A few days before Christmas, I sat down to lunch with a friend of many years who is religious. He’s aware I’m an atheist, but that gives piquancy to our conversations. As we were sitting amidst holiday decorations, he seemed unable to refrain from saying, “I don’t know how you can witness the beauty in nature and refuse to believe in God.”
I put down my fork to consider my answer. “I, too, see beauty in nature, but why presume it results from a Creator? Cause and effect is a construct of the human mind. I wouldn’t lean too heavily upon it as proof of anything. Consider, for example, that a girl lives by the side of a railroad track. Each afternoon, at 4 o’clock she goes out when the train passes to wave at the engineer. Have we any reason to assume her gesture causes the train to appear?
We smile at one another from across the table, girding our loins.
“So, there’s no room in your life for faith? Only facts?” The man brushed bread crumbs from his sweatshirt, his eyes avoiding mine. “Most facts require faith, don’t they? I believe the earth is round, but I don’t know that from personal experience. Science affirms it.”
I nod without rancor. “Nor do I know that light travels at the speed of 186,000 per second. I accept that truth on faith. But scientific fact can be objectively tested by anyone. Faith in God isn’t of that degree. To say nature’s beauty is evidence of God’s existence is to create a metaphor, not a fact, and ignores nature’s sometimes cruel chaos. Why, I must ask, is it preferable to invent a God than to say, ‘I don’t know how the universe came about?’”
Receiving no answer, I went on. “A bee works every day for the good of the hive. It knows nothing of black holes or supernovas. These events are beyond its sensibilities. Along the same vein, is it logical to assume a finite entity can grasp the existence of an infinite one?
Imagination gives us fragile wings. We can reach no escape velocity beyond our sensory experiences. Positing a deity to explain our existence may satisfy our belief in cause and effect, but it can lead to false conclusions, like the one about the girl waving at the train every afternoon.
If I were forced to accept a theory about the nature of our existence, I’d chose the one contemporary philosopher Nick Bostrom suggests: we are all simulations in a computer game. But why resort to mind games? On the question of being, I find it easier to admit I know nothing.