Hints that God Exists: Evolution

Yeah, you heard me: evolution. Darwin didn’t use the word ‘evolution’ (he called it Natural Selection), but it is very interesting how anyone ever found out about it in the first place. Chapter one of The Origin of Species is titled “Variation Under Domestication,” a chapter where Darwin shows how human beings can manipulate nature according to their own wants. For example, imagine I’m a cat breeder. I breed only those cats that have a tan paws; the rest are not allowed to breed. Eventually, perhaps even in my life time, I end up with a race of cats that all have tan paws! That’s a kind of selection. Call this human selection, because humans are selecting what they want from nature. Darwin uses human selection as a good analogy for, and transition into, natural selection. Rightly so. Natural selection, however, takes longer and is much more efficient and has different rules and standards. Instead of selecting tan paws (vanity), nature “selects” those traits that help to propagate a species for survival (a very basic explanation).

Charles Darwin in 1881
Charles Darwin

This leaves us with the question: how close is the analogy between human selection and natural selection? Clearly there is intelligence behind human selection, because we are directly aware that we are doing the selecting. But in the case of nature, who or what is doing it? There are two options: a) nobody is doing it. This is a purely unintelligent, unconscious, blind process. There is no ‘who,’ and the ‘what’ is evolution, via the mechanism natural selection. To be fair, many science author interpret evolution in this way. But there’s a clear second interpretation: b) Just like human selection, there is an intelligence behind evolution. God decides the laws of variation and selection; God is the “selector,” the architect of the system, the author of nature.

To me, the analogy carries, and there is no reason for me to think that it doesn’t. I choose the analogy because I see no compelling reason not to. And yes faith has something to do with it, no doubt.

Indeed, it seems that the natural starting position would be option #2, and only a further argument, proving that the analogy doesn’t hold, should bring us to #1. To me, there is no further argument besides the one that, in the case of natural selection, we are not directly aware of a God-like mind controlling it – it’s fine all by itself, thank you very much. And Okhams Razor too!

Well, I’ll just respond by saying we are never directly aware of God, by definition. So I wouldn’t expect to “see” God in evolution or anything else. Analogy is the best we got. Leaves room for faith. I’ll take it.

Hints that God Exists: Evolution

Hints that God Exists: a Book’s Meaning

What is a book, and why do books have meaning? Think about timeless literature, like War and Peace. Looked at one way, a book is nothing but a story about things happening to characters, and characters saying and doing things to other characters. This is true, but why do books like War and Peace have such tremendous meaning? What is the meaning of a book, and where does it come from?

A book’s meaning has everything to do with the author. The author wants to get a point across, or wants to express something meaningful, and so the author uses characters and events to portray that meaning. The author, in a way, hides her meaning inside the book, and our job is to find it, or grasp it, the best we can.

w and p

The world is a lot like a book. Our life is a lot like a story. It is filled with things and events and people, all interacting to create a giant story. It has a plot, a setting, characters, conflict, resolution, falling action, even foreshadowing. But does the world have meaning? It seems like it does. We are certainly looking for meaning all the time. If it does, where does that meaning come from? A possible response could be that it comes from me. My life story has meaning because I give it meaning. This seems to be an acceptable response, but doesn’t it sound like a character in a book jumping out of the book and giving his own character meaning? Also, this response doesn’t account for other people’s lives, or animals, or nature itself, or the universe. I can try to be the author of my own life, and therefore give it meaning, but I cannot give meaning to the whole world. For that, another author is needed: God.

Hints that God Exists: a Book’s Meaning

Hints that God Exists: Other Invisible Minds

Think of your best friend and what really makes a person a person. Of course, you know that your best friend exists, but how do you really, actually know that?

“That’s easy,” you say, “I know that my best friend exists because I see her walking towards me.”

