« DARWIN AND GOD | Main | intelligent design and the limits of analogy »


We  have to try and organize all these models of thinking about God, so that you can think about Him/Her/It more coherently.

First we look at how people handle the question of whether there is a God.

A. Some people, like Plantinga, argue that believing in God is "basic", that is, requires no proof or evidence because it is a fundamental feature of human experience that
experience that forms the ground for other experiences rather than being something that we have to prove after the fact. God is part of our scenery,
like our home or our dog, which also do not need proof.
The nub of this argument is that God is real if sand only if He is part of our everyday lives. He cannot be proven real by arguments; or, such a God
is of little or no use because He exists as a non-functioning abstraction.

Problems with this approach: even though Plantinga argues that believing in God as basic and not needing to be proved is not the same as
believing in the Great Pumpkin, because experiencing the latter as part of one's life is just not something that really comes up, he does not
thereby cover the issue of what we think when someone's basic God is one who demands that he fly planes into buildings or shoot doctors who
perform abortions or punish the rich and powerful with death. Nor is this basic God a jealous one who requires that all infidels be converted,
enslaved or killed. The problem here is that there have been some pretty frightening Gods who otherwise sane people have really believed
to be basic, and there seems nothing in the experience of God as basic that requires Him to be loving and even-handed and tolerant.

The second big problem is that the basic God cannot be a public God, because one of the conditions of the basic God is that He not
be the abstract entity whose existence can be publicly proven or disproven. The God of personal experience remains that - a God of
personal experience.  This can become problematic when what that basic God requires is a change in public law or policy that runs counter to
democratic principles or human rights or the rights of minorities.

The best thing about the approach is that it realistically depicts how many people relate to God - as an everyday reality who helps guide them through difficult times.

B. Other people, like William James, consider the question of God in a purely practical way, and somewhat surprisingly, but perhaps correctly,
argue that the truth about something like God's existence is not a matter of evidence but of use. Whereas Plantinga says that we do not have
to prove God because He is basic to our everyday existence, James, assuming that people are more skeptical, argues that even though God's
existence cannot be either proved or disproved, we have a moral obligation to will His existence because under the God description life makes a great
deal more sense. Plantinga sees God as a basic component of experience; James sees God as something we will into existence, not so much
because He is "there" but in the sense that we need Him to be there, and His absence is morally unacceptable. But for James, if the evidence weighed
against God's existence, willing Him to exist would be more problematic. So, for James, but not for Plantinga, the question of God's existence is a real question.

The problem with this approach is that James suspends the ordinary sense of truth; he wants to substitute the idea that in this case and others the
truth is what we make it to be, what pleases us. I think that this is a defensible position in some cases, but I am nervous about willing something
to be true because we cannot prove it to be true. It might even be better to assert that belief in God makes practical sense irrespective of its
public truth or falsehood. This is the sense of 'true' that James uses when he writes about creating truths in relationships and in communities:
we literally make truth happen in those cases by creating a truth that did not exist before. He seems unwilling to do this with the case of God, and
offers a very suspect argument because of it.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>