Hints that God Exists: Infinite Universes

Although I don’t like the infinite universe theory (or multiverse, or any theory that posits more than one), it allows us a novel argument for Gods existence (thanks to my wife for pointing this out). If infinite universes exist, then it follows by necessity that God exists in at least one of them: that is, God created that universe and exists in it (however that works). So we at least get one God to worship. Yay!

But we also get other gods, no gods, ant gods, evil gods, flying spaghetti monster gods. There is a universe where all these exist, theoretically. We get a world where I type this sentence, a world where I don’t, I world where I misspell “world,” a world where I get struck by lightening now, another five minutes from now…In other words, the theory of infinite universe itself is absurd. It’s mathematical only.

But if God exists in one universe, doesn’t he have to exist in all? – by the very nature of the concept itself? If we define God as all knowing, all powerful, and creator of everything, then it would seem to follow that, if God exists in one universe, then God must exists in all of them – everything. Oh boy, here we go with the old arguments for God. This is an old argument put into new clothes, actually. Saint Anselm once tried to prove God’s existence by definition essentially.  God is the greatest Being. God exists in our minds. But if God only existed in our minds, he wouldn’t be the greatest Being (because the greatest Being would exists in the world too. Therefore, God exists). Most philosophers eventually laughed it off and moved on. Now, with infinite universes, it sounds a little more plausible. Luckily, we can never prove infinite universes, just like we can never prove God. Strange bedfellows indeed.

Hints that God Exists: Infinite Universes

Do Morals Come from the Will of God?

This is an old puzzle that comes from Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro: if something is wrong simply because God says so, then morality sounds a little arbitrary. For example, what if God said murder was good?–would that make it good? (please don’t say yes psycho). On the other hand, if something is good for independent reasons, independent from God’s will, then morality sounds like it’s…well, independent of God, which is presumably bad for religion (so some people think). Thus I’m in a pickle. For God fearing philosophers like me, I want both. I want morality to be connected to God in some way, but not in a way that leaves out tons of people.

Jeremy Bentham, the atheist Utilitarian philosopher, thought that morality rests upon an independent principle “apart” from God so to speak. That independent principle was this: good is maximizing happiness and minimizing pain. That’s it. But he left room for God. He said that if God exists, then God would operate under this principle:

“The dictates of religion would coincide, in all cases, with those of utility, were the Being, who is the object of religion, universally supposed to be as benevolent as he is supposed to be wise and powerful…Unhappily, however, neither of these is the case…there seem to be but few…who are real believers in his benevolence…if they did, they would recognize that the dictates of religion could be neither more nor less than the dictates of utility: not a tittle different” (125).

In other words, God would be the best embodiment of utilitarian morality. However, people would not have to go through God (or the Bible) to get to morality. Anyone with half a brain can figure it out.

Kant, on the other hand, did believe in God, but he too thought that morality must not depend on God’s will or the Bible, but instead on God’s Reason (that is, reason, or rational thinking). Why? Because nobody really knows what God’s will is; people disagree and that causes a lot problems. Morality, Kant says, must be reasonable, accessible to all, and quite simple: only act on those principles which can be universalized to all. Through this principle we get to the Golden Rule – never treat people as a means but as ends-in-themselves – and we get many of the 10 commandments.

My opinion is in line with Kant. I do think that morals “come from God” simply because everything comes from God, by definition. But how do people access morality? That’s the question. Where do we actually get it? What or who is the gatekeeper? Our parents? Yeah sure sometimes. Religion? Yeah, many times. But where does religion get it from? Like Kant, I think Reason (our minds) ought to the be ultimate judge of what’s right and wrong. In the same way that human beings come from evolution and God, morality comes from Reason and God.

Of course empathy is a huge natural component as well. Empathy, when found in a compassionate, rational, and open-minded person – that’s a beautiful thing.

Do Morals Come from the Will of God?

Meerkats, Interpretation, and God

Life of Pi is a popular book about a boy in a canoe with a tiger in the ocean. To my surprise, I loved it. This book is nothing less than a sophisticated, fair, and modern justification for faith in God.

