ROBERT LAWRENCE KUHN:Is there a supreme being, a creator of all things, a God? Some say that no questionis more vital, determining meaning, purpose, even life after death.
Others say that no questionis more archaic, born of mythand pre-science ignorance.
I think a lot about whetherthere is or even can be such a supreme being.
Cultural traditions, group norms, personal feelings all affect beliefor non-belief in God.
But can arguments, reasons, flows of logic, ways of thinking cut through traditions, norms, feelings? How do believersand non-believers muster argumentsfor and against God? This time I put the questionto believers.
What arguments do believers use? How to argue for God? I'm Robert Lawrence Kuhn, and Closer to Truthis my journey to find out.
I've addressedGod's existence before, but I'm always ready for more, pushing believersand non-believers, seeking from eachfresh ways of knowing.
Here's why, this time, I put the question to believers.
Believers bearthe burden of proof.
Believers are the onesmaking the affirmative argument, proclaiming the existenceof an unknown entity that cannot be perceivedby the senses or science.
I go to the Universityof Oxford, England, to meet Alistair McGrath, professorof science and religion.
A scientist by trainingand a theologian by vocation, Alistair is familiarwith arguments.
ROBERT: Alistair, I'm not embarrassed to admit I do not know whetherGod exists, but I would like to knowwhether God exists.
I like to look at arguments, because argumentsare like scalpels that can tease apart reality.
What can we learn about God fromsome of the arguments about God? ALISTAIR McGRATH: Well, I thinkfirst thing to say here is that clearly peoplesee it important to show that belief in God is rational.
We want to show that faithdoes make sense.
You're not hangingyour brains up when you startthinking about God.
This actuallyis about an extension of this great human enterprise of trying to understandthe world we're in.
So some have said that, that faith should be so strong it should eliminaterationality, and that you do not agree with.
ALISTAIR: No, I don't.
For me, faith and rationalitygo hand in hand.
Faith, if you like, goes beyond reason but doesn't contradict it.
First of all, we needto realize that in real life there are very few thingswe can prove.
The issue is probabilityrather than proof.
In other words, is there a good case forthinking that this is right? And something like God, what we're out to do is to show, “Look, this makes sense.
There seems to be somegood reasons for thinking this, even though it doesn'ttake us the full way.
” If we look at classic argumentsfor the existence of God, for exampleThomas Aquinas' “Five Ways” from the 13th century, in many waysthere are not proofs in the modern sense of the word.
Proofs is what you doin mathematics and logic.
What Aquinas is doingis arguing.
He's saying, look, if there were a God then it makes sense of, for example, our observationsof change in the world, our sense that there isthis thing called good, and it's worth pursuing.
So, what Aquinas is really doing is not tryingto prove there is a God, but to say, hey, this idea makesa lot of sense, doesn't it? ROBERT: But how aboutin religions themselves? I mean, there arevery strong differences.
ALISTAIR: I think all faithshave their own internal logic.
In other words, there is a certain rationalitythat they possess, and this rationality is a wayof looking at things.
And inevitably there are debatesabout how those rationalities apply to this idea or that idea.
And what I agreeto appreciate is that althoughthe Enlightenment said there's only one rationalityand, by the way, we've got it, I think in recent yearswe've come to realize there are a lotof rationalities.
And one of the issues we face is trying to evaluatecompeting understandings of what it means to be rational.
And that's part of the reason why thesereligious disputes happen.
ROBERT: But what has happened isthat the more we've done that, the more Christianity has, has split intomore and more fragments.
They may allcall themselves Christian, but they all feel they'requite different from each other.
ALISTAIR:I would just have to say that trying to find the best wayof looking at things is a fundamental human instinct, and it's not sayingthat's wrong.
It's saying we need to begracious towards each other as we try to navigate our way towards the bestconceptual outcome.
♪ ROBERT: Alistairbegins arguing for God with the idea thatbelief in God is rational.
While faith must be involved, because God cannot be proved ina scientific or logical sense, rational thought is stillrequired to know God.
So far, I follow.
I myself am motivatedmore by rational thought than by feelings of faith.
So here's my problem.
How then do I relatethe conflicting claims about God with the accepted factsabout science? So the next step for me is to look to what God, if there is a God, created, if there is a creator.
I look to the universe– its fundamental structure, macro and micro.
