It’s one of the most frequently presented straw men used against atheist voices. As a question asked and answered by person A in reference to person B, it’s a way for person A to assume motivations in order to potentially understand or dismiss the position of person B, and in those capacities, it is a boring and potentially harmful question. Yet, when asked personally about one’s self, it can be a fascinating, introspective piece.
“Sai,” (let’s pretend my real-world contacts call me by my pseudonym), “why do YOU care about the god hypothesis? If God doesn’t exist, why do you focus you energies on Him? Why do you write? Why do you podcast? Isn’t your spiritual journey proof that you yearn for God? Not like a box that is too dumb to yearn for contents but like a stomach that yearns for sustenance, so your soul longeth after God.”
I cannot deny that possibility. Nor can I refute the apologetic that Yahweh makes up for his divine hiddenness by instilling that yearning that will one day lead me toward a relationship with him. There’s no way to disprove those claims directly. At best, I can state that to me, such claims do not best explain the nature of my being and the universe I find myself a part of.
So if I reject the claim that my interest in the god hypothesis stems from a deity, why do I care? An answer I have heard many of my heroes in the atheist movement say in unison is, “because there is a religious right which is trying to impose its morals on the rest of us.” That’s a good answer, and it may be a sufficient one for those voices; however, I cannot say that it is true for me. I agree that the desecularization of America needs to stop and reverse (and I will likely find myself using my energies to combat the religious right in the future), but those are a consequence of my interest in the god hypothesis, not a cause.
Am I brainwashed? Do I care about the god hypothesis purely because I was indoctrinated as a child? Were I raised in an atheist household, would I devote my energy toward science journalism or Lord of the Rings fan fiction? What if my fascination stems purely from the fact that the majority of the people around me view the world through a lens that seems utterly foreign to me? Could it be that humans innately desire the potential for supernatural explanations to put an end to the nagging whys in the universe?
The problem with all these potential reasons is that none of them are verifiable. An action taken by a hidden being is necessarily unverifiable. Any biological or acquired traits or defects would necessarily be outside of any unbiased field of study that I could initiate. Any mission statement stemming from humanism or anthropological curiosity could very feasibly be a post hoc rationalization of a hunger that I cannot comprehend due to my lack of belief in a hidden deity that instilled it there.
So why even ask the question? Why ponder something that is likely to be beyond your grasp? I have found two reasons that are meaningful to me: for one, if you are an atheist activist interacting with theists, you WILL be asked this question at some point. How will you respond? Do you have an honest answer that satisfies your skepticism? If not, will you still pick up the banner of your heroes, regardless of it’s pertinence to your life? I think it’s important to reflect on this before you’re asked the question, lest you look unprepared. The other reason is that attempting to identify the forces that move you will generally make you more aware of where you will end up, whether it’s seeking a hidden god through metaphysics, taking action against desecularization, or seeking out atheist voices to keep the god hypothesis on the front burner of your brain. I would say that all these have their merits, all have an impact, and all have the means to satisfy the hunger felt by all of us who reserve a forum in our waking minds for the god hypothesis.