IFLS! I love it so much in fact that I spent (wasted?) the years from age 5-29 pursuing higher education; finally culminating in a PhD in Physics. I can send you a copy of my thesis if you’re suffering from insomnia. This has nominally trained me to be a scientist. The purpose of obtaining a PhD in a hard science is not to learn a lot of facts, though I did do that (not that I can remember very many of them). No, the true purpose of an education in scientific research is to inculcate a certain mindset amenable to critical thinking and weighing of evidence. To retread an already tired cliché, it teaches you how to think. So why, you may ask yourself, would an over-educated Gen X failure with a PhD in Physics still believe in G-d? Aren’t all nominal scientists and educated people atheists? If you’ve built a life around obtaining evidence, why would you put faith in something for which there is no proof; even worse something that is likely unprovable, the true hobgoblin of the scientific mind? Well, my friends, wonder no more. Take another shot and join me on a wonderful journey in which we discuss the Question. The only Question that really matters.
Many people much smarter than I have tried to do the unlikely, prove the existence of G-d. Trying to even paraphrase the massive amount of work already done in this area over the course of human history would not only be impossible here, but it would be arrogant for a peon like myself to lecture as a layman. To that end, I will just put forth (extremely) brief summaries of some of the most well-known arguments.
The very concept of G-d is quite malleable and before even forming an argument, some basic understanding of what you’re arguing for needs to be established. I will be discussing a prototypical Western perception of G-d as a single, transcendent, metaphysically supreme being; the antecedent and origin of everything. This typically encompasses a being with omnipotence and omniscience and with some semblance of freedom of action and will. The trick is avoiding anthropomorphizing so I’ll try to be very general. I also won’t delve into the Trinity or other tricky, paradoxical concepts. I’m also not going to try and cross over between Abrahamic conceptions of G-d with those of deism, as I personally find many of the tenets from both to not be mutually exclusive.
The ontological argument is one of the most famous, basically positing that the existence of G-d is confirmed by the fact that the concept of G-d can be held. If such a concept can be held in the mind, even by a non-believer, then such a being must exist in reality. Descartes was a big fan of this theory and published it in several different ways arguing in favor of G-d’s existence. Kant, on the other hand, rejected this argument by saying that the ontological argument is actually encapsulating two separate entities, the concept of G-d and G-d Himself and the argument only addresses the former. Aquinas also rejected this argument for the reason that G-d *cannot* be conceived of, as He is, by His nature, unknowable to the mortal mind. Finally, strict empiricists hold that the argument is not an argument at all because there is no evidence either for or against such a claim.
Empirical arguments, of which Aquinas’ are the most famous, argue G-d’s existence from physically observable phenomena. The elegance of the laws of nature encompass one such argument; ie, it’s so improbable that Planck’s constant should be exactly what it is, and the fact that if it were just slightly different life could not exist as we know it, must imply the existence of a supreme being controlling it. Also considered an empirical argument is the unmoved mover argument. Arguing that tracing backward from effect to cause eventually reaches some initial effect for which no cause exists; therefore the only way that such an effect could happen is if it comes from some transcendent unmoved mover that puts into motion the machinery of existence.
What does this have to do with (((you))) and your pretentious way of writing His name?
First, the pretentiousness: carrying around my own cultural baggage dictates the writing of His name as G-d in English. This is homage to the “Adonai” placeholder in Jewish scripture. The unpronounceable tetragram is meant as a way of demonstrating G-d’s unknowable true nature. This is, in my opinion, a (possibly unintentional) refutation of the ontological argument; it basically agrees with Aquinas in a superficial way. To me, it’s a way of showing respect for that which is beyond our petty lives and meager understanding. I see it as a gesture of humility.
I’m no deep thinker. I love guns, titties, scotch and jalapeno poppers. I like to cogitate on these things from time to time, but I’m a mental midget in comparison to the likes of Aquinas, Hume, Nietzsche and Descartes. So what does this have to do with me? Well, I believe strongly in the Aristotelian imperative of living an examined life. To me, that implies at least some effort to tackle the Big Question, at least to my own satisfaction.
