The Existence of God?
I’m writing this for my atheist friends who see no reason or justification for believing in God - not to convince them, but to give them a window into my own thought processes, and an alternative to many of the things they’ve probably encountered.
Most arguments for theism end up suggesting something along the lines of a first cause - that all events come from other events, and following these lines of causation, everything must ultimately come from a single point somewhere. This argument is vividly borne out in the modern picture of the big bang.
But as many people rightly point out, first cause doesn’t have to mean God. It could be that something quite stupid got the universe going - or it could even be that there are an infinite chain of “first causes” behind the first cause.
So those traditional theistic arguments don’t help us out much. In fact, they mainly serve to reveal what isn’t relevant. We are not actually interested in the existence of a creator, we are interested in the existence of a creator who cares about us.
But that gets tricky. How would we discover such a thing? How would we know if a super-intelligent being actually loves us?
This is the difference between theism and deism. Deism argues for a first cause sort of God, but then tells us we can never expect to really find him. He remains forever detached and beyond us. Theism, on the other hand, makes a far more interesting claim - God not only cares, but is actively involved in the world. And so, if we are to test out theism, we can give up looking for the metaphysical limits of existence, and begin looking at the world in front of us.
Here’s what I see. Every year, the world gets a little better. Diseases are cured, violence is reduced, injustices are eliminated. Even in down economies, the overall state of the world is improving. Just compare things now to how they were a thousand or even a hundred years ago.
But this isn’t just true for human beings. All over the natural world, order is arising from chaos, complexity is increasing, life is springing from non-life. And it reaches beyond earth - the composition of the universe has gone from uniform hydrogen gas to highly complex stars, galaxies, and super-structures. And each generation of stars has led to greater and greater complexity, each one’s death sending a payload of highly complex matter out into the universe, to become the seeds of the next generation of star growth.
This isn’t a meaningless trajectory - it’s exactly what we humans value as most important about ourselves and the world. What it represents is the growth of cooperation and intelligence on every level of reality. We can even say (without too much of a stretch) that this is love filling the universe.
But of course, there are explanations for this, including natural selection. And I would respond by pointing out that natural selection is only one principle, and we see this dynamic everywhere, even in places natural selection does not apply. But other principles can be brought up, and there is no doubt that we can capture each of these dynamics in some set of concrete principles.
But then I would ask why? Why is it that all of these principles conspire to endlessly increase cooperation and complexity? Why is it that reality itself seems to want life and organization and compassion?
And I suppose the answer would be: it just is. There is no need for why, it’s just the way things are.
And I would agree.
But if we accept this, then we’ve entered new territory. Because if we are simply saying it just is, then we’re no longer explaining away, we’re describing. We’ve reached the endpoint of our chain of causes, and we’re simply stating what we see.
And if we’re saying that reality itself seems to want the increase of cooperation and complexity and embedded intelligence and compassion, then we’re not describing an atheistic reality, but a theistic one - one that cares for our ultimate well-being, one that works all our efforts together into one upward dynamic motion, one that is always bringing life out of non-life, and existence out of darkness.