One or two more thoughts on theistic thinking, and the strange places it leads to.
There are a number of metaphysical ‘why’ questions one can ask. Why something rather than nothing, why this instead of something else, why order instead of chaos, why life instead of no life, why consciousness, why ‘intelligence,’ why humans. There are also a number of ways one can answer, including ‘unknown’. The kind of answer favoured by theists has to do with purpose – design, and therefore purpose. That may be the most basic point of all, at least for some of them – not the personal god, but purpose. Which is understandable. We don’t want to be like mould or dirt or Jehovah’s witnesses – something that just turns up without invitation or plan or intention or anyone thrilled to see it. We want to be here for a reason, and by ‘for a reason’ we mean the kind of reason we can recognize, as opposed to the kind of reason a cosmic law would be able to recognize if cosmic laws had minds. (See what I mean? Strange places.) At least we think we want that, but then if we think further…we may not think so any longer. Which makes one wonder if theists ever do think further, which in turn makes one wonder why they don’t, if they don’t.
Suppose we grant their premise, for the sake of argument. Okay, we’re here for a reason, we’re here for a purpose. Well, what would that be? Good governance? Art? Wisdom? Love? Peace? Mercy? Kindness? Universal happiness?
Does it seem likely? Does it even seem possible? Or, if it does – if we decide yes, that is the purpose, and we’re not there yet, we’re on the road – what of the cost? Do we want to endorse such a distant purpose at such a horrendous cost? Consider how many millions upon millions of lives are miserable and then cut short (just think for one quarter of a second of Congo, Sudan, Kashmir, Aceh) – what purpose can make that all right? Do we – in cold sober truth, without any handwaving about the ineffable and what we speculate will happen a thousand years down the road – want to endorse such a loathsome bargain? If that is the deity that theists imagine – one that causes suffering and loss to countless billions of sentient, conscious, aware, thinking, memory-rich beings for the sake of some distant ‘purpose’ – do we really want to bend the knee to it instead of reviling and disowning it? If we do, then why do we?
Theists dislike the idea of chance, contingency, brute fact; of non-purpose; but they don’t take seriously enough the real nastiness lurking in the idea of purpose. They don’t realize that non-purpose is not the worst possibility. They pretend to, but they don’t. They pretend, in interviews, to agree that the designer could be an evil demon, but they don’t actually mean it – which is quite remarkably stupid.