Can people be persuaded that God exists?

Over at Mangan’s Miscellany there was a discussion about religious belief and its absence, and about different kinds of arguments for God’s existence. Dennis Mangan is a non-believer and makes no bones about it, though he also seems regretful about it. I threw in my two cents, and by the end we came to an entente cordiale.

(And by the way, who is that cool 16th century dude in the masthead?)

- end of initial entry -

Dennis Mangan writes:

That’s a portrait of Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, the Duke of Alba, by Titian. He was a prominent Spanish general under Philip II, and several things attract me to the painting. One is, as you say, he looks pretty cool, with that suit of black armor embossed with gold—over a lace collar no less- the red sash, the marshal’s baton. The other reason is that I find him a symbol of reaction, authority, and strength, and of keeping your chin up when the going’s rough.

LA replies:

Well, I had the right century, and given his sallow, saturnine features I should have guessed he was Spanish. In fact, the lace collar made me initially think 17th century, then I remembered that lace collars came in in the 16th century, though they weren’t as prominent a part of the dress as they later became in the 17th century with the Puritans. Given the understated nature of the lace in his outfit, I figured it was 16th century. So, if I had been really on my toes, I should have guessed, “late 16th century, looks Spanish, and therefore probably a Spanish nobleman under Philip II.”

It’s a great portrait, and a great symbol for yourself. You have one of the best mastheads of any blog.

Is that other portrait off on the side also the Duke of Alba?

Dennis Mangan replies:

Yes, that’s also the Duke on the side. And yes, your instincts are pretty good about sussing out the man and the century. Thanks for the compliment on the masthead; I chose the Duke, and the rest was designed for me by an impecunious internet guy.

* * *

Alan Roebuck has posted a comment at Mangan’s providing the outline of an intellectual, rational approach to the problem of God’s existence that goes beyond the admittedly inadequate “intuitive-experiential” approach which I suggested in that discussion. His point is that God’s existence—and the truth of Christianity in particular—can be adequately demonstrated by evidence and reason.

Mr. Roebuck writes:

Dennis and Lawrence:

This is a most important topic. Let me try to clarify.

First, there’s a great difference between knowing that something is true, and knowing why it’s true. We may know that God exists through intuition or experience (perhaps they overlap), but since intuition and experience may mislead, we need some intellectual confirmation. Thus the need for proof.

Although you have both acknowledged it, it bears emphasizing: Feser’s essay is not a proof of God’s existence. It is only a demonstration that MacDonald’s basic approach, shared by all of the prominent atheistic apologists, is illogical. She assumes, before examining the evidence, that only empirical (i.e., sense-based) data counts. She thus dismisses the supernatural before she looks at the evidence.

A proof of God, in outline, would be something like this:

First, establish the proper philosophical system within which to examine the evidence. In other words, what sort of evidence counts, and how shall it be interpreted? The basic answer is that we cannot discount the existence of the supernatural and the occurrence of miracles before the evidence is examined.

Second, establish that the basic facts of reality require a God to be their cause. [Remember, this is just the barest of outlines.] This step also involves establishing a few facts about God, such as that He is non-material and timeless.

And this is as far as bare human reason, even when employed correctly, can go. To make progress, we will need God to have told us something about himself. Just as you cannot know any of the important things about a human until he (or someone else who knows them) tells you, we cannot know the important facts about God, and the answers to the important questions of life, unless He tells us. In words.

So we must next look to the religions, and try to ascertain which of them contains the most truth.

And note that if religion refers to reality, then it will be possible for one religion to be more true than another, and it will also be possible for us to know (with some, but not perfect, certainty) which is the most true religion.

How do we test religion? By examining the evidence, of course. We have to, because other ways of knowing can be misleading. (Reason can be misleading too, but it is potentially less misleading than other ways of knowing.)

So why Christianity? Basically for this reason: It is the only religion which does not simply say “Believe because our prophet [sorry, Prophet] said so.” Instead, Christianity rests on Jesus’ identity (the second Person of the triune Godhead) and works (virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death, Resurrection). No other religion has anyone remotely like this. And there is plenty of confirming evidence that he did what Christianity says he did; one need not have blind faith. [Remember, it’s only a bare outline.]

This is all very different from the other religions, for example Islam. Mohammed just said “believe,” and there is, strictly speaking, no confirming evidence other than the bloody success of his followers. (Although Muslims claim that their religion was foretold in the Bible, this just shows that man can always concoct pseudo-evidence whenever he wants to. And as for people saying “God spoke to me,” they’re a dime a dozen.)

Furthermore, Christianity is part of our Western heritage, and therefore we Westerners ought to give it the benefit of the doubt until there is strong evidence against it.

Dennis, I appeal to you as a scientist. If you believe that religious claims cannot be tested, I would ask you, how do you know that they cannot? I repeat, if religion refers to something real, then it can be tested. All you need to do is learn the proper way to investigate religion (every field has its proper way to proceed), and then get to work. Perhaps you could start by considering the question, if God had communicated words to man, how would one know it? Presumably if God had communicated with us, He would have also made a way for us actually to know that He had.

P.S. I myself have had very few “religious experiences,” and they were pretty weak. One need not have had a powerful experience of God to be a believer.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 18, 2008 01:44 AM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):