“Does God exist?”
I sat mesmerized, along with 3,500 other spectators. People had their phones out, some recording, others updating statuses and tweeting. We were living history. There may have only been a couple thousand here in person but by the end of the night there would be millions of witnesses. It’s a little crippling to think about how fast we are blundering ahead technologically. Here we were, witnessing a discussion on the oldest questions humanity has yet to answer, while simultaneously sending binary code hundreds of miles into outer space where floating machines reflected these codes to almost anywhere on earth, all to be collected by a “cloud” where any person could access the translated code through text, pictures, or videos. How this works, I have no idea. For me, the God question is an easier one.
“Before I attempt to answer, the terms need to be defined. First of what you mean by God. What God are we talking about? The New Testament God, Old Testament God, Islam’s God, Odin, Zeus, Apollo, Rah, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, Einstein’s God? Is he all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, is he even a he?”
“For the sake of audience understanding and brevity, lets define God by the modern Christian model.”
This was the first debate I had seen since coming to the University. I considered myself lucky to have gotten into one of the top religious philosophy programs in the country. My grades would have made me a debatable admission to a community college but apparently my entry essays had impressed the people whom required impressing. I admit I used my mother’s multiple military deployments and father’s abandonment as pillars of pathos. I like to think Aristotle would have been proud.
“So now what do we mean by exists? Webster has exists as “Having an objective reality or being.” Do you dare argue that God exist objectively?”
“You are simply finding definitions that work in your favor, the very next definition offered is “Being found, esp. in a particular place or situation.” Using this definition, I have, along with hundreds of millions of others, experienced God in particular places and/or situations.”
On stage were three intellectual giants. The mediator was the dean of the philosophy at the University. He was remarkably young looking for a philosophy professor. He looked about 40. He had the pigment of someone who spends too much time in a room only lit by a computer screen yet it looked as if two blue supernovas were exploding behind his irises. You could see the wrinkles starting between his brows too; they reminded me tributaries emptying into a gulf or sea when seen from above. I looked forward to acquiring those wisdom marks. Since I replaced the absence of my father with role models like Da Vinci, Socrates, and the like, old age was something I looked forward too, and those furrowed brows.
“So the Christen God is the one we will be debating over tonight? Allow me to tell a story. There was a boy born by a virgin mother who herself was impregnated by a God. Her son was referred as the ‘only begotten son’ and whose birth was announced by angels and heralded by the morning star. He partook in a coming of age ritual at age 12. Between age 12 and 30 there are no historical records regarding his life. He was baptized at age 30. His baptizer was later beheaded. He took to the desert and then a high mountain where he was tempted by his evil counterpart. He traveled with 12 disciples, walked on water, casted out demons, healed the sick, cured the blind and revived a dead man. He delivered a sermon at the Mount, was crucified, along with 2 thieves, was then buried in a tomb only to revive 3 days later. This is the story of Horus, an Egyptian God. Written between 2700-2300 BC.”
The man speaking was on the dean’s right and was an Englishmen. I had Googled both debaters before the match and this man’s name offered over 8 million hits. He had written four books, all of which were secular and anti-theist, more than 100 published articles, and had graduated from Cambridge, with a PhD in literature. He had spent the last eight years in the Middle East attempting to spread rationalism among the academic youths in response to the drastic rise in fundamentalism after the US invasion of the region. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful tool and helps Americans ignore the impact their reckless government has had in aggregating hatred due to their involvement in the Middle East. This is beside the point; I blame the Chomsky interview I watched before the debate for that little outburst (Chomsky is someone you should read up on).
“Even my opponent believes in evolution. Not to is to deny the credibility of the system that brings you electricity, the internet, GPS, television, and the like. All those toys you take for granted and that you have no idea how they work, were produced by the same scientific method that brought you the age of the earth, the universe, and the origin of species.”
“Can you explain to me where evolution began? How something came from nothing? Isn’t one of science’s fundamental laws, God's law, which something living cannot come from non-living? I believe that is called spontaneous generation and was quite popular among the serfs in the dark ages. I’d go so far as to say that you are above such fallacies.” That earned some snickers.
On the dean’s left was the preacher. His name yielded more than 20 million results on Google. He was the leader of the largest church in the United States, and wore a suit that proved it. He looked flawless. He had perfectly straight, gleaming teeth, a full head of hair neatly combed and gelled, a watch that I’m sure was his proof for an intelligent designer, a designer who I’m sure did not give his work for free, and his shoes were made of some scaled creature. His God did grant him domain over animals. He was quite polite so far but his face betrayed his demeanor. His face was so flushed it seemed like a rubber band was lassoed around his neck. I did not know if it was from embarrassment or anger.
