Earth Week Debate

In Bioethics and A&P we commence final report presentations today, while continuing to read (Blackford on Rawls on enhancement, Powers’ Generosity, Hitchens’ Mortality).

After class, in celebration of Earth Week, I get to debate my friend the Rabbi (who happens also to be a regular on the interfaith panel circuit, and an adept rhetorician) on God. Oh boy.

I’ve been assigned the “negative” proposition. I can do that, just barely, if allowed (like my esteemed opponent) to stipulate a non-standard definition. He’ll redefine “God,” to affirm the resolution. I’ll redefine (or maybe just evade) “possible” to deny it, and to affirm what in my opinion is incontestable: our species’ urgent need to find common ground in addressing the environmental challenges of our time.

I’ll borrow E.O. Wilson’s tone and temper in The Creation.

I am a secular humanist. I think existence is what we make of it as individuals. There is no guarantee of life after death, and  heaven and hell are what we create for ourselves, on this planet. There is no other home… For you, the glory of an unseen divinity; for me, the glory of the universe revealed at last. For you, the belief in God made flesh to save mankind; for me, the belief in Promethean fire seized to set men free. You have found your final truth; I am still searching. I may be wrong, you may be wrong. We may both be partly right. Does this difference in worldview separate us in all things? It does not. You and I and every other human being strive for the imperatives of security, freedom of choice, personal dignity, and a cause to believe in that is larger than ourselves. 

Let us see, then, if we can, and you are willing, to meet on the near side of metaphysics in order to deal with the real world we share…

 My brief, though straying from the letter of our forensic charge, is simple: there’s no indication that extra-human help is on its way. In fact, every indication suggests we’re on our own, without practical recourse to any “final truth.” We’ve got to find it within ourselves to conform our personal behaviors and public policies to ameliorative, sustainable alternatives.

If God-talk (including the sort of God-talk Spinoza and Einstein and maybe Rabbi Rami have sponsored) brings more of us on board with that message, then it’s “possible” – which by high redefinition I interpret to mean constructive and pragmatically, experimentally, provisionally vindicated.

But, and it’s a big but: in my experience, those who embrace that sort of God and talk that sort of talk tend, in the words of “Miss Generosity,” to “decide no more than God.” That is, they walk away from a firm commitment to finding human solutions to overwhelming anthropogenic challenges. They render God impossible, in the stipulated sense.

That’s what I think I’m going to say. But I don’t get to speak first, so I may have to improvise. In the larger sense, we all have to improvise a world our kind can continue to live in.

Happy Earth Week!

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