Thursday, December 01, 2005

Unwanted Epiphany

For about five or six years now I’ve been posting my opinions to the Internet in various forms on various forums, and it has recently occurred to me how much they have changed. But this makes sense, because I have changed in that time, probably more so in the last three years than in the previous fifteen. That’s why I opened this blog. It’s not for you, the fictional reader who probably will never see these words anyway, but for me.

Who am I now? So much has changed. The “miracle” of life has ironically caused me to stop believing in miracles. I’m a redheaded preacher’s daughter, raised a good orange Anglican. My parents are from Belfast, even if I’ve never visited the Eire. Yet Jesus never resonated with me, I quickly abandoned the faith of my parents. Searching for meaning, I sought for magic and the divine within nature herself, within the earth. My beliefs held much in common with some modern Wicca, to the point where I even identified myself as Wiccan for a time. I don’t regret this, so many of those principles still resonate strongly with me; respect for Earth, the universe, nature, my fellow human beings and life itself, the idea of liberty to do what one wishes so long as you try to avoid harming others, it’s very alluring. Indeed, I met my girlfriend of almost five years now in a coven I agreed to visit. My husband greatly respects my former beliefs, even if he doesn’t follow them. I meant to bring my children up with a strong spiritual background, and the ability to search for and find whatever form of god they choose. But something has happened in between.

Now, understand, I’ve always wanted to believe in something beyond, something higher, to be a part of something eternal. But the more I learn, the more I read, the less I have believed. Science has gotten rid of the need for something more, and we can suddenly exist without belief. But I held on for a while, struggling to believe, until three years ago something momentous happened. My son was born. My beautiful little boy, he’s perfect. I love him dearly with every maternal ounce of my soul. And the scales fell from my eyes like with Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, and understanding dawned.

I am a machine.

I’m a biological, Darwinian machine. Every response, every emotion, every thought is what I was wired to feel. Free choice is an illusion; the universe was predestined to be as it is now from the instant of the “big bang.” If you could know all universal laws, and the state of the universe as it started, you could predict exactly how it would finish, down to the last detail. Quantum mechanics notwithstanding, (we know that we cannot really know the state of the universe without altering it,) the fact is that the universe exists inside Schrödinger’s box and it is how it is. If we knew, then we would know everything for all time. My love for my son, as powerful and inescapable as it is, it is a biochemical conditioned response. There is no meaning. We simply are.

I do not like this conclusion. In fact, I’m begging someone to prove it wrong. Not with platitudes or anecdotes, not with mysticism or introspection. I want it proven physically. I don’t want to believe, I want to know. I want God to be out there, be it YHWH, Jesus or Allah or the Lady I have referred to as “Mother Nature.” I do not like the implications of absolute relative morality that must be true if I am just a cosmic accident. But just because I do not like the way things are, does not change that they are.

And that is my greatest fear.

So what's left? I sometimes feel like Cypher from the Matrix. Ignorance is bliss. Does the happy fundamentalist Baptist end up more satisfied with her life believing in arbitrary mythology? Is she better off than I who may have uncovered the truth? I almost wish I could make myself believe, to pull the blindfold over my own eyes. But it can't be done. You can never go back. Not unless one of you fictional readers can show me where the logic here is wrong. Searching for meaning in a meaningless universe is what is left. Depressing? Perhaps. But all I need to do is look at the faces of my children and the biochemical reaction that takes place makes me forget, far better than shooting up with any substance one might choose to abuse, and then I'm happy.

8 comments:

Bery said...

Sadly, Jackie, there is no proof. Evidence? Yes. Proof? No.

I can sit and talk to you about my experiences, and how those "prove" the existance of God to me, but will that be proof to you? Unlikely.

From our perspective, perhaps, it's unfortunate that we are not in command of "Damascus Road" experiences, but rather it is God who chooses.

Proof exists only when God chooses to reveal Himself. To those who seek Him and find Him, that's all the proof needed.

I hope I don't come across as being preachy; that's not my intent.

Ber

Amanar said...

While I pretty much feel the same way and agree with everything you have said, what gives me some hope still is conciousness. Conciousness is very hard to explain with science, and it truly is a remarkable thing. If you look at it from an outside perspective, you can somewhat explain it by tracing the evolution of our brains and figuring out exactly how they work. But if you look at yourself, you can't really explain what ties your perception of yourself to your own brain.

I don't know, I can't really explain it, but that's my take on it all.

Amanar

Jolyon Gray said...

You know, I had this big long reply all forming in my head, typed for twenty minutes or so, and then realized that most of it was just me wanting to vent my own frustrations. I don't think I can prove anything to you, but I can tell you what I think. One, the universe is just an indescribably big, wonderful, and incredible thing. Even if you don't subscribe to the existence of a particular entity that has thought processes you can relate to, you can look at the fact that you exist and everything exists, and think that it's a fantastic thing that you get to Be. You 80ish years may just be a blip, there may be nothing before or after your component atoms coalesce into you being you for a little while, but the part where you're you is just a profoundly neat and fortunate thing.

