The Great Chain

The Great Chain

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why I Don't Believe Part 1 - Introduction

The highest calling of the Atheist is to seek understanding, to seek knowledge, to seek truth.  In that quest, the Atheist will confront questions that have plagued the human consciousness since the first glimmers of sentience.  And in that quest, the Atheist will quickly begin to face questions that require an evaluation of the concept of divinity.

Nearly all Religions, all faiths, all creeds begin with some variant on the prologue that appears in the Bible. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.” God is always a pre-existing condition. This is both understandable and necessary because one of the most fundamental purposes of Religion is to provide answers to the unanswerable questions.

Where did we come from?

Were do we go when we die?

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why does the sun always rise in the East?

Why do the storms come? And why do they always come right after I planted my crops?

Asking ‘where did we come from?’ is one of the most basic, and likely one of the earliest questions humans ever asked. Looking up at the stars, it is unsurprising that early humans deified the sun and the moon and the stars. The sun, afterall, is easily recognizable even to those without any technological or scientific knowledge as the provider of warmth and heat and light and energy. The moon and stars ever present but impossibly distant, unknowable and mysterious clearly captivated the minds of ancient humans as well.

It is therefore unsurprising that nearly all religions begin with an answer to the most basic question of all, where did all of this come from? It is equally unsurprising that the answer to that question in every single creation myth is always essentially the same. In the beginning there is always Darkness, then some supernatural entity or God (be it a man, woman, spirit, coyote, dragon, etc.) speaks of claps or breathes and out of the endless void, creation begins to unfold.  Early humans had no experiential, scientific or empirical methodology for determining the origins of the Universe.  It is therefore utterly rational that our forebearers, in that quintissentially human quest for understanding, attempted to explain the origins of the Universe and our world through the creatures and phenomena they knew - for nothing so vexes the human mind as a question that defies an answer.

One of the fundamental purposes of Religion and supernatural understanding, is to provide answers to questions that cannot be answered based on our experiential understanding of the world. To early humans, most of the forces that governed their lives were utterly beyond their comprehension. They lived and died at the mercy of the forces of nature in a way that we modern humans cannot even begin to comprehend. As a result, they deified and anthropomorphized everything. The sun, the moon, the sky, the stars, the seas, the earth, the wind, the clouds, the harvest, each had its corresponding deity. Polytheistic belief structures were an utterly rational response to a world in which none of the forces governing existence were capable of experiential understanding. It provided a means of understanding and hopefully placating the unknowable forces of the Universe.

As humans came to understand the world around them, however, and began to understand the seasons and began to master agriculture, and began to gain an understanding of the world around them, such deification was no longer necessary because the answers to their questions were within their experiential understanding. As a result, the anthropomorphization of physical phenomena and polytheistic belief structures began a long slow slide into obsolescence.

One of the greatest inventions in the ancient world was Monotheism. The great advantage of Monotheism as a methodological technology is that the monotheistic deity is no longer wedded to some physical or natural phenomena capable of simple explanation. Monotheism is therefore infinitely more versatile. Its’ very abstraction is its greatest strength. Indeed, while nearly all of the deities of physical and natural phenomena have long since succumbed to logical or experiential understandings, only the Monotheistic deity, the omni-deity, the answer to ALL questions has withstood the test of time. And Monotheism has done so precisely because despite the number of questions that are definitively answered without invoking the supernatural, there remain a handful of questions to which Monotheism can still attempt to proffer an answer.

Questions such as how the Universe came to exist, remained unanswerable to ancient peoples. Indeed, they have remained unanswerable throughout the vast majority of human existence. Such questions only began to be definitively answered in the latter half of the twentieth century as astronomers and physicists peered deeper and deeper into space and farther back in time.

As the Atheist relentlessly pursues understanding in all things, it is highly likely that they will eventually come to a point where the notion of God seems silly. One of the foundational pieces of evidence in that understanding stems from the fact that we now know how it is that our planet, our star and our Universe came to be what it is. We actually KNOW the answer to a question that has bedeviled humankind since the moment of our emerging sentience. We actually know!

And the way in which our Universe formed, the actual way in which our star, our planet, our very existence came about is infinitely more marvelous and magnificent than any creation myth ever dreamt up by the human mind. The reality of our existence is made manifestly more miraculous by the truth of our Universe’s evolution. And with the rise of an answer to this most fundamental, most basic of questions, the Atheist is almost certain to begin to reject belief in God and begin to contemplate the meaning and grandeur of the true nature of our Universe. And as that understanding grows, as the true nature of the Cosmos reveals itself, appreciation and love for its beauty and complexity grow in equal measure.

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