Recently, Prayson Daniel had a blog post that asked, “Can the Universe Exist Without God?” That kicked off a discussion with a blogger called Abandon TV, who posed the question of whether the existence of God can be deduced from available evidence, or whether it is only a social construct that must be transmitted from person to person. Abandon TV’s point is that if people cannot deduce that God exists without somebody telling them that He does, that amounts to proof that God’s existence is only a social fabrication, and not an observable fact.
I (among others) responded to Abandon TV’s question, with the aim of demonstrating that the fact of God’s existence can indeed be independently deduced from the design of the universe. That resulted in what I think are some interesting exchanges, so I am reproducing them here. Please feel free to add your thoughts to the discussion.
Abandon TV May 7, 2012 at 13:50
I wonder if anyone can argue against the logic of the following.
If you or I had been born without a Christian upbringing we are rather unlikely to end up becoming Christians (although it is certainly possible).
If you or I had been born in some culture where Christianity was not the dominant religion there is a high probability we’d end up not a Christian – especially if being a Christian went against the dominant religion of our family, peers and local community and therefore made us somewhat isolated, or even ostracised, from local community life (worship, marriage, festivals etc).
If we’d been born in an area were there is no practice and no *knowledge* whatsoever of Christianity (such as some remote rural community in a distant land which had never been invaded by Europeans) then we *definitely* would not end up a Christian. We would have no knowledge of God, Jesus, the Bible etc as defined by Christianity. We might worship (or simply be in awe of) the sun, moon, stars, wind, nature, trees, seasons, life cycles and the glory of creation in our own way. But we would be literally unable to become Christians. And if in later life we were ever exposed to this religion we would be highly unlikely to take it seriously (as being the truth), and even less likely to adopt it. That is unless we were influenced or coerced into adopting the religion by factors such as force, indoctrination, monetary and material incentives (infrastructure etc) and peer pressure.
In other words, belief in (and adoption of) the Christian religion (or any other organised religion for that matter) can ONLY be transmitted from other human being to another. It is has always, and only ever been, transmitted from one generation of humans to the next.
Unlike laughter, sex, hunger, dancing, cooking, hunting, hugging, crying, building shelters, being affected by beauty, fearing heights, enjoying sunshine etc etc Christianity is NOT something which comes to us from within, or without. We can ONLY become Christian if we are exposed to other human beings who are already Christians and who must then teach us what Christianity is (just as someone taught them). And even then we are still just as likely to reject it as we are to adopt it as a religion.
Humans all over the world may indeed be spontaneously develop organised religions (and they have!) but no two religions are ever the same (except where humans have travelled between cultures and mixed up their different religious ideas by themselves).
This is in stark contrast to the universe itself which exists and is consistent wherever you are. Its existence is NOT dependent on instruction from other humans.
Therefore, using standard logical criteria, we can say that the universe exists, but that ‘God’ (Christian or any belonging to any other religion) is, by definition, a social construct. God is *entirely* dependent on social interaction (instruction from fellow human beings) to be defined and adopted as an entity. Without this social instruction God will (as all the evidence shows) simply not exist.
Abandon TV May 7, 2012 at 16:39
. . .
My point was there is no evidence or reason to indicate it is possible for a human being to encounter Christianity (or any other organised religion) in any way EXCEPT through culture ie from one person to another.
. . .
RonFCCC May 14, 2012 at 04:48
You say, “My point was there is no evidence or reason to indicate it is possible for a human being to encounter Christianity (or any other organised religion) in any way EXCEPT through culture ie from one person to another.”
Actually, as a Christian I agree with this point. So, I believe, does God. That’s why He went to the trouble of instituting a whole nation (Israel) for the purpose of ensuring a human mechanism through which specific truth about Him could be transmitted through the generations. He took the further step of having much of that knowledge recorded in a form not subject to transmission error (the Bible). However, when you extend your argument to the existence of God, I believe it fails on grounds pointed out by the Bible itself:
Psalms 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Romans 1:19-20 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.
