God Is Real: A Philosophical Approach

The subject of this entire blog is whether  we can know God is real;  we will be taking a philosophical approach to the question of God and his existence. When we are surrounded with cultural agnosticism, we debate the question of God while having no real personal knowledge to enlighten our conversations. The answer this blog will give to the question of God is, “Yes., we CAN know God is real!”

How many questions can we answer?

Questions Questions

It is intended for those who believe in God but are confused about their intellectual right to that belief.  And this blog is for those who do not believe in God but are willing to inquire as to whether there is more to it than blind faith. It will also be of interest to anyone who is simply curious about the subject.

Is This Acceptable In Polite Conversation?

Neither the question posed nor the answer that will be defended is considered a topic for polite conversation these days. Religion seems to have changed places with sex as a taboo subject in public. It’s all right to acknowledge that there are such things as religious beliefs, but only so long as we don’t go into any further detail. The least acceptable form of going into further detail would be a discussion such as the one that will take place here. Which discussion is that?  A consideration of how to tell which, if any, of those beliefs are true and which are false.

In fact, many people nowadays even regard the thought that some beliefs may be true and others false as reprehensible.  Unfortunately, too many people know very little about the tradition they personally are most familiar with, and absolutely nothing about other traditions. These same people are, nevertheless, certain that all religious beliefs may be true at once. They’re also quite sure that “faith” means accepting a belief without knowing it’s true. As a result, they see a Berlin Wall between faith and all we can truly be said to know – such as science. ( For a description of the actual Berlin Wall which has become a literary metaphor, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Wall )

Is Religious Belief a Mere Invention to Frighten Others?

Another thing a great many people are sure of is that religious belief was invented as a scare story to reinforce ethics. The ethic found in the Bible is OK; who would disagree with the Ten Commandments that murder, theft, dishonesty, and so on, are wrong? But on the other hand, who needs the scare story? Why do we often suppose people won’t be ethical unless they’re told that there’s a big Umpire in the sky? Will this Umpire  penalize them in the next life even if they escape retribution for their wrongdoing in this life? After all, the reasoning goes, we know firsthand that we are ethical without repeatedly hearing the scare story. As a result these indiviuals consider that scare story to be irrational and useless. It is then advocated that what we really need to do is keep on enforcing that Berlin Wall.  The hope is that one day the advance of science will cause religious beliefs – all of them – to fade away and relieve the world of a needless source of tension. (For John Lennon’s hymn which gives the underlying “scriptural” text for this belief and has been viewed nearly 100 million times, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkgkThdzX-8)

The only trouble with these gems of popular wisdom is that they are all wholly false.

Our discussions on this site will show how clarifying the nature of religious belief can a llow us to see that, under the right circumstances, religious belief can have the same kind of justification that is enjoyed by beliefs that have long been considered to be the most certain we have. Thus if justified certainty warrants us in saying we have knowledge, then belief in God can also be knowledge. In that case it is not merely wishful thinking, blind trust, or a scare story invented to promote ethics. (A discussion of this concept and its resulting affirmations can be found at https://www.iep.utm.edu/epistemo/ )

The Need for Clarification

What is more, clarifying what counts as a religious belief makes it plausible that no one can really avoid it, though this fact goes unrecognized for two reasons. The first is that such beliefs can be unconscious assumptions. The second is that many people call their religious belief by another name. In both cases people think they have no religious belief when actually they do.

The clarification of the nature of religious belief also makes it possible to see why it cannot successfully be walled off from the rest of knowledge. The fact is, religious belief is one of the most influential beliefs people hold. This belief effects not only their conceptions of human nature and destiny, but also their ideas of society, justice, ethics, and even how they do science.

Looking forward to discussing this with many readers,

Roy Clouser

Prof. Emeritus

The College of New Jersey

Blog Philosopher-in-residence

 Belief in God Though Religious Experience

 Belief in God Though Religious Experience

 Belief in God Though Religious Experience

Can you know God is real? Does Belief in God Though Religious Experience really mater?

