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.


intelligent design and the limits of analogy

When we argue that the universe is like a Rolex or an iTouch, in that all its many parts seem to fit together so well, and, further, that its sub-parts like the eye or the hawk or a banyan tree is each so well and carefully made to perform its function, we are making what is called an analogy.

An argument by analogy goes like this: I see an A, and if I pick up that A and throw it, it flies through the air and then lands with a thud. I see another thing that looks mighty like my first A; I reason by analogy that since the first A behaved in manner B, that this second A will do likewise.

Say that A is a stone I find on the ground while hiking along the 10 Freeway in West Covina. And A1 is another stone I find ten yards further on, a stone that looks about the same size and composition as the first. In this case I am justified in believing that if I pick A1 up and throw it, it will fly through the air about like A and land on the ground with a thud. But there are limits to analogical thinking.

First, have you ever strolled through Ikea or an office furniture store and picked up one of the computer monitors you see on the desks? These are mock monitors, lightweight fabrications of plastic with hollow cores. They look veyr much like actual monitors, at least on cursory inspection, but you could throw one of these things easily, whereas monitors, even the flat ones, weigh a few pounds at least. So  in this case superficial physical resemblance is not a good enough test.

The stone A1 could be a sham rock (pun intended) left behind by a film production company shooting a Beano commercial; it looks like a real stone but is a light plastic replica.

Things get even more strained if we go further. Are we secure in assuming that a stone of different chemical makeup, but of the same size and shape, will throw like my original? A pumice stone, or some lava, will be much lighter, and some stones will be much heavier despite a similar appearance.

Also, other kinds of objects that seem about the same size and shape as the stone -- play-do, dried animal feces, small rolls, etc., will also behave very differently when thrown.

The point is that we have to be very careful in assuming that some resemblance between two things means that they bear deeper similarities in cause or outcome.

Applying this to the Rolex/iTouch - world analogy - first, does the universe really resemble an iTouch so much that we can argue that if one requires an intelligent designer, the other must as well?

We note that the universe is a mix of organic and inorganic entities, and the iTouch certainly isn't. We note the sheer size difference, and the difference in longevity. We note that in the universe things come into beiong and pass away, in a way that the iTouch cannot match no matter how often we sync it.

We also note that the iTouch has to be plugged into a power source, whereas the universe seems to have its power source built in. And does it make any sense to say that the universe can 'break' or need a reset? There are deaths and star explosions and implosions and collisions and sunbursts and all manner of huge changes in the universe and as far we can tell it is, or might be, constantly expanding and contracting - properties that the iTouch does not exhibit.

There are sufficient dissimilarities of structure and behavior that we cannot make a clear decision about the likeness of the beings that planned the two. To make sure we would really have to witness an iTouch being planned and put together and then watch a typical universe being planned and put together. If we knew the right people we might get permissions to witness the first series of events but I have no idea whom we would contact to witness the second, and, besides, it all happened a long, long time ago. And, even if we could travel back to that beginning (if there even was one), where would we sit to watch, and how would we know what agency was making all this happen?


But let's put all that aside for the moment. Let's say we can somehow make the iTouch -universe analogy plausible, as we can more easily with the eye and the iTouch.

Now, even if assume that the two are comparable, and we see how the iTouch was created, and apply that to the universe, what we can come up with is this: there is one very focused governing intelligence that has a concept and wants a certain level of execution. What guides him are several interacting factors: availability of materials like screens and micro chips and solid state drives; availability of software programs sufficiently developed to perform the functions he envisions for the device; ability to marry software and hardware in a usable UI; stability and durability in the finished product; ability to bring this product to market at a certain price point; ability to offer support for the product after it ships and sells. There is more but I will leave the description at this simple level.

This guiding intelligence (Steven "God" Jobs) then assembles a huge staff of skilled people who have deep experience in making screens and writing code and developing UIs and doing quality control and so forth. Each set of people do a different task, and managers integrate their efforts.

Let's apply this to the universe. Under this description God is not all-powerful but all-planful. He depends on many other demigods who have a lot of previous experience making universes. So, the universe is not designed by one mind but by thousands, and the ultimate God is remote and depends on the powers of his subordinates.

Furthermore, we are talking about an ideal scenario -- the iTouch is wildly successful and has a simple single purpose that it fulfills brilliantly. But on one hand there have been many technological clunkers (Apple TV, the Newton, copying machines, etc.), and on the other we must under this description assume that this is only the latest in a string of universes.

Under the first condition, when we examine the waste and needless suffering, the deformities of body and spirit, the inherent instability of so many parts of the universe, we might want to suggest that if there is an intelligent designer for this universe than he or they are not very experienced, or they are not terribly bright, or they are tired and phoning it in, or they just don't care. This universe might not be an iTouch at all but a poorly designed Netbook with a way too small keyboard.

