Friday, 20 July 2018

'Proving' the reality of God by argument

This is interesting, because I have come to realise (over many years, decades in fact) that the reality of God is in a sense prove-able; but that there is no specific proof - or at least no generally applicable, and generally effectual specific proof.

And I think I see why this is the case. People who think about the ultimate nature of reality ('philosophers') and try to explain anything; will find that this cannot be done without assuming an underlying coherence and also assuming that it is possible for us (individual specific 'me') to understand such things.

Yet, any specific proof will also require assumptions, which the doubter can recognise as such. And any 'proof' brief and simple enough to be effective, will - to that extent (brevity and simplicity) - be an obvious 'model' of reality (not actual reality itself); hence obviously incomplete and distorted in its representation of reality.

So, no proof really can stand alone as a proof, because no proof (because it is a highly simplified model) is necessarily applicable to reality.

Furthermore, all these aspects of proofs exacerbate the impression of circularity. In a sense, logic is always tautology - it is merely (at best) a clarification; a re-expression of one proposition in terms of another which means the same. Therefore, the 'answer' is already built-into the question - and the truth of any proof depends on the truth of what goes-into it...

All the above are reasons why, to an atheist, proofs of the reality of God seem always faulty, and seldom or never convince.

Yet, in a very broad and philosophical sense, I think there is a solid consensus across the ages among people who think about the ultimate nature of reality, and who keep thinking - who don't stop short - that this is a purposively-created-universe. And in this kind of sense God is certainly real (although what kind of God, and the nature of the purpose, are subject to great disagreement).

Why doesn't everybody converge on this? Why, instead, for the past few hundred years, have so many people decided that the universe of reality is incoherent; some meaningless, contingent combination of determinism and accidents?

The main reason is probably that - once adopted - an assumption of meaninglessness, incoherence, purposelessness... cannot be refuted. What can be refuted is the assumption that incoherence can be proven true by argument - yet this is perhaps the commonest modern belief; some version of the idea that 'science has proved' that reality is incoherent...

How then, starting from the typical starting place of assumed-incoherence, can modern man grasp the necessity of creation, of God?

I think the answer is perfectly simple; but I also recognise that a situation of perfect simplicity is one of the most difficult for anybody to attain. It is to go deeper and deeper, introspectively, challenging each assumption, pushing back from surface assumptions to what lies below; until one reaches a base which is solidly-assumed.

Different people will reach this base in different places - but all those places are interlinked, and derive from the same core. For some, it will be a core moral certainty; for another it will be that truth is real and a-good-thing; for someone else it will be their love for a person; for rare individuals it may be a rock-solid knowledge of beauty in music, landscape, poetry...

None of these (nor all of them together) amount to a 'logical proof' of God - but then that is not being sought. One is not trying to convince somebody else, but oneself. It does not matter if nobody else in the world would be convinced.

Love of a specific parent, spouse, child - for instance (or the beauty of a particular poem, or the vital nature of a special truth in science) may be unique to an individual. The point is that - for that person - this-thing-is-real.

It is real-er than anything which might be supposed to deny or refute it (such as 'what other people say' or any kind of 'evidence'... which may or may not be correct, may be misunderstood. (other people may lie, be incompetent - or be deluded.) It feels realer than anything which supposedly contradicts it; and when poked at from any angle, it stays solid.

Furthermore, things must be known at a level of simplicity that rules-out misunderstanding. They must be grasped-whole. So our knowledge of the reality of God or creation needs to be as a plain fact. We need to know God/ creation is real, not know somethings 'about' God/ creation.

The coherence of reality of God, that reality was created... such (linked) things must be known in this kind of way; that is, more solidly experienced than anything which might challenge it.

In this sense the reality of God can be proved: sometimes proved to our-selves, but never to others; proved as a simple fact that I personally grasp whole and without words, but never proved as a linguistic unit - sentence or paragraph - because that will always be an inexact representation of the primary experience, may be ambiguously expressed and wrongly understood. 

If we set-out to seek proof for our-selves, and are serious about it, and stick at it (mentally, as a philosopher must); then the single, simple truth of God can be reached from many directions; and known solidly.


William Wildblood said...

When we ask for proof of God we mean by that intellectual proof but that is expecting God to conform to one narrow strip of our being. It is also requiring God to be a material thing but how can you prove the existence of a spiritual being by material means?

If the characters in a book suddenly acquired their own reality and demanded proof of the author there is no possibility they could receive this as long as they remained restricted to the pages of the book. But they could certainly infer it, and once the final chapter was reached then they might be able to step outside the book and meet the author. This is probably a poor analogy but does describe our situation somewhat.

There is proof of God if you retune your mind a little and don't restrict it to thinking. Thinking about God can't prove his reality but seeing can. However serious thinking taken to its conclusion can show the likelihood of God to be almost overwhelming.

Unknown said...

99% of the atheists I have debated do not go so deep into logical thinking. Many fall out of flock behavior due to lack of and/or desire of working on their convictions, others fall into atheism due to a desire to get rid of the guilt associated to some sin (in general, a sin against the sixth commandment), a few fall due to indoctrination coming from their parents, and another few due to sins of scandal from the clergy.

The vast majority of hardcore atheists say: "I do not believe in God because I cannot prove that God does not exist. Yes, what you have read. Instead of saying: "being A and B mutually exclusive and the only options for a given question, if A cannot be proved to be true, then it is false; hence B is true". Which indicates that their problem is not in their intellect, but in their will.

Nigel Worthington said...

"Furthermore, all these aspects of proofs exacerbate the impression of circularity. In a sense, logic is always tautology - it is merely (at best) a clarification; a re-expression of one proposition in terms of another which means the same."

Have you ever heard of Chris Langan's CTMU? Chris's claim to fame is having one of the highest ever recorded IQ. He claims to have discovered a model of reality that constitutes absolute mathematical proof of the existence of God and a number of other implications. The CTMU is characterized as a "super-tautology" which is along the lines of what you are saying here.

I don't understand the theory enough to know whether it is what it claims to be, but in any case, Chris's writings (on quora and facebook) are very interesting and high quality. There is a CTMU facebook (which I have been perusing lately) page with discussions that are (mostly) high quality and I've noticed parallels with the ideas and topics discussed here.

Chiu ChunLing said...

Ultimately, the presence or absence of ultimate meaning has to be assumed either way, it shouldn't be considered a thing to be proved.

But what can be done is to clarify one's assumptions and then prove the consequences of those assumptions, so as to see whether we really like those assumptions in light of what they entail.

Cynicism is popular because everyone wants to act according to their own base instincts, but when you point out the consequence of others also acting out their base instincts, cynics suddenly become moralists.

One might even call that a human instinct.

lgude said...

I like William Wildblood's analogy because it caches for me the greyness and inherent limitations of the intellect. It reminds me Aquinas's experience of his own great intellectual achievement as 'straw' compared to the experience of God.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Unknown - One reason that I was an atheist, was that as a professional scientist, in my work I had to think as a materialist. I became quite adept at this, and this became an ingrained habit. Now that the whole of public discourse (including mainstream religion) is exclusively material in its assumptions, this way of thinking has become much more common; and spiritual/ religious thinking is low status (because excluded from public discourse).

@NW - I know about Christ Langan - He seems like a good guy, and his story is interesting. But I am trying not to conceptualise reality in terms of physics metaphors, because I think the true reality is in terms of relationships (loving relationships).

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Unknown, you know the sixth commandment is the one against murder, right?

Chiu ChunLing said...

It's a very popular sin these days, far more than most people admit.

That said, different theological traditions number the commandments differently.