I agree that you see a body that looks exactly like your best friend, and that you identify that body with her, and that’s not a bad reason. But does seeing a body fully support the conclusion that your best friend exists? I think not. A body alone doesn’t make a person. For example, what if that person walking towards you was actually a robot made to look like your best friend. I don’t think the robot would fool you just based on looks. For example, if the robot didn’t have the same non-verbal communication as your best friend, or the same thoughts, feelings, mannerism, actions, or beliefs, then you might begin to wonder. That is because your best friend is not a body; rather, she is a person with thoughts, feelings, intentions, and patterns of action. In a word, she is an invisible center of thought, a center that produces all sorts of visible effects (e.g. speech, action, writing, building).

So…back to the original question: how do you know that your best friend exists? If the answer is not that you see her, then it must be that we experience intelligible effects that are characteristic of her center of thought. We do not see the center of thought, but we do see the effects, the output, the sigs. Again, the body is certainly part of your friend, but not necessary. When you are chatting on the internet with her, you don’t need to see her body to know that you are communicating with your best friend.

Now, by analogy, look at the natural world. You don’t have to look far to see that nature has its own storehouse of visible, intelligible effects. For example, everything happens in an orderly fashion according to the laws of nature. Who is responsible for these effects? Should we not make the same inference that we did in the case of your best friend? Why not? Many people naturally do, and say that God is the cause behind all the effects that we see in nature, the invisible person or thought.

If it troubles you that you cannot see God, it shouldn’t: strictly speaking, you cannot see your best friend either.

Hints that God Exists: Other Invisible Minds

Hints that God Exists: Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem

Kurt Godel shocked the mathematical world by proving that all systems are inherently incomplete, meaning that there will always be truths within the system that can only be explained by stepping outside the system.

Think about that for a minute. All systems are inherently incomplete. Now apply it to the world. See where this is going?

goedel-einstein
Godel and Einstein were apparently friends

The entire universe, with all its laws, is a system. And it constantly has truths that beg for an explanation that transcends it. Indeed, the entire system itself begs for an explanation—why this universe? Why any universe at all? Why not nothing? The big bang was an explosion that started the universe. We know that. But the question of beginnings can never theoretically end.

Laws of nature are curious entities. They exist, they explain what happens in the system, but they don’t explain themselves. They don’t explain why these laws of nature holds as opposed to a completely different set (or no set at all). Even science cannot help but ask these sorts of questions. The tendency is seen in theories of so-called “multiple universes”. Our minds cannot help ourselves! The universe calls out for something beyond itself—whether that be other universes (which only pushes the question back), or God or some other metaphysical entity. It’s a hint.

In the Matrix, the writers were well aware of Godel’s theorem. It’s part of the point of the movie. I believe it’s the Wachowski brother’s unique justification for faith. Neo, the “anomaly”, was created specifically as an attempt to complete something that was inherently incomplete (the matrix itself). Neo exposed the incompleteness of what others considered “reality.” That’s why he represents Jesus.

God is the ultimate anomaly, the ultimate explanation for the totality of all systems. God, for those who believe in Him, is not a system, not incomplete, but rather simple, transcendent and perfect. To ask “who started God” is to not understand the point. God gets a free pass on such questions. God is the author who writes the system and leaves it open, not closed.

Hints that God Exists: Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem

Hints that God Exists: Introduction

This was a book project I started a long time ago. I imagined a small, 30 to 50 page book, each page having a new ‘hint’ for the existence of God. A blend of philosophy, religion, and science. Something fun to read but also substantive. I’ll share what I have so far.


 

Introduction

I believe that we must all come to the conclusion that it is not 100% certain that God exists or that God does not exist. And if God does exist, it is certainly not certain that you or I know what God is like, or know how God acts (if God “acts” at all). Philosophers have been arguing over this paramount question for millennia, and still no universal agreement. Yet people everywhere, across time and space, have been consumed with the question. Both religious and non-religious think about it. Even without certainty, people take sides; people claim that they know; indeed, they build their very life around it.

