01/17/2012 02:26 pm ET Updated Mar 18, 2012

O Reason Not the Need

In Act Two of King Lear, the old fading king's nasty daughters, Goneril and Regan, badger their dottering father about letting go of his large, expensive entourage of soldiers and retainers. They argue him down in number to the point where, finally, Regan puts the knife in and asks, "What need one?" and Lear explodes, "O reason not the need!" It's a powerful moment and points to the whole question of need as a reason for possessing or believing something.

That same passionate question of need arises all the time in the arguments between theists and atheistic scientists about the origins of the universe and whether or not God exists. The theists argue that the universe needs God to create and sustain the universe, whereas the atheists argue that it came into being and exists quite well without divine action or intervention.

The two positions remain firm and unyielding to the point where atheists deride religion as ignorant while religion defends its territory and accuse atheists of arrogance. But what if the notion of need is unnecessary and irrelevant to the possible existence of God, especially in relation to cosmology.

If, as appears to be correct, life exists because of the presence of elements created by exploding stars in the billions and billions of galaxies out there and the conditions permitting life to exist and evolution to proceed are the result of the perfectly logical and explainable conditions existing on planet Earth (since so far no life has been found anywhere else), then why is the question of need so bothersome to both theism and science?

One answer is that theists use the necessity of need to offer proof of the existence of God, an argument useful as both a comfort and a reason for God to exist. Atheists counter by arguing that a creator was unnecessary and, therefore, no creator exists. Cosmologists increasingly argue effectively on the basis of continuing theory and supporting evidence for a universe coming into being (or perhaps one being here forever) without divine participation.

But what if we ignore the notion of need altogether? What if theists simply assert from faith that God exists as an integral part of how and why the universe is here at all and not because of divine necessityM What if the universe exists as an aspect of what idealism calls a greater consciousness that operates outside the human brain and which the brains of all creatures have access to at some level? In other words, the god of most religions may not be "other," but may be integral to existence itself.

That sort of argument eliminates the element of need and takes away the derision which the atheistic science community deploys to actively belittle religion as a competitor. After all, being a declared atheist is nothing more than another belief system and is just as speculative as belief in a personal god. Thus, all this argument between science and religion is just a battle between a bunch of avid believers, a contest neither can win, or shall we say, has a prayer of winning.