The God question: listen to your inner voice

Detail from The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, one of the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.
Detail from The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, one of the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.

And what remains when disbelief is gone?

— Philip Larkin

It is more rational to believe in God than to believe there is no God. In fact, belief in God is much more rational than atheism. The resting place of the mind, its natural equilibrium, as it were, is belief.

This is, in truth, a statement of the obvious. But it seems radical, shocking. This is because in Australia, and in Europe, many of our leading figures, certainly the loudest of them, and a substantial and growing minority of the population believe, or at least pretend to believe, in the religious faith of atheism, the faith that holds there is no God.

In subscribing to atheism they are in radical opposition to the vast majority of people on the planet today, and the overwhelming majority of people who have ever lived in history. There’s our first clue.

Last week the Institute of Public Affairs published important research that showed most Aus­tralian university courses make no coherent effort to teach the main elements of Western civilisation. This is partly because Western civilisation, like most civilisation and human nature itself, rests on the knowledge of God.

Knowing and believing in God has always been entirely rational. It is not only rational, of course. To know much more about God than merely that he exists requires faith.

But faith is not, as it is frequently represented, the enemy of reason. Rather, faith is the basis of reason. Almost all of rational life is based on faith. Most often faith is not a question of what you believe but who you believe.

I have faith that I am the son of my parents. I have no real empirical evidence for it. It makes the most sense as an explanation of my life, it is the proposition that best fits with everything I know. But the main reason I believe it is faith, my regular, normal faith in my parents. So this is a faith-based belief, entirely rational, confirmed by experience, but certainly not rationally proven.

Most of our lives are lived in this way. I have faith that my car will work when I turn the key in the ignition, but I have absolutely no idea why or how. Nonetheless I am convinced that my faith is consistent with rationality, that my faith itself is rational.

Part of the crisis of belief in our society is a crisis of knowledge. Because the high points in our elite and popular culture have been colonised by a militant and intolerant atheism, our young people have been denied the fruits of thousands of years of intellectual effort on matters of faith and belief by the best minds humanity has produced. This is wickedly unfair to children.

To have a rounded sense, even intellectually, of the idea of God it is necessary to use all the human faculties — reason, spirit, intuition, emotion, conscience, memory, imagination — to name a few.

Nonetheless, you can get to a knowledge of the reality of God through reason alone. It is important to understand that atheism is also consistent with rationality. Atheism does require its own radical leap of faith, but its biggest problem on rational grounds is that it is inconsistent with the world and life as we know it. It is a hypothesis with feeble powers of prediction. But it is not altogether irrational.

Modern science has not made atheism any more or less rational. Science tells us a great deal about how, but nothing about why. It is a misuse and a misrepresentation of science to pretend that it answers the why questions. There were atheists in the ancient world. The Psalms of the Old Testament refer to people who deny the existence of God. It was always open to a person to say: the world is complex, I don’t understand how it works, but I don’t believe that God created it.

And some people did think that. It is the most insufferable condescension and unjustified vanity on our part to think of all of the rest of humanity, in the past, and beyond our little slice of the West today, as trapped in superstition, while we alone are wise, enlightened and free.

For while more than just reason is involved in faith, reason always played its part. The philosophers of ancient Greece, long before the birth of Christ, reasoned their way to God. This is most often associated with Aristotle, but it was a movement among many philosophers and poets of ancient Greece.

Their insights were integrated into Christianity in the 13th century by the greatest of the Christian philosophers and theologians, Thomas Aquinas.

Famously, Thomas provided his five ways to God through reason. Some Christians mistakenly took to referring to them as the five proofs of God. In truth, by reason alone you cannot absolutely prove God or disprove him.

Thomas was trying to understand, not to prove, though understanding often leads to belief.

First, Thomas suggested that motion had to start somewhere, that there had to be an unmoved mover.

Second, the chain of cause and effect is so long, but it too had to start somewhere; there had to be an uncaused cause.

Third, contingent beings — that is, beings who rely on some antecedent for their existence — must inevitably proceed from a being who relies on nothing for their existence, a necessary being.

Fourth, there is so much goodness in the world, it must correspond to or proceed from a self-sufficient goodness.

And fifth, the non-conscious agents in the world behave so purposefully that they imply an intelligent universal principle.

That is a crude summary of what is called Thomas’s argument from design (which bears no relation to the modern fringe theory of evolution called Intelligent Design). And it all seems pretty dry. People don’t generally come to any serious belief in God purely through this or any other rational process.

But it is important to understand that there is nothing in reason that contradicts God. That our public culture so routinely suppresses this knowledge, mocks it and teaches the reverse, demonstrates just what a strange and dangerous cultural dead end we have wandered into. Yet even in our moment, in our society, there is already a nostalgia for God.

Reasoning from first principles, of course, is not even the primary rational way you can come to a rational knowledge of God.

For it is one of the central realities of humanity, one of the deep mysteries of the human condition, that all truth involves a balance of truths. Rationality needs a context in order to be rational. In isolation from all the other human faculties, it becomes a cult of hyper-rationality. And this is not more and better rationality but distorted rationality, and often leads to irrational conclusions. For example, you may describe in exquisite, painstaking rational detail a finger pulling the trigger of a gun, which fires a bullet, which kills a child. The description can become extraordinarily detailed and rational, following an unassailable logic. You can claim as a consequence that you have rationally and exhaustively explained the death of the child.

Yet you have not explained murder. You have said nothing about the morality, or even in a larger sense the cause, of the child’s death. Rationality alone is not sufficient — necessary, yes, but not sufficient.

