I enjoy reading of the latest scientific discoveries, though I am amused at how often great, thorough studies are made, only to arrive at conclusions that many people already know or at least suspect: sunshine is addictive; broccoli is good for you; domestic cats kill small animals, etc. I am especially amused when scientific discoveries arrive at biblical conclusions or at least come close.
So I was intrigued when I came across an article in The Week magazine (7/18/14, page 10) entitled, "Are humans hardwired for faith?" This article referred me to a longer article published in Science 2.0 by Nuri Vittachi with the even more intriguing title, "Scientists discover that atheists might not exist, and that's not a joke".
I have long suspected that what this title asserted was actually so, even though there have been many who would disagree.
This article begins by stating, "While militant atheists like Richard Dawkins may be convinced God doesn't exist, God, if he is around, may be amused to find that atheists might not exist." And it goes on to tell us, "Cognitive scientists are becoming increasingly aware that a metaphysical outlook may be so deeply ingrained in human thought processes that it cannot be expunged."
While Vittachi concedes that "this idea may seem outlandish," he explains that what we believe is not something we decide on our own, but lies somewhere in our "much deeper levels of consciousness." He asserts that scientists claim "we are born believers ... pattern seekers from birth, with a belief in karma, or cosmic justice, as our default setting."
Vittachi continues by presenting evidence involving "invisible friends" - some person or persons with whom we all hold internal conversations - whether these are divine beings, spouses, near relatives or whatever.
He relates how in social science studies, even those who claim to be atheist or agnostic, claim belief in some higher power. Though he comes up with some attempts at evolutionary explanations we are still left with huge percentages of humankind who have some sense of purpose in the universe - even those who claim no religious affiliation. He speaks of "the notion" of "an invisible moralistic presence" which motivates "religious folk."
One interesting argument he gives is that from literature. There seems to be a "manifestation of cosmic justice in fictional narratives - books, movies and games." We're told that "in almost all fictional worlds, God exists" - no matter what the "beliefs" of the authors. "In children's stories ... the good guys win, the bad guys lose." The same goes for most adult stories.
It would appear then that rather than to seek an explanation for belief in God as many professing atheists demand, we need to answer the question "where does atheism fit in?"
The article continues with much the same argument with similar data and concludes "...it might be wise for religious folks to refrain from teasing atheist friends who accidentally say something about their souls. And it might be equally smart for the more militant of today's atheists to stop teasing religious people at all.
We might all be a little more spiritual than we think."
As I implied earlier, these conclusions come close to, and even verify the biblical assertion that everyone is religious in some way or another, or at least has religious predispositions.
Qoheleth, the author of the biblical book whose title is usually given as Ecclesiastes, is probably the one biblical writer whom we'd be tempted to label as cynical (he's not). He writes from the perspective of one who lives "under the sun" and seems to be searching for meaning in life. He feels that God has laid this "task" on him. Qoheleth is not setting about this task on the basis of some written or spoken command, but apparently because of an inner subjective urge.
"It is an evil task which God has given to the sons of men to be tasked with" (1:13).
"He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has placed eternity in their heart, without which man will not find out the work which God has worked from beginning until end" (3:11).
Qoheleth doesn't claim that he attained a knowledge of God and His ways from divine revelation. He rather tells his readers of what he has "seen," as well as this inner urge and desire "placed in (his) heart." And he is not alone. He claims that God has laid this "task" on "the sons of men." This appears to be a claim that the whole human race has this inner Godward urge placed upon them.
If we fast forward about a thousand years we find the Apostle Paul making similar assertions. He tells the readers of his letter to the Romans.
"... that which can be known of God is evident among them (i.e. humankind), for God made it evident to them" (Romans 1:19).
Though Paul was primarily speaking of the evidence for God in nature ("the things He has made" - verse 20), the word translated "among" (Greek - en) could also be translated "within" and may imply the conscience. He is certainly speaking of what Vittachi would refer to as an inner sense of "cosmic justice," (or even "karma"?) in his following argument:
"For whenever gentiles (pagans, non-Jews), those who don't have the Law, by nature do the things of the Law, these who don't have the Law are a law to themselves, such ones as give evidence of the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience testifying together and their reasonings alternately accusing or excusing them" (2:14, 15).
As Paul presents it here, the conscience is not merely a moral sense, a sense of right and wrong, but a sense of moral responsibility in the sight of a divine being. And Paul seems to assume this sense to be true of all human beings.
The Bible, which asserts the existence of God from the first verse (the third word in Hebrew), nowhere assumes the existence of atheists as we would define them, although it mentions those who deny God's existence by their behavior.
"The fool says in his heart, there is no God" (Psalm 14:1; 53:1; also see 10:4).
This is not, however, an intellectual denial of God's existence, but a moral denial. It is an indictment of those who behave as though they think God has no moral authority over them. They are "fools" not because of their intellectual denial, but because of their behavior.
So what should we conclude? Perhaps we should go back to what Blaise Pascal, the 17th century philosopher said in his Pensees: " ... there was once in man a true happiness ... there now remain(s) to him only the mark and empty trace, ... the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself."