Can God’s existence be proven?
Or, conversely, can anyone confirm that God does not exist? And if one or the other can’t, what about it? Today, we will discuss an introduction to the arguments for and against God’s existence and try to answer whether and what the relevance of such debates is.
We live in a time when not only the online world is full of various debates and arguments for and against God’s existence.
I have long been fascinated by this subject, and I think it is interesting how people have thought about it in the past and the present. This is suggested by the fact that only very recently, I heard the atheist Richard Dawkins say that God’s existence is perhaps the most critical question.
If you look up the frequency of the English phrase “arguments for God,” you will find that the words began to rise dramatically after 2001, after the attack on the New York Twin Towers.
It reached its peak of use in 2010, related to the rise and zenith of the so-called New Atheism. Although its use has declined, it has regained a slight increase in recent years. Anyway, it is a topic not only of cultural and religious interest but also of academic interest.
Many faculties worldwide have courses on the history and philosophy of religion that are directly related to this. For example, you can take classes on David Hume’s philosophy of religion, God, the cell, and the universe, or even prove God’s existence.
“If only it were that easy.”
So today’s topic is arguing for and against God’s existence. First of all, a little bit personally. Sometime in my younger, shorter, but less educated years, I questioned God’s presence when I began to doubt it. I didn’t come across as sophisticated like Socrates with my questions, but more simply like the Little Prince visiting different planets.
What is the goal?
First, I think it’s perfect to ask at the outset what the goal of all arguments for God’s existence should be. Let’s start with the obvious thing – ideas don’t have plans, but people do. And different people may have other projects.
But most of the time today, the proponents or users of these arguments don’t look at it as having some superpower, which is to convince someone definitively. And that’s for these two reasons.
First, these arguments must have that logical force in and of themselves. And that’s because the strength of their conclusion depends on the truth of the propositions on which they are based. That is, they can be challenged, so often because of reasonable objections, those statements and the argument’s conclusion will not be sure.
Instead, we will always be discussing and reasoning about probabilities here. But that’s okay because our life is inherently about choosing from possibilities with a greater or lesser likelihood of being true. And so that’s where these arguments are not divorced from ordinary life, but our everyday life is divorced from these arguments.
Second, these arguments are not about instantly converting others to the opposite view because our psychology, philosophy, and life generally need to be revised. Even if the ideas were pointing toward some very likely conclusion, it would be another thing to be logically and psychologically persuaded by them and change our thinking and behavior.
As a recent example, we can take many arguments about COVID-19 and vaccination. Even when clinical studies show clear results, many have not only not accepted them but thought and behaved as if these results were the opposite. In other words, we can always find some excuse why we might not accept certain conclusions – and often, it is that it makes life more comfortable or makes us belong to a particular group whose identity we want to adopt.
That is, we all have our preferences and biases. And not just our conspiring fellow citizens, but we do too, and we have to admit it. As Richard Feynman said, it is essential not to be fooled; the easiest person to fool is ourselves.
A different and sometimes pervasive example is just conspiracy theories – whatever good arguments we come up with against them, experienced conspirators have built up their immunization strategies, so to speak, that make them never to be refuted. Not because they are right but because they don’t play fair at all and pull their logical pieces differently than the rules allow.
But this is not just about conspirators. We don’t operate by automatically accepting the opposite conclusion if an argument points to it. Or, more accurately, it works more for things of little substance that can be quickly Googled, for example.
However, the more critical these beliefs are, and the deeper a part of our worldviews they are, the longer, at least typically, such a conversion will take. And with worldviews, this is certainly true for both sides. So – what I meant by all this is that you can’t expect any instantaneous conversion from arguments. And if that’s the case, what relevance can these discussions have?
The contribution of debate
So, must complete worldview conversion be the goal in debates as important as God’s existence? To ask such a question is equivalent to answering it. We all know it doesn’t work that way. But that doesn’t mean that discussing essential things in the universe, including God’s existence, is irrelevant. Their contribution can take many forms.
First, we can learn something new. It may be fresh knowledge I learned in the debate or a unique perspective I never had. Or it may be virtues that we can cultivate in this way – we can learn to listen, to articulate our arguments, to fabricate responses, to not be unnecessarily nervous or angry, to represent the other side’s arguments truthfully, if not more forcefully, and thus to be an example to all those listening.
Moreover, a good argument could be made that such knowledge and virtue contribution is much better than convincing someone or winning a debate.
