Proof that God Exists (modulo definition)

Suppose you are a scientist. You aren’t a solipsist, an anti-realist. You believe your senses convey you meaningful messages about the outside world. The outside world exists!

Why do you believe in the outside world?

For one thing, as a practical matter, no one actually believes the outside world doesn’t exist. At least, they don’t if we take disbelieving in the outside world to mean being disposed to act as if the outside world doesn’t exist. It is easy to imagine that such people would starve, or walk in front of busses, or at least be locked in asylums so they didn’t do such things.

As a scientist, however, you have a name, and a representation, for the thing that guarantees that the outside world is meaningful: Natural Law. Natural law guarantees that the your senses’ signals make sense. They are not random noise, or the cunning manipulations of the devil. Indeed, this seems to be a more fundamental definition for what Natural Law is than the common hazy picture of natural laws as constraints, which at its root stems from the religious vision of God imposing law on lawless material. What trait of material, after all, would be left if Natural Law were removed?

To restate this reflection as a definition, Natural Law is the entity that makes true the judgement that sensory perceptions of the outside world can have meaning. I also note in passing that every judgement that isn’t a tautology must have some entity (or entities) that make it true. Otherwise, what would we mean by saying it is not a tautology? I will call Natural Law the guarantor of the meaningfulness of perception. Now let us turn to God.

I define God as the guarantor of the meaningfulness of individual human existence.

God is the entity that makes true the judgement that the existence of individuals — yourself included, is meaningful.

As a practical matter, pretty much everyone believes human action is meaningful. At least, the act as if they believe it. You as a scientist, would you not find it hard to muster all the organized effort to do science if you didn’t believe this? However, as we noted above, since this meaningfulness is not a matter of logic, there must be an entity or entities which make the statement true.

A number of objections spring to mind. Why just one entity? Couldn’t God and Natural Law be identical? Doesn’t this definition abuse the term “God”?

Addressing these questions in reverse order, it seems to me that most people who do believe in God (or Gods) would be happy to affirm that He/She/It/They do (does) in fact guarantee the meaning of individual human existence. They would mostly ascribe additional attributes to God, the aggregate of which, ascribed by different believers, might well be mutually contradictory. However, that doesn’t mean that this argument isn’t relevant to their beliefs: if God is a figment of their imagination, then what attributes pertain or are essential is also a subjective matter. However, if God is a real entity, then clearly it is possible to be mistaken about an attribute while still having in mind the same entity.

As a scientist, you might be tempted to identify God and Natural Law. I would say that, without further argument, we can’t rule out the possibility that Natural Law could be an aspect of the same entity, I don’t see how Natural Law as described by the scientific method, could guarantee the meaningfulness of individual existence. That is because the scientific method discovers principles that are necessarily general, as experiments to uncover them have to be repeatable. How could they guarantee the meaningfulness of individuals?

As a practical matter, we also don’t believe that Natural Law guarantees the meaningfulness of individual existence the same way that it guarantees the meaningfulness of the external world. For instance, no one would accept as valid a murderer’s defense that they weren’t responsible for the crime — it was the laws of physics that did it. The meaningfulness of human existence clearly involves purposeful action, for which in turn individuals are responsible. In attempting to describe an individual, Natural Law can at most describe something like an equivalence relation on a phase space, whose occurrence may roughly correspond to (the space-time extension of) an individual. Are we prepared to hold such a timeless, abstract entity responsible for anything?

Could Natural Law be an aspect of the same entity that guarantees the meaningfulness of human existence? Why do I speak of “an entity” — perhaps it is many different entities? Perhaps it’s ourselves, or our society? Interesting questions! But to answer them, you have to engage in theology. You have already admitted the existence of God (or Gods).



Against Dawkins on God

I think most of my friends are atheists. Also, most people online are inundated with more material than they can absorb. Information is proportional to surprise. I’ll inaugurate my blog in a manner I hope will be surprising.

