What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?
(Please disregard the smilely faces. They were not intended but I do not know how to make them go away.)
I would imagine that most of you as atheists (who tend to be intelligent) know what the question I used as this thread's title is all about and thus have an idea as to where I am headed. But before we get all would up in the great religious debate, I would like to divulge a few facts about myself and my beliefs so as to make this conversation as open and clear as possible. Here they are:
1. I was raised as an atheist and was one until months not long passed.
2. I am now a theist, non-denominational Christian would be a better description and 'Home Baptist' might be the best.
3. I will readily admit that my religious belief is not based on any facts in the world that I can point to and that all of my religious belief may well be false.
4. In my atheist days I was hardcore and used to nail "fundies" in debate in a very serious way, so I am well aware of the most poignant atheist arguements.
5. "Yes", I have read the 'God Delusion' and "No" it has not had any effect on my beliefs.
Alright, those things out of the way I think we can get down to the business of full fledged God debate! My essential contention is one that no doubt you are all well aware of, and likely quite fond of as well, which is that there is absolutely not one shred of evidence to support the claim "God exists." (and by 'God' I am intentionally being very vague and refering to that which can be best described as 'creator of the universe and morality'. However, there are two sides to this coin and that in the same manner as there is no evidence in support of the claim "God exists." there is equally no evidence for the claim "God does not exists." To say that no evidence for the affirmative claim lends itself as evidence for the negative claim is simply wrongheaded and for obvious reasons at that. (I have no evidence that there is a spider on my property at the moment yet that surely does not give me any evidence that there is not one as, if past experience qualifies as a guide, there likely is one somewhere. Certainly, the spider is not meant to be taken as a 'stand in' for God, but rather I was merely expounding the point that 'no evidence' does not translate into 'evidence for not'.)
Yet, as I am sure none will forget to remind me, lack of evidence may not support the negative claim it certainly supports an "I believe that not..." claim, at least it sure does (and should) in a scientific context. It is here that I will grant you what I believe to be my last and most crucial concession, that being that from a scientific standpoint alone it is quite reasonable to not believe in God and consequently to ascribe to some form or another of agnosticism. (I am afraid however, that atheism does not come from the above if that is what you were hoping for...)
The problem with this, however, is that science, despite its undeniable importance and influence in human affairs, does not get the job done when it comes to religion. (To say that science can not foot the bill for certain questions should not and I hope is not a surprise to you. Science can not tell you why Hemingway is a better author than I, nor can it tell you why you should give back the extra $20 the cashier accidentally gave you.) As I see it, religion (which I am flat-footedly calling " the claim 'God exists'" is much more like morality in that its basis comes from something other than science (or if basis is not to your liking think of 'reason to belief in God' and 'reason why one ought be moral'. For all its greatness science can never tell us the 'why?' of certain things and it is for that reason that we have to look beyond it (or behind it if you think like me, but this is an irrelevant digression) and so when looking at the question of God I am forced to consider other alternatives in the search.
Now as a brief intermezzo in this theistic concerto, that going into the 'alternative' areas is quite a dangerous manuever and one that turns bogus if not done with the utmost care and integrity. Therefore, I think, and I imagine that you agree, that a little more justification for leaving the scientific realm would be helpful. Were the question of God's existence to have no practical importance on everyday life (I think it does for everyone but I can accept your anticipated denial and place 'my' as the antecedent to 'everyday life' then I would wholeheartedly say that leaving science behind is a foolish mistake and go about my business as a hearty agnostic. Yet, (for me) this is not true.
The question of whether God exists has monumental consqeunces on one's beliefs about life and consquently the way one actually live. And because remaining agnostic, in the practical sense, aligns one with the atheist in one's disbelief, one is forced into either belief or disbelief in the existence of God. To clarify, atheism and agnosticism amount to the same thing when the consequences being weighed are those of belief and disbelief. So then one is caught, forced to accept the consequences of believing or disbelieving in God. From this point one has to weigh the consequences of these two options against those of his other beliefs. For me, my other most closely held beliefs that can be affected are those about morality, which essentially are that what is 'right' and what is 'wrong' is absolute, universal and objective. As I see it, these beliefs are coherent with God's existence yet incoherent without. Thus, in order to maintain coherence in my worldview I either have to believe in God or ditch my ethical views. (No doubt this will sound slick to many of you. "Why can you not have a secular moral system" one may indignantly say. Well this is a good question and is one that contemporary ethicists tend to shoot for these days. Utilitarianism, secular deontological ethics, contractarian views are all attempts to answer this. Yet despite giving somewhat plausible descriptions of the considerations people take when making ethical decisions they fail to give reasons to be ethical. As I see it, the only reason to actually be ethical is that God wants you to. This point can be debated and may well be the point on which my argument turns, yet if you take issue with it at least grant it for the rest of my argument so that you can at least see the position which I inhabit before attacking its supports.)
So the question for me becomes to I feel more sure that disbelieving in God is more likely to be the correct view because of a lack of evidence or am I more sure that there is an absolute ethic? I, at any rate, am more sure about absolute ethics and therefore, because God is a necessity for that belief, I may easily believe in God's existence with equal conviction. Essentially, the reason why I believe in God is that, if I did not, my views about how I ought conduct my life and act towards other people would be untenable. Thus, the only rational option, as it were, is for me to believe.
I apologize that I wrote this late at night and that as it got later I became more fatigued and likely got a little sloppy at the end. At any rate, I believe the essentials of the view are reasonable clear, at least clear enough to understand what I meant. Finally, I would just like to list for your convenience the anticipated weaknesses of this sort of view and also say that I did not get to the Christianity part because that can only come after the above is established. Here is the list of points likely to be found disagreeable:
1. God's existence has a practical bearing on one's life.
2. Without God ethics can not exist.
3. Ethics are absolute.
There are probably others, but the above three are what I expect will be the most contraversial. I look forward to answering your replies.