This says two things about people. First, that the question of God’s existence is important for many peoples’ lives. Second, that some questions are worth pursuing even if they have no certain answer. This is both normal and ok. Science, after all, is one of the most important endeavors of human knowledge; but it rarely, if ever, comes with 100% certainty. It deals with probability and induction. It produces knowledge, but not certainty. Very few things are certain, and that’s something we are familiar with by now.
So is the existence of God a matter of probability as well? Now we are getting somewhere. I believe (as the title of this book shows) that it is. But here I am not talking about probability in the statistical sense in which numbers and percentages are involved. It seems absurd for anyone to say that it is 75% probable that God exists, or 90% probable that God does not exist (although people have tried). There is no way to put numbers on the evidences and reasons for believing or not believing in God. The evidences and reasons are various in number and weight, and each has a different convincing impact on different people. For example, let’s assume that the existence of evil in the world is a hint that God does not exist. What percentage could we possibly put on this fact as it relates to the existence of God? It doesn’t work. We must carefully look at the hint, judge how strong it is, and proceed from there.

I am optimistic about human nature. I see the bad in all of us because I see the bad in myself. But at our deepest level, I see good. And this carries over to our honest pursuit of knowledge and truth. Yes, some people lie. Yes, some people are wrong about a lot of things and simply don’t know it. But at our deepest level we are all trying to figure out the world the best we can. We are all trying to interpret the world to the best of our ability, with the best we have. We are all seeking the truth the best we know how, with the best resources available to us. Atheists are seeking the truth the best they know how. Theists are seeking the truth the best they know how. Let us respect each other. Let us keep the respect that is required from a decent theory of human nature. We are not trying to deceive ourselves. In general, we are not trying to tell people things that we know are false. There is no conspiracy. In an age of skepticism, political lying, and information overload, this view of human nature is hard to find, and sometimes hard to believe. However, pessimism is not the answer and never will be. At its root, a poor view of human nature is nothing more than a confused form of conceit and pride; because it is always them that are the pathetic, and rarely I. No, friends: people are good. That is the truth. I wish people would at least find it true of themselves, and if not, change; and after they’ve done this, apply it to everyone.

When it comes to God, I think there are several hints that God exists. John Woolman, the American abolitionists and Quaker mystic, tried to describe his experiences with God. But all he could give was “hints.” By “hints” I simply mean there are several reasons, and evidences, and experiences, and arguments. But they are hints because they are not certain, and they don’t come in tight little packages, and they come from all sorts of experiences in life. They are like little clues that I pick up randomly while trying to figure out the quest of life. They come in various forms and through various human faculties. Some are stronger than others; some are more rational than others, some you will find silly. Indeed, some are purely emotional and others inaccessible to most people. In this presentation I tend to keep to the more rational, and therefore accessible, hints that God exists. These are hints that I have collected throughout my life. They have come from personal experiences, thoughts, readings, and movies. Some of them capture what are known as the traditional theistic “proofs” for God’s existence (which I consider hints as well), and others are mind puzzles that suggest a God. They overlap and have similar structures. They all have objections and answers of different strengths. A philosopher could tear a hole in all of my hints; but I know that. If you try hard enough, you can tear a hole in anything. Tearing holes is great, but first we should listen, and see if the hints have anything positive to say. I repeat: all the hints for God’s existence can be questioned, doubted, and objected to on rational grounds. That is why I call them hints. But they still have convincing power, especially taken together as a whole. They are still rational and real. I hope you enjoy reading them.

Matt Smith

Hints that God Exists: Introduction

On Myself: a Spiritual Memoir

I can’t remember when I wrote this spiritual autobiography. Perhaps late high school, early college years? Like most projects I didn’t finish it, but….

On Myself

Preface
I. Potential
II. Physical and Spiritual
III. Early Years
IV. Rebirth
V. Personality
VI. Inner Self
VII. Brother
VIII. Rebellion
IX. Nature; a link back to the World

I write this essay, On Myself, with certain beliefs and assumptions about myself that the reader should know in advance.

