First, let me apologize for not blogging week before last. My daughter graduated from high school that week and threw my whole schedule (such as it is) out the window. If I may toot her horn, she graduated with honors and was awarded Top Senior honors in the English and French departments. She goes off to college next year in a state far, far away.
But my blog is not about that. It’s about the questions an acquaintance of mine—I’ll call him Maynard—posted about God on his blog and forum spot encouraging any believers hanging out there to please answer.
I did answer for myself, but I really find the questions most interesting because I suspect that most religious people don’t think about them all that much. I didn’t. Up until the time I was in my late teens, God was like air. Just there. Something I depended on being there without giving much thought to composition of it. I mean really, how many of us think about the fact that the air we breathe is a mixture of roughly 78% nitrogen, 20% oxygen (give or take) with a little argon and carbon dioxide thrown in? How many of us know that argon is a noble gas? Heck, how many even know what it means to say that argon is a noble gas?
When I was about eighteen, I started seriously questioning my assumptions about things—including God. By the time Maynard asked his questions, I’d spent a significant amount of time contemplating them and researching the answers. I actually welcomed them.
Maynard asked these questions because he contended that “the God hypothesis” wasn’t granular enough. He wanted all the details filled in. I thought that was an interesting request in view of the fact that few, if any, scientific hypotheses leap fully formed from even the most advanced mind. Least of all do they leap forth proven or even with enough evidence to satisfy the scientific community.
Anybody remember back in the late last century when Walter and Louis Alvarez released their first theories about the KT boundary? Though they had enough evidence to suggest that a big asteroid or bolide had struck the Earth and caused the dino-die-off—enough that they were convinced of it—there were enough perceived gaps in the evidence that the general acceptance of their ideas was far from certain. Given the nature of the the subject matter, the evidence for an impact was circumstantial—there was no opportunity to observe an asteroid striking the Earth to check the evidence. Nor was it possible to repair to a laboratory to do controlled experiments. Volcanism would account for the iridium, many argued. Scientists demanded a smoking gun—or, in this case, a smoking crater. As I recall, the debate was rancorous, to say the least.
The Alvarez’s ideas, of course, came to be widely accepted as scientific fact. Eventually.
What this underscores is the strength of the scientific method as a means of studying reality and building a body of evidence in support of certain beliefs about it. In my own life, faith has also been about studying reality and building a body of evidence for beliefs about the spiritual world and the human psyche—where the material and spiritual meet.
I have had several clergymen suggest to me that my mind is a tool of the devil and that faith ought to be blind in order to be real faith. I would like to suggest that since God presumably gave us mind and encouraged us to use it, He would be pleased if we used it to discover Him with as much zeal as we use to discover the Universe.
Indeed, the Bahá’í scriptures insist that faith should NOT be blind because such blindness (not knowing WHY we believe something) can lead to dogmatism, schism, and worse.
Now, I could no more answer my friend’s questions for all religionists than he could answer for all atheists what an atheist means when he says he doesn’t believe in a god. As recent surveys of self-identified atheists show, the meaning of that deceptively simple phrase varies. And that’s why I think the type of questions Maynard was asking are as interesting as the possible answers.
So, without further ado, here are the questions Maynard asked the believers who frequented his blog spot:
- Is God a (a) material or (b) non-material entity? (i.e., is God made up of the same kind of stuff like protons, electrons, etc. with properties like mass, charge, spin, etc. that every other thing in the universe is made up of, or is he made of something that is non-material?)
- Does God exist everywhere in space?
- Is God a sentient being like us, with thoughts and feelings?
- Can God change the past?
- Does God know the future?
- Does God know absolutely everything that happens every moment, including every thought of every being?
- Can god intervene in events whenever and wherever, to violate natural laws and change their course (i.e. perform miracles)?
- Do you believe that you have a soul or spirit that will continue to exist in some form (perhaps reincarnated) even after you are dead?
Now, as you can see, a number of these questions deal with the concepts of omniscience and omnipotence. Without actually putting it into words, Maynard asked if God could create a rock too heavy for Him to lift. (My answer: Why would He want to?)
- The questions draw on a number of assumptions:
- That our concepts of omniscience and omnipotence are applicable, realistic, or even rational.
- That God is a type of being of which physical strength or subjective knowing are attributes.
- That our concept of something being “made” applies to God.
Everything we can perceive has been “made” in some way and it’s a human assumption that things must get to be where they are by being made. In other words, the question assumes that God is a made thing just like everything else we have experience with. Which, of course, leads to the problem of infinite regression and the question: What created God?
This is the same question Stephen Hawking is faced with when he says that the universe came into being spontaneously because of gravity.
Okay. If I put that in spiritual terms, he’s saying the universe came into being because of love (attractive force). That sounds right. But whose love and for what?
Bahá’u’lláh wrote (speaking as an Emissary for the God in question): “I loved thy creation, hence I created thee.”
Which brings us back to the first question about God: What sort of being might God be? (Or to put in more Adamsian terms: Who is this God person, anyway?)
Next time, I’d like to start turning over the questions one by one.