I gave a one hour presentation entitled “Atheism and Morality” last night at UNC Charlotte to an audience of about 42 people. It went pretty well despite not being able to show my PowerPoint slides due to technical problems. The audience participated throughout and asked plenty of good questions at the end. I received some very positive comments afterwards as well as even more questions.
Here’s the full text of what I presented:
Hello, my name is Dan Russell-Pinson and I’m the coordinator for a group called Charlotte Atheists and Agnostics. I’d like to thank Vidal Dickerson and UNC Charlotte for inviting me to talk about Atheism and Morality. One reason I’m here is that too many people think those two words are mutually exclusive.
I’d like to explore morality through the lens of atheism, religion and science and, in the process, show that it’s not necessary to believe in a God to be moral.
There’s a stereotype about atheists that assumes we all must have had some terrible experience with the church that drove us away. In my situation, that wasn’t really the case.
While growing up in Greenville, SC, I attended a Presbyterian church where I developed a lingering possibility in my mind that God might exist but I never sensed any kind of confirmation of it outside of church. To me, the world appeared exactly how you would expect it to if there wasn’t a personal God. Eventually my family stopped attending church and I didn’t give religion too much thought until a few years ago.
I became a father and started to pay more attention to what’s going on in the world. Several events, including 9/11, made me understand what people are capable of doing for their religious beliefs. It was clear that people’s religious beliefs were more than just private reflections. They actually shaped people’s behavior and sometimes in ways that cause harm.
So I made it my personal project to learn as much as I could about religion. Now, if you told me five years ago that I would be a coordinator for an atheist group and speaking to a group of people about atheism, I would have said you were crazy. But here I am…
And apparently, I wasn’t alone because a movement, described as “The New Atheism”, was already underway spearheaded by bestselling books by authors including Sam Harris, Ethologist Richard Dawkins and Philosopher Daniel Dennett.
This movement brought atheism into the spotlight and gave a voice to millions of non-believers like myself who were never part of the conversation before.
What is an atheist?
Let me explain what I’m referring to when I say atheist so there’s no confusion. Atheism deals with belief and a cursory look at a handful of dictionaries shows that it breaks down two ways:
1) Someone who doesn’t have a belief in a god or deity (weak atheism)
2) Someone who denies the existence of gods or deities (strong atheism)
These two definitions might sound the same but there is a significant difference. The first simply describes the lack of belief in a god and the second actually goes further and makes a fact claim that gods do not exist.
In all of my conversations, reading and research, I have found almost nobody who subscribes to the second definition. The statement that “no gods exist” suffers from a problem of proving a negative which is logically and philosophically impossible. So, as much as I dislike referring to myself as weak, I can say that practically every atheist including myself refers to the first definition when speaking about atheism.
It shouldn’t be hard for anybody here to imagine what it’s like to be an atheist. As Richard Dawkins points out, we’re all atheists with respect to the gods of history like Zeus, Thor and Poseiden. We’re all atheists with respect to the Gods of other religions. Atheists just go one god further.
Since I talked about what atheism is, let’s talk about what it’s not. There’s a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding when it comes to atheism and I’d like to help clear up as much of it as I can.
Atheists are arrogant
So, are there atheists out there who are arrogant? Of course there are. There are also many religious people who are arrogant as well and religion doesn’t seem to cure them of it.
When dealing with the big questions like “how did life originate?”, I respond the same way scientists do by saying “I don’t know, let’s find out”.
And, think about it, what can be more humble than saying “I don’t know”? What can be more arrogant than thinking that your religion provides all the answers?
Atheists think that life has no meaning
Only people who believe in God would think that life has no meaning without God. To an atheist, life without God is just simply… life.
The way I see it, you have to find your own meaning in your life. Whether it’s family, friends, learning new things, helping others or whatever else, it’s up to you to search for and discover meaning. What I find meaningful, you might find trivial and vice versa.
Atheism is a religion
Dictionaries all agree that religion involves the belief in the supernatural and a belief in a god. And, since atheists don’t believe in those things, we can conclude that atheism is not a religion.
