I love my atheist friends, but I just couldn’t be one– even if I wanted to.
At least once a year I head up to Mount Desert Island, Maine, to spend time with one of my best friends, Terry Firma, who writes for Friendly Atheist here at Patheos. Regardless of what’s going on in our individual lives, somehow our conversations always have a way of drifting back to the different way we see the world– one through the eyes of a theist, and one through the eyes of an atheist. While our cherished conversations will often span the gamut of philosophical topics over midnight cappuccinos, one of my favorites has been when we engage in mutual self reflection in an attempt to understand how and why we arrived at such different ways of viewing things (and how and why we’ve been able to become such good friends over the years in spite of that.)
Ironically, we sure do share a lot in common– we share the same frustrations with Christian expressions that don’t reflect love, share many compatible political views, both built families via international adoption, and a host of other commonalities which have certainly been the foundation of our close friendship these last seven years.
Where we diverge however, is on the question of God… I believe one exists, and he believes one does not.
The questions we’ve asked each other have resulted in a lot of inner reflection for myself as to why I believe that God exists. While there are some ancillary reasons as to why I believe in God, over the years I’ve tried to trim those down to the foundation in order to discover for myself the real reason, the primary reason, upon which all of my other beliefs stand.
What I’ve discovered about myself in that process was surprising. Turns out, the primary reason why I believe God exists wasn’t because the Bible tells me so, and it wasn’t because of life experiences.
The foundational reason I discovered for my belief in God was quite simple, really.
I believe in God because of what I see in the evening sky.
Growing up in the foothills of Maine on a dairy farm, we lived far beyond light pollution, and the evening sky captivated me from a young age. As I’ve traveled the world– from the Mayan ruins in the Guatemalan jungle to the islands of the South Pacific– that same evening sky has always filled me with awe and wonder as I gaze at the vastness of the heavenly bodies.
And, when I look up at all that twinkles back at me as I stand on this pale blue dot in the universe, something in my being screams out, “You are not an accident. What you see, did not come about by accident.“
You see, when looking at the universe, the atheist and theist face the same dilemma of two choices: either matter spontaneously came to exist (nothing created something) or, something has eternally existed (either God or matter itself). These are simple options, yet deeply complex at the same time. For me, I am just unable to believe that at some point nothing existed and at a later point everything existed– without a creator who caused things to come to exist at a starting point.
All things considered, I think the fundamental difference between a theist and an atheist, is that we look at the evening sky and just see something different.
For me, the option that nothing existed (no matter) then everything existed (all matter) without there being a creator to cause it all into existence, makes as little sense to me as a God belief makes to them. That leaves me with the option that something must have eternally existed (matter or God), and when it comes to that option, believing a creator eternally existed just seems to make more sense (though both options are bit mind boggling.)
This big, beautiful universe must have come from somewhere. It’s all too complex, too beautiful, to purposeful, to have all been a self-creating cosmic accident.
Without a belief in God, I just personally can’t make heads or tails of it all.
A case in point, and what prompted me thinking about this today was a story that came in my newsfeed regarding some photos taken by the Hubble Telescope. A few years back, the telescope pointed itself on a dark area of the sky that appeared to have nothing, as seen in the image, here:
After taking an image over the course of several months (a really long exposure), here’s what it saw from this seemingly empty part of the evening sky:
So, in an empty part of the sky where nothing appeared to be, there’s really up to 1 trillion stars and 10,000 galaxies… representing just a sliver of what must exist beyond our own line of sight.
Images like this simply remind me that the universe is beyond anything my mind can comprehend. It’s so big, so unfathomable, so amazing, that I’m just not able to bring myself to believe that it spontaneously came to exist all on it’s own– out of nothing.
In my mind this all had to have come from somewhere, it must have come to exist at a certain point in time, and the only way I’m able to understand that is to believe in someone who could have been the cause behind it all.
And so, the reason why I couldn’t be an atheist even if I wanted to, isn’t all that religious-y at all. It’s not even a complex philosophical opinion.
It’s just the simple fact that I look up at the sky at night and I see something that screams “created” back at me.
I get that many of us look up there and see something different, but this is what I see.
And a simple answer or not, this is perhaps the foundational reason why I believe in God.
I have read your article carefully and I agree with you very much. This has provided a great help for my thesis writing, and I will seriously improve it. However, I don’t know much about a certain place. Can you help me?
I know you’re not really looking to argue about it with some random nobody on the internet, but to me, there will always be two possible explanations for something like that. 1) God, 2) something completely outside of our conception. As long as that possibility exists, then it doesn’t make sense to me for this to be a reason to believe in God (especially not the God of a specific religion, as others have pointed out). We don’t believe in the sun because “how could all this light be here without it,” we believe in the sun because we can actually see the sun. Until I see compelling evidence for God, and not just “I can’t think of any better explanation for this than God,” then I will continue to be an atheist. The fact that I so persistently see people acknowledging that their foundational reasons for believing in God are indirect evidences like this does not leave me very expectant that I will ever see that.