In this post I ended with this:
In my future posts I plan to give a few more reasons why I don’t believe in gods, will try to explain why proofs for gods aren’t very convincing to me, and will end with my personal opinion on the best approach theists should use to convince others of the existence of gods.
and this post is the final in the series where I’ll share my opinion on the best approach for theists to convince others. I also mentioned several times along the way that I would share why I still wonder whether gods might exist, what would change my mind, and even share my own views of which formulations of that would make more sense to me if I were to change my mind.
The philosophical arguments for God’s existence are basically interesting questions or conundrums about existence that we really just don’t have the kind of information we need to form any conclusions about, so they didn’t help me before, during, and still after I was a Christian. I can understand that others might find them helpful, but as I’ve explained they just aren’t convincing to me.
Maybe you just happened to be thinking about religion that night just at the very same time that you turned on the telly and they were amazingly talking about Jainism. Or perhaps you experienced a healing after being prayed for. Everyone has these stories that seem to go beyond coincidence. A lot of them aren’t too impressive, but every once in a while you’ll come across some that do seem surprising. These are the things that make me wonder if there is any meaning or agency involved behind the scenes.
As far as serendipitous stories go, the most amazing one I’ve heard was from my wife’s grandfather. He believes in a Taiwanese tribal god, and he was in the midst of bombings in World War II when he saw a shiny object on the ground. He decided to walk over to get it and right as he went to pick it up a bomb exploded in the place that he had just moved from. The shiny object ended up being a trinket with the symbol of the tribal god of his family on it. He has other stories about why he believes in that Taiwanese god but that one in particular has always stuck with me. While this causes me to wonder, it doesn’t cause me to believe that his god exists as I’m sure many people reading this wouldn’t be convinced either. But if you are willing to toss away these miraculous stories from other religions why are you so quick at judging others for doubting your own?
So instead perhaps all these miracle stories could be studied by probability theorists, and perhaps a good case could be made for causation. Doesn’t sound like an easy task but it would be certainly something I would be very interested in following up on. My suggestion to anyone who does this however is to stay in the bounds of science, because people are starting to become more educated about pseudo-science, and while there will always be those that are convinced by that, I believe if current trends continue we will see credulity like that become less prevalent.
There are several issues with serendipity – first, these strange events also seem to happen even for the most mundane of things. For example, several months ago I was teaching the playing card game “war” to my son and trying to teach him the concept of less than or greater than. We went through maybe 6 or 7 rounds before I decided to tell him the rules that happen when the numbers match, and wouldn’t you know it the very next cards that showed up matched. I tried to remember that example just for this post, and there are many other extremely mundane “coincidences” like that which I don’t even make a point to remember, some even stranger than that. Should we really be making some conclusions based on these kind of events? Is “coincidence” a valid / justified explanation for these events?
And some do believe that these rare events that some would call miracles are actually to be expected given natural probabilities. I’ll likely write more about this in the future, but here’s a primer.
It’s also very clear that these events happen across all religions and across all cultures. Given that, if I was to believe in a traditional monotheistic God then I can’t see picking the God of just one religion. While I have a hard time seeing the traditional personal omni-god (POG) concept as probable, if I did return to that belief it would be a more universalist type of belief in a God who for some strange reason doesn’t seem to be a very good communicator yet is somehow trying to communicate with humans through all different religions.
Another thing that should be avoided is this insistence on certainty. When someone like Ray Comfort says that he knows that God exists as much as he knows that his wife exists, I believe a whole lot of people see through that, and are also pushed away by things like that. It’s just way too oversold, and gives the appearance of a sneaky used car salesman. Belief in the existence of gods should fall along the continuum of certainty levels just like any other belief we would take in life. For example, while I usually take a multi-vitamin in the morning I’m not terribly convinced of its efficacy. I’ve read different things regarding vitamins, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of consensus. So I don’t always take them, and I certainly wouldn’t go around pushing them on others or judging them for believing differently. This is the normal way that we believe things in life, and frankly a belief in gods shouldn’t be different. This is why I have great respect for some of my theist friends who have said things like “Christianity works for me, but by all means I realize that I could be wrong about it being true and I don’t judge anyone for doubting.”
Just a Very Small Smorgasbord of Different Possibilities
So to me there is certainly no reason for me to take a hard stance on any worldview as a result of these kind of strange events, and given the law of truly large numbers I even see reason to doubt there is meaning behind any of them, but nevertheless my human mind still wonders, and I think about different possibilities involving ultimate questions. Here’s just a few:
– Spinoza’s or Einstein’s God, which is very much like pantheism – a popular option that some paradoxically call the “God of the atheists”. Here’s an interesting talk about Spinoza’s God. If gods were just described as “entities higher than us” or if a God is described as a “being of infinite attributes” then the universe or whatever else there is that exists seems to fit this. But as I’ve said before that definition of gods doesn’t seem to fit the traditional understanding of gods as personal thinking agents, so perhaps it just causes confusion in communication. Just like Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Paul Davies and a lot of other atheist scientists use the word “God” in their popular books and while I’m sure it helps them sell more books, it gets misinterpreted by many. Either way some of this is just semantics.
– Several gods messing with us – Every once in a while I wonder whether there may be spiritual entities out there somewhere messing with our minds and laughing it up at the scene down here on earth. Monotheists obviously aren’t very fond of polytheism, but interestingly enough it only takes 2 gods to completely wipe away the problem of suffering or evil.
– Entirely transcendent gods – perhaps the answer is way above and beyond what our human minds are capable of understanding. Or perhaps we are byproducts of a universe whose purpose was actually meant for some things or some beings (aliens) way more advanced than ourselves. Much like we view amoeba or other animals as not being as important a part of the purpose of existence as the conscious, thinking agents that we are, maybe there are other beings out in the universe (or other universes) who would think the same of us if they were ever to meet us. Perhaps they would think that our inability to obtain certainty in knowledge, our ability to be wrong, and our inability to fit the concept of infinity into our finite brains are surprisingly primitive. Or perhaps they do something even beyond what we understand as “thinking”. Something entirely transcendent. I’ve seen a lot of traditional theists describe the God they believe in as a transcendent concept – something that we humans are not capable of defining or understanding, but yet at the same time they feel comfortable assigning certain attributes to their God. To me if one or more exists then I’d lean more toward thinking they were entirely transcendent.
– Just to encourage people to think more outside of the box, here’s a link to some videos that Closer to Truth has of philosophers discussing alternative concepts of gods.
Maybe try to come up with your own conceptions and think them through. Any way to confirm or falsify those ideas? Any way for them to be empirically tested? Perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks of all of these ideas is that they are unlikely to be able to be tested. Much like Max Tegmark’s (MIT professor) multiverse. Well, more on that another time.
The more I experience life and the more I read studies done relating to human nature, our minds and religion the more I lean toward thinking we live in a godless reality. But for me I don’t have good reasons to be close-minded about it.