Belmont Club

In Durban

Roger Simon describes how Ahmadinejad made him — a long time agnostic — a believer. It’s a marvelous monologue by a man who is a talented screenwriter. But behind the snappy lines lurks something serious. The Big Issue; and readers of the Belmont Club may recognize in Roger’s explanation of his epiphany something of the outlines of a proof of the existence of God I once used half in jest in those old underground days.

Webster defines an epiphany as “an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure”. My own intellectual epiphany came through an acquaintance with computers and through them with information. Quite late in life I realized that information was real. Not just figuratively real, but really real. From that it followed that evil ideas (and good ideas) really could exist; that they could inhabit people’s minds, move through history and make things happen. The reason Ahmadinejad might with some justification be called “evil” isn’t that he’s ugly, or breathes fire in the dark; it means that an evil idea lives in him. Evil isn’t in the hairdo, or the suit or the bad cologne. Real evil is quiet, cunning, almost invisible. But it’s real.

And for those of you who can’t remember my old underground proof of the existence of God it went like this. At a discussion with some members of the Party I offered to demonstrate that God existed; which would follow if the Devil existed; which in turn would follow if Hell could be shown to exist. And I argued that Hell had to exist because there had of necessity to be a place for certain members of the Party. It wasn’t intellectually rigorous and it wasn’t very funny either. But you ought to try it some time with a grin on your face.

That left the question of whether there was anything we could know; if we could grasp, even approximately any kind of information at all; whether our minds were accurate representations of anything real, or whether as the post-moderns argue, we had a headful of stories none of which is privileged with the truth. The intuition that rode to my rescue in suggesting that we might well know at least part of the truth was the Weak Anthropic Principle. Our minds are not arbitrarily designed. We have survived on the planet because reality eliminated mental structures that were inconsistent with the way things really were. There may have been minds in the past which thought things fell upward. There may have been some of our ancestors who were incapable of seeing lions. But all of them went off cliffs or got eaten by lions. At least until we developed sidewalks and put the lions in zoos. The only creatures who could survive were those whose ideas corresponded roughly with reality. Truth isn’t relative. Truth is what survives when illusion fails; it’s what’s left, however improbable, when the impossible has been winnowed out. If we as a species have developed notions of math and reason and God and the Devil we ought to treat these ideas with respect because somehow and in some way, these notions have endowed us with a survival advantage.

I think no one who is incapable of recognizing evil can long survive.

That’s not a rigorous proof that God exists. But it does suggest that we shouldn’t be too sure that He doesn’t.


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