Still seeking believers, I go to London to meetphysicist Russell Stannard.
How does the universeaffect his belief? Russell, not onlyare you a believer, but you come from a rigorousscientific background.
What are the methodologiesthat allow us to properly approachthe question, does God exist? RUSSELL STANNARD:You might be looking for some kind of evidence which is absolutelyknock-down proof.
You know, that happens, therefore you mustbelieve in God.
It's certainly truethat in science there are occasions when thingsare absolutely clear-cut.
But even in sciencethere are situations, particularly if you're dealingwith the big questions, like how didthe universe begin? How did humans evolve? It's not like that.
And it's a bit like thatwith God.
What you have to dois to build up a case.
So, for example, all ofthe scientists now believe that the world beganwith a Big Bang.
Now, why? Where's the knock-down proof? Well, all the galaxies are moving apartfrom each other.
The further away the galaxy is, the faster they're recedinginto the distance, so if you runthe tape backwards, everything wassquashed together at a point.
Therefore, a Big Bang took place.
No, because when that wasthe only piece of evidence, there were many people who subscribedto a different cosmology, what was calledthe Steady State theory where, alright, things expanded, but new matter formedand new galaxies were formed.
There was no beginning point.
What then happened was that, if there had been a Big Bang, one could argue, well, there would bea blinding flash of light, and that light must be aroundin the universe somewhere, cooled down now, and when you look, sure enough, you see it.
It's the microwavebackground radiation.
Then you say, well, OK, that then is the knock-downpiece of evidence.
The answer is certainly not.
If all you knew was thatthere was this radiation, there are certainly othersources of radiation out there.
That wouldn't be proof.
But you've now gottwo pieces of evidence.
In fact, these dayswe've got five or six almost independentpieces of evidence.
Each one of those indications could be knocked downby some ad hoc explanation which just explainsthat one thing.
But the Big Bang hypothesisexplains all five in one go.
Now, that is how I seebelief in God, evidence for God.
You look at the wholevariety of things, starting, for example, with thefact that there is a universe.
Why is there somethingrather than nothing? Answer: God.
Well, not everybody'sconvinced by that.
Then you say, OK, well, just look at this universe.
It seems to befine-tuned for life.
Now, if you just threw togetherlaws of nature at random, you wouldn't have life.
But then someonecomes along and says, yes, but you could havelots of universes.
So you can knock that one off.
But then what about people'sreligious experience? You know, they feel thatthey're talking to someone– you know, answers to prayer.
ROBERT: I can make lotsof psychological and sociological explanations.
RUSSELL: Absolutely, but the God hypothesis knocksthe whole lot down in one go, and I do not see that as beingterribly different to the way things are in my lifeas a scientist.
ROBERT: Would it bea fair question to ask you to compare the, the five or six arguments to demonstrate the Big Bang and the five, six, or however many arguments or methods of explanationto affirm your belief in God as to which are the stronger? RUSSELL: Well, I thinkthe problem is, you see, that although there arethese similarities, there is a big difference, namely that some ofthese evidences for God are subjective.
But the factthat it's subjective doesn't make it, for me, any the less real.
Like, for example, I love my wife.
I know–not I believe– I know that I love my wife.
And the fact thatI can't convince you because you don't havethat experience doesn't alter the factthat it is real and it is true.
Now, I feel that aboutmy, my belief in God.
I know I'm not alone.
Now, unless you experiencethe same thing yourself, you haven't a cluewhat I'm talking about.
ROBERT: I guess I can imaginewhat it feels like to know I'm not alone, but why should I trustmy own feelings? People don't feel alonein haunted houses, and there aren'tany real ghosts around.
I'm not doubting Russell; I'm doubting myself.
While Russell'sbest internal evidence for God is subjectivepersonal experience, his best external evidencefor God is the universe.
To his credit, he is carefulnot to count the universe as proof of God.
If the universe representswhat God may have created, how to representwhat God may be? For this, I inquire of Islam, with its rich traditionof glorifying God's grandeur.
I visit Islamic scholarMahmoud Ayoub.
Mahmoud, in Islam, what is the nature of God? MAHMOUD AYOUB: God is.
It's difficult to answerthe question “does God exist, ” because if existence becomesa limitation on God's nature, then we cannot deny existencebut we would have to explain it.