Consider something entirely different. In one of the most important decisions we make in life, rationality is a part, but only a part, and not always the most important part. When you choose, say, your life’s partner, the decision is partly rational but not purely or wholly rational. There is a spark of romance, an intuition of commitment, an excitement, a sense beyond the rational of adventure and deep homecoming.

These types of considerations are not irrelevant to a rational belief in God.

Let’s look at that a bit more. The subject that humanity understands best, and has the most experience of, is humanity. The proper subject for the study of man is man.

What clues does humanity itself offer us about belief in God?

All of our strongest instincts, all of our strongest desires, correspond to a strong reality. Hunger indicates food. Tiredness suggests sleep. Sexual desire implies sex.

This is true not only of physical desires. Loneliness implies friendship. The desire to behave decently implies the existence of decency.

And as long as we have known human beings, they have yearned for and believed in God. It makes you ponder, this long, consistent, human intuition, or it should do. The long hunger for God implies God.

These are just clues, they are not proofs, but they are clues that are powerfully consistent with God.

In his magnificent book, From Big Bang to Big Mystery, Brendan Purcell, among countless scintillating insights, assesses our professional or scholarly knowledge of several of the earliest human burial sites that we have found.

These date back many tens of thousands of years. Almost every one involves some ritual, and some symbolism. Many involved artefacts, or tokens, or tools buried with the dead, which paleoanthropologists believe indicate a belief in the afterlife. The tools buried with the dead are symbols of what the person would take with them to the afterlife.

There are clues and questions beyond humanity, which belief in God answers rationally but to which the faith of atheism offers no answers at all.

Why is there something rather than nothing? How come our world is so incredibly receptive to the evolution of life? It’s highly improbable statistically. What caused the big bang? Why is nature so regular from one minute to the next?

Most of these questions are not necessary or sufficient proofs of God. They are open to atheist conjecture. But cumulatively they make more sense with God.

There is a variety of sneering, intolerant and remarkably poorly informed atheism popular on TV talk shows and the like. It is faux clever but strangely old-fashioned, trotting out a venerable retinue of cliches and platitudes but demonstrating an almost complete lack of familiarity with theology or metaphysical philosophy.

This kind of atheism is associ­ated with figures such as Richard Dawkins, who wrote The God Delusion, which sold three million copies. Dawkins is an eminent scientist in one field, with no particular expertise in any other field and an apparently wilful ignorance of the variety and subtlety and history of the claims and ideas of Christianity. He is a kind of atheist fundamentalist and he conjures an extreme, fundamentalist Christianity, a rhetorical straw man (unrelated to the main lines of Christianity) that he can beat down with science.

This kind of atheism is also associated with Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens was in some ways a splendid journalist, brave and witty and engaged, but he was a poor philosopher, a tremendously tendentious historian and an astonishingly ill-informed theologian.

With a few other popular atheist celebrities, men such as these seek (or sought) to impose the new, and frighteningly narrow, religious orthodoxies of our day. They mount a million wild attacks on belief in God, most of them absurd. Let’s consider just two.

One is that evolutionary science has replaced God in explaining humanity.

This is nonsense. Evolutionary theory and science offer marvellous explanations of how, they offer no explanations of why. This is no challenge to belief in God. In fact, it is a fundamental point. If God brings the physical universe into being then of course he uses physical processes. Understanding the processes a bit better doesn’t bear on the questions of why, of purpose, of meaning, at all. Most scientists believe that evolutionary science is consistent with religious belief or atheism. I think they’re right.

Nonetheless, evolutionary theory poses a much bigger problem for atheism than it does for religious belief. Some atheists argue that human beings evolved a religious instinct because it enhanced their chances of survival.

There is some appeal in this proposition, and also a lot of logical problems with it. But let it pass.

Consider, however, its implication. If the rational power of the human mind is so feeble that for countless millennia it could believe in God, when this belief is a delusion for which allegedly there is no evidence at all, how can we now accept that this same mind has miraculously developed a new capability to get to the truth and to understand evolutionary theory? If the mind is shaped by evolutionary theory to irrational ends throughout history it might just as well be shaped to irrational ends when it embraces evolutionary theory. This is not what I believe but it is an inescapable implication of the Dawkins style of atheism.

If our minds and personalities and consciousness are no more than physical atoms and electric impulses, what basis do we have for believing that the mind can reliably apprehend reality at all?

The answer is that there is no basis for such belief within this atheist framework. You have to take it on faith. It is one of the many leaps of faith required in atheism.

The other frequent ground for a sneering assault on religious belief arises out of the science of the big bang itself.

That we now know so much more about the history of our planet, of our solar system, of our galaxy, leads some to the mistaken conclusion that God is superseded as an explanation.

I think rather that what all this knowledge really indicates is the majesty and generosity of God. That the physical universe we know is apparently 14 billion years old tells us nothing about who created it or why.

Dawkins and Hitchens and the others spend hundreds of pages claiming that God is impossible. Then when they admit that they cannot disprove God, they assert, with absolute dogmatic certainty, that God wouldn’t behave in a manner they deem inefficient or unsatisfactory or worse, profligate.

How would they know how God would behave?

It strikes me as absolutely characteristic of God that he would spend 14 billion years preparing a gift for human beings.

There are countless clues of God throughout our world and within humanity itself. There is the strange phenomenon of joy, the even stranger delight of humour, the inescapable intimation of meaning in beauty and music. There is the mystery of love, along with the equal mystery of our consciousness and our self-awareness. It’s a lot of clues to ignore.

There is one clue I like more than any other — the clue of the inner voice. Is there a single person alive who has not said, in some difficult moment: let it be this! don’t let it be that!

