Why Proving God Exists Is Not Enough
The Achilles heel of most theological arguments that is easily overseen.
If you are even a little interested on questions around religion and the existence God, or lack thereof, you have probably witnessed, participated in, or come across some form of debate between believers and non-believers. These tend to be passionate, with various arguments thrown around, trying to definitively answer the million-dollar question:
Does God exist?
I have to admit, I’m always taking one side in such discussions. That of the non-believers. In my opinion, any attempts believers make to logically “prove” the existence of God are ultimately futile. I can accept a proclamation of faith that is consciously based on feelings and intuitions, rather than any material or rational “proof”. Yet, in the age when rationality and scientific explanations have rationally explained many faith-based claims about the world, more and more believers seem to want to base their faith on something more concrete.
To that end, they invoke philosophical principles, historical arguments or supposed proven miracles to show that they are more than believers. That their faith reflects the undeniable and objective truth. But every time they fall short, at least in my eyes. In fact, I’d say they paradoxically miss the whole point of having faith in something bigger than oneself. Faith and belief become redundant the moment a concept is proven to be true. Plus, if there was such undeniable proof of the existence of God, the fierce debates on the matter would cease.
Let’s take a recent example of such a debate online, where the futile effort to “prove” the existence of God is on full display. It is a debate between two Youtubers whose channels are defined by the belief in Christianity and Rationality respectively, here focusing on the question of God’s existence. The believer in this case utilizes the Kalam cosmological argument, but his reasoning seems to have quite a few holes, as demonstrated by the non-believer.
To be fair, this debate has only started. More videos back and forth will follow. And most importantly, trying to prove one or the other side wrong in this case is irrelevant to the point I want to make. What I want to focus on instead, is a huge oversight that has plagued many such debates.
The problem is that, even if the believers can conceptually “prove” the existence of God, there is a big question left:
You see, proving that an all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present being must exist is a simply insufficient conclusion for any practical purpose. This would prove the existence of a Creator, but it doesn’t even follow that such a being would be the kind of personal God that the most popular monotheistic religions on the planet believe in. A God in whose name bloody wars are fought and homosexuals are damned, a God that hears and answers your personal prayers. But even if we conclude that such a God must exist — I’ve yet to hear a solid argument for this — the question which one remains.
Currently, there are the three versions of the Abrahamic God, with all their various denominations, the numerous Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism and many other, less popular ones. They undoubtedly share many similarities, but even within Christianity, all the different denominations are mutually exclusive. In other words, none of those beliefs or their holy texts and principles allow for other religions to be right, for other Gods to exist.
Why it is important to choose
What good is it knowing, proving or reasoning that a god exists if we cannot tell which one? See, when it comes to non-believers, it is not particularly important whether your belief system fits the box called atheist, agnostic or deist. All three trust their inner moral compass, as well as humanity’s laws and ethics to drive their behavior. Their exact belief system in respect to the divine doesn’t really matter, at least in this life.
A quick note here: Deist is a very important distinction from the traditionally religious, a theist. It is what many scientists like Einstein have believed and it has nothing to do with any personal god that cares what you do in your bed or bathroom.
Religions on the other hand affect and direct one’s behavior in numerous ways. They dictate what is right or wrong, good or evil, what the most important rules to be upheld are and many other elements affecting the way we live our lives and interact with others. But since each religion has different answers to these issues, their coexistence fuels tribalism, intolerance and conflict in small and large scales. People like the psychologist Jordan Peterson argue that individual religions have their good, even necessary, sides. And I would agree. But as even these positive effects are brought forth in profoundly different ways for each religion, their irreconcilable conflicts persist.
This means that a believer has to choose one religion and thus one set of moral and practical guidelines to follow in life. In other words, simply believing — or indeed proving — a god exists, has no practical value in itself. Believers watching debates on this question, have no right to rejoice at “successful” arguments for the existence of a god, as they in no way justify their particular choice of religion.
The philosophical question God or no God? thus becomes the practical one: The Christian God, the Islamic God, the X God, the Z God… or no God? And this question is essentially impossible to answer with logical arguments in favor of the believers. Even if the answer somehow where Christian or Islamic, we still have to choose between Catholic/Orthodox/Protestant/Baptist or Sunni/Shia etc. All mutually exclusive and historically very aggressive to each other. Which one’s right?
This problem came up in the historical, extensive debate between Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris in 2018, but even there, it never became central. I think it should be. Otherwise, conclusions from such debates cannot be said to have any meaningful practical implications in favor of believers, no matter how much they want to believe so. (pun intended)
Don’t get me wrong. Both serious and casual conversations on the existence of God are very interesting and meaningful in many ways. Philosophically exploring such mind-boggling questions is extremely useful, even if the opposing parties eventually always agree to disagree.
When it comes to living our lives however, the question Does (a) God Exist? is utterly irrelevant, unless we decide to answer No. This would mean looking beyond religious texts to find universal moral values and decide how to live our lives. For those who persistently answer Yes however, an impossible further question remains. A question that will constantly divide us into tribes and cause unnecessary conflicts. What can humanity do with religions then?
What can we collectively do, in the face of such a problematic question? Of course, you can choose to believe in any religion, any particular God, but only by invoking pure faith, emotions and intuitions as your basis. And that leaves you out of any rational approaches on the matter of religion. It also hopefully leaves room for other intuitions and faiths to exist. Which is… acceptable.
What we are left with in the field of rationality is a range of long-term options, but all of them necessitate crossing to the side of the atheists, the agnostics and the deists.
Because anything other than wholeheartedly accepting one version of God as true, implies picking and choosing good and bad parts. Logically judging what parts of which religion are correct and/or useful to humanity. And that involves using your conscience, your inner moral compass, instead of some divinely inspired text, as guidance. Which happens to be exactly what non-believers do when it comes to worldly matters.
Down the road, we can work on the question of religion in various ways. Try unifying beliefs, or finding and keeping their best parts, throwing them all out or keeping it just the way it is. No matter which, this will be a long and complicated process.
But right now, on a personal level, instead of misinterpreting philosophical arguments to justify our intolerance of the different, the only meaningful thing to do is embrace our beliefs and accept them as such. Be the best versions of ourselves with or without faith in the supernatural. Stop demonizing those who disagree with us and find ways to peacefully communicate and cooperate. Try to make the world a better place for everyone, not just our tribe.