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On proving God – I

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In attempting to reconcile faith and reason, philosophers have produced what is traditionally called “proofs of the existence of God”. These proofs usually present themselves as sophisticated arguments. As such, they are open to disputation and, one must admit, hardly convincing. It is by reference to them that Pascal wrote: “The metaphysical proofs of God are so remote from the reasoning of men, and so complicated, that they make little impression; and if they should be of service to some, it would be only during the moment that they see such demonstration; but an hour afterwards they fear they have been mistaken.” (Pensées, 543)

What Pascal thus criticized was not the cogency of the proofs but their failure to win over genuine atheists. Experience had taught him that if the metaphysical proofs of God would probably confirm the faith of the believer, they could hardly ever convince an atheist. Even if they did—a possibility he could not totally dismiss—they would lead the person to acknowledge the existence of a prime Mover, or an intelligent and all-powerful Designer at the origin of all creation: a belief hardly likely to hold sway in face of the challenges of life. It takes more than the mere belief in the existence of a first Cause to make radical changes in one’s life; what is required is a compelling attraction towards such a Cause of causes, one that is likely to arouse a change of heart, as well as a change of behaviour directed at His satisfaction.

Malak Jan Ne’mati used to say: “When we love Him, our attention is directed towards Him.” Similar feelings are experienced by a lot of believers. The love of God and of those who represent Him is an essential requisite if one wishes to actively engage in spiritual practice. By spiritual practice, we mean one that is based on a deeply felt conviction acting as a veritable driving force towards self-perfection, one that does not reduce to a purely nominal faith or philosophical standpoint. By turning our attention towards Him, we develop a control over reckless impulses, we learn to suspend hasty actions. We manage to find the time to evaluate what was going to be said or done, and redirect our behaviour according to His expectation. If something turns out to be damaging to the soul, our will finds the strength that enables us to discard harmful impulses and restore inner balance. Therein lies the essential difference between the philosophers’ God, which is no more than a rational principle, and the living God of the spiritual traveller, acting as an effective support on the perilous path of spiritual perfection, imparting the energy needed to move on.

Besides, the very idea of a proof capable of convincing the non-believer is open to question. What is actually meant by a “proof”? In a police investigation, there are no logical proofs but pieces of evidence, which are realities of a material kind. For example, if one finds a cigarette butt in some place, this points to another reality: the cigarette butt is evidence of the fact that a smoker has been in that place some time before. But here the proof, materialized as it is by the cigarette butt, is not important in itself: it is important to the extent that it provides evidence of another reality which happens to be meaningful to us and the existence of which we are ready to believe in. This is the key point: if we didn’t believe in the existence of smokers, the cigarette butt would not prove anything; it would refer to nothing but itself. Similarly, if one did not already acknowledge that there is a God, or a Designer presiding over His ordered creation, how could any piece of reality taken from this world contribute to establishing such a thing? There could indeed be no proof unless one was already disposed to grant what was to be proven.

At this point, one may start wondering whether we should expect genuine evidence of the existence God, in the tangible, material sense we have just mentioned. But here is the problem: for God to show himself in person, He would have to appear in a visible form, that of a human being or some natural phenomenon. However, such a manifestation would not count as evidence of God per se; it would be considered as a manifestation of God only by those who already believe in a divine reality capable of manifesting itself in the material realm. Imagine now a man presenting himself as the Son of God, or a burning bush saying “I am the One who is.” In the former case, the atheist will most likely conclude that the man is raving mad. As for the latter, he will have reasons to wonder if he is not mad himself. This is to say that even if God showed up in person, it wouldn’t be enough to inspire faith in those who have none of it; for if He shows up—which in fact he does—his manifestations would be detected only by those who have learned to detect the signs of his presence.

Now, we may start to wonder if those proofs are not merely verbal or superfluous. In keeping with a well-established philosophical tradition, Ostad Elahi, in Knowing the spirit, assigns a whole chapter to “Establishing the Existence of the Divine Artisan”. In a concise and at times exacting language, he presents five arguments in favour of the existence of God. Now, have these arguments ever generated faith in anyone? Do they actually prove anything? In view of what has just been discussed, we have good reasons to be sceptical here. Should we then conclude that they are useless?
The best way to answer this question is to try and detect the effects these proofs have on ourselves once we have taken the time necessary to understand them and meditate on them. The issue will be discussed in a forthcoming article.

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  1. ER May 10, 2010 7:28 pm 1

    How nicely put!
    A concise summary of yet, an expanded topic. Indeed, believing in God is one thing and practicing upon that belief is another. Thank you for the clear vision you provided me with this fantastic article!

  2. Jake May 10, 2010 8:15 pm 2

    Always an atheist, still an atheist, will be an atheist (most probably, you never know…). Indeed, I have never been even slightly touched by all these so called “proofs” of God. These are just abstract mumbo jumbo that have nothing to do with concrete, practical life. Sophie Levasseur has already accomplished something by just acknowledging this fact: no amount of abstract pseudo-logical “reasoning” will ever begin to convince a rational mind like mine.

  3. Fritz May 11, 2010 3:04 am 3

    I tend to agree that there is no argument or proof that may convince an atheist that there is a God. Equally, there is no evidence to disprove the existence of God.
    God is the only subject in the laboratory of life that the observer’s belief system will affect the reality of observation and can alter its meaning.
    I look forward to the forthcoming article.

