As I continue to avoid work by pondering the meaning of life, I'm reminded of this great article in Time magazine a few months ago. It's a discussion between Rickard Dawkins, atheist, professor at Oxford University, and author of The God Delusion, and Francis Collins, non-atheist, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, and author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.
I know I'm biased, but Dawkins' arguments seemed hollow. His reasoning didn't make sense to me.
COLLINS: By being outside of nature, God is also outside of space and time. Hence, at the moment of the creation of the universe, God could also have activated evolution, with full knowledge of how it would turn out, perhaps even including our having this conversation. The idea that he could both foresee the future and also give us spirit and free will to carry out our own desires becomes entirely acceptable.
DAWKINS: I think that's a tremendous cop-out. If God wanted to create life and create humans, it would be slightly odd that he should choose the extraordinarily roundabout way of waiting for 10 billion years before life got started and then waiting for another 4 billion years until you got human beings capable of worshipping and sinning and all the other things religious people are interested in.
COLLINS: Who are we to say that that was an odd way to do it? I don't think that it is God's purpose to make his intention absolutely obvious to us. If it suits him to be a deity that we must seek without being forced to, would it not have been sensible for him to use the mechanism of evolution without posting obvious road signs to reveal his role in creation?
This, to me, says everything about why atheists often seem as passionately religious (minus the God part) as believers. How does Dawkins know what may or may not be the proper timetable for God, or even for the laws of nature? But he's certain, minus any scientific evidence, and calls that proof of his position. Collins, on the other hand, sees in his own doubts and questions the possibility of answers he doesn't understand, which might be God. Collins is the liberal believer, Dawkins the reactionary.
COLLINS: Faith is not the opposite of reason. Faith rests squarely upon reason, but with the added component of revelation. So such discussions between scientists and believers happen quite readily. But neither scientists nor believers always embody the principles precisely. Scientists can have their judgment clouded by their professional aspirations. And the pure truth of faith, which you can think of as this clear spiritual water, is poured into rusty vessels called human beings, and so sometimes the benevolent principles of faith can get distorted as positions are hardened.
We are all very messy works in progress. Belief in God, I think, is an acknowledgment that even though we may never find the answers we need, our search is driven by the assumption that they do lie somewhere beyond the realm of our understanding. And so we express gratitude for whatever holds those keys, and makes it possible for us to exist.