Who are we talking to at those moments?

Most of our life is spent with our inner voice, thinking things over, weighing things up, rehearsing our triumphs, dreading our failures, contemplating the people in our lives, anticipating the future, interpreting the past.

Isn’t there a sense in all this, that we are involved in a conversation?

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Avatar for Geoff

Not really David: but plainly I am a theist and remain a fan of the great Greg Sheridan.

Ref. to:


@Geoff Very nice Geoff. I take it that in quoting Greg in the last paragraph that you agree with it?

Avatar for Obeyno1

He's rolled off some of the usual claims for gods. All easy to unpack and show are  fallacious and unsubstantiated. 

E.g. Faith can be used to used to justify any belief including killing in the name of this or that god, and can not be reasoned with. Faith leads to conflicting god concepts that are logically mutually exclusive. 

Your faith in your car starting, is backed by evidence that your car exists and has started in the past. As opposed to invisible intangible gods. Poor reasoning to treat these the same.

Avatar for Geoff

David's post 2 days ago has it about right. 

Clearly he understands the lessons implicit in numbers large and small: that any group or religion has perhaps similar numbers of righteous, evil and in between. This is readily observable and readily provable. Variations abound including the Pareto principle [80 /20 unfortunately]
Perhaps I can draw attention to the way the world [sorry for grandiosity!] has changed. And it is in the realm of politics, academia et al.To wit outrageous frauds and lies are perpetrated by houses of learning and members of certain political parties with the clear understanding that they will not get caught out.If discovered these entities use the combination of waffle, attempt to mislead and create so many furphies that this effective snow job technique,or the snow job  becomes impossible to overcome.The Americans have a word for talking something to death: filibuster.
The end result is that in the USA for example so many scores of defacto crimes that are outrageously committed by members of a party, that nothing has so far been done by the authorities to even try to restore the name of Congress and the law authorities themselves.
Watching Foxtel is an amazing experience: frauds by the score weekly. It is masochistic: only a media nut would do it! [oops!]
So I tell you that it is inevitable that private people will take example of the pollies and those entrusted with teaching our youth because their already short attention span is systemically being destroyed v ia another modus vivendi: salami tactics.
Never mind the phrases one can conjure; I hope there are more people being born who will be seekers of justice.
Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue | My Jewish Learning

Avatar for Jacqueline

I would like to draw everybody's attention to this Hindu greeting word: "Namaste" which means: "I salute the God in you". And I would also like to share with you my own experiences of "God" which proved to me that God does exist.  Yes!  When I was in a fatal situation on a road ready to crash into a row of cows and i knew without any doubt that my end had come; I screamed "Krishna" because I did not want to hurt the cows.  The next second, I found myself driving safely with the unharmed cows behind me.  There was no way I could have avoided the cows but Krishna saved me as well as the cows.  there were no traces on my car suggestive of having hit a cow.

I am not an Indian.  I just knew that Krishna was a cow-herder as well as an Avatar.

Avatar for Obeyno1

@Jacqueline any actual evidence that it was Krishna or just an inexplicable event?

I guess many other gods and goddesses have been called on in similar circumstances. Must be hundreds of gods around if this is considered sufficient proof. 

Avatar for Geoff

Greg Sheridan is a peerless foreign affairs editor.But his error -  ridden article on theology  Idea Of God is perfectly logical should be picked - up by someone. His claim that ''  science offer marvelous explanations of how, they offer no explanations of why. '' is wrong on both counts.
Manifestly science can offer no viable explanation as to HOW to resolve the ultimate question:  the universe spontaneously coming into existence from a tiny speck. It breaks all  laws - and 'they' have had to invent childish word - plays to avoid answering what must be painful for them. Another tangent for another day.
''As far as ''WHY'' is concerned, this is surely the ultimate theological question which evolutionists would gleefully flick aside and think they won the debate.why give them a free kick, Greg?
Unaccountably he claims that      ''If God brings the physical universe into being then of course he uses physical processes.''

.''Really? Greg dear man - this is the real advantage of being a theist - please do not use ''of course'' to explain causes of action by God billions of years ago! How do you know? Surely He does not have any restrictions on his powers - nor does he have to explicate his purpose.
 Sheridan claims that '' most scientists believe that evolutionary science is consistent with religious belief or atheism. I think they’re right.''
I put to the reader that this chimeric claim is also a shibboleth.
Nolo contenderer. No contest. Much else in the extensive article have similar errors: I comment merely on one paragraph Here's hoping readers' Latin is up to scratch.

''This is nonsense. Evolutionary theory and science offer marvelous explanations of how, they offer no explanations of why. This is no challenge to belief in God. In fact, it is a fundamental point. If God brings the physical universe into being then of course he uses physical processes. Understanding the processes a bit better doesn’t bear on the questions of why, of purpose, of meaning, at all. Most scientists believe that evolutionary science is consistent with religious belief or atheism. I think they’re right.''

Avatar for David

@Geoff Very nice Geoff. I take it that in quoting Greg in the last paragraph that you agree with it? n

Avatar for John

Surely the existence of evil (which just by looking around us, one must surely acknowledge) affirms the existence of good.

That we are aware of the difference, innately, is surely evidence for God's existence. Accepting that, Christianity is the only religion that makes sense. To me at least! I know we cannot prove it, but absence of evidence (which I dispute) is not evidence of absence.

Why are atheists so determined to prove us wrong? Why does it matter to them what we believe, or are they really trying to confirm their unbelief? 

Avatar for Graeme

@John Is anyone disputing the existence of good?

