Could The God Delusion change anything?
I promise this is the last I’m going to write about The God Delusion. I’ve been trying to move on, but I keep thinking about this, and I think it’s worth developing a bit further. I’m feeling rather unsatisfied with my reaction to the books I read – not because I’ve changed my mind, but in a strange sort of way because I’m not sure if I could have changed my mind.
I’ll try to explain what I mean. The arguments both for and against God can seem utterly compelling if you have the right mindset or presuppositions, and completely ludicrous if you have the wrong ones. On most subjects covered by these books, I can easily imagine myself taking a position on either side of the debate, simply by starting from a different place. I suppose that might be because I don’t have a settled starting position at the moment, but I’m not sure if that really explains it.
For example, there’s the argument from first cause and the standard question in response “Who created God?” I can see at least some sense in either position, and over the last few years, I’ve held all sorts of views on this subject, always (I think) in line with my wider position on the existence or not of God. Basically, I think I approached the argument in such a way as to be consistent with my existing beliefs, either yes, no or maybe, and my various responses always seemed perfectly reasonable at the time.
I reckon this means that issues like this have little effect on what we actually believe, which would be consistent with my suspicion that the staged debates which seem to be so fashionable at the moment rarely trouble anyone’s beliefs; the biggest effect of the exchange of views is to make us realise what we really believe, rather than to change those beliefs.
But having said that, I can’t avoid the fact that my beliefs have changed over time, albeit slowly. Maybe there are certain areas where I’m open to persuasion, where my views don’t simply follow my general conclusions, but drive them. If that’s the case, though, I don’t know what those areas would be. Or is it just that my views creep at the pace of continental drift, too slow to notice, but enough to see a clear movement over time?
It’s also tempting to refer to the cliché that “you can’t reason someone out of a position they weren’t reasoned into.” I think it’s more of a partisan slogan than a meaningful statement, but it’s entirely possible that my beliefs aren’t nearly as rational as I’d like to think, and that what I’m noticing is the effect of post-hoc rationalisation of beliefs I hold instinctively without really thinking about them.
So that’s why I feel unsatisfied. I want to examine different arguments and I like to read a variety of perspectives, but when I step back and think about it, I’m not sure if it actually makes any difference. Obviously, something makes me believe what I believe, but I have no idea what that might be, and I find that a little unsettling.