The claim here is that knowledge of God’s existence is independent of culture and requires no human mechanism for its transmission because it is self-evident from the design of the universe. That is to say, the existence of clock-makers is implicit in the existence of clocks. The idea that the existence of an intricate mechanism necessarily implies a designer is one that occurs independently to many individuals without the necessity of it being transmitted from person to person. Whether you agree with that idea is immaterial to your claim. The fact that the observation of design in the universe brings many human beings to a belief in God independent of any social transmission answers your argument.
Abandon TV May 14, 2012 at 11:40
“…The claim here is that knowledge of God’s existence is independent of culture and requires no human mechanism for its transmission because it is self-evident from the design of the universe. That is to say, the existence of clock-makers is implicit in the existence of clocks. …The fact that the observation of design in the universe brings many human beings to a belief in God independent of any social transmission answers your argument….”
OK, I would agree with you that the universe is unfathomably exquisite in its construction One may indeed call it ‘design’ but to then use mundane logic to deduce a hidden ‘designer’ (ie God) immediately creates another logical problem as great (if not greater) than the first. Here is the logic:
The universe is complex and exhibits (what we think of as) design (sea shells, DNA etc)…. therefore a designer is required … therefore we shall deduce a designer and call him God.
The problem is that the same logic we use to deduce the existence of God must also be abandoned as soon as we have deduced the existence of God, otherwise this logic will force us to ask the same question again: “Who designed God?” By your own logic the ‘existence of an entity as complex as God proves the existence of another God who must have designed God ……and so on forever. One could use the argument that God is extra special and as such requires no designer, but why not then apply this same logic to the universe and say that all creation is so extra special (and we know it is!) that it requires no designer?
Therefore, God represents not so much an explanation of the wonder and mystery of the universe, but rather an agreement to encapsulate all of that wonder, put it in a folder (named ‘God’) and never think any further on the subject. God is, in effect, a full stop to mark the end of a sentence. A sentence which would otherwise carry on forever because it is pondering the nature of the universe. God represents the end of our thinking and questioning.
Science goes the other way and dismisses all the apparent ‘design’ in the universe to pure mathematics, randomness, chance. This is also a kind of full stop to prevent eternal pondering.
What both approaches do is focus our attention outside of ourselves to a third party (either God or science). But all we can really say is that the universe ‘is’. And all we can really do is take our rightful place in that universe, as part of it. There is nothing about us which is not just as awesome and mysterious as anything else in the universe. We ARE the universe and our consciousness can (if we allow it) expand to become aware of the entire universe – giving us the answers we seek, in ‘knowing’ rather than words.
But both science and organised religions steer us away from knowing the universe directly in this way. Instead they encourage us to refer to a third party instead, whether this be a computer, a text, an equation or a priest. And this limits the scope of what we can know and achieve as humans – which is probably why the ruling classes have always encouraged us to see the world through religion and/ or science. But that’s another subject….
My point is that logic must be applied consistently. If you are going to use logic to determine the existence of God you must be consistent and apply that same logic to the existence of God as well. The existence of God also implies a(nother) creator – even more so than the the existence of the universe does. You can’t insist the existence of a watch points to a watchmaker and then refuse to ponder how that watchmaker came into being. That is not applying logic, it is just reciting a myth.
To me the logical (and magical) stance would be to simply proclaim the universe itself to be ‘God’. In this case God and the universe are interchangeable terms, one did not create the other, the universe/God simply IS. Suddenly the universe is no longer divided into the mundane watch (everything) and the magical watchmaker (God). Everything becomes magical, including us. We become God. Without this God/ universe division human consciousness itself blossoms. And perhaps most telling of all, when we realise God and the universe are the same thing all systems of hierarchy become ridiculous, including all organised religions. Organised religions are supposed to be bridges between the mundane world and God. When everything is properly identified as God, religion becomes something resembling a bridge in the middle of a meadow! (the bridge does not connect us to anywhere new). Without this function of connecting us to God, religion can be revealed for what it’s really all about: aggregated wealth, a hierarchy of authority, religious dogma, child abuse and a history of genocide and persecution. The control of the many by a few through the manipulation of ideas and emotions, and through brute force (violence).