The existence of good anywhere is no evidence of a god and why should it be? Animals which most christians would say have no soul and no concept of god, do good to one another all the time. "Good" behaviour towards others in the group at least is an evolutionary advantage.

As for good in relation to religion: good people will do good things, bad people will do bad things, but for good people to do bad things generally requires religion.

Avatar for Michael

@John So I'm hearing from Christians that unless we have God we can't be expected to be good, but now I'm hearing without God we can't have evil. Which is it?

Avatar for Michael

@John "Why are atheists so determined to prove us wrong? Why does it matter to them what we believe, or are they really trying to confirm their unbelief? " 

Much of faith aims to invalidate those who don't share it. i.e. Unless you have faith how can you tell right from wrong; you can't get married because of my faith; my holiest book of my faith declares your love to be an abomination, I insist you stay alive in spite of terminal agony because of my faith; i am entitled to control your life because I have faith in the highest unquestionable authority, I will prevent you from controlling your fertility because of my faith, I will promote the spread of disease and overpopulation because of my faith, you have to respect my faith etc etc. 

Getting the idea why some might find your faith objectionable?

If people of faith, in general, kept it to themselves between consenting adults and didn't presume to wield it in the public space, I wouldn't have a problem.

Avatar for Lloyd

@John No John, we don't care what you believe except when you and your friends try and enforce your beliefs on us.I believe Christianity makes sense especially if it keeps those of you in check who might otherwise do evil things. I don't believe in God and I am not evil ... maybe I'm a better person than you are!?

Avatar for David

@Lloyd @John  Hi Lloyd,

Christians are not the only ones to have done bad including good. All individuals and groups have throughout history. So, while you believe that Christians are ok if Christianity keeps us in check, then the same applies to whatever your world view is.

As for you not being evil, very admirable.

However people when thinking of evil think the big issues like murder, violence, rape etc. Because of this we think we are good. But it is the little things that count and add up to the big things. It is when enough 'good' people tell white lies, steal from the office, fail to speak up when bad things happen (starlets and producers) etc., that really bad things begin to happen like innocent starlets being raped, no-one admitting to asbestos and smoking being harmful, pedophiles being shifted from place to place despite police, other priests and even parents knowing, failing to speak up about the 4,500 children that will be sexually abused amongst some 50,000 abuse cases in broader categories in Australia this year and every year.

So, can any of us, including you and I ever say we are truly good? I can't, I doubt you can  and the same can be applied to everyone else.

Real harm happens when supposedly 'good' people begin to stop setting the example with the little things because they won't admit to themselves they are wrong. Just watch good quality soapies. Script writers are always relying on people failing to do the right thing and the consequences often quite accurately reflecting true life. This is why they are so popular, we see ourselves in the roles without understanding what the message is - none of us are truly good.  n

Avatar for Nico

@Lloyd @John  Maybe you are full of hubris. You don't even know him. And maybe it is the Atheists that are the problem as the 20th century showed.

Nazi Germany  Atheistic.

Stalin's Russia

Pol Pot.

In one century they killed more people that most previous wars.

Avatar for John

@John  Absence of evidence eventually becomes evidence of absence where the evidence, if it exists, ought to have been observed. 

People used to believe unicorns existed, indeed, they are the subject of those beautiful 15th Century tapestries in the Musee de Cluny in Paris.  No one believes in them now, because, if hey existed, we would have seen the evidence by now, the whole world having been explored.

Similarly, if there was evidence for god, we should have seen it now.  We haven't.  You can't go on forever hiding behind the mantra.

Avatar for John

@Nico @Lloyd @John  Nazi Germany.  Headed by Christians.  Treaty partners with the Catholic Church.  Pull the other one.

Pol Pot didn't murder because he was an atheist.  he murdered because he was a communist.  Ditto Stalin and Mao and so on.

During the Albigensian Crusade (called by Innocent III) against the Cathars in southern France, the crusaders sacked Beziers on July 22 1209.  They were supposed to kill (as you do if you are a Christian and have your hand on the sword) the Cathars who were heretics.  The problem was that they were indistinguishable from the Catholic inhabitants. 

The crusaders were led by the Abbott of Citeaux.  Someone asked him how to tell the "goodies" from the "baddies.". He replied, "Kill them all, God will recognise his own."

I suppose the pope and the Abbott were Christians, but then again, I might be making a wild guess.

Avatar for Michael

@Nico @Lloyd @John 

Hitler was a Roman Catholic. 

Interestingly Stalin trained to be a priest until the age of 21.

One can argue that the Gospel of Mark with its accusation of Jewish deicide was the founding document of Christian anti-semitism ultimately leading to the holocaust in which most of the participants were Christians. An accusation not shared by Islam and hence the traditional tolerance of Islam to Judaism in contrast to Christianity.

And of course there is the Rwandan genocide, some of the lead perpetrators being priests.

So if you're going to lay the murders of the twentieth century at the feet of atheism I would suggest you take a closer look.

Avatar for Geoff

@David @Lloyd @John

David's post 2 days ago has it about right. Clearly he understands the lessons implicit in numbers large and small: that any group or religion has perhaps similar numbers of righteous, evil and in between. This is readily observable and readily provable. Variations abound including the Pareto principle [80 /20 unfortunately]
Perhaps I can draw attention to the way the world [sorry for grandiosity!] has changed. And it is in the realm of politics, academia et al.To wit outrageous frauds and lies are perpetrated by houses of learning and members of certain political parties with the clear understanding that they will not get caught out.If discovered these entities use the combination of waffle, attempt to mislead and create so many furphies that this effective snow job technique,or the snow job  becomes impossible to overcome.The Americans have a word for talking something to death: filibuster.
The end result is that in the USA for example so many scores of defacto crimes that are outrageously committed by members of a party, that nothing has so far been done by the authorities to even try to restore the name of Congress and the law authorities themselves.
Watching Foxtel is an amazing experience: frauds by the score weekly. It is masochistic: only a media nut would do it! [oops!]
So I tell you that it is inevitable that private people will take example of the pollies and those entrusted with teaching our youth because their already short attention span is systemically being destroyed v ia another modus vivendi: salami tactics.
Never mind the phrases one can conjure; I hope there are more people being born who will be seekers of justice.
Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue | My Jewish Learning

Avatar for Obeyno1

@John I accept Christianity makes sense to you. Doesn't to me and billions of others. 