  4. ls May 11, 2010 6:34 am 4

    I think what I have learned is that we may be blinded by such proofs because of our own pride and selfishness. The more knowledge and intelligence we think we have, the more superior we feel towards others. Due to that, some people become blind and shut the true meaning around them. Was it not that once we thought the planet was not round but flat with ends? And now, science has proven to us that this is not so. Men in churches and the like were prided in their beliefs so much that they believed the Round Earth hypothesis to be but pathetic and false. So, maybe it is up to us to take the blind fold of our pride and see the world as it truly is. Maybe, scientifically, we can step in spirituality and begin to see the world as it truly is without the cloud of pride.

  5. David May 12, 2010 1:08 am 5

    Answer to Jake:

    First of all, even reasonable atheists, who have good background knowledge, will not consider the proofs of God as pseudo-logic. And if they do, they are purposely lying, which we can prove with the help of a lie-detector test!

    As for the critique of abstractness: If you had learned how to “read” and understand a proof, you would realize that the assumptions for the proofs of God are totally self-evident so that everybody will accept them before they are used to prove God’s existence. The problem is that when they (people who don’t like to believe in God) are forced to accept the proof, they suddenly become total skeptics and want to deny everything. But with such an attitude of denial, it is not possible to convince anybody of anything. Just for your information, every kind of proof (whether deductive, inductive or the kind of “police proof” mentioned in the article) needs to build upon certain assumptions (i.e. you need to assume some things to be true).

    I also think you are misusing the word “rational” and a better word for the state of your mind would be “skeptical”, or perhaps “relativist” (relativists don’t believe in absolute truths anyway).

    Let’s wait for the second part of the article, but as I understand, the point of the article is the usefulness of these proofs from a practical point of view (i.e. if one wants to advance spiritually); it is not meant as a critique of the logical consistency of these proofs.

    Why you are still an atheist is actually explained in this article.

  6. :) Happi May 12, 2010 6:59 am 6

    Can we touch the feelings of any person with our hand? Can we see the thoughts in the mind of someone else, through the physical eyes? Certainly not.
    The article says that “even if God showed up in person his manifestations would be detected only by those who have learned to detect the signs of his presence” so how can we identify the signs?

  7. Mel May 12, 2010 8:23 pm 7

    Can we deny the existence of “electromagnetic waves”, merely because we can not see them with our naked eyes?

    I don’t understand, how some intellectuals can be so blind as to deny the existence of God?!!! While our great scientists, such as Albert Einstein, strongly believed in God.

    “In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human understanding, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views”.

    (Quoted by Max Jammer, Einstein and Religion, 2002, p. 97)

  8. Neda May 12, 2010 10:40 pm 8

    Why do Believers have to prove to non-believers that there is a God? Why don’t the non-believers prove that there is No God instead?

  9. David May 13, 2010 8:18 pm 9

    OF COURSE these proofs are not useless!! Even from a practical point they might be very useful (in contrast to what I accidently wrote in the previous comment).

    The point is that faith stems from the super-id, whereas these proofs only have an effect on the intellect (the brain).

  10. David May 13, 2010 9:19 pm 10

    About what she writes in the beginning of the article about disputation: The disputation is from the side of the people who don’t know better (the idiots). I don’t mean to be impolite, but sometimes one has to say the truth. Especially when ”someone” in here is trying to reverse the picture of reality.

    About the citation from Pascal: If someone feels like this:
    “but an hour afterwards they fear they have been mistaken”
    the reason is that he has not understood the proof well enough. Perhaps one can say he is in the transitional phase to understanding the proof.

    Anyway, a proof is a proof and there is no rum for disputation!!

  11. notodogma May 14, 2010 4:54 pm 11

    Well well… How interesting that the defenders of “God” should be so arrogant, self-assured, and have all the ready-made answers. So much for humility.
    Do my friends ever wonder why rational minds, free-thinkers and humanists are turned off, not only by dogmas and irrational thinking, but also by the attitudes of some “believers” (whatever that means). I personally consider skepticism and prudence to be human virtues. A lot of the benefits we are enjoying in our lives, such as medicine and common law stem in large parts from skeptical minds, intellectuals, agnostics or atheists.
    On the question of the rational arguments for and against God’s existence, in my limited mind, they are and have always been sterile. There is no rational proof or disproof of God’s existence.
    If it ever comes, the objective proof of God’s existence will be obtained like most of human advances, through science, the scientific method, driven by scientific minds, many of whom do not believe in “God”.

  12. Veroniva May 16, 2010 4:33 pm 12

    I didn’t feel any sense of arrogance, reading the article!
    I also am a free-thinker and a humanist. Yet reading this article didn’t turn me off or negative.

  13. David May 17, 2010 6:06 pm 13

    Answer to notodogma

    It is funny how an atheist is trying to sound so ethical; what kind of new trick is this?!!

    Let us get down to the bedrock facts: Logically atheism implies no ethics (as we naturally understand the word). Perhaps some are ethical even though that they are atheists, but they are being illogical.

    As for skepticism: To give you an answer it is necessarily to know what you mean by the word. So here I give an answer as how I understand the word (in the classical philosophical meaning). This form of skepticism is of course against common sense, science and everything reasonable. And this is probably why you are confusing a dogma with an axiom. You can say ”no to dogmas” but just remember also to say “yes to axioms”. And if you don’t, you cannot logically advocate for science and skepticism at the same time. But prudence is a good thing.

