While purchasing a lottery ticket at the deli this evening, the proprietor made a joke about me giving him the dollar instead and all of my sins would be forgiven. I've known him for a while. He's a 20 something Muslim man who has worked in his father's store for all of his life & I have a rapport with him, so I offhandedly responded, " I don't believe in God, or sin". He replied, "I've known a number of people like you over the years and when I ask them why they don't believe in God, they've never been able to give an answer that satisfies me". So I asked, "Why must there be an answer?" But then quickly, before he responded, I continued, "That is my answer to the question of why I don't believe in God - why must there be an answer?"
He said, "I'll have to think about that." I think he understood the question.
I became an atheist when I was 16. I didn't really know it at the time. I had been raised as a Christian, confirmed in multiple churches [Lutheran and Episcopalian - I guess my parents wanted to cover their bases] and my Dad also taught at Notre Dame and my Mom had been an organist for many Catholic churches over the years, so I spent time there too. I had always been a true believer. Then one day I woke up, and I no longer believed. It really was that simple. Yes, it took several years of me exploring my 'spirituality' to admit to myself that I didn't believe, but when it came down to it, I had simply lost any faith in the world beyond our own. And when I said that tonight to my friend at the deli, it brought me back to my own 'why' - a bizarre realization 25 years later that what I intuited that day was that we're not only asking the wrong questions, but we've preconceived the wrong answers.
So, why must there be an answer? That we require one says something about how we apprehend the notion of truth - in all of the disciplines in which we seek it. It says of truth that it is ascertainable; that it is knowable; that it is identic; that it is static. With the expectation of an answer we bracket the things we haven't yet learned to comprehend. We fail to see the possibility of anything outside of the modes and manners in which we apprehend the world in the present - or that possibility is highly obscured by the epistemic framework in which we exist. This is as true of science as it is religion. [Please note, I'm not equating the two remotely - and I'll get to that]. We think of truth as a god incarnate. There is an important reason why religious stories of a 'god become man' proliferate historically [and it far predates Christianity]. It is the literal embodiment of truth - the idea that truth can inhabit an object, or more importantly, a human being. What it says is that we seek a truth that is corporeal, that exists in our reality, that we can hold, measure, quantify, 'know' - or even have 'faith' in. It's an idea of knowledge predicated on embodiment; truth can become human. Or, in Nietzsche's beautiful one liner summing up the whole of Platonic philosophy, 'I, Plato, am the truth'.
Within the world of science, when properly understood, our knowledge is asymptotic. It is the 'best guess' of 'what is' based on what we can glean from both empirical repetition and mathematical projection. A 'theory' is called a 'theory' is because it is verified, repeated and has predictive validity. It doesn't pretend to be 'the answer'. It is not 'truth'. It is our best understanding of what is going on based on all of the available data. If one thinks of it geometrically, it is a parabola approaching it's asymptotes. It will never touch them, but it always gets closer. Unfortunately, science can also fall into the previous framework. It becomes equally codified. It raises its own epistemic frameworks that are difficult to overcome. Schools of thought gain the conceit that they have 'the answer'. While I'm not a huge fan of Jean-Francois Lyotard, his work in The Post Modern Condition quite eloquently demonstrates the manner in which 'scientism' overrides actual science. Even Kuhn's landmark work implies the gradualism of science as a discipline develops clogs and hence revolutions. And, of course, Foucault wrote volumes on the manner in which epistemic regimes transform into 'the answer'.
So, we're back to the question, "Why must there be an answer?" Why aren't we satisfied with the limits of mortality? Why aren't we satisfied with the experiences of our actual embodiment? Why aren't we satisfied with the scientific knowledge we continue to accrue? Why aren't we satisfied with the ever expanding world of homo sapiens? Why aren't we satisfied to be a part of a species that is figuring itself itself out? What if there is no answer, there is no end, there is only what we are, have been and become? We as a species can accomplish everything we've ever dreamed of within those parameters, if we accept them as a species. The world we can only dream of could actually be manifest if we stop pretending we can grasp something we can't - namely the 'truth'. We've created a supernatural order to justify our existence and we can't seem to escape its reiteration. So we need to start asking different questions - ones that don't require an answer.