Questions of Spirituality and Religion

I would be a fool to believe that questions of spirituality are not a fundamental part of the human experience, yet it confounds me how human personalities can exist which do not have a natural drive to answer existential questions. How did our universe arise? What seeded life? Why did this happen? Is there such a thing as God? Why am I here?

It is possible that I, perhaps a member of a race consisting of those cursed with existentialism, are unique, yet it is unlikely. I do believe that everyone, at some level, hungers for answers to spiritual questions. I do believe it part of the human experience. I do believe it a curse.

And, indeed, I feel as though lost in an ocean; terrestrial safety in every radial direction, yet every trajectory which may offer refuge just beyond my limits. Oh, Apollo, oh Thoth, oh Saraswati, how recursive these questions can be. Why are there questions we may ask but are unable to answer? Why do questions lead to more questions?

Yet the logician and scientist in me declares trivial victory over a kingdom of the negligible. Unsatisfactory as they may be, I do have some answers.

How did life begin? Liquid water, heat, mitosis.

Fact: In a large enough sample space, given enough time and enough chaos, everything will happen.

Fact: We exist in a very, very, unimaginably, astronomically, mystifyingly massive sample space which, for all intents and purposes, is infinite.

Conclusion: If everything will happen, then somewhere in this universe there will come a point in time when enough gas and dust particles interact with a gravitational field and begin to clump together. As these particles are pulled from every possible direction and the angular momentum continues being conserved, the rotation of some celestial body continues rotating. It will take a long time, but eventually there will be enough particles to form a terrestrial sphere and enough rotational energy and frictional energy to cause internal movement within this sphere. As the violence persists, ice will collect, ice will melt, liquid water will form, liquid water will puddle. Other spheres of immense heat and light will provide energy. Conducting metals will just happen to be in proximity, an electric field will form, a magnetic field will follow suit. A biological soup will become present and life will come to be.

Why are we here? We just are. There's no deeper reason.

Examining the historical timeline of the universe, the recursive and cyclical nature of life becomes ever more apparent as we zoom further and further out. When we examine a smaller interval there is a fundamental, binary linearity to the nature of existence – light and dark, good and evil, female and male, question and answer, input and output. Things happen or they don't happen, but when they do happen they happen linearly and cumulatively. Still, these are not primordial laws – they merely lead to yet more questions. Nonetheless, in a chaotic view of the universe, there is no rhyme or reason other than cause and effect. One action leads to the next, one result builds upon previous results. This is where the notion of chaos becomes of imminent importance because when a result requires complex actions, the probability of it happening only increases as attempts increase.

The religious person believes that life arose from one attempt or maybe a few attempts. All of the extremely unlikely and improbable things that needed to happen all happened and they happened perfectly and without problems or issues. While we may not know specifically how life began, we know that it is very improbable that life happened from one chain of events. There were likely hundreds of billions of failed event sequences throughout the universe before one of the sequences just happened to be successful. How could we possibly know this? Because creating life is a highly complex result which builds upon numerous prior results having been successful where many were highly complex on their own as well. When we look out into the universe, we see something which is mostly empty space, the distances between things are immense, and we also see trillions of stars, which gives the potential for trillions of possible worlds.

The most challenging thing for me is that so many people believe they have the answers. How can someone answer the unanswerable? How can we know the unknowable?

Faith and the Divide of Religion and Science

For many people in the world, their spirituality is satisfied by religion. Spirituality is asking the unanswerable questions whereas religion is the dogma which provides answers. This is why science and religion are entirely at odds. Science can only answer testable questions. If the question is fundamentally unanswerable, science is of no use to us – it relies entirely on observation, experimentation, and ultimately evidence. Religion essentially provides answers without observation, without experimentation, and without evidence. To put it bluntly, religion essentially just "makes stuff up." Faith is therefore the act of believing these made up answers blindly and without question. This is where faith is fundamentally at odds with science as well. Science is about asking questions whereas faith is about not asking questions. The religious person would likely oppose this notion and claim that they do ask questions and that their faith is re-affirmed by the answers, but the answers they receive are intended to be believed blindly. What if they came to the conclusion one of the answers they received was not true, would they still be accepted by their religion? Generally one cannot pick and choose

The brain is a very powerful component of the human body and it is far easier than most think to convince oneself of divine interaction and confirmation bias.

When I speak with religious people and I ask why they believe the things they do, I consistently am given one of three answers.

  1. They communicated directly with God. In some moment of desperation or crisis, they received a message from God and this message answered a question they had or it gave them a sense of peace or a positive feeling. We will call this variety the "communicated."

  2. God directly influenced their lives. During a time of crisis, they experienced some sequence of events which they believe to be otherworldly or impossible without there having been some form of divine intervention. We will call this variety the "influenced."

  3. It is simply what they were taught. From a young age, they were taught by their family or some influencing source that \(x\), \(y\), and \(z\) were true. Generally for these people the influences are so encompassing and competing perspectives so alien that they never question these ideas or the act of questioning evokes such self-disdain that they continue believing throughout their lives. We will call this variety the "raised."

With exception of the "raised," the common thread is crisis. Challenging experiences are just that – challenging. When someone is going through a life experience which causes distress, they will naturally strive for some sort of resolution, peace, or feeling of calm – they want the bad feelings to stop. Suppose someone is experiencing financial troubles and every day they pray for some sort of relief. After some period of time, they get a raise at work which eases the financial challenges they are experiencing. There are two ways to look at this. From one perspective, some external intelligence heard the prayers, felt compassion, and subsequently encouraged the individual's employer to increase their monthly earnings. This naturally creates more questions. Can prayer be measured? Is one prayer enough, or did the individual's daily prayers eventually exceed some threshold which led to the action? Similar to winning tickets when playing skee ball, does one accumulate prayer points over time which can be used to cash in on some positive result? Or, the other way of looking at it would be that the individual worked hard, did their job well, and they were rewarded with more money. The key difference between these scenarios is that the religious person externalizes their individual achievements, attributing them to God rather than self. This type of behavior is common among people who are incapable of acknowledging their own successes and achievements. They have a deeply ingrained belief that they are not good enough and not capable of joy, positivity, and happiness without the permission of a higher being. To put it another way – they want to be ruled and they want to be controlled.