Which particular subjective interpretation of Christian dogmas do you support and what is your justification. Do you support slavery, antisemitism, killing witches? 

Just like any subject, if you assert something unreasonable it can be challenged. Also religion is used to impose faith based harms and restrictions on others. From killing in the name of god or imposing a religious view of marriage on non believers. 

Avatar for Obeyno1

@John It's a bizzaire leap bad reasoning to assert there must be a god because some things are bad or evil. Don't need gods for there to be suffering.  

The god of the bible ordered genocide and drowned nearly everyone. That's only good if you subscribe to divine command theory or might makes right. Just because an old book endorses and regulates slavery and killing non virgin brides doesn't make it good if you aim to reduce suffering and support human flourishing. f poor reasoning to go from some things are considered bad or evil to there being a god. I note we can't even agree on everything that is good 

Avatar for mark

@Michael @Nico @Lloyd @John Don't be so disingenuous. Richard Dawkins was an Anglican and sang in  church choir-what's your point? Stalin and Hitler were simply toeing the line in a society which expected people to follow the religion and practices of their parents and grandparents. Stalin attempted to destroy any reference to god and religion and Hitler created his own religion with himself the god to be adored and obeyed.

If you are going to play the atheist game of Dawkins and Hitchens and lay the blame for most of the world's ills on religion then have the honesty to own the fact that Mao, Stalin and Hitler murdered tens of millions of people for no other reason than lust for power and control. Wars and murder would continue unabated if all religions disappeared overnight.

Avatar for Michael

My best scenario for the existence of God is that we live in a digital simulation,

when we expire our consciousness is backed up or transferred to another server (heaven?),

and that the folks running the simulation can intervene by rigging things at the Quantum level when they choose and can observe us whenever, even when we're on the proverbial.

You have to admit that the Quantum level seems so bizarre that it's like someone ran out of patience, skipped over the details thinking no one would ever look too closely.

The thing I like about the Quantum level is that it could never have been imagined philosophically. In spite of the centuries of philosophers banging on about free will versus mechanistic determinism, no one could have expected that at the most base level we'd find the natural world is not deterministic at all and leaves enormous scope for free-will.

If speculative philosophy had no clue about something as fundamental as the quantum realm, what are the chances that by pure speculation the religions could have hit on the correct description of the how and why? It's why we need Science.

Avatar for Michael

@Michael It has also occurred to me that the simulation thing is the cosmology most consistent with origin stories, miracles etc.. The reason is that the miracles and the creations in 6 days would not be contraventions of immutable natural laws, but just programming tweaks. With the simulation theory, it all starts to make sense. 

Avatar for Obeyno1

@Michael we could be in some sort of computer program. We could have been created 5 minutes ago with memories. As per hard solipsism, there is no way to prove this isn't the case. We can only choose pragmatically that the universe we experience is real and get on with living. 

Avatar for Michael

Hey Greg, tell me why you would expect a-theists to have to impress you as theo-logians.

An atheist theologian sounds like an oxymoron to me.

Avatar for Graeme

@Michael There are in fact atheist theologians and their views are really interesting seeing as they don't come from the in-group.

I don't think though that atheists need to study the various religions in any depth to be able to dispute with them. Theology is a house of cards build upon a base of fairy-floss. All you need to do to bring it all down is use a little warm water.

I like to liken theologians to Star Trek fans arguing over what kind of hair gel Klingons use. They take a simple myth and extrapolate vast edifices on top of that.

Avatar for Peter

A lot of really cool celebrities are atheists. I know who I'll believe.

Avatar for Obeyno1

@Peter Given nearly everyone believed in this or that god until the last few hundred years, and still about 80% of humans living believe in gods, a lot of believers do and have done some nasty things. 

Most atheists would suggest you look for evidence of gods or lack of it not rely on the fallacious argument from authority. Just like I won't rely on the opinion of a child raping priest that there is a god. 

Avatar for David

When I hear an atheist say that evolution has been proved and the non-existence of God has been proved I know that I am dealing with someone not worth arguing with.  I am not saying evolution is not true, or that God's existence can be somehow proved beyond question. What I like is to argue or discuss with someone who starts with logic and common sense.

Disclaimer- I am a Christian and I leave evolution to the experts.

Avatar for P

@David A Christian will say that all people are worth something. Their arguments may not have much value, but they do! Aside from that, to dismiss a person's argument without debate is contemptuous and suggests a lack of argument on your own behalf. As for logic and common sense, perhaps you can try to justify such things as transubstantiation and Fatima with those very tests.

Avatar for Graeme

@David Evolution is a demonstrable fact and has been observed both in the lab and in the field. Even the pope accepts it as a fact. Those who still dispute it have their fingers in their ears, their eyes closed and are humming loudly to themselves.

No atheist would say that the non-existence of god has been proved. You can't prove a negative proposition in logic. What we will say is that there has never been any evidence independently demonstrated anywhere at any time that supports the hypothesis that a god exists.

