Why are we here?
Because we're here
Roll the bones
Why does it happen?
Because it happens
Roll the bones....
Rush, Roll The Bones, 1991 (Lee/Lifeson/Peart)
Not all heavy rock bands are about wine, women and song. Canadian hard rockers Rush penned the above as a subtle protest against what their drummer Neil Peart described as "the prefab structure of religion", hinting that it might be preferable to abandon the search for any cogent reason behind the universe and simply instead just to "roll the bones" (ie toss the dice). When I saw them in concert the following year, the above chorus was played over an intriguing backdrop of video sequences: first, pictures of the East Europeans of 1989 peacefully overcoming their former masters and tearing down the Berlin Wall; second, shots of Jupiter, Saturn and other immense heavenly bodies. What the song seemed to be saying was that, despite the occasional glories that the human spirit can rise to and the awesomeness of the universe, there is simply no reason for either: they just are. At the end of the day, it just is, and you can never know.
This view of the universe, historically speaking, is the minority one. From time immemorial mankind has tried to make sense of its home and its very being through seeking the power, force or person behind the universe, albeit in varied ways. It used to be fashionable to regard this religious sense as a sort of primitive explanation for the power of nature, but now we know that the quest for the ultimate cause was not necessarily linked to a people's scientific knowledge. For example, while we might regard the gods of the Aztecs as bloody, and their religion as savage, they seem to have possessed a fairly detailed knowledge of astronomy. So did the Babylonians, who worshipped a pantheon of deities. Plato, one of the greatest minds of the ancient world, still spoke of "God" or "gods" in his writings. Whatever we may think of pagan religion, it is patronising and unscientific to regard it simply as the product of a childish intellect.
Consider for a moment the view that there was no person, guiding force or "First Cause" behind the universe. Anyone holding this view must deal with the following:
At a superficial glimpse it might be possible to explain these away as a series of lucky accidents: Big Bang - a number of lucky rolls on the evolutionary dice - the evolution of the mammalian brain to a stage where it is capable of self-contemplation. Closer analysis raises the following difficulties, however:
Another way of looking at the argument is to see whether a person can seriously live with their presuppositions and act in a consistent manner. Of course, most Christians, Jew, Muslims and others also fail to meet their own high standards, so we are not talking about perfect behaviour here. But does the man who claim that humanity is really just a piece of primordial slime, a random array of chemicals in an infinitesimally small part of the universe, really act on a daily basis as if he believed that? In most cases - thankfully - the answer is no. In practice such people are often involved in good causes and treat their partners, friends and colleagues well. But the point is that if they were consistent, they would not feel the need to do so. Perhaps the only people who acted consistently with their presuppositions regarding the nature and origin of man were Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. Richard Dawkins, an avowed atheist, once wrote that he would run from a state built on such presuppositions. Again, the sentiment is worthy, but it lacks a certain consistency. If man is simply the product of blind evolutionary forces, then there should be no rational reason to rail against injustice, any more than the sheep could rage against the injustice of the wolf.
Of course, once we move onto the thorny subject of the existence of God, we are dealing with a different set of problems. There are valid objections to the existence of God, just as I have stated objections to atheism in the preceding paragraphs. In the following pages I would like to consider some of these, plus some differing conceptions of God as held by the human race (I can't answer for my lizards yet).
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