We hear a story about a boy on a fantastic journey of survival, a story that is almost unbelievable – at one point they reach a living island full of meerkats. At the end of the story, the boy (now an old man) tells his story to another man (or two men…I can’t remember the details). Anyway, he doesn’t believe the story. So he tells the man a more realistic story: he leaves out the tiger and the meerkats. The skeptical man says: “which one is the true one?” The narrator replies: the choice is up to you which story you want to believe. I gave you my story. Then I gave you an alternate story. Both could be true. You cannot verify either. The choice is up to you.
Forget about the details of the plot; this is all a metaphor for life, for how we perceive the world, for how we interpret events. If you’re wondering whether a boy really could survive with a tiger, or whether a meerkat island could actually exist, you’re probably missing the point. If you think that religion is a bunch of silly made up stories just to make people feel good, you are also missing the point of the book. Everything that happens in your life, everything that happens in the world, is perceived and interpreted in so many ways.That’s what the book is about. There is meaning behind events, and we provide that meaning. Unless you are a Nihilist, everyone gives meaning to life in some way. The meaning becomes reality, a part of the event. The fantastical story is clearly a reference to a theistic interpretation of life, while the alternate story is a reference to a non-theist interpretation of life. The philosophical point is this: we really don’t know which one is correct, thus we choose. Given that, the author is suggesting that a religious interpretation is preferable.
I agree.
Billions and billions of years ago, our universe came into existence. That’s a fact. But why? Why does anything exist at all? And what does the Big Bang mean, if anything? That’s up for interpretation. Now apply this to all events, big and small. That’s life; that’s the human condition – we are meaning seeking animals, and that’s okay. I choose to believe God is behind all events.
Meerkats, Interpretation, and God

Did Job Teach God a Lesson?

William Blake portrays God speaking to Job in a whirlwind

The Book of Job is bizarre. It shows God making a bet with the devil, testing the faith of Job, and finally an epic scene where God basically yells at Job: how dare you question me mortal! Oddly, then God gives all Job’s stuff back and sort of implicitly justifies him.

Some people think the lesson is simple: do not question the ways of God. When bad things happen to good people, trust God and never question His ways. He controls the universe, and you are a speck of dust.

True. But instead of God teaching us a lesson, Karl Jung (psychologist) believed that Job also taught God a lesson, a lesson that God could not teach Himself. The lesson was about moral perfection: that to be truly good, one must do the right thing in the face of horrible, unjust suffering. But God cannot suffer. One must have free will, something God might not have. For God to evolve, to become better, to become more loving, God confronts a morally perfect human (Job) and realizes that the limitations inherent in man are actually the most beautiful thing about us. What does God take away? Love, forgiveness, and sacrifice. Jesus, of course, will become for Christians the ultimate confirmation of the Book of Job: God becomes man in order to perfect love. The Trinity is complete.

Personally, this all makes some sense to me, even though this interpretation is controversial at best. (Quick interpretation tip inspired by Augustine: if an interpretation increases your love and understanding, it’s probably right). Imagine God before the universe, before anything existed. God, all by himself, has limitations. God needs creation and creation needs God. Otherwise why would God create to begin with? Everything is a reflection of God and a part of God. Human beings are not all-knowing or all-powerful – we are not even close. But, because of free will, we have the potential to be perfectly good. Job and Jesus are good examples of that.

True Love is Freely Given
Here’s another way to think about it. God could have designed the world in a purely rational way, where good people are blessed and bad people are punished. In a way that makes sense. But is that love? True love, unconditional love, is freely given. It looks beyond circumstances and just is. Perhaps the Book of Job is a justification for why God must allow good people to suffer: it’s the only way to love freely, both the good and the bad.

Did Job Teach God a Lesson?

Let me convince you that a tree doesn’t make a sound

If a tree falls and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?  After you’re done laughing, let’s think about this. This is not a stupid question: it brings up fundamental questions that are still fundamental, even for scientifically minded people.

