Discuss Life and Religion with Tan Tai Wei

The “Faith” of the Secularist

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The ultimate question 1)whether  the natural realm of our normal experiences is all the reality there is, and therefore all the meanings and purposes our life can have may be found only in relation to all which subsist within it, or 2)that beyond  this realm,  there is ultimate transcendent Reality, or other realities culminating in ultimate transcendent Reality. This Ultimate is that in relation with which we might find  larger meanings to life.

Let’s start talking over this. We are often told that ‘faith’ is needed to believe in God, or religion’s claim of the existence  of reality beyond the secular natural world of our normal experience culminating in transcendent Reality that gives meaning to it all. But assuming religious belief  is a mere matter of faith, it may be that “faith”  of the same sort is needed for  the naturalism committed  to by the secular humanist or atheist. To assert that the natural world of our normal sense-based experiences is all there is in Reality might in the end be as much a “leap of faith” and  “commitment” as what has been said of  religious belief. It may be said that we can only asssert what we experience, and that the onus of proof  is on those who  want to assert more to show cause. But to assert only what you  know from experience is one thing. It is another to say that what you experience is all there is. It is  an affirmative metaphysical  assertion about the nature of reality.

Now, how could a secularist know so much as to  assert that? How came there such faith? And it’s despite the intuitive oddity, to many within the great religious traditions of humankind past and present, and others, of the thought that, assuming there had been a beginning of it all, it all started spontaneously with no reason nor cause, all at that chanced moment, and in such wise, subsequently, that  numerous extremely minute coincidences of timing, composition and condition  of constituents of matter had cohered in such wise as to result , through the ages, in the complexities we study meticulously today of macroscopic and microscopic physical nature, and sentient and rational life .

What of the alternative position that the secularist would have to assert, that there had been no beginning, one thing having caused by something that preceded it, ad infinitum, all these just occurring as a chanced brute fact? But, as HD Lewis wondered, is this even conceivable? What sense is there in thinking an infinite past? We can make sense of thinking of a very, very long past, eons of time, and we think we can model an infinite past on that. But  infinity is not just a very long time. Think of infinity, and not eons, and we wonder what sense the idea itself can have. Do not we feel inclined to assume, with many within the religious traditions, there there must have been a beginning? What “faith” is needed to believe that reality is basically infact that – an infinity of one thing being caused by and leading to another – however senseless the postulate may seem, and all that just occurring, calling for no explaining ultimately?


Written by Tan Tai Wei

November 30, 2010 at 9:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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