God and Religion

If one consults reason alone, one cannot assent to the articles of our faith. Luther

The theory of probabilities is at bottom nothing but common sense reduced to calculation; it enables us to appreciate with exactitude that which reasonable minds feel with a sort of instinct for which ofttimes they are unable to account. It is remarkable that a science which began with the consideration of games of chance should have become the most important object of human knowledge. The most important questions of life are, for the most part, really only problems of probability. Pierre Simon LaPlace

Faith: The spiritual apprehension of divine truths, or of realities beyond the reach of sensible experience or logical proof…Often viewed as the exercise of a special faculty in the soul of man, or as the result of supernatural illumination.  Oxford English Dictionary

What is faith but a kind of betting or speculation after all? It should be: “I bet my Redeemer liveth.”  Samuel Butler

Whatever there is of God and goodness in the universe, it must work itself out and express itself through us. We cannot stand aside and let God do it.  Albert Einstein

Perhaps not every fundamental question is vulnerable to the power of human reason. Certainly the questions of greatest personal interest have, thus far, been immune to the genius among us. Impatience with the powers of reason motivates the search for alternatives. Perhaps we are working hard, but not smart – digging with a shovel, blind to the bulldozer with keys in the ignition nearby.  Is RevelationD a bulldozer to the Truth? . . . Probably not. Revelation changes the nature of the work, without reducing the amount of work. Analogously, despairing of choosing stocks and bonds directly, Jane Doe decides to invest in mutual funds. Instead of picking stocks, she now must choose a mutual fund manager. She has changed the nature of the work not necessarily the amount. (Personal preference determines the choice of work). Likewise despairing of Reason alone, we might wish to avail ourselves of Revelation – but which one(s) do we choose?

Is ReasonD alone inadequate for the task of answering fundamental questions? Reason is not inadequate to the task; it is too slow for our purpose. Given sufficient time, fundamental questions may be vulnerable to the relentless assault of human reason. The real issue is time – we need more of it – if we want the answers in this life.

So how do we proceed? Let’s begin by reviewing the questions, speculating upon some possibilities and, with some reticence, assigning some probabilities. To review, the questions are:

  1. What is Ultimate-Reality?
  2. Is there an after-life?
  3. Does God exist?
  4. Is religion God’s agency on earth?

Concerning the order of the Questions: they are, indeed, ranked in order of importance. We make the case as follows. Consider the Question Is there an after-life? At least two possibilities come to mind:

  1. If there is no after-life, then God’s existence does not matter. God’s existence becomes a question of academic interest only.
  1. While it is improbable, it is conceivable that God does not exist AND there is an after-life.

These two possibilities clarify our primary interest in God’s existence. Our preference for His existence is contingent upon His providing us with an after-life (a good one). Therefore, the existence of an after-life is more important than the existence of God. In fact, our preferences are subject to change depending upon our circumstances – indeed if we were immortal and invulnerable would our preference really be that an Almighty God exist?

Why is the Question What is Ultimate-Reality? more important than the Question Does God exist? Because Ultimate-Reality answers the question of God’s existence – and answers the question of an after-life, the nature and quality of that after-life – and more. Consider these possibilities:

If God exists AND provides an after-life, then God may either

Provide us a tolerable to wonderful after-life regardless of our behavior here, OR

Provide a miserable afterlife, regardless of our behavior here, OR

Provide an after-life, the quality of which is contingent upon our behavior here.

If God exists AND does NOT provide us an after-life, then we have three more possibilities:

His disinterest is benign, that is, if we provide for our own immortality, He will not interfere.  However, the governing physical laws preclude the option for physical immortality.

His disinterest is benign, AND the governing physical laws permit the option of physical immortality.

His disinterest is malign, that is, He will intervene to crush our puny efforts to pursue our own divinity, regardless of the governing physical laws.

If God does not exist, we are presented with two possibilities:

Ultimate-Reality, by virtue of its governing physical laws, precludes the option of physical immortality.

Ultimate-Reality, by virtue of its governing laws, permits the option of physical immortality.

We are on our own if there is no after-life (with or without a God).  The governing laws of Ultimate-Reality are more informative than simply the answer to the Question ‘Does God exist?’

If God exists AND provides an afterlife contingent upon our behavior here, then the “Question Is Religion God’s agency on Earth?” becomes relevant.  There are two possibilities, Yes or No.

If Yes, Then,

Which religion?

Will any religion do?

One of several?

What are the consequences of an incorrect choice?

