Three articles appear below:
         
          1   Why Do Some Of Us Still Believe in  God?

          2   Belief in God

          3   Why Believe in God? Reply to Dr Potter




WHY DO SOME OF US STILL BELIEVE IN GOD?

(Investigator 153, 2013 November)


What follows was inspired by receiving an electronic 'meeting announcement' from the Adelaide branch of Reasonable Faith (27/7/13), advertising a speaker at one of their future meetings, reading in part:

"Rev Chris Jolliffe is a pastor at Holy Trinity Anglican and oversees the 'lifeworks' programs, including marriageworks and parentworks. Ask Chris how he became a Christian, and he'll say, 'It all began with the axe-murder of the lady across the road'. True!"

Clearly Rev. Chris believes he understands his 'conversion' to Christ — we can probably safely assume his overall faith in the supernatural (including some sort of 'God'), preceded this grisly event. However, one precondition must be emphasized – had both Chris Jolliffe and the axe murderer lived in any remote Indian, Chinese or any other primitive village, totally isolated from Christian contact, his experience may still have induced a 'conversion experience', but completely unrelated to 'Christianity'. (Visions of Mary, 'the immaculate conception', may have appeared in Lourdes, but never in the barely habited wastelands of Tibet; Krishna never appeared before Native Americans in the days preceding the arrival of the Christian Columbus!)

Let's move onto the broader question 'why do people believe in God?'   

Readers of Investigator are bombarded with articles from several writers, exploring such matters as 'Kant's arguments for the existence of God' and the contributions on this and similar topics from Leibniz, Hume and more contemporary philosophers; many of the same arguments regurgitated in the writings, speeches and videos of William Lane Craig (who almost inevitably gets a mention whenever Kevin Rogers hits his keyboard!). Readers will be familiar with the regular broadsides defending 'Kalam Cosmological' and 'Fine Tuning' arguments ….

Let's get back to basics. Why do people still believe in God? If we were to ask this question of Kevin Rogers and his ilk, we'd expect no lack of answers to the question, but all these answers will suffer from one major defect. Although they should ante-date the belief; all post-date it!

The belief existed aeons before anyone ever thought of Ontological, Cosmological and/or Teleological arguments! No living man or woman believes in God because of any such argument. These arguments have never been reasons for belief in God, historically or individually; arguments that are powerless for a person already 'a believer', although, perhaps for a person beginning to waver in his convictions, maybe offering sufficient justification to continue in his or her faith. To a non-believer, arguments that carry no weight.

It's all very self-evident. Consider the logic for yourself; the various arguments from causation, design, necessary existence, etc, — at what age are these concepts intellectually and logically meaningful to the developing human mind?

Now consider the age at which men and women begin to believe in a deity – a 'heavenly father? Leaving aside, for the moment, the question of culture, long before a child is old enough to appreciate the logic of Kalam (and like) arguments, the child has already become a believer. To assume the average 'theist', whose philosophy is probably taken from a combination of reading the Adelaide Advertiser and sermons listened to as a child, derives convictions from a series of abstruse logical arguments is simply ridiculous. Honest individuals will admit being taught their 'belief' long before being old enough to bring any real criticism to bear upon it – it remains a relic of their early upbringing, impressed upon them by parents/teachers/role models; all the subsequent 'logical reasons' produced in justification being no more than 'pleas' to the listener's subconscious not to disturb still-treasured childhood loyalties.

Belief in God, or Gods, belongs to very early forms of human society; primitive peoples have it long before they have the slightest inkling of what we today consider a 'scientific' view; no Investigator reader would argue these early beliefs resulted from 'belief in universal causation', or 'fine tuning'!? Belief in God meets every newcomer in a social arena, varying from society to society – it is only when the belief is challenged by opposing systems of thought that philosophical theories are elaborated in its defence. The reported behaviours of Zeus, Krishna, Osiris and Jahweh reflect the perceived worlds of their adherents – in each of these cases a 'human centred' universe where the entire 'creation' consisted of 'lights' in the night sky, positioned as cosmetic embellishments; in striking contrast to the universe of today.

