Kesho ~ Kwaya ya Mt. Theresia wa mtoto Yesu Bukoba[Mp3 review & Lyrics]

So You Want to Explain Why You Believe

Three more philosophical arguments for the existence of God, in terms a regular guy can understand.

Yesterday we covered two arguments in favor of the existence of God that seem complicated—and are—but can be boiled down to their essentials for the amateur apologist. Today, we’ll go through three more.

3. The Argument from Consciousness

Life presents to us an extremely rich qualitative dimension, which is to say, the entire “what it is like”-ness to being you and experiencing the things you experience. The spicy scent of ginger tea, the easy sight of the flamingo, and the luscious guitar sounds of Ratt drive the point home.

The way naturalists usually tell it is that consciousness is a late and local phenomenon, something that emerges from purely mindless physical stuff. Simply put, whatever is fundamental to the naturalist is, effectively, whatever consciousness is not: it is not feeling, not sensing, and not “about” anything (the way thoughts are about things).

But the immediate problem is that it seems extremely difficult, if not outright impossible, to construct consciousness from an utterly unconscious base, as described by naturalism.

Just think about it. How does one take mindless atoms and make a unified center of conscious awareness, a subject that binds together so many different thoughts and feelings through intervals of time?

The problem is not just a matter of trying to establish sufficient material complexity, but also how one leaps, as if by magic, across profoundly different kinds of reality. Compare: just as the number and arrangement of white LEGO blocks is irrelevant to constructing a purple tower (even infinite time and number of pieces won’t help), it seems that the same problem, if not significantly worse, applies when it comes to constructing a unified conscious being from the disparate mindless blocks that the naturalistic worldview has to offer.

The problem doesn’t end there, however. For even if the naturalist can make sense of how consciousness could emerge from an unconscious base, he doesn’t have a good story for explaining why it would emerge. Consciousness seems wasteful for the naturalist, since it’s the mindless atoms that do all the work, anyway. (Remember that according to naturalism, the physical realm causes and determines the mental realm, not the other way around.) Thus, there is no good naturalistic-evolutionary account for why the emergence of consciousness would happen, even if the emergence of consciousness could happen.

Classical theism avoids both issues since theism isn’t committed to everything reducing to physics (which is absurd anyway, but whatever—set that aside). In a real sense, molecules aren’t fundamental in classical and Christian theism. Persons are. Theism starts not from a principle of indifference, but a principle of perfection, where everything in the created world is not just less than, but infinitely less than what stands at the foundation. Surely it is easier to think of how we can get something lesser from something (infinitely) greater than it is to think of how one can get something so profound as consciousness from something entirely bereft of thoughts and feelings, like atoms.

Moreover, theism gives reason to expect conscious beings. We are good to have around. God would know this and would be motivated to bring us about. So not only is our emergence possible on theism, but it is also expected. All this gives another powerful reason to accept classical theism over atheistic naturalism.

4. The Argument from Fine-Tuning

We have a basic intuition that stuff that seems “well put together”—i.e., complex stuff, with functionally interrelated parts—is the product of intelligence. This intuition is frequently applied in experience: we see a mousetrap or a Nintendo Switch or the Mona Lisa, and we naturally think some intelligent being produced it. By and large, this intuition is frequently confirmed in experience. Certain things seem to obviously be the product of forethought, which implies that creative intelligence (the ability to engage in relational thinking), not blind (unintelligent) natural forces, is responsible.

But the atheist says, “Not so fast: evolution shows us how things that appear designed are actually the product of totally unintelligent, pitiless forces of nature.”

However, as the best science informs us, evolution requires a very special physical setup to occur, and the physical setup of our universe is incredibly “fine-tuned” or “really well put together” concerning the necessary conditions for the emergence of interactive life. Physicists tell us that if things were just a teensy-weensy bit different concerning, say, the expansion rate of the universe, the strength of the strong nuclear force, the weight of the electron, or many other examples, the emergence of intelligence life would not be possible, because in many cases chemistry would not be possible, or the universe would have collapsed back in on itself, or some other catastrophic scenario. This conclusion enjoys overwhelming expert consensus, from theists and atheists alike. Where the disagreement largely lies is in what explains the fine-tuning.

From the best of what we know, scientifically speaking, evolution requires a physical system that appears “well put together,” a sort of “Goldilocks” situation, where things are just right for evolution to take hold and eventually produce beings like us. Once all that is understood, it becomes clear that evolution does not defeat our frequently confirmed intuition that stuff that appears well put together is best explained by intelligent agency, something capable of foresight.

At this point, the atheist might say the multiverse could explain fine-tuning. The theist can respond, maybe it does. But how does that help? As physicist Luke Barnes explains, any theoretically plausible model of the multiverse itself requires fine-tuning; thus, the problem is just relocated, not actually resolved. So until someone can propose a multiverse model that is predictively useful as a physical theory and does not itself appear well fit together (finely tuned), the theist is justified in maintaining his intuition that things that appear well put together are well put together because something intelligent is behind them.

