Friday, April 30, 2010

A Dispassionate Look at the Arc of the Universe

After stepping through a few paragraphs consisting of twaddle interwoven with banalities -- read Norm Geras for a fuller guide to all that -- Stephen Clark concludes with that appears to be the whole of his argument. Step for step:

Is that all there is to say about God? Believing in God is merely believing in the possibility of Justice?
No, but that bit of fuzz is as common as it is misleading.
There is after all a catch, which Michael [McGhee] perhaps ignores. How easily can we believe in Justice, how easily pray to "Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love" (as Blake had it), if we also insist that we are accidentally evolved hominids?
Quite? Yes: I say quite easily.
How can we believe in the value, or the possibility, of our finding out the truth of things, let alone founding a just society?
The answer to this is to look around and see it happening, at which point we realize it's difficult to miss. We do it constantly, and have done it for at least as long as we have taken to putting things in writing. There is no god -- or, if you like, even most religious people would agree that there is precious little direct, unambiguous, hour-by-hour, step-for-step intersubjectively observable guidance from any god -- and yet we envision and aspire to a better tomorrow. This is how we have always done, and there's no mystery to it.
Isn't the merely naturalistic story bound to erode those beliefs? If we are to trust in the possibility of Justice, must we not also believe that there really is such a thing, and that it will indeed prevail?
This is wrong in almost every way. "Trusting" in the possibility of justice sounds like an invitation to complacence, and in turn to neglecting the effort necessary to achieve and preserve it. Whatever its particulars, justice requires work and care, and strife over its particulars is integral to that work and care.

As is evident from opening the nearest newspaper or history, justice lurches forward, lurches back, and so on according to the ongoing struggles among people.
Must we not, in fact, believe that God, the Spirit of Justice, does indeed exist, and that He will repay?
I believe we have covered this, but the answer is no. But on its terms: if this strife-filled, pain-filled, maintenance-needy, uncertain world is the result of a justice-assuring and really-existing god, then that justice is demonstrably not a justice we recognize. This is unchanged by even the most emphatic assertions about the shape or inevitability of 'repayment' in a life hereafter.

The arc of the universe is long -- as long as the eye can see and written records can attest -- and it bends where we push it.

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