Primitive man struggled along in a world of which (from our 'more modern' viewpoint) he was completely ignorant. The one certain thing was it was a living world, consisting of a wind that roared, a thunder that growled, lightning that hurled bolts to earth, diseases that left him mysteriously stricken (in Australian folklore, individuals never just 'died' – a malignant 'force' was responsible). The division of these 'living forces' into good and bad followed naturally from the initial characterization of their nature. Whatever the stages of that process (research suggests a multitude of avenues) there is no question of their main lines, nor of the conditions that brought these gods into existence. Scholars may disagree in the details, but no honest and informed individual can seriously question the veracity of such origins of the various gods; indeed evidence of the origin of volcano-god, Jahweh, remains in accounts of those following 'clouds of smoke by day, fire by night' (Ex. 13: 21)!

We have belief in God with us today for the same reason we have in our bodies a number of rudimentary structures – as one is reminiscent of an earlier stage of existence, so is the other. To use the expressive phrase of Winwood Reade (of Thinker's Library fame), we have 'tailed minds' as well as 'tailed bodies'.  Belief in God meets each newcomer to the human species because it is part of their upbringing; thrust upon them before they are old enough to offer effective resistance in the shape of acquired knowledge that would render its lodgement in the mind impossible.  Subsequently, social power and prestige are loaded in its favour (albeit to a lesser extent in most of today's civilized world), while mental inertia and self-interest often add force to maintaining existing social structures.

Overall, today's world remains tremendously ignorant of the surrounding universe; what we know of our surroundings remains largely our own 'intellectual creation' of 'more practical' hypotheses. Compared with our ancestral 'god creations', they tend to be recognized as somewhat 'out of date' as soon as they are published. Whereas our predecessors may have explored whether or not prayer, or human sacrifice, might better provide a means for obtaining a better harvest, researchers today have potentially created new 'problems' to puzzle about given today's increased understanding of our universe. A month ago, I was reading of 'fears' related to the constellation of Sagittarius (the archer), distant from us by eight thousand light years, where a binary star system (two massive stars) is engaged in an orbiting 'death dance'. These stars, both twenty times the size of our own sun, are living on 'borrowed time'; one will 'soon' collapse, resulting in the emission of gamma radiation, likely to ensure no life will be possible on earth as soon as 500,000 years hence.  Provided our descendants are still about, will the colossal advances that must be made in science, enable measures to prevent an Armageddon of this magnitude?  

Bear in mind, no modern scientist takes the 6,000 years of Biblical creation seriously! – modern technology places the 'creation' of our universe some 13.81 billion years ago. At best, homo sapiens might date half a million years; the human-centred universe conceived by the numerous 'prophets', who helped develop the world's religions, would certainly have had their self-images drastically reduced in size and importance had they been alive today, working in the field of astro-physics. That's just for starters: is our universe just one bubble of existence in an infinite bubbleverse (as convincingly suggested by Stephen Hawkins)? Hardly the frame of reference Isaiah had in mind, when he talked of the 'circle of the earth' (Is. 40:22); nor celestial image of the earlier scribes detailing those 'six days' of creation. Today, we know life in the earth's oceans existed 200 million years before the arrival of oxygen, currently the lifeblood of all living things (something Paul Davies took on board in his The Origin of Life (1998).

God is a very 'out of date' concept!

BOB POTTER



 




Belief in God

By Kevin Rogers

(Investigator 154, 2014 January)


I refer to Bob Potter's article (#153) "Why do some of us still believe in God?"

Firstly the title of Bob's article is misleading. Bob seems to be inferring that belief in God belongs to a vanishing minority. This inference is false. Only about 2% of the world's population are atheists. The other 98% are either agnostic or believe in a God of some sort. Now much of that other belief may be pretty weird, but belief in a God of some sort is the norm. So, the more natural question is, "Why do some people not believe in God?"