    As for your opinion about the rational arguments being sterile:Yes, you have a lot to learn, for else you would not think that.

    This “humble” claim of yours is of course also wrong: “There is no rational proof or disproof of God’s existence.” Because there are many rational proofs of God’s existence, but there is no disproof of God’s existence. But this statement is right: “I tend to agree that there is no argument or proof that may convince an atheist that there is a God.” (From the comment of Fritz)

    There are of course many other things which need to be said about your comment (which one can read about in the appropriate books).

  14. notodogma May 19, 2010 12:40 pm 14

    @Veroniva: I was not referring to the article, but to some comments.
    @David: “It is funny how an atheist is trying to sound so ethical”… ” (and the rest of your comment). Perfect illustration of the point I was trying to make. But I’ll leave it at that.

  15. David May 22, 2010 3:44 pm 15

    To notodogma:

    I don’t bother to comment the accusation of being arrogant, and the dogmatic accusation is totally baseless.

    But about what you write:”…scientific minds, many of whom do not believe in “God””.
    Perhaps many of them would indeed believe in a God if they heard about these proofs. The problem is, as I have observed, that most people do not even know about the existence of these proofs. Most people will even think it is a joke if they hear the words “proofs of God”.

  16. David May 23, 2010 3:56 pm 16

    Some definitions from the Oxford dictionary:

    Dogmatic means: insisting that one’s beliefs are right, and that others should accept them, without paying attention to evidence or others opinions.
    Evidence means: information that gives a strong reason for believing sth or proves sth.
    Dogma means: a belief held by an authority or group, which others are expected to accept without argument.

    Given these definitions, who are the truly dogmatic people?

    Some atheists and materialists are truly impossible to deal with. First they call people dogmatic, and when they hear their solid arguments and proofs, they call them arrogant! And the worst part is that they consider themselves as being intellectuals and rational.

  17. Mattias May 26, 2010 7:05 am 17

    As someone who believes in God, I sort of agree with notodogma’s approach to the whole idea of “proving God’s existence.” Historically these so-called proofs were articulated by theologians to serve as a rational support for their religious beliefs. They were not intended to prove anything or even convince someone who does not believe in God, that such a being exists. In principle, I think the belief in the supreme being (or whatever one might call it) can not come from such arguments. Even the people who do believe in God did not become a believer by just studying such arguments.
    This is the way I look at it: I think what notodogma says about prudence is the key and I must say that this is the very thing that makes me a believer. I am not a believer because God’s existence has been proven to me by such arguments or so-called proofs, I am a believer because I think believing in the supreme being, gives a better meaning to my life. God might exist or might not, but if the concept of such a being gives a meaning to my life, whats wrong with that? And if by any chance it turns out that He does exist, then I will be very unhappy if I wouldn’t have believed in Him, and here is where prudence comes into play for me. So for me, by believing in God I’m a winner, whether God exists or not.
    By the way I’m not saying that this is the best way to look at it, I’m just saying how things work out for me.

  18. Zulu May 27, 2010 3:47 am 18

    As Simone Weil, a French philosopher put it: “Faith is the submission of that part of the mind which has not seen God to the part which has.” It is an inner journey that one may decide to take or not. Until science can prove either way, no one can convince the other as to the existence or non-existence of God. So, let’s take a deep breath, embrace our differences and show some respect.

  19. notodogma May 28, 2010 1:47 pm 19

    @Mattias, I like your presentation of why you chose to believe. “I may be wrong, but this is what works for me, what makes sense for me”. Who could argue with that (unless this belief is harmful to others)?
    Defining, categorizing, judging people by the faith they profess or their lack of faith is counter-productive. I feel the same revulsion when I read atheists mock belief in and of itself, than the other way around. With the added grief toward some “religious people” that they often wrap themselves in the mantle of righteousness and moral superiority.
    My life experience has been that the most outwardly religious people generally turn out to be the worst human beings. Over the years, I admit developing an allergy to most religious discourses, thus perhaps my strong reaction to some comments.
    There is NO rational/logical proof of God’s existence. There are well known pros/cons arguments that have been debated for centuries, inconclusively. If one argument makes sense to you, that does not mean it is objectively convincing. Saying that there exists a logical/rational proof of God’s existence, implies that atheists or agnostics are imbeciles, underdeveloped minds, immature, irrational, liars, etc.
    That is NOT what life has showed me. And I am slightly offended for my atheist/agnostic friends, and the long line of atheist and agnostic thinkers, doctors, scientists, human beings in general who have worked and fought hard, and sometimes died, to improve their fellow human being’s circumstances and free us from religious dogmatism, oppression and obscurantist thinking, that they should be judged, or mocked, or belittled because they do not or did not believe in “God”. Thus my call for restraint and humility.

  20. David May 28, 2010 5:48 pm 20

    @Mattias and anyone who does not take proofs seriously.

    I totally and absolutely agree with you with what you said about prudence. But you actually do not need to be so humble about it, because what you said is also a proof [1]. With inspiration from some spiritual works, I formalized this proof mathematically a couple of years ago [2].

    Later I saw that a French philosopher had already used the same concept (with the mathematical expectation). But I made this independently and when I made this formalization the first time I had not read the French philosopher’s version yet (actually the philosopher is Blaise Pascal). Anyway, in this philosophy of science book in which I read Pascal’s version, the authors present Pascal’s idea (so it is not the original Pascal-version I have read). After a lot of “attitude” in the presentation, and I am almost sure a biased presentation, for example by setting the probability equal to 0.000001, the ONLY critique the authors can find is: Pascal only talked about Christianity, but there are also other
    religions that promise eternal happiness.

