bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 3: Believe Whatever Makes You Happy

In my humble opinion, the question “Does God exist?” is best answered by taking a particular approach:

We should answer this question by means of philosophical investigation, especially by critical examination of philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.

However, this is NOT the only way to approach the question “Does God exist?”.  Here are a couple of alternative ways of answering this question:

2. Believe whatever religious or ideological ideas make you feel happy and content.

3. Try out different religions/worldviews to see which one works best for you.

If the point or purpose of a religion or ideology is to make one’s life better, then why not take the very practical approach of trying out different religions and worldviews, to determine which one does a better job of improving one’s life?
People often assume that happiness or contentment is what makes a life good.  The more happiness and contentment a person has, the better the quality of his or her life.  On this assumption one could experiment with different religions and worldviews, and determine which one resulted in the most happiness and contentment in one’s life.  The principle this thinking supports is approach #2:

2. Believe whatever religious or ideological ideas make you feel happy and content.


But happiness and contentment are not the only goals for life.  These are not necessarily what everyone is seeking in life.  Some people want fame and honor, and some people seek acheivment of difficult goals in sports, science, engineering, music, literature, or other areas.
People who seek acheivement of difficult goals are often willing to sacrifice happiness and contentment for the sake of acheiving their chosen goals.  For such people a life that involves sacrifice of their chosen goals in order to obtain happiness and contentment would NOT be a good life, at least NOT a better life than one where there was less happiness and contentment but where their chosen goals were acheived.   So, a slight modification of approach #2 would be to focus on what “works for” the person who is trying out various religions and worldviews:

3. Try out different religions/worldviews to see which one works best for you.

A life with lots of success at acheiving difficult chosen goals would be one that “works for” some people, even if that life does not maximize their happiness and contentment.
 
APPARENT ADVANTAGES OF THESE PRACTICAL APPROACHES
One advantage of approaches #2 and #3 is that one might be able to find an acceptable religion or worldview after exploring only a few alternatives.  This appears to be a practical approach, one that does not demand perfection of a religion or worldview, but only that a religion or worldview helps one to be happy or that it works for a person, given his/her primary goals in life.
A more philosophical approach appears to be seeking “the TRUE religion” or “the TRUE worldview”,  and to do so in a careful and objective manner.  That would seem to require examination of all religions and worldviews, or at least a large sample of religions and worldviews, in order to avoid bias and to increase the likelihood of discovering the one TRUE point of view.
The more practical approaches referenced above don’t assume that there is only ONE religion or worldview that will “work for” a person, nor that there is one religion or worldview that will work for EVERY person.  Different strokes for different folks.  We have different needs and desires, so why not have different religions and worldviews for different people?  A religion that makes one person happy and content might not make some other person, who has different needs and desires, happy and conent.
A worldview that works for one person might not work for another person.  John Stuart Mill praised LIBERTY for individuals because each of us is, in general, the best judge of what makes us happy.  I know best what makes me happy, so I am the best judge of which religion or worldview makes me happiest, or which religion or worldview works best for me.  A more philosophical approach seems to be in search of the ONE TRUE worldview, a worldview which it would thus be tempting to force everyone to accept.  A philosophical approach appears to seek a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem.
Another advantage of these practical approaches to religion/ideology is that it does not require that one be intellectually sophisticated.  To base the choice of a religion or worldview on analysis and evaluation of philosophical arguments, requires that one be somewhat intellectually sophisticated, requires one to have some knowledge and skill in logic and critical thinking, and some knowledge of philosophy and conceptual analysis.
But to determine whether a religion or worldview makes one feel happy or content seems like a simpler and less demanding task.  Aren’t we all naturally good and figuring out whether we are happy and content?  We don’t need any special knowledge or skills in order to figure out whether a religion works for us, or helps us to acheive our main goals.  The practical approaches seem to be easier and less demanding that a philosophical approach to religion and ideology.
 
