February 1, 2011

Would You Rather?

There is a common method of argument being used by Christian and Non-Christian alike right now. The argument lays out a number of possibilities and then asks the question; which of these would you rather?

The 'would you rather' method does have a number of  very legitimate uses. If you want to find out what celebrities your friends are willing to make out with, or given a choice how they would die, this type of question is very helpful.

It even has some political usage. You can compare and contrast two political parties, or candidates, and try to figure out what type of society they think should be built. Assuming you can do that, it is perfectly reasonable to ask yourself; which of these two societies would I rather live in?

The 'would you rather' method is helpful for consumers as well. It can help you buy shoes, 'would you rather have inexpensive shoes made by children chained to a sewing machine in Indonesia, or expensive shoes made by a unionized worker in the USA?' It's helpful for environmentalists; 'would you rather live in a world where people can breath the air and drink the water, or in a world where businesses can set their own environmental policies?'

'Would you rather' really can be a very helpful question in any number of places. Everything from politics to economics, ethics to entertainment can be enriched by the 'would you rather' method.

If I am the only one using the shower, I pick that one.

However there are two areas that I think this method is neither useful nor appropriate for; and they are science and theology. This method assumes some level of control, it assumes we have a choice in the matter. The nature of God, and the nature of the universe isn't really up for that kind of debate. When it comes to God, we discover, not decide. The same is true for the natural world. We discover how things work, we do not decide how they ought to work. So even though there is a Facebook page dedicated to it; neither congress nor any other policy making body has the ability to repeal the law of gravity.

People by on large understand this with science, and other than as a joke I don't think anyone tries to alter scientific knowledge based on public opinion*. Theology however is not so fortunate. Christians and Non Christian alike try to use this method frequently about the existence of God.

I normally hear/read two versions of the same argument one Christian and the other Atheist. They go like this;

Christian version- Either there is a God who is the source of all goodness and justice, or there is not. If there is, then there really is good and evil, your choices matter, injustices will be answered, evil punished and goodness rewarded. If there is not, good and evil are just words with nothing to anchor them. Therefore sooner or later the world will slip in to anarchy and nihilism. Which world do you want to live in? (The obvious implied answer is: I should want to live in a world where God exists)

Atheist version- Either there is a god out there who is strangely interested in what you do or there is not. If there is he sticks his nose in your life constantly. He cares about what you eat and drink, where you go, who you have sex with, what you think about and the list can go on. If you choose wrong, according to his standards, you will be punished rather severely, possibly eternally. If there is no god you can go about and live your life as you see fit and not have to worry about a voyeuristic deity dishing out arbitrary punishment. Which world would you rather live in? (The obvious implied choice is: I should want to live in a world where God does not exist.)

The problem both arguments suffer from is; just because I would rather God exist or not does not make it so. I may want good and evil to be real things, and I may not want to live in a nihilistic world. However, this does not force God into existence. Likewise just because I don't want God to stick his nose in to my daily life, this is no guarantee of his non-existence.

There are lots of things I would rather be one way, that are in fact another. I would rather live in my house for free, but my landlord keeps asking for rent cheques. I would rather be able to eat hamburgers to lose weight, but despite all my 'rathering' weight watchers tells me fruit is 'free' not Big Mac's.

It is not a question of what I want to be true, it is a question of what is true. If there might be a god out there who cares about what I eat and drink, where I go, what I do, who I have sex with and so on I better sort out if that god exists or not. It would be inadvisable to discount the possibility of God's existence because I don't want God to exist.

Ignorance may be bliss, but Ignorantia legis neminem excusat or ignorance of the law excuses no one.

So let's leave the 'would you rather' questions where they belong, in awkward get to know you games;

Soooooooo would you rather make out with George Clooney or Brad Pitt/ Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Aniston?

*You might be thinking 'what about creationists in the US who are lobbying the courts to include creation alongside evolution in children's science text books?' For the most part they are not trying to deny scientific knowledge through collective opinion, they are saying according to their studies (biblical exegesis and creation science) that evolution is untrue. This is not quite the same thing, as bold faced saying 'I don't like that so it must be wrong'.