Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Never Quite Grasping God - Part II

The next several segments in this series will take a brief look at a variety of factors that play, or played, a role in my non-belief. This is not an in-depth examination. I draw on a tremendous amount of reading that I have done but I don't cite particular books or authors. If you want further information on a topic or if you don't believe a particular assertion, you can search the internet as easily as I can. In fact, I hope you will be intrigued enough to go look for more information. For a little background read Part I first.

A Few Reasons for Non-belief in God

The Bell Curve changed my life.
One of my college courses at the University of West Florida was a class in statistics. That course altered the way I look at the world. I was aware of the Bell Curve and standard distribution from other classes in high school and Junior College but those courses had not focused on the “why”s and “how”s. Suddenly I had a new understanding and I saw that I could apply it to many aspects of daily life. Whereas before I might have mentally questioned the effectiveness of prayer, now I had a new way of examining it. If we prayed each year for 10 years to have good weather for Easter Sunrise Service and got good weather 8 of the 10 years, should we thank God? Or should we examine the weather patterns for that time of year and see, on average, how other dates fared? If it turns out that the average for other days of the week is similar, do we still have reason to thank God for the sunny mornings or do we just chalk it up to the law of averages? Well, you can see where I’m going. For about anything you look at, the results of prayer fall into what we would expect based on averages, means, and standard distributions. Pray for sick people at church… some get better, some get worse, some die, some linger for years with a chronic condition. Where, in there, is the effectiveness of prayer? I can see it more clearly now that I’ve studied statistics but I may have subconsciously recognized it in my earlier years.
When I was growing up “other religions” were things like Baptists, Methodists and Lutherans. Way out on the fringes were Catholics who were probably going to Hell for worshipping idols and Jews who were going to Hell because they didn’t accept Jesus. Mormons were just a brand of heathens like all those foreigners who worshipped mythological gods. They didn’t count and we didn’t examine their beliefs. Of course as I got older I learned a bit more about other religions, at least learned that they existed and that they were followed by millions if not billions of people. And what I began discovering was that all those people believed their religion for exactly the same reasons we believed ours. Their prayers were answered, their god(s) performed miracles, they got the same ‘warm fuzzy feeling’ from their religion, and of course the big one… they were brought up in it. But if their gods were performing the same kind of miracles that our God was performing, what did that say? If their prayers were answered at the same rate, in the same manner that ours were answered, which god was real and which a myth? Statistics combined with a bit of knowledge of human psychology gave me an answer. Miracles, when examined critically, turn out to be not so miraculous. A little boy lost in the woods is found alive. It’s a miracle! No. Of all the children who get lost, some will be found, some won’t. It’s a case of noting the hits and ignoring the misses. Since Christianity doesn’t do any better at miracles and answered prayers than other religions, it implies to me that none of the religions are true. They all misjudge natural occurrences equally.
Closely related to the miracle/answered prayer issue is something else I began noticing and again is related to statistics. Pick any human condition; health, wealth, happiness, longevity, etc. Let’s pick health for our example. There are healthy Christians and sick Christians. There are healthy Muslims and sick Muslims. Healthy and sick Hindus. Buddhists, Rastafarians, Scientologists, Mormons, Santerians, B’hais, you name it. Some healthy, some sick. Some wealthy, some poor. Some happy, some sad. If there were any god with any power, especially supreme power, you would expect his people to have a hugely better result than average. We don’t see that, so I’m inclined to believe that there are no gods. At the very least, if there is a god, it doesn’t appear as if any of the existing religions has hit on the right formula for gaining special consideration from said god. So if there is a god out there who desires to be worshipped, I have pretty much zero chance of getting the right name, the right rituals, the right rules of behavior.

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