Is God Useful?
Press Start for Is God Useful? by 8-Bit Philosophy, where classic video games introduce famous thinkers, problems, and concepts with quotes, teachings, and more.
Episode 26: Is God Useful?
Directed by: Jared Bauer
Written By: Mia Wood
Narrator: Nathan Lowe
Animation Producer: MB X. McClain
Original Music & Sound by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Academic Consultant: Mia Wood
Producer & Additional Artwork by: Jacob S. Salamon
Is God Useful?
Is belief in God useful?
Imagine that Leonardo, ever the devout believer, receives a message from Splinter, who says that God wants Leonardo to do something incomprehensible. “You must take your youngest mutant, Michelangelo, to the top of the Empire State building and sacrifice him.” Utterly devastated, but equally unwilling to believe the message is a hoax, Leonardo takes the happy-go-lucky Michelangelo to the Empire State building. Fortunately for him, at the last moment, Leonardo’s hand is stayed when an alternate sacrifice suddenly appears. He does not have to sacrifice his beloved Michelangelo.
Leonardo is relieved that his devotion was rewarded, while Michelangelo can’t understand how Leonardo could buy into such nonsense. Splinter’s message couldn’t possibly be from God. And if there IS a God, he would never ask Leonardo to do something so horrific. Right?
For American philosopher William James, the question of belief in God is one of the most important questions we will ever consider.
Lots of people already believe, and lots don’t. So, depending on who you talk to, believing is considered, like, of course he’s real! or like, Please, what sort of idiot believes this crap?
When pressed for their reasoning on the matter of their belief, the believer and the non-believer can come up with equally compelling arguments.
For James, a belief’s value resides in how it cashes out – not whether it’s true in some objective sense. In other words, how useful believing is to YOU. Rationality and empirical evidence are no help with deciding our belief because as one philosopher said, ‘You can’t poke God with a stick.’
Consequently, James thinks it’s acceptable to believe in something despite its scientific rigor. In other words, our emotional nature comes into play on certain issues. Belief in God, then, is a matter not of logic or science, but of volition, of will.
But it’s not a mere matter of believing because it makes you feel good. It’s a matter of taking the option seriously.
You can entertain the idea that fairies exist, but there is no risk attached to it, or what James would call a “dead hypothesis.” Not so with deciding whether or not you believe in God. The choice you make is a big deal. It impacts your life in profound ways.
In a time in which we worship reason and scientific method, it’s easy to dismiss anything that doesn’t rely completely on evidence and rationality. But to James, our will to believe is a legitimate option that should not — and cannot — be dismissed.
So, dear viewer, the pragmatic question is, are you better off believing or not?