Another digression here: Please excuse the break in the narrative.
Tolstoy, in _My Confession_, Ch. V., wrote: My question - that which at the age of fifty brought me to the verge of suicide - was the simplest of questions, lying in the soul of every man from the foolish child to the wisest elder: it was a question without an answer to which one cannot live, as I had found by experience. It was: "What will come of what I am doing today or shall do tomorrow? What will come of my whole life?"
Differently expressed, the question is: "Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?" It can also be expressed thus: "Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?"
Tolstoy also talks of waking up in the middle of the night to ask himself, "Is there something you are supposed to be doing (or to accomplish) in this life? If so, what?"
These things, that Tolstoy kept being asked in his internal dialog, are collectively the Question of the Meaning of Life. In science, if we wish to follow the Scientific method, the first step is to define the question. This is the question: "Why am I here? What is the point of my being here? What, if anything, am I expected to accomplish?"
Tolstoy, continuing, wrote: To this one question, variously expressed, I sought an answer in science. And I found that in relation to that question all human knowledge is divided as it were into two opposite hemispheres at the ends of which are two poles: the one a negative and the other a positive; but that neither at the one nor the other pole is there an answer to life's questions.
The one series of sciences seems not to recognize the question, but replies clearly and exactly to its own independent questions: that is the series of experimental sciences, and at the extreme end of it stands mathematics. The other series of sciences recognizes the question, but does not answer it; that is the series of abstract sciences, and at the extreme end of it stands metaphysics.
"Sciences" here includes the hard sciences at one end of his scale, and the "soft" sciences, such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology, at the other end. Neither end has an answer to the Question of the Meaning of Life.
I am nowhere near as smart as Tolstoy. I am fortunate that translators are merciful when conveying his meanings in English. I tried once to translate this book from the French version that his daughter translated from Russian, but I came to grief long before I reached this point.
Still, somehow, by some means, not yet having read Tolstoy's confession, I came to the same conclusion: That the science I learned in Nuke school was harmless as kittens to the Theology that I learned in Sunday School, and vice versa. I can't claim any great credit in reaching this conclusion; and I found it rather frustrating. I could focus my logic to tear apart a sales pitch without hardly blinking an eye. I could explain why you can't have a perpetual motion machine even before my morning coffee. But I could not place a scratch on the indoctrination of my youth. Words and truths taught to me by people who barely knew more than I did, and then only because they were holding the answer book in front of them, were impregnable against the might of my mind.
It sounds boastful to say "The might of my mind." I was not Tolstoy. I was no chess grandmaster. I was not close to Richard Feynman. But I had a strong mind and I worked it to make it stronger, and I was frustrated by an immovable object. In terms of physical strength, as an analogy: If mental strength were physical strength, I would not be able to go 12 rounds with a prizefighter. But on the hand, if we were in a bar and I told you to get out, you'd put down your drink and leave. Again, not to boast, merely to tell you what I'm working with here.
One part of my mental workout regimen was a game called "There is No Australia." I would attempt to prove to my long-suffering shipmates that there was no such place as Australia using various clever arguments, and defying them to argue me out of my position by using logic and reason. I never once lost. This game originally arose as a joke, when we had twice gone on a voyage in which we were supposed to stop in Perth, and each time circumstances diverted us. So we started to think that there was no such place as Australia. To this day, I find it useful as a tool to demonstrate principles of logic and of faith.
I can tell you some of the books I read at that time, but not all of them. I remember reading a few passages from the Koran. Richard Carrier, in one of the passages SEG quoted at me, mentioned finding a Taoist text that made perfect sense to him in a way that the Bible never did. I had the opposite experience with reading passages from the Koran. They were meaningless pseudo-religious babbling. Granted, I did not read those passages in the Original Arabic, but what I read was without the form or structure that I have spoken of in the Bible. I found nothing of substance, no grist for the mill. Since then I've studied more about the Koran, and I have come to the conclusion that as a source of truth, it's no better than the local car trader magazine. But that's another story.
I don't remember all of who or what I read. I know that it was much later in my life when a friend challenged me to read _Why I Am Not A Christian_ by Bertrand Russell. Frankly, don't waste your time on it; for a man who was so logical in everything else to be so sloppy when thinking about religion is utterly appalling. As a challenge, please explain his fig tree argument to me in a syllogism. Anyone. Please.
I do remember that I tried to cheat by finding arguments that other people had against God. In those days we didn't have the internet, so I had to go to the San Diego Public Library and find books in bookstores. I found in general that even cheating didn't help. Atheists I found were merely angry against God, like the atheists of whom Chesterton wrote in _Orthodoxy_. They were spoiled Christians, neither close enough to see the function of Christianity nor far enough from it to see it's design and beauty. I had not read Orthodoxy at that time; reading it later was another confirmation that I had made the right choice, as was reading Russell many years later. But I could not find any atheists who had grist for my mill; logical arguments for me to use in my attempt to break down the indoctrination of my youth.
