Here’s another fascinating philosophical prompt from Diotima’s Ladder. This one regards the question of agnosticism, whether people need to take a stance on the existence of “God,” and what we think about the various arguments for said existence. My reply to these questions turned out to be much more complicated than I expected, but it’s a lot of fun for me to flex my mental muscles after all the pain and medication I’ve been through this past week. So, here goes!
Do we need to take a stance on God?
I think some people are just meant to be agnostics, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. If a person doesn’t have any strong feelings on the issue, he or she shouldn’t have to make a decision. (Or to put it another way, I think the decision to not make a decision is a valid decision.) For some people, the question of whether Deities are real or not just isn’t important. It doesn’t prevent them from being good people or from doing what’s right, so I don’t see any reason to condemn them for it. I have the same attitude when it comes to atheists as well.
Does the idea of God strike you as bizarre?
I have greater difficulty with certain beliefs about Divinity than I do with others. For instance, I have trouble understanding how anyone who believes in Jesus can dismiss Vishnu as “false.” Since neither of these Deities can be proven or disproven to exist, the notion of claiming one to be real and of dismissing the other as nonexistent or invalid seems like an exercise in futility and hypocrisy. (Please note that Vaishnavites don’t normally reciprocate this behavior.) I’m all for believing in an invisible being if one has had a life-altering personal experience that naturally leads one to do so, but I’ll never understand the expectation that everyone else in the world should believe in that same invisible being as well (or that all other Gods are inherently “false,” or that everyone needs to worship the exact same God in the exact same way, etc.).
Which arguments for/against the existence of God do you favor?
Oh man, this is a tough question to answer. The truth is, I really don’t like any of the philosophical arguments that are typically made for the existence of “God.” This is because they’re all designed to persuade people into becoming Jews, Christians or Muslims (and they can’t even do that). This doesn’t work for me because (1) I’m neither Jewish, Christian nor Muslim, and (2) I don’t think this is really a worthwhile topic for people to argue about. Since we’ll probably never be able to prove or disprove the existence of any Deity, I see no point in trying to persuade anyone to think either way on the subject. From my perspective, you either have experiences that lead you to believe or you don’t. To show you what I mean, I’ll go through each of the philosophical arguments for “God” of which I’m currently aware and I’ll detail what I dislike about them.
Regarding Pascal’s Wager:
“We should believe in [the biblical] God because (1) we have more to potentially gain from doing so (e.g., going to [the biblical] heaven after we die) and (2) we have more to potentially lose from not doing so (e.g., going to [the biblical] hell after we die).”
For this line of reasoning to make any sense, you must either (1) already be Jewish, Christian or Muslim, or (2) only be familiar with beliefs that are unique to these faiths. For them, “heaven” and “hell” are defined in terms of “being in the presence of Yahweh” and “not being in the presence of Yahweh,” respectively. But what about all the other Deities in which people believe? Many of Them are said to have entirely different heavens with entirely different criteria for acceptance. Osiris, for instance, only judges souls based on their actions in life, not on their beliefs; the 42 Negative Confessions say nothing about actually believing in any of the Gods per se (much less believing the “correct” things about Them). So what if you’d rather be with Osiris when you die? What if you’d prefer not to be with any Deities at all? My point being that what a Christian, Muslim or Jew calls “hell” might actually be “heaven” for someone else.
Regarding the Ontological Argument:
“We should believe in [the biblical] God because [the biblical] God is perfect. To exist is better than to not exist; therefore, a perfect being like [the biblical] God must exist by definition.”
Ever since my 10th grade philosophy teacher first introduced me to this argument, I’ve never been able to take it seriously. Why should we assume that existence is always better than non-existence? Personally, I’m glad the alien from John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) isn’t real (though for all I know, something like it could be lurking out there in the depths of outer space). Mind you, I prefer to exist rather than not, but dealing in categorical absolutes is always tricky. And even as someone who does believe in higher powers, I just think this entire line of reasoning is ludicrous.
Regarding the Cosmological Argument:
“We should believe in [the biblical] God because there must be a First Cause or Prime Mover that caused the universe to begin.”
