When I taught Sunday school for high schoolers, I asked students at the beginning of the year to write down the questions they would like to talk about. The most frequently-asked question was "how do we know there's a God?"
Over the centuries, lots of purely logical arguments have been made about the existence of God. But logical arguments without sufficient facts can be like bricks without straw.
As I note in another posting, if you look outside at dawn, you will naturally assume that the sun is rising in the sky. That's the logical conclusion; it was universally accepted for thousands of years. It's also dead wrong.
For similar reasons, there are some people whom logic alone won't convince that there's a God: because logic doesn't always do it.
So let's see if we can look at facts more than logic. We certainly know a lot more facts about the universe than we did in those prior centuries.
Some of the cosmological facts we've learned in the past 100 years are, to say the least, consistent with the existence of God. Many people, I among them, would argue they are strongly suggestive of it; my own faith is bolstered significantly by those facts.
It's been about 13+ billion years since the Big Bang. We now have a pretty good idea that during that time, an interacting set of incredibly complicated natural processes has been operating. Those processes produced the first generation of stars. From the ashes of those first stars, a set of second-generation stars and planets was formed -- likely including our own.
These creation processes also produced us. And on the whole -- certainly not always -- we humans have contributed to the increasing orderliness and goodness of our corner of the universe. We seem to be active participants in the continuing processes of creation described above. One Lutheran theologian has referred to the human race as "created co-creators."
We've found some pretty amazing "cosmic coincidences" in these creation processes. Those coincidences are sometimes referred to as the Anthropic Principle. See, e.g., here for a summary of some of these coincidences.
Scientists, even skeptical ones, have taken note. For example:
- "The odds against a universe like ours emerging out of something like the Big Bang are enormous. I think there are clearly religious implications." --Prof. Stephen Hawking, quoted in Ian Barbour, When Science Meets Religion, p. 58 (2000)
- "A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question." --Sir Fred Hoyle (astronomer & atheist) (1982)
- "The simultaneous occurrence of many independent improbable features appears wildly improbable. … [T]his fine-tuning could be taken as an argument for the existence of a designer, perhaps a God with an interest in conscious life." --Prof. Ian Barbour, When Science Meets Religion p. 58 (2000) (emphasis original)
- "The more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming." --Prof. Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe (1979) p. 250
- “My claim would be that theism has a more profound and comprehensive understanding to offer than that afforded by atheism. Atheists are not stupid, but they explain less.” -- Rev. Dr. Sir John Polkinghorne, KBE, FRS
All this calls to mind the opening verses of Psalm 19:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
One of the interesting responses to this question is Coleridge's in his recently published Opus Maximum (Princeton). I don't have it with me, but in it he says our first considerations (unconscious) of God are as an infant with the dawning awareness of the Other, who at first is Mother. This other is not an It, but a thou. Here, with the mother, is an Other, making awareness at the same time of I. I and Thou in that primorial apprehension is the root experience of God.
As I recall STC strongly opposes the naturalistic arguments for God. I'll have to check it out again.
Looks like you've been busy writing!
Posted by: Mark Diebel | October 14, 2004 at 08:59 AM
i admire your effort to scientifically show/explain/derive etc. g-d. You say that "the cosmological facts we've learned in the past 100 years are, to say the least, consistent with the existence of God".
i think i understand the statement, but i'm not so sure about how convincing it is. because really, it is kind of a null-statement. the beauty of the "theory of the existance of g-d" is that it is scientifically unfalsifiable. one cannot ever prove it to be wrong, therefore science, and its facts and laws will allways be consistent with g-d's existence.
similarly, the quotes and examples you mention are not very enlightning either.
the explanation of improbability suffers from two flaws: one is the numbers. whoever tries to guess how unlikely the evolution of life is, has to make so many assumptions that the guesses have margins of errors in the orders of magnitude. i.e. we really cannot make an educated guess about something we know a ridiculously small amount about. secondly, there is the flaw of post-hoc analysis. if there was no life in the universe, would there be anybody there to notice its absence? - alas, there is life, and we are here, and it seems incredibly unlikely, but does that make it purposeful and meaningful? when someone buys one lottery ticket in life and hits the jackpot - that's unlikely, but is it meaningful? so to say that just because life is unlikely it therefore must be meaningful is not scientifically rigorous.
