If I Believed in God

(I’ve been quiet on the blog front for a while now, mainly because I have an insane number of essays to write for college. On top of that, I’ve been continuously ill for going on two weeks now – I’m coughing my lungs up as a I type. There’s plenty I want to write on, but unfortunately it will have to wait for a while.)

Theists frequently assume that belief in God will inevitably lead to belief in a particular religion. (Very often it’s their religion.) why they assume this is beyond me, since believing in God as a philosophical proposition certainly does not automatically lead one to believe that, say, Jesus Christ died and came back to life. I’ve had many people attempt to convert me in my time, and they frequently begin with one of the traditional arguments for the existence of God as laid out by Aquinas (the ‘five ways’), or some modern variation thereof. What they fail to realise is that convincing me or any other atheist of the existnce of an unmoved mover or an uncaused cause is not the same thing as convincing us that the Bible is true or that a whole host of associated supernatural entities exist. With that in mind, I give you a brief, hypothetical look at how belief in God would change my opinion on other, related matters.

If I believed in God:

I would not believe in the divinity of Jesus, Mohammad, Noah, or any other figure from a sacred text. There is no reason to assume that because some sort of god exists, the various stories and myths found within any particular holy book must therefore be true.

I would still accept the theory of evolution, unless the argument which convinced me of the existence of God was based upon said theory being flawed or otherwise completely unable to explain the diversity of life. (Note that such an argument would have to do two things for this scenario to come about: convince me that God exists and convince me that evolution does not occur; the latter does not necessarily imply the former.)

I would still accept that the universe is billions of years old and that the Earth most likely came to be through entirely naturalistic forces, unless the argument which lead me to believe in God was based upon the age of the universe or the Earth being wrong. (This one carries the same warning as above.)

I would still not believe in the soul or that humanity is inherently ‘unique’, unless the argument which convinced me of God’s existence was based upon proving that this is the case.

I would still not believe in any sort of afterlife.

I would still believe that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are concepts created entirely by humans, and that they are inherently subjective.

I would probably not ascribe to God some of the traditional ‘divine attributes’ (personhood, perfect goodness, simplicity etc.) popularised by Aquinas and others, although this of course would depend on the kind of argument that would convince me of God’s existence in the first place.

I would almost certainly need some sort of scientific backing for a belief in God. In other words, I am more likely to be swayed by a teleological or cosmological type argument than an ontological one.

I would still not hold my beliefs (religious or otherwise) dogmatically, and would be perfectly willing to revise my belief in God if I discovered new evidence that contradicted it.

In short, my life really wouldn’t change all that much.

13 Responses to If I Believed in God

  1. jeffsdeepthoughts says:

    I totally agree with you. If someone simply convinced me that there was an entity that made the universe, it wouldn’t really change much.
    I think that there are two necessary things to convince a skeptic. After that, pretty much everything else tumbles like dominoes in terms of changing lives.
    First of course, is that such a being exists.
    You’re probably aware that the folks we call deists believed that God made the world and then stepped away from it. All they were convinced of is that God exists. He didn’t make much of a claim on their lives.

    Secondly, it would be necessary to convince you (or anybody else) that God is love (or loving)

    The fact that God is loving implies that he wants to know us and wants us to know him. It would seem a reasonable assumption that the way in which this would happen would be through a religious tradition.

    The fact that love is a divine attribute elevates our human capacity to love. To whatever extent that the soul is the part of us that makes love possible, this high lights the soul. But perhaps more persuasively, it’s hard to imagine that God would love us for just a hundred years or so and then be content to let us not exist for eternity after we die.

    Most people who subscribe to a religious tradition that I know of (including myself) are willing to revise their beliefs, believe in evolution, and agree with the mainstream scientifically determined age of the universe. I don’t think this is stuff that would have to change.

  2. forknowledge says:

    The fact that God is loving implies that he wants to know us and wants us to know him. It would seem a reasonable assumption that the way in which this would happen would be through a religious tradition.

    Ah, hang on. I wrote an essay for my philosophy of religion class a few days ago that challenged these assumptions (in the context of the ‘fine-tuning’ argument). While I’m well aware that many philosophers throughout history have tried to show that God exists and is moral (or is ‘ultimate goodness’ or is ‘loving’, although that one seems to be more theological in nature), I’ve yet to seea convincing argument for it. I really don’t see any reason why a god could exist and have no interest in us whatsoever. The idea that god must desire to communicate with humans is really just extreme anthropocentrism. While I can see why it might make sense that one conscious being would want to communicate with others (particularly if it created those ‘others’), I would also point out that this hypothetical being would likely ‘think’ in a way very different to us.

    I also have a lot of trouble believing that any currently existing religious tradition represents communication from such a deity. Surely any deity who wanted to communicate with us that much would do so in a more obvious way, particularly if it wanted to have a ‘personal’ relationship with individual humans? I’m sure you realise that, to the non-believer, the monotheisms of the world could be a lot clearer in their claims to divine communication.

