To Breathe Your Free Air
3/25/12 at 12:14 AM 3 Comments

Is God Necessary to Religion? Part I

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Gary Gutting of the University of Notre Dame thinks it might help, but at a high price. In this piece, he describes where an appeal to mystery, or human ignorance of God's work, might help solve the problem of evil, but may hinder our faith in God's willingness to save us. He says that because an appeal to mystery is ultimately unsatisfying, we have three options left to us: 1) we can accept by blind faith that God will, in fact, save us, 2) we can accept John Gray's argument that belief in God is unnecessary to be religious and happy, or 3) "we need to find a better response to the problem of evil than appealing to ignorance."

Gutting's article opens by referencing John Gray's idea that what matters in this life is not the content of our belief, but how we live. For Gray, it all depends on what a person wants to find in living religiously. If all someone desires consists in a good life, then all one needs is to live ethically and meditatively. But if one is seeking eternal life, things get more problematic. If eternal life is the goal, then we have to come to the conclusion that God exists and that He can save us, and that He would be interested in doing so.

The focal point of Gutting's piece is the question of whether or not God would have the desire to save anyone. To get at the heart of this question, Gutting first addresses the existence of God. For the sake of argument, Gutting points to the ontological argument and says, Let's agree that the ontological argument is sound. The ontological argument basically says that the idea of God as the greatest conceivable being makes God's existence necessary, and therefore, certain.

Gutting then asks the question, what does the existence of God, arrived at by the ontological argument, tell us about God's willingness to save us? Not much, he says. We could know that God was powerful enough to do so. But since God must take responsibility for the good of the entire universe, and not just humanity, we cannot be sure He would be so inclined.

This is where the problem of evil comes in for Gutting. Gutting states that God might have to allow for some evil to exist in the universe in order to achieve maximum good. Or, God would have to allow for some evil in order to prevent worse evil. Unfortunately for humans, we are caught in the middle of God's looking out for the overall good of the universe and the evil that is necessary to ensure that overall good.

At this point, Gutting gets to the point--in answering the question, "how could a good God allow the existence of evil," Gutting rightly points out that there is much we do not know about God's purposes. God, being the sovereign and omniscient Creator, has purposes and wisdom beyond our knowledge (or, beyond our ken, as Stephen Wykstra says). While this allowance may help get to the bottom of resolving the problem of evil, it opens up a new problem for theists: given our lack of knowledge about God's purposes, there is a significant gap between what we think God will do and what He actually will do. In other words, we may think God will save us, but He very well may not, given His inscrutable wisdom and purposes.Gutting suggests the possibility even that God may be deceiving us as to His power and willingness to save us.

Thus, in solving the problem of evil by appealing to mystery, or human ignorance of God's purposes, theists open themselves up to another grave problem--how can we know that, even if God exists, that salvation is possible? We can live by blind faith. Or, we can give up on God completely and live an ethical and meditative life for its own sake. Or we must come up with another answer.

Now what could that be?

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