Most atheists begin with the question “Does God exist.” I don’t think this is the right question. God’s existence is a fact that must be accounted for, not a question that needs to be debated. It’s like asking “Does beauty exist?” or “Does truth exist?” or “Do we really have free will?” These are first year undergrad philosophy questions, and they don’t lead to very interesting arguments because they are fundamentally questions about faith. You have to make certain philosophical choices, declare your loyalty to some ideal or other, before you can make any progress in thinking at all. First principles are like solid ground. Until you’ve established some point which you accept as fixed you’re just floating about in philosophical free-fall. You can’t get a purchase on anything.
Certain ideas, like the reality of truth, or the postulate that A=A, fall into this category of fundamental beliefs. These are first principles, and either you accept them or you don’t. If you don’t, there’s no way of arguing past that point because there’s nowhere to start the argument from.
What we’re really asking when we say “Does God exist?” is “What, or who, is God?” Clearly, God is a tremendously powerful force. He has had a huge and inescapable influence on human cultures, human thought, human identities, and human experience. His effects are clearly visible, they are wide-ranging, and they cannot be doubted. So who is He?
I see only two possible explanations. The first is that God actually exists, that He is the Author of All Creation, the artist who loves me into being. He is the fountainhead from which all Goodness, Truth and Beauty pours forth into the world. He is absolute Being, the only sure foundations, a rock and a shelter against adversity, a hearth where weary souls can take their rest. He is who is. Everything else – the myths, the philosophies, the religions and the laws – they’re the products of humankind’s attempt to grapple with this ultimate reality.
The only other possibility is that God has been created by man. Now let’s consider this seriously, at least for a moment. If God is the fruit of human imaginations, what kind of thing have we dreamed into existence?
If you listen to someone like Dawkins, you’ll find that God is basically a lie foisted upon the unsuspecting masses by manipulative power mongers. Religion is a fabric of ignorant superstition and fear cultivated and exploited by unscrupulous con artists. My problem is that these atheists come across the same way as people who look at a Matisse and say “My four year old could paint that. How many millions did you say it was worth? What a crock.” Basically, they’re theological philistines.
If God is a product of human culture, then He is unquestionably our single greatest cultural acheivement. He is a collaborative work of art which has engaged the minds and talents of almost every human being on the planet over tens of thousands of years. He was born in a paleolithic cave, among paintings of wooly rhinoceri, and He has been a constantly evolving but always recognizable refrain ringing out amidst the symphony of human existence. He is our brilliant solution to the otherwise unendurable existential burdens placed on us by consciousness and free will. He has enlivened, beautified, structured, ordered, moralized and elevated human experience, raising our hearts and minds out of the dark abyss of meaningless materiality towards the outer limits of possibility. If this is true, then religion is an organized choir that sings into being the most intensely beautiful dream of the human race.
In either case, the only fitting response is worship.
Now, I happen to think that the first possibility is the more likely. The existence of God as Creator solves a lot of metaphyisal, epistemological and moral problems that are otherwise impossible to untangle. I think it’s more credible to think that an ordered universe is the product of an ordered mind than that order is an accident, or an illusion imposed on chaos by human minds (which desire and recognize order because…?) I think the only kind of uncaused cause that exists in our experience is volition, and that’s its reasonable to suppose that the uncaused cause that brought about the Big Bang is therefore volitional. The arguments for God’s existence aren’t air-tight, there’s room for doubt, but they’re strong arguments. Strong enough to hold me over until I stand before the Resurrected Christ and ask if I can stick my hands in His wounds.
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