Second, if we take the experience and multiple designer ideas seriously we have to say that God has made many other universes and we really have to ask why? Universes are, we hope, not like iTouches - they are not made to be sold to any bozo with $200 to burn? If so, might we, our universe, have been sold to a real jerk who will break it or lose it or otherwise mistreat it?

And what is the point of monotheism? The Trinity comes closer to what we need and Greek or Hindu polytheism are even more adept models. If we want to talk about intelligent design why not talk about a whole raft of intelligent designers? And why not worship all of them?

I could go on - the point is simple. Making analogies between things that appear to maybe have a few features in common might, if we want the analogy to survive, require us to commit ourselves to all sorts of things we would otherwise reject as absurd - polytheism, inept gods, the selling of universes, and so forth.

I will leave you with a final unsettling thought: what if the universe is more like a cauliflower, or a trout, than it is like an iTouch?


Descartes and Identity

 When we discussed the existence of God, we were talking about thinkers whose conception of identity was entirely caught up in their larger identity as Christians and priests and humans. It is difficult to think back into this mind because we have little access to it since Descartes changed everything. In this world identity was a derivative function of membership in a larger whole that was in many ways more real than the individual. Reason, the Church, the priesthood, one's village or family, these were the sources of identity. This does not mean that people lacked an inner life, that they did not possess individual consciousnesses that had individual perspectives. They did, but not exactly in our sense. The individual consciousness always already existed before God; one was never really alone in a religious world because God was always already in there with you, an endless and unavoidable witness to all that one thought or felt or dreamed. Nothing was secret from God, and in that sense nothing was ultimately privater. Whatever God knew about you the priest could also know through the sacrament of penance in which all the inner life of the individual was laid bare for judgment and forgiveness.

It is important to see this link between having an identity and seeking forgiveness. The individual was the site of transgression, of sin, and to be an individual meant that one had to be forgiven for something. It was only when one was entirely in agreement with God's and the Church's laws, that is when one had a minimum of identity, when one had become the vessel of God's will, that one was right. Increases in righteousness meant increases in personal emptiness.

Descartes changed the rules of this game. Instead of a self always in the presence of God, and a function of this relstionship, Descartes disocovers/ invents a self that defines itself without reference to God,  one that defines itself even as it doubts whether God is a deceiver. This self, the thinking thing or 'res cogitans', thinks, wills, desires, judges, reflects - does all the things we think of individual consciousness as doing --  and does so by itself, in privacy, without reference to anyone or anything else.



We will focus on Descartes' 'hyperbolic' doubt, or, exaggerated, total doubt. Descartes begins his thinking with the question of whether he can trust any of the things he believes. The frame is that he realizes that



Thomas Aquinas provides five proofs for God's existence; actually there are four proofs because two fold into each other.


The four proofs:

1 and 2. Cause and Motion

3. Contingency and Necessity

4. Degrees of Perfection

5. Teleology


1 and 2.  Cause and Motion

First it is important to understand that Aquinas' proofs were not composed in an age of doubt or disinterest. When Aquinas rote virtually everyone believed in God and was Catholic (or Jewish or Moslem, depending on what part of the Western world you lived in.

Believing in God then was different from what it is now. God as everywhere; there were typically 100 religious holidays a year, and people lived in an atmosphere of images of saints and Mary and Jesus. 

Proofs of God were hardly relevant to most people, most of whom were illiterate in any event. So, why did Aquinas bother to do this and what did he mean by it?

Aquinas was both a priest and an intellectual, a member of a university faculty. Priests are people who have been given the power to perform sacraments, that is to connect 'civilians' with God through enacting certain rituals. They are already God's agents, or service reps or officers, so to speak, so proving that their boss exists is something that would never occur to most of them. 

What then is up? Aquinas, I think, resembles a Silicon Valley techie in the early days of computer and internet development. He has this very cool tool -- human reason, logic, argument, definitions - and he ants to test it, to see how far he can get using it. This was an age of faith and tradition. People for the most part did not travel. They were born, lived and died in the same place doing the same things and they lived and died in the religion of their ancestors and lived according to village rules and traditions. 

Aquinas however lived in am ore cosmopolitan world, that of the university, where educated clerics spoke and wrote in a common, highly valued language, Latin, the language of civilization and the past. The five proofs, and all philosophical writing, was done in Latin until at least the seventeenth century.

The Proofs:


Aquinas picks out features of the world that any educated person might notice. These features tend to be universal - they occur everywhere and everywhen - and they are features that seem necessary for their to be a world at all. So the features are universal and necessary. 

He uses these features to make an argument that asks how these features could possibly be features of the world unless there were some further feature to account for them. The proof strategy is to say: 'We always have this; but if we always have this, must we not also always have this other? Example: if you lift weights regularly your muscle strength will increase and you will look more toned. The lifting causes the toning and the strength to increase. Conversely if you stop lifting and do nothing to compensate you lose tone and strength.

Here is what Aquinas does: he says that every event that has ever occurred has to have some cause or other. He means that things don't just happen. People don't just get more toned or stronger for no reason. We don't all of a sudden know how to play a mean lead guitar; that requires practice. And so forth.

