Give a non-theistic cosmologist that one free miracle, the mystery of being, and he’ll explain the rest. The rest is what he’s interested in anyway. Those who dwell on the one free miracle, meanwhile, are liable to find that it never gets old, that it moves them on occasion to blurt, mentally or out loud, something like “Oh my God.”
Did someone say “God”? Here we go.
These days the most common arguments for atheism involve the assumption that God is an idealized imaginary person whose name Christians and other monotheists robotically plug in as the answer to the big ontological question, Why isn’t there nothing? Any theists who do that shouldn’t, and no atheist should accept them as spokespeople for what he thinks he’s arguing against, because they’re all too happy to join him in missing the point.
Schopenhauer had it right, I think — everyone arguing about God’s existence is missing the point, because what they’re really interested in is personal immortality. “But if continued existence after death could also be proved to be incompatible with the existence of gods, because, let us, say, it presupposed originality of mode of existence, they would soon sacrifice these gods to their own immortality and be eager for atheism.” Frankovich thinks that atheists don’t spend enough time contemplating the impenetrable mystery of why there is something rather than nothing. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think about that all the time. It is indeed a fascinating thing to meditate upon. But it’s not the amazing fact of existence that we’re all disagreeing about, it’s the dubious “And therefore…” conclusions being drawn from it. Still, either way, it doesn’t change the fact that upon your death, no irreducible essence of “you” will proceed onward through time with “your” memories and sensibilities. Your “itinerant atoms” will disperse to reemerge in other substances; your thoughts and characteristics will linger awhile among the dreams and stories of your family and friends until they, too, join the great forgetting.
For we are all insulted by
The mere suggestion that we die
Each moment and that each great I
Is but a process in a process
Within a field that never closes;
As proper people find it strange
That we are changed by what we change,
That no event can happen twice
And that no two existences
Can ever be alike; we’d rather
Be perfect copies of our father,
Prefer our idées fixes to be
True of a fixed reality.
No wonder, then, we lose our nerve
And blubber when we should observe…
— W.H. Auden, “New Year Letter”