Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thoughts on Proofs for God...and Barbarella

Something that has come to my mind a lot recently, whether it's been through conversations I've had, articles I've read, or watching Richard Dawkins on The Colbert Report. People seem very interested in the idea that God may (or may not) actually exist! Scientists (like Dawkins, a biologist) and mathematicians, like John Allen Paulos (pictured right...and looking AWESOME) seem caught up in an almost-Christian evangelical fervor: the message they have come to preach is that there is no God, and they preach their gospel on the same street corners and from the same soap boxes from which we preach our Gospel.

In fairness to Paulos, I should separate his work from that of Dawkins and the like-minded Christopher Hitchens, who seem to be angered by the fact that so many people claim to believe in God. To their mind, "God" is a mass delusion perpetrated on humanity by those who would wish to subdue it. Paulos, on the other hand, has written a very light-hearted book that I actually recommend. It's called Irreligion, and refutes (to the extent that one can refute such things) the common logical arguments for the existence of God. Maybe the most common argument for the existence of God is the so-called "Argument from Complexity." It goes like this: Look at the world, how complex and beautiful it is! This cannot have been the product of random chance. Therefore, there must be a Creator who is ultimately complex, and that Creator is God." Paulos simply asks, "If the creator is so complex, must not he have had a creator? If there is a cause, that cause must have a cause."

I only bring up Paulos' book and his arguments because I have found such arguments fascinating. I have never felt that my faith was challenged by arguments against the existence of God, something I never felt I could (or had to) prove. I'm reminded of the story of Jesus' interaction with the woman at the well in John 4. After a profound interaction with Jesus, the woman goes back to her town and tells the people there, "Come see a man who told me everything I ever did." This woman felt herself so profoundly described by Jesus that she was willing to stake her life on the things that he said. I feel the same way.

Jesus (and the Biblical writers) so accurately describe and diagnose my life, down to the fact that I so often do the very thing I wish I wouldn't do, and vice versa, that I naturally put credence to their other words, including their descriptions and assertions of the existence of God. In the end, though, I'm not too naive to admit that I need God to exist. The need I feel to strive (the Army's "Be all you can be") must come from somewhere! Of course, this is not a rhetorically strong argument. It is undeniable, though, that despite the need to be all I can be, I feel that I am not. I need the God described by Jesus and the Bible, who sent an envoy to me, to be all I could have been, in my place.

Ted Turner famously called Christianity "a crutch." I think it's funny...Christianity never claimed to be anything else. That's the thing that Dawkins, Hitchens, and Paulos don't understand. They're convinced that humanity just needs to be told to throw the crutch away. "You can walk," they say. "Stop letting this 'God' nonsense hold you back!" Their vision of humankind is one of strength, self-sufficiency, and power. They don't have an answer for people's weaknesses, insufficiencies, and fear. These are the people Christianity speaks to. If Ted Turner claims that Christianity is a crutch, Christ affirmed it! It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Christianity is not for the strong and wise, but for the weak and foolish, like you and me. After all, we all have our crutches...right Ted?


  1. Nick,

    I like your thoughts here, and I have to say that I find it extremely ironic that you're using John 4 to explain (at least in part) some of your reasons for your faith in Christ.

    I agree with your sentiment here that scientific arguments for or against the existence of God seem to be missing the point. For example, the argument from complexity is actually a religious statement. Folks aren't having a scientific experience when interacting with the complexity and beauty of nature rather they're experiencing the divine through nature.

    The same is true with your argument from anthropology. The reality of your humanity points to your great need and Jesus puts his finger on that need and does something about it. Simply saying that humanity has great need isn't enough to prove God to you. However, God showing himself to you in your need is a religious experience and a foundation for faith. This is not the realm of scientists and mathematicians to be sure.

    That's a low blow against Ted by the way.


  2. Really like this post, and have noticed an increase in what i can only describe as 'fervent atheism' in the media. Only in the last few years have i even met people who feel compelled to passionately preach the idea that there is no God, and i can only imagine that these people are seeking divinity in their own way, maybe without realizing, otherwise, why is it so important to preach, and why the need for converts?

    anyway, keep up the great posts.


    1. Please forgive me for going so far into the past to post a comment. You write "That's the thing that Dawkins, Hitchens, and Paulos don't understand. They're convinced that humanity just needs to be told to throw the crutch away. "You can walk," they say. "Stop letting this 'God' nonsense hold you back!" Their vision of humankind is one of strength, self-sufficiency, and power.”

      Actually, I think that for Dawkins and Hitchens (I haven't read Paulos) the issue is precisely the opposite: their anthropology is not one of strength and self-sufficiency (on the issue of power I think that Dawkins and Hitchens differ), but rather that we are in a sense addicts to religion, and like most addicts, quite willing to put our own and almost anyone else's safety at risk in service to a fix.

      While Dawkins and Hitchens nuance these issues differently, I think it fair to say that it is not strength they see, so much as weakness and injury that are consequential to the celebration of the irrationality or even anti-rational aspects of "faith." It is not that we are so strong that we can do without it, so much that we are so weak that we cannot afford the injury it commits against us.

      To take the addiction metaphor a step further– they would join with Jesus in saying “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." Where they would differ from the Jesus of Mark's Gospel, is in diagnosing the illness as "sin."

    2. David - Interesting thoughts. I've not read as much Dawkins and Hitchens as I probably should...I think I'm reacting to that famous Ted Turner quote more than anything else. (By the way, I have no idea if you'll ever see being so far in the past) Do you think that Dawkins and Hitchens (or one or the other) see rationality, logic, or science as the medicine humanity needs? It always seemed to me that they thought that religion was the problem, rather than just an inappropriate (and damaging) solution...


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