Saturday, December 23, 2006

Belief in God

I just finished sending a comment to “Tim” ( Sorry, I don’t know any more about his name. Tim’s site provides a huge discussion of arguments for and against the existence of God. Each argument against God’s existence is refuted. The counter arguments, however, are very well presented, though, which is rare on “Evidence for God’s existence” sites.

If you look down the left, you see links to other sites or pages arguing for God’s existence. You see links to proclamations that “So and so rejects atheism.” I don’t see any saying “So and so converts to atheism.” I would feel better had I seen these. I realize, though, that “Tim” has no wish to convince anyone of the unreasonableness of his belief in God. And therein, really, lies the problem. The ideal philosopher, the ideal searcher after truth, should not care whether the statement “A is B” is actually true. The ideal searcher after truth should not have an agenda to convince readers that his point of view is the (only) correct one.

I am always suspicious of people’s objectivity when they have a strong belief in the truth of some statement, whether the statement is “We never went to the moon”, “HIV (virus) does not cause AIDS” or “God exists.” As I said before, though, I commend Tim for the depth of his coverage of both sides of the discussion.

I have a confession to make: I’m an atheist. As a high school physics teacher, I never stated this fact to my class. I taught that there is a separation of science from religion/philosophy/belief. I suggested that if there was any way to absolute truth, only religion could get there. I taught that science didn’t say anything about God; only that science’s goal was to come up with a useful, testable, non-divine explanation for observed phenomena. I never answered the question “Do you believe in God?”

Now, having retired, I can concede that the concept of the existence of God just does not fly with me.

One of the arguments for God’s existence is based on probability: the likelihood of the universe being precisely right for the development of intelligent life on Earth is so small that one concludes that there had to be a designer.

But I use probabilities a different way. Most people follow the faith of their parents. What is the likelihood, of all the faiths on this planet, that the one my parents happened to believe is the only true faith? I don’t think I’m that lucky. The fact that most people believe the faith of their fathers leads me to the conclusion that the correctness of their faith is suspect.

Related to that argument is the statement of humility: So many people believe in other religions, other Gods, other ways that the universe may have come to be, who am I to assume that my way is correct?

Frankly, I find the certitude of believers disturbing. I can’t buy the existence of an entity watching me/us/humanity/the cosmos, caring what we do, (perhaps) interceding (on our behalf), desiring to be worshiped, judging us.

A friend told me, “You are a good person. You have to believe in God because God is the source of all goodness.” Sorry, but I think you can be good without the need for a God (to set a standard, presumably, for ultimate goodness).

And people say, “Yes, but in the Bible it says…” Again, I don’t mean any disrespect when I say that, not believing in the existence of God, I don’t accept the Bible to be the word of (any) God.
I respect people’s belief in God. Fanatics apart, most people I meet are sincerely interested in doing good, sincerely interested in the welfare of others (not just their own kind or own religious group). If belief in a God helps them to be that way, good for them. When their loved ones die and they find solace in a belief that “God had other plans for them” or that they have “gone to a better place”, I’m happy for them. Perhaps I’m even a little envious of believers’ satisfaction, or the peace that a belief in a God has brought them.

I concede that I might be better off if I believed in God. But that is not a valid reason for a belief. I don’t think you can say, “I believe it because it’s advantageous to do so.”

So, do I believe in God? No, but if you do, that’s OK. As long as you don’t discriminate against others who believe differently from you.