Existence of God – 21

Indeed, it is altogether simple to see how an author could instill in her characters a sense of her, the author.  They might, someway, be cognizant (operating under some cognitive faculty) of her existence, and her influence on their world.

The friendly skeptic might say, “Very well.  An author can obviously do anything she likes, and if we are to think of the Universe as God’s story, we can infer that God might do anything he likes.  But this does not prove there is a God.”

And I would say, presumably with Plantinga, “Agreed.  But we have at least advanced beyond the Freud/Marx objection, that there is necessarily something wrong with a person’s cognitive faculties if she believes in God.  The real question is, does God actually exist, or not?  If that can be shown, then our theories about the nature and origin of religion will have greater import.”

Full disclosure:  If I came to believe, even to know, that God does not exist, I would speculate profusely as to the causes for religious belief.  I doubt anything could be more fascinating, and I would want to know, first of all, exactly what had happened in my own case.

As it stands, we can see that Plantinga’s idea (really, the long-standing idea of Judaism and then Christianity), depends on whether God actually exists.  If God does exist, then we can have warrant for our beliefs (hence the title of his book, Warranted Christian Belief).  If it were shown that he does not exist, then this sense of his existence which theists experience must have some other explanation than the “sense of the divine.”

But this is, as precisely as I have ever heard it said, how I came to believe in God.  I was not even aware, strictly speaking, that there were carefully constructed arguments for (and against) God’s existence until I was in college.  At that time, I am embarrassed to say, an atheist acquaintance was able to make me feel silly for lacking such arguments.

Warrant, though, has much to do with one’s circumstances, and those were mine.  I did not think God needed a sound argument for his existence; I thought it enough that I simply believed it and, moreover, that I felt confident I had experienced his presence in certain ways.

With that, let’s push the point one step further, which is in fact a confusion I had about Plantinga’s idea at first.  That is, belief in God as properly basic does not imply a direct experience of God, what one might almost think was a physical experience of God.  Here is an example of that:  John C. Wright conversion experience.

Wright’s experience I would consider to be “mystical,” like those St. Teresa of Avila or St. John of the Cross were said to experience.  Was it, strictly speaking, a physical experience?  When he says, “I felt the Holy Spirit enter my body” or even “I entered the mind of God,” are we to think these were the “deliverances” of his physical senses?  Or did he have some experience which is most readily described in terms of the physical senses, but is actually better attributed to an independent “sense” of the soul?

Now, it’s not perfectly clear to me what Plantinga would say about Wright’s experience, but the best I could surmise is that he might be willing to agree on this classification of the experience as “mystical” (“whatever that means”); yet this experience and the deliverances of such experiences are not his subjects.

Rather, it seems to me, he is driving at this:  If I say to a friend, “There is a being who exists, who knows all, understands all, is all-powerful, all-good, and who made you,” that person might simply agree.  I might similarly say, “That truck across the street is red,” or “It’s been hot the last few days, hasn’t it?” and that person might similarly agree.

It’s not that that person has necessarily had a direct experience of God, some kind of mystical experience; it is rather that my friend might simply believe that what I say is true.  Not because I say it, but because he possesses a sense of the divine, which tells him my statement was true (just as he possesses a sense of sight which tells him the truck is red, or a functional memory which tells him that the past few days really have been hot).

Here again, I am not aware of having had any mystical experiences (or anything remotely like that) until I was in high school; but I believed in God from earliest memory.  And the objection which might first arise turns out to be helpful to my point:  Can’t the skeptic say, after all, that I was simply believing what my parents told me?

Well, maybe so; but they also told me about Santa Claus, and I can’t remember a time when I believed in him.

Alright, then maybe it’s my larger environment.  We live in a religious culture, and I absorbed that belief as a member of that culture.

Ok; but how will you explain the way I came to value celibacy and chastity (even while failing to be chaste), or how I was unwilling to shed my sincere belief in God even as many of my friends did so, or how I became convinced of orthodoxy in our intensely polarized culture?  (How is it, for example, that I am against abortion AND against the death penalty?  Holding both disqualifies me either as democrat or republican).

Again, it must be said with an even-keel:  These points do not prove anything about the existence of God.  And you might be ready to propose some theories about the peripheral points I’ve made (one might simply choose to be counter-cultural as a way of seeking significance, you could say – thus I have taken the “unpopular” stance of being orthodox in order that I might stand out).  I would argue that they have been informed by that same sense of the divine which tells me that the proposition “God exists” is true.

The point is this:  At some time, someone told me about God.  And I believed it.

However, you can simply demonstrate that God does not exist, and then we shall have to consider the alternative theories about my convictions.  Such a demonstration is what Plantinga calls a “defeater,” and we’ll take a gander at that next post.

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