Tuesday, August 25, 2009

God, Actually: The Questions

At the end of a new book entitled "God, Actually: Why God Probably Exists and Why Jesus Was Probably Divine", Sydney lawyer Roy Williams poses the following to the book's readers:

Anyone who wishes to postulate atheism as a serious alternative explanation for the how and the why of Man’s existence faces a formidable challenge. It is just not sufficient for the atheist to declare that ‘we have only the scantiest reasons for thinking that there are [supernatural objects] – and powerful reasons for thinking that there are not’. The opposite may be closer to the truth. The evidence for the existence of something supernatural, i.e. God, is not scant but considerable – I would say imposing. True it is that the evidence is capable of being interpreted in different ways; the atheistic hypothesis is open. But all of the following questions, and others, need credible answers:

Before a list of 36 questions:

• Why is there something rather than nothing?
• How did that something come into being?
• Why are the fundamental physical laws that govern the Universe just right for life?
• How and why did life on Earth begin?
• Does Darwinian evolutionary theory fully explain the organised complexity of life on Earth?
• Why is the incidence of genetic mutation just right to enable the process of Darwinian evolution to work?
• Why are human beings able to decode Nature?
• Why do human beings have a conscience?
• Why are there basic moral laws which all human beings recognise?
• Why can human beings make and respond to music?
• Is faith a mere incidental by-product of Nature?
• Is love a mere incidental by-product of Nature?
• Will science ever be able explain everything?
• Was Jesus of Nazareth merely an invention of human minds?
• If Jesus lived, then who or what was he, if he was not divine?
• How otherwise do you explain the reports of Jesus’s perfect life?
• How otherwise do you explain the reports of Jesus’s miracles?
• How otherwise do you explain the reports of Jesus’s large following among the common people, and the conversion even of some Jews and Romans in positions of authority?
• How otherwise do you explain the reports of Jesus’s arrest, trial and crucifixion?
• How otherwise do you explain the reports of the Resurrection?
• If the Resurrection did not happen, how do you explain the Apostles’ conduct, St Paul’s conversion, and the establishment of the Christian church in the face of overwhelming odds?
• How do you explain the reports of personal religious experiences by many millions of people down the ages?
• How do you account for the nature and incidence of suffering, and its many beneficial by-products?
• How do you account for the phenomenon of grace?
• Why has Man not yet been destroyed by nuclear holocaust?
• Is there really a fundamental dichotomy between Christianity and left-wing politics, or does Christianity reflect some seminal left-wing principles?
• Why is it that Christianity as a whole does not conform to either left-wing or right-wing ideology?
• Is there further evidence of Design in the operation of the democratic system of government?
• How do you account for the fact that atheism is, and always has been, an unpopular minority creed?
• How do you account for the many commonalities between different religions, and in particular the commonalities between Judaism, Islam and Christianity? Is it more likely that all people of faith are completely wrong, or that they are all (to varying degrees) partly right?
• If you now better understand the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, would you at least agree that it represents a comprehensive attempt to explain God, and many Earthly phenomena besides?
• Is there an afterlife, or is the rough ‘justice’ meted out by Nature and by Man all that we can ever hope for?
• Is there an afterlife, or does love die with our bodies? Will we never be reunited with our loved ones once we or they die?
• If there is no afterlife, why is Man capable of imagining it?
• If there is no afterlife, why did Jesus say that there was?
• How do you explain the consistency of the visions of the afterlife reported by people down the ages, including people revived after clinical death?

There is little new to be found in any of these questions that hasn't been asked before, but I do believe that they have been asked in good faith and warrant answers in the same spirit in which they were asked. I'm going to try to answer them one by one, not as a riposte to the author (who - like everyone else on this planet - will remain oblivious to this blog's existence) but rather as a means of explaining my world view with reference to questions that are fairly commonly asked about it. And because I'm bored.

(I should clarify that I haven't read any of the book beyond what the author has posted on his website, I'm simply using the questions - which author posted on the Dawkins forum with little more context than I've given here - as a vehicle to promulgate my own rather sexy ideologies.)

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