AN Wilson has an essay in The New Statesman about his damascene conversion from Catholicism to Atheism and gradual return back to belief:
I realised that after a lifetime of churchgoing, the whole house of cards had collapsed for me – the sense of God’s presence in life, and the notion that there was any kind of God, let alone a merciful God, in this brutal, nasty world. As for Jesus having been the founder of Christianity, this idea seemed perfectly preposterous. In so far as we can discern anything about Jesus from the existing documents, he believed that the world was about to end, as did all the first Christians. So, how could he possibly have intended to start a new religion for Gentiles, let alone established a Church or instituted the Sacraments? It was a nonsense, together with the idea of a personal God, or a loving God in a suffering universe. Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense.
Wilson has written a number of books about early Christianity, most famously a biography of St Paul. He’s a bit like Bart Erhman, another Christian scholar who started out studying the origins of his faith only to lose it.
But . . . I was drawn, over and over again, to the disconcerting recognition that so very many of the people I had most admired and loved, either in life or in books, had been believers. Reading Louis Fischer’s Life of Mahatma Gandhi, and following it up with Gandhi’s own autobiography, The Story of My Experiments With Truth, I found it impossible not to realise that all life, all being, derives from God, as Gandhi gave his life to demonstrate.
I found Gandhi’s autobiography to be almost comically self-absorbed, but the point is valid. Lots of sane, intelligent people have profound life-changing spiritual experiences that convince them of the existence of God. Unlike Wilson I think these experiences probably have a materialistic basis but right now there’s no proof of that and it’s a major failing of the ‘new athiesm’ of Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett et al who hold the position that religious people are all crazy or stupid or both.
the existence of language is one of the many phenomena – of which love and music are the two strongest – which suggest that human beings are very much more than collections of meat. They convince me that we are spiritual beings, and that the religion of the incarnation, asserting that God made humanity in His image, and continually restores humanity in His image, is simply true.
I don’t find language, love or music very implausible from an evolutionary viewpoint – but (and don’t tell the creationists this) I have huge problems with mathematics. As Wigner pointed out, math is an unreasonably effective way for us to understand the universe and it’s hard to imagine how we evolved the ability to perform tensor calculus.
There are two obvious answers to this. (a) Our intelligence is a ‘peacocks tail’ that arose through non-directed sexual selection and math is a fringe benefit of this or (b) there are far more effective ways to model the universe than math but we haven’t evolved them so we don’t know what they are, and this is why our understanding of the natural sciences is incomplete.
But the first of these answers is awful convenient and the second is a kind of ‘math of the gaps’ argument.