Junta 2 met at the Algonquin Hotel in midtown to discuss the eternal problem of the ultimate unknown: God.
Leading the discussion was Pete, fresh off reading Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’s God is Not Great. Pete’s argument boiled down to atheism; literally, the opposite of theism, the belief in one god. A rejection of the belief that there is one thing determining the faith of your soul.
Pete talked mainly about Dawkins, who argues in his book that those who believe in science cannot possibly believe in God. Essentially, according to this theory, “God” has been the historic and traditional explanation for anything and everything that humans could not explain themselves: why the sun came up over here and went down over there, why the nights were longer in winter and the days in summer, why plants grew, etc. Having no understanding of these things, early humans created the idea of God: that which explains the unexplainable.
As time went on, of course, humans discovered the science behind all of these things, and God was no longer used as the catch-all explanation. It stands to reason, then, that after another thousand years, humans will understand many things that are unfathomable today – the nature of light, the origins of matter, black holes and so on. In time, the atheists say, science will explain all things to us.
Don brought up at interesting point here: science is its own faith. For example, we can read of the method of carbon dating, in which the age of ancient organic matter is determined by the amount of carbon-14 that is left in it. By this method scientists determine the age of artifacts and fossils. It is an accepted scientific method, and yet the majority of us have no idea how it works. We take it on faith that it is true. Isn’t science therefore just another religion, which most of us cannot verify, but instead put our blind trust in? It’s just another kind of faith.
Yet Pete came back with an effective (in my opinion) retort: science relies on the scientific method. Experiments must be repeated and verified by others before being accepted by the community. Everything they do is documented, recorded, repeated. In contrast, consider the miracles the Jesus performed. Though it was written in the New Testament that Jesus raised two people from the dead – from the dead! – no one ever thought to interview these people and hear about what an incredible experience that must have been. Brought back to life from death – yet it is simply recorded, never questioned, never followed up.
Further on the subject of Jesus, Don aired a point which I agree with completely: that Jesus definitely existed, that he was a guy who had a radical worldview, he was wildly charismatic, and his opinions reached a vast number of people because they were morally upright and essentially human. But he didn’t leave any of his own writings. He left that to his followers, who argued over it for years, who delayed, who made political compromises and ended up with the New Testament, a decidedly human work. Whether Jesus was the “Son of God” is beside the point, Don said. I would put forth that if there is a God, then we are all his sons and daughters.
Further to that, Don touched on the fundamentalist factor. That is, the chance that he, having been born a Catholic in Kansas, was “lucky” enough to fall into the “right” religion, unlike millions of others around the globe. How can fundamentalists be so exclusive, so narrow-minded, as to think that their God is the only god, that other people who believe just as fervently as they do in different gods are dead wrong, and not only that, they will be punished by burning in hell for all eternity? Don’s personal opinion was that anyone who thought that way, who truly believed that their way was the only way, and that others would be punished by their God in The End Times, were his intellectual inferiors.
Jeff chimed in on proving the existence or nonexistence of God, saying that both are impossible. That is the essence of faith: believing in that which cannot be proven. Just because science has learned the real reason the sun rises in the east and sets in the west does not rule out the possibility that there is an omnipotent God stroking his white beard in the heavens (though Jeff did not endorse this version of the Supreme Being). But his point was that no matter how much science figures out, it cannot prove that there is no God. Pete’s counterpoint came straight from Dawkins, who said the burden of proof is on those who claim that there is an invisible, omniscient being that created the universe and controls all things, but for whose existence there is exactly zero proof. You might as well claim that there is a giant green teacup hovering over all of us which controls the weather: hey, you can’t prove it’s not there, right?
Religion as Taste
All of this points to Dawkins’s conclusion that people’s religious opinions should be given no more preference or respect than their music opinions – because they are just that: opinions. I can’t prove that the Rolling Stones are a good band, and you can’t prove that Allah is the only true God. Some might believe in the creationist argument of “irreducible complexity,” as Jeff mentioned – the idea that some things about life are just too complicated to have come about by chance, by evolution. But others would argue that evolution is more than just blind chance; it’s the result of millions of years of trial and error. If the progress of life forms is a mountain, evolutionists believe that steps were made slowly up the mountain, one by one, over an impossibly long period of time. Intelligent designers picture a crane which lifted humans and their sophisticated organ systems right to the top of the mountain.
What about creativity, though? Where do ideas come from? Pete may argue that inspiration is just random sparks along our nerve endings, pulses jumping from neuron to neuron – but I can’t accept that, and my impression was that the others present are in my camp. Maybe it’s just a basic human impulse to believe in a higher order – maybe it’s an animal impulse and atheists are actually more developed life forms that us – but my own preference is that there are some mysteries that will never be solved by science, because they are divine. The field of quantum mechanics gives me hope, because my own limited following of the situation there indicates that the more our brilliant scientists discover about the nature of matter, of atoms and electrons and smaller particles, the more questions they raise. Pete would say that all will be revealed in time, but his argument is based on history, and history has not only shown us that we can figure things out, it has shown us that the more we learn, the more we realize how much we don’t know. But his riposte would be that “the world is amazing enough without a supernatural being.” Well, touche.
Or maybe Don put it best: “In the end, we’re all just a bunch of hairless monkeys, and when it’s over, the lights go out, and that’s it.”