lastly, i couldn't agree less with the statement "theism has a more profound and comprehensive understanding to offer than that afforded by atheism". theism in and of itself explains nothing whatsoever. all the different creation stories of the different g-ds in all the religions are fun, but just stories. they have no value in explaining the universe. what is of value is all the prophet's tales, parables, and sociological context, like laws and commandments. but they are not really fundamentally theistic, though most obviously ask us to submit to g-d's will and way.
it has always struck me that the only way into religion is though the heart, not the brain. trying to prove g-d is ultimately a nonstarter. and that's why there's a difference between faith and knowledge.
Posted by: mr_curious | December 10, 2004 at 12:51 AM
Mr_Curious, thanks for the comment. I don't think I'm trying to "scientifically show/explain/derive etc. g-d." That's too ambitious a task for me.
Here's what I am doing. I used to think that it made no more sense to believe in God than it did to believe that Alpha Centauri was ruled by giant cats -- it couldn't be disproved, but there was no good reason to think it was true. Consequently, I thought, the only defensible position about God was agnoticism, because an honest realist could not believe in God without sacrificing his or her intellectual integrity.
(On a non-intellectual level I felt fairly sure there was "something" there. This ties in with your final comment about the only way to religion being through the heart, not the brain. But I was, and remain, unwilling to rely too much on the heart; history amply proves that bad things can happen when we do.)
A number of years ago, with help from my rector and from other friends, I concluded that belief in God is indeed intellectually defensible. Antony Flew, a leading British atheist, just did the same at age 81; see this posting from yesterday.
I'm sure there are other people out there who felt as I once did -- wanting to believe in God, but also wanting to approach life in an intellectually honest and rigorous way. My hope is that the experiences of people like Antony Flew, and of the scientists whom I quote in the main posting, may help them get past that obstacle to faith.
Posted by: D. C. | December 10, 2004 at 09:16 AM
thanks for your reply. i didn't mean to criticise you, or your approach at all. hope i didn't sound too harsh. (from your writings here and elswhere i do have much respect for your views).
i just wanted to express my opinion that theism and science don't mix, and can't. i guess they can coexist, but i believe (ha!) that creation science for example is an oxymoron.
you say that you thought agnosticism was the only intellectually defensible position. i see your point. but when you say that "But I was, and remain, unwilling to rely too much on the heart; history amply proves that bad things can happen when we do.)" i'm not sure whether the heart really is the problem, or whether it is the lack of humility that historically has gone with this quesion. the what's right for my heart, is right for yours.
as for science, i think it mingles perfectly well with religion and faith. that's why i was saying that there's much to be learned from the various prophets, and their interpretations and actions reflecting their belief. i think those things are eminently studyable, in history, psychology, social sciences and many more. but quite frankly, i think g-d is a bit overhyped. (sorry to everyone, no offense meant, and yes, i know, hell awaits - and did before the last sentence). doesn't it matter much more how the belief in a particular g-d affects a person's actions?
anywho, i start repeating myself.
happy holidays to everyone
Posted by: mr_curious | December 12, 2004 at 03:13 PM
Mr._Curious writes: "i'm not sure whether the heart really is the problem, or whether it is the lack of humility that historically has gone with this quesion."
You've hit the nail on the head.
As for hell awaiting, I'm not convinced of that. Here again I think the only intellectually-defensible position is a mix of agnosticsm and hope.
Moreover, assuming there's a God (of which I'm persuaded), and that "he" is a loving God (which likewise makes sense to me), it seems presumptuous and prideful, and perilously close to blasphemy, to pronounce conclusive judgments about what he supposedly has in store for any one of us. See also John Wilkins' recent comment on "universalism" in the Anglican tradition.
Merry Christmas to you too, or Happy Hannukah, as the case may be. I read a comment recently, don't remember where, in which the author said it didn't offend him at all, and in fact pleased him, when someone from another religious tradition offered him that tradition's customary holiday greeting, e.g., a Christian saying Merry Christmas to a Jew or a Jew saying Happy Hannukah to a Christian. I can readily endorse that sentiment.
