A Pair of Docks

12 03 2012

“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.” G. K. Chesterton

Virtually everything we do — all transactions, social, economical, psychological, emotional, and practical — depends on what Kant called the “categorical imperative” and what I’m calling the paradox of trust. For trust between two people to exist, which is what is required in the successful completion of a transaction of any kind, there must be sufficient reason to uphold trust as a reliable value constant — in both giving it and receiving it — that necessarily transcends mere altruism or even self preservation. And to those who say that we trust each other because it promotes the longevity of the species, I say, “How do you know?” It appears as if not trusting in some cases is every bit as much a reliable harbinger of survival.

At some point, when you divest yourself of small probabilities and simply decide to trust the enigmatic creature next to you called a human being, you must be counting on something that runs against every instinct hardwired into your cerebral cortex. And yet this decision to trust is the foundation of all human culture — and it clearly cannot be the other way around, as we would perpetually stalk the sidelines waiting for the first person to act altruistically. At what point does baby brother become competition for resources rather than partner? I get the man/woman thing, but a couple does not a culture make. And the extrapolation from couple to family to tribe to culture is not a linear one. Introduce a second family and you’ve introduced a pretty large variant. Introduce two groups of families and you’re now dealing with tribal mentalities. Everything in evolution, in other words, works against forming large communities (aka cultures). To simply assume that people decided to get along, and that that’s what eventually led to villages and towns and cities and cultures, is to bury the conclusion in the premise. How did it ever get to anything beyond sheer propagation and maybe a scatter of family connections? I mean, isn’t family often the least reliable group of people one should count on? I guess my point is, whence the altruism?

And that’s a whole other point, actually — the genesis of altruism. There is no room for altruism in a strictly materialistic view of things, since altruism presupposes that you willingly, and with no thought to your advantage, engage in a highly risky venture of doing something for another’s sake. But then, you’re acting against instinct, and why would you do that? I don’t see other animals doing it. They only appear to do it if it means that the species is being extended in some way. But then, if that’s so, it isn’t altruism at all, is it? since it still comes down to satisfying a primal urge to reproduce on a species-level.

So this basis of trust that forms all successful transactions of any kind must be based on something other than our instincts and other than altruism. And yet it must be, in the main, reliable. But for this to be so would require that it be a separate mechanism from the evolutionary one. It must come from a different place entirely, be of a different quality altogether from the sheer physical impulse to survive; have a different telos, even.

Chesterton was right. If you are a strict materialist and believe in nothing but the brute fact of our random existence via natural selection and survival of the fittest, then you can’t even finally say “Thank you” to someone for passing the mustard. Trust, that basic foundation of all human culture, must have its origin in something entirely outside of human-to-human transaction for it to be, well… trustworthy. A system cannot depend on itself for survival; it always extrapolates to something greater; is always inevitably referential. Turns out, basic human culture is the biggest and best argument for why God must be real. Or for why, at the very least, belief in God must be culturally advantageous. Actually, belief in some higher power is an absolute necessity for our survival as a species. We cannot engage in any meaningful activity otherwise.

Admittedly, we’re still left with a decision about whether the object of our belief is necessarily real, or whether only the belief itself is necessary. But no matter how you slice it, you can’t fault someone for believing. It’s precisely what allows all those disingenuous atheists out there to survive, ironically enough (which is why the very name, not to mention the belief system, of atheism is intrinsically parasitic: it depends on theist for its survival. This is what Chesterton meant in his quote above). Call it a paradox, call it a tautology, call it irrevocably circular, call it what you will. But the fact is, not believing in God makes absolutely no sense in the end, whether or not God is real. Believing in him is quite simply the most rational and logical thing one can do.

None of this, of course, directly proves the existence of God. It only proves the necessity of the existence of faith. But then, what does that tell you?

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