Once again I brought too many books to Maui. Back in Oregon I forgot how enjoyable simply sitting on the beach is. I picture myself reading much more than I end up wanting to do. However, I’ve slowly been making my way through a wonderful book, “Think,” that I started reading several years ago, re-discovered on a shelf, and decided to throw into my suitcase.
With Easter tomorrow, I figured it would be appropriate to share some thoughts from the chapter on “God.” Simon Blackburn, the author of "Think" is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina. His book, says an inside cover, is “about the big questions in life: knowledge, consciousness, fate, God, truth, goodness, justice.”
It isn’t a typical “beach book,” but Blackburn writes in crystal-clear, simple prose, and even throws in some understated humor. I admire any philosopher who can intersperse some digs about the reliability of Windows in a section on “The Problem of Evil”. Challenging the notion that an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God can be deduced as lying behind the world’s obvious deficiencies, Blackburn says: “Nobody ever inferred from the multiple infirmities of Windows that Bill Gates was infinitely benevolent, omniscient, and able to fix everything.”
Tomorrow countless Christians will consider that they have been saved through their belief that Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected several days later. Almost certainly they are wrong. Probably, both about being saved and about the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection. I find Blackburn’s analysis of people’s beliefs about God highly persuasive.
He says that it makes sense for any thinking person to be skeptical of all the conflicting claims about miracles, one of which, of course, is the Christian claim that Jesus died and then bodily lived again—as also will, supposedly, the Christian faithful. “Which is more likely?” Blackburn asks: that something miraculous happens which is totally surprising, that in normal life just never happens (like the dead coming back to life), or that the purported miracle is the result of causes we encounter all the time: delusions, memory lapses, misunderstandings, metaphors mistaken for literal truth, deliberate fabrications for selfish ends, and so on.
He also observes, quite rightly, that every religion considers that its miracles are genuine, while the miracles revered by every other competing religion fall into one or more of the categories above: delusions, fabrications, etc. So religious believers have to admit that people are prone to error when it comes to believing things that really aren’t true. But somehow they consider that my religion, and only my religion, is immune from the errors that every other religion falls prey to.
I don’t accept this. If one religion is wrong, then all religions are wrong. And this, I strongly suspect, is indeed the case. Any religion that purports to explain the mysteries of God in human concepts has to be wrong, unless one assumes that the everyday human mind somehow is virtually identical to the essence of the Creator, which seems to be a very far reach given the inadequacies of Homo sapiens.
Absent miracles there still is plenty of mystery to keep anyone with a religious consciousness occupied. All anyone needs to do is look outward and behold the inconceivable vastness of the cosmos, or look inward and behold the inconceivable vastness of consciousness. Who needs miracles when the miraculous is all around us, and indeed is us?