The title of this one may have you asking: “What on earth does Clarke have to be doing (or incidentally, not doing) to possess him write such a piece at 1am?” Well I’m not out partying for a start, and seeing as though I’ve had such a long day travelling to and from Harrogate – not for fun, I’m on work experience at my old secondary school – I fell asleep earlier after a feast of Dominos and tea and thus, I’m not tired anymore. I mentioned my work experience. Nothing overly important, I’m working with the illustrious Olly Davies, my old Religious Studies teacher. For those of you who don’t know him, or me or who have never heard me rattle on about him, he is the man that is responsible for me being where I am today – he inspired my passion and love of theology and philosophy and it’s to him I owe a lot of my academic success. Slightly off-topic (in true Olly fashion some may say – I’m not a fan of using emoticons on my blog, but I feel a “winky” face to denote a cheeky remark is needed there), the reason I want to discuss the existence of God is because I’ve spent the last few hours throwing together a presentation to use for the GCSE group I’m helping with that goes into the four main philosophical arguments for the existence of God. It got me thinking, many people don’t actually realise that I do believe in God; I thought it would be interesting for me to explain why.
This image here epitomises the image I have of God. Shortest blog in history right? No. I’m joking of course, I just like to use light-hearted images in an attempt to liven up what would instead, be a very dull and heavy topic. I think it’s important for any theologian or philosopher to first set out the position they’re ‘doing their theology or philosophy from’ – sorry, I just need to take a second to figure out why Justin Bieber is infecting my ears; there we are, sorted – as I was saying, I need to set out the position I’m coming from before I continue with my ‘theology’ (so I’d like to call it, because then I can pretend I’m important).
I’m a liberal, and a radical liberal at that. I enjoy the work of John Hick and sympathise with it probably 98% of the time; something the boffs at the local York Minster would more than likely cringe and revile at. Us liberals like to reinterpret and rethink archaic and ancient ideas in an attempt to make them consistent with what we now know about the world in which we live; so yes, I’m afraid to say it, science does play a part in shaping a liberal theology. We also place primacy with the sources of reason and experience above those of tradition and scripture when constructing a theology; there are probably numerous personal reasons that are relative to the respective liberal theologians for this, but my reasons are as follows:
a) Whilst scripture is of course the building block of almost all of the world faiths (yes, with the exception of some) and it is upon which the established religions would not exist, I acknowledge that humans wrote it; and by definition of us being human, we are prone to make mistakes. This means that the Bible is probably full of mistakes and inaccuracies and it should not be taken literally. As the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says in relation to Judaism: “We [the Jews] consider any who interpret the scriptures literally, to be deeply heretical”. So what is scripture to me? Scripture is a collection of stories and narratives that either provide myths and stories to help explain phenomena that perhaps couldn’t be explained in the modern world, or it provides a history to a specific group of people (i.e. the Jews and Christians). There may be some elements of truth contained within it, but it is a collection of stories that aid in forming theology, moral guidelines and information about the cultures of the time.
b) Tradition for me is a big no-no. Tradition is something that is completely man-made and mentions of the formation of which, do not feature heavily in scripture; so where has this idea come from? Yes beliefs influence practices, but why should a long-running tradition dictate the state of a group’s identity and indeed theology? To me, tradition seems to be very oppressive in that, to ‘belong’ to a certain denomination of Christianity or indeed the religion as a whole, there are in place a set of check boxes one must tick – I disapprove highly with this. Religion should be something done and decided on on an individual level, and not dictated by men in robes and an age-old institution that appears to have completely lost touch with what is happening in the ‘real world’. Tradition appears to be too heavily focussed on the ‘other-worldly’ that it seems to have forgotten that there is actually a here and now that needs to be acknowledged.
So if it is the case that I think religion and thus theology should be something done on a personal level, why then do I feel the need to share all my theological thoughts with everyone? Why is it that I believe the Church should adopt a liberal approach to its doctrine in order to attempt to re-establish the once strong Christian community [in the UK]? The fact is, the Church as an establishment does exist and that is never going to change. So now that I’ve accepted that it exists, I just want to change the way it does things. Anyway, that’s a discussion for another time. Back to God-talk.
Calvin once said something very important to this argument and it is where I shall begin:
“That there exists in the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man, being aware that there is a God, and that he is their maker, may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service.” Institutes, Book I, 3:1.
If we accept that the above quote holds veracity, then this argument becomes a lot more simple. If for some reason you don’t understand the basis of Calvin’s thinking, let me try explain. Ever since the dawn of the man, humanity has looked to the heavens for the answers to the questions that we ourselves cannot answer. Cavemen had gods; Pagans had gods and goddesses; the Greeks and Romans had Gods; the Egyptians had gods; the Abrahamic faiths have a God – I think you get the idea. Mankind’s history is woven with an instinctive knowledge or sense of the divine. For whatever reason, we appear to accept that we are not the pinnacle of the created order and that there exists something outside our realm of existence. Calvin appears to believe that God ‘itself’ has imprinted this knowledge in its creation in an attempt to ensure that humanity does not ‘get ahead of itself’. Now, some of you may instantly disagree with this statement by claiming the stance of atheism or the firm non-believer, or even the agnostic. Whilst I acknowledge that not every human places a belief in God, every human has had thoughts or inclinations to believe in the divine at some point in their lives; the advancement of science has merely provided the non-believer with a basis upon which to place their belief in a non-belief. Just as scripture, revelation and religious experiences provide the believer with a basis upon which to place their belief in a belief.
