SYNOPSIS ON THE QUESTION OF GOD (CONT’D)

In the last post, we began our summary by noting the inconclusiveness of  logical and subjective arguments for and against the existence of God, and revisiting our synthesis based on the question of why there is something instead of nothing, relationship with God, concerns regarding established religions, and the possibility of pantheism.

In the latter case of pantheism, there remains for us the hope that the universe may be the physical manifestation of a conscious being. If the human brain with its compact complexity has consciousness, perhaps the far more complex universe has consciousness not immediately apparent to us. In that case, the ultimate or totality of being of the Upanishads and Tillich, has a consciousness intertwined with its physical nature as occurs in humans. However, unlike us, it is indestructible as demonstrated by the laws of Thermodynamics and hence eternal. But perhaps it is also timeless as it includes facets (i.e. immaterial reality and its consciousness) beyond the physical universe where space-time is instantiated. In that case, our best means to understand God’s nature is by a combination of inspection (science) and introspection (meditation).

The philosopher, Daniel Robinson, in his lecture God-Really? expresses beautifully the choice between atheism and theism. He deploys pragmatism on the line of “inference to the best explanation- why is reality lawful, not lawless? A designer is the most logical explanation.” And then proceeds:

“One might ask …what one would chose as between a dead cosmos of meaningless statistical possibilities and one alive with promise and nurturing of hope. Now I would regard it as simply curmudgeonly to choose the former. Let me say it again we have these two choices,…we can choose to believe that the universe is a place of dead matter describable in purely statistical terms and having no point. There are arguments to that effect. But there are also warrants by way of Thomas Aquinas and many other arguments…for believing that the design feature, the nomic necessity, all of those things that allow one to negotiate space and time…offer ample evidence of design, intention, plan, intelligence. Remember that the Greek word, logos, can be translated as reason; it can be translated as a legal case. If two people are having a legal dispute in ancient Athens we would express the point of the dispute as its logos. And so the biblical phrase might have been translated not ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ but ‘In the beginning was the point of it all.’ There are good arguments for assuming the whole thing has a point, and that that point points ultimately to a divine and providential source. So that’s another conceivable scheme that we might entertain as to what the universe is all about. I choose that one. And so ‘God- really?’ Well, yeah –really.”

It is extremely tempting to follow Leibniz, Einstein, Becker, and Robinson. It is both more reasonable and more propitious to attribute the origin of everything to God as designer rather than austere chance. It corresponds better with the human disposition and offers more in terms of purpose, ethical foundation, contentment, and apotheosis… But the final decision remains to each alone.

 

1From A Conversation with Ernest Becker, Psychology Today, April 1974. Sam Keen interviewed Becker, the author of The Denial of Death, on his death bed.

2Robinson, Daniel R., The Great Ideas of Philosophy, Lecture 60: God-Really?. The Teaching Company, 2004.

 

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GOD – A PERSONAL SYNTHESIS – PART III

“He is neither number nor order; not greatness nor smallness; nor equality nor inequality; nor similarity nor dissimilarity; neither is He still, nor moving, nor at rest; neither has He power nor is power, nor is light; neither does He live nor is He life; neither is He essence, nor eternity, nor time; nor is He subject to intelligible contact; nor is he science  nor truth, nor a king, nor wisdom; neither one nor oneness, nor godhead nor goodness; nor is he spirit according to our understanding, nor a son, nor a father ; nor anything else known to us…” – Dionysius, the Aeropagite 1

Given the conclusion that God, defined as the origin of the universe, does exist in one of the three forms, an inevitable question follows: is each of them compatible with the traditional idea of God and purported relationship of man to Him?   Let’s examine the traditional characteristics attributed to God which include:

1.   Eternal or timeless and necessarily existent

    2.   Highest or ultimate being

    3.  Changeless

    4.   Unitary

    5.   Omniscient (all-knowing)

    6.   Omnipotent (all-powerful)

    7.   Omni-benevolent (all-good)

    8.   Personal

    9.   Creative

Table 3 in the  appendix is my table of these traditional characteristics applied to the three possible forms of God. In general, I see no philosophical necessity for any of these terms to be absolute in the anthropomorphic sense that leads to logical inconsistency. For instance, omniscient need not mean a mind knowing what will happen in advance, but instead that all material and immaterial knowledge is held within the confines of the entity which constitutes God. Applying human parameters to the characteristics to God appears arbitrary or naive. Rather it should be the aim of man to understand as precisely as possible the characteristics of God as they manifest in  such a distinct being.

The medieval philosopher, Maimonides, in his book, The Guide for the Perplexed, points this out, arguing that biblical passages about God’s traits and behavior are metaphorical not literal, which I believe should be the approach to reconciling traditional descriptions of God’s features and actions. More importantly curiosity to understand and relate to God does not require a complete knowledge of divine properties.

