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Materialism, Science, and Righteous Anger

When I was seven years old I figured it all out. It was a simple, logically inescapable conclusion.

I believed that I was the product of a purely materialistic, random process that did not have me in mind. When I die and my chemistry shuts down I will cease to exist, enter eternal oblivion, and nothing I ever achieve or do will have any ultimate purpose or meaning. Furthermore, there is no ultimate justice. Hitler and the millions he tortured and murdered will have the same ultimate fate: pointless, meaningless oblivion.

I lived my life in a complete state of depression, anger and despair for 43 years as a result of this notion, although I accomplished much during that time because I now know that my soul knew all the time that it was a colossal lie.

The thing that really angers me is that all the depression, anger and despair was completely unnecessary, because the science I once thought put God out of job really makes His existence an inescapably logical conclusion.

The evidence is overwhelming.

Yes, ID is about evidence for an unnamed and unidentified designer, and that is all it claims. But the philosophical and theological implications are obvious, and that is why it results in so much controversy.

As many UD readers know, I am a former Dawkins-style militant atheist, but now one of those dreadful and dangerous born-again evangelical Christians.

But the interesting thing is that I did not abandon science and reason; I found it.

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3 Responses to Materialism, Science, and Righteous Anger

  1. I never lost my faith because of science. I always knew that there was no explanation for why or how the beneficial mutations, necessary to evolution theory, came about in the first place. To me God was always in charge. However, my issues were those having to do evil in nature.

    I never worried about evil done by men, because after all people are obviously a mixed bag making many bad decisions and suffering the consequences if they do not repent and find grace with God. But, the evil that seems to happen as an accident, always bothered me.

    This, for me, is where science met theology. There had to be some explanation as to how seemingly accidental evil could occur and yet still be reconciled with a benevolent God in physically relevant terms. This also touches directly on the point of dysteleology, or “bad design.”

    The answer, of course lies in the deepest levels of our scientific understanding of man, will and nature. Design, implies a purpose and purpose comes in different shades. It is therefore perfectly rational, both theologically, and philosophically, to understand that design can be very much like a play, a painting or a musical. For example, in order for there to be structure and significance transposed on a canvass there must be both light and dark. Therefore, life is very much like the most involved and magnificent of all artistic creations. In this sense the God hypothesis is indeed an inescapable implication.

    Finally, there was the issue of free will and understanding God’s purpose for allowing evil to effect his beloved creation. It is one things to accept that both light and dark must exist for a meaningful creation, but it is another thing to understand and accept why God allows thing like suffering. Once I read about the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle I realized the nature of our physical reality was in fact not purely deterministic and mechanical but actually fundamentally uncertain, and “in play.” Thus this uncertain amount of play places a great deal of weight and importance on the role of the human “will.” From there I was able to see that the dark spots in life are actually more like challenges meant to develop our wills and our souls, strengthening them, and hopefully bringing us closer to God’s intended ideal state of being for us. In simple terms God allows darkness to better distinguish and define that which is truly of light.

    So, that is where science and theology came together for me and sealed the deal of my faith. Now the only difficulty, and the real difficulty, it “sticking” to my faith and doing the difficult things that my conscious demands. So, in recognizing that we are all sinners, and all fall short of perfection, the real challenge of life is maintaining our faith not in the face of science, but in the face of temptation and dissolution. And of course also exercising the fullness our will to stand up against those forces that seek to tempt and dissolve the spirits of others.

  2. When I was seven years old I figured it all out. It was a simple, logically inescapable conclusion.
    .
    I believed that I was the product of a purely materialistic, random process that did not have me in mind. …

    I think I about that age (*) when I figured out that that is the meaning of what I was being told (I cannot bring myself to use the word “taught” for this attempted indoctrination) in school.

    (*) Or even a bit younger. I recall running home from Kindergarten to tell my mother how outraged I was at the evolutionism I’d been subjected to that day. Mind you, this outrage was entirely my own; me parents had never said to me: “Boy! Now don’t you be believing none o’ that evil-ution nonsense!”

  3. 3
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Gil, this is interesting, and touching.

    Can I say, I am truly glad that what you thought you had figured out as a child you found later to be false. Congratulations! I would quite agree that it is false (although it’s a pretty impressive thing for a seven-year-old to figure out, even if it was wrong!)

    But I’d like to make a couple of comments, not to talk you out of your faith, but to explain why mine is different:

    When I was seven years old I figured it all out. It was a simple, logically inescapable conclusion.

    I believed that I was the product of a purely materialistic, random process that did not have me in mind. When I die and my chemistry shuts down I will cease to exist, enter eternal oblivion, and nothing I ever achieve or do will have any ultimate purpose or meaning.

    That conclusion assumes that when something is finished, it is as though it has never been. I think that is false, and I am sure you do too, but I think it is false for quite simple reasons.

