I have heard in my time many arguments for the existence of God. From a science perspective we have many variations of the Anthropic principle, which is a very weak tautology. If humans are well suited to the world, then it must be assumed that it was created for us. These apologists often base these arguments on some sort of calculation of chance, (The odds of human evolution are some ridiculous number to 1) which is also completely specious and we can go into the specific reasons later.
There’s another argument that appeals to human psychology. Usually you get this a lot from the likes of CS Lewis who felt that a sense of wonder was, by definition, proof of god. Which is also pretty specious. You can live quite wonderful fulfilling lives without the baggage of religion. Possibly quite better lives than your religious fellows. Even if this was not true it wouldn’t matter.
One of my favorite arguments it appeal to the authenticity of the bible. Perhaps the ultimate tautology. Well if the Bible says that it’s trustworthy… how could we go wrong. Generally, claims of Biblical authority are backed with prophesy. Prophesy is where you chose any two points in time and create an artificial sense of significance between them. Generally you might have to jigger the math a bit. A year is equal to a day is a common trick.
Here’s my problem with all of it. If we assume god to be an all-knowing interactive deity dedicated to guiding humanity, then there are some pretty glaring problems. One always hates to assume something about god. How do you know something that is inherently unknowable? But we can certainly evaluate the claims about him. If god is going to deign to give humanity vague and unhelpful clues about the future, why not something useful? How about forms of government? God says very little about it other than to follow his laws and he’s got your back. He also begrudgingly tolerates the development of the Israeli short-lived monarchy. Maybe he wasn’t so tolerant after all. Jesus will later tell the Hebrews to tolerate the Roman empire. God could have let us in on the monarchy or the democracy. Both innovations in their time would have been terrific advancements and could have halted a tremendous amount of suffering, especially if god set out an orderly progression.
He also makes an extraordinary number of ethical errors. For example, this was a fantastic time to state unequivocally that slavery is bad but… he didn’t. Why? God couldn’t figure that one out? Speaking of which, genocide would have been another thing to put out there as something you absolutely should NOT do, except that it’s explicitly endorsed by the Bible. My least favorite is something god specifically commanded. Circumcision. There’s no excuse for genital mutilation. Speaking of genitals, some healthier guidelines on healthy sexual expression and the LGBT acceptance would have been fantastic. Sorry, God drops the ball again. The treatment of women as second-class citizens is a phenomenal failure that with a few words could have been halted. Things like being forced to marry your rapist? What the hell god? you have to answer for that. The notion of universal equality was something that took over 17 hundred years from the birth of Christ to develop. How about tips for world peace? the closest we’ve come is commercial and diplomatic ties are critical but you won’t find that in the Bible. God couldn’t suggest a more equitable profit sharing arrangements for distributing wealth? This also would have saved untold suffering in the world.
How about medical and technological insights? It wouldn’t have been difficult for god to weigh in on how to make primitive vaccines, or procedures for quarantining patients with communicable diseases. Something as simple as soap and water can prevent a tremendous amount of infection. Clean water, boiled water, sewer systems, cleaning trash, developing some infrastructure, all these things would have been within a bronze age level of technology and would have prevented many of the plagues that devastated humanity. In fact, science is as much a mental discipline as it is a collection of technologies. That could easily have been communicated to Bronze Age cultures. Certainly Iron Age cultures came very close to this kind of discipline. There’s any number of facets of psychology, environmentalism, medicine, health, education, and more that god just apparently forgot to mention.
Actually, the more you look at the Bible the more one realizes that god didn’t really know anything more about life and the future or even the past than your average Bronze Age warlord. In fact, much of the the history, science, prohibitions, legal philosophy is just wrong -as in verifiably incorrect. If we consider the Bible “useful for instruction” then this instruction must be limited to how to evaluate mythologies. Clearly thinking critically isn’t on the curriculum. If the proof for god lies in the bible then we can easily conclude there is no god, or that he has chosen not to involve himself in our lives in this way. The fact that there are so many ways to have made society so much better that an all knowing god could have imparted and chosen not to, brings to light the ridiculous of a literal interpretation of Christianity.
Starting with the secret Muslim socialist Kenyan Birtherism, conservatives have gotten so terrified and so paranoid that I’m afraid they will respond in the most human way imaginable. That they will inevitably resort to hysterical violence. Each of their conspiracies are more crazy than the one before. At this moment, we have such a huge swath of Texas believing they’re about to be invaded by our own military for some obscure reason. So many believe this so strongly, they’ve convinced their governor and a leading presidential contender/actual senator to treat them seriously. This is after Michelle Bachmann said with a straight face and in all seriousness that Barack Obama will bring about the apocalypse. These are the same people who pointed weapons at federal law enforcement officers at the Bundy Ranch. (Thank god the government stood down. The Bundy Ranch Massacre would not have made a good headline.) and shortly after those same nutters shot several cops. Somehow I don’t see the Tea Party taking themselves out like Jones Town. I see them needing to exercise their demons using high caliber weapons. If you listen to gun rights advocates, the number one reason they will tell that they need all these guns is to protect themselves from an overreaching government. This is a uniquely American phenomena. No other government on the planet would allow people to stockpile weapons for the express purpose of destroying or resisting the government. But in these uncertain times, this is what is necessary for them to feel safe. And there in lies the key.
If you look at history we’re in the middle of a transition. For thousands of years men have invented myths and religions to help explain the world and provide a sense of order and direction. And religion is really good at coming up with feel good bullshit about how the world was made and how it works.
Eventually, sometime around the late Iron Age-early medieval period, government began to compete with religion in what it can tell people to do, and how it made sense of the world. The clash was long and horribly bloody with no clear winner. Religion and government more or less agreed to a compromise and thus began The Enlightenment. Since then there have been successive industrial and scientific revolutions that have gradually displaced religion and government from people’s lives. People have more freedom now than ever before. People are healthier and wealthier than at any point in human history and the twin institutions that we’re used to relying on, have proven themselves completely inadequate –if not thoroughly corrupt.
The problem is science is, by definition, uncertain. In fact, it’s uncertain with a very high degree of precision. The government certainly can’t provide a comforting narrative. I think people beginning to realize there’s no quick fix, no handy ideology for the economy. Terrorism can’t be fixed with a strong military or shadowy police state. Environmental problems now have a global reach and global problems aren’t as simple as locking delegates in the same room in New York’s most architecturally boring building. It means talking to the “bad guys” because ignoring them or blowing them up simply won’t work. Even long standing traditions are under assault because they’re terribly oppressive and that’s no longer acceptable. If you chart the progress of freedom during the last 100 years here has been tremendous growth. But it hasn’t been easy And there are no guarantees. Obama isn’t the first President to promise change. They all do that. But he embodies that change by virtue of his skin color, his personal narrative, and his view of the world. It’s this combination of racism and generalized anxiety that is causing such an extreme reaction to his relatively banal politics.
Humanity has yet to embrace this new found power. It’s still looking towards institutions for meaning and direction. It’s still rejecting that meaning, freedom, and liberty because they don’t have the strength to resurrect them as internal constructs. So many are afraid. This latest conspiracy theory is just a focused outpouring of fear and uncertainty. Change is hard and we have the duty and obligation of ensuring that change comes to all. The more we resist change the harder it goes for us. The less control we have. It’s time to seize control of our own emotions, our will, and abandon the need religion and governments to provide meaning and direction. I don’t expect this to happen. I fully expect that people will grow old and die clinging to their outdated beliefs. But where there are children, there is hope.