Some early mystical Western  theologians take this further arguing that God can only be known by the via negativa. By this they mean, God is better understood as unlike common human experience, for instance, God is neither material nor immaterial. In this view, God’s qualities are not adjectives like those that apply to man – i.e. moral or immoral, mortal or immortal, personal or non-personal – but above or beyond such attributes. God cannot be seen by the eyes or known by the intellect, but only through a mystical transcendence. While this relies on a component of faith, the philosopher can reasonably assert that an entity comprising all being including the part unknown to man can only be imprecisely described in human terms.

This leaves the difficult issue of deciding whether purported spiritual and mystical experiences are in fact an experience of the divine. If and when these occur, each of us will have to determine how closely they fulfill our comprehension of God as origin of the universe. If the universe is either identical to God or is one of His manifestations, spiritual experiences seem to be a prefatory but vivid experience of the divine.

1Abhayananda, Swami, History of Mysticism, Atma Books, Olympia Washington. ISBN 0-914557-09-2,  pages 157-158

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GOD – A PERSONAL SYNTHESIS – PART II

“Both religion and science need for their activities the belief in God, and moreover God stands for the former in the beginning, and for the latter at the end of the whole thinking. For the former, God represents the basis, for the latter – the crown of any reasoning concerning the world-view.”- Max Planck,  physicist and Nobel laureate

At the end of the day, we must decide which alternative seems most likely:

1.  An eternal but unexplained quantum flux led to a multiplicity of universes out of nothingness – at least one of which by chance permits the existence of life in general and ourselves specifically.

2.  The universe itself is eternal, notwithstanding scientific evidence of an origin in the big bang.

3.  There is an eternal agent, unexplained and unverifiable, which created or originated the universe.

Alternatively stated, if we define God as the origin of the universe, then God is either (1) the quantum flux or its cause, (2) the universe (or multiverse) itself, or (3) an eternal, unexplained, and unverifiable creator. For now, each reader will have to come to terms with these choices. It seems to me that each is reasonable and for the near future at least unprovable.

Up till now we have been talking about the origin of the material universe. Of course reality has a non-material nature as well, for example: mathematics, physical laws, ideas, imagination, abstract qualities such as beauty and justice, musical and literary composition, and perhaps consciousness. Traditionally God is not just the cause of the material universe, but also the source of the immaterial – via a property called by some in the West, logos  and some in the East, TaoOne of the weaknesses of scientific conceptions of the origin of the universe is that the immaterial remains unexplained or merely a fabrication of the human mind. But it seems a stretch to argue that the number π which does not exist in nature can be attributed solely to the human mind.

If we then revert back to the original question, “Why is there anything at all?”; for whichever cause we choose- the operative concept is necessary existence – a philosophical term that means a thing must exist by virtue of its own essence.  As Kant taught us, the word necessary is a category used by the human mind contrasted with possible and impossible. So to solidify this argument I would add that we should understand necessity uniquely in this instance, that is, any eternal being contains is in its essence the quality of necessary existence. Or in other words, an eternal being is by definition necessarily existent.

This leads us to a final conclusion – God does exist as the eternal and necessary ‘being’ that explains the universe, either the universe or multiverse itself or a creator impenetrable by current scientific means.

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GOD – A PERSONAL SYNTHESIS – PART I

“Why is there something rather than nothing?” – Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

We now reach the difficult point of choosing a personal understanding of God’s existence, nature, and relationship to man.

It seems best to me to  transpose the question from a proof of God’s existence to a choice of the answer to the perplexing question of why there is something rather than nothing. Here are all the possible answers as I see it:

1.  The question is nonsensical.

2.  I don’t know.

3.  There just is.

4.  It cannot be known.

5.  Something may come from nothing.

6.  Something has always existed.

Each person will have to choose one of these answers, and since none is certain, it may be best to challenge each. First, is the question nonsensical? Logical positivists like A. J. Ayer certainly felt so but if this version of the question is the problem, we can change it to the simpler version,  “What caused there to be anything?” Most of us understand the words in the question with no difficulty, so the only conflict I can see is that the word “anything” implies a multitude in which case the cause of each may be different. On the other hand it seems unreasonable or disingenuous to argue that the search for the origin of all of the subatomic particles and energy that make up the universe is nonsensical when cosmology and physics continue to do exactly that.

Answers 2, 3 and 4 are essentially corollaries of each other, and may justify a need for more study or reflection, but also appear to be inconsistent with  modern scientific efforts as well.

