My Theological Pigeonhole
(What I Believe About God and Religion)
I am an agnostic. Some people say an agnostic is just a cowardly atheist, but I disagree.
Credence is not binary in nature, so that you either have a given belief or you don’t.
It’s often more like a gradient, for thoughtful people at least, people who have the
intellectual courage to prefer an honest search for truth over an argument that simply
confirms their previously-decided position. I think this is especially important to keep in
mind when it comes to a subject as deeply philosophical yet passionately ideological (for
many people) as the question of whether or not there is an entity that could coherently be
called “God.” I admit I hope there is a God (mostly because I think
eternal life would be nice, and that obviously becomes a far more realistic possibility if
God exists), but I do not have a firm belief on the subject one way or the other.
I end up being somewhere in the middle of the credence gradient rather than at one end or
the other. For now at least.
To flesh this out a little, I’m not an atheist because I think the idea is at least
plausible that the ultimate ground of reality might have characteristics that qualify as
meaningfully analagous to what we might call “purpose” or “will” or
“mind.” This is what I take the question of the existence of “God”
to be fundamentally about, even though most people probably have a more anthropomorphic
concept in mind when they use the term. I also think it is reasonable to hope that this
“God,” if it exists, values and has a good purpose for the personal
beings it has created. I do not think it is intellectually honest to claim to know
that such a God exists, however, much less what its ultimate purpose might be. I do not
see the evidence as being rationally compelling one way or the other. So for me, a
reasonable hope does not justify an intellectual conviction.
My belief that there might be something that could be called “God” does not
in any way involve a particular God, meaning the version of God held by any particular
religion, including Christianity. (More on my relation to Christianity later on this page.)
The concept of God that I am open to is rather very generic, perhaps somewhat like the God
of deism. I’m certainly closer to deism than to traditional theism at any rate, since
I see no evidence that God ever miraculously intervenes in the course of nature or
supernaturally reveals anything through mystical experiences, prophecies, or holy books.
Although it can admittedly be unsettling to not know whether there is a God or not, and
correspondingly whether there is an afterlife or not, I think in practice the problem is not
as significant as it might at first appear. Specifically, I think the ethical requirements
that would follow from the theory that there is a God are the same as the ethical
requirements that we should hold even if the theory is wrong. These are basically summarized
in the Golden Rule, which I would state in a slightly customized way as follows:
Treat others the way you’d want them to treat you if you were in their situation,
assuming you’d still want to take this Golden Rule seriously even if you were the
one in their situation.
(This wording avoids certain trivial objections to the Golden Rule, such as the argument
that if I were in your situation I’d want you to give me a million dollars out of the
blue. Ethics is a more complicated subject than that, and deserves deeper attention. So the
basic principle expressed here does not eliminate the need for careful thought and
consideration, but rather insists on careful thought and consideration, in order to be
Some Personal History and a Disclaimer Regarding Other Writings on this Web Site
I was raised in a very conservative, evangelical form of Christianity, and I held to most
of its core beliefs well into adulthood. My gradual shift to a much more open-minded
perspective occurred slowly and only with considerable study and agonizing over the
arguments. (Whatever else my character flaws might include, I do not think impulsiveness,
in the sense of a tendency to switch views rashly, has ever been one of them.)
Unfortunately, because of this shift in my thinking, many of my earlier essays written
for this web site are in serious conflict with my current views. Most of these I have now
deleted, which will result in “Not Found” errors if they are attempted to be
accessed from external links. But I’ve left a few online, deeming them to still be
of some value even though no longer fully reflective of who I am. I hope my readers will
not find this unduly confusing or misleading. Here they are, along with some Christian
poetry I have also kept on the web site, for any who might be interested:
Specific Beliefs in Relation to Christianity
Although I no longer identify myself as Christian, the fact that I used to be devoutly
attached to that worldview makes some people wonder to what extent my current beliefs might
still be able to be reconciled with some form of Christianity. I do believe that the
Christian movement was generally a step forward in the history of religion, particularly with
its emphasis on the Golden Rule instead of a written law as the standard for morality, and
also with its insistence that God’s love is not restricted to or focused on any
particular nation or civilization. I also still think it is possible to learn and draw
inspiration from the history of Christian thought even though I think it got a lot of things
wrong. So if anyone wants to think of me as remaining Christian in a very liberal, inclusive
sense of that word, I won’t object. For the sake of clarity, however, I have made the
following attempt to systematically summarize my current position with specific comparison
and contrast to what I would consider to be the major areas of Christian belief.
Although technically a skeptic with regards to knowledge, I take a combination of
rationalist and evidentialist approaches with regards to belief, which means I think our
beliefs should be firmly based on reasons, inconclusive though they may be. I therefore
reject the fideistic idea that we should simply choose to believe in God by faith apart from
having any real reason.
(Comparison with Christian belief: I think most Christians would agree with my rejection
of fideism in theory, though to my mind the majority fail to honestly examine the true reasons
for and against their beliefs in practice. For example, I think many put too much stock in a
kind of mystical sense of God’s presence that doesn’t count as a good reason for
I am not convinced that there have ever been supernatural interventions in the course of
nature, either in the form of miraculous signs like the supposed virgin birth or bodily
resurrection of Jesus, or in the form of so-called “prophetic” revelations.
(Comparison with Christian belief: Most Christians insist that at least some of the
miracles reported in the Bible must have really happened in order for Christianity to be
worth anything. I can agree with their insistence that miracles are logically possible, of
course, and that there is no absolute proof against them, but the supposed evidence for them
is still too weak to be convincing, in my opinion.)
