I don’t doubt that challenges are important and maybe even necessary in our lives, and true also that challenges involve frustration and suffering, in some cases. And I suppose you can say that meeting challenges helps to build character. (They surely are conditions for some of our greatest art!) But tell me, what character is built for the millions whose lives were cut short by the holocaust, by total war, by early deaths due to preventable disease? Is this the only way your God can “build character”?
Occasionally someone brings up the challenge to theism brought by the well-known atheist, Richard Dawkins and proceeds to show that it is a weak challenge. Recently, an email correspondent, Spanos the man, brought up Dawkins’ denial of God as an example of a weak atheistic argument. It is an interesting exercise to show that this downgrading of Dawkins does not succeed.
You say that European philosophers with their dark views of humanity devoid of a transcendent order to keep them in check display more courage than their contemporaries who don’t emphasize that view of things. Maybe, who knows? But a realistic, existentialist view of humanity need not fall into the nervous “fear and trembling” that is displayed by those who need the big “parent in the sky” to guide and reassure them. Many existentialists who were atheistic did not fall into that kind of cowardly despair.
Why do I think ancient people adopted the belief in an immortal soul? — The likely answer is that the ancients and medieval people were generally indoctrinated to believe the dogma of an immortal soul, along with other dogma about the fate of the soul after death. In the Christian period, when they were not so indoctrinated or resisted the indoctrination, they were terrorized into believing (or at least outward assent to the belief).
Let me use the analogy of human high jumping. Although the height that human high jumpers have achieved has risen dramatically in recent decades (now over 8 feet), there is a limit (a physical limit to how high a human can jump). So possibilities of yet higher jumps remain. But the book is not wide open on these possibilities, as long as we’re talking about human physiology. You won’t see anyone ever high jumping 50 feet! But maybe someone will someday achieve a jump of 9-10 feet. The same thinking applies to the limits and possibilities of scientific knowledge. Yes, scientific knowledge is not a completed story. Yes, more remains to be told (discovered). But what remains, when it is disclosed, will come under the category of nature as we now know it. There is no reason for claiming that among those possibilities not yet disclosed are supernatural realities (the sort you yearn for). That would be like claiming that because human high jumpers are still setting new records, one will eventually jump over a 100 foot barrier unaided!
The teachings of a Jewish sage are transformed into a Hellenized, somewhat mystical philosophy and eventually Christian doctrine over the course of a few decades. After a few centuries, the Christian doctrine becomes a Roman institution.
There is a great variety of belief in G-d. There isn’t any general consensus on the claim that G-d is real. In short, this is not an obvious, objective fact. There is a great variety of non-belief in G-d. There isn’t any general consensus on the claim that G-d is fiction or non-existent. In short, these are facts that do not require supporting argument.
Generally, statement of belief makes reference to the object of belief, which is not a mere psychological state. Although belief often involves some state of mind, the object of most of our beliefs is something other than our psychological state of mind.
Historically, much misery and suffering could have been avoided if people had recognized that the nobler forms of religion deal with values and spirituality, not with doctrines or dogma about objective reality, and not with a supernatural being who includes certain groups and excludes, even condemns, other groups