Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Immorality of God

I've always thought morality was a weak argument for the existence of God. Is the ethical atheist less kind than the follower of some cult? Are only those who subscribe to the debatable concept of punishment after death susceptible to moral suasions? Morality is not a function of some supposed eternal spirit possessed, even if only potentially, by all humans. It is a psychological function, the product of brain chemistry, upbringing and culture. These things, being universal, can hardly be used to argue for the superiority of one worldview over another.

Those theists who make the morality argument are usually arguing for their own system of morality, and thus for their own religion. Are the islamist bombers moral? They would have it so: there is no higher good than to follow the will of Allah. Were the Nazis moral? -- it is right to exterminate vermin.

Such articulate spokesmen for the rationality of atheism as Christopher Hitchens confuse the certainty of their eloquence for precision of thought. The indignation an atheist feels at the human failings of religionists spills over to the god they supposedly honor. The harsh-sounding laws that some god imposes are seen as evidence of divine cruelty, rather than as necessary admonishments to a recalcitrant humanity. What good God could order the slaughter and enslavement of, say, the Canaanites? -- or allow the suffering of starving or diseased children? The counter arguments, that mankind is rebellious and the world is fallen, is too abstract to break through the wall of indignation -- of emotion -- that buttresses such questions.

The dirty little secret is that there are no atheists. Everyone has a god. The atheist's objection is to doctrine, not to power. "Those of us who disbelieve in the heavenly dictatorship also reject many of its immoral teachings, which have at different times included ... the mutilation of the genitalia of children, the burning of witches, the condemnation of sexual 'deviants' and the eating of certain foods, the opposition to innovations in science and medicine, the mad doctrine of predestination, the deranged accusation against all Jews of the crime of 'deicide,' the absurdity of 'Limbo,' the horror of suicide-bombing and jihad, and the ethically dubious notion of vicarious redemption by human sacrifice." Quite a grab-bag of religious beliefs. And Hitchens is not wrong, nor is he unfair -- all of these things can be vigorously condemned as immoral.

The painfully obvious response is that hardly any of these come from my God. Of course all those other, false beliefs are false. Only God is good. Only God is God. By which I mean my God. Rather a self-serving argument, no? No more self-serving than the atheist's claim that because some religions are false, all religions are false -- or that because some commandment is not understood, it is wrong. There is a dearth of logical thought, all around.

There's not a lot of real difference between traditional Moslems and Hindus, between Shinto and Buddhist and Taoist -- or Roman Catholics and Puritans and Shakers and snake-handlers and poison-drinkers and tongue-talkers and fire walkers. Emotion, after all, is emotion. The modern difference, of say the past five hundred years, lies in technology. As for the rest of it, everyone tills the same soil and lives in the same drafty hovels.

There never has been an atheist civilization. Atheists are to religion what homosexuals are to biology -- the outsider who goes against the norm. That is as it may be. Maybe they're right. But they are hardly in a powerful moral position to argue for the rightness of their stand. Homosexuality is, biologically speaking, parasitic -- it leeches off the species without perpetuating it. Atheists enjoy the physical comforts and intellectual stimulations of their society, while repudiating the religious impulse that has created it.

What is the unanswerable argument for God? For me, it is the fact of existence. Order arises all the time, not randomly but through the laws of nature. Dust and sand and gravel and pebbles and rocks and boulders seek their own levels. Snowflakes form their patterns. Crystals stack up their atoms according to the demands of their valences. That's order. It's mindless and automatic.

Organization, however, is by definition unpredictable -- in information theory it's called the surprise effect. Nothing in the structure of molecules requires the generation of a watch. If watches could appear on sea shores through the shifting of the sands and the motion of tides, then this would be a world in which alchemy worked. Watches are of a different order than drift wood. Organization requires intelligence. Intelligence does not arise through non-intelligent processes. Yes, it is a dogmatic assertion, which would be disproven upon the observation to the contrary. I did say "observation," not "reference to the creation myth of Evolutionism."

There needs to be a God, because of our ability to recognize, or doubt, his existence. It isn't the old nonsense about if there were no God, we would have invented him. It's that we always observe Entropy -- things falling apart, and we never observe Evolution -- things getting better without the impetus of prior intelligence. (Please don't bring up natural selection. Nature selects from a menu of pre-existing genes.) There are questions which pretend to be objections, such as Where did God come from -- maybe if you ask nicely I'll answer that for you. Point is, the fact of intelligence in the universe proves the existence of God, some God. We know this because intelligence does not arise from randomness. This is the foundational tenet of logic and of science. It is astounding that the atheist deludes himself into pretending that he does not know this.

All this is, of course, emotion. Some answers will seem right, some will seem wrong, depending on who hears them. To select between any of the various religions, or to select between any religion and none at all, seems to be an almost random process. That would be the natural order of things. The virtue of truth seems to descend from that plain of thought which is in charge of organization. But isn't it odd, that a narrow-minded religious bigot such as myself has a more encompassing and forgiving take on things, than Hitchens, in all his indignation over a hidebound God?

There is something fundamentally arrogant about atheism. True, it is arrogant to say that I have come upon the one true Truth. It's an even greater hubris to say that there is no Truth. The fallacy of the universal negative. But we mustn't pretend that this is a rational discussion. Everything is emotional.


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