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"It's a Mystery!" Thoughts on the existence of God

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"It's a Mystery!"

Writing recently about several theological quandaries, I am reminded of a phrase which my more devout family and friends sometimes use in an attempt to put my mind at ease. Growing doubts over the validity of one religious supposition or another, one religious faith or another, brings to mind the clich, "It's a Mystery!"

As though the questions we ask today of an epistemological or teleological nature weren't meant to have answers, it often seems that any question I may ask that could potential shake the faith of those to whom it is addressed is, eventually, answered in this fashion. "It's a Mystery!" In this vein, I cannot help but to imagine our Paleolithic ancestor Trog sitting before the fire with Kron while engaged in thoughtful conversation. "Why do the sticks burn?" asks Trog. "I don't know," Kron scratches his lice-infested head. "It's a Mystery."

Which reminds me that historically, for thousands of years, any question whose answer was not clearly known already was often relegated to the "It's a Mystery" category: Why does the sun rise in the East and set in the West? It's a Mystery. Simply asking the question could quite possibly be perceived as antithetical to the social, political and religious institutions of the day and result in the ostracism of the inquirer - or worse. One needs only be reminded of people like Galileo and Copernicus to know the truth in that.

Recently on a local Omaha, Nebraska radio station whose name I cannot recall, there was a story recited which I will transcribe to you as best I can, for it suits my purposes:

A young boy and his dad were fishing from a boat on a lake. In the midst of the peaceful quiet, the boy asks his father, "Dad, why is the sky blue?" The father, not knowing the answer, replies, "I don't know, son." A while later, peering at the shoreline, the boy asks his father, "Dad, why is the grass green?" The father replies as before, "I don't know son." After a bit longer, the boy asks, "Dad, how do fish breathe?" "I don't know," the father responds. A long while goes by until the little boy looks at his father and says, "Dad, does it bother you when I ask questions?" "Why no!" the father responds lovingly, "If you don't ask questions, how are you gonna learn anything?"

So it is with philosophers, intellectuals and thinkers everywhere. Yet when we ask the world the tough questions, there is an altogether uncertain and odious feeling that runs through the stomachs of the listeners, unsure of how to respond when the potential answer could shake the foundations of their entire life's system of belief. I quite imagine that when individuals - practically the entire population of the earth - are asked the kinds of questions that necessitate the need for quantifiable answers requiring a modicum of thought and rationality, they instinctually grow fearful of the answer they may find.  In response, they relegate the question to the "It's a Mystery" category in an unconsciously autonomic response to that fear. Like a strong box, it serves to protect the non-intellectual's mind from a reality that may or may not exist but of which the mere thought of contemplating scares them. I can understand and empathize.

Yet my own mind will not accept such a response. "I don't know..." should be followed up immediately with "...yet, but I am going to find out." Thus, "It's a mystery..." should be followed promptly by the words "...that we need to look into further to resolve." Anything less is to be intellectually dishonest and, in the case of religion, theologically disreputable.

On this note, there is a hilarious and intellectually disingenuous (though I have no doubt sincere) web site (
http://everystudent.com/features/isthere.html) of which I cannot refrain from commenting. Entitled Is There a God, the web article utilizes a typically antiquated-but-modernized version of a Christian fundamentalist "because we don't know how something yet works, it must be God" argument. It serves as a rouse, too, because inherent in the question they pose is not is there a God in general but rather is there a Christian God. I will attempt to make a point-by-point refutation of their logic in an attempt not to deny the validity of their question (though they couch it in ethnocentric terms) but rather to show the frailty of their logic and the fallaciousness of their argument.

1. "Does God exist? Throughout history, in all cultures of the world, people have been convinced there is a God."

The first assertion they make is completely absurd. They go on to speculate that since billions of people over thousands of years of history have generally agreed there is some "God to be worshipped" somewhere, they cannot all be wrong. Yet using this same logic, fervently religious and pious individuals and institutions worldwide have postulate that for thousands of years that the earth was flat and that the heavens revolved around the earth. Supporters of the Ptolemaic (and later accepted as the Christian) model of the universe in fact used such an argument in attempting to refute the radical theory that the earth revolved around the sun. Everyone, they theorized, can't be wrong!

2. "Does God exist? The complexity of our planet points to a deliberate Designer who not only created our universe, but sustains it today."

In real world terms, human build and fix things and therefore some god must have built everything we see around us, too. It is a tradition of cultures such as the ancient Greeks to fashion the gods in our image. We build, so the gods must build. Yet the underlying assumption is that everything we see has to have been built or created by someone. Since we didn't create the world, it must have been created by a being more powerful than us. Let us call this creature "God."

Additionally, there is no logical connection between the complexity of an item and the concept of a creator. If an item is simple, does that mean that it did not require God to create it or that God is simple, too? What about things we humans creates, such as making smaller atoms out of bigger atoms during nuclear fission or creating large atoms that don't exist in nature in specialized labs. Does this, then, in a sense make us gods? Clearly, if something doesn't exist and we create it, then we are God; it is same analogy proponents of Intelligent Design offer for the proof of God's existence. The simple fact that something exists does not inherently imply that it had to be hand-created by a maker. It is an inference we humans make.

