Arguments Why God (Very Probably) Exists
The question of whether a god exists is heating up in the 21st century. According to a Pew survey, the percent of Americans having no religious affiliation reached 23 percent in 2014. Among such “nones,” 33 percent said that they do not believe in God – an 11 percent increase since only 2007.
Such trends have ironically been taking place even as, I would argue, the probability for the existence of a supernatural god has been rising. In my 2015 book, “God? Very Probably: Five Rational Ways to Think about the Question of a God,” I look at physics, the philosophy of human consciousness, evolutionary biology, mathematics, the history of religion and theology to explore whether such a god exists. I should say that I am trained originally as an economist, but have been working at the intersection of economics, environmentalism and theology since the 1990s.
Laws of Math
In 1960 the Princeton physicist – and subsequent Nobel Prize winner – Eugene Wigner raised a fundamental question: Why did the natural world always – so far as we know – obey laws of mathematics?
As argued by scholars such as Philip Davis and Reuben Hersh, mathematics exists independent of physical reality. It is the job of mathematicians to discover the realities of this separate world of mathematical laws and concepts. Physicists then put the mathematics to use according to the rules of prediction and confirmed observation of the scientific method.
But modern mathematics generally is formulated before any natural observations are made, and many mathematical laws today have no known existing physical analogues.
Einstein Memorial, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C. Wally Gobetz, CC BY-ND
Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity, for example, was based on theoretical mathematics developed 50 years earlier by the great German mathematician Bernhard Riemann that did not have any known practical applications at the time of its intellectual creation.
In some cases, the physicist also discovers the mathematics. Isaac Newton was considered among the greatest mathematicians as well as physicists of the 17th century. Other physicists sought his help in finding a mathematics that would predict the workings of the solar system. He found it in the mathematical law of gravity, based in part on his discovery of calculus.
At the time, however, many people initially resisted Newton’s conclusions because they seemed to be “occult.” How could two distant objects in the solar system be drawn toward one another, acting according to a precise mathematical law? Indeed, Newton made strenuous efforts over his lifetime to find a natural explanation, but in the end he could say only that it is the will of God.
Despite the many other enormous advances of modern physics, little has changed in this regard. As Wigner wrote, “the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and there is no rational explanation for it.”
In other words, as I argue in my book, it takes the existence of some kind of a god to make the mathematical underpinnings of the universe comprehensible.
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- The Golden Ratio – a sacred number that links the past to the present
Math and Other Worlds
In 2004, the great British physicist Roger Penrose put forward a vision of a universe composed of three independently existing worlds – mathematics, the material world and human consciousness. As Penrose acknowledged, it was a complete puzzle to him how the three interacted with one another outside the ability of any scientific or other conventionally rational model.
How can physical atoms and molecules, for example, create something that exists in a separate domain that has no physical existence: human consciousness?
It is a mystery that lies beyond science.
Plato. Elizabethe, CC BY-NC-ND
This mystery is the same one that existed in the Greek worldview of Plato, who believed that abstract ideas (above all mathematical) first existed outside any physical reality. The material world that we experience as part of our human existence is an imperfect reflection of these prior formal ideals. As the scholar of ancient Greek philosophy, Ian Mueller, writes in “Mathematics and The Divine,” the realm of such ideals is that of God.
Indeed, in 2014 the MIT physicist Max Tegmark argues in “Our Mathematical Universe” that mathematics is the fundamental world reality that drives the universe. As I would say, mathematics is operating in a god-like fashion.
The Mystery of Human Consciousness
The workings of human consciousness are similarly miraculous. Like the laws of mathematics, consciousness has no physical presence in the world; the images and thoughts in our consciousness have no measurable dimensions.
Yet, our nonphysical thoughts somehow mysteriously guide the actions of our physical human bodies. This is no more scientifically explicable than the mysterious ability of nonphysical mathematical constructions to determine the workings of a separate physical world.
Until recently, the scientifically unfathomable quality of human consciousness inhibited the very scholarly discussion of the subject. Since the 1970s, however, it has become a leading area of inquiry among philosophers.
Recognizing that he could not reconcile his own scientific materialism with the existence of a nonphysical world of human consciousness, a leading atheist, Daniel Dennett, in 1991 took the radical step of denying that consciousness even exists.
Finding this altogether implausible, as most people do, another leading philosopher, Thomas Nagel, wrote in 2012 that, given the scientifically inexplicable – the “intractable” – character of human consciousness, “we will have to leave [scientific] materialism behind” as a complete basis for understanding the world of human existence.
As an atheist, Nagel does not offer religious belief as an alternative, but I would argue that the supernatural character of the workings of human consciousness adds grounds for raising the probability of the existence of a supernatural god.
The Harmony between Religion and Science, a ceiling fresco of the Marble Hall at Seitenstetten Abbey (Lower Austria) by Paul Troger, 1735. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )
- “God’s Number”: The Origins of One
- The Evolution of Wisdom: A Study of the Evolution of Perception as Understood by Ancient Religions
- On the Origin of Man
Evolution and Faith
Evolution is a contentious subject in American public life. According to Pew, 98 percent of scientists connected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science “believe humans evolved over time” while only a minority of Americans “fully accept evolution through natural selection.”
As I say in my book, I should emphasize that I am not questioning the reality of natural biological evolution. What is interesting to me, however, are the fierce arguments that have taken place between professional evolutionary biologists. A number of developments in evolutionary theory have challenged traditional Darwinist – and later neo-Darwinist – views that emphasize random genetic mutations and gradual evolutionary selection by the process of survival of the fittest.
From the 1970s onwards, the Harvard evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould created controversy by positing a different view, “punctuated equilibrium,” to the slow and gradual evolution of species as theorized by Darwin.
