Today I finish talking about Ryan Bell's Patheos project in which he ignored God for a year and used that on top of some rather ehhhhh (yes, that is the scientific term) argumentation to arrive at the conclusion that God does not exist.
Or did he arrive there at all?
You can read my previous responses, part one and part two, at those respective links. You can read this original article either quoted in its entirety in those two places (and in this one) or by clicking here. You can read part 4 nowhere because I'm pretty done trudging through this.
Where He Is Today
Today I continue my life as a humanist and an atheist. Though I wouldn't have used the label at the time, I have been a Christian Humanist for the past decade or more. Humanism feels to me like something I’m keeping as I make some rather significant changes in my worldview. I’ll have more to say about humanism in the near future but I am very at home with its tenants.
I was showing this to one of my friends, and when he reached this section about "Christian Humanism," he laughed and joked, "Oh, so he was a satanic Christian?" It was hyperbole, of course, but sometimes nestled inside the deepest metaphor is a firm truth. Let's unravel this beast.
Ryan doesn't explain what type of humanism he's talking about--whether it's Renaissance Humanism, Literary Humanism, Western Cultural Humanism, Philosophical Humanism, Modern or Secular Humanism. What I imagine he's referring to is the "Secular Humanism," which I will here describe and respond to as thoroughly as a paragraph on a blog may attempt to do so.
Secular Humanism is, at its most basic, twofold: 1) It rejects religious dogma, any sort of supernatural realm, "superstitious" bases for morality, and anything that could be classified pseudoscience. In turn, 2) it embraces human reason, natural ethics, and philosophical naturalism. It seems to exist primarily, though, to directly combat theism, which says that there is a God that exists, that a standard for morality can be found outside humanity, that humans possess an eternal soul, and that any sort of life exists after death. My summary of it here is not sufficient to encapsulate all of its facets, nor will my critique of it be complete; this is a blog, after all, and thus I am limited to significantly less than the volumes it would require to accurately capture and respond to it.
I will not here address all that should be addressed in his claim, but I will point out a couple of things that I think need to be seriously considered by those wishing to adopt such an outlook.
1) Secular Humanism supposes, on purely naturalistic bases, that humanity is the pinnacle of the existing world. For instance, a Secular Humanist would have no problem objecting to the subjugation of fellow human beings as slaves. A Secular Humanist would be the first to oppose anybody whose religion or life philosophy requires or condones the taking of another human life. That which is "good" is that which is beneficial to fellow man or to nature; that which is "bad" is harmful.
What does not follow from Humanism's (I will here use capital-h-Humanism to stand in for Secular Humanism, so as to distinguish it from other types) standpoint, is why humanity is so the god they would like to make him. The Humanist would see a catastrophe like a the East African drought and famine which killed over 30,000 people, the Thai floods that killed 657 people, or the April super-tornado outbreak that killed 321 people in the United States all in the same year and critically ask the Christian: "Where was your God in those events? Did He just disappear?"
Why we're still asking the question of why God lets bad things happen, I will never know, and if you'd like your answer to that, you can ask me and I'll point you in about ten thousand places that explain it far better than I could. What the Humanist should answer in return, however, are several; the first of which is why it is such catastrophic human loss was so terrible. Does death not promote natural life? Do corpses not feed vultures, fertilize the ground, balance out the ever-growing human population spreading across the face of the planet? If Nature is the basis of good and bad, is there not only good that can come from death, since it is the only certain thing that life brings? Is not the circle of life (and death) the single most natural thing on the planet? Why is it any different when a plant is plucked than when a human life is extinguished? Indeed, if Nature is what is good, then none of Nature's "actions" can be bad--merely part of a cycle that is much bigger than ourselves.
