Thursday, May 1, 2008

Spheroid Theology

A commenter with a sentence-length screen name has broken free, at least a bit, of his professed ignorance and idiocy -- his words, not mine -- and I think I see little hatchling twaddles struggling through the sand, to which I feel compelled to play the osprey. He says:

If you are going to ask me point blank, is it a good idea to follow Jesus, I will answer no. It is not a good idea. The stuff that Jesus asks of us is difficult, if not impossible. You’d have to be crazy to follow someone like that (stay with me here, I’m not done.) But I freely confess to being an idiot. BTW, the Bible agrees with me, calling the cross foolishness for man, BUT the power of salvation for those who believe. No, it is not a “good idea” to follow Jesus. It is, however, essential according to what I understand, if you are interested in salvation.
Then we all agree (you, me, and the Bible itself): it's a bad idea to follow Jesus. End of discussion? No, of course not, because at least one of us doesn't actually agree, as subsequent comments show. I leave to the reader to decide on the effectiveness of the rhetorical gambit of pretending to believe that which one doesn't actually believe. I find it tiresome well before I reach unconvincing.
As I delve into the world of atheists and agnostics, I keep hearing this challenge to prove God exists. As if we have the right to know for certain on our own terms.
You speak of terms as if we entered some sort of contract on the matter. Actually I had no hand in choosing the terms by which something demonstrably exists or does not; I don't have any free will on the question of whether Boston, elephants, schools of dentistry, or unicorns exist. These exist or fail to exist irrespective of wishes. People who think they have choice in such questions are insane, or at best they're partaking of word games in which I have no interest. And I assert no "right to know" if this or that exists. I do insist I am within my rights to answer demands that I believe a proposition, and moreover base my life on the truth of the proposition, with a demand that the proposition be established as true.
God has proven himself! The creation screams out it has a creator ...
Saying it doesn't make it so, although using the word "creation" does, in a verbal way, tend to imply the existence of a creator. So much for word games. You might benefit from reading David Hume on this claim you've made, who noted a few centuries ago that while the presence of a house gives some assurance of a builder, this is only so because we have a good deal of practical experience of how houses come to be -- the tools and materials used, the sorts of methods and know-how called for. Whereas we have only the singular example of a universe, and a singular example (so far) of a world pulsing with life. So far as we've ever observed, life is "created" by other life using a completely unconscious and natural process -- rabbits spawn more rabbits, sharks spawn sharks, oaks spawn oaks, grass spawns grass. Stars, galaxies, planets, and the elements themselves form and are destroyed according to completely unguided, unconscious natural processes. So the very most we can justifiably infer about the "creator" of the universe is that it is some kind of natural process.
Yet what if God did prove himself? What if he left NO DOUBT about his existence? Wouldn’t it follow that He could then DEMAND our all? Why would a God who removed all doubt continue to put up with us at all? The fact that you have the ability to doubt shows the mercy of God. If God were to show Himself to you, you would have no choice in what to believe, and that goes against everything that He is.
You just said god did prove himself, and now you insist he left substantial room for doubt, but nevermind that. I find this a very odd set of claims; let me try to get to it with an analogy. My mom was no authoritarian, but she ran a pretty strict household in certain respects. Especially during moments of conflict over the application of one or another of her household rules, she was eager to remind me and my sisters that we only had the "roof over our heads and the clothes on our back" thanks to her, and she was right. Through all this, we were perfectly certain of her existence -- she was standing right in front of us, probably shouting and gesturing in a way that was hard to miss -- and yet that lack of doubt didn't dissolve our ability to disagree, i.e., our free will and our recalicitrance (from her perspective).

Likewise, if god peeled back the firmament, floated down to earth, and took immediate control of all broadcasts to announce his presence, I don't see how this would alter anyone's nature. If someone was in the midst of larceny ten minutes before god's sudden appearance, that person would surely still have temptations ten minutes after. Were I listening to god's broadcast and suddenly voided of all doubts as to his existence, the most I can say is that I'd start worrying about god's ability to detect my persistent questions. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the god of the broadcast is the god of the Bible, why, I would continue to wonder, was his concern for human starvation limited to one episode of loaves and fishes on one afternoon? What about the millions who have gone hungry before and since? I would worry because I would have some inkling that god is displeased by such impertinent questions, and has the power to put me in an eternal gulag. I would worry, much in the way that a person living under Stalin surely worried about the secret police, but that's not the same as causing the questions to vanish.

To be perfectly blunt, if standing in his presence, I would still have a great many questions about god -- about the ways he has used his omnipotence and omniscience and failed to use them, and what it suggests about his reputed love for mankind. So long as these and other questions went unanswered, I would continue to wonder, every bit as I do now, whether this is the sort of fellow who merits my respect and admiration, let alone love and worship.
But to those who ask me to prove God to them, I offer this challenge, prove he does not exist.
On a practical level, I feel the need to prove that god does not exist in probably the exact same degree that you feel the need to prove that fairies, unicorns, the flying spaghetti monster, and the gods of the Hindus and ancient Egyptians don't exist. On a more philosophical level, proving the non-existence of something is pretty difficult, and generally not worth the effort (cf. Russell's teapot). It is especially not worth the effort in discussions of theology, both professional and armchair, because the attributes of god are endlessly re-defined to escape any offered test.

And so it goes.

1 comment:

Where have my round spherical toys gone? said...

Cut and paste into browser if you are interested in reading a response. It was rather lengthy, so I posted it as a blog entry.