  3. jeffsdeepthoughts says:

    I’m not disagreeing with you, here, though perhaps I was unclear.

    In order for a life to be transformed, I don’t think it would be enough for that person to simply know that God exists. In order for a life to be transformed (and several of the premises you list in your post contradicted) I think somebody would have to believe both:
    A) That God exists.
    and
    B) that God is loving.

    I don’t think it’ll be a particularly easy task to convince most people of either A) or B) through argumentation. I just don’t think words get us very far.

    More later

  4. forknowledge says:

    Interesting. Do you think there’s anything apart from (for example) the Bible that could convince someone that God is loving? I know that people have suggested several lines of evidence via observation, but all of them have seemed rather shaky to me.

  5. jeffsdeepthoughts says:

    I want to be transparent about a dilemna experienced by theists.
    The dilemna is this:
    If we suggest that experiences of God are mostly subjective, it’s pretty reasonable for somebody to say “Oh yeah? So I’m just supposed to take your word for it?”
    On the other hand, if we suggest that these experiences are universal, we’re effectively suggesting that atheists are in denial of some pretty critical pieces of information. We end up having to say “You know God is real, you’re just denying it to yourself.”
    This would be a non-issue, we could just let everybody live however they want, except that it appears that the consequences for not believing are pretty harsh, and it appears that we’re supposed to spread the good news about what we believe.

    Here’s how I rectify this tension:

    I have faith that God is loving and infinitely just. I can’t honestly speak to anyone else’s experiences. Based on what I read in the scriptures, based on my personal experiences, based on my research, it seems really likely to me that there is still, small voice inside of us that says “God is love. Jesus had something unique going on.”
    Because I believe God is incredibly loving, it seems to me that he will hold people accountable in direct proportion to how irrestible that voice is.

    Do I have evidence to convince someone that God is loving?
    I guess in a way, I’m saying, “I don’t know.” I think it counts for something that love is an experience that is highly valued across societies and religious traditions. Some people believe there is lots that all the religious traditions have in common. After extensive study I have decided that I think that they are wrong. Love is just about the only common denominator.

    Furthermore, love is valued by atheists and agnostics, across cultures and centuries.
    Is this shaky evidence?
    Maybe.

    Scripture itself states that the truths about God are visible in the world itself, to people who have never heard of Jesus. Because I have found so much in scripture to be so deeply and incredibly true, I’m willing to take the rest with out personal verification.
    (IT’s a bit like this: Consider Stephen Hawking. Though I disagree with Stephen Hawkings theology, I’m fascinated by his cosmological observations. I can keep up with him for a while, through the easier books. At some point, though, he shoots over my head. When he’s speaking as a scientist, I’m willing to take his word for it, in these areas, because he’s demonstrated his basic reliabality.)

  6. Luke Maggard says:

    Wow thats interesting, you say… “I would still accept the theory of evolution, unless the argument which convinced me of the existence of God was based on said theory being flawed or otherwise.”
    I bet i can do it! (ish)
    I may not be able to make you believe in God, but i can beat up the theory of Macro-evolution, and thats not because i hate the theory, but i strongly disagree with it, because, of the lack of evidence, and logical fallacies built into it.
    First, in order for evolution to work, you have to over come the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which says, everything tends toward choes.
    Now i’ve heard atheist try to use the argument that you can over come it by adding energy, and thats crazy, the only thing that can take energy and convert it to something useful are plants, and they are extremely complexe, adding pure energy to anything else is destructive.
    And the the first law, that says “matter can not be created or destoryed”, now with creation you have not problem, because God created everything, evolution you have to create new matter, and that relates to mutations.
    Mutations in every instance are harmful, there are no real instances where they help anything…at all.
    But yet this, is how they say we got to be as evolved as we are.
    And they say that there is a missing link, and that is logical, if the theory is true, but if it is true, and we did evolve, than why aren’t there a bunch of these skulls, and bones every where?
    Thats the part thats not logical at all.
    Now if a person want to study this, and believe it thats fine, but it is not, a fact at all.
    Any way this all may seem mean, but its hard to tell someone that they are wrong and seem nice, but i’m only doing it out of kindness.

    Yours respectfuly
    Luke Maggard

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  8. Nick says:

    “First, in order for evolution to work, you have to over come the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which says, everything tends toward choes.”

    The 2nd law deals with entropy and closed systems. Disorder is not entropy and the earth is not a closed system.

    “Mutations in every instance are harmful, there are no real instances where they help anything…at all.”

    Not true. Most mutations are neutral, though, the fraction of the mutations that are actually significant, the majority do turn out to be harmful. The harmful mutations die off soon and the beneficial ones continue on because they add to the possibility to survival.

    Certain mutations in humans confer resistance to AIDS (Dean et al. 1996; Sullivan et al. 2001) or to heart disease (Long 1994; Weisgraber et al. 1983).
    -http://talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB101.html

    “And they say that there is a missing link, and that is logical, if the theory is true, but if it is true, and we did evolve, than why aren’t there a bunch of these skulls, and bones every where?”