Believers make this claim in an effort to shift the burden of proof over to the atheist, but as Carl Sagan once said “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof”. Since they cannot provide proof, believers try to push the idea that it’s the atheist’s job to prove their claims false, but, as I mentioned earlier, it’s impossible to prove a negative. Basically, if you make a claim, it’s your job to prove it.
Atheists are anti-church
Speaking for myself, I think the idea of church is actually a good thing. It can bring communities together and, many times, do good works for society. I actually attend church myself every Sunday, and, if that piques your interest, feel free to ask me about it after the presentation.
Just to repeat, atheism is simply the lack of belief in a god. It’s not a worldview and it’s not a philosophy.
If my presentation was limited to just describing what atheism is, then it would now be over and I’d be saying “good night and thanks for coming”.
In many ways, the word Atheist shouldn’t even exist. As Sam Harris points out, we don’t have a word for people who don’t believe in astrology. People just don’t identify themselves by their non-belief in astrology. I don’t say “Hi, I’m Dan and I’m a non-astrologer”. And, likewise, we shouldn’t really have a word for people who don’t believe in god.
Of course, if a majority Americans suddenly started professing belief in astrology, rewriting American history to say that our founding fathers were astrologers, pushing the government to teach “Intelligent Horoscopes” in public schools and so on, perhaps we would see fit to invent a word for people who don’t believe in astrology.
And perhaps this is the case with atheism. Sam Harris puts it this way:
“Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma.”
So, as opposed to ending my presentation right here, I’m going to continue on and make some noises instead.
Do you have to believe in god to be moral?
Here’s an idea to consider as we explore morality. Religious institutions used to have the final word over matters of astronomy, biology, geology, etc. But, as science has progressed, there has been an erosion of that religious authority in all of those areas and more. Science is now clearly the authority on the motion of the planets, why we get sick and the age of the Earth.
Morality is one of the last things that religion at least claims that it has authority over. Which prompts the obvious question, do you have to believe in god to be moral?
A working definition of morality
Before we discuss morality any further, I’d like to put a working definition on the table to act as a starting point.
I’m going to define morality (with respect to humans) as:
The code of ethics that works to increase human happiness and reduce unhappiness and suffering.
Now, when I say “happiness”, I’m including a whole umbrella of ideas including health, justice, joy, freedom to pursue your potential and so on.
Of course this definition of morality is extremely general in nature. But, let’s face it, if objective, universal moral laws exist, we haven’t discovered them yet and religion certainly hasn’t provided us with them. So the best we can do right now is to seek a consensus on at least some general moral guidelines.
Are Atheists immoral?
I was just talking about atheist stereotypes earlier and I saved the biggest stereotype for last and that is the myth that atheists are immoral. There are many reasons why it’s important to put this myth to rest.
First, because it’s simply not true.
Second, because this myth is so pervasive in our culture. For instance, we’re right in the swing of a big election year and what’s the term that the media uses to refer to religious voters? They call them “values voters” which directly implies that non-religious people don’t have values.
But, if that’s true and religion is necessary for morality, why are so many atheists living moral and ethical lives? Shouldn’t we be evil?
First of all, studies of prison populations don’t reveal any evidence to support that atheists are more likely to commit crimes.
Also, with respect to divorce, studies show that non-believers have the same or lower divorce rate than religious people. The same studies also show that, within the Christian community, born-again Christians were more likely to have had a divorce than other denominations. (www.religioustolerance.org, Barna Research Group 12/21/1999)
In terms of societal health, the 2005 United Nations’ Human Development Report shows that the least religious countries are actually the healthiest in terms of homicide rate, life expectancy, adult literacy, educational attainment, gender equality and infant mortality. These countries include Canada, England, Japan and Sweden. (United Nations’ Human Development Report – 2005)
Another study published in the Journal of Religion and Society found a similar correlation of higher rates of belief in a creator with higher rates of homicide, STD infection rates and teen pregnancy. (Journal of Religion and Society)
The same correlations appear to hold up even within the United States when comparing the more religious Midwest and Southern “Bible Belt” regions and the less religious Northeast.