    Anyway, here is my modern presentation, which in my opinion, from a mathematical point of view, is also superior. This presentation is of course very simplifying, and for example, the possibility of successive lives and other technical issues are not taken into account.

    Every person has the choice between two alternatives in this world, which are:
    1) The prudence attitude towards religion, which implies being a believer. Shortly: being a believer.
    2) The non-prudence attitude towards religion (which implies materialism). Shortly: being a nonbeliever.

    With each choice, there is a utility for this world and an expected utility for the other world. The definitions and utilities are defined as follows:
    p is the probability that there is life after death. It is required that p>0, that is a strict inequality, because it is a discrete case and there is only one event (when we die). So it is not possible to set p=0.

    A = utility in this world, if you are a non-believer, and A< infinity (because we will all face physical death) B = utility in this world, if you are a believer, and B < infinity. Infinity = the utility for a believer in the afterlife, if the other world exists. Minus infinity = the utility for a non-believer in the afterlife, if the other world exists. It does not make any difference if one thinks of the utilities in terms of cardinal utility or ordinal utility; it is not possible to have a higher rank when your rank is infinity. Claim: It is very rational to be a believer and very irrational to be a non-believer. So no matter the choice one takes, one will have some utility in this world (A or B); A and B could take on negative values. The utility from the afterlife is based on a mathematical expectation. So we have a sure gain plus an expected gain, and this is what I mean with “total expected utility”. Proof: Given that a rational person maximizes expected utility we have for the two different choices: For the believer, we have a total expected utility = B + [p*infinity + (1-p)*(B-A)] = infinity For the non-believer, we have a total expected utility = A + [p* minus infinity + (1-p)*(A-B)] = minus infinity. Since infinity > minus infinity, the rational choice is being a believer. Q.E.D.

    The last terms (the differences between for example A and B) in the expectation are not so important, because the infinite part dominates; it is just a small detail. But there are also arguments in favor of B>A. The other mathematical difference with the version I have seen is that the total gain is not split into a sure gain plus an expected gain. There are a couple of other things I would like to say about proofs, but that is going to make this comment to long.

    [1] This proof proves that if someone (anyone!) is not a believer, then that person is irrational.
    [2] It is important to stress, that there is not a (fundamental or real) difference between a mathematical proof (stated in symbols) and a literary proof (stated by words). Both approaches are deductive processes of reasoning. Symbols and words are actually equivalent, since you have to define the symbols by words (see: Fundamental Methods of Mathematical Economics, Fourth Edition, by Alpha C. Chiang, page 2-3). So by formalizing I just mean I converted the proof into a mathematical proof.

  21. Blake May 30, 2010 7:55 pm 21

    I think in general, any two people debating this subject with the aim of convincing the other are simply spinning their wheels. I have been in this particular situation many times, before learning my lesson. Debating the subject with oneself can prove to be a lot more productive in this case. I will try to write my opinion rather than making an argument.
    Pascal’s Wager (not presented in the article, but it is a famous one) provides a great rationale about why believing in God is more beneficial to us than not believing in God. Even from a materialistic point of view believing in a supreme being is better than not.
    I think a life without hope is a very sad life and for a true atheist, by definition there is no hope. But as human beings we all experience the sensation of hope to some degree in everyday life, specially in extreme situations where we know our chances are very slim. Hope helps carry us forward; why would I then want to force my mind to place a concrete limitation on where this hope will end, based on an original criteria which has (from a debate’s perspective) a 50% chance of being wrong?
    Our choice of belief will not change the truth, it can either guide us towards it or away from it.

  22. ms Jun 01, 2010 3:06 am 22

    Dear all, this kind of article can not convince or satisfy those who have taken a position on either side of the argument. Those who have faith in the Source base it either on their personal experience or some feeling or emotion. Sometimes they might not even know why they have faith but they do. And those who don”t have faith faith usually have their own reasons. So…

  23. SM Jun 02, 2010 6:17 am 23

    Can we take a time-out and try and be a bit more precise about the terms we use and the meanings we attribute to them, in order to make sure that we are all on the same page, at least with respect to what we are discussing? Casually throwing around words like argument and proof and using them interchangeably can easily lead to misunderstandings. Even the word “god” is not a well-defined term, especially in this debate.

    By most people’s (religion’s) definition, I do not believe in “god.” I should preface this by saying that I do not mean any disrespect to any one religion, but my personal exposure has been, in part, to Catholic school education, where much of my problems with religion started. The idea of the Catholic god does not inspire me to believe. Perhaps it is the anthropomorphism, more than anything, that has turned me off, not just to Catholicism, but to religion in general. A “god” who is a single-parent, who writes books, who gets mad and drowns people, who has worldly attachments as I do, etc. does not comport with my idea of a supreme being. Nor does it comport with the very definition of god offered by these religions: omnipotent, omnipresent, all-powerful, etc. Maybe as notodogma said, I, too, have developed an allergy to religion and god.

