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viewpoint

Thinking about the argument

| Wednesday, September 3, 2014

I just finished reading some blog posts by a self-described Catholic apologist named Matt Fradd. The posts dealt with the conflict concerning atheism and science and God. In the comments section were a number of posts from both the theist and atheist sides of the fence. Reading the comments, I felt sad.

“Why can’t we all just stop fighting about God and just live our lives peacefully?” I wanted to ask. “Instead of arguing about cerebral theological concepts, why don’t you go take out the garbage or call your mother or address any other number of immediate concerns?” was another question that I wished to enter into the fray of mud-slinging and high sophistry. Promoting human well-being — isn’t that what we should focus on? Or, I don’t know, seeking good in the world? Isn’t that more important than arguing about beliefs that are just way out there?

Now that I think about it more, I guess the definitions of “good” and “human well-being” and how you go about promoting those gravely important notions rest upon the existence of God. If there is no God, can we still trust the Bible’s rendition of how to live a good life? If God does exist, should we even worry about enjoying earthly life if salvation or perdition waits around the bend, and the distance to these is infinitely small if those fates last for all eternity? This is some heavy stuff, and like many people, I often just don’t want to deal with it.

But at some point, we do have to deal with it. Death, the prevalence of suffering, the absence of apparent purpose and a myriad of other dilemmas force us to dip into the theological well-spring or toward science or secular philosophy as our guide to addressing these tough issues. When it comes down to it, we all have to live our lives. We all probably die. I don’t know for sure, since I have never felt the terrifying clutch of death. For that matter, how do I even know that my foot won’t fall through the floor when I take my next step? Now here I go jumping onto the loony train of epistemological thought.

I suppose if I want to live life practically, I have to assume some things. For example, I assume gravity will continue to operate as it has for the last 19 years of my experience, or that the people with whom I interact aren’t just robots, and maybe too that there is a loving being who is directing everything in line with some kind of aim. Is it really that outrageous to make that jump? Am I an imbecile for assuming, just as I assume that my parents really love me, that God is out there, that God made everything and that God grants us a little peace of mind by ensuring the continuity of our souls? Does that make me a lunatic? And conversely, are people off their rockers if they think otherwise? If someone thinks that God didn’t make the universe and that spirituality exists as a figment of our imaginations, is that person bonkers?

Not necessarily. But to return to the comments section of Matt Fradd’s posts, there were a score of people who had gone bananas. Just completely bananas. There was all of this bantering and scoffing at others’ beliefs. Were these people posting without hardly thinking? Yeah, I think that some of them were. And this is really the point for me. If you’re going to believe something, think it out. I don’t mean lengthen your arguments in favor of it in a way to justify it. I mean take it to task. Take it back to the drawing board and scribble all over it with the pen of the opposition.

Consider the fullness of what you are saying, the critiques and rebuttals. And then, no matter what you believe, I can respect that. I would hope that it would benefit some greater, transcendent, objective good, but if it doesn’t, at least I know that you have thought it through. I will still disagree with you and argue my side, but I will be open to your input and criticism, and you ought to be open to mine if you really are receptive to the critical process that hopefully formed your beliefs. If you aren’t, I’ll call your views lazy. Who knows? You might just change my mind. But you have to think, really think, before you even try.

Charlie Ducey is a junior studying the languages of Shakespeare (English) and Wittgenstein (German). For the next academic year, he is residing on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in Oxford, U.K. He welcomes your words. He can be contacted at cducey@nd.edu

About Charlie Ducey

Charlie Ducey is a senior who studies English at Notre Dame. He is currently a big fan of alternative German rock music.

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  • Brian Westley

    “Am I an imbecile for assuming, just as I assume that my parents really love me, that God is out there, that God made everything and that God grants us a little peace of mind by ensuring the continuity of our souls?”

    I would guess that you have actual evidence that your parents really love you, based on their actions. But I don’t see what evidence you have for thinking a god exists or that this god made anything.

  • Charlie

    Brian, I suspect you’re a classic evidentialist: what would count as evidence? I have many reasons for supposing a God or God-like thing exists: the metaphysical necessity of a first sel-existent cause in a universe with a beginning, the possibility of objective morality, the coherence of theological systems, the possibility of transcendent love, the teachings of Jesus Christ, the plausibility of the New Testament Biblical miracles. What’s more, I have little reason to believe atheism is true. I’d like to see arguments forwarded for that claim.