It’s been an obsession for over half my life – ever since I got into my first debate about the existence of God with an atheist friend. I studied philosophy at university, read widely – often compulsively – and devoured the literature. I began my own research and writing, some of which bore fruit in publications, but all of which was simply me trying to sort out what I thought about some problem or other. But I’ve decided to call time on most of my work in philosophy of religion, and the main reason I’m doing so is because it has become boring.
There are only so many times we can keep going over the same questions, problems, and disagreements, and I’ve come to the realisation that on most of the issues of any importance I’ve more or less settled my mind, and thus it’s time to just move on. Take the existence of God. I am absolutely convinced that God exists, it seems fairly obvious to me; though natural theology just feels tedious these days. I’ve little to say to atheists and they’ve little to say to me that I haven’t heard 101 times before. We’re at an impasse that philosophy cannot resolve, and continuing bickering is pointless. The same goes for what has been probably my biggest research interest for years: the problem of evil. I’ve nothing more to say about it and, to my mind anyway, it’s dead in the water as a serious intellectual objection to Christian theism. My third primary interest focused on the nature of God, and in particular God’s providence. This is an area in which I feel I’ve made the least progress, but it’s the area wherein perhaps there’s far less progress to be made. Trying to fathom the intricate detail of the nature and work of a being I can barely comprehend seems the height of futility. I’ve been reading some Calvinist works recently and it suddenly occurred to me that few of us really have any clue whatsoever how such a being governs the world, and yet our philosophical pretensions rumble on regardless. To some, that might sound like I’m on the slippery slope to agnosticism, and to some degree they’d be right. Fundamentally, it’s a recognition of my own inability to grasp the nature of God and my acceptance that that’s just the way it is and that’s OK. I’m happy not knowing, and refusing to speculate seems the least bad option. Nothing seems to hang on one’s view of divine omniscience, eternity or providence. It makes not a jot of difference.
Philosophical thinking is, of course, inescapable, and this is no abandoning of philosophy in general on my part. It’s a re-orientation and application of what philosophical ability I have to newer (at least to me) and more important questions. To that end my work on the problem of evil, natural theology, and the nature of God, will largely cease. I will continue to explore miracle claims as I still find these intriguing and I haven’t yet settled the matter to my own satisfaction. I also intend to engage more directly in matters of ethics and political philosophy, both of which have massive implications for human life and well-being, and I will continue my work in inter-faith relations. In short, I’m abandoning heaven in favour of earth in my philosophical ruminations.
I’ll be turning 40 this year, which means that the best part of my life is almost certainly behind me. Looking ahead I’d rather not waste any more time on the same old problems that intellects of far greater philosophical power than me struggle to make any progress on, or on areas I’ve already firmly decided. Some might interpret this move as something of a mid-life crisis. Perhaps they are right, though it’s a much cheaper way to do it than buying a motorbike.
I hope readers will continue to find my writings engaging despite the change of emphasis, and maybe even because of it.
Stephen J. Graham