Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Penn Jillette's Belief

Penn Jillette believes there is no God. He's an author, a research fellow of the Cato institute, and a producer. In an essay, he explains himself.

In his essay, Penn states that he is beyond atheism. He doesn't merely not believe in God, but He believes there is no God. He sees a belief in the non-existence of God as being better than the lack of belief in God. He says that "anyone with a love for truth outside of herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence of God". He then continues to make a number of statements about what believing there is no God provides him with. In conclusion he says:

"Believing there is no God means the suffering I've seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn't caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn't bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.

Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-O and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have."

I know full well that Penn did not intend to deliver a complete philosophical treatise, however if his essay delivers 10 pounds of content, it also raises 1000 tons of questions.

1. On what basis does believing there is "No God" mean a possibility of less suffering? (especially given our current knowledge regarding psychology and anthropology in general)

2. On what basis does "Believing there is no God" give room for belief in "family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-O"? (at the very best, it has no bearing on these things, at the worst, it leaves us with no adequete basis or foundation for these things)

3. And, if he "can prove" all the things mentioned in #2, then one would expect that he would begin by starting to explain love. How do we measure it? Where does it come from? Why chose love instead of hate? Why is love desirable.

Contrary to what Penn states, "Believing there is no God" is no more superior of a position to be in than "Not believing in God". They are both negations, one is just more bold in its negation. They both provide no answers, but are merely denials.

I can take all the good things that Penn lists and reverse the claim and say that they only come from believing IN God. And perhaps we would both lack sophistication (because we would merely be making rash claims). However, there would be a difference that I want to draw attention to. I claim that love, truth, etc. have meaning to me because of an affirmation (what is). But Penn seems to be claiming that love, truth, etc. have meaning to him because of a denial (what isn't).

The belief that something or someone does not exist is never the proper basis for thing of such a nature as truth and love. "God does not exist" in Penn Jillette's mind, but that doesn't explain anything, not even Jell-O. To do that, he will need to provide a POSITIVE statement about things he believes do exist and how they provide us a foundation for logic, love, and truth.

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