SOME DISADVANTAGES OF THESE PRACTICAL APPROACHES
We can already see disadvantages just by the previous comparison of approach #2 with approach #3.  Using happiness and contentment as the standard will incline people towards the path of least resistance.  For example, who would want to be a supporter of liberal democracy if born into a nation filled with Nazis or fascists?  Your fellow citizens would beat you silly, throw bricks through the windows of your house, and kill your cat or dog, so there would be very little happiness or contentment for supporters of liberal democracy in such circustances.
There is more happiness and contentment to be had in just going along with the crowd, at least in that sort of situation.  So, if you happen to be born in a fascist country, or a country filled with mindless and spineless followers of “dear leader”, then if happiness and contentment is your goal, you will probably just follow the herd and learn to praise and obey “dear leader” (and watch only Fox News).   This is, at the least, a moral problem with approach #2.
Conversely, although approach #3 does not incline a person so strongly to conformity with the masses, it does have the disadvantage that one might well end up miserable following this approach.  The best chance of success at most difficult to acheive goals is to focus almost exclusively on the goal(s), and sacrifice all other aspects of one’s life, including happiness and contentment.  Most high-acheivers are never satisfied with any particular success or acheivement.  They are driven for perfection and excellence, and set their sights higher than what they can realistically acheive.
Really big goals and projects require multiple generations of effort, so when one kicks off such a grand project, there is little hope of actually seeing the project completed in one’s lifetime.  Personal relationships are often sacrificed by people who are focused on obtaining a difficult-to-acheive goal.  Health and safety are often sacrificed by people who strive to acheive a lofty goal.  Comfort and pleasure are often sacrificed by high achievers.  So, it is not unusual for a person who is focused on acheiving a difficult goal to be a sad, lonely, and generally miserable person.
Although it seems like we are naturally good at figuring out what makes us happy and content, and naturally good at figuring out what “works best” for ourselves,  these practical approaches are not as easy to carry out as it might intially seem.  First of all, you can try out a dozen different flavors of ice cream in one day, but you cannot try out a dozen different religions or worldviews in one day, nor in one week.  You have to learn about the religion/worldview.  You have to learn about its various concepts, beliefs, and practices.  You need to get to know some people who live their lives in accordance with that religion/worldview.  You have to experience a wide variety of events and circumstances over a significant amount of time, to be able to make a reasonable assessment of how living and thinking in accordance with that religion/worldview makes you feel and helps or hinders your plans and goals.
I don’t see how being a Christian or a Buddhist for a week or a month would give one enough information and experience to make any sort of reasonable assessment of how those religions impact one’s life.  But if you have to spend a year or two trying out a religion or worldview in order to have “walked a mile” in someone else’s shoes, then these “practical approaches” are actually very demanding on a person.
Even if one were to spend just one year as a Christian, one year as a Muslim, one year as a Jew, one year as a Buddhist, and one year as a Hindu, that would just scratch the surface of the world of religions.  There are also secular worldviews to try out, like Secular Humanism, and Marxism.   One could easily devote one’s entire adult life to exploring different religions and worldviews, so that even if one was able to determine that religion X or worldview Y “works best for me” or “makes me happiest and most content”, there might be only a few years left of one’s life to fully embrace and enjoy that religion or worldview.
Another difficulty with these practical approaches is that the central aspect of a religion or worldview is what one believes, but beliefs are not easily changed or altered, especially not the basic sorts of beliefs involved in religions and worldviews.   An atheist cannot simply decide to believe in God for a week or a month or a year, nor can a Christian simply decide to stop believing in God and in Jesus for a week or a month or a year.  We don’t have that kind of control over our most basic beliefs and values.  We can try chocolate ice cream and then try vanilla ice cream without any effort or hesitation, but we cannot try out atheism and then immediately switch to trying out faith in God and Jesus.
Furthermore, to the extent that a person does manage to switch temporarily from one religion to another religion, or from one religion to a secular worldview, or from a secular worldview to a religion, the seriousness and legitimacy of that person’s beliefs are cast into doubt.  If you can change your basic beliefs and values on a whim, then presumably you never really had much commitment or involvement with those beliefs and values.
Religious and worldview beliefs are supposed to be part of a person’s character and self-identity.  A person who can simply decide to stop believing in God and stop following Jesus is not much of a Christian believer.  So, someone who “tries out” Christianity for a year, and then on the very last day of the year, immediately stops believing in God and stops praying to Jesus, and stops following Jesus, is NOT someone who has sincerely and seriously been a Christian believer for a year.  It is not clear that it is really possible to “try out” a religion or worldview, at least not as an intentional experiment.
Another difficulty with making “happiness and contentment” the standard by which to judge a religion or worldview, is that it is far from clear what “happiness and contentment” means.  The question “What is happiness?” is a PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION, and it is NOT a particularly easy question to answer.  So, although it seemed initially that no particular knowledge or skill or intellectual sophistication was required to follow approach #2, this may not actually be the case.  It makes no sense to spend years of one’s life trying out different religions and worldviews in order to determine which one does the best job of producing “happiness and contentment” if one is UNCLEAR about what “happiness and contentment” mean.  So, a degree of philosophical and intellectual sophistication may be needed just to get this project started, to get it headed in the right direction.
Similarly,  approach #3 assumes some goals or purposes that are cherished by the individual who is setting out to investigate various religions and worldviews.  But what if a peson’s goals or purposes are bad or foolish?   Suppose a scientist wants to make a bomb so powerful that it could destroy our galaxy? or destroy the entire known universe?  Do we really want to encourage that scientist to find a religion or worldview that HELPS him or her to acheive this horrible goal?  So, it seems like there is an additional first step needed with this approach as well: determining whether the goals or purposes that a person seeks to acheive are truly good and valuable and reasonable goals or purposes.  But this is, once again, a deeply PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION, one that requires some intellectual sophistication to have any chance of arriving at a solid and thoughtful conclusion.
Approach #2 is of little use if one is UNCLEAR about what “happiness and contentment” mean, but that is a PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION requiring some intellectual sophistication.  Approach #3 is of little use if one is UNCERTAIN about the wisdom or value of the basic goals that one seeks to acheive in life, but evaluation of basic goals in life is a PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION requiring some intellectual sophistication.  So, the initial appearance that these practical approaches do not require any intellectual sophistication, in contrast with my favored philosophical approach, was misleading, and now it appears that the practical approaches also require a degree of intellectual sophistication in order to have some reasonable chance of success.
 
