Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Unimportance of Belief in God

First, I apologize for missing a day on my blog. With my wife still in intensive care, I have not been able to focus on the issues that I would normally be writing about. She is better, but we are still trying to figure out how to fix a couple of problems, and I spend more time with her than I do writing.

Still, I want to address kck1999's request from my last blog entry for a discussion about the existence of "something beyond ourselves." I recognize the sincere interest in that discussion. However, I am obligated to report that I would be a poor candidate for that discussion.

When it comes to the existence of a God, my overall attitude tends to be "I do not care."

I am not saying that this is not an important question, or that it is wrong for people to care about this question. There are, in fact, a whole bunch of important questions -- too many for any one person to answer. As my wife sleeps, medical experts are seeking answers to a set of important questions. I admit that the answers to those questions are important. They are important to me. However, I also admit that I am not the best person to seek answers to those questions – at least not in a timely manner. On this issue, I have decided to trust to experts.

Value theorists recognize that, with human limits being what they are, a rational person will choose to be ignorant about certain things. The concept of "rational ignorance" may seem strange at first -- why would it be a good thing for a person to choose to be ignorant? Yet, a moment's reflection shows that this is obvious. Since we cannot know everything, we must choose those things that we will spend time learning, thereby choosing everything else as those things about which we will remain ignorant.

Yet, I call myself an "atheist ethicist," asserting that I am not ignorant about the existence of God. I claim that the proposition, "God exists" is false. However, I do not think it takes a lot of effort to reach that conclusion. I also conclude that "Leprechauns exist" is false. I do not need to go into an in-depth review of all of the literature surrounding the nature of leprechauns to reach that decision. I can look at the general tendency that civilizations have to invent fictitious entities (unicorns, giant spiders, Cyclopes, chimera, dragons, elves, hobbits, Zeus, Xochopilli, etc.) and easily fit leprechauns into that general category.

I also do not see any reason not to put Adam, Eve, Satan, God, angels, demons, and the like in this same category -- another one of those creative stories.

Now, I am a philosophy student, and I spent some time examining the basic arguments for or against the existence of God. These include the Ontological Argument, the two Cosmological Arguments (first cause, continuing cause), the Design Argument, Pascal's Wager, the Argument from Evil, and the like. It was enough to settle the issue that no God exists.

This study has told me that there is a set of experts who devote themselves to these questions as there are experts in the field of medical science. These are academic philosophers – those who are experts in analytic philosophy in the field of metaphysics and ontology. I look over their results from time to time, and they remain convinced that there is no evidence for a God. Therefore, I remain convinced that there is no evidence for a God.

It was also enough to settle the issue that I could put the question of God's existence aside and focus on other things -- just as I have put the questions of medicine aside to focus on other things.

It does not matter to me whether you or anybody else believes in a God. What matters to me is whether a person can commit to a life in which he helps those around them when they need help, does no harm at all other times, and seeks truth through scientific inquiry.

Where I have problems with any particular religion, it is when the followers of that religion say, “My God tells me to do harm to these people, so I will dedicate my life to that which does them harm,” or “My God tells me to stand in the way of these people getting help that will save their lives or improve the quality of their lives; therefore, I will act so as to prevent these people from getting help.”

The former is exemplified by those who crash airplanes into sky scrapers, threaten cartoonists with death, or pass laws banning homosexual marriage – all actions intending to do harm to a group of people. The latter is exemplified by those who block stem-cell research, refuse to allow their sick child to be tended to by a physician, or seek to promote ignorance in public schools (e.g., creationism and ‘intelligent design’).

I have talked with at least 8 different doctors in the past 2 days. I certainly have no reason to be concerned with whether any one of them believes in God. My only concern is that every one of them is seeking the physical cause of my wife’s medical problems and the best, most reliable course of treatment. The instant one of them comes to me and says, "Your wife's illness is an example of irreducible complexity. It could not have been caused by natural forces, and is proof of the existence of a perfectly benevolent creator," that doctor will not set foot near my wife again. He will be of no use.

If my neighbor believes that there is a benevolent God who created the universe, that such a God commands him to help those neighbors who need help and forbids doing harm to neighbors, and created a universe whose laws could be learned through scientific inquiry, I have no interest in fighting with him over the existence of a God.

I would rather ally with him to make sure that those who are in need of help get it, that no harm comes to others, and that those truths that can be gained through scientific inquiry -- truths like those that will determine how well my wife makes it through this current illness.

Those are the questions that I have sought to concern myself with. And I have put at least as much time and effort into understanding those issues as the doctor has put into learning how to treat my wife's illness.

Anyway, if you are interested in the existence of a God, I could probably find others who share that interest who you can talk with. It's just not my area of expertise.

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