God's purposein creating all things is in order that all thingsmay worship or glorify God.
The Koran says there is nothing in creation but that attains God's praise, but we do not understandthe manner of its glorification.
And the human responsibilitytowards God, this transcendent, unknowable yet immanent knowable being, is that they mustlearn to appreciate what we may call or decipher, what we may callthe science of God in creation.
And God has many names in Islam.
The 99 names of Godare quite well-known.
And one of these names is God as the truth, the absolute truth.
And that bears really on, then, our religions, how are they to be regarded in comparison with the absolute truththat is God? Our religions, all of them, are truths only in as muchas they relate to or participate in the manifestation of God, the absolute truth, but in themselves, they are relative truths.
They are ways to God and not God himself.
God, the Koran says, is above the highest heaven, but He is so nearto human beings that He is closerto a human being than his jugular vein.
ROBERT: God in Islamseems more transcendent, even beyond existence, because existenceis not a category in which God can be contained.
But God is still immanent, closer to usthan we are to ourselves.
Describing God as a radicallytranscendent and immanent being may not seem, on its surface, as an argument for God.
But to me, descriptions of Godare arguments for God because if there is a God, God must go radically beyondour imaginations.
Anything lesswould not pass the God test.
There remains one final step that God, to be God, may have to take.
Because even if God weremajestically transcendent, God would still requirea large leap to be a necessary being, meaning that it would beimpossible for God not to exist.
Can God be a necessary being? I ask philosopher of religionTimothy O'Connor, author of “Theismand Ultimate Explanations.
” TIMOTHY O'CONNOR: So, you and Iand everything around us, we think of as beingthe sort of things that needn't have existed.
Objects, right? Particular things.
My parents might not have met.
Had they not met, there wouldn't be me.
And when you start to thinkyour way back in history, all the factors, both human choices andlarge-scale cataclysmic events that altered human history, had any of those not occurred, there wouldn't havebeen me either.
So I am what philosophers calla contingent being.
And our universe is constitutedby a bunch of things like that, some very big and long-lastingcontingent things, like our sun, but even our sunmight not have existed had the early stagesof our universe been slightly different.
So, it seems likethe universe as a totality is something thatmight not have been.
But then the questionthis naturally gives rise to is, well, why is it, then? If you're going to explain that, you're going to have to be ableto invoke the idea of somethingthat simply must be, that gave riseto the things like us that are dependent things, things thatneed not have existed.
ROBERT: A terminusof explanation, a final stop.
on the roadto explanation.
There has to be a stop.
And that being is somethingnecessary that exists.
TIM: That's right.
ROBERT: What could it be? TIM: Well, if we're supposing that there is sucha being precisely in order to account forthe universe that we inhabit, then we have to lookat the supposed effect of this being and say, what can we learn from looking at the natureof our universe that might offer clues? Because we have, I think, at bottom twofundamentally different ways of explaining particular eventsin the world.
There's explanationin terms of persons who have purposesand form choices.
That's a fundamental styleof explanation, call it a personal explanation, a belief, desire-basedexplanation.
And then we have, in ourfundamental physical sciences, an impersonal, sort ofmechanistic, causal explanation.
And the question is, what should we supposethe necessary being is? Is it more like some kind ofimpersonal, physical system? Or is it more likea personal reality? Well, one thing we do knowabout our universe, we seem to know, based onour contemporary physics, is that our universeis exquisitely fine-tuned for the existence of life.
Now, if you thinkthat's a really striking fact about our universe, that there isintelligent purpose of life and if there's a necessary being that gave riseto such a universe, it can't just beby happenstance that it gave riseto that particular universe.
ROBERT: There are explanations.
There could be an infinitenumber of universes and there'sthe selection effect.
But you're using this as a way of already havinga necessary being and then trying to identifythat necessary being.
I'm aware of thesealternative strategies, but I don't think they workin the final analysis.
If all we were trying to dowas to account for the fine-tuned characterof our universe, that might be adequate.
But there's still a morefundamental question: Why is reality that way? Now this much bigger way? “Why is there a multiverse?”is a question that we might ask.
And I thinkto answer that question ultimately you're goingto have to say it's the product ofsomething that had to be so that there's not a needfor further explanation of that thing.
Can we knowanything more about it? Well, what isthe putative effect? When we seethis exquisite fine-tuning as a feature of our universe, it's the sort of thing you wouldexpect a personal reality, if there were such a reality, to go for.
