“I’d be very surprised if it turns out there was a God. But in any case, what does that even mean? Just some sort of higher power that is capable of genetic engineering and creating planets and universes. That’s really just an engineering problem–just something like us scaled up considerably. Take Moore’s law and carry it out for 50,000 years and you get what is essentially a deity–you know, a supercomputer that would be omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent. That is what God is defined as, and we’re on our way to becoming that anyhow. What would it mean to discover that there was a God? It wouldn’t really mean anything to me.”
Such an approach to the question can throw Christians at first. Even setting aside the blind faith in raw computing power, most Christians do not think about God as a mere cosmic engineer. No science, no matter how advanced, could be an adequate substitute in our minds. Out first instinct is therefore usually to clarify–to explain more precisely what we mean by “God.” This, of course, is a rather daunting task–one which some of the greatest minds in history have grappled with with varying degrees of success. What is more, this sort of metaphysical argument is rather easy to get bogged down in. Before you know it, you’re having a heated discussion about some tangential speculation about God’s nature that’s only barely relevant to Christianity. Such debates can be philosophically edifying, but they usually don’t make for good apologetic conversations.
Thankfully, it’s usually easier than all that. As it turns out, Shermer only takes another couple of seconds to reveal that he doesn’t really think of God that way either. He immediately goes on to say this:
“In any case, I’m not particularly worried about it because why would a deity care one way or another about whether I believed or not? Isn’t it more important how you purported yourself in life, how you treated other people…? I think it matters more how you behave.”
When he takes this opportunity to knock salvation by faith, Shermer reveals that he is, in fact, quite confident that the very same God that he, as an agnostic, claims is completely veiled from his perception is more concerned about whether he’s a good person than whether he believes in Him. Though he allegedly can’t even tell whether God exists, he is nevertheless quite willing to speak about His character and concerns. It seems that Shermer has a better idea about who God is than he is willing to admit, and “mere cosmic engineer” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Engineering, after all, doesn’t have much to do with morality. Reducing God to an engineer means reducing the universe to a machine. Mechanics, however, are insufficient to undergird a concept of people “being good” in any kind of moral sense.
Shuemer’s latent beliefs should be no surprise. As Paul puts it in Romans 1:19-20, “what may be known about God is plain to [men] because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Just a few paragraphs later, Paul proceeds to point out that Shermer is, in a sense, right about God caring more about what we do than about what we believe.
“To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.” (Rom 2:7-11)
The problem, of course, is that a moment’s honesty reveals that “being a good person” is pretty much academic at this point (as Paul goes on to point out). We’ve all spent our lives lying, cheating, and hurting those closest to us. Who hasn’t snapped at his wife when she didn’t deserve it without even apologizing? Who hasn’t been completely thoughtless towards friends when they were in need? Who hasn’t undeservedly antagonized their parents as a teenager? “Everybody does that” is less of an excuse than it is an indictment. Does the suffering of others suddenly not matter when everyone hurts people? Psychologically writing off the bad things everybody does is a coping mechanism that humans need in order to function in a broken world. Nevertheless, we can’t let that attitude overcome the very basic observation that we do not do as we ought–we are not good people. So since we’ve screwed up the things about which even skeptics can discern God cares, maybe we should be looking at another option. And contrary to Shermer’s attitude later in that interview, maybe we should be willing to consider the evidence for its being true.