I am not a Christian. But, I take Christianity far more seriously than most.
Taking Christianity seriously marks me as an oddity in the modern era, wherein everyone who’s anyone knows that only low-class, backwards, half-retarded rubes ever consider the possibility that the story of biblical Jesus Christ is anything more than a fairy tale. A little while ago, I told someone close to me that I was reading the Bible and a stack of Christian writers in an effort to better understand the origins of western history and philosophy. Their off-hand response was: “I suppose that might be interesting. But honestly, as soon as I find out a person is a Christian, I lose all intellectual respect for anything they say after that.”
Well. That’s certainly one way to look at it. But imagine making the same statement about Muslims, Buddhists, Koreans, teachers, pipefitters, tall people, feminists, conservatives… or really, any sort of differentiable group of people. With any other target, such a statement would be beyond crass. When Christianity is our subject of ridicule though, full speed ahead.
The stronger the modern leftist taboo around a given set of beliefs – i.e., feminism, global warming, human biological uniformity – the more likely it is to be true. Such is the trend I’ve noticed.
Our universe appears, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to be the product of either design or evolution. This is absolutely beyond dispute. Paley’s watchmaker, now armed with our 21st-century knowledge of cosmological constants, exists. I repeat, this is an observable fact about our universe that is beyond dispute: Our existential plane gives every appearance of having been designed with the intent of hosting intelligent life. Richard Dawkins, the closest thing atheism has to a pope, devotes the second half of The God Delusion, not to refuting this observation, but rather to offering alternatives explanations.
And yes, there are alternatives. Our universe could be one of an infinite number. This is the Multiverse Hypothesis. Combined with the Anthropic Principle, it provides a perfectly reasonable and God-free explanation for the otherwise implausible existence of our fine-tuned universe.
Does God exist? Or are we the fortunate inhabitants of one of a few habitable worlds among multitudes of lifeless parallel universes? Both explanations are, to a first approximation, pretty far out. Hence, my agnosticism.
But when I look around the world, I see many agnostics (and many Christians) who are agnostic (or Christian) in name only, while their actions betray their true atheism.
Consider: If you are uncertain of whether a proposition is true, and the truth or falsity of that proposition is extremely relevant to your life, the rational thing to do is expend as much time and energy as possible evaluating that proposition. Say, you are legitimately unsure of whether there is a suitcase filled with hundred dollar bills hidden somewhere in your basement. Or, that your house is on fire.
In either situation, if there is any doubt in your mind, if you are any less than ~100% sure that there is no suitcase and no fire – you would be a fool not to immediately set about finding the truth. Right now, as I type this, I am ~100% sure that my house is not on fire. If the fire alarm were to go off right now, I would adjust this probability to 95%. (If that seems high, keep in mind my roommates and I are not good cooks.) Still, that five percent possibility is enough that I would immediately stop what I’m doing and figure out if the house is on fire or not.
The truth or falsity of the God Hypothesis is vastly more relevant to our lives than a mere fire. The logical and evidential case for the possibility of the existence of God is quite strong, if not conclusive. So why are most men completely unconcerned with the question of whether God exists?
Further to all this, Pascal’s Wager is an irrefutable case for why any hedonist who is not completely convinced of the non-existence of God, should immediately start living a pious life and do his utmost to ‘trick’ himself into believing through prayer, readings of the bible, and immersion in a social milieu conducive to Christian brainwashing.
But, while the case for literal, certain atheism is extraordinarily and obviously weak (not even Richard Dawkins can bring himself to endorse it in The God Delusion), many atheists are completely convinced of the non-existence of God.
Much of this flows from the success of a clever rhetorical trick on the part of atheist thinkers: The re-definition of God.
There exist many sound logical proofs of God’s non-existence. But each takes His literal omniscience, omnibenevolence, and omnipotence as their core premises, rendering them cute but meaningless:
Can God create a rock so heavy he himself cannot move it? Checkmate, Christians!
If God knows everything that will ever happen, how can we have free will? Checkmate, Christians!
