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A Journey to Faith
"Faith does not imply a closed, but an open mind." - Sir John Templeton
Many concepts and philosophies that I write about on this site are viewed through a lens of human evolutionary biology. I’m insatiably curious when it comes to the human body and psychiatric behaviors. It’s a key reason I was drawn to studying economics in college, because to me, it helped explain human behavior. Frankly, many economic models and theories are oversimplified and don’t provide great explanations for the realities of human decision making, but they are a step towards trying to either a.) predict future behavior with past patterns, and/or b.) conjecture a distilled theory that explains the history of past patterns.
When we start analyzing why people make decisions, we depend on human psychology and biology to make inferences and gather insights. Human psychology and biology though, are based on the thousands and thousands of years of human evolution. We have all learned about Darwin’s theory of evolution in school, and used it as a framework to explain what has molded us into the homo sapiens walking the earth today. Evolution helps us to explain why we are risk-averse, why we have the fight or flight response to stress, why women are generally attracted towards men taller than them, and a whole list of other human qualities/behaviors. Microevolution is truly fascinating and lends so much insight into understanding the infinite complexities of being human.
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But it can’t explain it all.
A few months ago I was thinking about the modern pregnant women. Couldn’t tell you what prompted that original thought, but I began diving down the rabbit hole thinking about all the modern luxuries and complimentary services available to women that are pregnant. And even with that support, we know how strenuous, exhausting, and draining the pregnancy process is. So I asked myself, how the heck did women do it 2000 years ago? What about 10,000 years ago when they were living in caves?
Obviously the success rates of birth weren’t as high then as they are now, but it sparked a mental itch regarding my view of human evolution. This was coupled with newfound knowledge I learned that human babies are the least independent beings out of all the animal kingdom at the time of birth. Meaning they are the most dependent on caretakers compared to any other specie. And that dependence last longer than any other specie. So I asked myself, how is that evolutionarily advantageous? Why would humans be so unique in that sense relative to all the other animals in the world?
As you know, I’m a big fan of Jordan Peterson. A few days after having these thoughts, I came across one of his videos where he was lecturing about the bible and its relevance in human psychology. That lead me to explore more videos wondering where Jordan Peterson stood personally in regards to religion and faith. More on this later.
Religious Upbringing and Transition to Atheism
Growing up, I went to Catholic church on Christmas and Easter. Time moved slower than molasses when I was there and I never paid any attention to what the priest said. If I did listen to him it was only to come up with rebuttal points to prove him wrong. Personally though, I prayed every night. I would try to bargain with god to protect my family and give us a life of happiness. In a way I was also pleading for god to not punish my family for wrong doings I might have done. My relationship with god was purely transactional. I was motivated to do good deeds not out of the goodness of my heart but out of fear that I would be punished for not doing them. Even as simple as picking up litter on the ground. I would have mental wars with myself debating whether or not to pick up the empty water bottle on a random sidewalk and throw it away, or keep walking and ignore it. I was convinced something bad was bound to happen if I left it. So more often than not, I would walk past it, my internal demons would scare me too much, and I would turn around to pick it up and throw it out.
I said the same prayer at night before going to bed for probably 10 years. I added to it over time but the general premise and ask was the same. It became such a superstition that I felt like a failure if I forgot to say it before dozing off. I would wake up in a panic and quickly recite it to check the box of pleasing god for the day.
This strenuous relationship with god came to an all time low as a result of my mental health challenges and the death of my grandfather. I remember sitting in church Christmas Eve of 2017 and wondering why I was going through so much hell mentally when all I wanted to do was help the world around me. I didn’t feel like a sinner, I didn’t do drugs, I didn’t harm other humans. It felt unfair that others who “weren’t as good as me” didn’t have the struggles that I had. Why me? This coupled with the death of my grandfather in 2019 as a result of gall bladder cancer sealed the coffin on any faith I had left in god. God didn’t answer my prayers and protect him, so he must not be there.
