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A reason for faith

| Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Does God exist? Thinking about this can feel so abstract and pointless when we’re doing our best just to fight off sleep in class or cram for tomorrow’s exam, but no question could possibly be more important. Indeed, it is the most fundamental and inescapable question. Once genuinely asked, it cannot simply be put off. It demands an answer.

So I examine the arguments, but with great caution. I am acutely aware of Freud’s theory of wish fulfillment but have come to realize that the sword cuts both ways. Disgust at the idea of a God that knows our thoughts, presents us with moral duties and is worthy of our worship and obedience may be accused of pushing people to embrace atheism (Aldous Huxley and Thomas Nagel could be considered possible examples) just as much as another’s desire for love and meaning could be accused of driving them to affirm theism. The accusation of wish fulfillment could be used against disbelief and belief alike, yet one of them must be true. This makes the journey even more treacherous, but I press on.

I take up the Moral Argument, which commonly goes something like this:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

The first premise appears correct. If our morals are merely the product of sociobiological evolution, how could they possibly be objective? If we were to turn back the evolutionary clock, surely different morals would have developed (we probably wouldn’t have evolved at all though). Things abhorrent to us now may very well have been considered “right” and things thought righteous and compassionate scorned as “wrong.” Darwin points this out in “The Descent of Man.”  

Consider also the Aristotelian idea that something is good if it fulfills its intended purpose or function well. But if we are but the product of a mindless, unguided process, then we have no design or intended function at all. Who, then, is to say that my actions are good or bad if there’s no purpose to refer to that’s not just based on your, or many people’s, subjective opinion? It is this ominous question — what atheist Arthur Leff of Yale Law School called “the grand seez [sic] who” — which haunts a secular universe.  

But what about the second premise? How could it possibly be false? When we look at the atrocities of history and the present, we cry out that there is no excuse for it, that it is wrong, not just according to me or to my society, but objectively so. Indeed, we can only call such evil out in any meaningful sense if we believe in objective moral values and duties. But, remembering Freud, I hesitate. Affirming premise two would be extremely comforting, but isn’t this just an unjustified leap to satisfy my wishes? Of course, it may be the fact that my intuitions and desires were correct, but suppose I am wrong and don’t fully consider the question because I’m afraid I won’t like the answer. This is the very definition of willful ignorance, and that is too high of an intellectual price tag to pay. I must, in the spirit of all genuine philosophical inquiry, follow the evidence, wherever it may lead.

But wait a second: Was I really about to reject premise two by appealing to my intellectual obligation to think logically and follow the evidence no matter its conclusion? Wasn’t I using my conviction that the pursuit of Truth and obedience to logical thinking are objectively good things that ought to be done to question the very existence of such objective moral values and duties? Any attempt, then, to deny the premise quickly collapses upon itself, for in denying it, one must implicitly assert the primacy of Truth and the obligation of pursuing it, thus using the very premise which they hope to debunk! Premise two must therefore be true, for to meaningfully question or reject it is to implicitly affirm it.

Of course, some may accuse my reasoning of being circular, as I am assuming the objective good and moral duty of thoughtful, rational inquiry to demonstrate that premise two is correct. But let us consider the alternative: That the pursuit of Truth is not an objective good or moral duty but merely subjective. This would mean that truth is only important because I think it to be so, that it’s just my personal preference. Someone may just as well prefer peddling dangerous lies to gain power and influence, but why should they listen to my demands for them to be truthful? It’s just my preference against theirs.

In other words, why would saying someone else is wrong be of any significance if there is nothing objectively wrong with being wrong? What would be the point, then, of intellectual debates, persuasive arguments (including this column), the news, or any learning whatsoever? To deny the objective moral good of pursuing Truth and rational thought, if followed to its logical conclusions, would be to usher in a final and most catastrophic dark age. Philosophy, all intellectual pursuits, even Truth itself, for all intents and purposes, would be dead, and we, even if we remain in the lowest sense “alive,” with it.

So what does this all mean? It means that we are rationally obliged to affirm premise two, which means, as the argument is valid, that the conclusion must necessarily follow: God exists. But, remembering premise one, the argument also suggests something else: that the pursuit of Truth and logical thinking are only (objectively) morally good and demanded of us if and only if God exists. This means that at the foundation of all philosophy and knowledge, we find the eternal Logos, the Word made flesh. Beautiful or frightening, that is for you to decide.  But a claim like this deserves a column of its own, one I hope to write next time.

Andrew Sveda is a sophomore at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh majoring in Political Science.  In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading, and playing the piano.  He can be reached at [email protected] or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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