A 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.
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.