There’s this story about a little doubting Thomas and his wise grandfather that I happened to read back in my childhood, and it has remained with me ever since. Not because it had a riveting plotline or great character development, but for portraying a simple idea that atheism will forever be at great pains to downplay.
The story starts with a venerable old gentleman sitting at his desk fixing an old pocket watch, and his five-year-old grandson running in with a very pertinent question. “Grampa, grampa,” he chortles. “Ben said in class today that there’s no God, that everything just came together because of some great bump… or something like that. He said God is just something we conjured up in our minds! Could that be true?”
The old man turns around, loupe still in eye, and smiles. “Could you give me a minute, little Thomas? I just need to put this last spring in.”
The boy nods. A minute later, he is rewarded with a satisfied grunt. “This one’s fixed,” grandfather mumbles. “Come here now, so I can show you something…”
Thomas runs over to his grandfather’s side to look at the pocket watch, and lo! He is greeted by the sight of over a hundred wheels grinding along in perfect unison with the help of tiny springs and screws, all with the express motive of telling the time. “Wow!”
Grandfather grins. “It’s like magic, right? Every part – big and small – plays a role in making this pocket watch run with perfect precision. The tiniest change in adjustment or movement can throw everything off gear, showing the wrong time at best or simply falling apart at worst. So, would you say that everything here came together by accident?”
Little Thomas is glad to know the right answer. “No, it was put together by a watchmaker!”
“Right,” his grandfather replies, a twinkle in his eye. “Now think of this watch as our universe, complete with its planetary movements, cosmic explosions and the carbon cycle, everything held together in delicate balance. So who made it? The Big Bang that Ben was talking about must have been the manufacturing process, but who is the watchmaker here?”
Simple yet potent logic, I remember thinking back then.
I later discovered that the story merely sought to illustrate what has now come to be known as the Watchmaker Analogy, an argument made by scientific greats such as Sir Isaac Newton and René Descartes in support of the existence of God (and, consequently, the intelligent design of the universe). While it has been questioned like all arguments are, nobody has been able to provide a plausible answer for the underlined question. Who is the watchmaker here?
The problem with atheists is that they are nearly as closed-minded as the ones they ridicule. If Uncle Bill from Georgia has a problem believing that Chapter 1 of Genesis is a near-accurate depiction of the Earth’s formation, his atheist neighbours wouldn’t recognize the truth about God if it came knocking at their door in a yarmulke. The problem lies not as much in the individual’s conservative or progressive bent of mind as his unwillingness to seek answers outside his echo chamber.
The problem with atheists is that they are just as closed-minded in their beliefs as traditional Christians. If Uncle Bill from Georgia has a problem believing in the true nature of Genesis, his atheist neighbour wouldn’t recognize the truth about God if it came knocking at his door.
Okay. God may be too complex a subject to simply dive into a discussion about, so let’s start with something smaller. Like outer space.
If there was one thing that fascinated me as a child in his early teens, it was the concept of outer space and everything it holds. My brother had informed me that we inhabit a small planet in the Milky Way, but I just needed to know what lay beyond it. “Other galaxies, obviously,” he grunted, obviously irritated about being made to look up from his book. “There are other solar systems and universes beyond our own, you know.”
But that only served to further pique my interest. How many universes and galaxies are there besides our own, I asked. And how far does space extend?
My brother put his book away because he wasn’t going to get a lot of reading done anyway. “Nobody knows for sure, but experts believe that there are an infinite number of universes and galaxies in outer space. And yes, that would require outer space to be infinite too.”
I let my jaw hang. My tiny brain simply could not comprehend how it would even be possible for something to just extend endlessly in all directions. And even if outer space does have a boundary somewhere, whatever lies beyond it has to be infinite.
That endless thing, entity or place, in my opinion, is God or at least a part of Him. The best explanation for the Almighty, Yahweh or whatever you may want to address Him as, rests in the fact that there is no other to be had. He is not male, not female, not living, not non-living, not hoofed, not non-hoofed, not good, not evil, and yet He is all these things too. He is everything, He is nothing, He is All you can think of and All you can’t.
The best explanation for God, in my opinion, rests in the fact that there is no other to be had. He is not male, not female, not living, not non-living, not good, not evil, and yet He is all of these things. He is everything, He is nothing, He is All you can think of and All you can’t.
That said, I do refer to God as a He in my writings, and that’s in one part because of the Bible’s traditional stance on the matter, and in another due to my general dislike for substituting male pronouns with plural ones for the sake of political correctness. Whilst acknowledging the noble intention behind exercising such a measure (the Episcopal Church is reportedly taking a revolutionary step in this direction), I have a problem with the way it makes for an unsightly grammatical mismatch. Hope I can be excused there.
So, coming back to the subject at hand, what do you think God’s like? If you ask me, I would say He is best described in the second verse from Genesis Chapter 1 as the “Spirit… hovering over the waters”. Others might envision Him as the oft-caricatured bearded man in white robes and halo, and I wouldn’t say they are wrong either. God is everything we believe of Him and everything we don’t.
My criticism, therefore, is reserved not just for the naysayers among us. If the atheist’s problem lies in failing to see God, ours is in trying to see Him too clearly when such a task clearly falls beyond our realm of understanding.
To cite an example, have you ever come across those mass-manufactured posters that declare how “God is Good”? They certainly aren’t wrong (the Bible attests to His goodness through several verses), but I believe they don’t depict the full picture either. Human attributes are not sufficient to describe a God who is Everything, and to do so would be worse than trying to fit the ocean in a tea cup. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” God asks a defiant human in Job 38. “Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!”
In case you were wondering, Job didn’t know much beyond his own world of suffering. That was just a sarcastic God admonishing him, as we all will probably be admonished one day.
So, I would like to end this particular chapter with a couple of questions for two very different kinds of people. To atheists, I would like to ask if they believe in the principle of cause and effect. So, if the universe is the effect, what would you say is the cause? To believers who claim to know God well, here’s my question—
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and do not intend to offend any person, institution or community. Email your feedback to email@example.com or leave a comment below.