I Believe in God but He Doesn’t Care

God Doesn't CareA couple of days ago, I had an epiphany. We are talking about God all wrong. I still find fascinating the question, “Why does the universe exist?” And a nice short answer to that question is: God. We could have different words for it. But any words or phrases are going to be disappointing. I even have a problem with “the reason for existence.” That implies something I don’t believe: that existence has a cause in the same way that, say, a forest fire has a cause. So I’m fine with God and I’m fine discussing God as him or her.

Where I part ways with the theists is in the conception of God. They all believe in a god with some form of consciousness. What’s more, most of them believe in a god that loves them. Now here I’m not talking about people who explicitly anthropomorphize God. This is understandable, but talking about such thinking is committing the straw man fallacy. Sadly, the vast majority of atheist argumentation is against this kind thinking. It seems to me a waste of time. So I will waste no more on it.

A more sophisticated argument is that God’s love can be seen in the gift of existence. I will admit, I kind of like this idea. Existence is a mixed bag, but even a “short, brutish, and nasty” existence is still an amazing thing. And to be given the opportunity to not just exist but to reflect on that opportunity does strike me as the greatest gift imaginable. (Admittedly, the problem here is with my imagination and not the greatness of possible gifts.)

But the problem with this notion is the idea of intention: that God created existence with me in mind. That strikes me as a height of hubris. And it is unscientific. We know, for example, that we share almost all the same genes with the other great apes. In the end, we aren’t that different from alligators and honey bees. And if you really want to push it, there is nothing that especially distinguishes us from swirling clouds of dust in distant galaxies.

The only way any of this makes sense is for one to fall into solipsism. If I’m all that really exists then maybe God really does love me. But even that isn’t clear. And regardless, solipsism has always struck me as an intellectual trap. It’s akin to thinking that the creation myth is true and that God just planted all that evidence for natural selection just to throw us off base. It is entirely possible, but it is also an entirely useless way of looking at the world. The same logic could be used to never get out of bed or never again eat because nothing exists anyway.

So what I think is that what defines an atheist is not the status of his belief in God but rather the kind of god he believes in. I assume that all atheists accept that there must be some reason or mechanism for existence. Even Lawrence Krauss as an explanation, “Nothingness is unstable.” Personally, I find this definition of God far too concrete. But we would agree on the essence of God being some kind of intentionless process. So we have our gods, they just aren’t anything that would be recognized by theists. And, of course, our gods are totally open to change with new data in a way that theist gods are not.

Afterword

This article is based upon my assumption that the only purpose for a god is to explain existence. Most theists don’t believe that. In fact, I dare so most theists don’t even think about the existential question. But other than that question, I don’t see anything. Science is capable of explaining everything else.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “I Believe in God but He Doesn’t Care

  1. I just read "RF&R" by Eagleton and he puts the sensible-deist case for existence as a gift as well as anyone could. Remarkable writer, I highly enjoy him, thanks for the heads-up.

    I suppose an all-powerful being could love humans. I have a deep affection for living things and try not to hurt them when I can avoid it. However I don’t see the point in valuing, say, kitty cats over people because they are cuter and "nicer." If it lives, it has a right to exist, on its own terms, and those terms are not the same as ours. (I have more respect for bug scientists and shark experts than I do most animal lovers; living things aren’t of worth because we can project our emotions onto them.)

    I doubt there’s a deity with a cosmic plan for each of our souls, but some far more advanced things could regard us the way bug scientists lovingly regard mosquito larvae.

  2. @JMF – I was reading about one scientist who said that some day we will be able to create universes in the lab. They would ultimately exist in different dimensions, so we wouldn’t perceive them. But given that we could do that, it still wouldn’t make us God.

    I like Eagleton’s idea that God created the universe for the same reason that Mozart wrote [i]Don Giovanni[/i], as an act of creativity. But even that strikes me as rather too much like a human. I would prefer to think that God created existence because that is what God does.

    What bugs me about most religions is that they are essentially superstitious. They come out of the same impulse that led to people thinking some god pulled the sun around the earth. I don’t see any fundamental difference between Zeus holding court with the other zany gods and that story about God sending his only begotten son to die so that we didn’t have to sacrifice goats anymore. I mean really: the Noah story is more believable. If it weren’t for the fact that so many people–despite all reason–believe it, it would be widely mocked. It’s only out of simple respect for the feelings of lesser minds.