ONE BIG DISADVANTAGE
Perhaps the most important problem with these two practical approaches is that they are UNCONCERNED with truth.  False ideas can be comforting and make one feel good.  The truth is often painful and unpleasant.  So, if we judge religions and worldviews in terms of what makes us feel happy or content, then we are very likely to FAIL to discover what is TRUE or FALSE in terms of religious beliefs and worldview beliefs.
Similarly, ideas and beliefs that help one to acheive a particular goal might well be FALSE.  There is not a direct and constant connection between true beliefs and beliefs that help one to achieve a particular goal.  In any case, even when people focus their best and most intelligent efforts at figuring out what is TRUE and what is FALSE, they still often fail, so if we focus on some other goal besides figuring out the truth, then we are almost guaranteed to FAIL to arrive at the TRUTH.  So, the main problem with these two practical approaches to evaluating religions and worldviews, is that they give up on the search for objective truth.
If there is no such thing as OBJECTIVE TRUTH in matters of religion and ideology, then I suppose a practical approach is as good as any other approach.  But before one gives up on OBJECTIVE TRUTH in religion and ideology, one should first put some serious thought into the question “Is there such a thing as OBJECTIVE TRUTH in matters of religion and ideology?”  This, of course, is a PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION, and if you want to have any chance of arriving at a solid and well-considered conclusion on this issue, you will need a degree of intellectual sophistication, a degree of skill and knowledge in logic, critical thinking, and philosophy.
So, it makes no sense to jump on board the “happiness and contentment” bus, nor the “it works for me” bus, at least not in order to avoid getting onto the PHILOSOPHY BUS, because you are going to have to take a ride on the PHILOSOPHY BUS before you can reasonably decide whether to get onto one of those practical-approach busses.

bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 2: Believe What You Were Raised to Believe

In my humble opinion, the question “Does God exist?” is best answered by taking a particular approach:

We should answer this question by means of philosophical investigation, especially by critical examination of philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.

However, this is NOT the only way to approach the question “Does God exist?”.  Here is an alternative way of answering this question:

1. Believe whatever religion or worldview you were raised to believe.

Although this may seem like an obviously UNREASONABLE way of answering this question, this is the way that almost everyone (or at least most people) initially forms political, religious, and ideological beliefs.
Usually, the parents of a child, if they raise the child together, share similar political and religious beliefs or share a similar worldview.  In that case, the child grows up and is socialized with those political and religious or worldview beliefs constantly operating in the background, and sometimes those beliefs are directly asserted or referenced by the parents.
In recent years marriage between two people who identify with a different religious group has become more common in the USA; nevertheless, about 60% of marriages in recent years are between people of the same religious group, and an even larger portion of marriages from previous decades were between people of the same religious group:

…almost four-in-ten Americans (39%) who have married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group. By contrast, only 19% of those who wed before 1960 report being in a religious intermarriage.