Now, let me make it clear that these correlations do not prove that religious belief causes societal dysfunction. It’s possible that belief in god may lead to a decline in societal health, but it’s also possible that decreased societal health might encourage people towards religious belief. They could both be right and be feeding into each-other or they could both be wrong.
But, the important thing is that religion is not a necessary foundation for a moral society and it’s clear that you can achieve the goals of a civil, moral society without believing in a god.
So, if there’s no evidence that atheists are less moral than believers, why do atheists have such a bad reputation? I believe this myth has propagated because it serves as a kind of defense mechanism for religion. In other words, the more you convince people that non-believers are evil, the more likely religious belief will thrive.
This brings up the point that there are really three main arguments that the people use to promote religion. They argue that their religion is true. They argue that religious belief is useful. And, if those two don’t work, they argue that atheists are evil. And apparently they’ve been pretty successful with the last argument.
The 10 Commandments
Now, let’s focus on whether it’s really true or useful by examining the morality of the Bible. First, I want to make it clear that my intention here isn’t to offend, but instead, to provide a new perspective and to balance the religious viewpoint. Since we’re here in the United States, I’ll be focusing mostly on Christianity.
Let’s start with the 10 Commandments since so many Christians see them as the foundation of our laws and our morality.
Here they are as they appear in the King James Version of the Bible:
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the lord in vain
4. Remember the sabbath day, keep it holy.
5. Honour thy father and thy mother
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
At first glance, the first five commandments are arbitrary with regards to morality and the first and third commandments actually violate our constitutional rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
Commandments six through nine are finally rules of conduct where you could, at the very least, say that the world might be better if everyone followed them, although almost every society in history has discovered these rules on their own.
The tenth commandment actually demands that we do something that we have almost no control over which is to desire someone else’s property.
My general reaction to the 10 commandments is basically this: if the creator of the universe and all life in it created these moral rules, why are they so flawed? Shouldn’t they blow us away with their profundity? Why are they so arbitrary to human happiness and well-being? Is there anyone here that doesn’t think they could create a better list of moral conduct?
Morality of the Bible
It’s clear that the Bible, having been written so many centuries ago, is at a real disadvantage for informing the people of 2008 about morality. The authors of the Bible knew so little about the world compared to what we know today. And, as you would expect, the Bible reflects the time and culture in which it was written.
Slavery was a normal part of life back then and, not surprisingly, was depicted as such in the Bible. Not only is slavery condoned in the Bible, there are explicit rules concerning the ownership of slaves.
Exodus 21 clearly condones the beating of slaves. If you beat a slave and he dies, you won’t be punished as long as he survived for a day or two after the beating. Curiously, if you damage a slave’s eyes or teeth, you must set the slave free.
And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money. – Exodus 21:20-21
And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake. – Exodus 21:26-27
It goes on to say that you can only own a slave up to seven years and there are specific rules which dictate whether or not a released slave is allowed to take his wife and children with him or not.
If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. – Exodus 21:2-4
The treatment of women in the Bible is not kind either. First, there are instructions on selling your daughter as a maidservant.
Deuteronomy chapter 22 explains that, if a man determines that his bride is not a virgin, he should bring her to her Father’s doorstep and let the men of the city stone her to death
And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. – Exodus 21:7
But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: – Deuteronomy 22:20
And, even in the New Testament, women are seen as second class citizens.
1 Corinthians says that women should not be allowed to speak in church and, if they have any questions, they should ask their husbands when they get home.
1 Timothy says that women should have no authority over men and that they shouldn’t be teachers.
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. – 1 Corinthians 14:34
Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.- 1 Timothy 2:11-12
Various penalties of death
And, of course, the Bible imposes a death penalty for many behaviors that have little or no affect on human suffering, such as disobeying your parents, working on the Sabbath, homosexuality and more.
For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. – Matthew 15:4
Six days my work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. – Exodus 31:13-15
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. – Leviticus 20:13
And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. — Leviticus 20:10
As we can see, the morality of the Bible is, at best, arbitrary and ambiguous. Moderates deal with this by taking a non-literal approach. They read their holy texts more metaphorically and less like a history book.