Get to the point.
Alright, jeez. Gimme a break. My belief in G-d’s existence doesn’t really break down to a rigorously structured argument a-la the classic thinkers. I have a few bread crumbs all emulsified and held together by the egg yolk of faith and meaning. First off, I do not ascribe to Pascal’s wager at all. I think that’s a coward’s way out. Stop playing the odds. Further, and related to my rejection of Pascal’s wager, I’m undecided on the existence of an afterlife, upon which Pascal’s wager hinges. I certainly believe we are immortal in that the coalesced energy that constitutes the matter of our bodies will not be destroyed, it will just change form in one way or another. By that same token, I think it’s pretty unlikely that when you croak you get transported to a beautiful garden filled with awesome food from Chili’s and unlimited copulation with underwear models of your particular gender preference. Still, I do believe in a soul. Modern cognitive science and neural network models seem to be on the verge of identifying how thoughts propagate in our brains. Similarly, we also know from incidences of brain injury that physical changes to the brain can have a profound impact on the mind. However, stealing from Stan in South Park, that explains the how and not the why. While such studies are fascinating and useful, they do not answer the pertinent question; where do the thoughts originate? Where is the unmoved mover in our own brains? To me, this is the image of Himself from which G-d made us. That is the spark of divinity in each of us, not, as some have argued, the crude orgasmic procreation. To me, the seat of free will, the ultimate gift given, is in that unmoved mover inside us.
Further, I posit that even if G-d did not exist, it would have been necessary for us to invent him. I have seen arguments that a functioning set of ethics could be constructed without appeal to G-d. This may be true in a strictly theoretical sense, but I have difficulty believing that it could work in practice. It can easily devolve into relativism and, ultimately, nihilism. Nietzsche struggled with this all his life. If G-d doesn’t exist, then what are the implications for ethical decision-making? Again, I’m not going to try, even if I could (which I can’t), and reinvent the wheel with Nietzsche’s arguments. Suffice it to say that I never found he could adequately overcome the handicap of not having G-d in trying to create a code of ethics. To put it simply, there must be an authority outside the realm of human debate when it comes to the actions of ultimate ethical import. Would anyone have taken Moses seriously if he came down from Mt. Sinai and said “Hey guys! I came up with these rules and you’ve gotta follow them. And some of them you’re not gonna like cause you’ll have to stop banging your buddy’s wife then stealing his money behind his back.” Let’s just say it carries a lot more weight to say “G-d is telling you to do this, not me.” How do we know Moses didn’t just write that stuff down on his own and pull a fast one? I don’t suppose we can know for sure. However, based on the fact that the rules given seem to work really well, and make intuitive sense to the overwhelming majority of people, that’s a pretty good start. If you’re not a Ten Commandments fan, you can always default back to the Golden Rule (also supposedly provided by G-d).
I can see you Glibs already, hunkered down in front of your computer, television in the background mellifluously serenading you with the latest episode of Game of Thrones, a large, mostly empty bottle of something precariously perched next to the computer. You’re thinking, “this guy hasn’t proven anything, he hasn’t even really argued anything! I came here expecting answers and he’s just given me pablum!” Well, I never claimed to have any answers or even an argument. It all, in the end, comes down to faith and how it applies to your individual life. To quote Dr. House, “there’s no conclusive science. My choice has no practical relevance to my life, I choose the outcome I find more comforting.” Dr. House chooses to believe that life isn’t a “test” and thus confirms his atheism. Dr. House’s conception of life (and the way in which much religion is sold) is that life doesn’t have meaning in and of itself; it’s just a staging area where, if you make the right decisions, once you shuffle from the mortal coil, you’ll be tapping Adriana Lima’s ass while scarfing an Awesome Blossom. I similarly choose to believe this is not a test but come to different conclusions. Rather than a test, it is a gift and I find it more comforting to believe that this gift was bestowed by some benevolent force rather than by a strictly random set of circumstances. One atom was set in motion, which precipitated down to pond scum on Earth which precipitated down to mammals and primates and eventually Adriana Lima. And G-d saw that she was good.