Obviously, in what follows, I am talking about how I conceptualise God. I'm perfectly aware there are other ways - here I am explaining my-self. Such a question as "How do we know God exists?" can only be answered after a series of counter-questions have been dealt with - so that the question-asker first clarifies his own assumptions about God and the world. Quite likely the asker does not know his own assumptions; or, even worse, assumes that his own assumptions are derived from 'evidence' - which is self-refuting nonsense if you think about it (but people seldom do). We can't know what counts as valid evidence, nor how to interpret it, until after we have assumptions to build-on. Until we know our own assumptions, we don't know whether our idea of evidence is one that we could genuinely endorse. So 'evidence' means nothing-at-all until after we know and endorse the assumptions behind it.
One way to approach this is to focus on the matter of creation; because (by my understanding) God is the creator. So, each person needs to consider: is there is a need to explain creation?
Do we, on the one hand, assume we live in a world with genuine, objective, purpose and meaning? Or do we believe that reality is simply some mixture of determinism (things deterministically causing other things) and randomness (things just happening, disconnected from causes)? Do we believe that creation is intentional, or that there is no creation and things Just Are.
And by 'do we assume' I mean to ask whether that specific person actually makes this assumption, for himself, or not; because this is metaphysics, which is a matter of assumptions and not of 'proof' or 'evidence'. So I am asking about your primary intuitions, your bottom-line beliefs about the nature of your life in this world and the nature of yourself and the world: do you (as a matter of actuality) assume meaning, or not?
Because only if you assume that this world has meaning can you know that God exists.
If you assume no meaning or purpose - you have already ruled-out the existence of God, and need not think about it any more.
Indeed, you have already (implicitly) assumed that your thinking is just a part of the reality of determined causes and/or randomness; so you are assuming that your thinking does not signify anything about reality: It Just Happens.
You need to think - therefore - about whether you really and truly assume there is no purpose and meaning to anything; because if you do assume this, then why are you talking about things like God? In fact, why are you trying to exlain anything to anybody? You have already decided it means nothing.
If things do have purpose and meaning, they are created; and if they are created then there is 'a creator' - but you have not yet decided what a creator may be.
The next question is whether the creator is a person or not.
This is again a matter of fact; so how can one find out such facts?
Again, there is no possibility of the question being decided by 'evidence'; so it must be a matter of intuitive assumption. You need to examine your own bottom line assumptions.
When you think deeply and clearly, do you know a personal creator? Or do you assume a creator that is impersonal - a force, tendency, some abstract principle?
At bottom: is reality (as you know it) personal, or not?
If you regard creation as personal; you are a theist - that is, you know God exists: you 'believe in God'; but you then you may feel the need to consider the nature this God.
(One could say, "I know there is a God who is creator", but I have no interest beyond that. Either you have the desire to know the nature of this God, or you don't.)
How to discover the nature of God? Is this even possible? More assumptions...
Well, you have by now clarified that there is a personal creator; and you can then clarify whether this creator has a relationship with us, or not; whether God is indifferent to you, or interested and concerned with you?
Either you will have a positive knowledge of God's personal relationship with you, or this will be lacking. (One cannot know that God is indifferent - one can only know that one feels no interest from God).
Again, this is an intuitive kind of knowledge. Since God is creator, he is present in all of creation (including myself, to at least some extent) - so if God does have a relationship with me personally, then I can know it. A God that has a personal relationship with me, can make this known to me (if he wishes - and if I acknowledge it).
And then - finally - one will know if the personal creator God loves us, whether he loves me personally.
If he does love me, then I can know this by knowing God in-creation (in everything created around me), and by knowing God in myself - insofar as I am created.
If, therefore, I know God the creator, who loves me, exists; and I know his nature; then I can see evidence for this all around and within me.
But if God exists but does not love me, then he may not want me to know about him; he may not care whether I know his reality - his existence may be hidden.
So it seems that the question "How do we know God exists?" can be answered; but that it can be answered only after assumptions have been clarified; and it can only be answered for some (not all) assumptions concerning the nature of reality and God, and on the basis of some of the possible assumptions concerning the nature of God.
For the assumptions that I personally have about creation, God and the nature of God; I can know that God exists. But that need not apply to you. Many modern people have already, implicitly, assumed God as creator does not exists: and it is then their assumptions that prevent them from knowing.
Before accepting any conclusion, we need to discover and clarify our own probably unconscious and unknown assumptions; because once these are made clear and explicit, it may turn out that we do not, after all, regard our unconscious assumptions as true.
Such is the value, the necessity, of thinking about metaphysics.
Thank you, Bruce. In a nutshell. Intellectuals and the uneducated people's relationship to God. So very much from different perspectives but He is always there. You nailed it. Wonderful.
"Do we believe that creation is intentional, or that there is no creation and things Just Are."
I don't see these as mutually exclusive. Unless you believe in creatio ex nihilo -- and neither of us does -- it is ultimately true that "things just are," and any creation takes place within that larger context.
Just how much of this world is "created," and to what extent, is an open question. Even an atheist will admit that some things, such as a house or car, were created for a purpose; at the other extreme, some people think everything was created and nothing "just growed."
@Wm - I tried, here, to focus on what might be the problem as it confronted most people. For most people it is a matter of no creation at all versus creation. *Some* creation suffices as well as creation-of-every-thing; because if there is any creation *at all*, there is some purpose-meaning - and there is a creator of some kind.
But everyone agrees that there is at least some creation, that we human beings at least create things for specific purposes. If you live in a house, then you live in a created environment.
The question is not whether there is any creation at all, but rather what specific things are created, by whom, and for what purposes.
"Indeed, you have already (implicitly) assumed that your thinking is just a part of the reality of determined causes and/or randomness; so you are assuming that your thinking does not signify anything about reality: It Just Happens."
I don't think this is true. Random things can't signify anything about anything, of course, but determined things can -- not despite being determined but precisely because they are determined.
For example, the level of the mercury in a thermometer signifies the ambient temperature. Why? Because it is determined by that temperature. (The fact that the thermometer was created for that purpose is not directly relevant here. I could just as easily have used a "natural" example, such as the length and direction of a shadow signifying the location of a light source or the number of growth rings signifying how old a tree is.) If the thermometer had free will and could choose the level of the mercury without regard for atmospheric conditions, then the mercury level would no longer signify anything about anything outside of the thermometer itself.
The big question is not how a determined mind could know reality, but how a free one could!
(As you know, I am not a determinist. Nevertheless, I acknowledge this as a major unresolved paradox and an extremely powerful argument in favor of determinism.)
@Wm - "For example, the level of the mercury in a thermometer signifies the ambient temperature. Why? Because it is determined by that temperature."
This is the error which, I believe, Steiner refutes - or, he did for me anyway. The level of mercury signifies nothing until interpreted by a mind (by thinking); stimuli signify nothing for the same reason.
"The question is not whether there is any creation at all, but rather what specific things are created, by whom, and for what purposes."
I suppose we are wrangling over 'what people think' - but I am contending that few people think that way. The usual division references the world we live in, and is between whether this world we live in is created, or not.
Whether every last thing about this world we live in does not matter much except to philosophers who want to assert that it does, or if people are pushed to consider it. As a first line I think it is creation or not.
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