Let’s not let the conversation get derailed. What I am arguing for is all those phenomena in the world that only make sense if the character of reality is what I am calling “personal”. Some people prefer the word “conscious”.
My argument is that personal phenomena require two approaches. First, we should understand them as personal phenomena, not natural phenomena, to properly understand their nature. Second, we should treat them as personal phenomena to properly experience them.
Take beauty, morality, justice, grief, love, gratitude, or language. There are all sorts of naturalistic and Darwinistic ways of explaining grief, or love, or gratitude. There is always a possible way to construe these things as natural mechanisms that confer survival advantages on organisms. The question is, do these explanations seem not only possible, but plausible and probable? Or do we feel that our professor has explained away more than he has explained?
On the second front, you can treat these phenomena as impersonal phenomena and still try to experience them. You can attend a symphony and keep reminding yourself that finding pleasure in harmonious tones is a result of our ancestral hominids whose hunting skills were sharpened by greater sensitivity to sounds in the fauna and flora. You can weep at a funeral and console yourself that grief is merely a kind of survival reaction produced by species seeking longevity. You can delight in a loved one while cautioning yourself that this is nothing more than biological instinct encouraging you to nurture your progeny and tribe. Having imposed impersonal explanations for what seem like personal experiences, will you have experienced them more truly? Would you have gotten to the essence of these things, unencumbered by delusions of human consciousness or spirituality? Or would you have denuded them of their very meaning?
Whether it is understanding these phenomena, or experiencing them, they only make sense to us when we treat them as personal phenomena. Even the hard-core naturalist temporarily suspends his naturalism to enjoy his son’s birthday party, or to cheer the outcome of a court case, or to enjoy a poem. For the very essence of these experiences slips through our fingers the moment we treat them as naturalistic phenomena.
Now if this is the case with these, what should we expect with religion, worship, and the pursuit of God? To analyse, explain away, and objectify what is to be a personal encounter between a person and God is surely to destroy the encounter before it begins. We can neither properly understand it, nor will we properly experience it if the depersonalise what is intrinsically personal.
This is why I asked you at the beginning of our exchange, “If a beautiful God existed, would you want to serve Him?” The question of desire focuses the point: do you (as a person) want (a personal desire) a personal exchange with a personal being? It is quite easy to dismiss God if you keep His existence a merely mental, detached and fairly impersonal matter. If God’s existence is analogous to the existence of quasars and black holes, you can decide yea or nay with nary a consequence to your life. But if He is personal, then the first question you must face is not how much evidence there is for His existence, but whether you want Him to exist and what you would do if He did.
For example, consider the daring honesty of Dr Lewontin, former evolutionary biologist:
“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated.
Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen. “
Now you may choose, as Lewontin does, to refuse to admit even the possibility of God, and admit as much to yourself. Your eyes are shut tight, and hopefully there’ll be no accidents as you proceed.
But if you allow that other phenomena in your life seem to have a personal or conscious nature, and that you both view them and treat them as such, should you not be consistent and do so with God? How might your experience of religion and God change if you treated it the same way you treat beauty, love, memory, morality, justice, and grief?