So mankind has an innate sense of the divine; this is not merely enough. You may remember a piece a wrote a while ago in defence of hard-determinism? If not, then I shall quickly jog your memories. I ‘came up with’ the term ‘cosmic order’ – I’m pretty sure that term already exists, but I want to sound cool so I’m claiming it as mine – ‘cosmic order’ refers to everything in the universe being bound by the laws of cause and effect – everything moves towards an end goal because it is provoked to do so by an exterior force (I am not referring to a force as in gravity, nor indeed the universal power that binds all living things – to quote Jedi Master Qui-Gonn Jin). On a small scale, we see evidence of this every day – the fridge door opens because I open it. The first cause is me and the final cause is the open fridge door. This too works on the biggest scale mankind can (just about) comprehend; the universe is ever expanding as a result of a ‘Big Bang’. The first cause, for the moment, is the Big Bang and we are seeing evidence of the material and efficient causes in play (I don’t want to go into too much Aristotelian philosophy – so I won’t); we are unaware of the final cause for the moment. But scientists will tell you that the universe is expanding; this is evidence that we are moving towards a final cause.
So ‘cosmic order’ effects everything within the universe; if the biggest thing known and conceivable to mankind is subject to cause and effect, so too must everything contained within it be subject to the same laws of cause and effect; to think otherwise would be illogical. Human decisions are in fact not decisions; the paths we as humans take are just as certain as knowing that dropping an apple from a building will result in the apple falling to floor. The only difference is that we are unaware of the outcome of these so-called decisions. (Seriously, read the blog on it if you want to know more – I feel I am veering off-topic).
We have determined that the universe is bound by cause and effect, and I have mentioned the Big Bang as the supposed first cause of existence. I will go one step before that and give the Big Bang a first cause. Something must have caused the Big Bang to happen, something must have caused the particles that collided to come into existence. I call this ‘thing’, God. I must stress at this point that I do not believe in the traditional Judeo-Christian concept of an immanent & transcendent being that can be directly involved in the world. I believe God to be something that causes being from nothing, or if we’re being fancy, ex nihlo. What we know of the way the universe works, everything must be caused to come into being. God caused the universe to come into being. Simple as that. Why do I think this is God and not just the supposed Higgs-Boson particle?
The Higgs-Boson particle, the Big Bang, all the elements and everything in our universe that humanity can see, measure etc is all within the realm of humanity’s comprehension – so don’t try and use the quantum physics or whatever else it is you die-hard scientists like to throw at us theologians, I’m trying to cover all my bases. There are two issues with supposing that everything humanity can observe is all there is. The first is quite simply, it would be highly arrogant and narrow-minded (considering how vast the universe is) to presume that human intelligence with its scientific knowledge is the pinnacle of all that there is. Secondly, humans (with the possible exception of animals) are the only things in creation to ‘experience’ being free to deviate from the set path of cause and effect – I realise I need to explain this. A ball being dropped cannot change its final cause, it will hit the ground and then bounce. Humanity can supposedly, taking into account my theory of determinism, change and decide for itself its own final cause – this is evidence of intelligence. So in this capacity, one can safely say that science is not intelligent.
Aquinas says that for things to reach their final cause, their first cause must be of intelligence. So in the example of the ball, science does not decide to just move the ball (yes okay, there is wind etc – let’s not split hairs), however a human (in this case intelligence) can decide to drop the ball. As already pointed out, humanity (and animals) are the only things in our observable world that appear to posses intelligence (although this may be disputed considering some of the people I come into contact with). It is obvious that humanity did not create the universe and as we have already established that science is not intelligent, there must exist some entity that did possess intelligence and thus caused the universe into being. This being, is referred to as God.
God is something way out of our comprehension, it is something we may never fully understand. Sorry, let me rephrase that. We will never understand God and nor are we meant to. We may speculate as I have here, but all of what I have just spent the last hour and a half writing is merely a result of human reasoning and as I have pointed out, God lays outside this realm. There exist no words nor concepts or phrases that humans can use to adequately describe what God is or does. It is for this reason it is easier to describe God using apophatic theology (describing God by saying what it cannot do and what it is not).
Well after all of that, I expect you all to believe in God. I expect you all to tell me how wrong you all were to doubt its existence and to fall on your knees and beg for forgiveness. No of course not. I do hope this has been as thought-provoking for you to read as it has been for me to write. I can genuinely say I feel like I’ve actually constructed something fairly comprehensive, so please do be kind. I hope you won’t be narrow-minded and completely dismissive of my theology/philosophy; please feel free to leave comments.
For now I leave you with this quote:
“For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation will suffice.” – Joseph Dunninger.