Religious Certainty

It seems to me…

Only barbarians are not curious about where they come from, how they came to be where they are, where they appear to be going, whether they wish to go there, and if so, why, and if not, why not.” ~ Isaiah Berlin.

Some people see the presence of a supreme being(s), a god(s), in everything; others do not. Many on one side or the other of this debate find it impossible to understand the beliefs of the other. One of the ultimate fundamental foundations supporting a choice of belief is whether one finds it easier to believe the universe and everything in it either was created by one or more supreme beings or that it sprang spontaneously from nothing without any pre-existing thought or direction.

The question of original cause requires a leap of faith by those on either side. To the majority of people, our universe, and the infinite complexity within it, demonstrates the necessity for intelligent design and consider it difficult to accept all of this could suddenly have exploded out of nothing and that everything would actually work[i]. Others then ask from where did this intelligent all-powerful being come – how was he/she created? Logic never can resolve the question; it is a matter of faith.

Some, not understanding science, reject it as being contrary to statements in the Bible or other document that forms the basis of their religious beliefs. Science actually is totally neutral regarding the existence of a supreme being in that it only can explain what can be experimentally proven correct. Theories are formulated, tested, and either corrected or rejected until proven. Any principle of religious belief is based on faith rather than scientific experimentation.

Scientific theories, such as the theory of evolution, provide an explanation of how something actually works or developed. It does not claim there was not intelligence guiding that design or development. Science never could make that claim as it always will remain untestable and impossible to prove. To many, it is easier to accept the guiding influence of a supreme conductor leading the infinite orchestra of life, controlling each instrument of existence, and keeping everything in harmony than to believe it has arisen based on random chance.

I wish I had been blessed with unquestioning religious convictions but instead have been given a mind that is both inquisitive and skeptical. We all too often are told to just open ourselves to God and allow him to enter our lives. It sounds so simple – but like many things that sound simple in principle prove impossible in practice. We have been given many hints, clues, and artifacts about the physical world. We also have been given the intelligence and curiosity to use this information to gain a better understanding of it. We obviously are obligated to gain from that understanding.

Beliefs in deities change. Classical Greek/Roman narratives and representational arts are replete with their pantheon of gods and goddesses who constituted a significant aspect of everyone’s daily life explaining everything from religious rituals to the weather and gave meaning to the world people saw around them. These deities often left Mount Olympus and were more extensively involved in the affairs of mortals than by the Heavenly Father of Judeo-Christian beliefs.

One of the obvious fallacies of all religions is that from a human perspective, deities had all-too-human traits – they preferred having an ox sacrificed to them or copulating with forest nymphs rather than discussing abstract philosophy or science with Gödel or Einstein.

Religions also are prone to supplementing their beliefs by “borrowing” from one another. The story of the Christian Biblical great flood in Genesis 6-9 is based on two conflicting Creation stories in the Jewish Torah (Genesis 1 and Genesis 2) which are taken from at least three even earlier accounts (Eridu Genesis, Atrahasis, Gilgames). Some scholars maintain that Jesus borrowed heavily from the teachings found in Zoroastrianism; e.g., The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 NIV). It must be remembered that scriptures of most religions are written not by the person speaking and well after events have occurred – the Gospel of Matthew was not written until around 70 ACE.

In the absence of any single moral truth, morality is always fundamentally relative. How in the absence of absolute certainty do we find our way? Spiritually, we are attempting to follow a forest trail. There frequently are rocks or other obstacles obscuring the path and only through patience and study of what lays ahead can we hope to continue on the proper path rather than losing our way. Stop and look! Have faith that when it is correct, the right direction will become clear.

Our place in this universe is insignificant. Ultimately, we can possess the Earth only by rising above it. Only from the perspective of space is it possible to observe the absence of non-existent constraints imposed by artificial political boundaries. Only by sinking our feet into the dust of other planets can we escape the petty arguments threatening us today.

Try this hypothetical exercise: Assume you are an extra-terrestrial visiting from some other star system where there isn’t any belief in a supreme being but you are open to the possibility that people here on earth might have more insight into universal truths. You quickly realize that earthlings profess beliefs in many very different separate religions and each of those religions is further subdivided into numerous sects. Furthermore, each of those sects states they alone are the one true religion and only by strictly following the tenets of their beliefs can someone achieve salvation.

What would be the only rational conclusion you would reach? Probably that earthlings are looney and the planet needs cleansing….

That’s what I think, what about you?

[i] This is somewhat comparable to saying how prescient God is. He put ears in the correct location to hold eyeglasses.

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About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
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2 Responses to Religious Certainty

  1. berlioz1935 says:

    You say, “I wish I had been blessed with unquestioning religious convictions but instead have been given a mind that is both inquisitive and skeptical.”

    I don’t think you really wish this. I know people often say this in jest but I think it is better to be ” inquisitive and skeptical”. And you are making a good fist of it.

    To the theme at hand? People made their gods in their own image rather than the other way around. The question, is there a God, always ends at the the point “and who made God?” I don’t assume we will answer this question soon. The “Big Bang” also rises the question, what was before it.

    You are doing the the right thing and stick to the observable universe. Keep on being inquisitive and skeptical and share your thoughts with us.

    Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We are heading for the hot season and the bush fires have already started. Leibniz said we are living in the best of all worlds so we better take his advice.

    • lewbornmann says:

      Thank you for your reassurance. Many people seem to possess unquestioned religious beliefs and I sometimes am envious. Is agnosticism basically only philosophical languorousness or is skepticism, the seeming necessity to question almost everything, and universal doubt, especially regarding generally accepted basic beliefs, the norm?

      As I stated, “In the absence of any single moral truth, morality is always fundamentally relative”. The disparity and variance between different tenets of belief only strengthens and reinforces the sense of skepticism. Personally, I want to know the unknowable.

      May you and Uta have a very Merry Christmas and happiness lasting throughout the new year….

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