“Your god could have done a much better job…”

“You call yourself a Christian. May I ask? In what sense are you a Christian?”
“I’m a Christian in the sense that I find Jesus Christ to be an admirable historical figure. I think the Sermon on the Mount is one of the greatest ethical statements and one of the best speeches in history. I think that ‘Love your enemy’ might even be the long-shot solution to the problem of nuclear war. I wish he was alive today. It would benefit everybody on the planet. But I think Jesus was only a man. A great man, a brave man, a man with insight into unpopular truths. But I don’t think he was God or the son of God or the grandnephew of God.”

“You don’t want to believe in God.” Joss said it as a simple statement. “You figure you can be a Christian and not believe in God. Let me ask you straight out: Do you believe in God?”
“The question has a peculiar structure. If I say no, do I mean I’m convinced God doesn’t exist, or do I mean I’m not convinced he does exist? Those are two very different statements.”
“Let’s see if they are so different, Dr. Arroway. May I call you ‘Doctor’?… Now, if you have serious doubts about whether there is a God – enough doubts so you’re unwilling to commit yourself to the Faith – then you must be able to imagine a world without God: a world that comes into being without God, a world that goes about its everyday life without God, a world where people die without God. No punishment. No reward. All the saints and prophets, all the faithful who have ever lived – why, you’d have to believe they were foolish. Deceived themselves, you’d probably say. That would be a world in which we weren’t here on Earth for any good reason – I mean for any purpose. It would all be just complicated collisions of atoms – is that right? Including the atoms that are inside human beings. To me, that would be a hateful and unhuman world. I wouldn’t want to live in it. But if you can imagine that world, why straddle? Why occupy some middle ground? If you believe all that already, isn’t it much simpler to say there is no God? How can a thoroughgoing conscientious scientist be an agnoistic if you can even imagine a world without God? Wouldn’t you just have to be an atheist?”
“I thought you were going to argue that God is the simpler hypothesis,” Ellie said, “but this is a much better point. If it were only a matter of scientific discussion, I’d agree with you, Reverend Joss. Science is essentially concerned with examining and correcting hypotheses. If the laws of nature explain all the available facts without supernatural intervention, or even do only as well as the God hypothesis, then for the time being I’d call myself an atheist. Then, if a single piece of evidence was discovered that doesn’t fit, I’d back off from atheism. We’re fully able to detect some breakdown in the laws of nature. The reason I don’t call myself an atheist is because this isn’t mainly a scientific issue. It’s a religious issue and a political issue. The tentative nature of scientific hypothesis doesn’t extend into these fields. You don’t talk about God as a hypothesis. You think you’ve cornered the truth, so I point out that you may have missed a thing or two. But if you ask, I’m happy to tell you: I can’t be sure I’m right.”
“I’ve always thought an agnostic is an atheist without the courage of his convictions.”
“You could just as well say that an agnostic is a deeply religious person with at least a rudimentary knowledge of human fallibility. When I say I’m an agnostic, I only mean that the evidence isn’t in. There isn’t compelling evidence that God exists – at least your kind of god – and there isn’t compelling evidence that he doesn’t. Since more than half the people on Earth aren’t Jews or Christians or Muslims, I’d say that there aren’t any compelling arguments for your kind of god. Otherwise, everybody on Earth would have been converted. I say again, if your God wanted to convince us, he could have done a much better job.”

-Excerpt from Contact by Carl Sagan


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