This aims to be a humble post, not standing up to the enormous significance of the subject. Still, something of some significance might be said, and if not, you can have your money back. (No refunds on time)
First of all, as I’ve been casually studying proofs for the existence of God, a proof against, and the objections and rebuttals besides, one thing can probably be said without controversy: There are some people who think deeply about this subject, and in fact are consumed by it. Others do not and are not, and they have reached their conclusions by whatever means each one found persuasive.
I am speaking, then, more toward the second group. To the first group, I wouldn’t have anything to say which has not, most likely, already been dealt with. Instead, among them, I am an observer and a student.
I share with them the conviction that this is a subject of first importance, and with that conviction I come to the second group. However, as I’ve begun talking to some of my agnostic and atheist friends, I’ve learned that most of them just don’t find the question significant.
Bear in mind – I am not yet challenging the process by which they became agnostics or atheists, but only the importance of the subject as a whole. On this, for example, even Daniel Dennett would agree with me.
How do these atheists and agnostics come to think the question is passe, as though God’s (non)existence as a fact can either be fashionable or out of fashion?
The best I can tell (and I would be very interested to have further explanations of this) is that they are misplacing their disinterest. They are actually disinterested (disillusioned?) with the debate; even that is not precisely true, I don’t think. They are disillusioned with conflicts and debates surrounding religion, where things can be so subjective, irrational, heavy-handed…and complicated, nuanced, demanding…and where there does not seem to be any end in sight.
When, for example, will the majority of rational creatures agree on which is the correct religion? On what bases? Does the truest possible religion yet exist?
Barring a grand consensus, they think, the debates over religion are simply so open-ended as to be meaningless. Therefore, there is no reason to engage the debate over God’s existence, since it falls under the purview of religion.
There is likely to be more to the answer than that, but let’s deal with this first.
If it is truly a misplacement of disillusionment – whether or not it is done consciously – then we ought to re-evaluate the subject in question. One’s bias toward the religion debates should not necessarily be cast upon the debate over the existence of God – namely, the importance of the latter debate.
So, taken aside from religion, as much as possible; taken from the point of view of an alien, for example, who wanted to talk to you about whether God exists, who otherwise knows nothing of our world’s religions – is it an important question?
Here, as I said, Dennett and I agree that the answer is yes. We would, however, have divergent reasons for saying so.
As best I can tell, Dennett would say the question is important because people have done such great harm in the name of God. Atheists must, he would say, press the case that there is no God, thereby pulling the plug on religiously motivated crimes against humanity. While he seems to focus on the large crimes – war, oppression, discrimination, torture – he would probably add that religious people in general tend to be noxious, that wherever and whenever they are actively living out their faith, they are a stain on society. He has likened religious instruction for children to child abuse.
I am not here to make hay out of Dennett’s excesses, though. I only want to point out that he feels very strongly about the subject. It might be possible – there is a possible world, perhaps – that humanity would reach such a state of independence from religion that the question would fade into obscurity, and at that point Dennett might simply want to make sure “God” was dead and buried, never to rise again.
This, come to think of it, is where my A&A friends may have progressed to, intellectually. They are done fighting over it; they have their answer. Now, they simply endure the religious fanatics (as do we all) and act as though they, at any rate, have already reached Dennett’s desired destination. Anyone else, they might say, is free to believe in God, so long as it doesn’t have any negative impact on them. (I must speak broadly, intending my words to cover a wide range of possibilities – but raise any objection you like).
I agree with Dennett, and essentially present a converse case: If there is a God, there can be no greater pursuit than to worship Him, to know His will, and to decide whether to follow it. I use “Him,” but not to impose my understanding of God; let’s go further and attempt to cleanse the statement from the vestiges of religion.
Imagine you are at a baseball game at Wrigley Field on a sunny day. Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers steps up to the plate and you think, “This guy is Superman. How do you pitch to him? Hard to buy the idea that he hasn’t used steroids…”
Just then, the Cubs’ manager walks out to the pitcher’s mound and calls for a relief pitcher, a righty. Out of the bullpen comes…Superman.
There’s a bubbling laughter in the crowd as everyone responds to the announcer. Superman? The intoxicated guy behind you makes a dumb joke about cryptonite.
Lo and behold, the relief pitcher veritably floats across the field to the mound. He’s not wearing a glove. The catcher takes up a stance behind the batter’s box opposite Braun. He holds his glove out tentatively, and the umpire, seeing this, takes up his stance behind the catcher. There’s no one standing behind the plate.
Braun takes his stance, and Superman delivers the pitch – it is past Braun and buried into the brick wall of the backstop before Braun ever swings. Strike 1.
The crowd goes wild. You sense the excitement, even within yourself, but immediately become more reflective. After a series of very natural questions – what are they paying him?, for example – you realize that the excitement over Superman’s performance for the Cubs will diminish very quickly. You will get tired of 200 mph fastballs. The Cubs will win the World Series, and there’s no hint of uncertainty about that. This is not the way you wanted the Curse to end.
Superman strikes Braun out, and after a feverish cheer from the crowd, he addresses them without the aid of a microphone.
“People of Chicago – indeed, people of Earth! I am the one you predicted, but never expected, in your stories about Superman. While I will now retire from baseball, I will immediately begin to serve you all in the name of peace and justice! Together, we will not only strike out crime, but we will feed the hungry, and build up our schools…”
You zone out. It’s too much to believe, though he is as real as Ryan Braun. Later, you tell me the story (though I have heard it on the news) and amid your bewilderment, I say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter whether Superman is here or not.”
How would you respond to this?
I would have to think that your response is, “Of course it does! This is Superman! This is the most incredible thing that could have happened, and how fortunate for us that he wants to help us, rather than oppress us!”
I start to say that he might very well oppress us with his figures of speech, but you won’t hear any of it.
Or have I put too many words in your mouth? Would you in fact take my side, and say that it does not matter very much that Superman is real, much less what his intentions may be? Does it not seem important to you to stay on the right side of the law, since he will set out to “strike out crime”?
And I say, all the more for whether God exists. You may multiply Superman’s good intentions, his power, his intelligence, his speed (or ability to be in multiple places in a very short time) – all of this, you may multiply by infinity, and now we are talking about God. If God exists, I have to say it is a fact of the highest priority, and one which must be responded to.