To speak the truth about organised religion – and to reject it – is not to reject God…… it is to reject evil and to seek God. God is not ‘up there’ and religion is not the bridge allowing us to connect with another realm where God the watchmaker resides looking down on us. God is right here – we are God, as is everything else. To wipe away organised religion is to enjoy a direct connection with God, perhaps for the first time ever. It is to swim in the glorious ocean, rather than read about the glory of the ocean in a book or have someone preach to you about it, before then taking your money and telling you how to live your life.
RonFCCC May 14, 2012 at 15:17
I think that in your analysis you have fallen into several subtle linguistic and logical traps.
(1) You have slipped in a redefinition of the word “God.” Thomas Aquinas saw God as the “uncaused cause” and “first mover” of the existence of the physical universe. I think his formulation has specific bearing on your argument:
“But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.”
The point I am making is not about the validity of Aquinas’ argument (although it directly refutes your claim and has withstood centuries of the most critical examination), but about the last sentence in the quoted statement: “and this everyone understands to be God.” When you assume that God must have had a designer, you are no longer working within the accepted meaning of the word “God.” You are talking about something else that no one claims to know anything about. When people deduce “God” from the design of the universe, what they have in mind is exactly Aquinas’ Uncaused Cause, and not this other thing that was itself designed.
(2) Another attribute that is embodied in the accepted definition of “God” is that He is not entrapped within Time as we are. Time is a construct that has meaning only from the moment the universe began, which we now know that it did – it literally started with a bang! When you posit that God must have had a designer, you slip in the implicit assumption that God had a beginning. But what does “beginning” mean from a non-Time frame of reference? Once again, you have implicitly redefined God as something within time rather than, as the accepted concept of God requires, being outside and in fact the inventor of Time. Any attempt at logical deduction about the non-Time in which God exists, and which human beings are not equipped to even imagine, is ludicrous.
(3) Speaking of logic, upon which you so heavily rely, what exactly is it? In a universe that “just happened,” human beings are nothing more than accidents of evolution, bio-chemical machines that have been conditioned though natural selection to react to certain stimuli along predetermined lines. In that scenario what you call “logic” is no different in kind to the conditioning that causes birds to build their nests a specific way. The greater apparent complexity of the conditioned responses of humans is irrelevant. There is no rational process at work – just environmental influences, genetic inheritance, and blind chance. You “think” the way you do for no other reason than the mechanism called “you” has been conditioned to respond in that way. Therefore, once you assume the universe to be Godless and undesigned, to say that “logic” requires a particular conclusion is inherently fallacious.
Abandon TV May 15, 2012 at 11:11
1. If those who believe in God define him as a ‘first mover’ (ie he came into existence from nothing, to put it simply) then that is fine. They’re free to believe this. But they must accept it is just a belief. What they can’t do is pretend to be using *logic* to deduce God’s existence – specifically the logic which you put forth which is that the universe shows design and therefore it requires a designer.
What I was saying previously is that you can’t have it both ways. If the universe requires a designer then God requires a designer too. If God (in all his complexity) can come into existence out of nothing and from nowhere then so can the universe (in all its complexity).
2. “…Another attribute that is embodied in the accepted definition of “God” is that He is not entrapped within Time as we are…”
My same argument applies here to. (Linear) time is a human invention (and a relatively new one too). Linear time is simply a way of handling the universe. One way out of many ways. The idea of the universe being eternal has been considered by humans much longer than the idea of the universe being finite and starting with a big bang. What came before the big bang? Scientists simply don’t know. Only a few decades ago scientists thought atoms were the smallest building blocks in the universe. Science (as we know it today) is a relatively new endeavour barely a few centuries old!
Once again, we can just as easily propose the theory that the universe is outside time, or that like an iceberg in water there are areas of the universe which lie outside of what we call linear time. There is no need to invent a God, and there is no reason to invent a God to solve any problems with creation.
3. To clarify: I am merely pointing out logical fallacies and inconsistencies in the logic commonly used to argue for God’s existence and to define what God is. I am testing YOUR logic rather than bringing my own to the table.
