All in the Mind (4)

14 02 2008

I have been pondering the human mind and roam on to think about faith. Faith is not just something confined to those of a religious or spiritual bent.  I’ve observed it in the lives of atheists. So often they will aver that it is possible for atheistic scientists to have a sense of awe and wonder in response to what they find in scientific discovery. No problem – apart from the fact that philosophically that is quite irrational if you hold an atheists viewpoint.  Why should the product of chemical and electrical interactions (dress it up and call it ‘biology’ if you will, but that’s what it is from a godless, reductionist perspective) have any sense of wonder at these things. They are merely chemical reactions surely!
Richard Dawkins confessed, at the beginning of his book Unweaving the Rainbow, that the result of his first book had been to create a sense of life being empty and purposeless. Indeed he quotes his friend Peter Atkins who is equally pessimistic. Having realised that this logical outcome of atheism was not producing a popular response, he then wrote Unweaving the Rainbow with the express intention of trying to show that it is possible to be an atheistic scientist and still have a sense of wonder and awe when examining Creation.
To achieve this he makes the tremendous ‘leap of faith’ that early existentialist Soren Kierkegaard spoke about. His whole writing fights against the nihilism which is the logical outcome of atheism, and the only way he can do it is by this leap of faith into ‘meaningful atheism’.  Like other atheists he uses language in a casual way.
For instance, he speaks of “a quasi-mystical response to nature.” The least religious shine on ‘mystical’ you can have, is simply mysterious, but usually mystical has a certain religious connotation to it. So it’s semi-religious or semi-mysterious. But why should a scientist have even this feeling when he is simply measuring or finding out information about simple matter.
The whole point is that he is making it less and less mysterious. No, be honest, the truth is that Richard and others find themselves with an awesome feeling when they find out some of the details of Creation. But why should it be awesome from their perspective, because it’s all purely by chance, purely accident, according to their doctrine. We don’t feel awe about anything else that we encounter that is pure chance. No, the truth is that there is something inside them that they are struggling with. They may desperately describe it in mechanistic terms, but they are still struggling.
In his letter to the church at Rome, in the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrote: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Rom 1;20).
In other words, that intelligent man considered that everyone has this sense when they study Creation, that there is a Creator behind it. They are condemned because they overcome their inner feeling because they realise that if there is a God they will be answerable to Him. They ‘refuse to see’ not on logical grounds, but on the grounds that they don’t want to see. That is what Richard and others like him struggle with!
In his book ‘Jesus among other Gods’, Ravi Zacharias quotes Thomas Nagel, professor of philosophy at New York University: “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fear that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t that I just don’t believe in God and naturally hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”
Zacharias had just commented on Bertrand Russell’s complaint about lack of evidence and then observed, “The Scriptures categorically state that the problem with such people is not the absence of evidence; it is, rather, the suppression of it.”
What is it that suppresses the evidence and makes mystical leaps of faith to try and cope with it? It is, I suggest, the pride within us that dares not, perhaps fears not, allow there to be One who is supreme, who knows best. Thus we distort the Biblical truths and make black into white. Perhaps one of the best illustrations of this is Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy. Listen to this bit of dialogue:
“Are you one of the angels who rebelled so long ago?”
“Yes, and since then I have been wandering between worlds. Now I have pledged my allegiance to Lord Asriel, because I see his great enterprise the best hope of destroying the tyranny at last.”

“But if you fail?”
“Then we shall all be destroyed, and cruelty will reign for ever.”
Did you see the language? Tyranny? Cruelty?  Listen to Psalm 2: “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? “Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters.” 
What a distortion of the truth the human mind conjures up, to portray the utterly good God as one who is oppressive. It’s a defence mechanism that flies in the face of the evidence, used to ward off anything that threatens individual sovereignty. And why should individual sovereignty be threatened? Because God tries to show us an alternative way to the holes we dig for ourselves, a way that is described by such words as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness. How convoluted the human mind gets!





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