Saturday, June 13, 2009
Hopes and Desires
Whether God exists is a metaphysical question. But there is also a neglected evaluative question about God's existence: Should we want God to exist? Very many, including many atheists and agnostics, appear to think we should. ... Some remarks by Thomas Nagel suggest an opposing view: that we should want God not to exist. I call this view anti-theism. ...
Thomas Nagel writes
I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.
I don't know why Nagel is an anti-theist—to what he referring when he writes that he doesn't want the universe to be like that. But I suspect Nagel has in mind something like the following. A world in which God exists is a world where human beings stand in a distinctive and inescapable relation to another person. It is a world where we are the subordinates of a moral superior, a superior that deserves our allegiance and worship, and where we have been created to play a part in some divine cosmic plan. It is a world where everything about us is known and fully understood by another, a world where even our innermost thoughts and feelings are not entirely private. It is a world in which we are never truly alone, away from the presence and attention of another. And if the true nature of God is beyond human comprehension, it would also be a world that we can never hope to fully understand.
The idea is that God's existence is logically incompatible with the full realization of certain values. Thus a world in which God exists is a world where we would not be the moral equals of all other rational beings—equal members of a kingdom of ends that has no ruler. Such a world seems incompatible with complete independence, or with complete privacy and genuine solitude. And it might also be a world where it would be pointless for us to strive for a complete and unqualified understanding of the universe.
Philip Larkin wrote that "It was that verse about becoming again as a little child that caused the first sharp waning of my Christian sympathies." Imagine that instead of growing up to become an independent adult, you would forever remain a child, forever under the protection of wise and loving parents. Or imagine living in a land ruled by a benevolent monarch who, although keeping constant watch over everything his subjects do, grants them extensive liberties. These counterfactual worlds would be better, even much better, in various respects. Yet few of us, I believe, would prefer them to the way things actually are, however imperfect.
- Guy Kahane, "Should We Want God To Exist," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (forthcoming)
The Nagel quote is interesting. It seems to me a philosopher should want the world to be whatever it is, which is the heart of wisdom. But I commiserate. Yahweh was never very good at letting his children be their true selves.
and I wouldn't want there to exist a god who couldn't dance, either.