Remember the process of learning math? First we were provided numbers, and what they meant so we could correctly circle “3 pennies.” Then we were taught that putting together “2 Pennies” with “3 Pennies” produced “5 Pennies.”
Soon we had those arithmetic sheets. You know the ones. With 100 questions of:
“2 + 3 = ____”
“1 + 2 = ____”
The challenge was how many one could do within a certain time, so we could learn to add more quickly. As our education progressed, eventually we were introduced to “x.” It seemed amazing whereas up that point letters and numbers were strictly forbidden from intermingling, once Algebra came along, we were free to incorporate “x” and all its friends like “y” and “z” and the other letters.
We solved for “x.” We had little idea that the rest of our mathematic career would be wholly consumed with finding that enigmatic “x” (and all its friends.)
Wouldn’t it be neat to go back to those sheets of problems, now that we know about “x”? Happily we could have answered each question “x,” “x,” “x,”… “2 + 2 = x” is a perfectly legitimate math equation. The teacher could not mark us as incorrect, because technically 2 + 2 does equal “x”!
Of course that is silly. The reason we did those problems was to learn information, not to merely provide a technically mathematically correct statement. We learned “2 + 2 = 4” so that someday when we see “2 + 2 = x” we could use the basic math skills learned to discover more than just “x.” We would learn that “x = 4.”
Yet as silly as that is, it is a technique I often see employed in our discussion about God. “God” is used (in the place of “x”) to make a logically possible statement, yet it really doesn’t provide us with any new information.
“How did the universe come into being?”
“Who establishes morality?”
“How did life come from non-life?”
The answer of “God” becomes a convenient tool by which a person can appear to have a resolution, yet upon closer inspection, we haven’t learned anything new at all. O.K, so “God” made the universe. How did God create Time? How does supernatural “cross over” to natural and affect the natural plane? Was God involved at only the Big Bang, or at various times along the way, or intimately active with every single nuance and step?
Did God create Freewill to do evil, if he can’t do evil? If God know everything, how could he create humor which depends on surprise? Did God create suffering? Is God complex or simple?
Numerous people confidently answer the question of how the universe started with “God” yet provide a variety of answers to these questions. Even within a particular religion, such as Christianity, the problem of theistic evolution, vs old earth creation vs young earth creation vs open theism, vs complete God control rages as Christians who equally agree as to the “God” that made the universe, fight over what that particular God looks like.
It’s like everybody agrees the answer is “x,” but no one can agree as to what number “x” is!
We so often see the confident, almost arrogant claim of “absolute morality” vested in a God. Yet the simple question, “Can God Lie?” remains a puzzle. When is genocide acceptable? When must a murderer be punished? When can they be shown mercy? What is the degree of punishment for what infractions?
Again, even with the agreed starting point of “God,” depending on the particular theist one talks to, these questions start to fragment off into differing and competing answers.
Is saying “God” any better than answering a second-grade question of “2 + 2” with “x”?
It is fun to watch pages and pages of material and time wasted on “who has the burden of proof in the discussion on God?” Atheists claim that since theists are making an affirmative statement: “There is a God,” the burden must squarely rest on the theist. That it is far more difficult to prove a negative, so atheists complain arguing “There is no God” is akin to arguing “There is no Easter Bunny” or “There is no invisible flying spaghetti monster.”
Theists claim that God-belief is so universal, and of such a majority, that since atheism is the minority position, clearly the burden should be on the atheist.
The tussle back and forth limps on to this day.
Frankly, I don’t mind assuming the burden of Proof. The only thing I ask is that the theist provides me with a description of their God. Tell me what “x” is, before I start to discuss whether it is a correct answer!
“God” is this nebulous answer that we grapple with trying to determine how possible it is, in light of the universe we observe, and because the theist leaves the answer deliberately mysterious, we feel as if we are wrestling with the wind! We are informed that this God is so much more powerful, so much more knowledgeable, not to mention not even material, so there is no possible way in which we could ever comprehend its existence. That if we had this knowledge and understanding, in addition to our observation, we would clearly understand that such a God exists.
If it was put into a math equation, it would look like this:
“Universe + Unachievable knowledge = Certainty that God Exists”
The only thing that is a constant number in that equation is: “Universe.” Everything else remains unknown! I feel as if we are discussing a problem similar to:
“2 + y = x” (Ain’t math fun?) Then we debate what is “x”? A bit useless, as whatever “y” is, will make a big difference as to what “x” is!
If “y = 8,” then x would have to be “10.” If “y” is 4, then x is “6.” If “y” has to be somewhere between “0” and “100” then x has to be between 2 and 102. But without knowing what “y” is, x could be just about anything!
Worse, we discuss concepts such as “freewill” and “consciousness” and “morality” and “love” and “life,” all of which add a different variable within this equation. Simply saying “God” is not enough. It is as if the person has said, “The Answer is ‘x,’” when every book, every teacher, every professor and every answer key as a different solution and a different answer as to what “x” is.
We also learn that whatever “x” was in the first math problem does not mean that “x” will be the same number in the next. Yet somehow, when using “God” in the place of “x” we are to presume it is all one and the same.
“What has every culture included within its society?”
“Right. Therefore my God exists.”
Whoa, whoa, WHOA! Where did we make that leap? Just because the answer to the first question is “God” does not mean much. In fact, more people disagree than agree with your particular concept of God.
“The universe requires a designer.”
“Therefore my God exists.”
No. At best one has proven a deistic type entity exists. Over and over I see this leap from “here is an argument for God—therefore the Calvinistic Protestant Christian Inerrant Literal Bible God exists.” It presumes that all “x’s” are the same. If Intelligent Design proves “x” exists, and the Christian is attempting to prove “x” is “God” then the jump is made—Intelligent Design proves the Christian God exists.
No, not all “x’s” are the same.
Look, you want these arguments for God? You want them to prove something? You want “God” to be a real answer? Give us more than a three letter word. Give us some concrete descriptions of what this answer is. Don’t answer every question with the same “x.” Give us an answer that has some information within it.