The notion of watch requiring a watchmaker is a *logical* argument which YOU made. I was merely pointing out the inconsistency of applying that logic to argue for God’s existence but refusing to apply that same logic to God himself when you refuse to ask who designed God. You attempt to get around this logical inconsistency by turning to another argument, namely that not everything is required to be ‘moved’ by another and that as such God can be a ‘first mover’. I then pointed out that the same can be logically be said for the universe itself. You then argued that God was outside of time. There is no logic which suggests that the universe isn’t also outside of time. Linear time may exist only within the universe itself – in fact we already know that the nature of time changes dramatically depending on where you are in the universe and what you are doing (such as travelling a certain speeds). Again, defining God in this way in an attempt to prove his existence is logically inconsistent.
“… There is no rational process at work…”
Yes there is. Logic is not the same as ‘truth’ (facts) where the evidence might be interpreted differently, or require first hand experience which is not available to all of us (such as eyewitness accounts presented to a jury).
Logic is available to all of us. Logic (or rationality) is a way of handling the information which is currently available. Put simply, logic simply requires that the statements and propositions we make are consistent and can be applied universally.
I am merely pointing out the inconsistencies in your argument which you present as logical but which are not.
To be clear: I am not arguing against what you believe. I am merely saying your *logical* arguments do not hold. What you argue is therefore exclusively in the realm of belief, faith (ie a myth which you have chosen to believe). That’s fine by me. My only issue is your incorrect presentation of that myth in terms of logic
RonFCCC May 15, 2012 at 20:33
Where to start?!
Before I get to the points we’ve been discussing, let me tell you about an experience I had the other day. During the winter we often have field mice seek shelter in our house. I’ve found that by sitting still, they won’t notice you. So, I was able to overhear a conversation between two of them.
One said, “Wow! This is the neatest burrow I’ve ever seen. In fact it looks as if Someone actually designed it. Yes! That must be the case. I think I’ll call the designer Architect.”
The other looked at him with scorn and asked, “If Architect designed this burrow, then who designed Architect? After all, you can’t deduce the existence of Architect without also being able to say who designed Him. That’s just logic.”
The first mouse replied, sadly, “I guess you’re right. We should accept the fact that this burrow, even though it looks so complex and intricate, just happened. But I was so excited about Architect. It’s too bad you proved He can’t exist.”
A couple of very wise mice, huh?
(1) The 3-letter sequence G-o-d either has some agreed upon significance or it is as meaningless as X-q-j. You can’t claim that Xqj requires a designer without imputing some specific meaning to Xqj. If you insist that you will treat Xqj as signifying one thing, while the rest of the world, including those who don’t believe in the existence of Xqj, agree that it signifies something else … Well, you can do that, but it makes meaningful discussion about Xqj impossible.
(2) Perhaps I wasn’t clear about the point I’m trying to make concerning time: In talking about what the generality of people throughout the world, except yourself, mean by the letter sequence G-o-d, to speak of His beginning is not meaningful since doing so assumes an attribute (time-boundness) that is not part of what G-o-d means. For a timeless being, terms like beginning and end are meaningless. In other words, when people deduce the existence of God from the design of the universe, the God they deduce is someone who is outside of time and for whom, therefore, the question of His own designer does not arise. You can tell them that they have no right to deduce that particular God, but I’m afraid they’ve already done it.
(3) You say, “I am testing YOUR logic rather than bringing my own to the table.” Oh, the irony! Isn’t it clear that you can test my logic only be accepting my frame of reference (God exists)? If you logically deduce that my frame of reference is invalid, then you must accept (as I showed in my previous post), that no such thing as “logic” exists. But if no such thing as logic exists, then you cannot have logically disproved what I assert. But if you accept what I assert in order to disprove it … Makes you dizzy, doesn’t it?
Anyway, you can’t take hacks at my reasoning without putting yours on the table as well. Long ago, when I was first considering the issues we are discussing, I reached the conclusion that the existence of God was highly improbable. But then, after examining the case for the other side, I had to admit that the only thing less probable was that He did not exist. So you can’t stop with just saying there are holes in my case – of course there are. I think very few people would make the claim that the case for theism has no holes. It’s just that compared to the alternative, the case for theism is the Rock of Gibraltar.
Some of these issues are addressed in a video, Pointers To God: Clear Evidences for God’s Existence.