    There are numerous transitional fossils. To expect to find every fossil is absurd and unrealistic. Fossils are relatively rare compared to how many organisms have lived, not every organism is going to make a fossil, a small amount do. We do have many fossils but were not going to find every single transition. That’s like trying to take family photos of when you were a child and compile them all in sequence up to your current age to show your physical change. Your not going to have a photo from every single day of your life showing your transition, just like your not going to have every single fossil showing every slight detail of change.

    “Now if a person want to study this, and believe it thats fine, but it is not, a fact at all.”

    I say the same for creationism, which is a faith based assertion. While evolution has evidence to validate its claim.

  9. Sirius says:

    Forknowledge,

    Did you just thatch the old faith versus fact straw man? It’s not about facts. Creationists and evos have the same facts: the same physics, math, universe, world, fossils, rocks, etc. Facts have to be interpreted; they are not self-explanatory. Guess what? Creationists and Darbots have different interpretations of the SAME EVIDENCE.

    Take homology: You see similarity of form and say that’s evidence for molecules-to-Mensa evolution. Creationists see homology as an example of design efficiencies [You don’t re-invent the wheel if a wheel works perfectly well for your needs].

    Or the fossil record: You darbots see the fossil record as evidence of fish-to-philosopher evolution. Creationists look at the fossil record and note, as the late arch-evo guru Gould did, that the fossil record doesn’t really evidence gradualism [traditional evo], but rather stasis and sudden appearance, concepts that line of with the Creationist concept of variation within fixed created kinds. Oddly, when evos like Gould do acknowledge that the fossil record doesn’t seem to support evolution, they don’t abandon the theory in light of observable fact; no, they adapt the theory to explain away the lack of evidence so that now evo happens by saltations. That’s faith based on the bald assertion that evo is true even if the evidence doesn’t seem to support it.

    I bring this up because you make the faithful assertion that there are numerous transitional fossils, but then you go on to make excuses for why you actually only have a handful of disputale candidates when the fossil record should be, by Darwin’s own admission, simply replete with them. [“The number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed, [must] be truly enormous” – Origins]. Darwin blamed the “extreme imperfection” of the geological and fossil record and was confident that if we found more fossils they would form a more perfect picture that would confirm his theory. And here we are with a handful of disputable candidates that could as well be mosaics like the red panda, the platypus or the pronghorn. Gould refered to Archaeopteryx as a “curious mosaic.” The thing about mosaics, which we acknowledge in observable biology, is that they do not possess partially-formed transitional structures or traits; the structures and traits they share of several different creatures are fully formed. Tiktaalik, Acanthostega, archaeocetes and mammal-like reptiles are all likely mosaics. Incidentally, evolutionists use mosaics in a rather ala cart fashion, choosing ones they think would make good links and ignoring ones like the red panda and the pronghorn that make the wrong links according to their theory. Alternately, some have taken a page from Gould’s playbook and proposed “modular evolution” to explain away the lack of partially-formed transitional traits an evo would intuitively expect to find. Lo, I have not seen such faith, not in all Christendom!

    btw, your photo analogy is flawed. We know people grow up. We’ve observed it. We’ve experienced it. We’ve seen that these transitions do in fact take place, so we can rightfully connect the dots where no photos exist. Evolution has persistent gaps both in the fossil record and observable biology and has never been observed otherwise. To connect the dots therefor requires faith on your part that what you assert actually happened, even though the evidence equally supports [maybe even better supports] special creation with variation within created kinds.

    Cause ya gotta have faith, a-faith, a-faith!

    As for whether you would change if you believed in God, well… if you believed in a fuzzy undefined deity, no, it probably wouldn’t change, It would after all be a deity of your own imagination and would be subject to the limits you placed upon it. False gods are usually safe. If you met the God who is, the true and living God, well, that leaves a mark. Trust me.

    -Sirius Knott

  10. Polytheism is a system of theology which believes in many gods. It has been claimed by unbelievers and by many evolutionists that all men were first polytheists and then evolved to monotheism. But the Bible shows that polytheism is a product not of evolution but devolution and degeneration. The idea found in evolution that monotheism, or the belief in one God, is a refinement of polytheism is contrary to the record of the Bible and even recent discoveries archaeologically. Scripture shows that polytheism is the product of man turning away from God and is specifically related to the deceptions of Satan as it is found in the false religions of the world. Polytheism is in no way similar to the biblical doctrine of the trinity which teaches that God is three in personality, but one in essence.

  11. Zorg says:

    Of course you can believe in God or higher power without having to subscribe to any particular religion, however it would also be unwise not to have an open mind and an objective approach to try and find out about these religions.
    I am not at all suggesting that you need to adhere to any religion, I am merely suggesting to keep an open mind on everything, Science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God.

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