Sunday, March 02, 2008

In the Spirit of Christmas

A Skeptic’s Faith

Richard E. Noble

I have noticed for the first time in my life that philosophical skepticism is on the rise. Billy Graham recently testified on national television that he had no explanation for God’s creation of “evil”. Mother Teresa wrote in her diary that all of the evil, suffering and disease in the world has often led her to have doubts with regards to the true existence of God. On TV recently I listened to a famous commentator ask a group of ministers if all of the evil in the world did not give them pause in their beliefs that a charitable, loving God truly exists.
As an amateur philosopher I have been pondering this question since my teens. I have probably read every philosophical attempt to substantiate, rationally the notion of a good God. My conclusion has been on the skeptical side. I have found no satisfactory explanation.
But in the spirit of the season and in celebration of the birth of the prophet of peace and love, I offer my personal rather humble defense for the cause of peace on earth and love and goodness as an objective truth.
Bertrand Russell the infamous skeptic and philosopher gave the following explanation for his lack of belief in the traditional theology of God. He said that since objective “evil’ can be substantiated in the world (famine, flood, disease, death, pain, suffering etc.) the notion of an all good God can not be established. And since a God that is both good and evil is not theologically, philosophically, and rationally sound – he would chose not to believe in the concept of God entirely.
This argument left me pondering a very depressing follow-up: If evil can be objectively substantiated, then unless objective goodness could also be substantiated there would exist the possibility that there may be in fact a God – but this God is “evil”.
So then what is there in this life and this universe that like the tornado or the hurricane could be classified as “objectively good”?
You might say, well a rainbow is beautiful. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is “subjective”. Nothing is objectively beautiful.
Pain is objectively evil. It makes living things suffer. Disease, death and dying are objectively evil. Even “salvation” and a reward for suffering and cruelty does not compensate or justify the infliction of cruelty and suffering. The offering of an ice cream cone after an unwarranted beating does not redeem the fact of the unwarranted beating. What is there that is objectively good?
Well, I have my first rather self-centered egotistical argument.
The most obvious thing that I recognize as objectively good is me.
Inside me there exists a positive desire to established goodness, justice, love and peace in the world.
You might say that this is not objective but subjective. It would only be objective if all people felt the same as me or if my personal desires in this regard could be substantiated by all who observe me and my actions.
So then what is there in all living things, not just me, that is positive and good?
All living things love, as far as we know. Wolves love other wolves. Pigs love other pigs. Human animals love other human animals and even other non human animals.
So could we not say that the human’s desire to love others and to be loved by others is universal and objective?
On the side of objective goodness could we not list some of the following: laughter, happiness, music, charity, the desire to do good, loneliness (which is basically a craving for the companionship of other living things); kindness, the desire to see peace in the world, hope, joy, forgiveness, compassion, tears, understanding and the desire to learn, brotherhood, fraternity, science, medicine (the desire to alleviate suffering), philanthropy, creativity (the desire to bring about love, joy, beauty, understanding, kindness etc.), the rule of law (the desire to eliminate social chaos and discourage cruelty and injustice), generosity, music in general (symphony, rock & roll, jazz or whatever variety, moral conscience ( guilt for being unkind or immoral), the desire to see and do good in the world, and hope – the innate desire to believe that all of the above are universal and objective things.
This, of course, does not establish the theological contention of an all good God but it does counter the equally possible notion that all is evil.
This may not be much but this may be as close to heaven as a skeptic can get.