So I remembered a rhetorical technique that one of my brothers used to use against me. When we argued, he would simply ask me a few questions to keep me on the defensive, explaining and explaining and explaining until finally I would say something -- usually quite peripheral and mostly unrelated to the original dispute -- that he could leap onto and hammer me with. In retrospect, it was good training; I've gotten quite good at defending ideas. But I resolved to do this with religion: I would read Christian writers until I found a problem with what they wrote.
Now, those of you who have been down this road will laugh at me. Earlier I tried to dissolve my religion in science, and now I was going to pick my religion apart until I found some piece that could be dissolved in science. But science did not change: It still was not a suitable solvent, no matter what I tried to make of the solute. I read writers like my old friend "Jack," that is, C.S. Lewis. Like Tolstoy, or even Russell, he was a mental giant compared to me. In a mental prize fight, I could make hash of an average man, but Jack could make applesauce out of me.
I read _Mere Christianity_ again. And it still made sense. I read _God in the Dock_ where Lewis put God on trial and brought charges against him -- and I could not fault him even once in bringing the charges to naught. If you think I was too soft on Old Jack, have a go at it yourself. Read _God in the Dock_ and tell me where he went wrong. Please, tell me. I read _Surprised by Joy; The Shape of my Early Life._ You'll never read a more frank and honest biography. In that book, Lewis gives his story, from his childhood and education to the day he abandoned the CoE and became an atheist, his reasoning and his relief at having no God to judge him. He reasoned, and please take note of this, that Hamlet can never speak to Shakespeare because they live in different worlds. Different universes, even. From this he concluded that he could never speak to God, nor God to Him; God was as fictional to Lewis as Hamlet.
In such a state of mind he went to war, near the end of WW1, and returned to Oxford, where he lectured on medieval literature. There he met J.R.R. Tolkein, of _Hobbit_ fame, and his son, Christopher. Both of them were Roman Catholics, but Lewis did not hold that against them. Still, he found himself surrounded by Christians, such as Owen Barfield and Walter Hooper. In time, he saw a problem with his prior reasoning about Hamlet: It might actually be possible for Hamlet to speak to Shakespeare, so long as it was Shakespeare's doing. That is, Shakespeare could write himself into the story of Hamlet as a Character, and then he and Hamlet might converse on a level basis.
That thought shook him. It smacked of the Incarnation. It made him fear that perhaps God might actually be out there, stalking him. People suggested to him that such thoughts were merely "Wish-Fulfillment" fantasies; a pop-psych term in vogue in those days. Lewis would stare down such people and ask them, "Why should a mouse wish for a cat?"
Why indeed. You see, if there were a God, then Lewis was liable for his deeds. So long as there was no God, he could live as he liked, and so long as he was mostly a good chap, well, who could complain? But God entering the picture would change everything. There is a parallel biography that Lewis wrote in 1933, called _A Pilgrim's Regress_. Make sure that you find the edition with margin notes or else the book will make little sense to you at all. It is the allegorical story of Lewis' internal path, from an indoctrinee of an inscrutable faith, through his period of uncertainty, addressing the various thoughts and ideas that held him prisoner. In one place, when he was in bondage to the Zeitgeist -- the popular psychology of his day -- A Daughter of Wisdom, dressed like Joan of Arc, rides into the realm and defies the giant (the zeitgeist) using Logic. Her three questions are worthy of note:
1. What color are the inward parts of a man?
(Answer: There is no color where there is no light).
2. By what infallible rule may a copy be distinguished from an original?
(It was claimed that the passions of a human were copies of simple carnal lusts -- back to Kafka! -- but Lewis argued that the lusts were fallen passions, and not the passions as glorified lusts)
3. A man and his enemy ride the same train to the man's home. Neither can escape the other, nor go faster nor slower. There is a bridge the train must cross. The man's wife sends word to him: Shall she tear down the bridge, that the enemy may not cross, or shall she leave the bridge, that the man may cross. What should he say?
(Answer: The bridge is Logic and Reason. The Zeitgeist cannot both pretend to use reason and also tear it down.)
Lewis then finds himself in the house of Wisdom, and the remainder of the book, until the climax, involves his investigations of various schools of thought, seeking one that will save him from religion. In the end, the only way to reach the place he desires to be is through the church.
And again, I could find no fault in him. Okay, he was hung up on arguing against some of the ideas prevalent in his day, which are now obsolete and outdated, but his logic was sound. I was not finding a toehold to tear down his logic.
There were smart people on both sides of the aisle, but the Christians were scoring all the points, while the atheists were merely mocking and making faces. I was starting to see a preponderance of evidence in one direction.