Francisco de Goya: Boys Climbing A Tree
ca. 1791

The incredulity I’m talking about doesn’t concern entities like the Loch Ness monster. If that creature could be caught, dragged ashore, and the body sent to an appropriate laboratory that later issued a report detailing the evidence for its reality, our Loch Ness skeptic could become a believer with no strain at all. That’s because the Loch Ness question can be settled empirically.

But the Body of God can’t be dragged into a lab for authentication. It’s just not that kind of entity. Nor can the question of God’s existence be settled by a debate. The only thing at issue in such a forum is, who won? The better debater has no need to defend the truer view.

On the God question, the only debate that’s near and dear is the one being conducted in a person’s own private mind. That one doesn’t stop when the bell rings. It can go on over a lifetime.

Take my own case. At the time when I began teaching philosophy, I described myself as an atheist. There were a couple of other views I then held that probably provided support for my unbelief with regard to God.

One such view was that, in order for anything definite to enter our conscious awareness, it had to enter in words. Outside of language, I believed, nothing distinct could become conscious. (This opinion was one I had drawn from a humanistic reading of Hegel, but never mind that now.)

“That’s not true,” objected my then colleague David Massie. “Animals are conscious.”

I pondered that one for about a minute and decided that he was obviously right. So … I gave up my previous view. Why walk around burdened with a view that’s not true? Put that suitcase-full-of-rocks down and travel lighter!  

What part of me was changed, as a result of this argument with my colleague? I now counted myself included in a wider domain of conscious awareness. After that, as far as I can recall, when I’d be by myself in wild nature, I’d feel less inclined to think myself all alone. To me, the silences became more populated and friendly.

The second view I gave up concerned determinism. While I didn’t think that every cause had to be material (ideas could act on other ideas, I thought, and emotions on other emotions), I did not see how to break out of the entire realm of criss-crossing causal chains without making the world unintelligible. (I was a Spinozist, but never mind that now.)

My change of view came about after a long argument with the philosopher John Bacon, my first husband. At this point, I can’t clearly recall how that argument went, but my guess is that John would have pointed out how much of common usage (expressions like, “That’s an outrage!” or “What a fine thing to do!”) would have to be discarded if there were no actual free agents to do the outrages or the fine deeds. Since I had in mind to write something on the topic of evil – because I had met with evil in my experience and hadn’t been able to find anything useful on that topic among the philosophers I’d read – I had to either give up the project or concede that it had moral freedom as its implication.

Did all this have anything to do with belief in God? It cleared away some roadblocks. Since, if there is divine consciousness, it would be manifest in many ways besides audible words, and since, if divine judgments are to be fair, they would require the commended or condemned to have been able to act otherwise, the two changes of view described above paved the way for my theistic turn. But I did not start believing in the God I now pray to because of a philosophical argument!

That turn occurred in my life when I was real scared and needed help from Someone close enough to see my problem, but see it a lot better than I could, and knowing enough to convey very precise instructions to me. In other words, I needed advice – badly! I mean on things like when to leave the apartment, which direction to take walking – that kind of advice! Not the kind you get from a competent therapist, a good woman friend, or even a great philosopher.  

I’m talking real 



What I suspect happened was that certain experiences suffered in my twenties had knocked the pins out from under an earlier, more primal, non-creedal sense of cosmic trust.   

In what had I trusted, in childhood and adolescence? In an Unseen – but helping – Hand. I’d had loving parents and a Jewish inheritance that simply took for granted its intelligent awareness of life’s transcendent openness.

Thus God,

when it came down to it.

By the time I really needed a Hand, the barriers had been cleared away dialectically. So I simply reached up and took the Hand I needed.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” ( where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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