My Post-Religious Life
When you walk away from religion, it doesn’t mean you’re free from its effects on your life (if you want to learn why I walked away from religion, see part 1 of this series). Here’s a fun example of what I mean. Catholic people take the Eucharist (or communion) every Sunday to celebrate the Last Supper where Jesus essentially said goodbye to his disciples before his death because Jesus knew, through divine knowledge, he was going to be crucified. But, the Baptist church I belonged to took communion only once a year.
For Catholics, the Eucharist is made from unleavened bread, it is about the size of a half-dollar, and it has an imprint of a little cross in the center. In the church, the wafer’s circular shape, the cross imprinting, its color, and the fact they use unleavened bread to make them are all religiously symbolic in different ways.
Yet, the Baptist church I attended used oyster crackers. Keep in mind I had never seen oyster crackers in my life. And, knowing what I know about the Catholic wafers, I assumed these wafers had lots of meaning behind them as well. “Why are they hexagonal? Why are they small? Why are we using crackers and not bread? Why is there no cross?” I assumed all of these questions had answers.
So, a few weeks after I stopped being baptist, or religious in general, my friend and I traveled over to Skyline Chili off Bardstown Road in Louisville, KY. When I saw one of the customers dump a whole bag of oyster crackers onto his chili I said out loud “That is damn disrespectful…” I’ll never forget the confusion on my friend’s face as I tried to explain to him that oyster crackers are sacred to Baptists. My friend very rightfully laughed at me.
Frustrated about why I couldn’t explain how hexagons have religious meaning, I went back to the Baptist church. I asked all of my questions but the main reason as to ‘why’ oyster crackers were used was “Because they were $1.00 at Walmart.” Up until that moment, I always presumed these crackers were purchased out of some Baptist catalog where you get all the necessary baptist religious items and that they had meaning.
While this is a comical example of how my religious experiences still affected my life, here is a much more serious example involving the pool we had in our back yard when growing up. It represented some key moments in my childhood and early adult life. When it was initially purchased, I think I was around 11-12 years old, I was against it. My dad had lost his job many months before and we were struggling financially. “Who wants ice cream?” the salesman said as he rallied the kids to trek outside and wait for the ice cream truck.
“We cannot afford it” was my argument even though I had never seen my parent’s bank statement. But the moment the pool was installed, I never voluntarily swam in it. There were times we’d have people over and I was told to swim in it, so in those situations I did. Some people may say I was simply being rebellious; however, I’d make the same decision today.
I also refused to maintenance the pool. To be fair, my parents never asked any of us to maintain the pool. It was already known I wouldn’t have done it anyway. It was never my goal to be obstinate. I just knew the pool ultimately hurt us. People would get in, laughing and punching the oversize beach ball into the air. Among all the laughter and happiness, I know the pool hurt us and I didn’t want to support something that hurt us.
Years later, the pool became the substitute baptismal for the Baptist church across the street (see part 1 of this entry for more about that). Thus, it became a religious symbol. During that December day, the preacher lowered himself into the cold water with smooth confidence. He did remark how cold it was, but in he went. With a shivering voice, he said the holy words and invited those with engagements to be saved into the water. He dunked them, brought them up, and it was seen as a remarkable feat; a day worth remembering. “He’ll do anything for His glory” they said.
After the falling out with the church and when my family moved away (most people move out of their parent’s house – I had the reverse experience), the pool fell into a slow disrepair. Moss and algae formed as the dogwood tree and nearby pine trees blew leaves and needles into the water. The black tarp covered most of the surface but part of it had collapsed. That’s when the frogs moved into the 20,000 gallon frog haven.
The pool was a symbol of my intolerance for bad decisions, my religious past, and it represented the slow degradation of my faith in Christianity. “Rip it open” I told a friend of a friend who was helping me remove a pool from the backyard. Years had gone by since I attended the church across the street and all the neighbors turned their backs on me and my family.
“Are you sure? That is what I wanted to do… but are you sure?” he said with his work crew at the ready, excited to see 20,000 gallons of water rush out.
“Yea, they put the new drain in the street and I was told just to make sure there is no traffic first” and we could see the road was clear in both directions. Standing in the back yard, we were uphill from the road in front of the house. It was a bright and beautiful Sunday and all the church goers were in front of the church talking about the latest gossip, as they did every week, before entering for worship.
