The Big Question
We wake up, look around, and conclude from the existence of physical reality that there is a God who created it all. Or, we observe all this and it never occurs to us that there might be a creator behind it all.
We begin the inquiry into where all this came from with the presumption that there was a Creator of it, or that there is not. If we see that this is an important question, and become determined to get to the bottom of it, we might consider the evidence (of reason and of contingent reality); apply a standard of proof (is 100% certainty required?); take into account our own presumption (for God, or for His absence); and then assign a burden of proof in favor of one point of view or the other.
Avoiding the Big Question
At least, that is a rational way to go about it. But might we assume neither? That is, could we say that we just don’t know one way or the other; that we see no reason to presume one or the other; that the mere existence of physical reality (and sentient human life within it) does not lead us to presume the existence of God or His absence. Is that rational?
Perhaps so, if there are no consequences one way or the other. Maybe we’re not inclined to think the big thoughts. Or we are, but we’ve gone far enough down that road to see that they’ll be inconclusive.
But we can’t say whether there are significant consequences or not, before we’ve even broached the question. The answer will be “yes,” if there is a God; “no,” if there isn’t. What matters to the rationality of addressing this question is not that there is or isn’t a God. What matters is that it is possible that there is a God, and if so, that He might care what we do with this question.
Just the fact that there may be consequences to this decision means that it is irrational to simply avoid it. This is not a matter of placing bets, like atheists wrongly suppose Blaise Pascal to have proposed. This is a matter of accepting the inevitability of the march of time, and of our own death. The mortality rate is 100%, even though we may live our lives as if each of us, alone, is the exception.
A non-believer (that is, one who believes nothing, not an atheist) might say: why adopt a position at all? Neither is proven to me. Nothing prompts me to one position or the other. They both remain unproven.
The Party and the Wood
Consider this analogy. You’re standing in the woods on a dark, damp day. It’s Christmas Eve. You’re on a walk. You’re lost. Two opposing directions seem most likely to get you out of the woods. One through a dank fen; another through a forbidding density of wood over the hill. Would you say that you’re not going to choose either one? Of course not. You’d spend your Christmas out there in the weather, in the melancholy light.
But might the non-believer say that the analogy is flawed because we’re not in a wet wood? Instead, we’re already at a party. Life is grand. Why choose to go out the back door or the front door, when the party is right here?
Neither of these perceptions (that we’re in the dark wood; that we’re already at the party) changes the reality. You may be materially blessed and already at a “party” with your friends. You may be starving, harassed, persecuted, bereaved. But Christmas has not yet dawned. The day is coming.
The End of this Life
Perhaps we simply cease to exist, in which event it won’t matter which way we choose. Oblivion is what comes next, so we can go through the fen or over the hill, it won’t matter. Or we can revel with our friends at the party, while we can. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.
But perhaps we do not simply cease to exist. And perhaps what we do now affects that later existence. Perhaps it’s true that, like Maximus said in The Gladiator, “What we do in life, echoes in eternity.”
There will be oblivion or there will be life. We don’t bring about one or the other, by what we believe now.
But if there is life, Christianity holds that there will be unity with God or separation from Him. And as between these, we do bring about one or the other, by what we believe now.