    What I do believe in, and can rationalize for myself, is that the idea of an original cause makes more sense to me than an infinite chain of causation. On an emotional level, the world and this life would make more sense to me if there were a purpose to it and death were not the end. Beyond that, I do not know anything for sure and trying to convince myself or another person beyond any reasonable doubt would be giving into delusion. I believe there are rational “arguments” favoring a belief in a higher being (again, I don’t like using a loaded word such as “god,” though sometimes that is unavoidable), but there is no “proof.” Prudence/Pascal’s approach are all well and good as reasons to be agnostic or even a believer. But they are not “proof” and I think we need to be careful with our vocabulary, because on metaphysical topics, semantics do matter.

    As ms alluded to, this is a matter of faith and belief, and by definition, the issue of god is unsettled. Verifiable realities in life are not subject to belief/faith; they simply exist as objective facts. Maybe god/higher being (whatever you want to call it) also exists as an objective fact, but there is yet no proof of that. Maybe science will put an end to this debate through verifiable, repeatable, objective evidence/experimentation. Until then, we should be careful what we offer as an argument versus proof.

  24. david Jun 03, 2010 6:37 am 24

    @SM: I agree with what you say about being more precise about the definitions of the terms being used. When I use the word proof I literally mean a proof and this is what all my comments are about; in logic an argument means a proof (a deductive proof). please read the rest of this comment. Could you also please read footnote 1 in my previous comment again. But I don’t like your style that you do not spell God with a capital g! Notodogma is a lot more respectful!

    @Blake: The point with these discussions is not to convince the nonbelievers, because there is always going to be some irrational dogmatic people, who will keep denying. What is bothering me is that they make this denial in the name of rationality and science.

    @everybody who does not take PROOFS seriously:
    If we put aside the issue of faith [1] here, the fact is that God’s existence is consistent with the intellect and is also proven from a logical standpoint [2]. I will try to post a comment which I think could help with the the proof of the Cause of causes.

    What notodogma is now trying to say is that if these proofs are truly proofs, why then are there so many intelligent people who do not believe in God. I have heard this reasoning many times (when someone argues like this, it is a sign that he has not understood, because if he had, he would not need someone else to confirm him that the proofs are truly proofs or not).
    The answer to this actually deserves an article, but here I will try my best (which is of course incomplete).

    First of all, there are many proofs – which got nothing to do with religion – that are also neglected and not often mentioned. This typically happens when the implications of the proof is not liked by the general attitudes in society. An example is Arrow’s impossibility theorem, which has great implications for the idea of democracy; this proof is totally neglected and only mentioned in some textbooks.
    Even if some intelligent people do not believe in God, that is not an argument that these proofs are not truly proofs. Being intelligent is not equivalent to knowing everything. Most likely many of these intelligent people have never heard about the existence of these proofs. The intellect (the brain) is only of use in regard to these proofs if one uses the intellect for understanding these proofs. Someone could be intelligent but choose to spend that intelligence for some other purposes. Then this person’s intelligence is of no use with regard to the question about God. On the other hand, there are also many other forces at play with regard to this topic, which are independent of the validity of these proofs. Even if some intelligent and educated people, who have read and understood these proofs still don’t believe in God, then that is again not an argument to say that these proofs are not proofs, because normal intelligence (like solving a math problem) does not mean a person cannot be irrational, dogmatic or a liar (lie to himself or others), which is related to some of the other forces at play.
    And then we also have intelligent people who do not care about the truth, and only use their intelligence to deceive (the sophist).

    Actually all the great scientists who truly try to acquire knowledge (i.e. not the pseudo-sophist-scientists), end up with having faith in God (i.e. through their intellect they reach the stage of faith). Notodogma has on two occasions, without being specific, mentioned the “benefits” from the atheists to humanity. I am certain that a genuine atheist has never contributed with anything positive to humanity. Well of course we need to define what genuine atheism is and what we mean by positive.

    Philosophical relativism and skepticism
    Perhaps in my response to Jake, I was not so clear and precise, and by “skeptical” I more precisely meant “philosophical skepticism”. Maybe this not so precise formulation led to a misunderstanding (but nevertheless enriched the discussion). The main point about philosophical skepticism is that one can reject everything on baseless grounds. In fact from this point of view, it does not make sense to talk about proofs (any proof!), and the followers of philosophical skepticism or relativism can reject any proof or evidence, which of course is not fair and against common sense. In fact their “arguments” are so absurd (i.e. against common sense) that in my opinion, the best solution to the problem they pose also is absurd: A good amount of beating (bastinade). Then one can ask them if they are still “skeptic” about the beatings they are getting! But the fact is that no one really is a (philosophical) skeptic or relativist when it comes down to a test; these people are in fact contradicting themselves in every second sentence (or even within the same sentence). For example the statement “everything is relative” is self-contradictory, as it is actually postulating an absolute statement. In fact, these two philosophical stands have dogmatic attitudes, given all the evidence that exists. The other implication of philosophical relativism and skepticism, as mentioned in the footnote, is the perverse practice of sophism.
    One can only reject the proofs of God based on philosophical skepticism or relativism. And in this sense these proofs are no different than any other proof.

    [1] As I have understood, there is a difference between faith and belief; faith stems from the soul whereas belief stems from the intellect. Anyway this is what I mean when I use the words.
    [2] That does not mean that some intelligent people are not going to try to make some sophistry against the proofs. Sophistry means: the use of clever but false arguments. Sophism is the consequence of the perverse attitude of philosophical skepticism and relativism (these two stands are closely related). In fact any argument against God is per definition sophistry.

