Monday, June 2, 2014

Requiring Proof of the Divine

I've noted in this blog and elsewhere my belief that the debate regarding whether God exists is futile.  It is also, of course, unending, and may be unending due to its futility; we love to dispute what is pointless--there are those who claim philosophy consists of the consideration of questions which cannot be answered, and is wondrous as a result.  So much, then, for philosophy.

I hold that those who believe in God will never be convinced through debate there is no God, and that those who maintain there is no God will likewise never be convinced there is a God through this dispute, which seems to involve the repetition of points and arguments which have already been made for many years.  Nonetheless, those who believe in God insist on seeking to prove God's existence.  Their efforts to do so prompts claims they have not and cannot do so.  So I think believers typically initiate the dispute or debate, and wish they would not.  I'm uncertain whether the believers' forbearance in this regard would keep nonbelievers from insisting there is no God, but like to think it would.  As far as I'm concerned, we should believe or not believe and be silent in either case.

I'm baffled by the apparent need believers have to establish the existence of God in a manner others would find satisfactory.  I suppose it may be considered an effort at self-justification, but think it to be more a case of being unduly concerned with what others may think, which is one of the things Stoicism teaches us should be a matter of indifference.  Provided a belief in God causes no harm to others, that belief should be of no concern to anyone but the believer.

Non-believers may be expected to assert the belief causes harm to others, and there are certainly many instances in which it does.  But it need not do so, and when it does not it should be treated as a uniquely personal concern.  This is not to say we must respect all religious beliefs or sanction them; only those which cause no harm or are not used to cause harm.

Certain religious beliefs may be said to be such as would tend to cause harm to others.  Belief in an intolerant, angry, commanding deity requiring that all act in a particular manner and think in a particular way is likely to induce harmful conduct.  But there are other religious beliefs, other Gods, which don't impose such requirements.

There are, in other words, beliefs in God that are more reasonable than others.  A God which is not peculiarly human with exclusively or predominantly human concerns may be deemed more like a God of a vast universe than one which is so anthropomorphic, for example.  As such, it's more probably such a God would exists if a God exists.   An immanent God may be deemed more reasonable than a transcendent God in the sense that a transcendent God is necessarily unknowable, while an immanent God is all around us, is part of us.

The atheist will contend that we can no more establish the existence of a pantheistic God (or panentheistic) than we can any other God, and this is true in the sense that we can't establish God as we would something ascertainable by scientific means.  But accepting this as the case, we can nevertheless decide that certain conceptions of God are preferable to others, or so I would maintain, and have a reasonable basis on which to make such a determination. 

There are various things we can't establish scientifically, though, and would not think of being subject to scientific verification.  Love for a particular person or work of art, for example, can't be established or justified in that fashion.  Nor can a sense of the sublime, sense of awe and reverence be so established.  Are they thereby of questionable merit?

We experience love and awe and reverence and this cannot reasonably be doubted.  When we question such experiences, we question why they're felt, not whether they're felt, and we question why they're felt because we feel the subject of those experiences is not worthy of them, which is to say that we don't have those experiences in that case.  We have them in other cases.

Do we have any need to justify what we feel in listening to a great musical work, or viewing a great work of art or the beauties of nature?  Do we attempt to prove their existence?   I don't think we do.  I think that it makes no sense even to speak of proving them.  If the belief in God is substantially the same kind of experience, this angry, pointless debate should not be taking place.

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