Counterpoint by Mark Nicol – Who said God is dead?

| September 17, 2020

On one inauspicious day man created God. And then, on a day of superhuman confidence, man killed him.

Yes, in this luminous age where even the most edifying 2D repasts can become a tad tiresome, are sullied by the frightful impingement of news, one age-old entertainment offers capturing human relief. Yes, sit up straight on that doona, put aside those mock power tools, culinary utensils, and marriage tenders, because the battle of the theist and atheist is prime time again!

Who said so?

Well, let natural selection be the judge. But, before we lodge our bets, what is the nature of this contest?

It is the question of first cause. Is there, or is there not, some agency responsible for creation of this cosmos, replete with mankind, HDTV, and all that therein transpires? Let us use logic to determine this matter. Yes, we might make suppositions one way or the other. But a vagrant fool could tell you the only honest answer. From this mortal side of the ledger, we do not know, can never know. So why all the fuss? And where’s the entertainment in the matter? It surely can’t make good TV.

Ah yes, I remember. Logic does not, cannot ever fully satisfy human desires. Yet nothing exists in nature, which cannot be explained by reductive logic. (The question of first cause aside. Oh, and maybe the nature of anything arguably moral?)

Anyway, let’s not get too serious here. I love the one from the quantum physicist, who ventured the ultimate con argument re divinity and cosmic creation. “The cosmos was likely created as the result of a quantum fluctuation in a vacuum”. That guy really should do stand up, because just tell me how the flatulence precedes the meal.

Berty Einstein figured that the extraordinary orderliness of the cosmos predicates for some intelligent creator. Berty had no time for theists, though. You know. Those who claim to have hold of that shifty creator, and infallibly use this divine mediation to lord themselves high and mighty.

Sounds like a good gig to me.

But the intelligent design thesis has earned a bad rap these days. I talked to that Paul Davies guy at our Adelaide brain-lab one day, re my own little thesis. Didn’t notice any archangel on his shoulder. But he did get a mill from the Brits for promoting religion, somehow. Those Pennsylvanian puritans got onto intelligent design theory a few years back, too. Somehow they reckoned it affirmed their creationist mantra.

And it was thus a good reason to stop teaching biological evolution in schools. To think that Darwin, himself, was morally circumspect about promoting the heartless idea of a godless cosmos. Give me a million bucks and I’ll spin either way.

I like the one from Harry Stotle: “We find in nature manifold things, forms placed in motion. Wherefore is that thing, which is first moved, then that thing must be eternal.” Sounds like the logical predication idea has a history, but not many fans.

Okay, if it’s all just a game, where’s the gain in the idea – the god idea?
In my pitch, let me see if I can slip this one past you – subjective utility. Sounds devious. The idea that a proposition may be objectively, rationally false, yet via utilization of that idea we may still derive a subjective profit.

I put it to you that Primitive Man’s religious thesis, mythological creationist and destiny propositions, it was, in all rational and objective terms – bollocks.

So why did our escapee from the cave sustain this quaint mythological thesis of religion, (and of science), for some 50,000 years? I suppose if you can’t live with the facts of mortal ignorance and our suffering fate, you have to invent fictions of cosmological explanation, human promise – just to get by. And thusly, so it seems, primitive man got by for a long while, none the wiser and none the worse. Subjective utility.

But then along came ancient man, that upstart who developed some objective analytical science, gleaning true technical design in nature.


Outfitted with this true science ancient man developed agriculture, urban architecture, engineering infrastructures, etc. He starts taking over the whole place, and with his cruel metal blades slivers poor primitive man wherever he finds him. Oh yes, there is great objective utility in this true science. But there is worse.

Ancient man has reinvented mythological religion, adapting this, also, as an organizing and offensive tool. Yep, it’s out with the mythological soothsayer, and in with the theological priest. He’s the guy who’ll give you earnest spiritual advice.

Do what the king and I tell you, accept your subservience, fight for our empire. Our nation against their nation, our god against their god. Oh yes, that innocuous theocratic/henotheist brand of religion. Welcome to the early ancient world, a new guise of subjective utility, and good night to most primitives.

(There’s an uncanny resemblance between the method of the ancient theocrat and that of the modern demagogue here, come to think of it. No use in telling the populace the truth. Tell them what they want hear. Subjective utility.)

But where were we? That’s right. We’re up to the late ancient world. Seems that the flock is getting a bit tired of all this supplicating, subservience, and suffering business. So a new brand of theological visionary offers them a better deal. Let’s call it humanist emancipation.

But there are other off the shelf brands – altruism, asceticism, transcendentalism, even veganism. Sounds good for a while. But, in the washup, all of these pallid monks, inveterate do-gooders, and self-flagellaters get duped or whipped by those devious wielders of ‘might is right’, again. Back to square one.

Then on the scene arrives modern man, the ultimate smart Alec. He finally figures out that the theist priest is in cahoots with the autocratic king. (Berty Russell pinned it on them very succinctly: “Give me one fundamental untruth, and I’ll prove that any other lie is truth.”) So modern man wakes to the game. Accept the theologian as your moral guardian and you lay down for a long bout of supremacist subservience. (Or, as many a young boy has found …)

Okay. Modern man, studiously logical, reckons he has unearthed the truth and killed god. Bring on the illuminations of that mighty moral termite, aka Dicky Dawkins. But wait on. Aren’t you feeling a bit jipped here too?

Alright. So mythological/theological religion was all balderdash, right? Yet it did deliver us the Haghia Sophia, a B Minor Mass, and all that high faluting expression. A bit grandiose, maybe. But a bit more inspiring than The Block, Master Chef, and The Bachelorette – grant me that?

(You see, I am leading you a bit up the garden path here.)

You’ve caught me out. True. Goddies versus Antis just doesn’t make good TV. Scrap that idea. But what about this?

If secularism, signing on to that existentialist materialist bit, has failed to deliver anything inspiring, anything unifying, what does it say? Perhaps it’s natural selection whispering in our ear, telling us that this areligious script is a loser?

Perhaps if we paid a more attention to natural truth, less to our fanciful designs? What if we look at the big script?

Life magically evolves from mute cosmic dust. Granted, life forms spend a good deal of time cannibalizing each other. Yet there’s nurture in there as well. And whilst man followed the predatory script for a long time, kind of succumbed to it in the ancient world, there’s been an undeniable impetus towards truth and nobility. Maybe this is a fragile thing, oft misconceived and subverted. But is there a religious vision, which might just deliver?

Perhaps we should look to the text of human history, and learn.

We’ve tried various religious theses, one areligious one. All of the religious theses were willful concoctions, from which we derived ephemeral, subjective utility. From the current areligious thesis we derive no existential utility.

Let’s strip away the ‘man has hold of god’ farce, look at the useful constructs insinuated in those religious visions. Unifying hope and vision. Then the various, until now antagonistic moral agendas. Can we agree that life is miraculous, worthy of divine reverence? Perhaps, via a new religious vision of ‘native divinity’, we might intelligently reconcile egoistic, humanist, environmentalist, and aspiring ambitions. Perhaps god has little patience for brutes, or for wimps.

Erstwise, how does the atheist defeat the theist, in one move?

“I have a message for you, direct from God …