  25. David Jun 05, 2010 2:46 pm 25

    I was just reading about Pascal, and read that he is one of the founders of probability theory. So in a sense one can say that there would be no “modern science” if it was not for Pascal, given the enormous use of probability and statistics in science. I regret that I did not follow the links at the beginning of the article sooner, and if you too have not followed the links yet, I can recommend you to do that.

  26. Jake Jun 06, 2010 2:26 am 26

    Hey, it seems that my little irony has triggered quite a storm 😀

    To David: you seem to insist on the fact that we are talking about actual proofs of God. I do not deny the logical power of these proofs but the fact is that they do not prove the existence of God in the sense that people ususally understand this concept but of “something” abstract that, though (or because) it can be defined rather stricly from a logical point of view, has not much to do about a “God” that is all-conscious, all-powerful, all-just, etc. etc. and that people can relate to.

    I mean, what has the concept of “cause of all causes” to do with a conscious and intelligent god (mind the un-capitalized ‘g’) who is the the object of the prayers of believers? In other words, the God whose proofs of existence you’re so passionate about (yes, passionate, not only rational) is not the God in whom “believers” have faith, it is not God in fact but some kind of original principle at the root of everything that exists. Your proofs do not tell us anything about the other qualities that people ususally attribute to the idea of God.

    This is why I said that I was not “touched” by such “pseudo-logical reasonings.” They are “pseudo-logical” in that they use the word “God” as the object of their reasoning whereas in fact it is something else that they are establishing. This is why an atheist can not be convinced by these “proofs.”

    You know, I do not deny that atheism is actually a metaphysical choice just like the choice to believe in “God” or any other transcendent principle; contrary to you, I do not claim that my position as an atheist is “more rational” that the rational believer’s position (mind the “rational” here, I’m not talking about the average dogmatic believer…). I’m just saying that if you really want to instill any small amount of “faith” in my heart, tell me something that will touch my reason, don’t try to fool or bully me into worshipping the “cause of all causes” or any other abstraction like that. Might as well worship the “set of all sets” (I know, it’s not a set actually) and turn the Frankel-Zermelo system into a religion in that case 🙂 Hmmm, that is a great idea! I should launch my own Frankel-Zermelo cult! I’m sure I’ll make a lot of money making people believe that they will cure their cancer by repeating the axioms of set theory as a mantra and throwing stones at Gödel’s incompleteness theorem!

  27. Al Jun 07, 2010 1:37 am 27

    @ David : I am not sure if the purpose of this article was to prove existence of God, rather it is an invitation to try and detect the effects these proofs have on one self ( I am currently doing that :)).

    I believe in God strongly and passionately, but I do agree with what is mentioned in the first paragraph that these sophisticated arguments are open to disputation and hardly convincing. I personally do have some objection to these poofs. As heart warming that these proofs are for a believer they were not the sole reason that I believe in God. Just as it is mentioned in the third paragraph:

    “here the proof, materialized as it is by the cigarette butt, is not important in itself: it is important to the extent that it provides evidence of another reality which happens to be meaningful to us and the existence of which we are ready to believe in. This is the key point: if we didn’t believe in the existence of smokers, the cigarette butt would not prove anything.”

    As far as I understand, your mathematical proof was not a proof of existence of God, but the proof that believing in God is a rational choice because it is a utility maximizer. However, I believe your first footnote is not quite right. I would have said if some one chose not to believe in God, they have made “one” irrational choice since they are not maximizing their utility; it does not mean that anyone who does not believe in God is irrational.

    I remember Dr Bahram Elahi mentions in one of his books that most people that do not believe in God do not believe in a certain image of God that has been portrayed, and if God is shown to them the way he(it) is, then there would be no disputes ( this is not an exact quotation).

    One of the reasons that I love and practice Ostad Elahi’s philosophy is the fact that he does not use condescending terms against non-believers or believers of any other belief system. He states what he believes is true and allows the listener to accept ,dispute or absorb as much as he/she can. I love
    the fact that Ostad invites and encourages us to shift our focus within and practice spirituality ,and not be concerned what others believe.

  28. SM Jun 07, 2010 1:40 am 28

    @david: I apologize if my failure to capitalize the letter “g” came across as disrespectful; no disrespect was intended. But I’m glad you brought it up because I think this is the fundamental flaw in your approach and the approach of so many people who “push” the idea of God.

    In my experience, passion and prejudice are not effective tools to rationally convince people of anything, much less a metaphysical, invisible reality. Feeling disrespected because someone fails to adhere to your convention (capitalizing the “g,” for example) demonstrates that your approach is biased and you cannot detach yourself from your belief and talk about it objectively. Saying “My opinion is right and anyone who doesn’t agree with my logic is simply stupid and/or irrational” is not going to help you convince anyone. Rather, it will have the opposite effect of putting people on the defensive. I admire your passion and your dedication, but I think there are only two ways to “prove” the existence of God to someone: you either show them scientific evidence (which modern science has not yet provided), or you say something that would “touch their heart” as Jake alluded to, and make them believe. It is highly personal. Getting upset, defensive, calling other people irrational or dogmatic, etc. puts you on par with the intellectuals who mock people of faith and feel threatened to even allow the possibility that God may exist and that, as you and others have pointed out, belief in a supreme being (God, or whatever you’d like to call it) is in fact perfectly rational.