Bob initially refers to the experience of a friend of mine (Chris Jolliffe) whose conversion was initially prompted by an axe murder in a neighbour's house. Crises certainly do prompt people to reconsider the big issues of life. In Chris's case it caused him to turn towards Christianity.

Bob's point was that the answer to which a person will turn is culturally dependent. I expect this is true to a large degree. However, that is a double edged sword. Bob is an atheist. However, he lives in a modern western secular society. Atheism is considered a plausible option within that culture, but had Bob been born in another time or culture, it would be highly unlikely that Bob would be an atheist. We are all products of our culture and Bob is just as much a product of culture as anyone else. The issue is not whether we can provide a psychological explanation for our belief, but whether that belief is actually true. In Chris' case, he was predisposed to turn to a Christian solution. However, he deliberately chose subjects at university that would test out his faith to see if it was true; and, as a result, he concluded that it was.

Bob then moves onto a broader issue. What role do arguments play in the formation of our beliefs? Bob's point is that belief in God precedes arguments for God's existence, both historically within cultures and also within each person's experience.

Historically this is certainly true of the Ontological Argument (OA). The OA was first conceived by Anselm in the 11th century. It is highly original and we have no record of anyone having thought of it before. In its modern form the essence of the argument is "If it is possible that a necessary being exists, then a necessary being must exist." A necessary being is a being that exists necessarily. Think about it. The argument is logical. The only issue is whether it is possible that a necessary being exists. Anyway, with reference to the OA, Bob is right. People believed in God way before the OA was thought of and most children believe in God without any awareness of the OA.

What about the cosmological and teleological (design) arguments? Here Bob's case is less convincing. These arguments are at least as old as Socrates. They are obvious and intuitive. People have always believed in God as an answer to the questions, "Who made the world?" and "Who designed the world?" If a person does not ask these questions, then they should. They are obvious and natural. Aristotle argued that belief in God or gods is natural for a person who does not take things for granted. The historically developed and modern forms of these arguments are just formalisms of natural human intuition.

Bob argues that belief in God is a result of upbringing. However, in my case I was not brought up in a believing home. My mother was a hard-nosed agnostic. She believed that certainty on these matters was impossible, certainly for her son. Why should her son know when she didn't? My father believed in Nostradamus (say no more). Despite my mother's position she sent me to Sunday school to give me exposure to the beliefs that she had rejected as a teenager. As a child, I believed in God, probably mainly due to that Sunday school influence.

At the age of 14, I was converted, and that is when the trouble started. I was immediately assailed by doubts about the existence of God. I believed in God until I became a Christian. I was the nerd at school. I was (and still am) intensely interested in science and mathematics and I assumed that everything occurred in a deterministic fashion in accordance with the laws of physics. There was no place in my thinking processes for the supernatural. And yet I wanted God to exist! How else could there be meaning in life? At this point, Bob may well observe that my belief is due to wish fulfilment rather than evidence.

Over the next week I constructed 13 reasons why I believed in God. I took them along to the next Sunday school class and shared them with my teacher and fellow students. I regret that I did not keep that list. I would probably laugh at it now. However, I am sure that the essence of the cosmological and teleological arguments figured strongly within that list. At that time I developed all of these arguments on my own, with no reference to any outside authority, let alone William Lane Craig.

Bob argues that belief in God originally was derived as an answer to questions that could not then be answered. However, science has now progressed and has provided those missing answers. Thus belief in God is reliant on the God of the gaps, and those gaps are constantly being bridged. So belief in God is the vestige of a bygone era. According to Bob, belief in God is out of date. However, has science buried God? I don't believe this is so. In many cases, scientific support for theism is not decreasing; it is increasing. Here are some examples.

In response to the cosmological argument, atheists traditionally have argued that the universe is past-eternal. Thus it had no beginning and hence no need of a creator. Previously, there were philosophical reasons why this is impossible. However, in recent years the origin of the physical world has received scientific confirmation. It is now widely accepted that the physical realm is not past eternal and had a beginning.