If there's no evidence, why would you believe it? The reason is Indoctrination; brain washing.

Avatar for Nico

@Graeme @David  You missed the point Graeme.  Science does not deal in demonstrable facts. It deals in hypothesis/theory creation and falsification. Read Popper. There are others like Kuhn but Popper will suffice.

He merely states people that say outright that evolution is PROVEN and the Non-existence of God is also somehow proven - often linked in their minds.

Their opinions are not worth much.  Nothing about the value of the person, just their opinion.

Avatar for Graeme

@Nico @Graeme @David I don't believe I did miss the point. There is no longer any argument over evolution. This is how things came about and we can watch it happening.

You can continue to argue over the existence of god as we are doing but so far there have been no good arguments for the existence of any gods.

You are just putting up a straw-man that the two propositions are automatically linked and that atheists claim that the one proves the other, which no atheist ever has claimed or at least none that I would listen to.

Avatar for David

@Graeme @David Hi Graeme,

I partly agree with what you state but also believe that both Nico and further down Obeyno1 provide good responses.

I think part of the problem is that many (at least in perception) think that science and belief in a God are in competition. Whereas many of us believe that God created a material universe to operate in a physical way. That is, big bang, evolution, weather, changing environment etc., all happening over a very, very long period of time. We are also provided with the ability to grow in understanding about how this works - science. As a Christian I understand that God is not preventing us from discovering as much as we are capable of discovering.

To this extent we are, through science, working to understand how we physically got here over a period of billions of years. And evolutionary theory seems to be the primary research for this. 

For me, as a Christian, no matter where evolutionary theory takes us, I will only become increasingly more impressed with what God has not only done already but that which he continues to do over a very, very long period of time.

I don't see any need for us to argue between science and faith. And I don't mean faith as in what may or may not be. True faith is trust in knowing what we already know to be truth via the life and death of Jesus Christ something that is unique to Christianity. To this end only Christianity offers an answer to our suffering.

Many Christians can and do accept that science is not in competition with their faith. Are there also atheists that might accept that evolutionary theory is not a means to necessarily disprove or prove God but is best progressed in the spirit of enhancing human knowledge and circumstance? n

Avatar for Graeme

@David @Graeme Many christians do conflate atheism and science because historically science has pushed back the perceived boundaries of gods influence. We have rational and natural explanations for things that people used to ascribe to god.

They then find themselves without justifications for god that they used to use and now we have the theory of evolution, the demonstrated fact that organisms evolve and a whole tree of life supported by DNA linking all lifeforms on the planet. They can no longer do a "consider the lilies of the field" thing as we know that god didn't put them there specifically. They evolved under the pressures of natural selection.

So it becomes harder and harder to support a proposition that god did this or that, hence god, because we know that it came about by a different mechanism.

God has fewer and fewer places to hide in and so many christians feel aggrieved by this and lash out at atheists and, by association, at science.

Regard the senseless back-lash against science in the USA with so-called Intelligent Design. They are willing to compromise their children's education and the future of their country to hang onto out-dated, demonstrably false dogma.

Avatar for John

@David  Anyone who says that evolution is proved in the sense that everything is known about the subject and that not ever could there be some alternative or significant modification is being unscientific.

That said, the theory of evolution is by far and way the best description of the course of life and its physical cause. It has never been falsified.  On the contrary, every advance in biology confirms its validity. 

For example, Darwin himself did not understand the underlying genetic mechanism.  he knew what had happened (and was happening) and why it was that species changed over time, and new species arose and so on, but he had no idea of the molecular mechanism involved. With the discovery of the structure of DNA some 65 years ago, molecular biology has advanced to the point where, among many other things, we can confidently measure the time at which 2 species separated from a common ancestor. Those species might even be extinct.

An interesting by-product of that research is that it confirms the "tree" of life developed over the last few centuries by taxonomists.

The theory says nothing about the origin of life.  By definition, it cannot.

However, to leave it to the experts is a copout.  Large parts of it are readily comprehensible to anyone.

More importantly in this discussion, it puts the lie to the creation myths (yes, there are two and they contradict each other) in Genesis.

Avatar for David

@Graeme @David  Thank you Graeme.

I can accept that there are Christians that feel threatened by science.

However, from my own and my friends point of view, Jesus Christ was a teacher (amongst other things) which means a progression from some level knowledge to a higher level of knowledge. We are not prevented in advancing our knowledge through science. Indeed God intends us to be free to make our own choices whether good and or bad.

For Christians God is not hiding or feeling threatened by the progress of science. Indeed God holds everything in existence. Learning about DNA and lilies in the field does not in anyway diminish God.

God is not God of the gaps, he is God of everything, known and unknown.

And this need not be threatening to either believers or unbelievers.

I share your concern (but not overwhelmingly) and I don't subscribe to intelligent design (God does not need to design).

In the spirit of cooperation and as far as children's education goes, our parish Catholic priest teaches evolution and big bang in school mass. So I am holding out a hand of hope for the future to you. n

Avatar for John

@David @Graeme  How do you know that "God holds everything in existence."  That is just a bare assertion.  I know of no factual evidence to support it.

To even assert it, you must assume there is a god.  That means to prove the truth of the assertion, you must prove that there is a god.

Avatar for David

@John @David @Graeme  Hi John,

When I wrote that comment about God holding everything is existence I was only making a statement about what I and a lot of other Christians believe in the context of my response to Graeme. I didn't expect Graeme or anyone else to necessarily, or need to, accept it. I therefore don't see my belief as a matter of contention that impacts on my view of science which I believe is the same or at least similar to yours. I appreciated your previous comment providing an overview of evolutionary theory.