Posted by: | December 13, 2004 at 08:33 AM
Why dont you find someone to take this into a different perspective I.E a Athist, Jew, or Islam but i personally think that its usless to spend time wondering about a god yes i do personaly believe theres a god out there but i find theres no need to specify or to 'knit-pick" anything about him/her sorry about the sloppy writing im still only in highschool
Posted by: Caleb | June 12, 2007 at 04:46 PM
we do not need to know theres a God we just need to Believe.
If we really evolved from monkeys as science says then why is there only 1 species of intelligent being instead of a few.
I believe in creationist so I say that we existed only 7k years ago
if theres no such thing as a spiritual realm then why everywhere all around the world people have been having religious practices concerning the spirituality. Science cant explain the spiritual realm. And if as science says, we evolve by adapting, then why did we adapt to naturally believe in something spiritual.
I believe the question about 'how do we know theres a God' arises out of science. Science cant prove theres a God so they try an alternative. Its like a blind child who cant proved that he has a father and instead lead himself to believe he was somehow cloned.
Science is there to testify the wonders of God. The more bigger we discover the universe to be the bigger our perception should be of God. The more we discover new things the more we should stand in awe of the creativity of God.
God is there whether we like it or not. He loves us and cares for us.
When someone denies theres a God he goes against his own conscience however big or small. Its inevitable. They just go against God just for the sake of arguing, fame and attention.
Against such the best is to avoid arguing. Be guided by the holy spirit and say what u know is right. If they continue going against you, walk away for their words are empty,powerless and meaningless. They are contradicting against their conscience. Thus its a waste of time trying to convince them.
If you continue arguing , ur status will becomes as low as them
But after all is said and done -TRUST GOD
Posted by: Trust | July 06, 2008 at 11:03 AM
What would you say to
1) the Weak Anthropic principle - basically that we couldn't observe any other universe than the one we are in right now (or a very, very slightly different one) because if things were different, we wouldn't exist to observe it.
2) Multiverse theories - many universes have been created by brane collisions/quantum effects/etc. - given enough time, ours could not help but be created.
Posted by: David | August 17, 2008 at 11:32 PM
David, the Weak Anthropic Principle strikes me as a tautology that offers little or no insight beyond the obvious.
On the subject of multiverse theories: If multiple universes have been generated, and at least one that "works" (ours) has survived, that would be no less likely to be the work of a Creator than the generation of multiple species of living creatures and the survival and reproduction of those species adapted to their environments.
The Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne points out in one of his books that positing multiple universes still leaves unanswered the question how those multiple universes came to exist in the first place. (Before becoming a late-call Anglican priest in his 50s, Dr. Polkinghorne was a distinguished Cambridge particle physicist who was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and later knighted.)
In a sense, those advancing the multiverse speculation have an even bigger challenge than before: They should explain not just how our one known universe came into being, but how all the other posited universes did.
My own view is that the existence of multiple universes would not affect the evidence for the likelihood of a Creator, one way or the other. The Creator might have chosen to create our universe alone. Or "he" might have chosen instead to create many universes, of which ours happens to be one. The latter possibility sounds very similar to creating the human race through evolutionary processes instead of by fashioning a man out of dust and breathing the breath of life into his nostrils (Gen. 2.7). In any case, "it is what it is."
Thanks for commenting.
Posted by: D. C. Toedt | August 18, 2008 at 09:23 AM
I disagree. There is no proof in god and there will never be. If you do believe in god than that is your own blind faith, and it falls in the face of science. As improboble as the universe may be. It happened, and we know it happened, and something inproboble can still happen.
Posted by: William Dawson | April 08, 2009 at 05:39 PM
William Dawson, if you're looking for proof of the existence of God to a mathematical certainty, totally ruling out any other possibility, then I agree, we're not likely ever to find it.
Your own categorical views strike me as an equally blind faith.
Thanks for visiting.
Posted by: D. C. Toedt | April 08, 2009 at 05:47 PM
Arguing that the universe around us is so complex that it must have needed an intelligent designer raises the question of who designed the designer. The designer would need to be more complex than the universe it created. So, who designed the designer?
Posted by: Kelvin | April 06, 2010 at 08:53 AM