Fundamentalists, on the other hand, believe that their religious texts are the literal and inerrant word of God. And, if evidence or facts contradict their core beliefs, then the evidence and facts must be wrong.
Anybody who believes that the Bible is without error should read the book Misquoting Jesus by New Testament expert Bart Ehrman. Ehrman was a true believer who entered the seminary, learned Greek and studied the earliest Bible manuscripts. He spent three decades as a fundamentalist scholar studying the New Testament and what he found surprised him.
There are 5700 Greek manuscripts that make up the New Testament as we know it and biblical scholars have discovered over 200,000 differences in those manuscripts. Ehrman puts it this way “There are more variances among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament”.
Among the many discrepancies, was the discovery that the last twelve verses of Mark were clearly added by scribes years later and those are the only verses in Mark that portray Christ reappearing after his death.
Another example involves the first chapter of John which is the only place in the entire Bible that describes the holy trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This foundation of Christian theology was found to be added centuries later by an unknown scribe.
And, recall the well known story of the adulteress who was about to be stoned to death until Jesus said: “let the one without sin cast the first stone”. It’s one of the most well-known stories in the Bible, but it too was found to be added by scribes centuries after the life of Jesus.
The preponderance of evidence led Bart Ehrman to lose his faith altogether and to become, as he puts it, “a happy agnostic”.
Why do so many people still profess the belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God?
Certainly the indoctrination of children plays a big role. The Jesuits have a saying “Give me the boy until he’s seven and I’ll give you the man”. Also, most believers don’t read the Bible critically, if at all, and tend to leave the “heavy lifting” of interpreting the Bible to their church leaders.
Fundamentalism appeals to many basic human instincts. It’s simplistic. It appeals to the need to belong to a group. The idea of being God’s chosen one appeals to our vanity. The idea that God is looking over you appeals to our need of protection. And the thought of spending an eternity in hell appeals to our sense of fear to say the least.
What’s wrong with fundamentalism?
Since our beliefs about the world influence our actions, let’s explore the effects of fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism is conflict with science
First, fundamentalism is by definition in conflict with science because science starts with evidence and arrives at a conclusion whereas fundamentalists start with a conclusion and work backward to find evidence to support it. Fundamentalism obstructs scientific inquiry and, in doing so, impedes the search for truth.
Think about it: Science is one of the few pursuits where you actually score points for proving yourself wrong and where ideas are considered on their merits and the evidence alone. Religious institutions, on the other hand, are systematically resistant to admitting error perhaps for fear of a slippery slope leading to even further erosion of their authority. For example the Catholic Church didn’t officially apologize to Galileo, for his detainment after promoting a heliocentric view of the world, until 1992.
Fundamentalism places religious dogma above human happiness and suffering
Also, fundamentalism can lead people to behave in ways that ignore human happiness and well-being. Whether it’s preaching the sinfulness of condom use in AIDS ravaged sub-Saharan Africa or blocking stem cell research that could potentially save countless lives, theology seems to trump basic morality and common sense.
Recall the incident last year where a British school teacher in the Sudan allowed her students to name a teddy bear Mohamed. After being imprisoned, she faced death threats and a six month prison sentence before finally receiving outside help to get her deported.
Fundamentalism threatens our future
It should go without saying that a world with a large number of fundamentalists will always be in conflict because fundamentalism makes compromise virtually impossible. Fundamentalists believe that they have the absolute truth and that the truths held by other faiths are by definition wrong and even evil. This not only promotes intolerance, it is the very definition of intolerance.
In the 21st century, this kind of “us versus them” mentality becomes a serious threat to our well-being.
We don’t get our morality from the Bible
Now it’s 2008 in America. Why don’t we own slaves any more? Why do we allow women to vote? Why do we no longer burn blasphemers at the stake or stone adulterers to death?
