This is a rather meandering post about what I don't believe and what I might believe and what my cat taught me about belief. Actually, it’s about what all cats taught me, by which I mean not just the cats I’ve shared my life with, but all cats who ever lived. All mammals, in fact. All animals.
But back to my one, specific cat: the late Durango Jepson.
Durango was an unusually smart cat. He could solve problems you wouldn’t expect cats to be able to solve. We called him "Houdini" because he could get out of anything, any place. He knew a route in and out of our house that we never figured out. He could unfasten latches.Once his collar came off somewhere in the neighborhood and two days later, hebrought it back: I saw him coming down the sidewalk carrying it in his mouth. When he was very old and blind, he found his way all over our house with barely a hitch. “How’s his cognition?” our vet asked, clearly assuming our 19-year-old cat was senile. I thought of the way he'd go through the kitchen and down the stairs, then take two lefts and a right to get to his litter box. Or take an entirely different routeup the stairs, down the hall, over the dog gate to steal our other cats’ food. Blind, by memory. That cat was smart up to his dying day.
Durango Contemplating the Meaning of Existence
The thing is this: Despite being an unusually smart cat—perhaps even a genius as cats go—Durango did not know how to read. If I’d tried, I wouldn’t have been able to teach him to read. If I’d had a thousand years and the best methods possible, Durango would never have learned to read or even know there was such a thing as reading. Because Durango had the brain of a cat, evolved to locate small prey in the dark, to lie low in dangerous situations, to create elaborate mental maps. But not to read. He was what his brain made him, and his brain didn't make him a reader. There is no way around that.
Stay with me here.
Being human, you and I can do things impossible for Durango and his brethren. We read, write poetry, do math, play music, make laws, and plan what we’re going to do next summer. Human brains aren’t very good at locating mice in dark rooms, but they’re extremely good at imagining, at manipulating symbols, at solving problems in three-dimensional space. We discovered science, for example. That’s quite an achievement.
But despite its amazing skills, the human brain, like the cat brain, is limited. It evolved in response to specific conditions, to perform certain tasks. It’s no doubt the smartest brain in the world, but that doesn’t make it omniscient. There are surely many, many things human brains don’t and will never understand. Things we can’t even imagine, in the same way Durango could never imagine there was such a thing as reading.
And this brings me to the reason I'm not an atheist. Precisely because I don't think human beings can possible understand everything. To be an atheist means you have to be sure that God doesn't exist (whatever "God" is—and don't get me started on that one). And the minute you say you're sure, aren't you're saying that human beings have the capacity to understand everything? Not just the physical world, but any possible world? The very essence of existence? Everything?
The question I keep coming back to is this: Isn’t it possible that there are things we don't know? Incomprehensible forces at work in the Universe? Things we simply can't understand or even imagine? I'm not saying thereare such things. I'm just saying, theremight be. We're just human, after all, with nothing to work with but human brains.
When I have to give myself a label, I call myself a spiritual agnostic. I think science is the best—the only way—to understand the physical world. I think reason is perhaps the greatest gifts human beings have (well, that and compassion). Those are humanist views. But I can't be an atheist, because I leave the door open—just a crack perhaps—for the possibility of other realities.Because maybe, like cats, we humans just don't have the whole picture.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...