and if I doubt he exists I want to stay faithful to my promise for as long as I can. (Of course, if I really decided he definitely didn’t exist I couldn’t go on with this indefinitely.) So I’ll go on, trusting my “experience” or “feelings” or whatever, and see if I can find something more reassuring sometime soon.