“Look!” as one of them shouted, pointing in the direction of the fast flowing water. Many of them turned around to see the rushing water. They were confused.
That look on her face – the woman who always made a show that she felt we were living in the end times – when the plague of frogs, all 2,500+ of them, started jumping in all directions was caught between surprise and confirmation that her beliefs were true. I’m sure she walked a little taller for the next 15 minutes.
I am not an atheist, here’s why…
Now that you understand a snapshot of my religious past, let’s look a bit more at my viewpoint of religion and my belief in God. To understand it, if you even care, we have to put on our astronomy and physics hats. I feel perspective is the most important thing when reading about sensitive topics. For me, this topic is not sensitive. But, I know for many others it is.
So, please take a moment to understand where I am coming from. This post is a continuation of My Christian Experience & Foundation: Part 1 so if you have not read that, you should.
Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover
The ‘Unmoved Mover’ was brought into the spotlight in 490 – 430 BC by Aristotle. It was a way to understand planetary movement and other forces/types of motion. A watered down understanding is that in order for motion to exist it requires an external force to initially move it (ie: nothing can create its own energy to move). Wikipedia explains
“[Aristotle] argues that in the beginning, if the cosmos had come to be, its first motion would lack an antecedent state, and as Parmenides said, “nothing comes from nothing”. The cosmological argument, later attributed to Aristotle, thereby draws the conclusion that God exists.” [Source: Unmoved Mover]
This brings up 3 key questions for me so far as religion and God’s existence are concerned:
- Is the Unmoved Mover principle true?
- Was the Universe created and/or is it infinite?
- Is God the Unmoved Mover?
Question 1: Is the Unmoved Mover Principle True?
Through the centuries, much of what Aristotle theorized and wrote on the Unmoved Mover principle has been solidly challenged. For example, in 1543 Copernicus released his book On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres – he died shortly thereafter. His discovery that we have a heliocentric galaxy laid the foundations for Newton’s discovery of gravity in 1687. Later, in 1905, Albert Einstein released his Theory of Relativity, after Karl Schwarzschild discovered the idea of black holes and sent the calculations to Einstein after getting a hold of a paper Einstein wrote, that theorizes space is curved which deepened the understanding of gravity and its effects on space-time and massive bodies such as planets, asteroids, etc…
The very notion of gravity challenges Aristotle’s idea of the Unmoved Mover because we have identified sustained forces responsible for planetary movement and how they work. Massive objects have their own varying, and measurable, gravitational pull. Thus, there is a direct correlation to the size and density of celestial objects and the strength of those objects’ gravitational pulls. If you want to see an amazing explanation of how all this works, I highly recommend the documentary on Netflix called Black Hole: Apocalypse.
Therefore, I fully accept that
- There are not invisible beings (gods) who cause planetary motion as suggested by Aristotle and
- Gravity sustains planetary motion
- and that multiple massive objects can affect each other’s orbit and gravity.
Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover arguments lacked the benefit of modern understanding of how celestial bodies operate. But, his misunderstandings laid the initial foundations for discovering what really does go on when planets orbit. Thus, the physics side of the Unmoved Mover argument is addressed by Copernicus, Newton, Schwarzschild , and Einstein; but, the metaphysical side of Aristotle’s argument remains unanswered.
Question 2: Was the Universe Created or is it Infinite?
So the reader is aware, “Infinite” vs “Created” has two major implications:
- The size of the Universe – is it infinite or not?
- The age of the Universe – has it existed indefinitely or was there a starting point?
Implication 1 – The Size of the Universe
In my experience, it is very common in religious debates to only concern oneself with the age of the Universe. But in fact, both age and size are relevant to the discussion. With this clarification, I admit it is difficult for me to accept, on logic alone, that the universe is infinite. My current stance is that the universe has not yet been proven infinite. I concede it is entirely possible the universe is infinite even though it is unproven. My lack of understanding and lack of knowing have no bearing on the truth behind the breadth and age of the Universe.
But, I believe by its very nature, the infinite size of reality cannot be measured within that infinite reality. For example, you cannot measure the length of a building if you remain inside the building. You can guess and theorize about its length, but you cannot know. But, if you are outside of the building, you can measure it exactly and know the full truth. You can also see the people on the inside who do not know the truth. As I stated at the beginning of the astronomy/physics talk, perspective is everything.