    Not surprisingly, I disagree with your use of the term “proof” because, as you are probably well-aware, logical proof (deductive reasoning) starts with a set of axioms, the truth of which is presumed, in order to arrive at a conclusion, the truth of which the formula proves (your basic, if A, then B, if B then C, if A then C type of deductive reasoning). If someone (atheist or not) does not agree with your fundamental axioms (and in the case of metaphysical issues, doesn’t internally feel a need to even explore the subject), you have parted ways before you ever arrive at the logically proven conclusion.

    Rationality, itself, is not a black-and-white concept. Yes, according to Pascal’s argument, it is more beneficial — and therefore rational — to believe than not to believe. But human beings do “irrational” things against their immediate or long-term benefit every day because we are complex beings and our choices are not black-and-white. The issue is not so simple that you can lay the “proof” and say anyone who doesn’t see it this way is ignorant or irrational. And of course, you deter more people that way than attract them. At the end of the day, this is a personal thing and I don’t think God, if he/she exists, needs defending.

    Lastly, my “allergy” to the word “God” stems from the fact that his name has been invoked to justify the worst atrocities the world has ever seen, and I for one, to the extent I have a personal belief in a higher being, tend to shun the word “God” (and hence my lack of interest as to whether the “g” indeed must be capitalized).

  29. David Jun 07, 2010 2:55 am 29

    At least the claims are now starting to be a bit more, and only a bit more reasonable!

    Jake’s and SM’s problems, as I understand, has something to do with the Divine Attributes (for example the characters of God) and many of them have roots in their prejudice of the word God and what they understand by the word.

    What these proofs prove is the existence of the Creator. The Cause of causes means The Creator. And perhaps the most important meaning of the word God is also a Creator. As I understand, there is a limitation to what these proofs prove about the attributes of God. But some attributes of God they do prove, for example, that God is a Creator (and other technical attributes). Besides, there are also many other important results that follows because of these proofs (like the immortality of the spirit). The other attributes of God, for example that God is just, as I understand, are the postulates of the different religions (i.e. the people who know this Creator say that He is just). That these latter attributes are postulates does not mean that they cannot be verified, and this is what The Science of Natural Spirituality is about. Anyway, this is as far as my understanding reaches at the moment, based on studying the spiritual books (which are all found in the resource section of this site).

    So if it makes people happy, I slightly reformulate my sentence to the following: The existence of the Creator has been proven and there is no room for disputation.

    The other kind of scientific proofs (verifiable, repeatable, objective evidence/experimentation) which SM is referring to at the end of his comment, actually also exist. Well there could perhaps be some objections from the positivists or the empiricist or other schools of thought, but that does not change the truth (that these scientific proofs do exist). Many people have said some nonsensical things, so it is not really an argument to say, for example: “the positivists disagree with that”. Many people can disagree, and they can even say many things, but that does not change the truth.

  30. ls Jun 08, 2010 4:59 am 30

    I think by this articles and the comments made, I am slowly realizing that we are all in different courses and levels in this life.

    Try and explain a complicated calculus formula to a child. This child has never heard of “calculus” to begin with and cannot comprehend what this formula is even for.

    I am slowly realizing this in my own ife. We all need to stop commenting on each other’s opinions, because we are all in different courses and levels.

  31. SM Jun 08, 2010 6:23 am 31

    @David: you misunderstand/mis-characterize my point (I let Jake speak for himself). My issue is not just with the word “God”; it has to do with your use of the terms “proof” and “prove.” I still disagree with your statement that “The existence of the Creator has been proven and there is no room for disputation” because of the use of the term “proven” and not because I’m a staunch atheist (which, incidentally, I am not; I do believe in “God,” though I choose to define him differently from how most institutional religions define him and I tend to not get defensive about him; I’m pretty sure he can take care of himself!).

    The issue here is that while God may be a perfectly logical choice/explanation, there is no proof that he is the only rational explanation. Utility of faith and rationality of faith are not the same thing.

    And incidentally, if you are aware of any scientific (verifiable, repeatable, objective evidence/experimentation) that PROVES God’s existence (in a scientific way, not in the loose definition that you seem to be utilizing), I’d be very interested in hearing about it. My hope is that some day science will take us there, but I’m fairly certain that day is not today …

  32. Max Farsh Jun 08, 2010 8:20 pm 32

    One of God’s Prophets inquires for the reason of creation and God responds back to him:”I was a hidden Treasure, and I loved that I should be known; so I created creation/the creatures so that I might be known” (Also quoted in Knowing the Spirit , Ostad Elahi, transl. J. Morris, p. 65, which quotes a highly reputable prophetic saying). I can totally understand why many people are turned off by religion due to its abuse. That is how my friend turned into an atheist.

    I am a believer in God (thank you God) and I have debated with very smart and sharp atheists. I have argued with atheists who have a Ph.D. in mathematics and have a extremely sharp logic (and, I have to admit, some sharper than my own). The results are always the same: neither of us was able to convince the other. We have ran circles around Godel’s incompleteness theorem, Pascal’s argument, etc. In a sense, the only advice I can give to someone who is an atheist is that for a period, give belief in God a sincere try. You might gain something that you did not possess (countless people have).

  33. David Jun 08, 2010 10:23 pm 33

    @Al: I think you are right with what you say about the purpose of the article. All these comments I have made started as responses to some false and unjust comments. About the proof with rationality: You are right! So I change that footnote to the following:
    “This proof proves that if someone (anyone!) is not a believer, then that would be an irrational choice.”
    Thank you for finding this grave error.

