Thank you for your wonderful program today! I am fascinated by the dilemmas of belief and doubt. How strange it still seems for a true believer, raised from infancy to believe comprehensively and with full commitment in the fundamentalist Christian God, to have achieved a satisfying state of doubt! My doubt at this point is certainly close enough to atheism as to be indistinguishable from it in practical terms: I merely do not fully commit to the belief that there is no God; rather, I now assume it.
I spent my childhood actively assimilating evangelical fundamentalist Christianity as it was practiced and believed by my family. Part of my childish brand of acquiring this deep belief was asking questions about the elements that puzzled me, and I tried on the answers I got with full enthusiasm.
It is just that the questions have never gone away. How do you really know that God is there, or that He is speaking to me or guiding me? The feelings I have change, so I must have to resort to my thinking. Heresy. Faith is the answer. But if faith is the only way to know God, why did He give me a brain that wonders? That is the question that eventually led to the ruin of my faith and the blossoming of a spreading skepticism — tinged with a little cynicism.
By the time I was ten, I was asking those questions aloud, and by the time I was twelve, I had learned not to. By fifteen, they were well suppressed, but by twenty, a full crisis began to surface. It lasted for years, and I longed for something like "Fundamentalists Anonymous" so I could find someone who shared my experience and who could help still the maelstrom.
It was what I l learned in seventh grade science that eventually rescued me, although it kept me living in distinctly separate and parallel worlds of science and religion for a very long time. I learned that inquiry, especially systematic inquiry, and particularly open-ended inquiry, is a very good thing. I learned, slowly, to harness some of the arguments in my head.
The very hardest thing has been to understand morality in the absence of an absolute moral Authority, or, in fact, of any moral authority. It doesn't really do to just make it up as we go along, because any competing standard has equal force. And gliding along with tradition carries the danger of repeating endlessly the mistakes of the past. Science has helped again, this time in the thinking of evolutionary psychology, a field of study that posits a subtle genetic foundation for the way our brains are wired and way we make decisions. Basic morality, the concepts of right and wrong, fairness, and altruism, appears to be rooted in our biology. It isn't necessary to believe in an external, non-demonstrable being to explain the pervasive sense of right and wrong that virtually all humans share.
I am careful not to actually "believe" in science, although I accept and practice scientific principles. Some other means of asking questions and explaining the world will eventually replace science as we know it, just as science has largely superseded religion as a practical explanatory and exploratory system of thought, and if I am alive to see it, I will use my carefully nurtured ability to keep asking questions to espouse it: I will make a leap of doubt into the next way of wondering.
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