Your comment about me making a bare assertion makes me smile. I have used that in arguments with non-believers.

The way I see it is that there is really no reason for either non-believers or believers to fear each other. I can assert that God holds everything existence as a matter of faith. Faith is not science and science is not faith. Both are different but complimentary (or at least can be). Faith cannot be used to criticise the process of science just as science cannot be used to criticise the process of faith. They are not the same forms of thinking.

I guess in a way I am asking that you and others accept us as we are as we should accept you as you are and work together to help the worriers on both sides of the debate. n

Avatar for David

@John @David  Hi John,

You are putting a lot of work into this and firstly I will say it is not wasted on me. Thank you.

I will however suggest looking at Genesis differently. It is not  a literal view of the beginning of the universe and life on earth. It therefore cannot be examined scientifically. Genesis is figurative and speaks to our nature, not the material world.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that Genesis is figurative.

Genesis speaks to the understanding available at the time it was written while holding within it eternal truths about our nature. The fact that we are continually repeating historical mistakes shows how we still haven't learnt the teaching of the early books of the Old Testament.

The Bible needs a lot of discernment to filter the literal from the figurative. The Bible is a work or art, sometimes figurative, poetic, philosophical, historical etc. It is certainly not scientific. n

Avatar for Damon

@David @Graeme Whilst you might be a progressive Christian David over the centuries christian leaders have sought to shut down scientific investigation because it contradicts the bible.

Increasingly all you are left with is god of the gaps. A time will come when there are no gaps... Its closer than you think

Avatar for Damon

@David @John David Im curious... Is the virgin birth and the resurrection also figurative rather than literal? 

There can be no doubt the miracles around Jesus were designed and written into the bible to provide evidence for his divinity.

In the cold hard light of day 2000 years later... be honest.... its on par with getting all those animals into a boat and a talking snake in the garden of Eden isn't it?

Avatar for David

@Damon @David @Graeme Hi Damon

Christians have and are changing just like everyone else. There is nothing unique about bad and good things and who does them. Maybe we all hold each other in some kind of balance forcing us to go forward slowly and not recklessly. We all have a past and it is good and bad for each of us. What matters is what we are now, what we have learnt from the past and how we go forward. And that doesn't mean one side has to be eliminated.

You can keep harping about the Christian bad past while ignoring Christians weren't the only group playing up. That is a out-of-date and old fashioned thinking.

There is not god of the gaps. There is God of everything known and yet to be known. You don't have to share my belief anymore than I have to accept your belief that I am left with a god of the gaps. Why does it matter that we seemingly have to out-argue each other. We are wasting our time. If we get together we can work together to achieve probably much more. My view is that we have held each other back,

I am not afraid of there being no gaps as this will mean we know all that God knows. My faith tells me that we will then be like God. The only problem is that we will never be able to control our own wills enough to be sufficiently selfless to achieve that goal.

So, I don't believe it will happen anytime soon. Haven't you noticed that every time someone discovers something new we can still as the question why, what now? As Newton said something like - we are merely sitting on a beach of pebbles with an infinite ocean (that which is unknown) before us. n 

Avatar for David

@Damon @David @John  Hi Damon,

Why are you even bothered about the virgin birth? If you don't believe then go your own way. It won't hurt you.

As I have said elsewhere, the Bible is a work of art. Look at a great painting for a while and one begins to see meaning in it. That is, there is something in the painting that raises some feeling, some contextual, relative meaning that can take the admirer to some higher level of awareness and understanding about, for instance, life or relationships etc.

We don't stand in front of a great painting and start to apply some scientific method to it to solicit out some sort of deeper meaning to life.

The means of appreciating art and science are different and one cannot apply one to the other. Similarly for faith and science. Similarly for the Bible and science.

If you can't appreciate the deeper meanings within the Bible then you are wasting your time wondering about the virgin birth. n

Avatar for Peter

@Graeme @David At least one aspect of your tract is spot on, Graeme. Like Marxist Theory, we now have a Theory of Evolution to contend with. Theory isn't the same as a Law of empirical science - gravity, entropy,thermodynamics - just a theory.

Darwin never ventured into the primordial past, that has been the domain of the lesser lights of opinionated theorists. 

 As I don't have a dog in this fight, you could say I'm agnostic. Yet the facts  would suggest that Occam's razor would slash out the explanation of life forms occurring by happenstance. Entropy alone, would discount complexity evolving from simplicity. As my Quantum physics professor illustrated - "try throwing a pack of cards in the air, and even though there is an infinitesimal probability that it could occur, the entire 52 cards will never land stacked 52 in height". 

 By way of counter-point - the largest human constructed code base is the Google platform: at around 2 billion lines of code. The human genome is several thousand times larger than that, in terms of lines of code. In addition the human genome is built to last. 

 Are you really suggesting that the billions of Leggo pieces just happened to fall into place?

Avatar for Damon

@David @Damon @John Thats a cute answer David but it avoids the obvious flaws in your position.

The bible has and continues to be a tool for predjudice. The SSM debate shows that very clearly as does the Catholics faith refusal to accept female priests and obsession with what women should do with their own reproductive cycles. Whilst some progressives in the church can see past the flaws in the the churches anti ssm position and misogeny many more are unwilling to water down the intent of the scriptures. This holds society back. Especially in less developed countries

In my opinion spreading the word that the existence of god is highly unlikely allows to spend less time looking back and more time actually thinking about how we can make things better moving forward. The church simply has too much baggage.

