Resurrected! Glory be!
That's how my churchless self reacted when I opened a drawer full of forgotten books and re-discovered "Irreligion" by John Allen Paulos. I'd read this short book before, as evidenced by my highlighting, but decided to read it again after flipping through a few pages and thinking Oh, my God! So true!
Paulos, a mathematics professor, demolishes the most common arguments for God. His logic is impeccable, so far as I can tell. And his writing is entertaining, often simultaneously amusing and thought-provoking.
To the question "What will any of my concerns matter in one thousand years" we might, of course, react with stoic resignation. Instead, however, we might turn the situation around. Maybe nothing we do now will matter in a thousand years, but if so, then it also would seem that nothing that will matter in a thousand years makes a difference now, either. In particular, it doesn't make a difference now that in a thousand years, what we do now won't matter.
Some of the classic arguments for the existence of God are so flimsy, it doesn't take much to tear them apart.
The Argument from First Cause, the first taken up in the book, runs in this fashion according to Paulos.
1. Everything has a cause, or perhaps many causes.
2. Nothing is its own cause.
3. Causal chains can't go on forever.
4. So there has to be a first cause.
5. That first cause is God, who therefore exists.
But Paulos says that assumption 1 is better put as "Either everything has a cause or there's something that doesn't."
Such as existence. Perhaps physical existence simply is. Always has been, always will be. Just like God supposedly is. So why can't physical existence be the first cause?
A related objection to the argument is that the uncaused first cause needn't have any traditional God-like qualities. It's simply first, and as we know from other realms, being first doesn't mean being best. No one brags about still using the first personal computers to come on the market. Even if the first cause existed, it might simply be a brute fact -- or even worse, an actual brute.
And this is just one of the arguments for God persuasively rendered unpersuasive by Paulos. Just about any argument someone could come up with for why they believe in God is so full of leaky logic, that belief is rendered unbelievable.
Including the "I just know..." or "I just feel..." argument. I get this all the time in blog comments. Brian, spirituality isn't a matter of logic, thinking, analyzing. It's all about direct experience.
OK, so what?
I've got direct experience of my life. You've got direct experience of your life. We each could claim to have known or felt something supernatural as part of our experiencing. Yet why should someone else accept that claim as being anything other than a subjective personal experience?
Paulos acknowledges the seeming validity of subjectivity arguments.
One response which can't be summarily dismissed is simply the example of their belief and its effect on their lives. This effect can be impressive, but certainly doesn't compel assent. Still, one shouldn't reject the insights and feelings of those with perfect pitch because one is tone-deaf. Or, to vary the analogy, it wouldn't be wise for the blind to reject the counsel of sighted people.
But he then continues to a counter-analogy.
The undermining disanalogy in this response is that a sighted person's observations can be corroborated by the blind. A sighted person's directions, for example, to take eleven steps and then to turn left for eight more steps to reach the door of a building can be checked by a blind person. How can an agnostic or atheist learn anything from someone who simply claims to know there is a God?
Unlike the situation with sighted people, whose visions and directions are more or less the same, the "knowledge" that different religious people and groups claim to possess is quite contradictory. Blind people might wonder about the worth of being sighted were different sighted people to give inconsistent directions to get to the door.
Instead of the directions just mentioned, say a different sighted person directed someone to take four steps, turn left for seventeen more steps and right for six more steps to get to the same door.
This is exactly the case with religions, spiritual systems, mystic practices, and meditation approaches. They're all over the map when it comes to finding God, nirvana, satori, Brahman, Tao, Allah, enlightenment, or whatever other goal is espoused.
(Some even counsel against having any goal, or taking any steps, offering another alternative to the ultimate reality-seeker.)
So feel free to have your feelings about God.
Just don't expect me, or anyone else, to regard those feelings as being anything other than subjectively personal absent demonstrable evidence that you've experienced some sort of objective shared reality.