It was brought to my attention after I wrote those blog posts “What I Love When I Say I Love God” that the title was somewhat misleading. That it could easily have been taken to imply that the posts would be apologetic in nature, making a case for God’s existence or the existence of a divine, benevolent presence. Since then I’ve been thinking a little bit about apologetics. Okay, true be told, I’ve been thinking about my growing disinterest in typical apologetics.
In Gilead, the narrator John Ames states “many of the attacks on belief that have had such prestige for the last century or two are in fact meaningless” (144). This statement might come off as an unthinking declaration by someone unwilling to question faith. In truth, it is a very thoughtful and accurate conclusion that is the result of much reading and research. That comes from having a mind that can not only understand theological and philosophical arguments but can also evaluate them. A mind that is willing to ask the most important question that should be posed to any theological or philosophical system, “Are the questions and assumptions at the base of this inquiry the right ones?”
From years of reading philosophers and theologians and interacting with people who aspire to be philosophers and theologians, I know that this question is not asked nearly enough. It has especially not been asked enough in the West and to our great detriment. The truth is that you can ask any number of questions that can lead you to many different conclusions, but if they aren’t the right questions then you won’t come to the right conclusions. You have simply enjoyed a thought experiment. Which shouldn’t be taken as a benign thing. Even an invalid thought experiment can result in consequences that can be destructive and devastating. Modern philosophy taught us this.
Modern philosophy preached that truth was universal, that every “good” system would be good for all people and all places without any need to take into account particularity. That doctrine, based on the wrong questions and wrong assumptions, has done damage around the world. If you want evidence read Arturo Escobar’s Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World.
When it comes to the question of God, the West has been asking the wrong questions and using the wrong assumptions for the last century or two. I’ve stated before that how this question is structured reminds me of the foolish and false philosophical conundrum of the tree: if a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to see it did it still fall?* This conundrum assumes that if someone is not there to bear witness to something it has not happened. That’s as silly as saying that the tree doesn’t exist at all if no one is there to see it (When you are absent from your home do you assume that it ceases to exist until you walk back up to the door? If you are unaware that your toilet was running when you left is it reasonable to think your bathroom won’t have flooded because you weren’t there to observe it?).
You see, the similarity is that we in the West seem to assume that God either exists or doesn’t exist based upon the logic of our argumentation. If we can make a good case for God, then we bring God into existence and God has the characteristics and qualities that we deem to be rational or desirable. If we cannot construct an argument for God that makes sense to us and seems desirable, then God simply does not exist. But the fact is, that if there is a God, that Being/Entity/Persona exists whether or not we can make a case that seems logical or not. Just as you exist, whether or not you can make a logical case for why you do.
Logic does not determine existence. Existence determines existence. I know that is circular, that Logic tells you circularity is invalid, but this circularity is our reality. Logic can’t change that, it can simply critique and complain about it.
When it comes to the question of God, using pure reason or logic to determine if God exists is pointless and ultimately meaningless. Both sides can argue endlessly and neither side will be able to check the validity of their conclusion until death. Whether one decides God does exist or doesn’t it will always be a matter of faith. Faith in logic and reason. Your answer can have no affect whatsoever on the reality of God’s actual existence or lack thereof.
The better question to ask is, if God exists which God? The best method is to use reality and revelation (for all religious texts claim to have been revealed by a Divine source) to determine if there is a God whose account of the world and of us is consistent with who we are and what we experience. For if God exists, God understands the working of the world and of us better than any philosopher or theologian. Then the question is, can I worship this God or would I rather live in rebellion?
When I read most atheists what strikes me is that usually underneath their logic is a conviction that the God who exists is an evil God. They would rather live in rebellion then in worship. Though I believe that conclusion is sad and misled, it is a much more sound and honest objection to God than to claim God’s existence is illogical. (Because as I said, logic doesn’t determine existence).
*Addendum: I confess, I’ve misquoted the conundrum of the tree in the forest (which is “if a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it does it still make a sound?”). I’ve considered correcting but my misquotation represents how most people take it/interpret it anyway and therefore is still relevant. Plus, in essence, both say the same thing still: ‘Do the laws of the universe depend, to some extent, upon our presence to observe them?’ All in all, it is simply functioning as a rhetorical device and not as a key point and therefore precision isn’t as important as function. And it still functions well.