Avatar for John

@David @John @Graeme  I don't fear you at all.  You are entitled to your belief.  However, you have chosen to enter a debate about it.

To take something like the existence of god on faith and, worse, to direct your life by the further faith in that god's characteristics and commands is a very serious thing to do.

You can't complain if it is challenged on the basis that there is no factual foundation for it.  You might s well have plucked it out of the air.  Basing your life on something plucked out of the air seems to me to be imprudent and even dangerous.

Avatar for John

@David @John  Hi David

Well, it's a very interesting subject.

The Catechism might very well say that Genesis is figurative, but there are some serious problems with that statement.

Firstly, for most of the last 20 centuries denying the literal truth of the bible would result in all sorts of pain, up to being tossed on the bonfire.  When I received my formal catholic instruction, I was taught that the bible was to be taken literally.  I left school at the end of 1962.  That means the change came about sometime in the last 55 years.

What was the teaching of an infallible pope suddenly was found to be mistaken.  So much for papal infallibility, by the way.

What happened?  Science happened or, at least, science seeped into the thick skulls in the Vatican.  They suddenly realised they were making fools of themselves and infecting the whole belief structure.

Secondly, there are 2 mutually contradictory accounts of creation in Genesis.  It's all very well to say it's allegorical and so on, but allegory doesn't require contradiction;  nor is contradiction cured by allegory. 

There's the rub.  Genesis, however it is to be read, is supposed to be the inerrant word of your god.  It is in error in its own terms.  One doesn't have to read anything into it, or read it a certain way, to realise that fact - the error is on the face of the record.  Res ipsa loquitur - the thing speaks for itself.

Thirdly, our nature or whatever.  Now, when I red Genesis, leaving out the totally incorrect cosmology, talking snakes and an omniscient god who can't find the only 2 people in the universe, I see those 2 people.

What ca I say about them?  Well, they were surely inquisitive.  That's a good thing.  They were gullible, which is not so good.  They were disobedient in eating the apple or whatever it was.  Pretty small potatoes, if you'll pardon the pun.

So, what happen?  Basically, they are stuffed.  Kicked out of their nice home, made to slave in the hot sun for a pittance and so on.  Worse, all their descendants forever are condemned to the same punishment.  That is where the doctrine of original sin comes from, as you will agree.

What happens next is pretty interesting.  By the inexorable logic of arithmetic, they have to commit incest to get the human race to go forth and multiply, because there is only one female around and two males (after one son murders the other). Same thing happened later with Noah, but that's another allegorical tale for another day.

More importantly, the doctrine of original sin required there to be 2 humans, one male and one female from whom all humans descended.  Were that not the case, there would be a large number of people around who weren't descendants, didn't suffer from original sin and so didn't need redeeming.  Your Christ and his supposed death and resurrection can only make sense in, can only be consistent with, your theology if there were, indeed, 2 humans and only 2 humans, who procreated and who are thereby the ancestors of the whole of humanity.

That is why when Pius XII back in 1952 or thereabouts announced that Catholics could believe in evolution, they MUST also believe that at some point, god put a soul in one male and one female, so making them the only humans.

That was very perspicacious of Pius XII (who, apropos of nothing much, has been aptly called Hitler's pope).

The trouble is that science has run over him.  We now know that we all have the same our ancestry, because we all bear the same genetic markers on our mitochondrial DNA.  Note, that does not mean that there was, at one time. only one woman.  It means that those other women's mDNA has not propagated.  For example, if a woman has only sons, her mDNA is lost because it is only passed on in the ovum.  This woman is the most recent common female  ancestor of us all.

But, sort of so far so good.

Turning to males, we know that we all have the same man in our ancestry, because we can see his genetic markers on the Y chromosome, which is propagated only through the male line.  That man is the most recent common male ancestor of us all

Wow!  Adam and Eve!  proven by modern science!

Well, no.  They most likely lived a large time interval apart, most likely lived far apart in space and, anyway, were each descended from other humans.

Whatever the exact detail of the genealogical map, it is absolutely certain that god could not have "ensouled" a man an a woman who were living in the same place at the same time and who, themselves had no ancestors.

That rater ruins the original sin and redemption story.  Quite a mistake god made, wasn't it - sending some poor guy to a horrible death on a false premise.

Oh! Well!  God moves in mysterious ways. 

Sorry, the said woman and the said man did not live 

Avatar for David

@John @David @Graeme I never suggested you or anybody should fear me.

I freely enter the debate and have not complained about that.

You clearly do not understand what faith is. Please refer to my previous comments.

I am not and have not complained. Just debating the opposite view to you and many others.

You are welcome to your last assertion but it has not basis because it display an unpreparedness to accept there are other points of view. n

Avatar for Michael

@David @John @Graeme The idea that science and faith are considered different forms of thinking by those whom one might call 'modern Christians' can certainly help to reduce conflict, although not all Christians are so accommodating. So thanks for that, David. I guess statements like, '... God holding everything is existence' and 'God holds everything existence' are examples of the kind of thinking that goes along with this 'separate but complementary' approach. Still, in my mind statements like that are quite meaningless, but I guess that's because I am an atheist.

Avatar for David

@Michael @David @John @Graeme Thank you Michael. You are a breath of fresh air in these comments.

All I am trying to say is that there is a way forward for us together when we begin to be constructive about each other's foundational belief. It may seem like it at times but I am not tryining to prove God, only explain how many of us think about it. Just as we can appreciate the value of your own thinking. But some don't even try to consider our view (or your view) as if our thinking can be eliminated.

I believe that atheists and believers can actually help prod each other. I have certainly changed and developed my view of my own belief based on comments from non-believers as well as believers. n

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