Proving God has become a somewhat unpopular discipline in theology and and philosophy in the last centuries. This might be due to the necessary secularization of the academic world, but might just as well be the result of a comprehension that God is simply not provable. And even though the Psalmists proclaim that all of creation points towards God and I can share that notion when I’m out running on a sunny spring day, climbing up the hills and witnessing the beauty of nature, this poetic experience of beauty and freedom can hardly be called metaphysical insight. It is still a fundamental observance. The question of God can be discussed academically and in high intellectual rhetorics, but the reality of God can only be experienced.
Any critic will be quick to answer that he can enjoy the beauty of creation (or nature, in that case) without believing in God and I have to admit, that he is right. Blooming flowers in spring are beautiful, whether it was God who created them or not, and that it ultimately doesn’t matter anyway, because the very concept of God is intangible and of little relevance and can therefore not be experienced and therefore God cannot be experienced.
I’d like to reply with one of the better cases that argue for God, even though it is frequently misunderstood. Blaise Pascal introduced the idea of a bet or a wager (Pascal’s Wager) that is often paraphrased as if I’m wrong and you’re right… well, who gives a crap after we’re dead, we both lose nothing. If I am right and you’re wrong: guess who’s gonna be screwed. Even though this argument appears pretty solid to many believers, this interpretation of Pascal’s Wager has some obvious flaws. Why should there be only two choices (God or no god)? There are a lot more possibilities of what to believe than Judeo-Christianity and Atheism, beginning with the obvious major religions, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and the diverse philosophical shades of Deism and Agnosticism. Heck, we could even invent a religion or think of a god who punishes believers.
The wager is pretty useless when we try to make a point for a specific religion, because any religion could argue the way Pascal does. So what do we make out of it? Pascal addresses the question whether it is worth to even think about a god. The case it makes is therefore not one for Christianity over everyone else, but one of Theism or Atheism over Agnosticism. Is the question whether there is a God or not worth asking? Is there any specific revelation we can take out of metaphysical musings? Do we even need to bother asking for something that can’t be proven?
If there is a god, then this question is definitely worth it, even though it doesn’t solve the question what kind of god this is. Is he good or evil? Did he create the universe on purpose, by accident or was it someone else who created it? Was it even created? Does he care about what he created or not? Is there a way to communicate with him? Is there a purpose behind Life, the Universe and Everything? There might be a whole new level of revelation and enlightening associated with finding out what kind of God this is, that should be worth asking for.
If there is no god, the question is still worth asking. God is one of the oldest mysteries of humanity and one of those questions that has given people social & cultural stability, comfort, love & friendship as well as caused uproar & chaos and provoked warfare & fundamentalism. Religion and faith is such a fundamental aspect of humanity, that it should be investigated, even if there is no god. If there is no god, it is important to note that, justify the case against God and consider ways to deal with religion and use it for humanities’ well-being. Simply stating, that we cannot know whether there is a god or not is just taking the easy way out.
Lately I read a very interesting piece about what people believe in, in a magazine by the German weekly newspaper ZEIT. The article psychologically and scientifically evaluated the question of faith and one observation and the resulting thesis struck me most.
People will believe in anything, no matter how irrational it is (eg. homeopathy)! Anthropologists argue, that there might be an evolutionary advantage for social structures with an inclination to believe in what’s supernatural and/or logically not comprehensible. I’m not going to discuss this thesis, evolutionary psychology always seems full of maybes, circular reasoning and vagaries to me.
Nevertheless, as a result I had to ask myself whether my own faith could be just as arbitrary as any other belief. After all, Christian logic often results in circular reasoning, too, and a lot of simple theology ends with the logical conclusion of “because God said so!” (usually accompanied by an ambiguous bible quote, taken out of context). The whole intelligent design debate is an attempt to prove God’s existence through a circular argument.
Is asking these questions sinful? In the evangelical background I come from questioning the integrity of my own faith might be equated with a first step upon a slippery slide away from God. But if this faith is real (and I deeply believe it is), God is not afraid of these questions and he promised that will let himself be found by anyone who sincerely searches for him. Even, or better: especially as Christians we should allow ourselves to go on a search for the truth, because that’s ultimately what I want to believe in, and not something that’s been handed down by other believers. Ultimate truth will never be fully comprehended by logic (a fact, that has ironically been proven by logic), I’m quite aware of that, but logic is still a very powerful epistemological tool. I’m going to blog on a few of the thoughts I had in the coming days and weeks.