I believe the Bible is a thoroughly human collection of writings, not divinely inspired
in any unique sense.
(Comparison with Christian belief: Christians are divided on the subject of what it means
to call the Bible “inspired.” I can go along with those who call it that only in
the very limited sense of saying some portions of the Bible may genuinely inspire people to
live well, in view of the possibility of a God who has genuine love for all mankind.)
Basic View of God and the World
I think the problem of evil shows that if God exists and is an all-good, personal being, as
Christianity claims, then there must be some ultimately good purpose behind all the
“bad” things that happen, which I think in turn implies that they are not
accidents. In other words, such a God must ultimately determine everything that has ever or
will ever come to be.
(Comparison with Christian belief: I share this perspective on God’s
“sovereignty” with Calvinist Christianity, in opposition to the Arminian and
open theist perspectives which deny any kind of determinism in the area of human will.)
I am inclined to believe that God would have to be absolutely changeless and timeless rather
than simply existing eternally in time. This is to say there is no past or present or future
for God, no “flow” of time at all, time itself being a contingent creation. So in
whatever sense it makes to speak of God “experiencing” anything, he/she/it
experiences it all “simultaneously,” or perhaps better stated,
(Comparison with Christian belief: I think this is generally considered to be the classic
view of God and time, which was held by most Christian theologians at least from Augustine
until fairly recently. Many Christian theologians today defend the more popular, more
anthropomorphic view that God exists in time in some sense, however, perhaps even with a
“stream of consciousness” similar to what we experience.)
Although I accept the scientific worldview including the theory of evolution, I am not a
physicalist. I suspect there is more to consciousness than can be explained by the physical
properties of matter alone, and I think this may possibly even imply the existence of some
nonmaterial substance that could plausibly be called “mind” or “spirit”
or “soul.” But I do not believe this substance mysteriously controls or interacts
with the physical brain. I think an epiphenomenal theory of consciousness, in which
consciousness, though nonphysical, is nevertheless fully controlled by the physical brain,
makes better sense of what we know about physics and neurology than a Cartesian interactive
dualist theory does.
(Comparison with Christian belief: Most Christians today probably assume or even insist
on the existence of an individual “soul” that interacts with the brain as in the
Cartesian dualist theory of mind, but this was not always the case. Aquinas held that the
soul was just the form or configuration of the body, for example.)
I do not believe God answers prayer in the sense of intervening in the course of nature.
Nor do I see prayer as something God would necessarily desire people to engage in.
I have no objection to prayer as a practice or “discipline” to help calm oneself
in the face of troubles, however, or to help develop an attitude of thankfulness and trust in
a personal God, which I can see might be an emotionally healthy thing if there is such a
(Comparison with Christian belief: Though definitely not the majority view, I think this
understanding of prayer is more or less consistent with what is advocated by the school of
thought known as “contemplative Christianity.”)
I believe there is ultimately an objective distinction between good and evil in principle,
though in practice morality and ethics usually requires evaluating shades of gray that may
not even be directly comparable. I think the existence of God is a very plausible explanation
for why there might be such a distinction. But whether or not God exists, I think it is still
our responsibility to treat one another with love and respect, as roughly expressed by the
(Comparison with Christian belief: I think most Christians are in general agreement that
even atheists know the difference between good and evil, although many would also say that we
need the commands given in the Bible in addition to the principles of reason in order to fully
work out what this difference entails.)
Specifically Christian Doctrines
I do not accept the trinitarian view of God. I am not convinced that Jesus was or is
ontologically God in any truly unique sense.
(Comparison with Christian belief: Most Christians, though certainly not all, insist on
trinitarianism as part of the very definition of what Christianity is. Some are open to
viewing the idea of the trinity in functional or metaphorical rather than ontological terms,
however. I can agree with these Christians that Jesus’ self-sacrificial life lived
for others above self can legitimately be seen as a reasonably good representation of who
God is, in the sense of how a personal God would want us to live, if there is such a being.
But I think it would be misleading to call this belief truly trinitarian.)
I see no good argument whatsoever for the existence of Satan or any other angelic or demonic
being, and so do not believe in such beings.
(Comparison with Christian belief: I suspect most Christians would insist that it is
necessary or at least very helpful to postulate such beings in order to explain the existence
of evil and temptation, but I disagree.)
I do not believe in the idea of hell. I am open to the possibility of an afterlife of some
very ill-defined kind, and I can agree that if God exists and forgives sins and grants
eternal life, then these things should be viewed as gifts of grace, not merited by some kind
of goodness by which we must first work ourselves into God’s favor. I also acknowledge
that having faith in God’s grace might well facilitate the ability to live in a
wholesome enjoyment of these gifts. But I do not think that it is only those who hold certain
beliefs about God who will ultimately be saved. I trust that if there is a personal God who
cares about individual people, then the gift of eternal life could not be conditioned on
being convinced of sincerely questionable beliefs, including the belief that God exists.
(Comparison with Christian belief: A substantial minority of Christians actually affirm
this universalist perspective. Among those who do, the majority would probably still insist
that eternal salvation required the death of Jesus in some way, however, which I reject along
with the typical evangelical view that Jesus took the deserved punishment for our sins in a
This page copyright © 2011-2015 Edward A. Morris.
Created May 12, 2011.
Last updated December 31, 2015.
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