God is a question, not an answer

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Doubt, uncertainty and openness about God’s existence marks an honest approach, a philosopher writes.

AN EXCERPT

Any honest atheist must admit that he has his doubts, that occasionally he thinks he might be wrong, that there could be a God after all — if not the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, then a God of some kind. Nathaniel Hawthorne said of Herman Melville, “He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other.” Dwelling in a state of doubt, uncertainty and openness about the existence of God marks an honest approach to the question.

There is no easy answer. Indeed, the question may be fundamentally unanswerable. Still, there are potentially unpleasant consequences that can arise from decisions or conclusions, and one must take responsibility for them.

Anyone who does not occasionally worry that he may be a fraud almost certainly is. Nor does the worry absolve one from the charge; one may still be a fraud, just one who rightly worries about it on occasion. Likewise, anyone who does not occasionally worry that she is wrong about the existence or nonexistence of God most likely has a fraudulent belief. Worry can make the belief or unbelief genuine, but it cannot make it correct.

People who claim certainty about God worry me, both those who believe and those who don’t believe. They do not really listen to the other side of conversations, and they are too ready to impose their views on others. It is impossible to be certain about God.

Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say to God if it turned out there was one and he met him at judgment. Russell’s reply: “You gave us insufficient evidence.” Even believers can appreciate Russell’s response. God does not make it easy. God, if he exists, is “deus absconditus,” the hidden God. He does not show himself unambiguously to all people, and people disagree about his existence. We should all feel and express humility in the face of the question even if we think the odds are tilted heavily in favor of a particular answer. Indeed, the open-minded search for truth can unite believers and nonbelievers.

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6 thoughts on “God is a question, not an answer

  1. “Has anyone provided proof of God’s inexistence? Not even close. Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here? Not even close. Have our sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life? Not even close. Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought? Close enough.

    Has rationalism and moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral? Not close enough. Has secularism in the terrible 20th century been a force for good? Not even close, to being close. Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy in the sciences? Close enough.

    Does anything in the sciences or their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational? Not even in the ball park. Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt? Dead on.”

    ― David Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion:
    Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions

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    • The best thing about Berlinski, as he is quoted above, is that he demonstrates succinctly how religious apologists ask the wrong questions.

      Do you think he has ever considered that life on Earth is fine tuned to the Universe, not the other way around?

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  2. The American psychologist, Gordon Allport (1962), has defined commitment as being at one and the same time half-sure and wholehearted.

    My half sure-ness comes from a church minister, to whom I will be eternally grateful for pointing out the unknowability of God. Just as a child can know its mother without knowing all ABOUT the mother, we cannot know all about God. God could be an intelligent universe. God could be comprised of a trinity or even more – a spiritual government. God could be a Force.

    My mind gets to work on “Why are we here?” and answers “To learn what is necessary for God’s purpose.” That is not achieved I think by puzzling over too much detail. We are here to do what we can, seeing whatever aspect or concept of God that is given us.

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  3. “People who claim certainty about God worry me, both those who believe and those who don’t believe. They do not really listen to the other side of conversations, and they are too ready to impose their views on others. It is impossible to be certain about God.”

    He is certain about peoples certainty of God and not listening.
    Is he listening? Is the scientist certainty mean he does not listen. Is the mother’s certainty of her love mean she will not listen? Or is this only with the believer or non believer? A strange belief I must say.

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  4. I would say certainty in God comes from discipline and hunger. The hunger to know Him and then the discipline to continue searching. God and the Bible hold many treasures for those willing to look.

    “Until you prove there is a God; until you show rational empirical proof, I don’t have to believe in God. Therefore, until you prove there is a God, there is no God.”

    This stance requires a big leap of faith. How can one prove that God who created the universe is not somewhere in the universe? Especially if one does not have God like knowledge of the universe.

    You are actually assuming something about the nature of God in order to say He doesn’t exist.

    C.S Lewis wrote, “If there is a God who created the world and created us, I could no more “meet” Him, than Hamlet could meet Shakespeare. If Hamlet wants to prove there is a Shakespeare, he’s not going to be able to do it in a lab, nor is he going to be able to find Shakespeare by going up into the top of the stage. The only way he will know something about Shakespeare is if Shakespeare writes something about himself into the play.”

    Christianity says God wrote Himself into the play!

    A compelling evidence supporting a theistic worldview involves the anthropic principle. This principle observes that the earth is fashioned so precisely that life could not exist if the earth were even minutely different.

    Then we have the timeless threads that flow through the Bible written by 60 authors, 40 books across centuries. Gems, diamonds and treasure line the road to wisdom.

    Prophecy shows us God in advance and we see His steps in history. The state of Israel is one such prophecy that people used to make fun of Christians and Jews pre 1948.

    Person experience of God is another reason to have certainty. The stories of others provide valuable insight into His character.

    I could go on, but certainty is certain for those who hunt for treasure.

    Amen!

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  5. “God” is really just a set of ideas which help people to cope with or ignore various psychological and social needs that they otherwise don’t know how to deal with. These include such things as:- some sense of morals, “understanding” the world, a sense of control, a stated purpose and a “context” for living, something larger than themselves, a means of coping with death by using fantasy to deny it, a sense of community, self-esteem that might otherwise be lacking, and a substitute “parent- attachment figure and friend” with an imagined ability to solve all problems.

    Infants develop quite a strong sense of a parent’s presence even when they can’t be seen, a parent who seems to just know what is needed or meant even when they are still talking gibberish , and just appears when needed to sort out problems. It’s a strong sense of presence and comfort that remains in our subconscious and is easily reignited and relied upon through the beliefs of religion.

    Unfortunately, Faith is no way to know the truth of anything, as different faiths allow people to “know” different things that are totally in opposition to each other. Some faiths even “know” that they are required to totally obliterate, by one means or other, every other faith and non-believers as well..

    Theology is simply the current mythology and faith is simply gullibility touted as a virtue.
    When you have Holy books promoting a perfect and inarguable authority, as well as listing a litany of the worst tribal atrocities imaginable, then you have a recipe for trouble.
    Throw in a “loving” “god” who didn’t know that slavery was a bad thing and whose idea of justice was sentencing you to an infinity of torture for a finite infringement, then you have a “god” who was neither moral nor just.

    And to complicate things, faith and religious beliefs are set in train when people are either young or vulnerable, when they are still at the stage of believing everything their parents tell them or do not have the required thinking skills to sort out the truth from what just “feels good” or comforting. Faith then compounds to ban any doubt or questioning, so that puts paid to ever knowing the truth at all.
    Even believers who develop some critical thinking skills which they apply in every other area of their lives seem to quarantine religion from such investigation as if they somehow recognize that it cannot withstand it and would come off second best.

    Instead, they use their reasoning skills to only ever support their faith, though never seeming to notice the circular reasoning and never-ending logical fallacies and mental gymnastics they are forced to employ in its defence.

    However, even though “god” is defined into existence and is then defined into any and every “good” or “enjoyable” aspect of life, and believers are made to feel that there would be virtually nothing left if they lost their faith, the fact is that all of the psychological and social needs that are seemingly met by the idea of “god” can also be met with a totally different ” god” idea or indeed without any sort of God idea at all.

    It just requires knowledge and a bit of courage. Oh, and it requires subjecting faith and religious beliefs to the same standards that are applied to every other idea.

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