In other words, why humanism? We possess nothing special other than a particular aptness for destroying our environment, our fellow humans, and ourselves. If Nature, indeed, is god, then all of Nature should hold equal footing, and calling humans special is worse than racism--it's speciesm. I would submit that the only true naturalists are the members of VHEMT: the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, who recognize the destructive capability of humanity and therefore believe that humanity should voluntarily be brought to an end. If we are to continue, nature will, indeed, find a way and keep us around; nothing but theology can truly justify any sort of claim that humanity is to be preserved.
2) Secular Humanism supposes that nothing can or should be believed unless it can be directly observed and tested. The example we're all thinking: God cannot be believed or accepted because He cannot be empirically proven in a lab or captured on videotape or touched to extract a DNA sample.
Ugh. I've addressed this before, so I'll offer only one brief thought (which is not new to this site or this series of responses, for that matter): Empiricism is the belief that nothing which cannot be tested should be accepted, and that which cannot be tested or proven empirically cannot exist.
My issue with this is the method by which we are to test all things. Empiricism (and its cousin Humanism) recognize only one type of test: physical tests of physical materials. Of course something outside the physical realm can't be comprehended on physical bases--physical, material responses are what the very tests were designed for! What is a material test of material things going to yield? Material results. It's like saying that life only exists where carbon-based life forms can exist; never mind the notion that life can exist that isn't carbon-based. It is not the theist who is bananas for thinking that something bigger than the "natural" is out there; it's the empiricist who can't think big enough to allow their frame of reference to grow.
What are you going to see with a telescope? Something that has mass, something that has light, something that has physical properties detectable by sight. Thankfully, nobody believes that the only things which exist can be seen through vision; it's why we have radio spectrometers and thermal scopes, because there's more than just planets and stars out there. There's heat, there's radiation, there's a whole lot of emptiness which simply can't be explained...yet. We have something inside of us that can measure something even more grand than the measurable; the "religious" have simply named it the soul.
My atheism is of the agnostic variety, admitting along with the vast majority of all other atheists I've spoken to, that we cannot know for a fact that there is no God. Perhaps there is an intelligence that had a hand in creating our universe. As yet we have no evidence of that and, as Michael Shermer points out in his “Last Law,” any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence would be indistinguishable from God. While I had sincerely hoped that I could reconcile God with everything else I know about the world, and I am open to changing my mind in the future, for now it makes more sense that there is no God.
Not knowing for a fact that there is no God is not atheism. Agnostic Atheism is not a thing; it is a contradiction in terms. It's saying "I do not believe in the God that I am not sure exists or not." Not knowing whether it exists and believing that it doesn't exist cannot reconcile in the same framework. Please do not disrespect my agnostic friends by confusing them with atheists, for they have the smarts to know better.
Also, I am not sure what his point is about "sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence" being indistinguishable from God. Is God not sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence? Or is Ryan saying that extraterrestrial life (in the "alien" sort of mindset) is more probable than God? I'll say this: there is far more proof (though not the type of proof he's looking for) of God than there is of extraterrestrial life. In fact, the probability that life as we know it can exist elsewhere in the universe is infinitesimally small.
Okay, fine, I'll do this quickly. Allow a brief example. When Carl Sagan incorrectly posited that there were only two conditions necessary to support life, an estimated .001 of all of the stars in the universe contained a planet that could fit. Once we wised up and moved past Sagan's conservative estimates, however, we recognized that there were way more, and that they fit into three categories (forget two conditions!): Energy, Complex Chemistry, and Protection from UV Radiation. Soon, the number of habitable zones in the universe began dropping: down to, effectively, zero percent. But the odds kept dropping beyond zero, to the point that then we were counting towards the odds that life exists period. Frankly spoken, the odds that life exists elsewhere is so low that we cannot even reconcile the fact that life exists here.
Do you hear that? We don't even have scientific, mathematical proof (that is graspable enough to be applicable; there is obviously a smattering of numbers out there that are quite large and quite not-in-favor of our existence) for the probability of our own existence--the existence because of which we can even ponder it. Bah! And we're supposed to find God's existence with this math and science? We can't even find our own existence!
Sorry. I get worked up.
