Thursday, September 13, 2012

Are We Merely Means to God's End?

Although I have been busy with a particularly party-heavy summer, and I have recently digressed a bit more on somewhat personal matters on this blog, the topics of religion and theism are never too far from my thoughts. This blog is about atheism and the city after all. I have been thinking recently about many ideas close to the hearts of theists that anger me. One in particular is the idea that if we are all god's creation, as theists believe, than we merely means to god's end. In other words, is our whole existence, simply so, so that god can make his point or achieve his objective?

What is the purpose of human beings? As you may know, you'll get a different answer to this question from just about every theist you ask. One common answer is so that we can come to love god as the only being worthy of worship, and embark on an eternal loving relationship with him. I am told that this is what god wants of all of us--us humans that is. So if god created the universe with the intention of populating it with beings made in his image, so that these beings could all come to acknowledge his existence in the recognition that god is the source of life and goodness, and worthy of worship, then this in a way reduces us to a mere prop, a means to god's end for a world populated by a race of beings who loved and worshiped him.

I find this quite insulting, as would a child who learns his existence was merely to please his dad's desire for a rightful heir, or to work as a laborer towards some ruler's monument for the afterlife. In Christianity, humans are supposed to be ends in and of themselves and not a means to anyone else's end. Wouldn't this apply to god as well? Wouldn't god, if he is just and good, not be free of any exemption to this standard?

On Animal Suffrage

Many of the beliefs of theists make me want to puke. On animals for example, atheists have always asked why they suffer as man does when they are guilty of no sin, and cannot be perfected or educated. While reading C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain, which is his attempt to explain the existence of suffering through Christian teachings, he explains that animals do not really sense pain to the degree of consciousness or sentience as we humans do. He says that although animals clearly feel pain, they do not posses souls and therefore a series of successive pains will not be recognized. "If you give such a creature two blows with a whip," he writes, "there are, indeed two pains: but there is no coordinating self which can recognize that 'I have two pains'." (P. 136) C.S. Lewis is not biologist as is evident, and he implies that animals do not have memory and awareness of themselves as a self. Modern science has shown just how many higher mammalian species have a concept of themselves in the world, and can recognize successive episodes of pain. At this, C.S. Lewis' case, and those Christians clinging to it, falls to the waste bin.

He proposes that the origin of animal suffering is the work of the devil, after some prehistoric (and now extinct) animal abused its free will long before man later had. As laughable as this explanation is, it makes we wonder about what an imagination C.S. Lewis had. He is after all responsible for The Chronicles of Narnia, a decent fantasy children's tale, and his attempt at an explanation for the origin of animal suffrage sounds like it belongs in one of his fictional writings. At the very least, he doesn't take Genesis literally and acknowledges that many extinct species of animals existed long before us.

Lastly on animals, Lewis asks that if they do suffer, why does a just god permit it? He then goes into the idea of animal immortality, rejecting it as not necessary for a just god. He mentions that if animals were never to die, and were all herbivores with no predators to watch out for, they would eventually over populate and consume all the plant-life that a world could produce. Here he actually makes a bit of scientific sense: carnivores are necessary in keeping the herbivores population in check. This is nature's way of balance, but it also ensures animal suffering. The naturist has no problem accepting this as fact. But as you can see from Lewis' logic and imagination, theists have been struggling with the reconciliation between their notions of a just god, and biological reality, in such ways that nonsense is almost always the result.

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