    @SM: Well of course, if someone does not agree with the assumptions made by a (deductive) proof, then he has the “right” to disagree (and this is the only way one can disagree with a deductive proof; i.e. to disagree with the assumptions).
    As for the rest:
    First of all, I do not want to convince anybody! As I have already written to Al, my comments started as responses to some false and unjust comments (and as you can see, some of these unjust comments have been withdrawn by the person who made them).

    About that my “passion” should somehow cause a bias and that I am somehow not objective:
    First I must ask: Biased and not objective in my approach to what?! If you are referring to the question about God’s existence, then I must say that the evidences and proofs are quite clear with respect to this question. So is a person now suddenly biased, because he accepts the evidences and proofs? If so, this goes back to the issue of skepticism and relativism, which I have made my points quite clear about.
    I also think when someone intentionally makes this (obvious) grammatical mistake (many times), then that shows he indeed is the biased and prejudiced one.

    Seen from another side, I don’t even see how it is possible to talk about a bias here. If I was writing a textbook which REQUIRED presenting different views and I totally left out some things, then you could talk about a bias in my approach. By the way, many (if not most) atheists and materialists have this approach in the textbooks they write. What I have been doing has been responding to some comments… And what does my “passion” got to do with the objectivity of my arguments? If someone gets upset by hearing others spreading false rumours, does that suddenly mean he is not rational or objective?! How would an engaged researcher feel if someone intentionally misspelled the topic of his research? And this last analogy only sheds light to one side of the story, which by the way is the side of the story that is least important. You are in a sense saying that if someone cares for something, then he is not rational. Is it even possible for a researcher to research in his field, if he is not passionate with what he is doing? Yes, I am not a machine.

    Last but not least, the literature I try to read comes from a lot less “biased sample”, than what I can imagine the atheists or materialists read. I even read what the atheists have to say, and this only makes me more confident with the stand I have taken. And this also shows who the truly biased and prejudiced people are.

    All this said, in a sense you can call me “prejudiced”. A prejudice based on ignorance is bad but not the prejudice of someone who has found the truth, because if it was not like this, one will end up like a total skeptic. And this should not be confused with being dogmatic (I have written the definition of dogmatic in another comment). So the distinction made here is that of the different forms of “prejudices”.
    To conclude, I see these “passionate” critiques as some form of sophistry.

  34. Azadeh Jun 10, 2010 1:59 pm 34

    Messages and coded information never come from anything else besides a mind.

    Non-living things cannot create codes (shaping a snowflake is a followed by a pattern for instance, not a code).
    DNA contains chemicals and proteins and those chemicals are arranged to form a language, like English . It’s not a pattern.

  35. AJ Sep 23, 2010 7:16 am 35

    With most theories and according to the rational mind, in order to believe in an idea one must be able to prove it. But in real life and through our history, we have, for practical reasons, always been able to adopt a belief in a theory, to take advantage of the outcomes without being able to prove it. Of course, sometimes science has caught up and produced the rational proof and in some instances we are still waiting for science to catch up, meanwhile life continues. So we do not always have to prove in order to believe. If it “works,” we develop a belief in it and would not compromise our immediate benefits waiting for the day that proof arrives. In most instances, the “proof” is in the favorable results and not necessarily understanding how those results are obtained. If believing in God and running one’s life according to God’s principles produces a sense of positive results in one’s life and at the same time deviating from those principles causes negative consequences, then these outcomes become the proof. The experiment and its results become the proof.
    In many instances, Ostad Elahi seems to suggest that reason alone may not be sufficient for proving God’s existence. As a matter of fact, proving God’s existence to others may be secondary to proving God’s existence to ourselves. Seeking to prove God’s existence to myself might be preferable to expecting others to prove it to me. Finally, if finding God is a personal, individual and inner activity, doesn’t that make it rather impossible for anyone to prove it to another through rational argumentation? The best a believer can do is try to leave a positive impression on others.

  36. 7 Jan 17, 2013 4:32 pm 36

    After almost two and half years going back and reading this article, and few of the comments.
    In comment 19:
    “That is NOT what life has showed me. And I am slightly offended for my atheist/agnostic friends, and the long line of atheist and agnostic thinkers, doctors, scientists, human beings in general who have worked and fought hard, and sometimes died, to improve their fellow human being’s circumstances and free us from religious dogmatism, oppression and obscurantist thinking, that they should be judged, or mocked, or belittled because they do not or did not believe in “God”. Thus my call for restraint and humility.”

    Amazed by Notodogma again! Obviously he is a strong believer of God. However, the way he has compassion for atheists is admirable and it is a big lesson for most of us. Only an old soul can accepts and understands atheists and have strong compassion for them. I personally cannot stand even mother when she says something negative about God’s profits (that shows my immaturity, and lack of understanding).

    Thank you

  37. notodogma Jan 27, 2013 7:02 pm 37

    “Compassion for atheists”?
    I’m afraid not. This would mean that I feel superior to someone simply because that person doesn’t “have faith”.
    If I should have any compassion, it is, on the contrary, for those who feel that their “faith” makes them superior to others.
    If I have learned anything, it is to not judge a book by its cover.
    Better yet, to try not to “judge” others, as it invariably comes with the exhilarating (and disgusting) taste of self-righteousness, self-importance, and self-agrandissement.

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