As a human being, I believe to be a part of all humanity; I am a link to all humanity; I am another representative of human nature; I am the human condition; I am as much of you as you are as much as me. Like you, I have a heart; like you, I have a mind; like you, I have a soul; like you, I have a body. If you were to put myself under a microscope, I believe you would see yourself, and all of humanity.

The trick is that we appear to be different. We appear to have different genders, personalities, bodies, languages, ways of thinking and doing, occupations. To me, these are all smoke in mirrors; they trick us into believing that other people are different than us, better than us, worse than us. When we learn about the differences of mankind, we are amazed at the realization that we are so much more alike than we are different. Biologically speaking, the difference between male and female is strikingly slim. Individuality and personality is merely a fabrication of the times. In researching language, we find the striking similarity of all languages. It seems that people have different purposes in life, or destinies. After all, how could this world survive if we were all teachers, or artists, or hunters? But again, I believe this also to be an appearance of the world. Ultimately, we all came from the same place, and we all want to get to the same place. So in my final analysis, we are the same in every significant way.

Taking these beliefs and assumptions into consideration, the reader must now realize what it means to complete the daunting task of writing an essay On Myself. By taking on this challenge, I am describing not only myself, but humanity; not only my soul, but the soul of humanity.  As Walt Whitman continually chants:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I. Potential

If we would go outside every night and gaze at the stars, we would realize the meaning of life: that life is much more, that we are much more, that there is much higher we can reach, more to tell, more to wonder, ponder, and love. In our amazement, we become humbled; and in our humble state, we would realize another spiritual lesson: the love for humanity, the compassion for human nature; that everyone is like us and is us, in need of and in search of the same things. You and I are connected so strongly in this web of life, but we forget. When we look to the sky with a clear mind, we see God, and we see our potential self, waiting for us in the stars.

I always believed to be great, and that someday, if I would reach my state of potential, I would do great things. There is a divine part in every one that wishes to do the will of the Divine, and to do great deeds that are beyond the measure of man. The divine voice of possibilities is always with us. I have listened to its voice. It whispers to me at moments, telling me that I can transcend the world. If I have done anything truly good, or truly inspirational, it is because of this voice. It is not only me. That is what separates greatness from arrogance.

If I could capture, in words, the feeling of electricity at a child’s birth, then I could capture the feeling of human potential. Why are we so happy at a birth? Because a baby is a blank slate; it is a perfect form; it is a potential Buddha, a potential Christ; it has full freedom, full free will. That is the feeling of hope and potential at a birth.

The potential I speak of is spiritual, not physical. Anyone can be physically great: attractive, powerful, wealthy, popular; but that is a greatness based on worldly standards. This kind of greatness can get us far in the world, perhaps even happy; but this happiness is always temporary, and will die with our body. But spiritual greatness many times is the opposite of worldly goals. Spiritual greatness comes with humility; the more lowly one becomes the more great he is in the eyes of God. Humility is not an attractive trait in the world of men. It is no coincidence that the greatest spiritual leaders have never pointed to themselves for recognition, but always to the Divine. Continue reading “On Myself: a Spiritual Memoir”

On Myself: a Spiritual Memoir

The Philosophy of Jesus

Like so many things in my life, this was a big project I started probably 10 years ago, in college (my Google Drive is now filled with a bunch of stuff from 10 years ago). In this essay or book, I wanted to treat Jesus as a philosopher. What is his philosophy? How does he relate to other philosophers? Obviously I barely scratch the surface, and only discuss  Socrates, Aristotle, and Kant, but feel free to laugh at my obtuse philosophical language:

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Philosophy of Jesus

Commands of Jesus
When thinking about Jesus’ moral philosophy, we tend not to think of it as containing rules or commands; but, in fact, it does have them. The commands, or laws, or imperatives, of Jesus’ philosophy seem not to be “rules” at all. This is simply because rules seem to have negative, or restricting, overtones. Commands, in the word’s typical sense, tell us what not to do. Many times Jesus is not worried about telling us what not to do, but what to do. In any case, they can still be formulated as commands, as I will show. Instead of taking the form do not do X, they take the form do X. The two forms have a curious relationship, where the latter form, do X, usually implies and contains the former form, do not do X. So in most cases, the second type of command is simply an expansion of the first. For example, when we say give unto others, the command do not steal is implied, or contained, in it.

