Sunday, August 27, 2017

Can we prove or disprove God's existence?

I encourage any student of religion to question the idea that the arguments for and against the existence of God can prove (or disprove) God's existence. My basic reasoning for this is as follows: If any of the arguments for God's existence worked as a conclusive proof of God's existence, then (logically) it would provide a sound reason for believing God existed and as such there would be no denying God's existence. In short, everyone would be theists. Likewise, if any of the arguments against God's existence worked to conclusively disprove God's existence, then (logically) no-one would believe God existed and (in theory) everyone would be atheists. However, the fact that the matter of God's existence is still widely debated, and that we have people all around the world who believe in God's existence and do not believe God exists, suggests the issue is far from resolved. As such, we must reject the simplistic notion that any of the arguments (either for or against God's existence) are the final word on the matter.
Photograph of Rodin's preparatory study for his sculpture "The Thinker"
Rodin's "The Thinker"
(Copyright Stephen A Richards)
In light of this, it's important to approach the question of God's existence with a degree of humility. The issue has been hotly debated, and often by the finest minds, throughout much of human existence. Thus to think we can easily prove or disprove the question of God's existence beyond all doubt is rather naive.

So why do people regularly engage with others over the issue of God's existence in a simplistic and knee-jerk fashion? I would suggest that many find it hard to see anything positive in another person's point-of-view for fear that in doing so it would undermine their own beliefs. For example, atheists would be afraid that if they see any value in an argument for God's existence, that they would then have to start believing in God; with theists worrying that conceding any ground to atheists would undermine their belief in God. So quickly dismissing another person's belief is the easier option, and simply a matter of self-preservation.
The author walking on ice
(Copyright Stephen A Richards)
Yet this is a very oversimplified view of who we are and the beliefs we hold. We do not change our fundamental beliefs about things on a whim. Anytime our beliefs do radically change, this tends to happen over a period of time. If a theist or atheist is going to change their belief in God this will have taken place after many months, or even years of thinking and reflection.

Religious Studies/Philosophy of Religion is first and foremost an academic subject. It is not an attempt to convert students to either atheism or theism. Thus in order to do well in the subject, one must be prepared to engage critically, yet also respectfully, with other people's beliefs and opinions. At the end of the day, no-one has all the answers. We are all born into a particular family, society, and place in the world which has a profound influence on who we are, what we think of other people and the way we experience the world. The value in taking a subject like Religious Studies/Philosophy of Religion is that it gives us a chance to experience the world as other's do, and to critically reflect on our own place and beliefs in the grand scheme of things.