If God is perfectly good, why does little Suzie Jenkins have leukemia? CHECK and MATE, Christians!
And so on.
There is some scriptural basis for assigning these qualities to God. But I think we should make the distinction between literal and effective omnipotence. When God describes himself to humanity, we’re on a need-to-know basis.
God is, to us, for our own practical purposes, all-powerful. Much like, if you could communicate with a population of sentient avatars in a game of SimCity 2000, you might similarly describe yourself to them. And it would not be dishonest. From the Sims perspective, you are God. Sometimes you fuck up, sometimes you have to get up and take a piss, and there are some limitations to what you can and cannot will in the context of the game. But…details, you know?
Taking this view of our God, limited somehow – though all-powerful and all-knowing within the context of our own existence – makes Him much, much more plausible. God is God – to us. But perhaps, at some level, he has his own problems. Perhaps he has his own God or Gods to answer to. I don’t think this idea is at all incompatible with Christian scripture.
I also don’t think its nearly as ‘far-out’ and ‘weird’ as it may appear at a first pass. Humanity, right here and right now, seems to be on the verge of creating our own ‘artificial’ intelligences, i.e. sentient life forms who inhabit a digital plane of existence subordinate to our own, to whom we would be, essentially, Gods. Perhaps we’re the product of some earlier iteration of this process, in which intelligent life begats intelligent life on a lower plane of existence than itself.
If humans are mere decades away from becoming, in a sense, creator-Gods, how can we dismiss the possibility that the universe we inhabit is the product of a similar event? Many bright people who would (rationally) admit that it is well within the realm of possibility for human beings to become Gods, irrationally deny that it’s possible we have a God.
But What if God is a Dick?
Much is said on the subject of whether God exists or not. But comparatively little energy is spent considering whether God is good or evil. I actually think that this is a much more interesting question than that of his existence. What if God hates us? Or is indifferent to us? What if God’s pretensions to loving us and wanting us to find salvation are a scam? That would be a pretty awkward position for humanity.
But here are my two reasons for believing that God, if he exists, has our best interests at heart.
The truth is hard to come by
The history of Christianity is complex. A smart person can spend a lot of time and energy parsing the philosophical and historical arguments for and against the existence of Christ, and still walk away unsatisfied. I offer this as evidence for, not the existence of God, but the conditional proposition that if God exists, then he is good.
Let’s say you were a God. You are a God who wants to judge your creations on the strength of their character and their faith. But, the subjects of your creation naturally differ in cognitive ability, so you cannot make your existence a mere test of reading comprehension or a logic puzzle – if you did, you would only reward the intelligent and punish the dim.
So you want to create a test that poses an equal, or at least equitable challenge to smart and dumb creations alike.
If that were my goal, as God, I would reveal myself to humanity in such a way that the essential goodness of my message was easily grokked in the primitive hindbrain cockles of the left side of the bell curve, while sending the intelligent and inquisitive in a long and arduous hunt through the philosophical and historiographical arguments for and against my existence. I would reveal myself in such a way that my individual creations, no matter what their given level of intelligence, could not ever arrive at a state of perfect certainty with regard to my existence. I would deprive no one, smart or dumb, of the fundamental choice to believe or not.
The minimalist nature of God’s revelation to us suggests his benevolence in another way.
God desires our obedience, allegedly, for our own sake. We can follow God or not – He is, as we say, outcome independent. God would like us to be good, for our own sake. But, an evil God would say that, wouldn’t he?
If we accept that God exists, we must also consider the possibility that our creator wants us to obey for some other reason.
Suppose you created a race of artificial intelligences in a supercomputer. Might you consider telling them that you are God, and invent some narrative whereby they will be saved if they toil all their lives coming up with HFT algorithms that make you jillions of dollars? I certainly would. So, maybe our God is pulling a fast one on us.
But, if that were the case, God would hold daily conference calls with anyone who ever doubted his existence. All the better to keep us serving and obeying. As it stands, God seems content with a world in which very few of his creations even attempt to do as he commands. This, ironically, suggests that he has our best interests (or at least, the interests of the best of us) at heart.