Very simple organisms have biological drives. They're drawn to light, to eat, to reproduce. And yeah, so are we - we have the same drives. Maybe "love" is a chemical condition that came about to enhance the likelihood that you're going to be fruitful and multiply. That doesn't change the fact that it feels the way it does. I don't think it can all be explained away, though. Is experiencing "grace" just something that's supposed to increase your "joy" so your overall sense of well-being is sufficient that you feel like reproducing? Even if it is, it's a ride I wouldn't trade for anything. All the same, I think there's more.

Maybe look at it like it's some experiment on a grand scale, a process that takes untold thousands or millions or billions of years. Amanar's touching on something really important. You're sentient, and you can conceptualize all these things... love, joy, grace, compassion, dignity, honor, duty, companionship... Even if all those are just sort of tangential things that came about in the process of driving us to go and make more of ourselves, that doesn't negate the fact that we have those concepts in the first place. Maybe we're ultimately supposed to arrive at a place where we hold those things as important just because they're important, and not because some nebulous concept tells us to. Maybe our great^100 grandchildren are supposed to be stewards for our own little corner of the universe, and our own evolution is just a microcosm of a much grander evolution - we're just a social version of organization that happens on different scales and in different ways everywhere- physics can hold matter together and we'll handle the entities. Maybe you and I and every single other person trying to understand yourself are just tiny interations of a vast universe trying to understand itself. Maybe God is, and God is still becoming. Maybe, in the grand scheme of things, the earth is still without form, and void, and darkness is still upon the face of the deep, and every little thought of "why?" is the spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters.

I don't care if it's hokey that I heard this on Babylon 5, because it stuck with me and I like it: "We are the universe trying to understand itself." I think maybe that was Carl Sagan first, but at any rate, I think it's barking up the right tree. And even if it's all wrong, it's a beautiful thing to even be able to dream of the possibilities.

Pete said...

Jackie,

I agree with your conclusion that we are Darwinian biological machines. Maybe this isn't the answer you wanted to hear.

Micheal said...

Yes lass, we are Darwinian machines, we have stimuli and we respond. We try to survive, procreate and prosper in our own ways. We are programmed to react to certain things in overwhelmingly predictable ways.

Being aware of that puts you ahead of the game. Thats one step.

The next step is realizing that while our bodies are the Darwinian machines you speak of, we are more than that. We have minds that allow us to think, to plan and work toward a better future. If all we are could be defined as a Darwinian machine, we would still be quite primitive.

When we think, when we choose, when we go beyond the programming, that is where we break the Darwinian mold.

You are not just a mombot. You are so much more. Only one facet of you is the mother machine. You of all people know that.

Love to you and yours Jackie.

Micheal said...

Yes lass, we are Darwinian machines, we have stimuli and we respond. We try to survive, procreate and prosper in our own ways. We are programmed to react to certain things in overwhelmingly predictable ways.

Being aware of that puts you ahead of the game. Thats one step.

The next step is realizing that while our bodies are the Darwinian machines you speak of, we are more than that. We have minds that allow us to think, to plan and work toward a better future. If all we are could be defined as a Darwinian machine, we would still be quite primitive.

When we think, when we choose, when we go beyond the programming, that is where we break the Darwinian mold.

You are not just a mombot. You are so much more. Only one facet of you is the mother machine. You of all people know that.

Love to you and yours Jackie.

Jackie the displaced Irish lass said...

Neat. More replies. Wish I knew what gladers Jolyon and Pete are, but thanks for your replies.

That's not what I expected from you, Micheal. Refreshing. But then I always got the impression your faith was more to provide a framework to your life than actually out of belief.

Airworthy said...

Long ramble to short point incoming...

I can't prove God exists, but I can't disprove it either. Some of the problem, I think, is that we always tend to frame the question in terms of proof of God's existence or lack thereof.

Maybe looking at the same question from the other side would help? Answer the question, "Is there proof that this physical world is all there is?" It's kind of funny that you see yourself as "Darwinion" as the theory of evolution is as based on circumstantial evidence, but as lacking in that smoking gun of "proof", as any theory of God.

I doubt that you are (and maybe I'm wrong) a Newtonian determinist--that every interaction of energy and matter was defined at the moment of the Big Bang, and I know you understand the underlying randomness of our universe. Quantum theory tells us anything can happen, but most of the time things behave with statistical certainty. Most of the time.

Sometimes, these deviations could be called "miracles." Usually they are witnessed or effect a single person or small group of people. It is hard to (no pun intended) put much faith in the testimonies of these individuals. Not because they are lying or trying to decieve--I just suspect that they are missing a key fact that would explain the miracle away.

But sometimes miracles occur that defy any rational explanation and have wide effectivity. In these cases believers and non-believers alike, scientists and theologians (and theologian scientists) all witness the event and can come up with no evidence or reasonable theory to debunk.

Perhaps the most famous of these miracles was the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima in 1917.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Miracle_of_the_Sun

And as it happens, this miracle points straight to God.

I'm no mathmatician, but I think the odds of the series of complex quantum deviations from the statistical norm that would be required to account for this are worse than me blindly pounding out War and Peace on my computer keyboard.

Think about it, and I'll be praying for you.

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