With my faith in god gone, I reoriented myself and tried to make sense of the world around me by relying on clear proof and facts to form my perceptions. To me, science was the only way to understand the world because it was testable, repeatable, and prove-able. So naturally, as my faith in god dwindled, I justified being an atheist with purely scientific rationale. Evolution can explain the development of our world. We are just a speck in the universe. A result of pure chance and chemistry. Thinking that an intelligent creator brought us into existence is reserved to those who can’t critically think and analyze the facts.
Religious Controversies to Consider
When studying the history of mankind, the role of religion cannot be overstated in its impact with organizing communities, providing structure where there was previously chaos, and imposing an ideal for people to align their values towards. Much of the success of mankind can be traced back to the foundations and principles established throughout various religious doctrines and the subsequent societies that flourished under those principles.
As an atheist, I researched the historical relevance of religion and its sociological implications and developed a greater appreciation for those various institutions and their subsequent socio-economic impacts on the development of mankind. I respected that aspect of religion, but I disregarded any religious philosophies/teachings because modern science could explain the world in more concrete and truthful terms. And I would constantly grapple with the reality that religion and religious ideologies were responsible/contributed to so much violence, hostility, and destruction since the beginning of mankind that any positive they had came with just as many negatives.
Do They Know Something I don’t?
Back to Jordan Peterson. I listened to more video clips that were on the internet where he talked about his perspective in regards to faith and religion. He actually has a whole educational YouTube video channel called the Biblical Series, where he carefully dissects and explores the concepts in the Old Testament. I greatly admire Jordan Peterson because of his thoroughness in explaining complicated ideas, but also because I trust that he does his due diligence in researching and interacting with those very ideas before explaining them. Jordan Peterson is one of the brightest minds in the 21st century. He also is a clinical psychologist (who’s profession is closely tied to the sciences), so when he talked about believing in a higher power I was completely taken aback.
I was convinced that religion and science were at odds with one another, and that to be in one camp puts you in direct opposition to the other. I was startled that such a worldly intellect, like Jordan Peterson, who undoubtedly has rigorously studied and examined the facts of our world through multiple scientific lenses would still be drawn to the conclusion that there exists a higher power.
I was curious to see if other scientists/intellects that I had listened to on various podcasts reveal their spiritual beliefs as well. As a matter of fact, many of the evolutionary biologists, mathematicians, and philosophers did believe in a faith/spiritual entity.
So now I was asking myself, if all these individuals, who are far smarter and more educated than me, are claiming to believe in a higher power, what’s preventing me? I couldn’t rely on my past evolution/scientific claims because these bright minds have been presented the same teachings, but have come to much different conclusions.
Tides Turn, Momentum Builds
These logical paths I had been on, along with some other mental curiosities converged at a crossroads that lead me to question evolution (macro-evolution). At least in the light that I had always viewed it. And so by inverse property, if I thought evolution was false, I couldn’t necessarily say I’m atheist.
I found myself in a sea of ambivalence and anxiety. The world order hierarchy that I had built for myself under the “atheist” perspective in the last few years had been taken out from under me. When pillars that we have used to support us fall, it creates internal turmoil that requires examination and exploration in order to rebuild. In his Biblical Series, Jordan Peterson talks about how Dante believed betrayal was the worst of human behavior. Because one of the things that enables long-term, peaceful cooperation between people is trust. Trust is the fundamental natural resource. Trust is an unbelievably powerful economic force, maybe the most powerful economic force. While I wasn’t betrayed by an individual, the worldview that I trusted was no longer friendly to me.
I leaned into it though. I explored alternative perspectives that would help me to create some stability to align my actions and thoughts toward. In one of the video clips, Jordan says, “If your objection to life is, it’s suffering, adopting an attitude that will make that suffering worse is probably not a reasonable solution.” Being an atheist doesn’t lend itself to any net positive thoughts. I realized that under an atheist worldview, nothing really matters. We would just be atoms and cells joined together for a brief moment in time before dying off and forever being forgotten. Not exactly an optimistic way to view your time on earth.