I noticed that the Englishman was coughing a lot. I had read an article online that said he was sick with some chronic illness. I couldn’t help but find it ironic that the God denier had some horrible illness while the preacher seemed an exemplar of health.
“I do not claim to have that answer. What you are implying is the God-of-the-Gaps argument. When we did not understand the sun or the stars, our answer was God. When we did not understand bacteria and microorganisms, it was God. When we did not understand gravity or electromagnetism, we claimed God. Scientific understanding has pushed back the border of God’s domain. I have faith, yes faith, that science will continue this trend for as long as we can maintain our fragile existence.”
“You may understand it sir, but I need to make that point apparent to the audience. Science and philosophy both are constructed upon a foundation of faith. You have faith that reason is the ‘true’ way to perceive the world. Also, that empirical evidence and empirical analysis is the best way to view the world. Both sides need and rest upon faith. I think this is a concept many atheists either do not realize or ignore.”
That snatched my attention like a cerebral whip lash. I had never thought about that. I had assumed that faith was a trait of the weak and illogical, but I had been assuming that logic was the correct way to think, a faith in logic. I didn’t like having my heuristics challenged, but that was why I came here, to this school and this debate.
“Let us assume science and reason are good ways to measure reality. That mathematics can explain the universe, that the universe has rational underlining laws. Once adopting this view, one quickly realizes the remarkably small chance of our existence. If we were to change gravity by a millionth of a percent, we would not exist. If water was slightly more polar, if this or that force was altered at all, if Jupiter did not existed as it does, to shield us from asteroids, if all these variables were not as they were, we would not exist. That to me demonstrates an intelligent designer.”
“The Fine-Tuning argument allows for a very interesting alternative view, one which is equally true in every aspect as your assumption that this intelligent creator is your Christian God. You may not be an avid computer science follower, but computers are making exponential progress. A dumbed-down and user friendly reference to my alternative proposition is the movie “The Matrix.” It pains me to have to refer to this idea as oppose to Descartes, but the audience is surely more informed on the plot of “The Matrix” than the philosophical underpinnings of Descartes Demon analogy or Dream Machine. To sum, all that is perceived reality could be an advance computer running a program that entails all of our physical laws. Interestingly, on the quantum scale, this hypothesis amasses further evidence. According to quantum properties, the universe acts as a hologram and the tiniest particles appear to be pixels. I do not have time to expound on this but I encourage the audience to research my claims. Every attribute one can give to a God, can be pinned onto this program, the computer, and the programmer, if one is needed.”
I thought it interesting that the program, computer and programmer made a neat trinity. I was actually sweating. My girlfriend told me afterword that my eyes were dilated for most of the debate and that she was rather jealous because she thought that look was only for her. I forgot she was with me. The fine-tuning argument bugged me. If anything was different and we didn’t exist, we wouldn’t be here to measure it.
“If there is no God, how do you explain morality? Good and Evil? Right and Wrong?”
“I find it quite insulting, and I’m sure the audience will agree with me, that you and the like assume that without an all-powerful God…”
I began to become aware of my body. I could feel my socks wrapped around my toes, the tag scratching the back of my neck, my wisdom tooth rubbing against my gums. I was uncomfortable. Suddenly my stomach dropped like I had just left the top of a hill in a car doing 60, that weightless feeling that is a little scary but mostly enjoyable. Before my stomach had landed I had a warm fluidly sensation start at the base of my spine and wash upward engulfing my brain and existing through my eyes as my stomach came back to earth. The moment my stomach landed it purged itself on the chair in front of me. I don’t remember making it out of the auditorium but I would find out online later that night. My classmate’s phone’s had excellent battery life.
All I could focus on was the pointlessness of the debate. These two men developed their lives around ideas that could never be proven. They were arguing century old problems that were rooted in language; a device that itself is a rigid and crude prison to human imagination and creativity. God is a word that has become so saturated with different meanings to render it a useless word when used in any way other than subjectly. And atheism seemed to be a group that met many of the requirements of religion, whose purpose was to discredit all other religions, albeit with reason and not crusades. Convictions are more harmful to truth than lies, and debates on religion to be nothing but convictions. What was the purpose of my pursuit in philosophy? What was my purpose at all? I was having an existential crisis.
She checked her phone. She had lost track of time reading the blog article. Her list of questions, she thought, would be enough. Grabbing her bag she hurried toward the auditorium. On her computer screen was an old blog entry of one of the debaters that were coming to the University that night.
The title of the discussion that evening was “Does God Exist?”