Tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury…
Much has been made recently of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, variations on the teapot analogy, and the Best-selling Atheist Bookseller’s Club. I’m not sure exactly why so much has been made of this topic, but then again, the question “Does God exist?” has been a fairly important question since time immemorial, permeating just about every significant philosophical debate throughout the Ages. Descartes thought he had definitive proof of God’s existence nearly four hundred years ago. Now Richard Dawkins has grabbed hold of Bertrand Russell’s tailcoats in definitively proving that God does not in fact exist.
Or not. Basically the best Dawkins can do is argue that since there must be some evolutionary origin of deities, as it were, to explain the extraordinary complexity of God, than God must have emerged from something, and this leads to a sort of never-ending series of origins going back to something that is actually quite simple. (Say a Bigger Bang that created God and then from there on out we’ve had God doing everything else…I’m not sure how this disproves God, though). What Dawkins fails to realize is that in most theological circles the complexity of God is really fairly immaterial, written off with a statement as simple as ‘begotten, not made.’
And so Dawkins and his fellows in the International Unbeliever’s Union have come up with such quaint analogies as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a less elegant variation on Russell’s teapot. Essentially, they claim that the likelihood of God is similar to the likelihood of a Flying Spaghetti Monster or an interstellar magical teapot orbiting the Earth. To which, of course, one might say, “Who cares?” There is nothing likely about anything, really. There is nothing likely about our very existence, and yet here we are. Faith doesn’t take into account likelihood any more than a lack of religious belief requires definitive proof of God’s non-existence. People are atheists because they have no proof to the contrary; people are religious because they require no proof to back their beliefs. Hence the term faith. Hence the advent of agnosticism, a rather lukewarm if practical sort of faith in our inability to really know anything. (Note: agnostics can only sell self-help books, as they are quite likely to fail in attacking others for their beliefs, but quite good at reinforcing that marketable notion of believe (and do) whatever you like).
Atheists, of course, have every right to sell books and make movies and mock those they disagree with. This is a capitalist society after all, and we treasure freedom of speech no matter how opportunistic or silly that speech may be. And make no mistake, Dawkins has long since left the realm of evolution advocate (something entirely worthwhile) and entered the realm of religion-basher (something entirely profitable, if in every other sense a complete waste of time).
Chris is right on the money with this:
Rather than the stupid inane question of whether God exists or not (easy answer: Who Cares?) why not people share what is of deepest value to them. What they ultimately put their trust and their hope in? What gives them strength in their darkest days, what gets them out of the bed in the morning? That would at least serve some function and could bring some spirit to the event.
Indeed, though their books might sell fewer copies, the Anti-Theist Writers Consortium might do well to focus on these questions in their future writings. Or focus on the very noble cause of science education. Dawkins is a brilliant biologist and more importantly, an accessible science writer. Why not further the cause of biology by writing page-turners about evolutionary theory that don’t even bother touching on these unsolvable questions of faith? Who honestly cares what one person or another believes so long as they are all free to do so? Creationism is a continuing nuisance in the education debate, however, and those snake-oil-salesmen who are trying to sneak Intelligent Design into the classroom and further the dumbing-down of our children are worthy of a book or two riddled with derision and appeals to our snarkier selves. In the end it’s really not about being nice or mean or trying to convert or any other thing.
It’s just that all of this talk on whether or not God exists is simply pointless. It means nothing, signifies nothing. It has no bearing on the world itself. We all believe what we believe, and no 300-page diatribe will change that, be it religious or atheistic or agnostic. What matters is how humans interact. What matters are those fault lines where religion, atheism, politics, culture, language, economics, and history intersect and the inevitable human consequences that manifest within those intersections. I imagine a best-seller could be found among some of these themes, though it might not be so easy to pitch. Taking pot shots at those who have different views is easy money, and the choir loves it. Really trying to understand this crazy, screwed-up world of ours takes time and empathy and humanity….