If God is the question that has no answer, then what is there under heaven that we can be certain of?
Just wondering, after reading an op-ed piece in the New York Times by William Irvin, a professor of philosophy at King’s College. His essay is entitled “God Is the Question, Not the Answer,” and in it he writes that since the question of whether God exists may be unanswerable, we should consider it with “doubt, uncertainty and openness.”
The Agnostic’s Creed, you could call that.
“It is impossible to be certain about God,” Irvin writes, and if that is so, then what about all the things that are presumed , by the believer, to proceed from God—such as the Moral Law, for example? Thou shalt not kill seems reasonable, but if the authority behind it is subject to being doubted, then who’s to say that it’s a certitude?
Anyway, Irvin’s piece is a model of exposition, his point being that we should all—believers and non-believers alike—embrace uncertainty. He says that God Himself, if He is all-loving, would surely not require belief without doubt.
On the side of extreme doubt Irvin cites Bertrand Russell, who was asked what he would say to God if he encountered Him on Judgement Day. “You gave us insufficient evidence,” was Russell’s reply. (My own would be closer to “You’ve got to be kidding,” but that’s neither here nor there.) Irvin says this excuse is perfectly reasonable, given that God, if He does exist, is one secretive rascal.
As for the other side, Irvin mentions Pascal and his tedious wager, often brought up as a good reason to believe. Pascal said that on the question of whether or not God exists, we ought to act as if He did, because if He does we’ll get a payoff, and if He doesn’t, well, we haven’t lost anything.
So where’s the “wager”? We’re not really gambling anything by believing, because there’s no penalty if we’re wrong. The only gamble involved is the one we take when we don’t bet.
Also, as Irvin points out, the argument assumes that the God in question operates on the rewards and punishment system, and also that He needs to be flattered.
“You must believe in me if you want to get into Heaven,” this deity says. What kind of a logical condition is that? It’s an odd specimen of a God who makes belief a prerequisite for salvation–odd, and insecure. And Pascal’s Wager is a flimsy hook on which to hang a threadbare variety of religion.
“We can all exist along a continuum of doubt, Irvin writes. “Some of us will approach religious certainty at one extreme and others will approach atheistic certainty at the other extreme.”
The trick is not to approach so closely that we fall over the edge.
Happy 163rd birthday to Vincent Van Gogh. He said: “I believe more and more that God must not be judged on this earth. It is one of His sketches that has turned out badly.”