Many of these recent interfaith marriages are between Christians and the religiously unaffiliated (sometimes called “nones”). Of all U.S. adults married since 2010, almost one-in-five (18%) are in marriages between a Christian and a religiously unaffiliated spouse.

(“Interfaith marriage is common in U.S., particularly among the recently wed” by Caryle Murphy, JUNE 2, 2015)
In the USA people who identify as Democrats and marry or live with a partner are usually married to or live with a Democrat, and people who identify as a Republicans and marry or live with a partner are usually married or live with a Republican:

While many Republicans and Democrats have politically diverse networks of friends, the vast majority of those who are married or living with a partner say their spouse or partner belongs to the same political party. Fully 77% of Republicans who are married or living with a partner – and an identical percentage of married Democrats – say their spouse belongs to the same party.

(Partisanship and Political Animosity in 2016, June 22, 2016, p. 26)

By Capt. John Severns, U.S. Air Force - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8822138
Schoolgirls sit in the girls’ section of a school in Bamozai, near Gardez, Paktya Province, Afghanistan. The school has no building; classes are held outdoors in the shade of an orchard.

So, in the USA, children are usually raised by parents who share the same religion, and children are usually raised by parents who belong to the same political party.  (However, there is probably a large portion of children in the USA whose parents were EITHER of different religions OR of different political parties).
In the case that the parents of the child do NOT share similar political or religious beliefs, or do NOT share a similar worldview, then the child will have early exposure to opposing or alternative political or religious views, or to alternative worldviews.  In that circumstance, the child cannot simply accept what they “were raised to believe” because their parents influence them in different ideological directions.  The child could take sides, and adopt either one parent’s view or the other parent’s view (or adopt one parent’s religion and the other parent’s political party), and that would partially but not completely follow this approach.
If one’s parents do share a similar ideology or worldview, then there are some advantages to following this way of answering the question “Does God exist?”, especially while the child remains under the care and supervision of his/her parents.   Adopting the ideology or worldview of one’s parents makes it easier to get along with, to cooperate with, and to communicate with, one’s parents.  It is generally a good thing to get along with, to cooperate with, and to communicate with one’s parents, so adopting the ideology or worldview of one’s parents, can make one’s family life smoother and more enjoyable.
Furthermore, in some cultures and countries, it can be dangerous and even deadly to reject the ideology or worldview of one’s parents.  In a totalitarian country, for example, if one’s parents have drank the cool-aid and adore the dictator or the “dear leader” of their country, there might be risk of physical punishment or even death to openly oppose the beliefs and practices promoted by “dear leader”.  Sometimes, sacrificing one’s intellectual integrity and accepting the dominant ideology is necessary to avoid homelessness, starvation, prison or even death.
Also, not only do most of us initially form our political and religious or ideological beliefs based on what we were raised to believe, but there isn’t really much of an alternative to this, especially for young children.
Although I share Richard Dawkin’s concern about children being indoctrinated into Christianity or Islam or other religions, the ideal of individual freedom of thought and of freedom to explore a wide range of alternative ideologies and worldviews is NOT directly applicable to young children.
In order to be ABLE to rationally and intellectually analyze and evaluate an ideology or worldview, one needs to (a) learn how to read, (b) learn how to write, (c) learn how to reason, (d) learn some history, (e) learn some math, (f) learn some science, and (g) learn about different cultures, religions, worldviews.  This takes time.  This takes years of education.  A three or four-year-old child does not have the intellectual ability and the knowledge necessary to make reasonable judgments about alternative ideologies and worldviews.
I’m not opposed to young children learning about how to think rationally about political issues, religious issues, about ideological issues or worldview issues, but they need knowledge and skills to do this well, and the knowledge and skills they need take years for them to learn.  We cannot simply present a wide variety of worldviews to three or four-year-old children, and just let them loose to choose their favorite ideology or worldview.
