Who shall I bother first? Let’s start with the theists…
God most definitely does not “exist”
Quite simply, in terms of empirical, material existence, I think most modern theists would agree that God does not have a material form, a material existence. God is not a physical being residing within this universe. Right?
To borrow from Terry Eagleton’s critical review of Dawkins’ The God Delusion, titled Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching:
. For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.
Right, now for the other side:
God most definitely does exist
Another statement that should be hard to argue with: some people believe God created the universe, other people believe humans created God, and a third group of people have not decided between these two perspectives but would agree that one of the two (or both?) is true. Did I miss anyone? Because all three groups, described this way, implicitly believes that God “exists”.
In terms of deducing the existence of something based on the empirically testable effects that that thing has, God most definitely does have an effect, therefore does exist. Even if you don’t believe in the supernatural or in divine “intervention”, having a belief in God has a very real impact on the believer and their approach to life.
Causality and Creator, Design and Creativity
On this blog, when discussing religion, I don’t care so much about that causality question (who created whom). In a pre-modern world-view, or an eastern mystical world-view, I don’t think causality carries very much weight? Humanity evolved and grew, to the point where it “discovered” either God or the God meme (idea), a particular way of viewing and/or talking about the world — a personified idea, just like we personify cats and cars and ships and stars, in order to relate better. Without a notion of causality, or looking at it from outside space-time, the question “which came first?” doesn’t actually make that much sense… With a general-relativity understanding of the universe, time is the fourth dimension. The question of “before” and “after” only makes sense when you actually have a time axis, a defined before and after, which we only have within the universe.
If you define God as “creator” or “creative force”, creativity could be considered “transcendent” of time. (Ignoring the problem of trying to define “creativity”…) Such creative acts can be found in many places. They can be found in human minds busy “designing” something. Can they be found in completely random mutations, filtered by natural selection? Those mutations could be considered “creative”, could they not?
What is “design” by a human mind anyway? A number of random perturbations in your brain’s neural network, filtered by a selection process to come up with something useful (by some human understanding of usefulness), producing something that we call “designed”? In what way is the result of evolution not a design? (Before you can talk about existence or non-existence of a conscious designer, you first have the problem of trying to define what conscious means… Personify the evolutionary process and metaphorically consider it a “conscious” process?)
So what’s left to discuss then?
(Wikipedia links for those not familiar with some of the more esoteric terms.)
We can talk about different understandings of “God”. The typical theistic God (including monotheistic, henotheistic and polytheistic) is in no means limited to the “setting the universe in motion” role. (That God-concept is known as deism.) There are other roles and aspects too. However, a modernistic, reductionistic approach to trying to describe “What God Is”, is in some ways like trying to pin down a hologram. It doesn’t quite work. God isn’t a “modern” concept, it is quite the opposite of reductionistic.
In a previous post, I talked about The Personal God aspect of “What is God”. This aspect of God is quite distinct from the “creator” role. It is this aspect of God that has influence in our contemporary culture. We don’t see the theist’s God revealed in acts of creation, but rather in the statements and acts of God’s followers. Or more correctly, various groups of followers of diverse understandings of “God” (and here I include even polytheistic understandings).
Unlike the existence or non-existence of God, I believe these aspects of religious belief are very accessible to discussion, with regards to which beliefs have value, and which are harmful or misleading. Consider for a trivial example, the belief of it being good to slay unbelievers. With so many different notions or understandings of God, every person is an unbeliever with regards to at least some perspective or understanding. Hence we all end up killing each other. This is possibly the greatest concern of the “New Atheist movement”, which often cites 9/11 as the tipping point into activism. (However, isn’t Islamic terrorism more political than religious?)
ps. If all theists understood what Terry Eagleton understands about Christianity and such theologically informed doctrines, Dawkins would not have written that book. Or it would have looked very different. According to Eagleton, Dawkins “understands nothing of these traditional doctrines”. I’d point out that most likely, that merely reflects Christian fundamentalism’s lack of understanding of these doctrines, as that is what he is responding to.