The answer is that we don’t really get our morality from the Bible. The people that say they do are, in reality, picking and choosing from the Bible, which begs the question. By what criteria do they determine which parts of the Bible are “good” and worth following (like the golden rule) and which parts are “bad” and should be ignored (like stoning adulterers)? The answer is, they are using their own evolved moral intuitions to determine which parts of the Bible to follow. So, instead of getting our morality from the Bible, in reality, we are really using the morality we already have to judge the Bible.
Take any moral question of our time. It could be capital punishment, doctor-assisted suicide, women’s rights or gay rights. Religious people fall on both sides of every one of these issues. Even if the Bible did distill an absolute code of morality, it’s obviously too ambiguous for people to understand or agree upon.
Our sense of morality, our opinions of right and wrong, have changed and evolved over time while the Bible has stayed the same. We don’t own slaves anymore not because of the Bible, but despite the Bible. We believe it’s wrong to treat women as second class citizens, not because of the Bible, but despite the Bible.
The science of morality
If we really don’t get our morality from religion, then where do our moral intuitions come from?
Before we can achieve any kind of moral progress, we have to understand what it is that is driving our moral intuitions and, to do that, we turn to the one method that best helps us understand the world we live in: science.
Steven Pinker elegantly explains the current scientific understanding of morality in a fascinating article called “The Moral Instinct” which I will summarize below.
Is our morality ubiquitous and universal?
The studies point to morality as being something like a sixth sense that has formed through our evolutionary history and many of our moral intuitions are found to be ubiquitous around the globe.
Results from several areas of science point to the idea that our sense of morality has a genetic and therefore evolutionary component. Studies of preschoolers show that they will naturally try to comfort people who they see in distress. They also show an understanding of the difference between moral principles (you shouldn’t kick another child) and social conventions (you shouldn’t wear pajamas to school). Twins separated at birth were more likely to share similar character traits such as conscientiousness than siblings who were raised together.
The Trolley Problem
One universal phenomenon that we all have probably experienced is when we arrive at firm moral stances without being able to explain why and then you work backwards to find a justification for it. When asked to explain, we might respond “I don’t know, it’s just wrong!”.
This is illustrated by a thought experiment called the Trolley Problem. And, I’d like to have everybody here participate, so let me describe the first scenario.
Imagine there’s a runaway trolley car hurtling down a track towards five men. You are standing at a fork in the track and can pull a lever that will divert the trolley to another track and save the five men. Unfortunately, the trolley would then run over a single man standing on the second track. Is it permissible to throw the switch and thereby killing one man to save five?
Now, let’s focus on a slightly different scenario:
This time, you’re on a bridge overlooking the tracks and have spotted the runaway trolley bearing down on the same five men. This time, the only way to stop the trolley is to throw a heavy object in its path. And the only heavy object within reach is a very large man standing next to you. Should you throw the man off the bridge?
Pinker explains that both scenarios involve the sacrifice of one person to save the lives of five and, from a utilitarian standpoint, you could say that both are the same. Yet, most people will say yes to flipping the switch in the first scenario and no to throwing the large man off the bridge in the second. When asked for a reason, most people can’t come up with a coherent answer.
This same moral dilemma, and the inability to explain why, was found to be practically universal in a worldwide study of 200,000 people of different sex, race, religion and education level adding further support for the idea of that our moral intuitions are ubiquitous.
5 Universal Moral Senses
The heart of Steven Pinker’s article centers around the discovery of five moral themes that appear to be consistent and ubiquitous across the globe and seem to compose the primary colors of our morality.
Harm: A general sense that it’s bad to harm others and good to help them
Fairness: A sense that you should repay favors, reward generous people and punish cheaters
Community: Valuing loyalty to a group, sharing, solidarity and conformity to norms.
Authority: A sense that it’s right to defer to legitimate authorities and respect people with high status
Purity: Valuing cleanliness and sanctity while shunning defilement and contamination.
Now, here’s the interesting twist. Even though these moral themes appear to be universal, the way in which they are prioritized and used appears to be dependent on culture. Pinker’s examples include the Japanese fear of nonconformity which shows the importance they give to group loyalty and the Jewish dietary restrictions which show a priority given to purity.