The basic intuition is undefeated “all the way down.” There is thus no reason—from science, anyway—to think things that strongly appear to be the product of intelligence somehow aren’t.

Finally, when it comes to an entire physical universe being well put together, it does not take a lot of imagination to suppose whose intelligence is behind it.

(A note: Someone might worry that God is a poor explanation of the physical universe because God would be more complex than the physical universe. This is false. In the most relevant sense, God is far simpler than any physical reality, since God is an unrestricted act of understanding. In other words, God is the absolutely simple and immaterial first principle of all, a being of pure positiveness, with zero limitations or arbitrary restrictions, lacking all internal complexity, especially physical complexity. That makes God not only simpler than any possible physical explanation, but the simplest conceivable explanation there is.)

5. The Argument from Suffering

Recall the argument from consciousness. There it was made clear that the naturalistic worldview holds that our mental life is something late and local, preceded by and entirely caused by unthinking, unfeeling physical bits. Such commitments are what cause many naturalists to endorse a position called epiphenomenalism (an epiphonema is just something that is itself caused but causes nothing) when it comes to our mental life, or our thoughts and feelings. This is a spooky position and contrary to common sense, since it implies, for example, that our desiring coffee—that is, the feeling of wanting coffee—has nothing to do with our going and getting coffee. Such a feeling just coincidentally (magically?) attends to blind physical forces causing the action of “getting coffee.”

Now, to be clear, epiphenomenalism is as self-evidently false as anything in philosophy could be, and to the extent that naturalism is committed to epiphenomenalism, is even more reason to reject naturalism.

But there is yet another problem. Typically, the naturalist tells us that the vast suffering of our experience is far better expected if God does not exist and if naturalism is true, and so we should endorse naturalism over theism. But this story is way too superficial and ignores too much of what actually goes on in naturalistic research programs, including philosophy of mind. So let’s connect some dots.

Evolution selects for outcomes and functions that confer survival advantage, not feelings, per se, and human functions for the naturalist are possible without feeling. For example, the function of me pulling my hand away from the prick of a pin does not require any painful feeling—it requires no feeling at all within the naturalistic understanding, because the feeling is causally irrelevant. Further, if there is a feeling attendant to some function of human behavior, the feeling could have been literally anything; pulling my hand from the pin could have been correlated with the feeling I feel when listening to the Barney theme song, tasting a grape, or looking at my grandmother’s bunion. Why? Again, because the feeling plays no role in what “the physics” is doing, since the feelings are determined by the physics and the physics is in no way determined by the feelings. (For the naturalistic, remember, the causality is entirely in one direction.) Thus, the outcome would have been the same no matter what the feeling is, or if there is any feeling at all, because it is entirely the unconscious, unfeeling physical processes that matter, that do the functional work and that, ultimately, are selected for. Feelings don’t have anything to do with it, and so it just doesn’t seem there is any need for feelings to be there at all, or to be as “fitting” as they are, if the common naturalistic account of things is correct.

We can only scratch the surface of this argument here. The point for now is simply that once these (admittedly subtle) points concerning the mental and physical are understood, naturalism has no real story to tell for the actual distribution of suffering in our world. Things could have gotten along in just the same way they have without any feelings, good or bad. Things could have been far better or far worse, feelings-wise. The problem is that naturalism, when systematically articulated and consistent with its own inner logic, does not adequately predict any specific degree or distribution of suffering. It leaves all possibilities wide open.

However, once we grant a few plausible points about suffering, including that suffering can be spiritually medicinal (soul-healing and soul-building) alongside other plausible stories about God’s governance (particularly about letting natures play their part, including the natures of free beings), there is a strong theistic story we can tell that makes the distribution of suffering in this world not entirely surprising.

I cannot rehearse this story now, but the simple point is this: naturalism has no explanatory story to tell—ultimately—anyway, about the suffering we experience. Some story is better than no story, and so even the suffering of our experience is evidence for rather than against the existence of God.

Okay—there you have it: three arguments (and two before those) for the existence of God, somewhat simplified.


Artist: Kwaya ya Mt. Theresia wa mtoto Yesu Bukoba

Song: Kesho

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I must apologize to the reader for the length of this “simplified” summary of arguments. There is still a fair bit going on in the presentations above, to be sure. Still, I have distilled each argument to the extent I am able without omitting any seriously crucial aspect or presenting the arguments in ways that might lead to false philosophical conceptions about God or something else, like morality. If these arguments interest you enough to want to pursue them further, my forthcoming book The Best Argument for God deals with these topics in satisfying detail. And the theme of this year’s Catholic Answers conference is—what else?—“I Believe in God.”

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