Why atheists should keep an open mind

The standard of proof in criminal cases is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”. Some think of this as being about 90% or 95% sure of guilt. The scientific standard is higher because more precise data permits metrics to reach objective levels of 99.9% or higher. But in almost all cases where we need to assess evidence in order to make decisions, we employ the “balance of probabilities” test – is the thing more likely than not. I do think we employ this when it comes to deciding where to eat but I also think we ought to employ it when it comes to whether to believe in God.

Why? Because there’s the risk in being wrong is minimal and the price of striving for greater certainty is too high.

If we incarcerate an innocent person we do great harm and so we must be quite sure. Establishing a scientific tenet could be equally serious – think of the testing done on the Covid vaccines – plus, achieving greater certainty isn’t too costly.

When it comes to where to eat, we could conduct extensive research and decide that way but we don’t because it doesn’t matter if w get it wrong. So we’re happy to eat somewhere if we think it’s more likely than not to be a good choice.

When it comes to God, greater certainty than being more likely than not is probably unachievable at any price. Moreover, one is always at liberty to change one’s belief as one continues to weigh more and more evidence so there is little risk in erring. (I am not one who believes in a God who subjects atheists to eternal torture).

So, all that is to say that as I contemplate the amazing universe (multiverse) that we both know (a bit) and love (a lot), I believe that the explanation for why there happens to exist a set of laws that permit such a thing must lie in something apart from the universe itself. All I can think of that this could be is some kind of Platonic form – an idea. In this case, perhaps uniquely, an idea with creative efficacy.

Then I am amazed at how it is that we happen to be able to understand so much (potentially all) of this universe by way of mathematics. This makes me think that Max Tegmark is onto something when he posits that all logically self-consistent mathematical structures exist as these kinds of ideas or forms and that our universe is one of these of sufficient complexity to include substructures in the form of conscious observers (us).

If substructures can be conscious, couldn’t superstructures be also? Couldn’t there be a sufficiently complex, and yet sufficiently unified, mathematical structure as might constitute what we might think of as God of which we might be significantly less complex and unified, yet still conscious, partitions?

In the evolution of the cosmos and of life I see purpose, reason, causation – a point to everything. Not in every detail but to every process if one looks at it from a broad enough perspective. I think that our lives are what conscious mathematical substructures “feel like”. And if our level of conscious mathematical substructures exist, why shouldn’t more complex ones exist? I believe this because it explains why there is a universe, how it is that we can understand it as we do, and because it provides a point or purpose to it all that it seems to require.

I offer this, not as proof to the scientific standard, but on the balance of probabilities. To me, it is at least somewhat more likely than not. Once the door to one’s mind is opened this much, I believe it is possible that certain other experiences we can have can be understood as manifestations of that “divine” conscious, cosmic, mathematical superstructure.

I don’t suppose I’ve got all this figured out correctly, but I believe it’s plausible enough to justify keeping an open mind to the possibility, even the probability, that something along these lines might be the explanation for how things as objectively weird as us exist.

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