Furthermore, the minds of young children would be too easily influenced and manipulated by teachers and other authorities, even if those teachers and authorities appear to be or try to be “objective” and “fair” in presenting the various alternative viewpoints.
However, we should do a better job of preparing children to take on this project of choosing an ideology or worldview or of creating their own ideology/worldview, so that when they are in high school and college, they can do a good job of rationally evaluating alternative ideologies and worldviews, and make good choices on these matters.
Setting the issue of young children to one side, is there any reason why teenagers or college-age young adults should take the approach of simply believing what they were raised to believe?  One problem here is that, assuming a teenager already has more or less adopted the religious and political views of one or both of their parents (or guardians), it does not seem possible for that teenager to simply let that point of view go and start all over with a blank slate.
We might want teenagers to have the freedom to explore alternative points of view, and we might want them to have good guidance as to how to do this kind of investigation in an honest, rational, logical, fair-minded, and well-informed way, but it seems psychologically and logically impossible to toss out all of one’s previous ideological beliefs and start from scratch.  Realistically, we can only question and challenge one or two aspects of one’s current point of view, because if we set aside our entire point of view, then we have no adequate basis for forming rational conclusions about any given religion or ideology.
But there are obvious problems with simply sticking with what we learned from mom and dad (or from mom and mom, or dad and dad).  First, many parents do NOT have well-thought-out and well-informed views on religion or politics.  If one’s parents both have PhDs in philosophy or comparative religion or political science, then maybe sticking with what mom and dad believed would not be a bad option, because their opinions (in the areas they have studied) are likely to be well-thought-out and well-informed.
But most of us are not born to such parents.  Some people have parents who have college degrees in literature or history or drama or engineering or biology, and those parents, though well-educated, might not have well-thought-out or well-informed views on religion or politics.  Some people are born to parents who did not graduate from college with any degree.  Some people are born to parents who only graduated from high school.  Some people are born to parents who never graduated from high school.  So, in simply adopting the views of one’s parent or parents, many people will be adopting views that were not well-thought-out or well-informed, at least not by their parents.
Another obvious problem with the believe whatever your parents raised you to believe approach is that alternative religious and political viewpoints contradict each other on many important points, so they cannot all be correct.  In other words, we can see from the start that MOST religions are FALSE or at least contain a number of significant false beliefs.  We can see from the start that MOST political viewpoints are FALSE or at least contain a number of significant false beliefs.  If there is a TRUE religion or a TRUE worldview, then if we all just follow in the footsteps of our parents, MOST of us will be adopting a FALSE religion, or a FALSE worldview, or a religion or worldview that contains a number of significant false beliefs.
On the other hand if there is a TRUE religion or a TRUE worldview, or a worldview that does not contain a number of significant false beliefs, then careful consideration of arguments and evidence will presumably help people to find or discover that religion or worldview.   So, at least potentially, people who are raised with very different religious or ideological or political points of view, could come to agreement about which religion or ideology or worldview is TRUE, because they could be pointed the same direction by examination of relevant evidence and reasoning.  If we all stick stubbornly to the beliefs of our parents, then human beings will remain divided and in disagreement on a number of our most basic beliefs and values.
The main objection against the use of arguments and evidence in the evaluation of religions, ideologies, and worldviews is that some believe that these are purely subjective ideas and values and thus that there can be no objective and rational way of determining that one religion or ideology or worldview is any better or “more true” than another.  If there is no such thing as objective truth in these matters, then I suppose that dogmatically sticking with the beliefs of your parents is no worse than some other arbitrary way of selecting a religion, worldview, or ideology.

bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 1: How Should We Answer this Question?

ANSWERING THE QUESTION “DOES GOD EXIST?” THROUGH PHILOSOPHY

How should we answer the question “Does God exist?” ?  Having studied philosophy as an undergraduate at Sonoma State University, and having studied philosophy as a graduate student at the University of Windsor, and then having studied philosophy for a number of years more at UC Santa Barbara, the way to approach this question seems obvious to me:

We should answer this question by means of philosophical investigation, especially by critical examination of philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.


 
But, given that my educational background has been focused on philosophy, one might suspect that my view of this matter is a bit biased, and that other ways of arriving at an answer to this question should be considered before hopping onto the PHILOSOPHY BUS, and spending a lot of time and energy learning about and evaluating philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.
 
One objection that has been raised against the philosophy of religion in recent years is that it is too focused on CHRISTIANITY.  There are many religions and religious worldviews that one could investigate and evaluate by means of philosophy and philosophical argumentation, but philosophy of religion has traditionally been focused on the basic beliefs of the Christian faith, to the exclusion of philosophical investigation of other religions and religious worldviews, and non-religious worldviews (such as Marxism and Humanism).
There are MANY different religions and worldviews competing for our allegiance, so it seems question-begging, narrow-minded, and sociocentric to focus all (or even most) of one’s time and energy on evaluation of basic beliefs of CHRISTIANITY.  What about Islam? Hinduism? Buddhism? Taoism? and what about secular worldviews, like Marxism and Humanism?
I think this is a legitimate and significant criticism of philosophy of religion, as this sub-discipline of philosophy has been practiced in recent centuries.  However, if one is interested in the question “Is Christianity true?” there is a lot of philosophical investigation in the philosophy of religion that is helpful in answering that question.  And since the question “Does God exist?” is concerned with a basic Christian belief, there is a lot of philosophical investigation in the philosophy of religion that is helpful in answering that question.
Furthermore, the question “Does God exist?” has implications beyond the evaluation of Christianity and the Christian worldview.  Jews also believe in the existence of God.  Muslims also believe in the existence of God.  Some Hindus believe in the existence of God, and a number of Indigenous religious traditions (such as a number of Native American tribes) include a belief in the existence of God, or of a supreme being who has many of the characteristics of God as conceived of by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  So, the question “Does God exist?” is NOT purely and strictly a question about a basic Christian belief.  It is also about a basic Jewish belief, a basic belief of Islam, a basic belief of at least one form of Hinduism, and a basic belief of many forms of Indigenous religious traditions.
Another way of putting this point is that arguments for and against the existence of God are, in general, applicable to evaluations of not only Christianity, but also of Judaism, Islam, some forms of Hinduism, and of a number of Indigenous religious traditions. If there is a solid argument for the existence of God, this would provide support not only for Christianity, but for many other theistic religious traditions, and if there is a solid argument against the existence of God, this would (in most cases) provide a good reason to doubt or reject not only Christianity, but also Judaism, Islam, some forms of Hinduism, and many Indigenous religious belief systems.
In short, it is true that the philosophy of religion has tended to be focused primarily on the basic beliefs of the Christian religion, and has not paid much attention to other religions, nor to the non-religious worldviews that compete with various religious traditions for our allegiance; however, when it comes to the question “Does God exist?”, this is a question that the philosophy of religion is well-suited to help us answer.

OTHER WAYS OF ANSWERING THE QUESTION “DOES GOD EXIST?”

Before we all hop onto the PHILOSOPHY BUS, let’s consider the alternative ways of answering the question “Does God exist?”.  Some people think they know about God’s existence through ordinary experience, and some people think they know about God’s existence through religious experience, and some people think they know about God through intellectual investigations outside of philosophy.
Here are ten common ideas about how one might answer the question “Does God exist?” apart from philosophical investigation of this question:

1. Believe whatever religion or worldview you were raised to believe.

2. Believe whatever religious or ideological ideas make you feel happy and content.

3. Try out different religions/worldviews to see which one works best for you.

4. Try praying to God, to see if God answers your prayers.

5. Try prayer, meditation, and worship, to see if you feel the presence of God or hear the voice of God.

6. Try reading the sacred texts of various religions, to see if you sense divine wisdom in any of them. 

7. Try experiencing nature and natural beauty, to see if you feel the presence of God that way.

8. Try experiencing and appreciating art, music, and literature, to see if you sense the presence or influence of God in those human artifacts.

9. Study human history, to see if you can discern the influence of God on human cultures and societies.

10. Study nature scientifically, to see if you can discern the handiwork of God in nature.

In Part 2 of this series, I will begin to consider and evaluate these alternative ways of arriving at an answer to the question “Does God exist?”  If you have any other alternatives that are widespread or that seem promising or interesting, please point them out in a comment to this post.

bookmark_borderArguments For God that are Arguments Against God

GOD AND CONFIRMATION BIAS

There is a theme in Jeff Lowder’s case for Naturalism:  the thinking of religious believers is often distorted by confirmation bias.  They look for evidence that supports their belief in God, but ignore, or forget, or fail to notice, evidence that goes against their belief in God.
When believers offer some reason or evidence for the existence of God, it is often the case that if you look a little closer at that evidence, or take a step back and look at the general sort of evidence or phenomena that an argument for God relies upon, you find powerful evidence AGAINST the existence of God, evidence that was missed or ignored by religious believers.
I usually go into the details of the logical structure and interpretation of arguments for God, but in this post I will try to stay at a higher level, touch upon a few arguments for the existence of God, and point out how those arguments actually provide reasons or evidence AGAINST the existence of God.  (Perhaps readers of this post can contribute comments pointing out their own favorite examples of such arguments for God that actually point in the opposite direction).