    If a tree falls in the forest, as the saying goes, it doesn’t matter if no-one hears it. It still falls, and it still has an effect, and the universe will roll on on a slightly different course to the course it would have taken had the tree not fallen. More pertinently – you and I are practitioners of an ephemeral art: musical performers. It’s not as ephemeral as it was once, because we can record our performances, but, nonetheless, unlike a painting (or even a musical composition) a music performance lasts only until the last bar is finished. Then it’s over. Dead. The sound waves will dissipate and it’s gone for ever.

    Did that mean that the music was not worth playing? Does that mean that it made no difference to our audience, or even to ourselves? Obviously the answer is no, and the same is true of all our actions. That we die one day, and cease performing any actions does not render all our actions meaningless or purposeless. Of course they had a purpose – sometimes very noble purposes! The fact that we now think that eventually all living things on earth will die out and the earth itself be swallowed up in the sun, and there will be no trace of the life that once lived here doesn’t render that life “ultimately” meaningless or worthless. Or only if we take a very narrow literally temporal view of “ultimate”. But I don’t see why anyone should, whether they call themselves “materialist” or not, just as a good deed is worth doing even if no-one ever knows you did it.

    Furthermore, there is no ultimate justice. Hitler and the millions he tortured and murdered will have the same ultimate fate: pointless, meaningless oblivion.

    Again, I would question the word “ultimate”. I don’t think what happens “at the end” is necessarily more important than what happens at other times. Materialism does not negate justice, whether or not it negates “ultimate” justice, and IMO, if it does, why should that matter? It seems to me that the reason justice matters is not because of what happens “ultimately” but because of what happens to people now. It is unjust that some people starve while others consume resource intensive luxury foodstuffs. It is unjust that some people suffer injury whilst others enjoy inflicting it. We institute justice systems in order to try to minimise this kind of injustice, and some aspects of this system involve punishment – to deter, reform, and prevent. There’s also retribution, of course, which is what some people think is the essence of “justice” – but I don’t. I don’t see the point of it. I don’t see that it makes life fairer (more “just”) to know that those who tried to make it less fair “ultimately” suffered. The one good thing about bad people is that eventually they are gone. Why should I care beyond that? What good can anything else possibly do for those they abused?

    I lived my life in a complete state of depression, anger and despair for 43 years as a result of this notion, although I accomplished much during that time because I now know that my soul knew all the time that it was a colossal lie.

    As indeed it was :) I’m very happy to know it is over.

    The thing that really angers me is that all the depression, anger and despair was completely unnecessary, because the science I once thought put God out of job really makes His existence an inescapably logical conclusion.

    Well, I disagree with your logic, as you know, but, I do agree that that your despair was completely unnecessary. I don’t think that meaninglessness and injustice ar the inescapable logical conclusions from science any more than I think God is.

    The evidence is overwhelming.

    Yes, ID is about evidence for an unnamed and unidentified designer, and that is all it claims. But the philosophical and theological implications are obvious, and that is why it results in so much controversy.

    I’m not convinced. I think the controversy arises from the fact that the argument doesn’t actually work scientifically. Or at least, it arises because people strongly argue that it does not, while others strongly argue that it does (and obviously I take the former view).

    Firstly, I don’t think the evidence supports an external Designer.

    Secondly, if it did (and it could – there’s nothing unscientific about postulating a Designer as being a cause of something) I don’t see any persuasive argument that the Designer is a god.

    Thirdly, even if you were to persuade me of the first two, I’d still want to see evidence and/or argument that the god in question was good – was a god worthy of worship.

    Fourthly, whether or not a god is supported by evidence (and I’d argue, on theological grounds, that a detectable god is, by definition, not-a-god), there seems to be abundant evidence that the god in question does not answer petitionary prayer in a statistically detectable manner, and confines his/her interventions in the laws of the universe to scenarios in which alternative accounts are plausible. Regrowth of amputated limbs are noticeable by their absence. Why should a good god bother to intervene to provide a bacterium with a flagellum, better to infect human children with gangrenous limbs, and yet not bother of restoring those limbs?

    In other words – IMO, the god you get to by extrapolating from apparent Design in nature isn’t one I’d readily worship.

    On the other hand, the god I get to by relaxing my insistence that temporality matters (that “ultimate” meaning and “ultimate” justice are the only kinds that really count), or, to put it rather religously, by moving my mind from things temporal to things eternal, is indeed a good God, one who renders good things meaningful regardless of when and where they are performed, and who knows about them.

    As many UD readers know, I am a former Dawkins-style militant atheist, but now one of those dreadful and dangerous born-again evangelical Christians.

    But the interesting thing is that I did not abandon science and reason; I found it.

    And if you ever find a flaw in the ID reasoning (and I think there is one!) I hope that you will also find out that it does not matter! That your smart seven-year-old self was still wrong :)

    Cheers

    Lizzie

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