Before indulging in The Matrix hypothesis and talking about how the external world doesn’t exist, I’m going to start with what’s not controversial. First, animals perceive the world differently than humans (some drastically different). Second, among humans there is variation (due to various physical and psychological causes). Conclusion: the external world and the world we actually perceive are two different things. It is interpreted, processed, constructed, measured–by our sense organs and brain. In other words, the diagram above is a fiction; we do not see an exact copy of the tree “out there”; our eyes are not giant gaping windows that “let the tree in” so to speak. Naive Realism is false. Again, not controversial so far.

And if you’re still not convinced that your eyes are playing tricks on you and that your sense organs are all sacks of shit, consider two more facts: (1) sense organs evolved (like everything) and thus survival are their main concern–truthful representation of the external world is not necessary their concern at all. Whether you see the berry as white or red, all it cares about is what works. As Williams James would say, the truth is what works. For us believing folk, a nice way to put it would be: God made you so that you would survive rather than be an astrophysicist–be happy He did. (2) sense organs detect change more than anything. Vision is not like a video camera that is always recording everything like a faithful steward, not even close.  Not to mention that memory, state of mind, personality, beliefs, language, societal norms–they can all affect the way we perceive things, literally. Let’s stop here.

Representational Realism

So what is happening here? Most common sense people will say there is a physical tree “out there”, made of physical stuff (atoms) having certain fundamental properties: size, shape, texture, mass. Those properties are “really out there” and our sense organs pick up on them the best we can. Okay, cool. But notice color is not on that list. Green is nothing more than the way light reacts with our retina/brain. Color is not “out there,” light is. The tree has the potential to be perceived as green and brown when light bounces off it and hits our eyeballs, that’s all. This isn’t controversial either. Qualities like color, heat, loud, bitter, the smell of a fart–they are all quasi-real, in limbo, secondary, dependent. I hope you feel the world crumbling. Color seems pretty fucking real to me thank you very much!

Enter the Idealists

Some people just scrap the whole idea of an external world altogether. We don’t need it. When I’m dreaming, I see green trees, I move through space, I eat cake, I cry (hell, I even have sex and ejaculate sometimes). All in the mind, mental, not caused by physical objects. There is no external tree causing my perception of a tree in the dream. So why can’t reality be the same way? Well, it can. The Matrix, although improbable, is possible. We could all be “plugged in” right now. Descartes imagined a powerful Evil Demon that might be tricking us, pulling this fake reality over our eyes just for the hell of it. George Berkeley simply replaced the external world with God. God doesn’t need physical matter, a useless middle man, when He can just implant sense experiences directly to our mind. We are living in God’s dream, God’s mind; God holds up reality. As a believer, this is a very tempting position to take. There is a simplicity to it, sort of. Kant replaced the external world not with God, but with an unknowable world, a foundation, a world that causes our perceptions but one we can know nothing about–except that it must exist.

So does a tree make a sound if nobody is there to hear it? No. Or, sure, God hears it. Or, the question itself makes no sense. That’s really the point here. What do we mean by a tree, after all? Green, brown, particular shape, particular feel, particular smells, etc. A tree is nothing but a group of sense experiences or possible sense experiences, therefore to talk about an unperceived tree makes no sense at all. To be is to be perceived in some way. Yes a tree has size, shape, texture, and mass. All those qualities are real. But notice those qualities, just like color, are qualities we perceive the tree to have. They are real because we perceive them, simple as that. Yes we can say the tree is made of atoms, but that just means if we look in a microscope we see it’s made of smaller stuff, and smaller stuff, etc. We can speculate about what’s really “out there,” but all we really have is our perceptions, all we have access to is the end product (in my diagram above, it’s the thought bubble). We can only look at the world through eyes, smell the world through noses, and feel the world through touchers. We cannot float above our body and brain to see what the world really looks like when nobody is looking at it. Human reality is human reality. There is something out there, but who knows what that is? Perhaps it’s really a pink, squishy ball that’s causing my perception of a green, hard Sugar Maple. As long as we all perceive the tree, nobody cares.