In that sense, even unsuccessful arguing that would not lead to any worldview conversion has a lot of potential to be successful in these other ways. So, to summarize it in slightly different words – even a generally flawed argument can have some good insights hidden in it, and those alone can be worthwhile.
Moreover, it allows us to improve our argumentative and personal virtues, including knowledge and epistemic humility, respectively. Let us now raise one key question – and that is whether the question of God’s existence can be resolved by science.
Is this a scientific or a philosophical question?
Can God somehow be tested by science? That, of course, depends on whether God’s existence could be testable by the methods of science. It also depends mainly on whether so-called methodological naturalism- that is, science should deal only with natural causes- is how science should and can work.
That deserves a separate dose. But I will say this much more: opinions on this are divided – whether among scientists or philosophers, and believers and non-believers alike. This is not a pointless question at all; on the contrary, it is essential, but there are some problems with it.
I want to take advantage of this question because it is crucial. However, it does not have just one solution. Some either deny that science can arbitrarily test God and his activity. For one thing, God is not part of this world in the sense that all other physical objects are part of it.
Not only is it not a physical object, but it is a mind that is supposed to be (among other things) omniscient and omnibenevolent. And thus, even if we might want to test it, perhaps it is against its will and plans. And perhaps, from a broader perspective, it is as disparaging as if ants wanted to start scientifically testing the existence of some superintelligence in the universe.
Others, on the other hand, would argue just the opposite – that we can see from the nature of our universe that the universe had a Creator. Some believers claim that we can indirectly see God’s activity in specific biological structures, the setup of physical constants, etc.
Others, on the other hand, may see such empirical observations the other way around – God’s absence is said to be visible in tests of the efficacy of prayer or in the familiar objection as to why God does not let amputees’ limbs grow back.
And yet, many can come up with certain domains where God can be tested, so to speak (the setting of physical constants), but not in others (the efficacy of prayers for healing). But everyone has answers to these objections and counter-objections, and then there is the question of whether such a selective position is consistent.
One popular position that has been around since Newton is that God works through the natural order. This view has been around since at least the Middle Ages and later reformulated since the time of Descartes and Newton, that God acts through the laws of nature.
It differs precisely how here, but we will stay in that adventure hole now. But if God is the first cause and acts through laws that he will either not break or only very, very exceptionally, how exactly do we test such a view?
I’m not saying there aren’t various, even creative, answers to this; I’m just pointing out that only some positions are easy to test, even if we had perfect test tubes ready.
However, many see this question as a philosophical one. Perhaps it would be immediately more accessible to test God’s existence in our laboratory. Still, some, or rather, many things seem to be impossible and may never be possible. And this is why many philosophers are divided on many issues.
One admittedly simplistic view of how science developed is that many of today’s scientific disciplines were first part of philosophy. However, when there was sufficient progress in those disciplines, the field separated from that philosophy to form a separate sentence – such as geology, biology, physics, etc.
So, if that’s the case, which discipline has made enough progress to somehow quantitatively or at least competently answer the question of whether God exists? According to many experts, nothing has occurred, so the question is still part of philosophy. The question is still philosophical for the time being, and that is because there is no consensus that there is some relevant authority that can resolve the dispute.
Imagine we disagree about the result of a particular football match. I say it was some result X, and you say it was some result Y. We are indeed both wrong, but maybe we are both wrong. What to do then?
Now that’s easy – we verify the result with some relevant source, such as a short Google search. If we disagree on the speed of light, we also check similarly – but here’s the point: it’s not the all-knowing Google itself that says so, but a scientific authority and consensus that we can easily find and read on Google.
But what if there is no way to verify something, or if no authority can authoritatively and competently decide this for us? What about when there is no consensus that it can be verified at all or when there are arguments that come to different or even opposite conclusions?
Such a situation is a reasonable assumption that we will still be talking about philosophy and philosophical reasoning in such a situation. Although it may seem very unlikely to some, we may at some point come to a position where most philosophers and scientists agree that the question of God’s existence is, for example, a question of physics or, since we are probably talking about the distant future, say, some scientific discipline that does not yet exist at all.
Arguments that God’s existence is and can be scientifically testable do exist, and they are also much more sophisticated than the claim of Dawkins mentioned above might suggest. But it is still a claim that has problems and is therefore not generally accepted by many scientists and philosophers.
What we’ve talked about today is that we can be optimistic that all of these arguments, even if they’re all bad, can be good for something. But I don’t want to argue that they are good or bad before we look at them more. And all these more specific arguments for and against God’s existence and his attributes await us in future installments.
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