Thursday, January 17, 2013

Why I Believe in God #454

Nobody ever asks me why I believe in God. I wish they would. I don't really want my religious beliefs to be accepted as a "lifestyle choice"-- "if that's your thing, dude, that's great"-- but I'm afraid it is. People often challenge me about various Church teachings, which I am happy to defend, but they rarely ask me why I actually believe that there in a Divine Being to worship in the first place.

And I have so many reasons! Some of them seem entirely logical and unassailable to me (for instance, the argument from contingency, one of Aquinas's Five Ways). Some are more emotional in nature-- the "reasons of which reason knows nothing", as Pascal said-- like the fact that human life and history is so dramatically satisfying, so uncannily like a story. Some are based upon the history of Christianity and some are based upon nothing but the basic data of experience.

And some are so far from watertight, so half-formed and fugitive, that I would rarely put them forward as an argument. But it is the convergence of so many different reasons-- some extremely powerful, some less powerful, some rather weak-- that makes the case seem so convincing to me.

One of these lesser reasons that I believe in God struck me this evening, as I was putting the gas card into the meter underneath the kitchen sink. A water-pipe was making one of those pleasant, tapping, pipey noises that I like so much, and I found myself thinking how strange it is that pipes (water-pipes especially) have such an appeal to me.

Then it occurred to me as strange that such different things appeal to different people. I have a little nephew who is totally and utterly fascinated by all cars, trucks, airplanes and vehicles of every sort. Neither of his parents are especially into that kind of thing.

Why do some children fall in love with mathematics, some with words, some with making things, some with technology, some with clothes, and some with the most bizarre niche interests (like spiders, say)-- often with no encouragement or family precedent?

Why are human aptitudes so radically different? Think about it. Our physical powers (as Thomas Hobbes observed) are really not that disparate. Most people could lift about the same amount of weight, walk about the same distances, hear roughly the same range of sounds, and so forth.

But the differences in our mental aptitudes are staggering. A mathematically-inclined person could perform mental calculations incomparably far in advance of my own very poor mental arithmetic. A linguistically-inclined person could pick up a new language in weeks while I have struggled to master Irish all my life. I can type faster than anybody I know, and I never found it difficult from the day my mother showed me the home keys on a qwerty keyboard.

Isn't it amazing that human beings have the range of skills and interests needed to make a complex society viable? Did evolution know that we needed computer programmers and interior designers and medical researchers and human resource managers and promoters and quantity surveyers? Was the combination of mental challenge and leisure that we find satisfying developed in the primeval wilderness where our ancestors hunted to survive? (Please note that I am not doubting evolution. I'm just remarking that it seems awfully convenient that those primeval conditions instilled in us the skills, and the mental appetites, needed to draw up business plans and perform time and motion studies and write dissertations on the philosophy of language.)

And it's not just a matter of aptitude or skills. You might get around that by saying that, even though aeons of evolution may not have directly equipped us for chemistry or military history, it did require powers of abstraction and precision that we then transferred to other fields than trapping wild boars and swinging from branches. But how is it that human beings have intellectual needs? Why does man desire not only mental stimulation but a career, a life's work-- and a life's work that will not only provide a certain unity but also a certain variety? Why do we find ourselves craving a new challenge, or a different pace of work, or a hands-on project, or an artistic element to our work? Why does the practitioner desire to teach when he hits fifty? Why does the business-men want to go into politics instead? Why does the university lecturer decide to become a florist instead? How could the desire for such intellectual growth, variety, balance come about through the evolutionary process alone?

Now, maybe this is a poor argument. I myself would never advance it in a debate with an atheist or an agnostic. But I present it now, simply as an example of the many, many subsidiary arguments that buttress my main motives for believing in God, and specifically in the Christian God.

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