Evolutionary theory seeks to explain the appearance of design in the living world. Atheists formerly presumed that design was not a big issue in the non-living world. This is epitomized by Richard Dawkins' claim in page 1 of The Blind Watchmaker, "Physics is the study of simple things that do not tempt us to invoke design." The main thing wrong with his statement is that it is almost totally false. Physics is simpler than biology, but it is still not simple and it does tempt us to invoke design. During the last 50 years physicists have discovered that the laws of physics and the initial conditions in the universe are extraordinarily finely tuned to enable any form of life.

Charles Darwin assumed that the basic living cell is quite simple, like a blob of jelly, and that life arose spontaneously in a warm pool. However, later discoveries have revealed that even the simplest cells are enormously complex machines. A naturalistic explanation is not getting easier, it is getting much harder. Scientists are not so much discovering a solution to the problem as they are discovering how difficult the problem is.

So science is not a relentless march that is dispensing with God. On the contrary, it has reinforced the truth of the premises in the cosmological and teleological arguments. It is not a good idea to invoke God to plug gaps in our knowledge. Life may indeed have arisen naturally. However, if it did so, it would be miraculous that it could.

Atheists previously predicted that the universe was past-eternal and that science would explain the appearance of design. However, their prophecies failed; and yet they cling to their prior commitments. This is because people don't necessarily respond in a rational way.

I believe the arguments for God's existence are useful. They do cause some people to change their minds. If people are not convinced then this does not necessarily mean that the arguments are bad. It just may be that the hearer is not responding in a rational fashion. Most of us are given five senses and a brain. We are each responsible for the beliefs that we form and the decisions that we make based the information we receive. "To him who is given much; much is required." If we get it wrong, then that is our fault. I ought to present reasonable arguments, but I am not responsible for how people respond.

 I cannot recall Bob participating in any of our debates on the arguments for the existence of God but it is pretty obvious that Bob has a strong emotional commitment to atheism. Does Bob form his beliefs truthfully, based on reason and evidence? It is hard to tell, but that is his responsibility.






 


WHY BELIEVE IN GOD?
Reply to Dr Potter


Anonymous

(Investigator 154, 2014 January)


DESIGN

Dr Bob Potter (Investigator 153) says that conversion to Christianity requires prior knowledge about Christ and the Bible. Conversion doesn't happen in a "primitive village, totally isolated from Christian contact".

Potter is correct and the Bible agrees: "But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?" (Romans 10:14)

However, the same is true of other beliefs. If Potter had grown up "totally isolated from atheism" he wouldn't be so atheistic!

Dr Potter next ponders "Why people still believe in God":  "The belief existed aeons before anyone ever thought of Ontological, Cosmological and/or teleological arguments! No living man or woman believes in God because of such argument. These arguments have never been reasons for belief in God… long before a child is old enough to appreciate the logic…the child has already become a believer."

Contrary to Potter's claim, the design argument is probably why most believers believe in God. Many children learn a simple version from parents, something like: "The world is so big with so many wonderful things that a creator who is called 'God' must have started it all." The parent then mentions as many "wonderful things" as the child wants to know about. This is based on Romans 1:20 "Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made."

When children approach adulthood some investigate further and elaborate on the design argument. Some may see "design" not in the Universe as it appears now but in the laws of physics, including the "fine turning" of the "Big Bang", that produced what is now observed.

There are also atheists who grew up as atheists but became believers because the Universe seemed to them to be designed for intelligent life. This refutes Potter's claim that belief always precedes evidence since here belief in God followed evidence.

My preference is to add at least five other arguments to design and fine-tuning to produce an inductive and composite proof of God. (See God Exists II in #143)

Potter says that "primitive people" believed in gods "long before they had the slightest inkling of what we today consider a scientific view".

