Philosopher Gary Gutting at the New York Times, I think, might be trolling us. Why? He is using his platform at the Times to argue for the possibility of the existence of…wait for it…Zeus.
Reminiscing about this recently, I asked the kids if they had thought that Zeus was real. “Well,” one said, “I knew he didn’t exist anymore, but figured that he did back in ancient Greece.” This set me thinking about why we are so certain that Zeus never existed. Of course, we are in no position to say that he did. But are we really in a position to say that he didn’t?
I’d say we’re in a fantastic position to say that he didn’t, because an anthropomorphic super-being that lives in the clouds and on top of mountain, from which he hurls lightning bolts, and births children out of his cracked skull, is, well, completely absurd.
At best, I can say that Gutting is engaging in a somewhat playful philosophical exercise, except that so much in his column seems to me, who am very much not a philosopher, to be extremely — even laughably — weak. For example:
[T]he people who worshiped Zeus claimed to experience his presence in their everyday lives and, especially, in their religious ceremonies. There’s no reason for us to accept this claim, but we have no reason for thinking they were wrong.
Sure we do. Because he wasn’t there. One can get into semantics about the non-supernatural meanings of “divine,” but there really is no reason at all to give credence to the idea that these folks were “experiencing” Zeus, a fictional character, any more than I can experience Mr. Spock.
Gutting also considers the idea that these experience are simply manifestations of normal brain activity, and therefore can be dismissed, and he counters:
In principle, any experience of our daily lives can be produced by electrochemical alternations of the brain, but this does not show that, for example, I did not actually eat breakfast or talk to my wife this morning.
That’s not the point. The point is that one is plausible, and we have little reason to doubt the truth of his breakfast. But the other, belief in the God of Thunder, is not plausible, it’s ridiculous, with no basis in reality as best we can understand it, so we can in fact write that one off.
There’s more like this. Again, I’m no trained philosopher, but I’m a little gobsmacked that this idea is being taken seriously in this form. Of course, it’s no sillier, really, than making the same kinds of arguments for Yahweh or Jesus, but I had thought that at the very least we as a species had left Zeus and company behind.
So maybe he’s trolling us. In which case, well played.