I once had a believer ask me “Every atheist I’ve met believes in something. So what do you believe in if not God?”
“Nothing” I replied. At the time, this was probably true. Even now, I can’t say that belief takes any part in what I consider to be transcendent, but there may be some ideas in which I take refuge and comfort because of what I can say with confidence I know to be true.
I don’t have to believe that mankind is like a newborn baby who’s eyes are darting around a lit room for the first time and noticing things, it’s self evident.
To a newborn, everything is surprising. Everything is new. As her attention shifts from her mother’s nose, to her eyes, she is learning. She’s adding it all up and is forming a cumulative patchwork collage of her surroundings. Over time she will begin to understand who she is and develop a sense of self.
Humans are doing the same thing as we focus our telescopes at the farthest depths of a vast and incomprehensible universe, or hurl protons at one another at close to light speed to see if we can catch a glimpse of what they are made of when they collide and break down into even smaller pieces. Mankind is an infant in an infinite universe. It doesn’t require a belief system to recognize this.
Just as a newborn would feel alone and helpless if she didn’t see the soothing eyes and hear the gentle voice of her mother, so does humankind look out into her universe and pray that there is something there, some comfort to be found.
Here a believer would say that there IS something there. They claim they can see their celestial father smiling back at them and stroking their hair. “It’s all right” they hear him say, “I will take care of you.”
I do not share that delusion, but I do however feel that sense of longing. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. All mammals, most birds and a few reptiles, amphibians and fish exhibit extremely tight bonds between at least the mother and her young. Not until they are ready to survive on their own do parents cut ties with their offspring. Evolution has thoroughly conditioned us to need that relationship. It doesn’t surprise me that we collectively long for a cosmic hug.
However, as we humans open our eyes for the first time, and let out that first intergalactic scream, we are coming to the conclusion that our virgin birth has luckily not rendered us helpless or alone at all. More like a colt or a fawn, we are able to hit the ground running and fend for ourselves. Billions of years of evolution have already done the job of making us self sufficient. No parenting is needed. No hand holding or teaching. We will learn and grow, and when we reach adulthood we will be beautiful, strong, confident and humble for having made it so far, together, not alone.
The sense of awe and wonder when I think about such things doesn’t require me to believe anything supernatural or irrational. It doesn’t require me to take anything on faith. This is a religion to me. The feeling that comes over me when I’m able to just sit and think about the universe and how lucky I am to be a part of it, but yet how small we all are in it’s presence is a religious experience that requires me to believe nothing, only to know as much as I can.
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