Saturday, February 14, 2009

Existential Argument for God

In my last blog, I discussed the convergence of faith and reason. If you think the two are mutually exclusive, you will want to read it before proceeding.

The reasons for my Christian faith fall into two categories; existential and propositional.

The existential arguments for God appeal to our longings, our human nature, our needs. These arguments views these things as "signposts" pointing to the existence of God. C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton before him provide excellent existential arguments for God.

C.S. Lewis wrote:
"Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism." --The Abolition of Man

Check your motives. If you are an emotionally unhealthy person, you are a likely candidate for NOT getting the truth right. Our emotions filter (bias) how we see the world.

Lewis also stated:
"For me, reason is the natural organ of truth, and imagination is the organ of understanding."

The existential arguments for God are broad. They do more to tell us of His existence than who He might be.
The propositional arguments for God are more specific and go farther in that they attempt to tell us WHICH God and WHO he may be. It is at this propositional level that I come to believe in the Christian God.

Today, I will attempt to present some existential arguments for God. In my next blog, I will present the propositional arguments for a Christian God.

There is a song by the band "Extreme" called "Hole Hearted". In it, they speak of the universal longing that we all have when they say, "There's a hole in my heart and it only can be filled by you." The song is likely talking about a romantic relationship. It is interesting that the landscape of music, as well as the rest of the modern arts, is dominated by romantic and sensual longings. Is there anything in this life that really satisfies these desires?

Feminist writer Anias Nin (NOTE: not a traditional religious type) once wrote:
"Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous." Winter, 1931-1932 from The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume One 1931-1934

She also wrote:
"I am an excitable person who only understands life lyrically, musically, in whom feelings are much stronger as reason. I am so thirsty for the marvelous that only the marvelous has power over me. Anything I can not transform into something marvelous, I let go. Reality doesn't impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls." July 7, 1934 from incest, from a journal of love

Nin expresses what I believe to be a human truth. We all long for something or someone to fill a God shaped hole. Everyone tries to fill it in different ways including romantic relationships, sensuality, drugs and alcohol, hobbies, friendships, family and children, materialism and more...

One of the best illustrations that I remember C.S. Lewis used to illustrate the truths of these "signposts" was regarding the stomach. He observed that just as the stomach's need to be filled with food was evidence that food exists, so the heart's need to be filled is proof that there is something that exists which can fill it.

"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." - C.S. Lewis
--Mere Christianity

Elvis Presley had it all. He had fame, wealth, talent. He once stated that he had lived every dream that he had ever had a thousand times. Yet he died a premature death, addicted to pain killers. What pain was he trying to kill? If HE couldn't fill this hole in his heart, then how can anyone who has less?

Belief in God gives life purpose. The ultimate expression of this purpose is to enjoy God's presence. This is what Christianity calls worship. Worship is the ecstasy that Anias Nin sought. It is the culmination of every romantic desire. It is the thirst that drives us to seek the thrill, once obtained, is gone just as quickly.

"I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation." -- C.S. Lewis in "Reflections on the Psalms"

Lewis calls it Joy. Lewis was a confirmed bachelor (or so he thought). One of the books that he wrote was entitled "Surprised By Joy". Later in his life, he was pleasantly surprised to find that he had fallen in love. He married this woman who just so happened to be named Joy.

" it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy... Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic... in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again." [Surprised By Joy 17-18]

But Lewis' first encounter with what he calls "Joy" was when he was a little boy. His brother had built a toy garden. When he saw the garden, he wrote: "It made me aware of nature--not, indeed, as a storehouse of forms and colors but as something cool, dewy, fresh, exuberant. . . . As long as I live my imagination of Paradise will retain something of my brother's toy garden."

He went on to say later in his life: "It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton's 'enormous bliss' of Eden . . . comes somewhere near it,"

Do you find yourself trying to feed a hole in your heart? What do you try to feed "the monster" with? Do you try to feed it with the things the band Extreme wrote about in another song entitled, "Its a Monster"?

"It's on my mind most of the time
That's when you find we all go blind
Then it will start to get in our hearts
It's gone too far, that's who we are
It's a monster
We all have within us
It's a monster
It's a monster
Turns us into sinners
It's a monster"

Augustine called this longing "The God Shaped Hole". If it is God shaped, then only He can fill it. But who is this God that we long for? We'll explore that question in the next posting.

The Convergence of Faith and Reason

I am finding that a lot of people, religious as well as non-religious, seem to believe that faith and reason do not intersect. But if we just use reason alone, we will find that this assumption breaks down.

Mankind is finite. We are limited in what we know. We are limited in what we CAN know. For instance, there are things so far out in space, that no telescope or device will be able to observe, measure or detect. So reason alone says that there are things that exist outside of the reaches of empiricism.

I do understand that there are some people who have a rare philosophy that says that only that which we can observe and experience is real. Such a philosophy goes so far as to say that when a refrigerator door is shut, its contents cease to exist. There are many arguments against such a philosophy. I shall not expound on them, but only say that I think this philosophy says more about the limits of empiricism, than the limits of reality/truth.

So if we acknowledge that there are things that exist outside of our ability to observe and measure, than we have already seen a glimpse into the validity of faith.

But I can take faith even further. EVERYONE has faith. When you get in a car to go somewhere, can you absolutely 100% KNOW that you will arrive safely at your destination? Of course not. But do you BELIEVE you will arrive safely? If not, I don't think you'd get in the car in the first place. THAT is faith.

What if you were to get into the passenger seat of that car and let a drunk person drive you? That would be crazy wouldn't it? But do you absolutely KNOW that the drunk will have an accident? No, but the odds are against them driving safely. It is reasonable to conclude that you would be unsafe to ride with the drunk. But because you can't KNOW this for sure, you have faith. More specifically, you have a reasoned faith. You have a faith informed by rational thought. Your faith is informed by probability.