    Having said that, I think that the best religious thinkers in all religions are essentially mystics. And I respect mysticism. There simply are unanswerable questions. And mysticism is not dogmatic, which in the end, is the biggest problem religion.

  3. The list of unanswerable questions seems none the less to be much smaller than it once was, an observation that leads me to suspect that there is something dogmatic about making lists and shoring up mysteries against the fear of there being nothing mysterious at all behind it all. The entire universe may be such a small and ephemeral part of something which in turn is a small and ephemeral part of another, and [i]ad infinitum[/i]. Perhaps it’s impossible for us to understand anything because of the presumption or presumptuousness of meaning itself.

    But a brilliant post – really.

  4. @Capt Fogg – Thanks! The thing about the "why does anything exist?" question is that it doesn’t seem to provide a process by which it can be answered by our brains. And there is a mathematical basis for this regarding information and sets: a subset can never understand the set.

    On the other hand, there are plenty of things humans felt they could never understand, which we now understand pretty well. For example: what’s it like inside the sun.

    But at bottom, my fellow atheists just annoy me in not appreciating ontology! The big bang and natural selection are really great but they don’t answer the big question. I remember reading an article in some magazine where a scientist was wondering why people didn’t accept the big bang when it was about as solid a scientific theory as there is. But the issue, I think, is not that people don’t believe it. It is just that they see that it doesn’t answer the question it is supposed to.

  5. Questions don’t exist in nature, they’re just something we impose on it because what we see is what we can see.
    So maybe the inanity: "what is, is what it is" is the answer to all questions.

    At least it doesn’t lead us to manufacture universes that not only mean something but are all about us. Meaning itself is an artificial imposition on reality.

  6. @Capt Fogg – I think you’ve nailed it. It is part of the evolutionary process that makes us search for meaning. It’s all part of essential survival skills to notice patterns. In fact, one of the standard answers to the question "Why does anything exist?" is to state it’s an invalid question. That is more or less what I mean when I say existence is paradoxical. We are limited to understanding things that conform to our reality. And in that reality, things start and stop. Still, it is mind bending.

  7. So mind bending that it puzzles me that people go looking for awe in all the wrong places.

    16th century astronomer Jerome Wolf wrote to Tycho Brahe that the "infinite size and depth of the Universe" ( if only he knew how close to infinite it is) was the greatest danger to Christianity. I think he was far too optimistic about the age of reason.

  8. @Capt Fogg – Yeah, I think the old religions live on for purely cultural reasons. If you want to connect to the divine, just go outside and look at the stars. I think it means that they are shut off. A friend of mine had the experience of going back to the Mormon church and how he was effectively ostracized because he took the religion seriously. I think the last thing churches want is for people to take the faith too seriously. To me, Euclid was onto something with math and mysticism. But I don’t mind religion at all. I just wish religious people wouldn’t be so boring.

    Regardless of the religious, our culture is very much science based. If it ever came to a choice, the religious people would choose science. But it does bug me that that people are willing to accept the products of natural selection but not the theory itself. And that kind of disconnect is what brings great empires down.

  9. There are still those who will pray their children’s appendicitis away or who play with rattlesnakes but there’s a tendency amongst people who lose arguments to reframe them in a way that makes it seem they were really right all along.

    I’m loathe to lump all religions into the same basket though. I do think some are dangerous and about the falling of empires — I think you’re right again.

  10. @Capt Fogg – I actually have an admiration for people who think that faith will save them. But when the Christian Scientists (How I hate that name!) decided that it was okay to go to the doctor for broken bones, I lost respect. God cures cancer but not broken bones? Come on!

    On the other side, there is [url=http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/]Why Won’t God Heal Amputees?[/url] They raise an excellent point. If God could do that, certainly someone would have had his limb regrown by now. The bad thing about the faith stuff is that it tells people they aren’t worthy. "Oh, your son died of cancer? His faith must not have been strong enough." Of course we get the same thing in the secular community with the whole "positive attitude" movement.

    If you think I’m right, it’s just because you are another America hating liberal!

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