It's a difficult thing in philosophy to keep the same opinions that you began with until the end of the discussion. The topics are often complex and there are lots of different views to consider. Anyway, I first came into the whole philosophical whirlwind as your typical Modern Orthodox teenager. Well, maybe not your typical one, but not so far off from the average either.
I wasn’t limited in my studies, I could take out whatever I wanted from the library, science and Torah were equally valid truths, could not contradict each other and both came from God. Basic Torah U’Maddah in a nutshell. My views as a child consisted of the Big Bang, deep time, theistic evolution, Adam as a real evolved person but with a qualitatively different soul, a global flood, exodus, revelation at Sinai and other miracles were real events, etc.
Then I began discussing politics and theology online with other people. Christians, agnostics, atheists, Muslims, Pagans, you name it. We discussed everything under the sun but the basic underlying theme in all these theological discussions that could not be denied was that I had no way of justifying my own positions over these others. It was easiest with devout Christians and Muslims, though, because they, for the most part, agreed with the same basic legendary history as Jews. But when debating with the doubters of Abrahamic religions, there really was little to stand on and I was left posturing with empty assertions.
I was then lead naturally to skepticism and eventually to the safety of positivism which says that one doesn’t believe in anything unless the evidence leads one to believe it is true. That’s a good hard basis for your beliefs and generally you’ll win the arguments. Debates turn into solid "show me the evidence" and not endless assertions of dogma or even weak apologetics of dogma.
However, after some time as I read more deeply into philosophy with guys like Kant making it clear that metaphysics isn’t something that we can ignore just because we cannot empirically analyze it, and William James showing me that one is justified in making some decision on these questions even though the physical evidence doesn’t suggest one over the other since in many ways it can determine how we think and how we act in life, I began to rethink my adherence to positivism.
Positivism is very limiting. It may tell us what is, but it can easily fail to include other things that are true as well. Sure it can protect us from falsehood, but by its very nature, it can never supply the whole truth. To thus be a student in the pursuit of truth, one should leave the safety of the positivist nest and face the possibility of accepting some falsehood while gaining all the potentiality of more truth. And I should remind myself, there is nothing so bad in being wrong.
So I’ve faced all the common arguments for the existence of God. Sure, there are none which are free from criticism, but still take the cosmological argument for example. The fact remains that we have no good answers for how the universe got to be here. That the universe spontaneously came into existence is absurd, that the universe has existed for "all time" is a linguistic trick and the many universes hypothesis is as groundless as any other metaphysical view. One can be justified in taking the opinion that there was something (some may call it God) that brought the world into being. Perhaps it was a choice made or perhaps it was an inevitable extension of whatever that "thing" is, but I do think that there was something.
But besides from that, the most convincing evidence of there being something beyond our universe is the fact that our world makes so much sense. As Einstein observed, it follows rational principles and it follows certain laws of logic that our minds can comprehend. While atheism doesn’t necessarily imply a randomly beginning universe, many atheists will say so, and I don’t believe that the rational nature of our universe lends to the belief that it has a merely random origin.
One can defend belief in a purely random, unpurposed universe, but where is the evidence for that belief? Humanity exists in an environment which it can comprehend, shape, and explore. We are intelligent, inventive, imaginative, capable of morality, capable of advanced communication, amazingly dexterous, creative: we produce art, music, poetry, fashion etc., and we have an incredible capacity for abstract thinking. That all these characteristics came together at once in our species by accident, is hard to imagine. There are scores of variables necessary for a universe to admit the possibility of the existence of a civilization and for that civilization to develop that can explore and understand the universe that it boggles the mind to say that it happened by accident.
I don’t know if I am arguing for God’s existence or just against the assertion that the universe and our existence is just the result of some cosmic accident.
So does God exist? I still don’t know. I can’t say. But am I an atheist? I don’t think I’m willing to say that I am. An author, Chet Raymo, had said that there are two types of people in the world: skeptics and true believers. I don’t think I’ll ever be a true believer in either theism or atheism, but how can I not be a skeptic? I don’t think the material world is all that there is - things seem way too neat for that to be - but I cannot make any claims for what that something outside of the material world may be. I don’t even know where to start.
Do I think this "thing" cares about human behavior? That it sits in judgement of our thoughts and actions? No. Is there such a thing as a soul and immortality? I don’t think so. Was it this thing which spoke to Moses in the desert and proclaimed a set of laws and regulations for a special kind of human to follow? Sounds kinda silly doesn’t it?
But what Judaism is and has been through the ages (along with other religions) is an attempt to connect with this thing, to understand it, to become a part of it, perhaps. It is a human construct, of course, but with a noble goal. With this view, Judaism isn’t a pointless burden, but it speaks of a determination to join in this goal. Judaism is also the cultural bond which connects all Jews to one another, but it is not just that. Perhaps one day, as in the Rambam’s view, we will be able to commit to an intellectual pursuit of this transcendent thing without the rest of the common rituals, but we must admit that they give us opportunities to set our minds and to reflect on what the world might be. Perhaps we are not a nation of priests, but a nation of philosophers.