// the argument that nobody will win

In today’s edition of The Times, Matthew Parris applauds Joseph Butler’s intellectual courage for stating that “the most persuasive pointer to the existence of a deity lay in the structure and the inclination of his own mind” (i would post a link, but it’s behind the Times paywall, sadly). Parris, incidentally, disagrees with Butler’s idea that simply because we have an instinct for God, He exists – after all, we have an instinct for war, for hunting, for food when we are already surfeited and sex when we are already overpopulated. But in spite of that, he commends Butler for not running away, for simply standing his ground.

I see why, too. Because i am tired of trying to play this game to win, and i suspect i am not alone in that. I want to speak with integrity, as best i can, but the debate that faces me when i try to talk about these things often feels like i have told a friend that i am in love with a girl, and he has told me in return that i am stupid for doing so, because life is more convenient on my own. And yes, he might argue, you get some benefits, like companionship, or understanding, or if you make it to marriage, a commitment that this person will stick with you – but you lose the ability to make your own, unencumbered decisions. Life becomes more awkward. You have to live differently and act differently and think about something that isn’t always in your most obvious self-interest. In the end, he may say, i am acting only to please myself. I need love, or its consequences at least, and so my brain, either through evolutionary necessity or social conditioning, has convinced itself that this is the best way to get it.

My friend’s comments leave me with a problem. I still love the girl. And so even though his comments may cause me to doubt my own thought processes or to question the value of love or even what i am hoping to get from this, consciously or subconsciously, that doesn’t change the place that i have got to. Even in light of these factors, even in an awareness of what has happened in my brain to bring me to this point, it is still possible for me to be in love. So my friend can try as much as he likes to convince me of the failure or even cruelty of my point of view, but unless he can convince me otherwise or provide me with a better option for getting what i need, my reason for loving (whatever that is) still stands.

I know that with God it is different, because the concept of God means that i am relying on something that is necessarily indefineable and who is in my case invisible, but i believe in Him for a reason, whatever that reason is (i can try, but that’s a topic for another day). So even though it is possible to see the arguments against God, that doesn’t change the fact that i have still responded to the needs and inclinations that are inside me and chosen to believe as a result. Maybe if you showed me a satisfactory way to find what i need elsewhere i would be willing to change, but i have looked, and i have not found it yet.

I hope this classes as intellectual honesty. I am aware that there are desires within me; a desire for peace, both internal and external, a desire for purpose, a desire for a redemption that is both personal and global, a desire for wonder, and many others. In my experience, that points to a need for someone who can provide those things, and for me it is God who has met those needs. This is either intellectual courage or it is intellectual cowardice, but it is what i have got, and being honest about it doesn’t reduce the truth of God’s action if He does act or make me willfully delusional, it just acknowledges that this is an argument that nobody is really going to win. That’s because it’s not really an argument at all.

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  • Comments (2)
    • Rob Hampson
    • September 4th, 2010

    Many branches of philosophy claim absolute truth doesn’t exist, Christianity claims that even though there is sufficient evidence for faith, only the one true God can show you the truth and initiate the belief.

    Summary: Agreed 😉

    • elizabeth grattan
    • September 21st, 2010

    I would challenge the notion that a person has an “instinct” for god.

    The concept of supernatural perhaps… but mostly it is indoctrination from birth. When the world moves away from putting a god in a gap, we’ll find humans no longer indoctrinate their young with the concept.

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