What do Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, (now deceased) Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have in common? They are all very smart, well-educated and very well-known atheist authors. I have read most of their books and come to a simple conclusion. Their model of reality is just as limited as any others. I mean that just like believers, non-believers have a set of presuppositions that are not whole and complete. You see, they, as everyone else, must ask questions within a framework of understanding that just isn’t even close to being an explanation of everything.
Us humans have been struggling with our beliefs about the existence of God for a long time. Add that to the enduring question of God’s nature and purpose and we have a mystery that just doesn’t get resolved by human reasoning.
That’s not to say that there aren’t lots of theories. When it comes to mysteries, we create all kinds of theories. But no one is really sure. Just think about the enormity of the question. Is there an intelligent agent in the universe that had the power to create this amazing and miraculous place we live in and to know each and every one of the billions of us who have and are still living here?
Some facts about our universe: It would take at approximately 47 billion years, traveling at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) to cross the space that we can see, called our viewing horizon. There are 100 billion galaxies with 100 billion stars in each of them. The number of these objects cannot be imagined by the human mind. Although we are able to see and hear a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, the vast majority of it goes undetected by our unaided senses. There are all forms of particles and energy passing around and though you as you read this column. These are things that you will never see, feel, hear or taste. Scientists are still discovering levels of the universe that underlay our reality where there is nothing but vibrating strings of pure energy held in superposition – meaning all positions at once. At this level of our reality, all of our logic stops working. We’ve had to develop whole new systems of thinking trying to explain what we find there. And here’s the real kicker – we can only explain about 4 percent of the universe. The rest remains a mystery. Think of dark matter and dark energy. We know it’s there but we don’t know what it is.
But somehow atheists know beyond a doubt that there is no God. And as equally difficult to accept, some believers think they know God’s nature and will.
St. Thomas (of) Aquinas had an interesting take on this central human question. And his thinking has influenced philosophy and religion for over 800 years. He felt the best approach, commonly called the via negativa, is to consider what God is not. Sometimes referred to apophatic faith, he gave us the only real trustworthy answer to our questions about God: All we can say for sure is what God is not.
I don’t believe that we have the capacity to fully explain the existence of God, “His” nature and/or plan. What we have is the option to have faith in the “unknowable” that we call God. As to the atheists, well theirs is a futile attempt to deny the existence of something that human beings cannot even apprehend, let alone comprehend.
Their arguments make sense in their way of making sense. The question of faith does not depend on rational arguments. It does not belong to the realm of facts and figures. What often passes for real faith is an absolute commitment to our beliefs. Unfortunately for most of us, those beliefs will fail us sometime in our lives. Then what? We can cling to them like a life raft. Or we can experience the real test of faith – trusting in the unknowable – that some people call God.