If No.  God appreciates our attempts to establish His Kingdom on Earth, but the quality of our after-life is not contingent upon our association with any religion.  Presumably religions provide (among other things) a complete compendium of criteria necessary to achieve favorable judgment. But, if religion is not God’s agency, how do we determine His criteria for judgment? It is not intuitively, or otherwise, obvious (He has yet to answer our letters or accept invitations to tea).

Another possibility is that, although our final disposition is contingent upon our behavior, the behavior that interests Him may be unrelated to ‘good’ behavior as we understand it.

Judgment is the raison d’être of all established western religions. Without Judgment, no criteria for Judgment are needed. Without criteria, no expert on criteria is needed. Before justice can be administered, a judgment is ideally determined by an authority apprized of all the facts. Justice on Earth is subject to time and economic constraints. Presumably, divine judgment is not. Earthly justice is not obliged to unravel the Gordian knot of genetic, environmental and mitigating circumstances. Is God obliged to judge us?

The idea of judgment is an indispensable concept in the here and now, but God may not feel obliged to settle scores in the hereafter. God’s concerns may be beyond our conception. Albert Einstein wrote in The New York Times in 1930:

I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own — a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty.  Albert Einstein

The well-spring of religious authority is Revelation – revealed Truth. God reveals his wishes (and criteria for judgment) by inspiring authors of holy books, communicating through prophets, and in one case, appearing in person as Jesus Christ. Sorting Revelation from delusion and hallucination is a Herculean task of scholarship and exegesis subject to the same limits of time bedeviling Reason. One man’s revelation is another’s heresy. Even when men agree that a prophecy is authentic, they can disagree on interpretation. Intelligent, absolutely sincere men and women disagree. Disagreements so substantial, act as a centrifugal force dispersing religions across continents and history. Instead of convergence towards the Truth, religions diverge, split, and have sects like rabbits. Even within a particular religion there is disagreement, both among the living and across time with their ancestors. Where is divine inspiration?

The common denominator among Western religions is (1) God exists, and (2) we will be judged. There is no common agreement about the criteria for Judgment. If our earthly existence is a “test of faith” not of “good works,” then there may be no reasonable method of determining religious truth. Consider: the less reason there is to believe something is true, the more faith required to sustain that belief. If God’s existence can be conclusively demonstrated, no faith would be required. So, if God’s existence could be demonstrated, there would be no test of faith — and thus, no Judgment.

Religions, generally, assume that Humankind is not essential to God’s existence. This need not be so. Little survives for long that is superfluous in this Darwinian reality. If so, it is possible that God’s existence is dependent upon our success: Tipler speculates that God may not exist now but will in the future:

Some major late twentieth century theologians have understood this, most importantly the German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg: ‘Jesus proclaimed the rule of God as a reality belonging to the future. This is the coming Kingdom. . . . In a restricted but important sense, God does not yet exist. Since his rule and being are inseparable, God’s being is still in the process of coming to be.’ . . . When God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush, Moses asked Him for His Name. According to the King James translation of the Bible, God replied ‘I AM THAT I AM . . . say unto the children of Israel that I AM hath sent me [Moses] unto you’ (Exodus 3:14). However in the original Hebrew God’s reply was ‘Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.’ In Hebrew, the word Ehyeh is the future tense of the word haya, which means ‘to be.’ That is, God’s reply to Moses should be translated ‘I WILL BE THAT I WILL BE. . .The children of Israel that I WILL BE sent me to you.  Frank Tipler

This obviates the problem of evil.

The theory that an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent God exists and provides us an after-life contingent upon His judgment creates as many problems as it solves:

The Problem of Judgment. (See below)

The Problem (or paradox) of Evil in a universe created by an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent God.

The Problem of Freewill. If we possess freewill, can it be free when the choices are heaven or hell?

The Problem of Hell & Justice. Can infinite punishment for finite crimes be just?

The Problem of Faith vs. Reason. If your belief constitutes certainty, that is if you assign a probability of 100% to your belief – is it faith? Do you get more or less credit in the hereafter for possessing the naïveté of a child OR for struggling relentlessly to submit your intellect to faith?

Problem of Judgment. Humans are created imperfect. Are “judgment scores” adjusted for frequency and degrees of temptation, testosterone levels, intelligence, sanity, environment, genetic constitution, stress, etc? If Hitler’s nascent army had been crushed in the Sudetenland, there would have been no War, no holocaust. To what extent are the leaders of foreign countries guilty of sins of omission? Or, diffusing responsibility further, the electorate that would not have supported such an aggressive move at the time? Are we jointly and severally liable? What of good intentions gone awry? Sometimes well-intentioned ideas spawn rules and systems that unpredictably dovetail into disastrous regimes where only the most ruthless survive. Communism spawned Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Good and evil are not infrequently inextricable – they are edges of the same sword. More often than not there are no solutions to problems – there are only trade-offs. If all this appears unnecessarily complex and contrived, well so is any explanation for Original Sin, the Prodigal Son, or the Book of Job.