Not only do people from different cultures prioritize these universal moral spheres differently, they even differ in which ones they use and don’t use to moralize different aspects of life such as sex, religion, commerce and so on.
So, it appears that we all have some basic universal moral intuitions in our toolbox, but it’s our culture that determines how we use them.
Objective Moral Standards
Some people have a problem with the notion that our morality is a product of evolution because, to them, it makes morality seem arbitrary. In other words, if we had evolved in a different type of ecosystem or were missing a few genes, our moral intuitions could have gone a different way. This leads to the realization that there’s no objective moral standard that can definitively tell us what is right and wrong in absolute terms.
For many people, the solution for the lack of an objective moral standard is to bring in the concept of God. But, as Plato pointed out 2,400 years ago, God does not really provide a solution to the problem. Ask yourself this: if God asked you to torture a child, would that make it morally right by definition? Would you do it? On the other hand, if God is moved by moral reasons to make the commands that he does, why not just appeal to those reasons directly?
However, in the absence of objective moral laws, two rules seem to emerge that constantly point an individual in a moral direction:
1) “Two parties are objectively better off if they both act in a nonselfish way than if each of them acts selfishly”
Basically, groups that work together and share resources tend to thrive.
2) “If I appeal to you to do anything that affects me, then I can’t do it in a way that privileges my interests over yours.”
This might be better known to people as the golden rule (treat others as you would have them treat yourself). Now many of us know about the golden rule from Jesus in the Bible, but keep in mind that this moral philosophy shows up, as much as five centuries before the life of Jesus, in all of the major religions from Brahmanism to Zoroastrianism as well as in the writings of philosophers such as Socrates and Plato.
Understanding the nature of morality can help us
The scientific study of morality can help us pave the road towards moral progress in two ways.
First, if we can recognize and acknowledge that we all share some basic moral senses, even if we disagree on their priority and use, it’s a powerful first step towards understanding our differences.
And second, it can help us to understand and avoid the imperfections that evolution and culture have introduced in our moral reasoning.
Only by understanding the nature of our shared moral intuitions and their imperfections are we going to be able to get to a place that maximizes human happiness and reduces human suffering.
Our beliefs about the world motivate and drive our actions, yet religion can lead us towards beliefs that contradict reality. This causes people to behave in ways that are arbitrary at best and harmful at worst. Believing in things without evidence puts us out of sync with the basic goals of increasing happiness and reducing suffering.
Religion can also lead us towards beliefs that contradict those held by other religions which promotes intolerance and leaves little room for compromise. Yet, some of our biggest problems, like climate change, hunger, genocide and terrorism, are going to require people of all cultures to work together to find solutions. Only science, which is universal and not the exclusive property of any one culture, can transcend these global problems and offer practical solutions.
So many people base their view of the world on scrolls written when the authors had no concept of atoms or germs or whether the Earth orbited the sun or vice-versa. Why do so many still place these ancient writings on a pedestal when we so clearly have moved beyond them both scientifically and morally? Is upholding ancient tradition more important than seeking the truth? Is the past more important than our future?
We don’t need to invent Gods to remind us that there’s something bigger than ourselves. A single look through a telescope makes that point clearer than any ancient myth.
We don’t need to view our world through the tinted lens of religion to find mystery. Even the most casual, unfiltered look at ourselves and the universe reveals enough mystery to last a million lifetimes.
We don’t need to invent the concept of God to achieve humility. If what we’ve already discovered about ourselves and our place in the universe doesn’t make us humble, then nothing will.
And we certainly don’t need the concept of God to help us to appreciate life. Quite the opposite, it’s only by realizing and accepting that this is the only life we have that we can even begin to appreciate how precious it is and to start making the most of it. We are lucky to even be alive and, even better, to be alive with the consciousness and intelligence to be able to ask how we got here.
And in our search to find out who we are, it’s tempting to turn to the easy answers that religion provides. But they’re just the illusion of answers because they only lead to more questions like “Who made God?” Instead, when we’re at a loss to explain the many mysteries we encounter in life, let’s just humbly and honestly say these powerful words: “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”