Dawkins has argued that God is a delusion. In the following I argue that God exists: science answers questions about how, but insofar as it answers questions about purpose (“why”), it can only do so relatively: one thing is good for another. Such judgements are very useful, but they presuppose that we know that some things are good from some other source.

I should note that Dawkins sees himself as a partisan of science in a struggle with religion. He constructs a theory about how humans could have come to make ethical distinctions, which he claims obviates the need for such an entity as God. In the main his arguments are aimed not at God per se but at religion, which I don’t wish to argue about at all. After all, if God does exist, then God is not dependent on people who believe in God — rather the reverse.

Dawkins takes God to be a hypothesis about how things happen, which has been or should have been superseded by the better theories of science. I see the situation a bit differently: God has been a hypothesis about how and why things happen. Science has found beautiful explanations for how things happen, but has rather undermined the reasons that people used to believe about the purposes of things. Indeed, much of that undermining is salutary: the purpose of a planet is not to influence the lives of mortals. But some things must have a purpose. Whence?

Quickly, Dawkins might respond: we give things purpose. But who or what gives us purpose? An atheist may say: nothing, and claim to be satisfied — but most would admit in all honesty that they are only satisfied because there is no other alternative. And yet, strangely enough, many scientific atheists are willing to admit one transcendent thing. Let me call attention to one argument of Dawkins:

God who is capable of sending intelligible signals to millions of people simultaneously, and of receiving messages from all of them simultaneously, cannot be, whatever else he might be, simple. Such bandwidth! God may not have a brain made of neurones, or a CPU made of silicon, but if he has the powers attributed to him he must have something far more elaborately and non-randomly constructed than the largest brain or the largest computer we know. [Dawkins, Richard (2008-01-16). The God Delusion (Kindle Locations 2564-2567). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.]

This is a perfectly good argument against a physical God. But note the argument might also seem to apply to the Law of Nature (which I put in the singular here as I am following Dawkins in avoiding complicating the discussion with polytheism). Particles collide all over the universe — how do they know how to interact? One could say, well the particles themselves know. But think of all the bits of instructions each particle has to have to have its own copy of the Law!

In fact, scientists are usually happy to believe in the Law as something not in itself physical. Although a hard-core anti-realist would say that even this exists only in peoples heads, more common would be to say: yes — the Law is an exception. We are willing to admit its existence because of its extraordinary explanatory power.

But is the Law only about physics? The nub of the question is this: does the Law pertain directly to conscious persons? Can an act or decision be Right or Wrong, irrespective of the society or even in principle the species of the actor? Or, contrariwise, are all judgements about an individual only valid in a particular social or evolutionary context? The former is tantamount to the existence of God.

Dawkins makes the case that morality evolved. Indeed Pinker recently argued that it is still evolving. I am convinced by these arguments. However, just because the morality of human societies evolves, doesn’t mean that we don’t need to have recourse to some external standard to judge one set of mores better or worse than another.

Consider the Romans: the Pax Romana was a justification for genocide. Despite the other benefits the Roman order brought, we will probably feel, as even many Romans did, that the ruthlessness of the empire was wrong. But are we really just making a comparative statement with our own beliefs, who’s basis is an accident of evolution? Are we perhaps arguing that evolution naturally proceed probabilistically to more sophisticated lifeforms, and so therefore we can assert with some probability that our morality is more adaptive than theirs was.

But the rejoinder is clear: why is adaptive better? If you say, well that’s just the survival meme… nothing is really “better” absolutely, but I can be self-consistent and say that I believe it, however unjustifiably. But now you’ve come to Vaihinger’s “als ob”. Is it really confortable there? Why not have the courage of your convictions? Nothing stands in your way to say it is better. Indeed, Dawkins’ work is suffused with the conviction that it is right to believe in science: the Law is on his side. In fact, maybe Dawkins believes in God, and just doesn’t want to admit it!

Just keep in mind: you can be right, and all those other people with whom you disagree with and who believe in God can still be wrong, even if God does exist.