As fate would have it, I was also listening to Andrew Huberman recently (most popular neuroscientist in the world at the moment) talking about the power of prayer and faith in humans, including his personal daily prayer. He said prayer can allow you to get outside yourself. Give up control. Acknowledging something bigger than us, bigger than nature that we can’t understand or control can actually help to restore agency in us. Huberman admits that the scientist in him wants to be able to explain why adopting that mindset even works, but says some things should be left for the higher powers above.
That really resonated with me because I have a tendency to hyper analyze and search for the “why” behind so many of my daily thoughts. Which sometimes is a great trait to possess, and makes me thorough in my research. But I get anxiety when I can’t understand something. If the logic, math, or pattern is not adding up, it can drive me up a wall until I formulate an answer or a justification for why the problem is flawed to begin with (and not due to my lack of mental horsepower). After hearing this from Huberman, I tried to embrace the notion of giving up control and/or giving up on wonderment, and simply being. I can say that incorporating a sense of detachment and humility that you don’t have all the answers, does allow you to feel human and appreciate the complexity of the world we live in. Constantly trying to understand everything will spin you crazy.
Hooked and Hopeful
I started to connect with my friends and tell them about my desire to reexamine and reconstruct my relationship with faith. Thankfully I’m blessed to have some incredible people in my life that are happy to provide guidance and resources to help me fully explore faith under a fresh light. Not only that, they are supportive without pushing their perspectives or beliefs onto me. As much as faith can be controversial, it has led to some of the best conversations I’ve had in recent months. It helps to shed light on the idea that you don’t have to agree on everything with people to get along. It’s ok to have a difference of opinion, and you become more authentic as a result of that and have better connections.
One of the best resources I was given is the book “The Case For A Creator,” by Lee Strobel. Lee is a journalist who investigates the scientific evidence that points toward “God”. He admits that growing up, he too relied on evolution and Darwin’s theory to defend his atheist view of the world. It wasn’t until his wife pursued a Christian life that he followed in her footsteps and approached the topic with an open, yet investigative mind. To Lee’s surprise, science had come a long way since he was in school learning about Darwin, and it revealed unexpected findings.
Without spoiling the book, Lee seeks out and interviews a host of scientists to get their takes on their respective domains of knowledge. He examines the credibility of Darwin’s theory, because it is in fact, just a theory. And to his surprise, there is overwhelming evidence refuting its validity. From the fossil record of the Cambrian explosion, the cherry picked examples of Haeckel’s embryos, and the myth of Java Man all undermine the strength of Darwin’s theory. In fact, Darwin admitted he had shortcomings in his theory but figured in time, that new discoveries in science would confirm his theory. The problem is, they haven’t.
Lee then pursues inquiries in the fields of cosmology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and biology to get a full understanding of how those respective sciences support or oppose the belief that an intelligent designer is responsible for the creation of this universe. One of the interesting points that was brought up by an individual he interviewed, was the quote, “science is about explaining phenomenon, not about explaining it in a naturalistic sense.” We have become conditioned to think that science is synonymous with fact. We assume that if something cannot be quantified or tested by the scientific method then it cannot be true or rational. But scientific knowledge doesn’t and shouldn’t always take precedent over other things we know. For example, we know more about free will through the basis of introspection than we do through the basis of sciences. Another takeaway from his interviews is that Lee finds science doesn’t have to be at odds with religion. In various conversations with these prominent scientists, Lee notes that they believe these viewpoints enrich one another and work better in conjunction.
Needless to say, this book has drastically challenged me from a philosophical standpoint to be more inquisitive and open to various sources of information. It has also highlighted a multitude of extremely rare phenomenon that has yet to be scientifically explainable. Or if it is, the probability of that theory holding true is roughly 1 in a trillion trillion trillion. I’m even more eager to explore faith and formulate a belief system that brings out the best in me, instills agency in me while simultaneously giving up control, and supports the well-being of mankind as a whole.
