Why I believe--Part I (First Principles)

If you read any article about religion on a general news website, it is inevitable that there will be a host of comments in the discussion section that are variations on the theme of "religion is stupid, and it would be better if all of these religious people either stop believing or go away."  Now, comment sections on websites are never a place to find respectful and informative discourse on anything, so this is not remotely surprising.  And, of course, you find similar trollish comments from religious conservatives of various flavors.

Still, the idea that religion is useless and only stupid people are believers is a prominent idea.  In one of the recent articles that I read (I believe it was one of Rachel Held Evans's posts of CNN), a commenter suggested that it would be helpful for believers to explain why they believe, in a way that goes beyond the unproductive "read the Bible and you will believe" polemics.

So, here's my attempt, split into a couple of parts.

The vast majority of things that are within the human experience can be very thoroughly explained through science.  By science, I am talking about the methodology and theory of science--empirical observation of the natural world, resulting in testable theories that are proven, disproven, or refined.  Science can explain how I am able to type this post on my laptop and how it can be shared with others.  Science can explain why I get hungry in the evening, why the tomato plant that I am growing in the back yard produces fruit, and why my hunger would be satisfied if I picked the newly ripe tomato.

So, the question is not whether science can answer questions about the world around us--it clearly can.  The question instead is whether science can answer all of our questions.  Can science explain that experience of being out in nature and feeling connected to the world around you?  Can science explain everything about the human experience?  Can science explain that moment when you fall in love?  Can science explain the moment when you feel loved?

It is certainly possible to conclude that the answer is yes--that these fundamentally human experiences can be reduced to electrical and chemical interactions in the brain, and carry no significance beyond that.  I have no way of saying that these people are wrong, but I find that explanation unsatisfying.

It is unsatisfying to me because it is inconsistent with my own experiences.  When I have experienced things like being in love and receiving love, those experiences appear to be more than simply internal experiences of the mind.  They feel as if they are beyond me, and yet they feel as if they are within me in a way that is deeper than my thoughts or feelings.  They are, to use some theological language, both imminent and transcendent.  Or you could call them supernatural, or experiences of the divine--all of those idea, I think, are ways of talking about the same reality.

These experiences, I believe, are real, even though they are not susceptible to scientific scrutiny.  Again, I understand why people dismiss this idea out of hand, though I do not agree with them.  I also understand those that say that, even if those experiences are real in some sense, they are not important, or that the person is not interested in exploring them.

I understand, but I am not that kind of person.  I want to come to understand those experiences, that reality.  And that is why I am interested in religion and religious experiences.

What have I found?  That's for the next post.


Anonymous said…
Wow. Your hunger is satisfied when you pick a tomato? So you gain sustenance when you fondle food?

You had better stop writing a blog and teach this trick to starving people.

World hunger solved. Boom!
Traveller said…
I suppose I assumed the "eating" part was implied.
Anonymous said…
Clarity in writing is next to godliness. Clean it up!
Lisa said…
Yes, the eating part was sufficiently implied. You don't have to always spell out the obvious to write well.

In the spirit of intelligent and non-trolling discourse: I'm an athiest (non proselytizing), so I appreciate your willingness/desire to explain why you believe, and I am very curious and interested in your answer. And I realize this is only part 1, so I hope maybe you will come back to this issue, but what I want to understand is why you need to have a god to explain transcendent (and similar) experiences. I too am awed by the feelings of love and the beauty of the world, and my responses to things that can't (at least not yet) be completely explained by science, but I just sort of accept them as part of humanity. To me, it doesn't make any more sense to make up an illogical magical or supernatural explanation than to accept we don't have an explanation, or to accept social science answers. Eg. I think I feel love because special connections with other humans are integral to my survival and happiness. Love makes us protect our family and it helps us identify a suitable mate.

Also, in your other post about homosexuality, you admit that you accepted certain tenets of your faith at face value because you were a child and had always heard some Catholic ideas as if they were facts. Do you think if you had been raised without awareness of a god, that based on your trancendent and emotive experiences, you would have come up with the idea of a god all on your own?

I hope you'll consider some of these topics and I look forward to reading you again. Thanks for your insight!
Traveller said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Traveller said…
Hi Lisa,

I hope to come back to some of the ideas you raise in some of the next posts (particularly the part about how my background affects my experience), but I wanted to say a little more about your first paragraph.

I completely understand why other people come to exactly the conclusion you do--why do we need a supernatural explanation? Can't we explain everything through science, both physical and social?

For me, though, the scientific explanation does not fully reflect the reality of those experiences. I understand the argument that love is a complex cocktail of hormones which have an evolutionary purpose, but to me that rings somewhat hollow. Not that I think those explanations are wrong, but to me they seem incomplete. There is more to it than simply that. At least, that's my experience and the result of my reflection.

Thanks for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it.

I'm not looking to pick a fight here, but isn't this basically a version of the Argument from Incredulity?

Enjoying the blog.

Traveller said…

It's an Argument from Incredulity if I am wrong. I am not simply saying that I don't understand these phenomenon from a scientific perspective--I'm saying I'm skeptical that they can be actually be fully understood from a scientific perspective. I think they are beyond the ability of science to grapple with.

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