We can break Jesus’ moral philosophy into three, general commands, all of which need grounding and explanation.

Command #1: Seek with every single human faculty, and up to the potential of every faculty.
Command #2: Love God absolutely and above all things.
Command #3: Love humanity in proportion to how much one loves oneself.

jesusphilosopher.jpg

The first law presupposes a theory of human nature. By the phrase “every single human faculty,” we can already see that it suggests a division of the self. How does Jesus divide human nature? We will turn to several passages for clues:
Jesus and Other Philosophers
In many ways Jesus expands on, and responds to, the ancient Greek philosophers. Whether Jesus was aware of this is irrelevant. He may or may not have studied Plato and Aristotle, but either way his philosophy does have intimate connections.

Jesus and Socrates
Divine destinies. Jesus the Savior. Socrates to find the meaning of wisdom, and the three days after prophesy (or dream before his death).
Rejection of society’s expectations. The idea of the Messiah is an ancient one, going back long before the time of Jesus. We find the expectation of a Messiah in Old Testament writing. Most Jews were expecting a political savior, one that would rightfully restore the Jewish people in their place of political power, and usher in a time of peace. Christians, in recognizing Jesus as the messiah, would revolutionize the conception of the purpose of the Savior.
The trial of Jesus and Socrates. They were both convicted of the same charges. Jesus: stirring up a revolt against the state; heresy, or claiming to be the Messiah, a form of worshipping novel gods. Socrates charges: corrupting the youth of Athens, worshipping false gods, and not worshipping the gods of the state. They were both religious in nature.
Calling out hypocrites. Jesus calling out the religious elect, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes. And Socrates showing the ignorance of people who claimed to be knowledgeable (using the Elenchus).
Focus on morality. All of Jesus’ knowledge was related to moral action. In this respect, it was not only true, but practical—a way to live. Socrates admits that he is only interest in moral issues. What is justice? holiness? piety? love? These are the subjects of Plato’s dialogues.

The relations between Jesus and Socrates are numerous. Many aspects of their life story match up. They both had, or, were supposed to have, political aspirations. Although friends, disciples, and society wanted them to be politically active, they both rejected the political life; Socrates because it was corrupt, Jesus because it was superficial, and wasn’t his destiny (and probably because it was corrupt too). So instead, they both lived a life of moral perfection; a life on the road, a life of wandering throughout the city and countryside.

Socrates claimed to know nothing. He claimed that wisdom was only for “the god.” A very modest claim, but many scholars think he was being too modest. He does, after all, claim to know some things (i.e. that one should respect their superiors). But as a general rule for Socrates, wisdom is not a human quality. Finding the truth of this statement was his destiny, which started with the prophesy from the Oracle of Delphi. The prophesy—that Socrates is the wisest man—puzzled him, because he was aware that he had no wisdom. Thus, part of wisdom is realizing our own ignorance. Socrates revealed ignorance in every single interlocutor he spoke with. Many scholars shun Socrates because they think ridiculing was all he did, and that he did nothing good for society. But I would disagree. Socrates taught people to self-reflect, self-examine, to look inside oneself for answers. Socrates thought that if one could not explain why they were doing a certain thing, then they had no justification for doing it. And these were not trivial matters—they were moral matters.