Let me convince you that a tree doesn’t make a sound

What having a baby did to my faith

Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, having a baby has done little to my faith. My faith is simple and always will be. I still believe in a simple God; I still live my life as if God exists; I still look at a world infused with meaning, loaded with purpose and potential, and on fire with love and benevolent creation. I still believe in loving my enemies and strive to actually do it. I must admit my faith has waned in intensity over the years, but this is normal. We all become moderates and emotion comes and goes. In college I would constantly think about God and it would fill my heart with ecstatic joy. Those events come less often, probably because I have other things on my mind. I must also admit that having a baby was a different kind of ecstatic joy. In a way God wasn’t there at the birth of my son. My faith has always been very personal; He is with me mostly when I’m alone. So at the hospital of course God was present, but in a more secondary, distant way (at least in my mind). As Immanuel came into the world, I was focused on him and my wife only–nothing else mattered at the time. When I’m in a crowd, I’m a Deist; but alone, there I have my personal God. Perhaps that’s why I don’t go to church–or why I should go.

Yet if “faith” means anything, as James says in the New Testament, it means works, action, conduct. Faith without works is dead. Contrary to what Paul makes us think, faith is not believing in x, y, or z. “I believe in one God, the father almighty, creator of blah blah blah.”  Either that belief makes you do great things, either it purifies your heart and will, either it makes you a good person–or your belief is meaningless. To take a silly example, Jon Jones is never a champion without his faith (this goes for many champions, but the real champions of course are moral, not athletic, champions).

In this regard, having a baby has compelled me to become a better person and will only intensify. I’m sure this goes for all fathers, faith or no faith. It simply gives me another reason to be better, which leaves God where he always was–a fundamental reason to be better. I want Immanuel to grow up with a father that he truly respects, and he will–thanks to God, my family, and every other person that has made me into who I am today.

What having a baby did to my faith

Idealism: or, What if God was the Matrix?

Not to be confused with optimism or happy thoughts–which I also believe in–philosophical idealism is the idea that all our perceptions are mental phenomenon, rather than physical, material, external, phenomena. They are “in the mind” just like dreams. But they are real. Idealism defines reality in a very simple way: reality is what you feel, hear, see, smell, and experience. That’s it. No abstractions. A tree is how we perceive it.

Sounds crazy but think about it. While you are dreaming you have perceptions that are real. You see, feel, walk, hear, and have a range of emotions. They are, of course, mental, in your mind, yet real. So why can’t reality be like that?

According to George Berkeley (and me) reality is exactly like that. And God is the dream maker. We live in God’s dream, God’s Matrix. When we wake, we exit our world and enter Gods. It’s uniform, coherent, mathematical, beautiful. When we look at a tree, we are looking directly at one of God’s ideas; or, God is implanting an experience in us. When we do science, we are uncovering the laws and rules of the Mind of God, the Grammatical Rules of the Author of Nature. Malebranche said we “see all things in God” and he meant it. For those who believe in God, it’s an incredible, magnificent idea. Jesus said that people will look for the Kingdom of God, asking “Is it up there? Is it over here?” No, the Kingdom of God is within you, but men do not see it. God is present and immanent in a way we didn’t even expect, “in whom we live, move, and have our being.”

So does a tree make a noise if nobody is there to hear it fall? Yes, but only because God is there to “hear” it.

The metaphor is tempting. Also, you cannot really disprove it. That’s the real bitch of it. We really could be living in the Matrix right now. We also could be living in God’s dream. Or neither. Just admitting that it’s a possibility is amazing from an intellectual standpoint. So much for certainty! The point is not to denigrate the amazing world we live in; it’s to help make sense of why it’s so amazing, to put it in a larger context. As Emerson said, Idealism looks around and feels that the universe is, somehow, at bottom, in its essence, mental, spiritual, mind-like. Matter is an expression of mind, not the other way around.

Idealism: or, What if God was the Matrix?