Finally, not being able to reconcile God to the world that he sees is not a statement of the limitation of God or His role in the world, it's an issue of the smallness of the mind trying to comprehend it. Some can't reconcile quantum physics to the world they see around them, but that simply shows their misunderstanding of quantum physics, not the limitation or nonexistence of quantum physics, itself.
As I mention in the video above, [editor's note: there is a video of him talking about this stuff at the top of his article] I’m not taking a victory lap or celebrating my provisional conclusion. It feels like a loss, but I would rather live with a painful truth than a comforting lie. Here I stand with the somewhat uncomfortable, but oddly liberating, conviction that there is no God.
Whoever said that the truth hurts wasn't telling the whole story. The truth only hurts those who aren't in the business of looking for it. It only hurts to see your vision of God dismantled if you're not asking God to constantly dismantle it for you. Search for Truth and your finding it will not hurt, it will be the most beautiful thing imaginable. I believe that when Mr. Bell begins passionately loving Truth, he will find it in the only place it can comfortably nest: in the person of Jesus Christ, the only person with the, shall I say it, balls, to actually call Himself Truth. It's one thing to have it. It's another thing entirely to be it.
St. Augustine of Hippo said it more beautifully than I ever could: "A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, no matter where it is found." Loving Jesus is, necessarily, loving Truth, because they are one and the same--it is why I believe that unless a believer is actively searching deeper caverns and higher mountains for more aspects of his King that he hasn't yet found, he's not someone as in love with his Savior as he claims.
This is actually a really beautiful way to sum up Ryan's article: his search for truth was not a search for truth at all, it was a justification for a worldview that didn't require more of himself than he was willing to give up; that is why his forsaking of whatever scraps of faith he once had feels something like a loss--because he has lost something, however small... and you can't lose something that doesn't exist in the first place.
Life After God
I will continue to blog at Patheos under the title Year Without God and I will be launching a new project called Life After God, which will be a way to connect with people who are navigating the choppy waters of post-theist life. I've discovered this year that there are thousands upon thousands of people who are stuck betwixt and between their old belief system that gave their lives meaning and new understandings of the world that render that old belief system obsolete and sometimes harmful. I will be working with existing efforts to create post-Christian, post-theist, atheist community and creating new venues for these vitally important conversations to take place.
When I started this year I thought this journey was going to be about me, my questions, and my doubts. Very quickly it captured the imagination of thousands of people and become a much larger conversation. Skeptics and atheists welcomed me into their communities, people of faith encouraged, supported and challenged me. Individuals around the world shared their stories with me, by email, comments on my blog, or Facebook pages. Each of these stories has impacted my life in untold ways. This year has been about all of us. The consciousness of our world is changing rapidly and together we have the privilege of shining our light in dark places. Your contribution to this journey is recorded and will impact the book I’m writing and the documentary that will be released in the later part of 2015. Thank you to each and every one of you who were a part of my Year Without God—from the harshest critic to the most sympathetic—you each made this year unforgettable.
Happy New Year!
This was the most gut-wrenching section in his whole blog, especially in light of the paragraph that it follows. These are the heavy, wrung-dry words of a man who has gained the world and all of the weight that it bears.
Why does he believe that the post-theist would need support groups? Why are conversations about why God doesn't exist necessary? Let me ask it a different way: Why not form support groups for those who have forsaken their belief in Santa Clause? Or for those who no longer accept the doctrine of the Tooth Fairy? Why is the kind of loss that Ryan is demonstrating, the kind of wound he's trying to heal through solidarity and pats on the back different than the loss of someone who has finally come to grips with the fact that Nessie simply doesn't exist (believe me; I've felt that sting)?
Because these things aren't real. For me, all that the comparisons of God to Santa and the Tooth Fairy do is prove to me how real He is: because forsaking them doesn't leave you in the "choppy waters" of "post-Easter Bunny" life.
It feels much more like losing a Father.
"Happy" new year, indeed, Ryan.