I’ve found that if I were asked this question a thousand times I would answer it differently each time. I would be more or less driving at the same point, but there is never exhaustively enough to say about it. A seemingly simple question that even children ask (”Does God exist?”) is extensively complicated by philosophers. How do we solve it?
Conversation with a Scientist and a Philosopher
Can I answer the question? Should I leave my answer up to the authority of another? Let’s suppose I go to help for an answer; I go to a philosopher. I ask him several questions about God’s existence and I am met with a reply. Let’s suppose another setting, if I were to ask a scientist instead. I ask him several questions about God’s existence and I am again met with a reply. What sorts of things will the philosopher say as opposed to the scientist?
The philosopher – like religious folk in general – can take a stance on the question of God’s existence. In asking your questions to the philosopher about God’s existence you will meet an elaboration on several other concepts that relate to ones you are already familiar with: (i) existence generally, (ii) knowledge, (iii) morality, (iv) personhood and so on. However, the stance or judgement that the philosopher takes on these concepts and their relation to divine existence determines his predecessing disposition: belief or unbelief.
With the conversation of the scientist the belief or unbelief distinction won’t play too much of a role. After all, it would be strange to try and view God as a kind of scientific or mathematical object and suggest from there that one can either be “God-ist” or “a-God-ist.” Converted to a more associable example, it would be strange for one to doubt the existence of theoretical objects and hence be called an “a-black hole-ist” or an “a-quantum physicist.” In this scenario, one would instead just be called an “anti-realist.” Anti-realism is the view which suggests that unobservable entities (like quantum fields or vacuums) are “non-realities” since they are (roughly) not detectable by the human senses.
Now, scientists are not committed to either an anti-realist or realist perspective. I think there are good reasons for supposing one over the other, but that doesn’t matter here. The point is that philosophy and science are concerned with two different spheres of knowledge; one more concerned with the knowledge of particulars (”things fall”) and systematizing them into general applications (“law of gravity”), the other with systematizing particulars and universals broadly speaking. Science and philosophy.
A scientific worldview on the matter of investigating God’s existence wouldn’t affirm anything worth advancing a knowledge of God on the basis of empirical analysis alone. It could not, on the aforementioned formula, work through the knowledge of the particulars (”humans exist,” “morality abides by a standard,” etc) to a general application (”God exists,” “God is the basis for which…” and so on) which makes these particulars meaningful or useful. Science doesn’t work like that.
A Conversation with Whom?
A knowledge of the “hard stuff” of life is based somewhere between dialogue and monologue. Questions about our origins or existence in general constitutes a lot of skepticism and doubt if left to our own crafts.
Physics generally speaking can only step back so far into the past. With amazing developments in the last century, the theoretical sciences have stepped in with fantastic insight. Other natural and life sciences paint a picture of man amidst his unique conditionings. There is around man a flux of influence: Generations/culture, environment, geography, history, biology, pyschology and so on.
Science develops a view of you that elaborates on the intricacies of your cognitive development – your pyshcological limitations and your “personality profile” – and the nuances of diet, exercise, discipline or what have you that make up a “proper functioning” person, and so on. However, is this You? Given the wide body of scientific knowledge that exists about your being, does all this make up who you are? Are the questions of meaning settled?
It might be strange after a lecture on the archaeological development of the human species to stand and ask, “Is my life meaningful amidst these findings/developments?” Appropriately we don’t ask these questions because science can’t settle questions like this. That isn’t to say that science is at fault or let alone faulty. Science doesn’t dictate, procedurally, metaphysical knowledge. Philosophy or theology primarily does.
Skepticism here naturally arises. Where am I going to find truth – realtruth – among philosophers and theologians? Will I not meet a clash of opinions about divine existence? That would seem frustrating. What sorts of questions could I ask that would avoid this? What kind of dialogue would need to take place?
A Conversation Between Sides
Questions are important. They are like windows into a person’s mind. They may often shine so bright that a realization is made; or be so dull that there seems to be no light of mind ahead. Philosophical questions try to bring light wherever there is dullness; the light of human reason. It is of course but a candle in a room lit darkly, not much is seen afar.
This optimism of human reason is what is characteristic of philosophy. The optimism differs between its forefathers – the Greeks – and at its late but perfectly timely practioners – the Christians. This optimism consists in the assumption that we can not only talk sensibly about divine existence, but that we can know some things about it. The Socratic attitude is one spectrum of a knowledge of a divine existence; “the God” is acknowledged through moral order and hence a rough sort of ‘natural knowledge’ of God is possible.
The Christian attitude shares an optimism in reason similarly but instead because of divine grace and God’s creating us in His image. Human reason is a candle in a room lit darkly, but God is like the Sun; the source of all light. Philosophy can be used to the advantage of obtaining at least some partial knowledge of God. On this understanding, philosophy is more of a servant to theology rather than a lamp post to its feet. Theology is a lamp post to the feet of philosophy.
Why should one share in this optimism with the philosopher? This may be all well and good, but will I simply be met with what this person thinks about God or divine existence and not be given anything serious, honest and maybe conclusive? Hence, there may be a reluctance to achieve anything worthwile in religion through philosophical investigation.
However, I resort back to my initial question: What sorts of questions would I have to avoid in order to achieve anything worthwile about divine existence?
The Questions That Need Attention
This post starts with the question “Does God exist?” Suppose we start with a series of other preliminary questions about knowledge and being generally.
- Is knowledge is possible?
- (a) If not, is a knowledge of “self” possible?
- (b) If not, is a knowledge of “reality” possible?
- Do “laws of thought” exist or apply to reality (”excluded middle,” “non-contradiction,” etc)?
- Could any event be explained en totum via (”in whole by way of”) physical explanation?
- Is reality fundamentally material?
The list could actually go on somewhat extensively. I suspect that any individual with or without a philosophical education has an answer to anyone of these questions. Given an individual’s admission or judgement about God’s existence, they are nonetheless respectively tied to some prior commitment or worldview which elaborates on knowledge, existence and being more specifically.
These commitments are not necessarily binding. However, I suspect that some instances can call for justified inferences. For example, if one thinks that a knowledge of self and reality is not possible and that laws of thought do not apply to reality, then one would certainly be skeptical about God’s existence. At least he should be.
A theistic worldview has a philosophical optimism about the world. Knowledge is possible according to the theist because he has been endowed (in whatever fashion) with cognitive faculties that are reliable and can partake in a knowledge of God. Laws of thought apply to reality because has God has organized the universe in a rational sort of way; Mind is the basis of reality.
A worldview in which God does not exist exhibits a different kind of optimism. In fact, philosophers have argued that this “absence of Being” leads to a shift into pessimism. Pessimism about meaningful categories towards existence and being. Knowledge may or may not be possible in this life. We are constricted to a procedural, testable and “immediate” view of nature and knowledge. Science is our only hope for epistemological progress on the self, reality and God. Mind is not the basis of reality.
The question of God’s existence leads to a picture of the world which constitutes one’s entire being: Are we merely political, social and/or biological creatures or are we creatures with an intended beginning? We are either surprisingly less meaningful or surprisingly more meaningful than we thought. There is no indifference to this.