 

THE ARGUMENT FROM DESIGN

Probably the most common and most popular argument for God is the Argument from Design.  There are various versions of this argument that could be considered, but let’s consider a simple version of it presented by Norman Geisler:

  1. All designs imply a designer.
  2. There is great design in the universe.
  3. Therefore, there must be a Great Designer of the universe.

(When Skeptics Ask, p.20)
One of the most common objections to this argument is the problem of evil.  Sure there are some wonderful, beautiful, complex things and creatures in the world, but there are also some horrible, ugly, complex things and creatures in the world.  There is pain, suffering, disease, and disaster in this world.  So, if we take a general look at the natural world, we find not only pleasure, happiness, health, and stability, but also the opposites of these good things.
Death clearly existed BEFORE human beings arrived on this planet, so the sins or bad choices of human beings cannot be the cause of death.  Death was built into the natural world.  Pain and suffering also clearly existed BEFORE human beings arrived on this planet, so the sins or bad choices of humans cannot be the cause of all pain and suffering.  Predation clearly existed BEFORE humans arrived, so the bad choices of humans cannot be the cause of predation.   Diseases existed BEFORE humans arrived, so the bad choices of humans cannot explain the origin of disease.
If we are going to attribute the apparently-designed-characteristics of the natural world to the plans of a designer, we should attribute death, pain, suffering, predation and disease to the designer.  That means that IF this world is the product of a designer, then the designer must be either IGNORANT (less than all-knowing) and the evils of this world were unintended mistakes by the designer,  or MORALLY IMPERFECT (either evil or uncaring) so that the evils of this world were intended or foreseen by the designer.  Thus, the argument from design is an argument AGAINST the existence of God, because it is, at most, an argument for an IGNORANT or MORALLY IMPERFECT creator of the universe.  But God is, by definition, the creator of the universe, and God is, by definition, all-knowing and perfectly morally good, so the existence of an IGNORANT or IMPERFECT creator logically implies that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.
I am not a big fan of Richard Dawkins, but he does make a good point against the argument from design:

Turning Watchtower’s page, we find the wonderful plant known as Dutchman’s Pipe…all of whose parts seem elegantly designed to trap insects, cover them with pollen and send them on their way to another Dutchman’s Pipe.  The intricate elegance of the flower moves the Watchtower to ask: ‘Did all of this happen by chance? Or did it happen by intelligent design?’…Seen clearly, intelligent design will turn out to be a redoubling of the problem.  Once again, this is because the designer himself (/herself/itself) immediately raises the bigger problem of his own origin.  Any entity capable of designing a Dutchman’s Pipe (or a universe) would have to be even more improbable than a Dutchman’s pipe. … 

(The God Delusion, first Mariner Books edition, p.145-146)

Indeed, design is not a real alternative at all because it raises an even bigger problem than it solves: who designed the designer?

(The God Delusion, p.147)
The mind of the designer must, according to the logic of the argument from design, be more complex than the design of the natural world.  But then, according to the logic of the argument from design, we must infer the existence of a designer of the mind of the designer of our natural world.  But God is by definition eternal and uncreated.  So, because the mind of the creator of our natural world MUST have been designed by some intelligent designer, the creator of our natural world MUST have been created.  But God is by definition the designer of our natural world AND also, by definition, eternal and uncreated.  Thus, if the designer of our natural world MUST have been created, then it follows that GOD DOES NOT EXIST, since the designer of our world was himself (/herself/itself) created by another being.
So, there are at least TWO WAYS in which the argument from design proves that GOD DOES NOT EXIST, which is the opposite of what the argument was supposed to prove.
 

THE ARGUMENT FROM CHANGE

One classical argument for the existence of God comes from Aquinas.  Here is how Peter Kreeft summarizes the Argument from Change:

…if there is nothing outside the material universe, then there is nothing that can cause the universe to change.  But it does change.  Therefore there must be something in addition to the material universe.  But the universe is the sum total of all matter, space and time.  These three things depend on each other.  Therefore this being outside the universe is outside matter, space and time.  It is not a changing thing; it is the unchanging Source of change.

(Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p.50-51)
If we accept Kreeft’s assumption that God is the Source or cause of change in the universe, then this argument proves that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.  This argument attempts to prove that the Source of change in the universe is a being “outside matter, space and time”, a being that is “unchanging”.  But God, according to the Bible and to the vast majority of Christian believers is a PERSON, a being who thinks, who communicates with humans, who makes decisions, who performs actions,  who creates things and creatures.
A thing or being that is “unchanging” cannot be a person, cannot think, cannot communicate with humans, cannot make decisions, cannot perform actions, cannot create things or creatures.  If God is a PERSON, then God is a being that CHANGES.  Thus, the Source of change in the universe cannot be a PERSON, but God is a PERSON.  Therefore, if Kreeft is correct that something is God only if it is both the Source of change in the universe, and if Kreeft is correct that the Source of change in the universe MUST be an unchanging being, and if something is God only if it is a PERSON, then it follows that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.  There cannot be something that is both an unchanging being AND a person.  Thus, the argument from change proves that GOD DOES NOT EXIST, which is the opposite of what it was supposed to prove.
 

THE ARGUMENT FROM DEGREES OF PERFECTION

Another argument for God from Aquinas is the Argument from Degrees of Perfection.  Here is how Kreeft summarizes this argument:

But if these degrees of perfection pertain to being, and being is caused in finite creatures, then there must exist a “best,” a source and real standard of all the perfections that we recognize belong to us as beings.

This absolutely perfect being–the “Being of all beings,” “the Perfection of all perfections”–is God.

(Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p.55)
If this argument is correct, then God exists only if there is an “absolutely perfect being”.  One of the perfections of PERSONS is moral goodness.  So, given that God is a PERSON, God must have the perfection of moral goodness.  So, if this argument is correct, then God MUST be perfectly morally good, not just the morally best person so far, but so morally good that there could not possibly be a morally better person than God.
However, as Alvin Plantinga has argued, and as Richard Swinburne has concurred, there is no such thing as absolute moral perfection.  As Kant pointed out, there are some moral duties that a person can perfectly and completely satisfy, such as “Never tell a lie”, and there are also some moral duties that it is impossible for a person to perfectly and completely satisfy, such as “Give to the poor”.  No matter how much one gives to the poor (e.g. one million dollars), it is always possible to have given more (e.g. one million dollars plus one more dollar).
Thus, it is impossible for an absolutely perfectly morally good person to exist.  Therefore, based on the assumption that God exists only if an absolutely perfectly morally good person exists, it follows that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.  The argument from degrees of perfection implies that God exists only if an absolutely perfectly morally good person exists, so the argument from degrees of perfection implies a claim that in turn logically implies that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.
 

THE KALAM COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENT

There is an argument for the existence of God that Christian philosophers have borrowed from Muslim philosophers: the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  Here is part of Peter Kreeft’s summary of this argument:

Now if the universe never began, then it always was.  If it always was, then it is infinitely old.  If it is infinitely old, then an infinite amount of time would have elapsed before (say) today.  And so an infinite number of days must have been completed–one day succeeding another, one bit of time being added to what went before–in order for the present day to arrive. …But an infinite sequence of steps could never have reached this present point–or any point before it.

So either the present day has not been reached, or the process of reaching it was not infinite. In other words, the universe began to exist.  

(Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p.59)
The conclusion above that “the universe began to exist” is one of the key premises of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  But Kreeft’s reasoning above proves too much.  It proves that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.
God, by definition, is eternal, which implies that God never began to exist.  But Kreeft’s reasoning proves that it is impossible for such a being to exist.  Let’s substitute “the creator of the universe” for “the universe” in Kreeft’s reasoning:

Now if the creator of the universe never began, then it always was.  If it always was, then it is infinitely old.  If it is infinitely old, then an infinite amount of time would have elapsed before (say) today.  And so an infinite number of days must have been completed–one day succeeding another, one bit of time being added to what went before–in order for the present day to arrive. …But an infinite sequence of steps could never have reached this present point–or any point before it.

So either the present day has not been reached, or the process of reaching it was not infinite. In other words, the creator of the universe began to exist. 

By applying Kreeft’s reasoning to the creator, we arrive at the conclusion that the creator BEGAN TO EXIST.  But God, by definition, never began to exist, and God, by definition is the creator of the universe.  But Kreeft’s reasoning shows that it is IMPOSSIBLE for the creator of the universe to be a being that never began to exist, thus it is impossible for something to be BOTH the creator and a being that never began to exist.  Therefore, Kreeft’s reasoning shows that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument proves that GOD DOES NOT EXIST, the very opposite conclusion to what it was supposed to show.