I agree with this, but only partly. Even some astrophysicists have theorized that our universe probably wasn’t always here, and that something happened to bring it into existence. However, there’s no way for anyone to prove that this “First Cause” is really the biblical God. It could just as easily have been Atum-Ra, the dragon Tiamat, or the collision of Muspelheim and Niflheim. Or it could have just been the Big Bang and nothing else. I prefer to be as practical with my theology as possible, and I don’t really see any point in debating who or what started the universe (though I do find it interesting that in most Pagan mythologies, the “First Cause” is usually an unconscious and impersonal force that either becomes or produces the first God at a much later point).
Regarding the Teleological Argument:
“We should believe in [the biblical] God because nature provides exactly the right conditions for the development and sustenance of life, and the universe must be this way because [the biblical] God created it with life in mind.”
I agree with this one also, but again, only partly. I do think the fact that life ever developed on this planet and that humans have lasted for as long as we have (without being killed by an asteroid, a black hole or space aliens) is a goddamn miracle. But this says nothing about who’s arranged it this way or why; there’s just as much reason to think Demeter is protecting our planet for the sake of its plantlife (which might be more important to Her than human life). I do thank the Gods for the fact that we’re still here, but I also don’t think it’s wise to assume that it will always be this way either. People who use the teleological argument also tend to think the entire universe revolves around us for some reason, and it very clearly doesn’t. It could very well be that we might be swept out of the way someday for the sake of some other kind of life.
Regarding the Moral Argument:
“We should believe in [the biblical] God because we can tell right from wrong, and this would be impossible without having [the biblical] God to determine what’s right and wrong in the first place.”
This is problematic because this argument is usually made with biblical morality in mind, and it’s debatable as to whether biblical morality is truly sound. I for one do not agree that homosexuals or women who are accused of adultery should be put to death (Leviticus 20, Deuteronomy 22). I also don’t think it was very “moral” for Yahweh to kill the firstborn Egyptian babies in the Passover story (Exodus 12), or for the Israelites to murder the men of their neighboring countries and enslave their virgin girls (Judges 21). If the biblical God truly is the Creator of the entire universe, and if Mosaic law is truly the moral standard to which He holds all people and nations, why did He only reveal this set of laws to one particular sect (i.e., the Yahwists) among one particular ethnic group (i.e., the Israelites) in one particular area of the world (i.e., Palestine)? Why didn’t He reveal this law to every other culture and nation on the planet as well?
Of course, some Christians argue that when Jesus came along, He abolished the Mosaic law and established a new and gentler morality in its place. But if this is truly the case, then the Ten Commandments (which are part of Mosaic law) no longer apply and the whole thing just falls apart. So even the Abrahamic religions themselves can’t agree on what’s “right” or “wrong,” which just goes to show that the moral argument is really weak.
Regarding the Argument from Religious Experience:
“We should believe in [the biblical] God because there are people who’ve experienced Him.”
Yeah, and I’m just one of many people who’ve experienced Seth-Typhon, Ishtar, Anubis, Isis, and Osiris (as well as other paranormal entities whom I wouldn’t describe as “Deities,” but just as spirits or demons). So everyone should believe in each of these entities as well. [/sarcasm]
I believe in many Gods, but I believe in Them because I’ve had direct personal experiences that lead me to do so. I don’t believe in Them simply because some other human has told me I should. I believe in and worship Seth the most because I’ve experienced Him, I enjoy that experience, and good things have happened as a result of my worshiping Him. But I would never use this to try and persuade anyone else to believe in Him. For one thing, I fully recognize and accept that gnostic experiences do not count as “proof.” There are any number of possible explanations for them, and I don’t begrudge other people for thinking I’m either mistaken or delusional. (As long as we can agree to disagree and treat each other with dignity and respect, I genuinely don’t care if other people think I’m nutty.) And for another thing, if Seth is truly the God I think He is, He doesn’t need me to fight His battles or win any arguments for Him. If He wants someone to believe in Him, He’ll arrange for it to happen somehow; if He doesn’t, then I have to assume He just doesn’t care to be worshiped by that person. (And if that’s fine with Him, why shouldn’t it be fine with me?)
Regarding the Argument from Miracles:
“We should believe in [the biblical] God because Jesus’ ministry was accompanied by frequent miracles.”
By this logic, we should also believe in the planet Krypton because Superman can fly and see through walls. Mind you, I’m not saying that people who personally experience something they feel compelled to call “Jesus” shouldn’t believe in the Christian God. But as an argument that’s meant to persuade us non-Christians, this is just nonsense.