Recently, I came up with a satisfactory explanation of my religious beliefs. I would classify myself as a culturally atheistic Lutheran. In contrast to atheists who identify with their religious upbringing, I believe in God but I’m worried about those who try to base policies on their interpretations of scripture.
A while back I considered the major arguments for and against the existence of God. I’m entirely aware that this is extremely subjective, in that what is persuasive to me may be meaningless to you and vice-versa. Some of those claims didn’t suggest the nonexistence of God, although it may not be a God worth following, except for selfish reasons like a fear of hell, or a desire for rewards in heaven or on Earth.
One of the main arguments against a loving and beneficent God was that nature is cruel. This probably hasn’t been argued better than in the parable of the Grand Inquisitor’s speech from The Brothers Karamazov, although the suffering of children pales in comparison to what happens to other beings. This is a universe that requires bugs to produce hundreds if not thousands of offspring just so the species can maintain a stable population. Although umbilical strangulation is pretty nasty, if you’re considering something that affects humans.
The other persuasive argument is that science has provided answers that fit a universe that does not require the existence of a higher power. And if a higher power is not required, why should we assume that one exists?
A final thing that’s subjective but persuasive to me is that religions generally do not prize intelligence. The value of every person “saved” is the same, and the smartest people ask more questions and tend to be the toughest to convert. So this would be a system that penalizes the best and the brightest. The strongest indictment of this was the H.L. Mencken essay “Hills of Zion” about the response to the Scopes trial.
As for arguments in favor of religion and one of the Judeochrisitian faiths, people my age take it for granted, but the existence of the nation of Israel is an unprecedented thing. A group that was chased out of its homeland managed to maintain their identity for millennia, before their return, which fulfilled certain prophecies.
The general dominance of some form of the Christian religion since the fourth century does suggest that if there is a faith that God supports, this one is likelier than most of the others. It would be more suspicious if other religions had the upper hand for longer periods of time, but that really hasn’t been the case. It’s something that has been dominant for a long period of time.
The first chapter of Genesis does a remarkable job of detailing significant events in the world’s evolutionary history in the right order with the formation of the sun, the formation of the seas and separation of land areas, the beginnings of plant life, the development of vision, and the explosion of variety in marine life which followed. These were good guesses for a writer in a landlocked culture. This argument was made most persuasively in Andrew Parker’s Genesis Enigma.
In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis made the argument that human beings seem to have a moral code in common, regardless of religion or culture, separate from instincts and desires. He saw the knowledge and occasional violation of the moral law as the basis for human thought, and perceived a mind behind that.
There is the argument that we’re built to be religious. There have been evolutionary benefits to this, providing hope for our ancestors throughout their suffering. But it’s also what a higher power might want.
And then there’s the effects of certain stimulants on the mind. If it weren’t for that, I might be an atheist.