In 2011, the University of Chicago evolutionary biologist James Shapiro argued that, remarkably enough, many micro-evolutionary processes worked as though guided by a purposeful “sentience” of the evolving plant and animal organisms themselves. “The capacity of living organisms to alter their own heredity is undeniable,” he wrote. “Our current ideas about evolution have to incorporate this basic fact of life.”
A number of scientists, such as Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, “see no conflict between believing in God and accepting the contemporary theory of evolution,” as the American Association for the Advancement of Science points out.
For my part, the most recent developments in evolutionary biology have increased the probability of a god.
Miraculous Ideas at the Same Time?
For the past 10,000 years at a minimum, the most important changes in human existence have been driven by cultural developments occurring in the realm of human ideas.
In the Axial Age (commonly dated from 800 to 200 BC), world-transforming ideas such as Buddhism, Confucianism, the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, and the Hebrew Old Testament almost miraculously appeared at about the same time in India, China, ancient Greece and among the Jews in the Middle East, groups having little interaction with one another.
Many world-transforming ideas, such as Buddhism, appeared in the world around the same time. Karyn Christner , CC
The development of the scientific method in the 17th century in Europe and its modern further advances have had at least as great a set of world-transforming consequences. There have been many historical theories, but none capable, I would argue, of explaining as fundamentally transformational a set of events as the rise of the modern world. It was a revolution in human thought, operating outside any explanations grounded in scientific materialism, that drove the process.
That all these astonishing things happened within the conscious workings of human minds, functioning outside physical reality, offers further rational evidence, in my view, for the conclusion that human beings may well be made “in the image of [a] God.”
Different Forms of Worship
In his commencement address to Kenyon College in 2005, the American novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace said that: “Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”
Even though Karl Marx, for example, condemned the illusion of religion, his followers, ironically, worshiped Marxism. The American philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre thus wrote that for much of the 20th century, Marxism was the “historical successor of Christianity,” claiming to show the faithful the one correct path to a new heaven on Earth.
In several of my books, I have explored how Marxism and other such “economic religions” were characteristic of much of the modern age. So Christianity, I would argue, did not disappear as much as it reappeared in many such disguised forms of “secular religion.”
That the Christian essence, as arose out of Judaism, showed such great staying power amidst the extraordinary political, economic, intellectual and other radical changes of the modern age is another reason I offer for thinking that the existence of a god is very probable.
The article ‘ Arguments Why God (Very Probably) Exists ’ by Robert H. Nelson was originally published on The Conversation and has been republished under a Creative Commons license.
Top Image: God the Father (represented by an old patriarch with white hair) by Cima da Conegliano, c. 1515 ( public domain )
You’ve made the same mistake millions upon millions of conscious beings have made. If something is not understood, it must be the result of a God or Gods. You attribute not being able to explain something to the existence of some all-powerful being. You’ve been using circular logic and been caught in your own trap!
Any conscious being will ultimately create God(s) to explain the things they can’t explain on their own, an entity to thank for blessings and an entity to blame for bad things.
I’m sure when an artificial intelligence gets to the point of consiousness they too will create God(s).
From stardust I was born, to stardust I shall return
What to me appears to be excellent evidence that life forms evolve and that evolution, therefore, must remain a viable explanation is atavism in the form of vestigial limbs and hip or pelvis structures that appear now and then in snakes, whales, dolphins, etc. How to explain it except that the creatures evolved from something else?
I'm with HROCHNICK.....you want to argue apologetics, find a religious Forum. This is a science and scientific Forum. Arguments for the "existence of a creator god," unless he was an alien intervening in human evolution, are wasted here. Religion is all "man made," to explain things that the knowledge of that time could not explain...."we don't know, therefor God did it!" Doesn't work any more. We may not know everything, but we do know enough to say, "Nope, sorry, God didn't do it, it was good old mother nature (or visiting aliens, which somehow were always transformed into "gods" because of their knowledge)." One cannot just conveniently ignore the historical, archaeological, and geological record.
History is nowhere near as well known as we think it is.
Ancient Origins team; please avoid these kinds of low substance, easily countered articles which do nothing good for the reputation of this site or the advancement of your mission statement.
Much of the above article can be distilled to "we don't understand, therefore god". This is religious apologetics and is not at all scientific or helpful in the pursuit of answers.
There are any number of visibly obvious reasons for creation as an organised series of actions rather than the random happenstance claimed by current TV pundits, etcetera. Atheism does not mean theres no God. A-Theism is SEPARATION from or being without God. An Atheist is somebody who knows they are without God- that they exist APART from God, not that IT does not exist at all. Western man has decided to change what the word actually means. Read Silence and the Absence of God in "Citadelle" by Antoine de St. Exupery, and you will get a much better idea. It may also help you understand who the Little Prince is, by the way.
But examine the irony in Attenborough's online film clip about the evolution of the eye, or the old chestnut about the evolution of the Giraffe's neck.
These guys have conveniently forgotten that even were evolution possible, that it cannot possibly account for either idea, as nothing could live long enough to elongate its own neck to feed off trees in the absence of grasses because it would go extinct first, and nothing could keep still long enough and live long enough for an eye to miraculously appear on your skin through the action of the concentration of the sun's rays without shifting to avoid being burned!!
But logic demands more, so we have sex. Sex as we know it among mammals demands the interaction of two separately formed biological systems, neither of which could have possibly pre-existed the other.
Then of course evolution demands progress that in nature does not exist. All butterflies would have evolved to be the same colours, all plants in the same habitat would equally be the same, whereas even grasses in the same locations have very different solutions to existence.
So the idea of evolution logically is very obviously a non-starter. Those who believe in Evolution have a far greater theological faith than those who believe quite simply in God.