Jesus, in relation to his conceptions of truth and wisdom, is striking similar to Socrates. He too also claimed to know nothing. Everything Jesus claimed to know did not come from himself, but from “the Father who sent me.” When asked to justify himself, Jesus replied: “Wisdom is justified by her children,” or “the tree is known be its fruit.” So any knowledge that Jesus had came from God. This makes us wonder about Socrates: if he claimed that all wisdom resided in the god, did he not think that wisdom could be passed through humans, from god? Scholars would debate. I believe that Socrates knew many moral truths; it seems absurd that such a respectable and just man of history would know nothing.

Jesus and Aristotle
For Aristotle, the “good for man”, or summum bonem, or goal of life, or aim of all action, is happiness. Happiness is composed of two elements. The first element is rationality, which comes by using our rational capacity, our ability to think, deliberate, and philosophize, to the fullest. This amounts to an intellectual and moral life, a constant life of deliberation and contemplation in regards to morality and virtue. He describes it as an “activity of the soul;” and not merely an active soul, but one “exhibiting excellence…” It basically amounts to thinking (and then acting) well. The second element of attaining happiness is through sheer fate, chance, dumb luck, coincidence. This includes any thing that happens to us, the things we have no control over. This includes our genetic make up, our parents, our environment, schooling, race, gender, tragedies, etc. According to Aristotle, a child that happens to have bad parents is, for the most part, doomed to a life of unhappiness. Nature simply dealt him a horrible fate, and there is little he can do about it.
We see, then, that Aristotle’s idea of happiness includes an element that we are in control of, and involves our free choice, namely Rationality; and an element that we are in no control of, and have no choice in the matter, namely fate. At first glance this doesn’t threaten us as a problem, until we learn that both of these elements are necessary conditions for happiness. Happiness requires both elements, not only one. In other words, a rational person, exhibiting an excellent soul, can only be happy if he also has a decent and bearable fate. And alternately, a man with the best fate in the world isn’t necessarily happy. When we insert this ethical theory into Greek religion and society, it can read like this: A man’s happiness depends on the will of the gods. This leads to many disturbing conclusions: Am I to blame for my unhappiness? Are the gods to blame? What is the reason for my horrible fate? Do I have any choice in the matter? Why should I be rational, if it can all be taken away with a series of tragedies? These are sad and helpless conclusions, followed by an indifference towards life, a cold and selfish attitude, and a reason to stop trying, leaving men powerless to the forces of fate. Certainly this is an undesirable aspect of Aristotle’s ethics. They all lead us back to Aristotle’s problematic second element of the Good for man; I will call it the problem of fate.

Jesus solves the problem of fate theologically. This is best expressed in his Sermon on the Mount:
“…Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…”
and:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh…”

For Jesus, the people who have been given a bad fate are the most susceptible for the summum bonum. The child with bad parents need not fret, because God is his true Father. The man born blind is not at a loss, for “the work of God may be displayed in his life.” Tragedy takes away our earthy attachments, which in turn brings us the God, which is the good for man.

Jesus and Immanuel Kant
I would not be exaggerating to say that, in many respects, the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant is simply the moral philosophy of Jesus, only clothed in philosophical language.
The idea that morality consists of universally true principles, or laws, is shared by Jesus and Kant. These principles are a priori, not based on experience or circumstances. For Jesus, “you ought to love all people” was such a principle—it is true in all situations, and therefore we should follow it in all situations. We should not modify this principle with experience and situation because that would dilute it, even though many times we often do this. Many times we think it is morally right to love our friends, and hate our enemies. But this is a violation of the first principle, “you ought to love all people.” This is why “love your enemies” is simply another formulation of the first principle.

Free Will and Determinism
It is unclear whether Jesus believe in a completely free will, or determinism. In fact, it seems like he believed in both; there are sayings that support both views.

“But if you are oppressed by Satan and are persecuted and you do the Father’s will, I say that he will love you and will make you equal with me and will consider that you have become beloved through his providence according to your free choice.”
This saying is the most obvious proof that Jesus recognized the existence of human free will.

The Philosophy of Jesus