Agnostic monotheism

KODAK Digital Still Camera
© Dave DuBay

Does God exist? Many are certain He does. Others are certain He doesn’t. Then there’s agnosticism’s middle ground: I don’t know and neither do you. But agnosticism alone avoids the question.

Lately I’ve been reconsidering God’s existence. But agnosticism and deism seem like way stations rather than the destination.

Background

I view certainty and agnosticism as what you know or don’t know, and religion and atheism as what you believe or don’t believe. So I don’t think “Christian agnostic”—someone who doesn’t know if God exists but believes He does—would be an oxymoron (though I’ve never met anyone who identifies that way). “Agnostic atheism” is a descriptor I have heard people use, though.

I went from being a certain Christian until my early 20s, to an agnostic atheist for 20 years, to an agnostic monotheist.

I was raised Catholic, and in high school I thought about becoming a priest. But I had difficulty with the specifics of Catholic belief. The Church’s essential doctrines being infallible, like the evangelical belief in biblical inerrancy, sets up an all or nothing proposition in my view. You can’t be mostly infallible or probably inerrant. One error undoes the whole thing. Yet, the nativity and resurrection stories, taken literally, contain contradictions.

Besides, none of the proofs of God’s existence actually prove anything. Finally, my doubt of events that seem to violate the laws of nature, plus the problem of evil, led to my loss of faith.

The quest for certainty

But atheism isn’t the certainty some may think it is, though disbelief is easier to defend than belief is. Beliefs in general, however, are inescapable—what we really know for a fact is quite limited. An analysis of any ideology will reveal initial assumptions that are assumed to be true. We can’t start with a blank slate.

The quest for certainty is about risk aversion. Embracing uncertainty makes us vulnerable. But the most important questions of life—questions of meaning, purpose, value, and so on—are not scientific.

Proof or disproof of God’s existence could create a safe space where you know you’re not wrong. But God isn’t a geometry problem—the infinite can’t be quantified. Alleged proofs are a self-made trap, and there’s no point in blaming atheists for this.

Having reasons for belief or disbelief are important, however. Most atheists have good reasons for disbelief, and I don’t begrudge them that. For example, I can’t say I have an entirely satisfying answer to the problem of evil. But most religious people also have good reasons for having faith, and I don’t begrudge them that.

Agnostic monotheism, and ethical monotheism, is what I’ve arrived at. But my belief is not Christian in the usual sense of the word.

The anthropic principle

One reason I think God is more likely than no God is the anthropic principle, the reality that statistically our life sustaining universe shouldn’t exist. We wouldn’t be here if any number of things—gravity, the strong and weak nuclear forces, etc.—were different by only a tiny fraction.

Multiple universes solve this problem naturalistically. But is this a scientific sounding answer to an atheistic rather than a scientific problem? There’s no way to detect multiple universes even if they do exist, so we still ending up believing in something we can’t see and for which there’s no evidence. But multiple universes aren’t impossible, so there’s nothing wrong with believing in them.

That a life sustaining universe is here intentionally is another option. But while the question, “Who created the multiverse?” is valid, the question “Who created God?” is not of the same order. How the universe or multiverse could pop into existence from nothing is unclear. We can’t appeal to physics or to the example of particles that pop in and out because the laws of physics are not nothing. But if God exists He is not a natural phenomenon that could be created or destroyed. And while few atheists would accept this answer, at a minimum it’s clear that the multiverse fails to resolve the problem of infinite regress.

The problem of morality

More so, there’s the problem of morality. We all aspire to greater morality, even if we don’t believe in God. And when really pressed, most of us believe morality is objective. Almost everyone would insist that Hitler’s actions were wrong no matter what he or anyone else thought.

Morality as behaviors that evolved unintentionally implies moral relativism in the sense of something being right or wrong as a matter of context rather than as an absolute. An argument I find compelling, however, is that unless morality is objective then the notion of moral progress is moot. There must be a measuring stick if one can be said to have improved.

The abolition of slavery, one writer points out, was not moral progress if there is no objective moral standard. Instead, it was a horizontal move—American culture changed its mind and now slavery, relative to the new social norm, is unacceptable. Again, I think few people would feel comfortable with such a view.

But morality involves intentional, conscious action. So if morality is objective then it must have been intentionally, consciously created.

While this doesn’t prove God’s existence, I think if we believe in objective morality then God is the most probable explanation. This doesn’t mean we can say with certitude what all these moral standards are. We see as through a glass darkly, as the feller says.

What do I believe?

So, what do my developing beliefs look like at this point? I don’t claim this is truth with a capital T. It is my opinion, and I don’t expect anyone to adopt my viewpoint.

I think of God as having created the initial conditions for a life sustaining universe, but I can’t say I think God guided evolution—it’s far too messy with so many dead ends. Perhaps there’s not just free will but freedom given to nature to unfold on its own. But this is not deism—I believe God intervenes as an inspirational force, and even physically within the laws of nature that He created.

Finally, the Bible is a collection of 66 books written over a 1,000-year time span, and completed 2,000 years ago. I see it as a particular culture’s extended conversation, a human attempt to understand God. But I don’t believe it was dictated by God to human secretaries. Still, the Bible is the foundation of the Christian tradition, and as such the conversation that started 3,000 years ago continues today.

I still can’t say I take stories such as the resurrection literally. I don’t know if I ever will. My view that these stories are like parables is unorthodox, but perhaps storytelling was always a better approach than systematic theology.

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