"Primitive" people left no written documents and therefore we don't know to what extent they used rational argumentation. Like us, however, they relied on their senses and this is the foundation of science. It would not be surprising if some of them noticed that complex natural cycles and regularities operated all around them and sustained them, and concluded that a God of limitless ability is behind it all.


VOLCANO GOD?

The Bible never calls Yahweh a "volcano god". For Dr Potter to derive such a label because a "pillar of cloud" by day and a "pillar of fire" at night accompanied the Israelite encampment is an error.

Richard Gabriel (2010) explains that the "column" of smoke and fire consisted of smoke or fire on a platter held aloft on a pole. This was used for signalling and to indicate the boundaries of the Israelite camp. Other ancient armies used similar methods.


ARGUMENTS ELABORATED

Potter says that the encountering of "opposing systems of thought" leads to "philosophical theories" in defence of God being elaborated.

I agree. Ongoing "elaboration" in evidence is necessary to counteract new "systems of thought" and new destructive rationalizations that keep appearing. The Bible teaches "The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse — who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) It teaches further that the whole world is deceived. (Revelation 12:9)

An obvious example of human proneness to deception is when the world's most educated and scientific nation almost destroyed itself.

In the 1940s seven million Germans died from war or its consequences, 8 million became refugees, and 25% of Germany's land-area was confiscated. Germany's rulers even schemed to destroy all Germany's remaining infrastructure — factories, railways, food supplies, everything — and retreat the entire population, without food or shelter, into central Germany to die. (Speer 1970; Shirer 1960) The rationalizations underpinning rejection of God and godly standards are without number and make it necessary to continually strengthen and clarify the evidence — in effect elaborate.


DANGEROUS UNIVERSE

Potter mentions a binary star system 8000 light years away which may collapse and destroy life on Earth with gamma radiation unless there are "colossal advances in science".

The Bible agrees that the Universe is dangerous. We see this from the catastrophic state of the Earth in Genesis 1:2ff; from the words "in the day that you eat of it you shall die"; from the "fire and brimstone" over Sodom and Gomorrah; and from the Ten Plagues of Egypt. This is why humans need God's guidance with the Bible stating "Trust in God with all your heart."

The Bible also teaches about an agenda to "bless all the nations of the earth" (Genesis 18:18), leading to worldwide prosperity and peace (Isaiah 2:1-4), salvation with eternal life (Revelation 21:1-4), when nothing will be impossible (Genesis 11:6), and humans rule all creation (Hebrews 2:5-9; Ephesians 2:7).

Advances in science and technology that point to such possibilities are therefore part of the proof of God, and the greater the progress in technology the greater is the reason to believe.


BUBBLEVERSE

Potter is impressed with Stephen Hawkins' "Bubbleverse" and feels that biblical illustrations of God's greatness, such as the "circle of the earth", are mediocre.

Firstly, the Bible writers wrote in terms familiar to people and no "Bubbleverse" was known.

Secondly, in Biblical Cosmology in #116 I pointed out that the following phrases imply that much more exists than humans observe:
•    Above the heavens (Psalm 108:4; 113:4);
•    Higher than the heavens (Psalm 8:1; 57:5,11; 108:5);
•    Above the stars (Isaiah 14:13; Nahum 3:16);
•    Heaven of the heavens (Psalm 68:33; I Kings 8:27)
•    [God's] "right hand spread out the heavens." (Isaiah 48:13)

The Bible also tells about an unseen supernatural world. If my equating the supernatural with extra dimensions (#121 & #123) turns out correct, then to God the entire Universe would be as small and simple as lower dimensional objects, such a fullstop on a page, appear to Dr Potter.


REFERENCES:

Gabriel, R.A. Israel's First Great General Moses, Military Chronicles, December 2010, pp 8-22
 
Investigator, Numbers 116; 121; 123

Shirer, W.L. The Rise And The Fall Of The Third Reich, Simon and Schuster, p. 1104

Speer, A. 1970 Inside The Third Reich, Macmillan, Chapter 30.



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