3. "Does God exist? Mere "chance" is not an adequate explanation of creation."

This argument goes right back to the "It's a Mystery" explanation, the conclusion that if something cannot be known at this time, then it must mean it isn't meant to be know or that it is simply unknowable. They use the example of Mt. Rushmore. It couldn't have been made by change, so it must imply man created it. Yet what this argument ignores is the fact that random chance and chaos accounts for many, many phenomena that we would never necessarily attribute to a creator.

For example, the Horsehead Nebula resembles a seahorse, yet are we to assume it must have been made that way by God? It is simply a matter of the movement of gasses in a near vacuum and the particular positioning of our solar system relative to the nebula that allows us to see it. That does not necessarily imply God. Also, if someone finds a potato chip in the shape of the Catholic Madonna, does that necessarily imply the chip was created to look like that? Isn't it a better explanation that the random process of growing, cutting, baking and shriveling of that piece of potato led to what we perceive as the Virgin Mary?

Yet it all comes down to one simple fact for these believers: We don't know how it was all done (yet), so it must be God.

4. "Does God exist? Humankind's inherent sense of right and wrong cannot be biologically explained."

Interesting. Define "inherent." If a culture finds it acceptable to engage in cannibalism, ritual sacrifice, slavery, polygamy, child weddings and other various acts, doesn't it mean that it is inherently "right" since everyone is doing it and agrees it is acceptable? What the author of this piece fails to say is that it is from the viewpoint of today's Euro-centric Christianity. Christian kings and nobles for centuries married children as brides and had sex with them, yet today Americans find this morally repugnant. Believers for thousands of years have had multiple wives, yet today we find this morally repulsive. Slavery and the oppression of women are not only condoned but also taught in the Christian tradition, yet today we find these acts morally abominable. Explain to me, then, where exactly the "inherent" part of this argument comes into play.

Morality and ethics are not absolute black-and-white laws handed down by a loving God like the tablets given to Moses. In fact, if these "universal feelings of right and wrong" are inherent, then why even pass down to Moses laws in the first place? Doesn't everybody already know them? For example, "Thou shalt not kill" is a commandment anti-abortion activists wield like a sword, yet many of these same people would not hesitate to send troops into a sovereign nation or execute others for crimes. How is any of this "inherent?" If anything, the notion of what is right and wrong arises from the society in which a person is raised. One could argue that these other societies are non-Christian and therefore evil, yet if a Christian society like medieval Europe advocates the marriage of adolescents to grown men and clergy from all Christian sects perform the ceremonies, then isn't it logical to conclude that right and wrong is relative and not absolute? There are just too many discrepancies throughout Christian history and in the bible to even vaguely support such an argument.

5. "Does God exist? God not only has revealed Himself in what can be observed in nature, and in human life, but He has even more specifically shown Himself in the Bible."

"The reliability of the Bible" the author states, is "an important consideration" in seeing God revealed. Yet the bible is filled with contradictions and capricious divine behavior not wholly unlike the Greek and Roman pantheon, with their intrigues, jealousies and passions. Humans were created "in the image" of God, implying that both God and we are alike, whether spiritually, mentally, emotionally or physically. Yet throughout the bible, we find God blessing a creation that is "good" one moment, then condemning the very creation and destroying it the next. Every man, woman and child must be killed during Israel's settling of the Promised Land in the old testament, then in the new testament "love" is fulfillment of the law and the prophets.

And biblical references to keeping women in their place in the church, instruction on how to treat slaves, the advocating of polygamy and the bipolar nature of a deity who creates, destroys, creates again (with Noah) then plans on destroying it all again (Revelation) provides anything but a reliable picture of God.

6. "Does God exist? Unlike any other revelation of God, Jesus Christ is the clearest, most specific picture of God."

The life of Jesus Christ appears to be well documented although the four gospels themselves provide plenty of conflicting accounts that theologians gloss over in their need to prove to themselves that their life is indeed meaningful. Once again, this argument takes on a strong ethnocentric bent by assuming that when we discuss "God" we are speaking of the Christian God and none other. Still, I will address this point on equal footing by giving in to their premise that there exists only the concept of a Western, Christian God.

The example of Jesus Christ is not "proof" of God's existence in the empirical sense of the word. Sometimes conflicting testimonies and newly discovered testaments presenting different stories would not hold up as very convincing evidence in any court. That the man existed seems evident; that he was "only begotten of the Father" is faith, not fact. And although I, too, share the illogical and sometimes paradoxical belief in Christ as the son of God, by no means do we possess proof that he was. There is no DNA evidence from his tomb or his shroud that confirms he was genetically different from us all.

No, in the end, we cannot truly rely upon reasoning to prove our faith any more than we can rely upon faith to prove our reasoning. The two worlds appear distinct in both form and function. We should continue to probe the tough questions and find a means of empirically qualifying our experiences in the natural world through the scientific method; "it's a Mystery" should never suffice as an answer to our search. After all, not understanding the nature of light did not prevent Albert Einstein from probing its qualities and characteristics, although surely theologians of his era would have bade him not to question but rather accept it as mysterious and unknowable.

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