Takeaway 1: Truth is Elusive
The way I look at religion now is this; believing, adopting, and practicing a doctrine is respectable, courageous, and encouraged. But saying that yours is right compared to another’s is a totally different ball game. Again, as an individual who looks at data, facts, and proof, I can’t comprehend how an individual could be so sure that their religion provides the ultimate truth compared to their adversary. If the truth is so easily identifiable and apparent, wouldn’t mankind have naturally aligned under that doctrine by now? If the truth was there for people to see, you wouldn’t have to convince them that your side was better, it would just be self evident. The same can be said for science. As wonderful as it is to study and make sense of the world around us, we have to accept that we’ll never understand all the facts or laws of the universe. We can hypothesize and theorize extremely close approximations, but there will always be the possibility that something else explains a particular phenomenon better. Science is simply humans exploring the world around us.
Truth is extremely elusive and hard to pin down. Maybe that’s where faith comes in. So until we accomplish the ability to time travel and fact check historical records and religious writings, or transcend consciousness to speak with the designer on his blueprint for the universe to see if E = MC^2, please be accepting of the notion that we humans aren’t “all knowing".” Only the intelligent designer is. Be willing and eager to share your beliefs and thoughts, but don’t pressure others to conform to your ideologies. Your “truth” could be radically different than another’s.
In this journey, I’ve come to realize the value in freedom, and how much I support freedom. I might not agree with you, but I support your entitlement to free will and free thinking. It’s sad to see violence that sparks from a difference in belief. Again, we can’t prove that a certain form of faith/belief structure is right over another. To be willing to harm and kill other humans in defense of your position only undermines your credibility. It will close more minds off to your interpretations of the purpose of life or the realities of the world rather than embrace them.
Takeaway 2: Knowledge is Power
In the book, “A Hunter and Gather’s Guide to the 21st Century,” author Brett Weinstein explains the concept of Chesterton’s Fence, which urges caution against making changes to systems that are not fully understood. Applying that concept to our modern world here, I can’t help but wonder if we have done humans a disservice by speaking about Darwinism and evolution as if they were fact in our educational upbringings. I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach it, but we should put an astericks on it that this is a theory/one interpretation of understanding how we might be able to explain the existence of life on earth. Give people all the tools and information, but let them form their own conclusions. Did we push evolution and Darwinism before we had appropriate knowledge of its credibility?
This is just a theory, but there could be a strong correlation between the rise in atheism among GenZ and Millennials due to the education they are being raised in. Most curriculums in America cover evolution and Darwinism, but very few touch on alternatives. Pew Research has repeatedly found both generations are the nation’s least religious. Faith and religion can increase community engagement and connectivity, at a time when individuals are becoming more and more siloed and distant from one another.
Brett’s brother Eric Weinstein, was on Chris Williamson’s podcast, Modern Wisdom, talking about how physics was dominated by the Quantum Gravity String Theory for the last 40 years, which changed what was considered sexy to study, research, and question in the physics community. This was spearheaded by a handful of physicists who were popular at the time. But what that did was narrow the focus onto a select few topics in physics at the expense of others that needed to be explored to make advances in the field. Anyone who tried to make a name for themselves in the physics community only focused on Quantum Gravity, instead of the multitude of other questions that the community had yet to solve. This is just another example of Chesterton’s Fence played out from a philosophical perspective where decisions by a select few can have unforeseen, damaging impacts on many others down the road.
I’ll leave you with this. As we head deeper into the 21st century, knowledge and information will become ever more valuable. Alvin Toffler says, “the coming struggle for power will increasingly turn into a struggle over the distribution of and access to knowledge. This is why, unless we understand how and to whom knowledge flows, we can neither protect ourselves against the abuse of power nor create the better, more democratic society that tomorrow’s technologies promise. The control of knowledge is the crux of tomorrow’s worldwide struggle for power in every human institution.” Though individuals may be experts in their field, they are only human. We are not privy to seeing the future and knowing the impact of all the decision we make. Be open and accepting of all the different ideas that flow into your life, and be willing to refine your beliefs as you come across new information.
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