There are various arguments that aim to show that God is necessary for [enter here something of high existential importance]. God is requisite, so it goes, for the existence of moral facts, or for value and meaning in life, etc. Others might claim that theistic belief is necessary or otherwise particularly conducive to our living well, or some such. These are not arguments that purport to show the existence of God, per se, but they may be inferentially related to such an aim. For example, if you have reason to think, say, God's existence is necessary for the existence of moral facts; and if you have prior commitments to the existence of moral facts; then, you thereby have some inferential activity that is God-indicating. That aside, though, these arguments are more aimed directly at showing that God's existence, or just belief in God's existence, is somehow of fundamental bearing on existential commitments that we all take seriously.
Such arguments across the board are bad to the point of insulting the intellect. They have next to nothing to recommend them in terms of logical and evidential assessment. And yet they are trotted out time and time again with feverish passion. I would tend to argue that it is easier to understand the sticktoitiveness behind the proffering of such arguments in reference to escapism from "The Absurd".
Some of you will be familiar with absurdism as it is referenced to the works of Camus (in particular The Myth of Sisyphus
), the works of Kierkegaard, and similar elements running throughout the works of the Existentialists, etc. For what's it is worth, I prefer the characterization of Thomas Nagel. See for instance his short but outstanding essay The Absurd
(The Journal of Philosophy 68(20) 1971) . Here are some salient elements of his characterization.
First, absurdity in this context is marked by the introspective feeling that life is meaningless sub specie aeternitatis
(that is, in the grand scheme of things, or more literally, taken from the perspective of eternity). At the same time, rational arguments designed to support that feeling invariably fail to do so:
"Most people feel on occasion that life is absurd, and some feel it vividly and continually. Yet the reasons usually offered in defense of this conviction are patently inadequate….Yet I believe they attempt to express something that is difficult to state, but fundamentally correct."
Fleeting feelings of absurdity may be idiosyncratically realized, but Nagel focuses his attention on a philosophical conception of the absurd that is more general:
"If there is a philosophical sense of absurdity, however, it must arise from the perception of something universal – some respect in which pretension and reality inevitably clash for us all. This condition is supplied, I shall argue, by the collision between the seriousness with which we take our lives and the perpetual possibility of regarding everything about which we are serious as arbitrary, or open to doubt.
We cannot live human lives without energy and attention, nor without making choices which show that we take some things more seriously than others. Yet we have always available a point of view outside the particular form of our lives, from which the seriousness appears gratuitous. These two inescapable viewpoints collide in us, and that is what makes life absurd. It is absurd because we ignore the doubts that we know cannot be settled, continuing to live with nearly undiminished seriousness in spite of them.
This analysis requires defense in two respects: first as regards the unavoidability of seriousness; second as regards the inescapability of doubt.'
Nagel then goes on to work toward a defense in both respects. A particular aspect specific to beings like us who possess self-awareness is the capacity to introspect on our own lives and commitments:
"Yet humans have the special capacity to step back and survey themselves, and the lives to which they are committed, with that detached amazement which comes from watching an ant struggle up a heap of sand. Without developing the illusion that they are able to escape from their highly specific and idiosyncratic position, they can view it sub specie aeternitatis – and the view is at once sobering and comical.
The things we do or want without reasons, and without requiring reasons – the things that define what is a reason for us and what is not – are the starting points of our skepticism. We see ourselves from outside, and all the contingency and specificity of our aims and pursuits become clear. Yet when we take this view and recognize what we do as arbitrary, it does not disengage us from life, and there lies our absurdity: not in the fact that such an external view can be taken of us, but in the fact that we ourselves can take it, without ceasing to be the persons whose ultimate concerns are so coolly regarded."
So, in short, the absurdity lies in focused introspective skepticism sub specie aeternitatis
on our most fundamental commitments and yet simultaneous retainment of all our normal existential seriousness that issues from the very object of that skepticism. In particular, everyone to the extent that he or she acts at all will have normative "bedrock" underlying the commitments that attend the seriousness marking their lives. That goes for all agents. On top of which, the point of bedrock is that it does the underlying: there is nothing underlying it, nor could there be. At the same time, however, there is no immunity from taking a view of skepticism toward one's own bedrock when one takes up the detached view sub specie aeternitatis
. So the main inner confrontation here is that one can be introspectively skeptical toward articles that are simply foundational and inveterate to one's own evaluative commitments, articles that could only be defended circularly or self-referentially.
I suppose at this point, the motivation of theistic escapism is to dissolve this conflict by taking that bedrock and purporting to place it in something external to us and our world, such as God or something equally as mysterious, where the bedrock here concerns moral grounding or value and meaning, etc. Somehow, so the story goes, without God or whatever we are left with this debilitating skepticism towards these matters of high existential seriousness; whereas with God we find our solid footing again. This seems just a way of projecting agency onto the view sub specie aeternitatis
, since that just is the view of God in a sense. Clearly enough, though, this sort of escapism does not work. I mean, it may work on some psychological level, the mental equivalent of how sweeping dust under the nearest rug "works" at cleaning the floor. But, I mean, come on: there's still the same dust on the floor. See the balance of the Nagel essay for a clear reading of why escapism fails on a philosophical level:
At any rate, I think such a characterization of "The Absurd" can help us make some sense of cases where one is confronted with argumentative hysterics to the effect that in the absence of God all of our normative and evaluative bedrock crumbles under feet; and then one is subsequently confronted with the most bizarre ramblings when pressing for some rational explication as to why that would be the case.