I woke up this morning from a dream in which an African-American woman was trying to bribe an African-American student to not give a speech on race at a convocation event. As I lay there thinking about that, the quiet little voice in my head popped up and said, “The challenge of faith is not to silence doubts, but to believe in the face of doubt.”
And I thought, “What an odd thing for the quiet little voice in my head to say.”
I mean, in my last two postings I’ve expressed some of my doubts, some of the things that I don’t understand about God and belief in God. I think I understand the meaning of what my quiet little voice said; it’s the same as the meaning of the Doubting Thomas story: it is a virtue simply to believe, even if there is no evidence to support the belief. So, my little voice makes sense from a believer’s point of view.
But why is believing in something that you cannot see a virtue?
I fancy myself a scientist. I work in a field that many believe is not a science. I work with things that we cannot see such as memory or mechanisms of attention. I infer the existence of those things from the behaviors that I see people perform: if short term memory has this characteristic, then people should behave this way. And then I go look: do people behave that way? It’s much like cosmologists inferring the existence of dark matter (which they can’t see – that’s why it’s called dark) from the effects it has on surrounding stuff.
I suppose we could do that with God, but that would mean applying the methods of science to the study of God. It took from the dawn of humanity until 1879 to get to the point that some people would accept applying the methods of science to the study of the human mind (and some still don’t accept it). I think it’s going to be a lot longer before people accept trying to do scientific research on God.
I’ve known quite a few believers who will insist that there is already evidence that God exists: the cancer patient who experiences total remission after praying or the believer who pulls off of the highway because of a “feeling” right before a major accident. These are examples of good things happening to good people and that’s what we’d expect a God (at least a just God) to do for His people. But what about when bad things happen to good people: when an aspiring young mathematician dies in a senseless accident or a woman on her way to church is hit by a car, seriously injuring her back? Twice? Or how about when good things happen to bad people, as when a pedophile lives a long and prosperous life?
I know enough to know that you haven’t made a strong case for the existence of God by looking only at the positive examples. It’s great when a cancer patient prays and then recovers, but what about all the cancer patients who pray and then don’t recover? The answer, “Well sometimes when we pray, the answer is no.” really isn’t very satisfying. Why? Why do some live and some die? And – I’m sorry – but the answer “God works in mysterious ways” is just a religious way of saying “sh*t happens.”
So, how do we know that God’s really out there? I honestly don’t know. That’s why I call myself an agnostic.