I began a discussion on Tuesday centered around four online essays. The first, a post on Naturalism and Investigating the Unnatural, is found on a blog written by John Wilkins, a philosopher of science in Australia. It refers to and comments on an online exchange between two philosophers on the New York Times site, What is Naturalism by Timothy Williamson (a Professor of Logic at Oxford) and Why I am a Naturalist by Alex Rosenberg (a Professor of Philosophy at Duke). Timothy Williamson has since come back with a third post On Ducking Challenges to Naturalism. Three philosophers shouldn’t have the last word on science, naturalism, and religion, however. Yet another article also appeared recently, Does God Exist? by Alan Lightman, a physicist and novelist, currently an adjunct professor of humanities, creative writing, physics at MIT (faculty page), a rather interesting mix.
My post on Tuesday asked if science was the religion of the 21st century. There was some push back against this idea in the comments. Perhaps science is not the religion of the 21st century, but some form of naturalism does appear to be the core philosophy of the 21st century. Naturalism formulates and forms the stories we tell about ourselves and our lives. The assumption of naturalism permeates everything under discussion – even the question of the existence of God. In this sense I think that it is fair to say that science is the 21st century religion.
Both Dr. Wilkins and Dr. Lightman bring the discussion from naturalism to investigating the unnatural – specifically the existence of God. Dr. Wilkins is an agnostic because we cannot eliminate the possibility that there is a God who does not intervene in nature:
But there are things we cannot show not to be real, because they are neither empirically disproven nor contradictory to our best knowledge. God (at least the kind of God I call “empirically inoculated”) is one of them. So the question now is: could God exist in a non-natural (which basically means a non-physical causal) fashion?
Dr. Lightman has essentially the same idea of a non-causal God in his essay.
Science can never know what created our universe. Even if tomorrow we observed another universe spawned from our universe, as could hypothetically happen in certain theories of cosmology, we could not know what created our universe. And as long as God does not intervene in the contemporary universe in such a way as to violate physical laws, science has no way of knowing whether God exists or not. The belief or disbelief in such a Being is therefore a matter of faith.
Such a non-interventionist God may be consistent with science, but it is not clear why anyone would believe in or defend the idea of such a detached God. This is not the God of orthodox Christian faith. Such a description, though, of a non-interventionist God consistent with naturalism, unconnected to the material world are sprinkled through the discussion of science and faith. It would be useful to probe some of the consequences and implications.
Today I would like to start the discussion with a simple questions – Why should we believe in God?
More personally – Why do you believe in God?
In light of the discussion above – What kind of God do you believe in?
Dr. Wilkins, rooted in naturalism, finds three possible reasons for belief in God – specifically his kind of “empirically inoculated” God: (1) revelation, (2) logic, and (3) tradition. His selection of reasons and his analysis of them is shaped by his assumption of what Alan Lightman has called The Central Doctrine of Science – the laws of the universe exist and are inviolable.
1. There is reason for belief in God if that God has revealed himself to us. But a God who reveals himself is essentially an interventionist God. Thus when naturalism rules revelation is not and cannot be a reliable guide. Apparent revelation is analyzed and rationalized.
2. There is reason for belief in God if the existence of God “is mandated by our other commitments (such as the existence of a universe).” There is reason for belief in the existence of God if, like an abstract mathematical proof, God is a logical necessity. This is something like Thomas Aquinas and his argument for God as the uncaused cause.
3. There is reason for belief in God if our tradition has dictated to us that God exists.
We believe in God because we were raised as Christians/Jews/Muslims/Mormons… This leads to a pure cultural relativism about gods. However, it is, I think, the main reason why we think Gods exist. Most Christians do not wish to be excluded from their community and family by denying something so vital to the cultural traditions. God is a kind of tribal marker (arguably, that’s why belief in deities evolved in the first place
Does Dr. Wilkins’s analysis capture the range of reasons for belief in God? The argument from tradition is not really a reason for belief in God – it is an empirical natural explanation for an observed phenomenon followed by a pragmatic decision to not rock the boat. This reason is rooted in the 21st century religion of naturalism and the search for entirely natural cause and effect. The argument that roots belief in tradition alone is in essence an argument against the truth and significance of any religious framework for life.
The reason from logic is irrelevant to real faith. With all due respect to Thomas Aquinas and the many who have followed him, a God who is merely a logical necessity is no more relevant to human life and existence than the mathematical proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem first conjectured in 1637 and finally proven more than 350 years later.
I’ll lay my cards on the table. I think that the only real reason for belief in God is revelation. The only reason for belief in God is because God has revealed himself to us through his relationship with his creation and his interaction with his creatures. Scripture is not the revelation, it is the record of God’s self-revelation and mission. Scripture is a light and lamp to guide our thinking about God.
The reason for belief in God is manifest in God’s mission in the world. This means that the story of God’s mission must be central to the gospel message. This story includes creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, but it is not limited to this narrative. It is not just a plan of salvation. The story of God’s work in the world is much deeper than this narrative alone allows. Jesus is the culmination of the Old Testament story of Israel and is the turning point in the story of the mission of God, specifically God’s intervention in and interaction with his creation. Incarnation, God become man, is the ultimate instance of divine interaction in the world.
What do you think? Why believe in God?
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