I could give many many more analogies that demonstrate this convergence of faith and reason. Every time we plan for the future, we "roll the dice" based on the probability that we will live for that future event. We have no proof so we have faith instead. That faith is backed up by reason. Interviewing for a job requires faith. But you wouldn't do it if you didn't have reason to believe you could get the position.

These examples are different than blind faith. Many religions do seem to advocate a blind faith. For instance, Hinduism and Buddhism claim reincarnation, but outside of some people's deja vu experiences, and subjective interpretations of nature, they don't offer any rational argument to support these claims. Most other religions have the same problem.

This is why I am a Christian. Christianity is different in this regard. Its cornerstone is the claim that Jesus Christ died and rose again. It could just make these claims (blind faith) and offer nothing more. Instead, it presents to us multiple witnesses to these claims who wrote the Gospels. These writers were so convinced of Christ's resurrection that they died for this belief.

Yes, it is true that many religious people die for their beliefs, but if you are thinking this, you have missed the point. These writers weren't just ANY group of religious people. They had the unique ability to validate their claims. All they had to do was go to the grave and see if Christ was there. All the Roman government had to do to stifle Christianity's threat to its empire was to produce Christ's body.

Why didn't this occur?

Yes, I have faith, but it is NOT a blind faith. It is a faith that is supported by reason. While I can't absolutely prove 100% these things, if I could it would NOT be faith. But because my faith is supported by a reasonable argument, it is not a blind faith.

What is your faith? Why do you believe it? If you merely believe in it because it makes you feel good, or out of fear, or because it serves you, you believe for the wrong reasons. And please don't think that I'm pointing a finger at you. These are questions that I ask myself.

There are other reasons that I believe as well. I will discuss those in my next two blogs.

If you've read this far and still do not see the convergence of faith and reason, I point you to Google on the subject of Christian Apologetics. Christian apologetics is an attempt by Christians to defend their faith using reason. If this convergence that I speak of does NOT exist, then neither would the apologist.

In every instance that I have EVER encountered someone who didn't understand this convergence, I have found that the dissenter was not aware of apologetics, or had not listened/read such arguments.

I close with this thought. If I were opposed to Christianity, wouldn't the most effective way for me to prevent its spread be for me to cast it as a faith that throws out the brain?

Socrates once said that the unexamined life is not worth living.

If I wanted to bury my head in the sand when it comes to questions regarding the meaning of life, the existence of God, how I should live my life, etc., would I find any better way to do this than to simply dismiss all religious people as holding to a blind faith?

Which takes MORE blind faith; to examine the reasons for believing or to simply dismiss them all as having blind faith?

Often our rejections of dogma, are dogmatic, our objections to zealotry are zealous, and our abstinence of intolerance is intolerant....

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Faith to the Rescue

If a tree falls in the forest and no wife is around, is the husband still wrong?

But seriously...

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it still make a sound? This is a classic philosophical question. The question deals with epistemology (how we come to know anything) and ontology (what the world is).

But is this the right question? I suggest the following question:

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, have we come to the end of logic's reach?

I believe in logic. But I believe it has limits. I have noticed that when most people observe that a position can't be proven logically, they assume the position to be false. But there is a second option. The position is true, but is beyond reason's reach.

I believe that the tree does make a sound if sound is defined simply as creating air waves that have the POTENTIAL to vibrate an ear drum or be picked up by a listening device if it WERE around. But I can't prove this. I can only suggest that such a world is a simpler world than one where we imagine that events revolve around us. This claim is beyond reason's reach.

A world where sound only occurs when an ear drum (or now a recording device as well) is present, is WAY too complex of a world and thus violates Occam's razor, otherwise known as "Keep It Simple Stupid".

This question shows the limitations of reason.

Faith marches in to the rescue. But I don't let it march in blindly. This is why Occam's razor is my guide when I'm presented with the "fork in the road" choices for my answer, both of which take faith to believe.

G.K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, says the above differently. Here is an excerpt from his classic book:

THE real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait. I give one coarse instance of what I mean. Suppose some mathematical creature from the moon were to reckon up the human body; he would at once see that the essential thing about it was that it was duplicate. A man is two men, he on the right exactly resembling him on the left. Having noted that there was an arm on the right and one on the left, a leg on the right and one on the left, he might go further and still find on each side the same number of fingers, the same number of toes, twin eyes, twin ears, twin nostrils, and even twin lobes of the brain. At last he would take it as a law; and then, where he found a heart on one side, would deduce that there was another heart on the other. And just then, where he most felt he was right, he would be wrong. - Orthodoxy, pg 46

Chesterton goes on to say:

Now, this is exactly the claim which I have since come to propound for Christianity. Not merely that it deduces logical truths, but that when it suddenly becomes illogical, it has found, so to speak, an illogical truth. It not only goes right about things, but it goes wrong (if one may say so) exactly where the things go wrong. Its plan suits the secret irregularities, and expects the unexpected. - Orthodoxy, pg 46

I often hear skeptics accuse religious folks of being irrational. Such a skeptic gives too much power to reason. Reason has its place. It can reveal falsehood by revealing inconsistency. But it can NOT guarantee truth. One can be logical and be wrong. One can win the debate and lose truth. I'm not proposing we throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because a car can't drive me to the moon doesn't mean that it's not a useful mode of transportation.

But perhaps, when it comes to the deepest questions of life, we are satisfied too easily with a rational worldview. Truth is stranger than fiction. Shouldn't our worldview be a reflection of this?