Even if you could exist on the outside of an infinite structure, you would still only be able to see and experience part of that structure. You would not be able to see the beginning or end because there isn’t one, being infinite. So, if the universe is infinite, even if we could observe it from the outside, we would still not know if it was infinite given that we exist inside it.
Implication 2 – The Age of the Universe (and Earth) – Young-Earth vs. Old-Earth
There is no hard data to demonstrate the exact size of the Universe: like being inside of the building, we can only postulate and guess. Its enormity is irrelevant to challenging the existence of God since it could be possible that God, an all powerful being, created something that is infinite.
Therefore, we must seek to understand if it is possible the Earth is older than 6000 years. The scientific community has given us many ways to understand the Earth is older than 6,000 years, a common Christian tenet. In each case, there is a creationist / young-earth argument for why the science is wrong. My goal is to present 1 source for each side on the various arguments below and you will see why I have issue with many of the Christian-based explanations for the age of the Earth (which is technically different from the age of the Universe):
- Coral growth rates can teach us how old the reefs are because their growth rate is relatively easy to measure. Christian scientists believe it grows very quickly while physical science states it grows very slowly. I agree with the physical science argument since it is demonstrable and doesn’t rely on Noah’s Ark, an event (if you believe it happened) that we cannot observe.
Coral Growth Rate Christian Source: Creation.com
Coral Growth Rate Scientific Source: Age of the Coral Reefs
The scientific argument here is just simply more convincing. There is also actual data that has been replicated by many different scientists. The truth behind the scientific argument is corroborated while the single bits of evidence for the Christian argument do not offer a whole lot.
- Radio carbon dating is a methodology where the number of remaining carbon-14 atoms in pretty much anything is measured. However, this methodology can only help date things from 50,000 years and younger as explained in the scientific source below. The Christian scientist source ignores this key detail and would have the listener believe RCD is used to determine something’s age in the billions. It’s like saying the hammer couldn’t screw in screws so it must not be a good hammer.
Radio Carbon Dating Christian Source: Thousands…not Billions
Radio Carbon Dating Scientific Source: How Carbon Dating Works
Understand that I am not cherry picking a bad Christian scientist argument by presenting this video. On the contrary, the speaker in the video is a prominent Christian who uses pseudo-science and misdirection to explain actual scientific findings away. It is just unbelievable crap, to put it mildly.
- Evolution can help us understand the age of the Earth because we can observe how life forms change over time. There is much debate in the Christian community on whether or not Evolution is even viable. So, Christians aren’t generally making the argument that evolution can help us learn how old life forms are, which date back millions/billions of years, but rather than evolution is untrue.
Evolution Christian Source: The Peanut Butter Atheist
Evolution Scientific Source: Macro vs Micro Evolution
Chuck Missler suggests Macro vs Micro evolution life is created when matter is subjected to heat/energy. So, he posits that jars of peanut butter have matter and are subjected to heat/energy. Yet, when we open them, there is no new life inside. There are a lot of issues with his argument; however, I’ll just make 2 points:
(1) If new life were created in a jar of peanut butter, it would likely be microscopic.
(2) But, more importantly, he begins by talking about “creating life” and then tries to discount evolution, which is not about creating life but about life’s development over time. Number 2 is a common issue within the religious community in terms of understanding evolution / the creation of life.
- Dinosaurs and the various prehistoric periods can help us understand a lot about the age of the Earth. Dinosaurs are related to the different rock layers found in the Grand Canyon. The video below had millions of views before the original was taken down. So, that is why this video only has a few hundred views (when I wrote this). The sheer absurdity of this video spread far and wide – hopefully by people just having a laugh. But, the group who produced this video is called “Christians Against Dinosaurs.” Thankfully, they haven’t made a new video in 3 years.
Dinosaurs Christian Source: Dinosaur HoaxI remember once I was told, by someone who I am still friends with, that dinosaur bones were put in the Earth by the devil to trick mankind into believing evolution was real which discounts the creation story (and thus, much of the Bible and Christianity).
Dinosaurs Scientific Source: I don’t feel compelled to offer a source
Other topics I could go into, which won’t because I feel I have made my point, are
- Planetary drift (and the drifting of the moon)
- Natural space debris orbital paths
- Grand Canyon rock layers
- Sea ice layers
- Continental drift
- Rock layers in the Grand Canyon
- Crater impacts on planets in our solar system
There are a lot of different ways to estimate the age of the Earth – more than are listed above. One common way I have observed Creationists deal with them is by trying to debunk each one. However, my research has indicated most of the ‘debunkings’ have a general flaw that is easy to understand if you are willing to look into it.
