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What if it really were that simple?

In my adult youth (my 20s and early 30s), I was involved in my fair share of "philosophical" discussions. Some might say more than my fair share. Many of those discussions involved religion because it has been (and still is) such a force in the world. After coming to the conclusion that there probably were no gods, and stating so, those discussions often contained statements like:

"Philosophers have debated whether God exists for thousands of years; surely it is not that simple."

And more recently, I found it in a Cracked article complaining about Richard Dawkins fans:

"Some of them [millions of believers] have actually read [Bertrand] Russell and Dawkins and still think there is much to consider and debate because, after all, we're only talking about a simple thing like the meaning of creation and existence."

I'm not a big Dawkins fan and I agree with the idea of that entry (I do like Russell, though), but that's not the interesting part. It's the "we're only talking about a simple thing like the meaning of creation and existence" part that I find interesting. "Simple thing" is used ironically: "Why, it's not simple at all, it's complex and quite important!"

The thought seems to be that millions of people believe "God" exists, therefore it's a complex debate. If anyone disagrees that God exists, they must at least acknowledge that it's a complicated issue. That's the part I disagree with.

Those philosophers and millions of people think the issue is complex because they are starting at the wrong place. They are considering the question while firmly standing in the "belief" zone, and then trying to come up with reasons why that's a good place to stand. And that does get complex very quickly.

Descartes did this. Starting from zero, he deduced that he, the thinker, must exist. Then, for absolutely no reason other than he really really wanted it to be true, he deduced that an all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing God existed. Otherwise, there'd be no God! Does anyone really doubt that if Descartes had been born in India, he'd have "deduced" the existence of Brahma? Or would have found reincarnation and Nirvana to be true? He had the Christian/Catholic God firmly planted in his universe before he even started.

If, instead, you start with the entirely reasonable premise that you should have reasons and evidence before believing something, the question is much simpler. Should I believe there is a giant invisible bowling ball on Mars? Well, why should I? Should I believe there is an all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing transuniversal being some people call "God"? Well, why should I?

If you start from that position, it is very difficult to come up with rational reasons (much less "proofs") to believe in the supernatural. And, yeah, it's much simpler. Starting without the preconceived notion that "god" is your target, how do you logically "deduce" a god? Even the Catholic church has debunked and dismissed all the "proofs" believers have come up with [1].

All of the arguments I have seen, even if true, would at most only prove that we humans don't know everything. For example, CS Lewis thought that because humans have rationality, and because he thought rationality could have never come about naturally, therefore there must be a (very specific) God to explain it, but that doesn't hold water. Even if science one day shows that rationality cannot be explained by natural means, the most you could say is that there is something else. That something else wouldn't have to be a god, much less the very-specific "God" of Christianity, and it'd be silly to jump to that very-specific conclusion based on such tiny evidence.

There are some thorny epistemological issues to deal with, of course. Can we trust our senses? Can we trust our memories? What counts as evidence? Is it possible we could be living in an illusion/dream? But those issues don't save "God" (or Brahma, or Nirvana, or reincarnation, or spirits, or Xenu), they just make me even less likely to consider the existence of those supernatural things. If my senses are lying to me and my mind is fooled by this thing we call "reality", why would I decide to trust some other person who says "God!" or "Follow the Buddha!" if that person is part of the illusion? Why aren't these supernatural things part of the illusion too? It all becomes very meta very quickly, and can't bear much useful fruit. It is fun to think about, sure, but doesn't help us arrive at "God is a reasonable and logical solution to this problem".

At the end of the day, I think that either the problem is very simple and there are no good reasons to believe in any god, or it's so incredibly complicated that no one can possibly have any idea what's going on, in which case there'd be no good reason to believe in any god.

Note that this is all about people who claim there are rational and logical reasons to believe. None of this deals with faith as a basis for belief. Faith isn't my cup of tea, but if it's yours, more power to ya!

2013-11-25 #religion