While God may be able to unravel this Gordian complexity to assign credit and blame – we cannot. Complex, incomprehensible rules, in and of themselves, may be inherently unfair.

One problem with a religious worldview is aesthetic — analogous to problems with a geocentric Ptolemaic universe. Ptolemaic astronomy created more problems than it solved. To make observation fit theory required the hypothetical promulgation of ever more numerous circular orbits within circular orbits. The theory became ever more convoluted and unaesthetic. What makes a particular theory persuasive as well as appealing is that it solves more problems than it creates. The theory must possess an aesthetic elegance, clarity and beauty.

. . . aesthetic criteria are enormously valuable in forming our judgments. . . A beautiful idea has a much greater chance of being a correct idea than an ugly one. At least that has been my own experience, and similar sentiments have been expressed by others. Roger Penrose

What can we say about God? By definition a god, or God is: A superhuman person who is worshipped as having power over nature and the fortunes of mankind; a deity.  A Being such as is understood by the proper name God; a sole Divine Creator and Ruler of the Universe. In the specific Christian and monotheistic sense. The One object of supreme adoration; the Creator and Ruler of the Universe.D

Perhaps, even the least of gods are immortal and invulnerable to Death. Their existence is not contingent upon anyone or anything, except perhaps God himself. They are truly free beings. According to tradition, God is something more. He has the power to create universes, transcends time and place, is omniscient, and omnipotent. He is the alpha-God.

What, if any, are the limitations of God? What does it mean to be omnipotent? Did God create mathematics? Could He have created a Reality with an entirely different mathematics? A Reality where 2 + 2 = 5, and there is no zero? Or a Reality where math itself does not exist? Augustine refers to the perfect number 6,E chosen by God as the number of days used for Creation. Alternatively, is God himself subject to the limitations of arithmetic? Economics? Could God have created a non-hierarchal Reality? A Reality where there are only winners and no losers? No natural selection? Could God have created a better Reality than this one, or are his choices subject to the same economic constraints as ours? Or, can He both have His cake and eat too? If so, presumably it is within His power to create a Reality without Evil AND with Freewill. Perhaps God has a collection of Realities, but this one clearly propagates Evil efficiently.

Is God subservient to His own ethical code? Or is the statement nonsense? Does there exist Absolute-Right-And-Wrong, independent of God? Presumably God could violate this Code, but because He is ‘good’ He never did or will. Is God subject to a different Code of Ethics than we? If so, which is more proscriptive, His or ours? More prescriptive?

What do you really believe?

What is the probability that God exists?

Assuming God exists, what is the probability there is life after death?

Assuming God exists and there is an afterlife, what is the probability that religion is God’s agency on Earth?

If the odds are 50% for each of those questions, then the odds are only 12.5% that God exists AND there is an afterlife AND religion is God’s agency on Earth. (50% x 50% x 50%).

You may object – OK: How about 99.7% for each bet? That leaves a mere 1% risk. Compare that 1% risk to other less important risks we ordinarily insure against. Such as house and automobile insurance. The probability of serious loss to either is less than 1%. We contend that the difference between beliefs and action represents a rational (albeit subconscious) effort to cover the risks in adopting either worldview. That is, Actions belie beliefs. The flesh is not weak; it is uncertain.  Consciously or unconsciously, we are covering the odds as we individually perceive them. If Whitney assigns a high probability (say greater than 90%) to her religious beliefs, she should logically be a saint. Given the economics of infinite bliss in exchange for a mere seventy years of restraint, it would be easy to be good – and pathologic to be otherwise.

What risks do we incur pursuing immortality for ourselves and loved ones? If our life is spent acquiring wisdom, perfecting character, and advancing God’s work, will we be punished for an eternity? If God is offended He will let us know. He surprised a few people a century ago, by not intervening to proscribe the use of ether to meliorate the pain of child birth. (see Genesis )

Perhaps He has a few more surprises in store.

Live long enough, and you may see faith vindicated.  Many of the apparent problems with religious faith may, as Hugh Ross [E] suggests, be comprehensible paradoxes fully consistent with Ultimate Reality.

So, why not buy some time?

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