God: a skeptic's guide in dialogue form (i)


Petrus, a skeptic.


Johannes, an agnostic. (But no hunter).

Day One. By the shores of Lake Turkana, Kenya.

P: Good friends, how pleasant it is for us to meet once more, and in such inspiring surroundings! I longed always to see the Kenyan hinterlands, wherein our forefathers once roamed.

J: The African colours are, indeed, all they should be.

B: How poignant it is, though, to see that wondrous sunset across the lake. How sad.

J: Why sad? Surely it is a comfort in this uncertain life?

P: I myself prefer not to talk of sunsets, given their illusory nature. But still, I must agree with my friend Johannes: why be downcast at such a sight?

B: One day, there will come no more.

P: Indeed not, but not for many hundreds of millions of years?

B:...but not for me. Or you. Too soon will our eyes close for the last time on such a scene - or any other.

P: but that should not be a cause for sadness. Rather, a reason to rejoice in the time we have.

J: And with this I must agree: the loss of the future is no reason to regret the present, surely.

B. (casts about on the darkening soil) - look, here is a fragment...of bone from one such ancestor.

J: (doubtful) is it not from a pig or other beast?

B: (mildly) I, like Petrus, have devoted many years of my life to the study of nature. And what little fame I have in this world is based upon it,

J: I acknowledge your skill in this matter. But what tale does this long-dead man have to tell us? Surely the red dust has long stopped his mouth?

B: Listen! Can you not hear still his song, sung across the hills of long ago, the hills we see today in gathering gloom? The shouts of respectful triumph as the prey is brought to its noble end; the burning fires at night as meat is turned to feast? Stories of his own forefathers, and their mighty deeds. And, all trembling, his waking to the nature of things, the glittering sky above, the dread of doom, the sadness of loss irrecoverable. How carefully will he then bury his dead, wreathed in the brave flowers of spring, in hope of meeting once again beneath Elysian skies!

Shall we not join our voices to his lament of joy and loss? That song through all the ages sung, as man faced into wheeling night from which there comes no dawn?

P: I am no dullard who would deny the richness of life. I too thrill at the stars, and yet more now I know them not as gods but as the great flaming orbs scattered across the unimaginable depths of space and time. And as for our end, we come and go as the long patterns of change through time dictate, a fact we must face with no regrets. It is at it is; and we must free ourselves from all the fantasies with which we have deluded ourselves through the ages that you recall. Truth must be our goal, not the glittering illusions that can offer no real comfort, a comfort we should not in any case long for.

J: Truth we must indeed seek, but I feel the melancholy that good Beda describes. Is it not to lower the value of life to make the claim we would not miss it? Or, as we cannot miss our own life, is it not to diminish the lives of those we love?

P: If our new learning of the world teaches us that things are thus, it is a loss we must accept.

B: To look into another's eyes and to talk of love is to claim eternal life for both. Love does not allow its own abolition and end based on the prognosis of the natural philosophers.

P: Love is but a trick our brains play to force us to pass on our genes. No dullard am I, but we must not romanticize the processes of nature.

B: Love is no chemical process. All our hopes and longings, even for truth, lie without the mechanistic whirling of the atoms. One is not the other.

P: Your claims now stoop to the soul, that ancient disreputable ghost within the machine! Show me the evidence for such a thing and I will answer this charge. Until then I shall stay silent on the matter.

J: (hastily) Good friends, the night draws on, and from this one at least may we all hope to wake once more. Let us take the comfort of the still stars with us to dreamless sleep and hope to return again to our discourses.

End of the first day.


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