Question 3 – Prime Mover Principle – Is God the Unmoved Mover?
In the complex world of physics and engineering, the Prime Mover principle is important to understanding source(s) of energy. After all, if God is a prime mover then God can create His own energy.
The main idea can be explained between the difference between rowboat, a sailboat, and a cruise ship. With a rowboat, the energy is created in your arms. Therefore, if you stop rowing, the boat will eventually stop moving (currents aside, of course). With a sailboat, the wind provides the energy and people simply direct it by changing the direction of the sail. On a cruise ship, gasoline and other fuels are used to create the energy that sustains the engines.
So, here is where I have difficulty using science to debunk the Prime Mover principle. Essentially, if we are inside of this Universe, like we were inside of the building I described earlier, we cannot see either end of the Universe. There is strong evidence to suggest our Universe is expanding due to gravity / black holes / quasars; however, if you see a child blow up a beach ball you can see the edges expand and expand because you’re on the outside. If you were in the beach ball, you couldn’t know how far it would expand.
Therefore, since we are inside the Universe, it is impossible for me to discount the idea that something outside of our Universe acted to set things in motion. Christians, and other religions of course, would call this “God.” I, however, concede that the outside acting influence, if there is one, could be any of the following:
- Extra-dimensional beings
- Something I have no name for
- Black Holes
String Theory (see source below) posits that there are potentially 6 or 7 extra dimensions to our Universe that we cannot really interact with which could suggest that a Prime Mover exists within the Universe with us on a level we cannot experience. For example, if you cut a circle out of a piece of paper and pretend that is a 2-dimensional entity with eyes, when it looks at your shoe, it will only see its length when sitting on its side or its height when standing up, but never both. This creature would only see linearly (lines). If that piece of paper becomes a sphere, it could see all of you (length, width, and height). Therefore, like the piece-of-paper-creature, we can see in 3 dimensions that we experience (length, width, and height) but the 4th dimension we can only experience linearly (time).
Now, I know that got a bit weird, but the science of it is sound. But the point is that a Prime Mover could either exist inside out Universe inside of a higher dimension than we can experience or it could exist outside of anything connected to our Universe. It is impossible for me to know the answer from my vantage point. It is equally impossible for me to make that leap and state, definitively, that said entity is God. I could agree it is likely an all-powerful being with a consciousness.
I respect your right to religion
I completely respect everyone’s right to religion as long as they do not infringe on others. If you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Bahai, Buddhist, Hindu, or any number of other religions, I accept it.
- Drawing strength from religion to make yourself a better person is a worthy and admirable way to live.
- If the traditions of your religion is the mortar that holds your family together and brings you positive friendships, I fully support you.
- If you raise your kids with religious values, I hope you produce fine humans with fine outlooks on life!
I will never look down on anyone for what they choose to believe. I will support everyone’s right to believe in what they wish. I will even, at times, ask questions and seek to understand your religion so that I can better understand your world view. I believe religion brings diversity to the world which I view very positively.
I believe religion often helps society
Every religion seems to be a collection of rules to follow. The rules vary between religions but there is also a lot of overlap. But on a practical level, I think the rules many religions have contribute to a better society. Here are a 3 examples
- Preaching abstinence helps combat STDs and teenage pregnancies
- Teaching people not to murder or steal means society is safer
- Treating others they way you would want to be treated creates a calmer world
The rules themselves are good. They do not reflect the reality of the world and what happens. But, the rules are aimed at making society better and that is both undeniable and good.
I believe religion often hurts society
Wars waged in the name of religion, decades of child abuse, religious ideology twisted into justifying terrorism – these are a few obvious examples of how religion harms the world. In each case, I believe the religion in question is simply exploited to push an agenda of an individual, group, or country and doesn’t necessarily represent the religion itself.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have been writing it on and off for about a year. I want the reader to understand two things:
1. I speak a lot about Christianity because it is what I have most experience with and it is what invades my life the most because of witnessing, proselytizing, etc… and
2. I think most religions are fine when people don’t exploit them such as terrorists within Islam, Joel Osteen in Christianity, or repugnant garbage human beings like Hitler (though, in his case, it was exploitation through persecution).