Wednesday, April 20, 2005


In debates about God, a lot of time is wasted on discussion of whether one could prove or disprove God’s existence. This is not going to happen. So it is really about whether the existence of God (or a particular concept of God) is plausible (or very plausible) and thereby worthy of our belief.

In a couple of short paragraphs on this blog I will cut through centuries of debate and draw conclusions about the plausibility of God’s existence by looking at some of the evidence we see (or don’t see) in our world.

In my view, the positive evidence for the existence of God is the widespread belief which exists among billions of folks. I think there is something to the religious experiences people have reported which provides support to the concept of a divine essence in the world, i.e. a sense of connection with something large accompanied by feelings of purpose and value. I believe these experiences provide much less support for the existence of any detailed conception of a divine being, since the more specific features get reported after passing through a filter of preconceptions about God and religion.

Most of the other traditional philosophical arguments for the existence of God have been adequately countered and don’t offer plausible reasons for belief. Because it continues to make hay in our culture let me comment on one: I give no credit to design-based arguments for a transcendent personal God, given that we can easily conceive of rich but impersonal processes giving rise to the world we experience (I’m not claiming today’s science has this all figured out of course).

The main evidence against the existence of God comes from the well-discussed problems of evil and suffering and the related general problem of divine hiddenness. The existence of evil and the suffering of the innocent makes the existence of a God which is both benevolent and omnipotent (able to intervene) extremely implausible. Philosophers of religion these days have to resort to tortured exercises in modal logic to try to defend against this argument. Importantly, this is not an argument against a deity which lacks one of the specified attributes, say, omnipotence.

Divine hiddenness asks why God doesn’t reveal his or herself in a straightforward way. The answer is usually that God is playing a game to see who will believe anyway for use in judging us, or simply that the reasons for this (as well as for allowing evil) are beyond our comprehension. Given the weakness of these arguments, this problem again leads me to conclude the existence of God is implausible. Again I must note that this issue has traction against the God with the particular package of attributes of traditional monotheism, and is not an argument against all kinds of theism. Actually, I can’t see that any traditional arguments against the existence of God apply to pantheism.

So, I conclude that the existence of some impersonal and limited divine essence in the world is plausible. However, the existence of a God with the particular attributes offered by traditional monotheism is extremely implausible.

Sometime soon I will follow up with thoughts about the case for pantheism (and/or its relative, panentheism).


Anonymous said...

I'm an engineer by profession. I live and be fed on logic and reason for all my thinkings. Your theory of God or religion being plausible is quite interesting and reasonable except one thing that bother me about this theoey. For me as long as there is one more thing that man still cannot grasp its marvel, then I believe there still be some thing out there that is more superior than man. That leads to the existing of an at least one Omnipotence some where out there. And unlike the concept of plausibility which is very limit to just a small group of thinkers, it appears that every where in the world that people seem to believe one form or another that there is a supreme being namely God exist. This proves as a strong reason of an existing of the Omnipresent of God. And for the reasoning that you gave in term of the well-discussed problems of evil and suffering which are all persons must live through and witness during their lives on earth and yet failed to convince men to abolish God, even up to this century and even among all walks of lives, it proved the existing of a super natural being out there that is Omniscience in nature and far more superior than any reasoning of men's conscience can function. This reasoning of the existing of the Omnipresence, Onmipotence, and Omniscience is enough to confirm the existing of God at least up to today. As long as men cannot explain this mystery, men must realize on faith to compensate for their lacking. This lacking will be around for many many more centuries to come and therefore the existing of God and religion will be around if not forever at least for a long time. Now that people put faith and God to fill their empty holes of their lacking of reasonings in lives, they begin to feel balance and peace within them selve. Then if that feeling of completeness and content result from believing in God, then it does not matter if in reality God does really exist or not (through things that are seen or unseen), the bottom line is that the existing of that feeling of being content confirms the reality of a religion which in turn give rise to a reason of the existing of God. For me I by pass all the complicate reasons of thinking about wether any philosophical explanations including your plausible theory is adequate enough to live by, I just think that if there is such a very very small chance at all that hell and heaven ever exist (let say (0.0000000000000000001%) then it worth moment to believe in God who can toss you one way or another into one of the two places. Simple reasoning but yet safest thing to do when it come to death that no man yet can explain nor would he ever will. REST IN PEACE.

Steve said...

Thank you for your comment. I think those are good thoughts. I only really disagree with the last part (Pascal's wager). I don't think that's a good reason for belief.

Anonymous said...

Man posesses both body and soul to live. Body is a physical being that help man reasoning things that are seen around him. Man's sould on the other hand functions similar way as his body but in the realms of the unseen substance that is closely connected to the devine's substance. The two body and soul however work in cooperation with each other to form a CONSCIENCE through REASON and BELIEF. When present with just a reasonable explaination about thing man can draw conclusion to accept its existance materially. Similarily if man can bring about to his mind the existing of thing from the immaterial being he then succeeds in convincing him self of posessing the soul. For example when he was presented with a fine vase in the room, man accepted that it was a fine vase. A little while later he was taken out of the room and then the vase was broke apart. When he was brought back into the room, with just the glance at the pile of broken glass, he can immediately put together the vase back to its original perfect condition in his mind. It can even go further as to take away all the broken pieces, he can walk into the room and yet still put together a perfect vase back. This how man with the soul can do thing from nothingness into a perfect immaterial being that the animal cnnot do. If reason of body existing is to interact with the things that are seen in this world then the reason of soul is for the unseen GOD. All things may be plausible but never impossible to exist even for the unseen substance which exist among the UNSEEN category of unseen things.

Anonymous said...

I was at a lecture by Prof. Eliot Sober on The Design Argument where he was criticizing a version (his version) of Paley's argument for an Intelligent Designer. Prof. Sober based his argument against Paley on the notins of probability, principle of likelihood. At the same time he said that the argumen for ID is "plausible" and "compelling". I think this is all that Paley was claiming and to be fair to him, we must not evaluate his argument as a scientific one amounting to any kind of "proof". DO you think the conept of "plausibility" has been underplayed by philosophers of science?

Steve said...

Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure I know enough to answer your last question very well, but let me offer the following.

Since I wrote this, I have thought more about ID and the design argument, and it may be I’ve been a little too harsh. The problem is that most people associate ID with supernatural macro-level interventions in the world. For instance, they try to point to specific structures (it used to often be the eye; more recently much talk about a bacterial flagellum) and say: "look, this is too complex to have evolved, it appears to be designed -- therefore, God or some other agent must have stepped in and created it." This type of ad hoc intervention (theologically, a variety of “special creation”) I continue to believe is implausible.

But I could take another view of the design argument, as follows. There are good reasons to suspect that the phenomena of the world (including life, human consciousness) cannot be completely explained by classical mechanism. Natural selection and common descent can be accepted as per the consensus scientific paradigm, yet there seems to be something in the micro-fabric of the world which exhibits a spark of agency, a datum of experience, sufficient to allow life, intentionality and consciousness to later emerge. This indirect design argument is plausible, in my view, and is arguably supported by some interpretations of quantum mechanics.

Now, “Intelligent Design” is not a good label for this kind of view. But it is perhaps a more plausible cousin of ID.

Also, with regard to the public dimension of ID, I would never hold up the view I sketched as an alternative to or a critique of evolutionary biology. This is the aspect of ID that I reject completely.

Steve said...

Also, thank you for the reference to Prof. Sober. I see he has some of his papers on his website, which I'll check out.