The well-known atheist, Richard Dawkins, has frequently claimed that religion and science are the exact opposites. Science, he has said, is based on observation and reasoning, and it tests its hypotheses. Religion, on the other hand, discards reasoning and testing and is based on blind faith alone. The comparison assumes that belief in God is just like scientific theories in being a hypothesis, but unlike scientific theories in remaining unreasoned and untested.

This, however, is a serious misunderstanding. Belief in God is not a hypothesisat all. That is, it is not an educated guess in need of argument or testing. Rather it is an experience reportfrom people who have experienced God. Religious belief is based upon religious experience.

For many folks, the mention of “religious experience” conjures up thoughts of ecstatic visions, furniture flying around the room, or visits from angels. But the truth is that most of the experiences that generate belief in God are not wild or strange.  If we define “religious experience” to mean any experience that generates, deepens, or confirms a religious belief, then the most frequent of all religious experiences among Christians is:

Belief in God Though Religious Experience –  Seeing the gospel to be the truth about God from God.

That is the most basic sort of religious experience had by Christians. And since it is the experience of the truth of a belief, it is the same sort of experience which, in mathematics and logic, has long been called experiencing a truth to be “self-evident.” In Ephesians 1, St Paul tells the members of that church that he is praying for them concerning their knowledge of God which comes from having “the eyes of your hearts enlightened.” That is the same visual metaphor that had been used for centuries for self-evident truths: they are ones which we simply “see” to be true.

Notice that Paul doesn’t offer a proof that God exists; he doesn’t pile up “evidence,” or claim that there are features of the world that look designed rather than accidental. No, he speaks of believer’s hearts being “enlightened” so that they see (for themselves) the truth of the gospel. That truth is not inferred from other beliefs, but is “seen” directly, says Paul.

Paul’s position is therefore just about the reverse of the one taken by most Christian thinkers since his time. Most of the Christian theologians or philosophers who have written about belief in God have taken the approach of trying to prove its truth. Most, but not all.

There have always been some who rejected the idea of proving God’s reality, and I’m now going to quote two of them. The first is a Protestant theologian, John Calvin; the second is a Catholic scientist, Blaise Pascal. See if you don’t find them to be taking the same position despite phrasing it quite differently. Here is the way Calvin put it:

As to the question, How shall we be persuaded that [scripture] came from God… it is just the same as if we were asked, How shall we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Scripture bears upon the face of it as clear evidence of its truthas white and black do of their colors sweet and bitter of their taste

…Scripture, carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it tothe testimony of the Spirit of God….

(Inst. I, vii, 2; I, vii, 5)

 

Belief in God Though Religious Experience –                                                                                         Pascal’s phrasing of the same point:

 

We know truth not only with the reason, but also with the heart. It is in this latter way that we recognize first principles, and it is in vain that reason, which has no parttherein, tries to impugn them… For the knowledge of first principles – for example [of] space, time, motion, and number, [is] as sure as any of those procured for us by reason. And it is upon this knowledge of the heart and instinct that reason must rely and base all its arguments…

Those, therefore, to whom God has imparted religion by intuition are very fortunate and very rightly convinced.

(Pensees, # 214)

 

More recently this same position has been taken by the British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Here is but one example of his thinking on the subject:

A proof of God’s existence should really be something by which one could convince oneself of God’s existence. But I think that believers who have provided such proofs have wanted to give their “belief” an intellectual analysis and foundation, although they themselves would never have come to believe through such proofs….

Life can educate one to a belief in God. And also experiences can do this… e.g. sufferings of various kinds. These neither show us God in the way a sense impression shows us an object, nor do they give rise to conjecturesabout him. Experiences, thoughts, – life can force this concept upon us.

(VB, 85-6)

 

It is this position that will be explained, expanded, and defended in future postings of this blog. I invite all who are interested in a serious discussion of this topic to respond.

 

Roy Clouser

Philosopher-in-Residence at Christian Leaders Institute

Prof. Emeritus

The College of New Jersey