Saturday, April 19, 2014

Does believing in god accomplish anything?

This is a bit off-topic for my blog but I just find it very interesting. What do people get out of believing in god?

Belief in god doesn't, by itself, provide any moral guidance. For this one needs a whole set of more detailed beliefs about god's nature, and these beliefs are just free-standing moral beliefs that don't really have any connection to whether god exists or not. This is the famous Euthyphro dilemma of Socrates.

Belief in god also doesn't provide any meaningful explanation of ultimate origins. One may say the universe exists because god created it, and then the obvious followup is what created god? The typical answer to this is that god always existed and didn't need to be created; to which the equally obvious response is, then why can't the universe have always existed without ever being created?

Belief in god provides no hints to any of the remarkable things that have discovered through science. To learn about these things the believer has to study the exact same books as the atheist, and with the exact same amount of dedication.

Lastly, belief in god doesn't provide any understanding of the purpose of existence. Most religions explicitly state that god's purposes are beyond our understanding, hence not explicable to either believers or non-believers. If a religion does provide some concept of purpose, then this again is a free-standing belief relating to values, similar to a moral belief, without any clear connection to the existence of god.

I'm certainly not the first person to ever point these things out. Many believers are more or less aware of these problems as well, yet belief persists. Why?

My best guess is that, even though one doesn't gain any direct information about anything, belief in god still provides a feeling that things might be meaningful or purposeful in some way that isn't possible without god. It is difficult for people - including me - to accept that the whole universe has no more meaning than a bunch of math equations, and that we, ourselves, are just bunches of atoms of no significance to existence as a whole.

Nevertheless, having a feeling that things might be meaningful doesn't tell you what the meaning is, and having a feeling that morals really matter doesn't tell you how to act morally. Belief in god doesn't seem to add anything but confusion to human-scale discussions of any of these topics. So next time someone asks whether you believe in god, answer them with a question: "what difference does it make?"

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