Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Agnostic Believer

Let me come clean. I am a religious person. That is, if you follow me through a day of my life, you can see things that you may only expect from a devout religious person (at least by Western standards).
However, interestingly, when my partner asked me today if there was a difference between my beliefs and an agnostic person, I couldn’t give her a straight answer.
Don’t get me wrong. I do believe in God. But, at the same time, I cannot tell if God exits or not, as I don’t believe this can be answered (at least in any scientific way). In other words, any statement about the existence of God is not falsifiable, and so can be neither true NOR false. You see, there is a fine balance (if any) between being a believer and a scientist, and now I certainly sound like an agnostic scientist.
But then, how come I act like a religious person? And why do I talk to a god that, by any stretch of my scientific sanity, will never talk back (and even if he does, it’s more likely that I’m going crazy!).
Now, you may think that I must either have multiple personality disorder, or otherwise be a hypocrite (and frankly, it is a struggle).
Being a physicist, I’ve seen my fair share of paradoxes, and know that often the problem is with an implicit assumption in our analysis.
The fact is that life is NOT science. As pleasant and satisfying as falsifiable, scientific facts are, some of the life’s crucial elements, i.e. one’s values or principles, are NOT falsifiable.
While natural scientists have grown accustomed to the concept of absolute true or false, mathematicians know very well that the validity of your theorems depends on the validity of the assumptions/principles that you adopt. There is no true or false assumption, and the only real constraint is the internal consistency of the set of principles that you adopt.
So, there you have it. I can adopt religious values, believe in God, and yet be completely agnostic about his existence.

Now, every human being with a free will needs some sort of values. Otherwise, how would he/she make decisions? And, of course there is no way to logically justify any value, except by basing it upon some more fundamental values. Therefore, one’s set of fundamental values have no logical/scientific/falsifiable justification, and can only be a matter of taste. At this level, the only difference between believers and atheists is that the former (often) choose pre-packaged bundles (with the generic name of god), while the latter are more liberal with their choices (and use the generic name of morality).
Again, at this level, the only real judge is how self-consistent each set of values is. Here, the believers have the disadvantage of inheriting the inconsistencies of their beliefs from their predecessors, which they are often very slow (but eventually willing) to rectify (as religions reform, and sects branch out). However, by the same token, they also inherit the wisdom of centuries of evolution in the religious values, which aim at making these values more and more self-consistent (at a completely practical level). In contrast, although atheists are free in choosing their individual values, they are more likely to face inconsistencies down the road, as they are the first to test drive them (which is the familiar dilemma of Conservatism versus Liberalism).

So, this is why being an atheist is just as illogical and unscientific as being a believer, and why I would prefer some middle ground. Unfortunately, most my colleagues are atheists, and would consider me a crackpot if they knew about my beliefs. But that’s another story, and is why I should remain anonymous ... for now!


Nour said...

Hey.. My name is Noor and I'm from Syria.. (please forgive my poor english).. I was googling the word ''agnostic believer'' and that's when I came across your blog..
I read every word you've written carefully.. and I felt like you're speaking my mind.. this is exactly the way I think of god and science and religion..etc
it's exactly the way I feel.. I'm obsessed with Physics and Cosmology and I do understand the conflation between being scientist and spiritual at the same time..

so I just wanted to say thank you.. It's good to know that there are other people out there in the world who think and feel the same way..


Peter said...

I don't know if you are still keeping this blog or not since there aren't many recent works here. But, your article regarding your devout instinct and agnostic opinion regarding God's existence seems to be the only sincere way to believe as I understand. Otherwise, we are liars or mad.