Answers 5 and 6 seem to be the best choices for consideration by the earnest philosopher. That something can come from nothing appears to be illogical, but modern quantum science suggests that in a quantum flux, from time to time there will appear particles of matter and antimatter – hence something can come from “nothing.” This solution  leads to three problems:

(1) Where did the quantum flux come from?  (Isn’t the quantum flux something?)

(2) How can matter be created “from time to time” when time is a part of the fabric of space that would not yet exist?

(3) Statistically, the quantum flux would require an unimaginably large number of episodes of formation of matter before creating the singularity that led to our universe, thus requiring a massive if not infinite number of quantum events and resultant structures – which seems far more complex and less credible than an act of intentional creation .

Of course the possibility of an eternal creator has difficulties as well – there is the issue of explaining the nature or basis of the creator (presumably God) . There is no scientific justification for such an entity, and it defies investigation or scrutiny. The advantage of this choice is its simplicity as an explanation and the lack of requirement for the multitude of unknown universes.

The last possibility that the universe itself is eternal reality appears inconsistent with the fairly well-accepted theory of its origin in the big bang.

 

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ARGUMENTS AGAINST GOD’S EXISTENCE – PART II

“God cannot do all things…his own death…bring to pass that one who lived did not live…he hath no power over things past…nor that twice ten should not make twenty. Whereby is proved the power of nature, and how it is she only which we call God.” – Pliny the Elder

The last section presented the argument from evil as evidence against the existence of God as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. In this section we will think through some additional reasoning used in challenging the existence of a deity with these attributes, and as creator of the universe.

The first type of contentions are based on the logic of God’s presumed characteristics.  The term all-powerful appears to be logically inconsistent. Can God make 2+2 = 5?  Does God have the power to limit His own power or to end his existence? If God is all-good, does he have the ability to cause evil? Presumably the answer to these questions is no, in which case there is a limit to his power. The traditional response to these arguments is to say that his power is limited to the logically possible. But in that case God is limited by something outside of Himself, logic, making God something less than the greatest being imaginable or the totality of reality.

Similarly, if free agency exists, then God cannot force a free being to act in a particular manner, and again He is limited. If free will is real, then God cannot “know” what a free being will do. It seems odd if not irrational to say God always knew Shakespeare would write Hamlet, and every word of the play before Shakespeare wrote it; in which case, is Shakespeare truly its author?  Rational limits on God’s power and knowledge undermine  the attributes of omnipotence and omniscience .

The second type of disputation is from the scientific standpoint. As we learn increasing details on the origin of the cosmos and the physical laws that govern it, it appears to be progressively unnecessary to postulate a creator. It simply adds unverifiable and unnecessary complexity to cosmology. If any evolving scientific explanation is countered by the theologian as being just one more step back to the final explanation of a ‘hypothetical’ divine being, it appears no better than insisting on the existence of unicorns in the absence of evidence for them.  Philosophically, the theologian should be able to present positive evidence of His existence in the face of modern science rather than default to the position that scientists or nonbelievers must disprove his existence.

At the end of the day, logic and common experience of the world appear unable to prove the existence of or even a high likelihood of the Divine (at least in the traditional form). Rather faith, mystical experience, and the like  seem to be the basis for most religious belief. We will discuss these in the next blog.

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ARGUMENTS AGAINST GOD’S EXISTENCE – PART I

“Before the holocaust, Jews believed in God but not the devil. But after the holocaust, Jews believed in the devil but not God.” – Elie Wiesel

 

There are in fact no philosophical proofs against the existence of God, as such. Rather the traditional arguments are against God as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. The basis of this argument is that there is evil in the world, which is logically inconsistent with such a divine being. Most of us have experienced this doubt when confronted by horrible natural disasters or great human evil. The deaths of so many in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany or natural disasters such as a tsunami invariably make us ask: “would an all-powerful and all-good God permit this?”

The rebuttals to this argument from evil are called ‘theodicy’  (the roots of this word are  ‘god’ and ‘justice’) a term first used by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. The argument from evil has remained a challenge for Christian theologians,  the various refutations to the argument include the propositions that evil is due to:

1)  punishment by God for sin especially original sin of the first humans  – i.e. it is justified,

2)  free agency of imperfect beings including humans and demons (especially Satan), that is, free will is a good worth consequent evils,

3)  logical requirements – i.e. the current world is the best of all possible worlds (Liebniz’s position),

4)  it’s function in moral strengthening (the higher-order goods defense),

5)  illusion, misinterpretation, or simple privation, or

6)  reasons beyond human understanding  (the conclusion of the biblical Job).

None of these is completely successful and the details of these responses are beyond the scope of this site. However readers will have little trouble finding detailed discussions in readily available books and on websites and in debates posted on YouTube.

Nonetheless, for most philosophers, I suspect the reality of evil in the world makes an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God implausible and perhaps a logical contradiction.

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