So, if every event has a cause, and if we trace events back, looking for the cause of each cause, we will eventually get back to the very first event in a series of causes. (Think of Adam and Eve, the first human parents. There had to be a first set of identifiably human parents, and when we get to them we ask, what caused them?)

At some point, says Aquinas, we need to stop seeking earlier causes for things unless we want to say that events go back and back and never have a starting point. Did the universe, for example, have to be caused or has it always been there? And even if it has, did it just spring into existence by itself?

Aquinas answers that an infinite regress of causes really does not explain anything; we still have to ask what caused the first event, for example, the universe, to be there at all.

And the only anser to this question for Aquinas is that there must be a first cause, a cause that begins the series; and that cause clearly cannot itself by caused by something other than itself. So, there must be a first, self-caused cause.

Aquinas says that we can call this first self-causing cause, God. 


The proof from motion resembles the proof from causation. In the motion proof Aquinas argues that since everything that is moved must be moved by something other than itself there has to be a first, unmoved or self-moving mover to start the series of movements in the first place. 

This unmoved first mover we call God.

 3. Contingency and Necessity

The third proof, from contingency, operates on a different premise. Here Aquinas focuses on a feature that everything has rather than on something that happens to everything.

The feature that interests Aquinas is the fact that everything that exists can be thought of as not existing. This is a little abstract but he does have a point. He means that we cannot think of anything that exists as absolutely having to exist, including the universe itself. We can conceive - think in a purely abstract way - nothingness, the non-occurrence of the universe.  Or we can think of a universe that is slightly or very different from the one in which we live. 

The point is, for anything that exists we can imagine its non-existence without contradicting ourselves. But if everything that exists might not have existed, the truth is that all sorts of things, including the whole universe, do exist, and if these non-necessary things that do not have to exist do exist then there must be some necessary existence, something hose very nature it is, to exist, that exists to account for the existence of all the non-necessary things. Without the necessary existent there is no explanation for the existence of all the non-necessary existents. 

 4. Degrees of Perfection

The fourth proof, from degrees of perfection, again takes a common feature that all things possess and have to possess and asks where that feature comes from. In this  case the feature is something we are dimly aware of but do not think about that much -- namely, a thing's perfection. 

Everything, says Aquinas, has some degree of perfection, which means that it is a more-or-less good instance of what it is. Cell phones, cars, jeans all have degrees of perfection. Many things fall short, and we both know this and say it -- "This phone would be perfect if it only had turn-by-turn GPS'; of course once it comes out with that feature we say, 'This phone would be perfect if it only had a 6 megapixel camera, or HD video, or this or that." Or, rarely but not never, we might even say, 'Y'know, this phone is perfect for my purposes'. But not the qualifier: ' for my purposes'. We have an idea of what a perfect cell phone would be and sometimes there are phones that fit our requirements perfectly. But we also know that being a perfect cell phone never means that this is a perfect vehicle, or mate, or pair of shoes. Being perfect is hard, but the interesting thing is we all seem to know, most often without being able to specify, what being perfect means. And we know this because we know with utter certainty that the things we have are most often not perfect at all.

But just the fact that we all have an idea of perfection, and know that the things we have are either imperfect or perfect as a this or a that without being perfect in every way, means that all of us come already equipped with an idea of perfection, an idea that we can apply to every different kind of thing. If we have such an idea, Aquinas argues, it must be because there is an absolute perfection, something perfect in itself and in every way, that serves as a benchmark or standard for all our local and particular judgments about the perfection or imperfection of this or that thing.

The idea is, we could not make judgments about relative perfection unless we already possessed a universal standard of perfection and possessing this standard means that there must be something perfect, of hich we have an idea already, to provide the baseline for all our judgments.

Therefore there is a perfect being and we call that being God.  


 5. Teleology


The word 'teleology' means the study of ends, or goals, or purposes. In Aquinas' world there was a belief that everything had its own proper purpose or end built in; the 'job' that each thing had was to become what it was meant to be. For example, a flower was meant to bud and bloom, a fox to hunt, a blade of grass to grow, a stone to rest unmoved on the ground. 

The Aquinian world was therefore a collection of objects each of which had a built-in end or purpose. Under this description the world as a whole also had a telos or goal, as a world. What do I mean? Aquinas believed that when we look at our world we see a myriad (lots) of things, each with its own internal structure and purpose, its way of fulfilling what it is; but we also see, remarkably, all these different things working together so that, in fulfilling their individual destinies, they are also creating an overall order for the world. The air allows us to breathe; budding grain feeds us; our organs sustain our lives; the ground holds us up. Thus, each element inb the world, in doing its own thing, also makes it easier for other things to do their thing. The world is like a carefully constructed machine or organism, and this remarkable level of order suggests strongly that there was some intelligence designing each thing, as well as the interactions of things, to produce maximum mutual support. Such harmony makes no sense as an accident.


So, the world must have an intelligent designer and we call this being, God.