I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Atheism as Faith

I am about to confess something that will drive my fellow atheists crazy: I am an atheist by faith. Many, if not most, atheist pride themselves that their ideas are based firmly in rational thought. The godless universe is a logical bit of clockwork, comprehensible and explainable through laws of nature. The god-based view of the universe is in defiance of logic and reason. It persists through emotional appeal, or perhaps unquestioned tradition, the momentum of all of human history carrying the idea of God forward despite all evidence to the contrary.

I'm not going to dispute these basic premises. I do believe that the universe is comprehensible through natural laws. I do believe that religion persists mainly through momentum. But, the key word in these sentences that can't be ignored is "believe."

I've been reading the Bible a lot lately, as research for my next novel. I've been muddling through Revelations, and have come to regard the experience as similar to the way I felt about Naked Lunch--it has some interesting images and poetry, but as a coherent narrative, it's a bit lacking. I'm not incompetent as a reader--I would actually rate myself rather proficient. I'm not a Bible scholar, but I was raised in the church--it's not like the Bible is a book I'm completely unfamiliar with. If I'm left so befuddled, I can't help but wonder how many Christians really understand the Bible from a direct reading, and how many rely on authority to interpret it for them. They don't know and understand Revelations because they've read it, but because they've been told about it by people they trust, by people they assume to be smart enough and studied enough to understand the words. Trust is often just a matter of gut. A preacher tells you that the Lord is coming soon, and the righteous shall be rewarded, and the wicked punished, and it just feels right deep in your gut. It makes sense.

Is this really so different from the way I understand science? I confess--I have no direct understanding of quantum mechanics, or relativity, or genetics. I can sit and read a book on evolution by Stephen Jay Gould and follow it with no problem--but when I actually try reading the science journals directly, I am utterly lost. I've read a dozen books about relativity, and I get the broad strokes--but, if asked to explain it to some one, I wouldn't be able to explain the actual theory--I'd be explaining the analogies and metaphors that I've read that explained the theory to me. I could talk about clocks on trains and spaceships turning on thier headlights, but if you asked me to pull out a calculator and actually start doing the math to prove Einstein grokked the universe, I'm in over my head. So, a lot of the scientific world view, I take on faith, trusting that other people have the time, energy, and brain power to truly comprehend things that are slightly above my head, yet make sense to me in my gut. The narrative of science, a world created by chance events, unfolding over almost incomprehensible scales of space and time, feels right to me. I believe it without deeply understanding it. I trust that it's possible to go to the Galapagos and study Darwin's finches, but I haven't, and I'm pretty sure I won't. Again, I trust that the scientists who have studied this are telling the truth about what they've found.

Before I get flamed by atheists, let me say that I'm not claiming that science is faith based. I know that science is full of checks and balances, peer reviews, and expiriments that prove or support the theories advanced by science. I'm just saying that when I talk about these things, I find myself appealing to authority, and using the word "belief" a lot.

And, if God can be embraced purely by faith alone, why can't atheism also be a purely faith-based choice? You can believe in faith without believing in God. At least, I believe you can.

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