Right? Especiallyif it takes fine-tuning to bring about persons.
That's the kind of target that one might expectan intelligent purpose of being to have in creation because we think personsare a very unique, special feature of our universe.
If, on the other hand, necessary being werean impersonal reality, it's hard to see why its naturewould just happen to be such as to give rise to somethinghaving this very unique yet exquisitelyfine-tuned feature.
ROBERT: Here's how Timargues for God.
He starts withcontingent beings– beings that did nothave to exist, like planets and people.
He then reasonsthat a final explanation of why contingent beings exist must be a necessary being.
But what kind of thingis a necessary being? Two choices: personal or impersonal.
He then calls on the fine-tuningof the universe, which enableshuman persons to exist, to conclude thatthe necessary being is personal.
I like the argument, hope it works.
But two questions disturb me.
First, why couldn't existencehave only contingent beings and no necessary being? This would not seema contradiction or be otherwise impossible.
Second, why shoulda personal explanation have the same prior probability as an impersonalor mechanistic explanation? Although I here focus onhow believers argue for God, because I relyon rational arguments, I must ask what sciencetells us, if anything, about how to argue for God.
I turn to one ofmy intellectual heroes, Nobel laureate in physics, Steven Weinberg.
STEVEN WEINBERG: I thinkthat there is a tendency, and Einstein was particularlyculpable in this, to use the word “God”metaphorically in such a wayas to give the impression of a happy reconciliationbetween science and religion.
I don't buy that.
I think there are deepand profound tensions between science and religion, and I would rather notuse the word “God” in any way that suggestsany kind of grand unification.
ROBERT: Do you seeboundaries for science? And to you, what would they be? STEVEN: Well, sciencedeals with what is, with questions of fact.
It has nothing to say aboutquestions of value or morality.
There's, it seems to me, an unbridgeable gulf betweenthe “is” and the “ought.
” The fact that sciencehas nothing to say about what ought to be but only about what it is has left many peopledissatisfied with science, people feeling that scienceisn't enough to build a life on.
I agree with that.
It's just a part of.
It's a very nice partof my life, but it's only a part of it.
There are lots of other things.
And some peoplehave turned to religion as filling up the restof what they need.
I don't find that satisfactory.
In the first place, that historically religionhas not done a very good job of telling uswhat we ought to do.
But on a deeper level, the message of, especially the greatAbrahamic religions– Judaism, Christianity, and Islam– seems to mefundamentally immoral in that instead of takingas the highest ideal that we should be good and kindand loving to each other, it replaces it with an idealof obedience and worship of a God who surelydoesn't need our support, so that the ideal is Abraham, who at God's command, is willing to sacrifice either Isaac, if you're a Jew or Christian, or Ishmael if you're a Muslim, that seems to meutterly repugnant.
People seem to me to besearching for a big truth to fill their lives, and so they turn to religion or they turn away from religion to some other big truthlike Marxism or Maoism or laissez-faire capitalism.
And I think the human racehas to grow up and give up the search fora big truth in human affairs.
So, whatever religion you have, if religion meansa set of assumptions of fact about God or the afterlife, you still have to choosewhat your system of values is.
Now, of course, many people in the world today choose the will of God over the common human choiceof loving each other and living in peace, and they obey the commandsof God to destroy the infidel.
And they're, in my mind, making the wrong choice.
And I think the worldwould be better without the religious commands, but with the commonhuman understanding of what is right and wrong.
ROBERT:Steven Weinberg is an atheist, and I'd hope to be a theist.
But I'd be disappointedif God, if there is a God, did not respect Steveand like him, too.
Everyone should appreciatehow to argue against God.
And everyone should appreciatehow to argue for God.
But because believersposit an unknown entity, I lay onto their shoulders the burden of proofor inference.
It can be rationalto believe in God.
But that does not meanthat God really exists.
There can beno absolute proof of God.
And while personal experienceof God convinces many, I personally remain wary.
If I'd go with God, I'd gain from IslamGod's ineffable transcendence.
But no matter whatI may think about God, regarding religion, my attitude skews to Steve's.
If required to divulge my view, right now I'd saythere is a necessary being and it isin some sense personal.
But here, please believe me, my view is not necessarilycloser to truth.