Thursday, August 3, 2023

The Hubris of Human Thought Vis-à-Vis The Existence of God

Inside of the Cathedral with light and hues of blue
Do you believe in God? This is a common question we ask others or, in turn, we get asked by others. It is posed as a yes-or-no question. Some evade a direct answer by claiming to be agnostic, which is practically a different way of asking the pointed rhetorical question Who knows?

As a matter of fact, the only one who would know in this case would be God Almighty Himself but then that gets us entangled logically and semantically since God would only know whether He exists if He did exist and if God did not exist, then how could He know that He does not exist? It is like asking the question of whether you are asleep. No response could mean yes or simple annoyance with the silly question followed by the request just let me go to sleep, will you?

Cogito ergo sum. Our thinking and the capacity or lack thereof define whether we exist, or ipso facto, do not exist. This comes at the expense of feelings, which do not seem to matter here. Feelings can create doubt or incertitude whereas cold rational thinking is more rock solid in comparison. At the same time, this stance could also exclude a large portion of sentient beings. In fact, Descartes did not think (!) or believe that animals had reasoning capabilities or a soul for that matter. But he was and is wrong, and hamsters do have souls.

To the degree that Descartes underestimated human and animal capabilities, we have the unfortunate tendency of overestimating our own. Nowhere is this hubris clearer than when it comes to the discussion on the existence or non-existence of God. The question of whether there is a power higher than our own ends up boiling down to our own personal judgment and opinion. I believe so, and poof! God comes into existence, while the I don’t think so comment would just as quickly and easily believe and evaporate Him out of existence.

In existentialism, we often associate and equate meaning with one’s own personal view of what is meaningful and relevant to one’s core self and being. Meaning can take unique shapes, forms, and hues according to one’s desires, wishes, and belief systems. But it is quite a step and a steep jump when it comes to divine matters. If a belief in God is in fact wishful thinking, or worse, pure fantasy, then Freud would be absolutely right about projecting the ultimate father figure up there into the heavenly spheres.

But the fact remains that if God did exist, He would do so regardless of whether we believe in him or not. It would be a fact not contingent or dependent upon one’s personal belief system or convenience. For the longest time, we (including yours truly) used to judge people who believed in the existence of aliens rather harshly but by the looks and current appearance of it, the facts and evidence seem to be heading in their favor and direction. Worse, we went through a phase where belief and denial went headstrong against science when some opinionated people, perhaps to this day, held onto the belief that COVID did not exist. And further left afield, there are those who claim that the Earth is flat.

But their rejection of the disease did not simply make it vanish away nor does believing the Earth to be flat actually make it so in reality. It comes down to a simple matter of whether God or a higher power exists or does not exist. God, unlike Schrodinger’s unfortunate cat, cannot simply exist for some who believe in Him and at the same time not for others. Of course, there is also the possible outcome that God does not exist, which comes then with the charged claim that billions of people are not only wrong and misguided but downright delusional as they are simply praying into the void.

But facts are facts, and they should not be swayed or influenced by popular opinion, sentiment, or passion. It is certainly possible that God does not exist, but I think science if it is a science and not a dogmatic religion and if it does follow and abide by its own credo and criteria then at least under current knowledge and circumstances, science would not be able to prove without any doubt that there is no Creator or higher power so-to-speak. The hypothesis of the Big Bang can explain and account for what comes after the creation of the universe but not what came before it. Scientists are still puzzling over what was before the Big Bang or before time was born. Poetry seems to come much closer to the truth in this case, but poetry is elusive and a slippery slope for the logical mind.

But how could we know for sure that God does exist? Why do so many around the world claim and swear by it? We enter the realm of intuition and gut feeling combined with personal experiences of the paranormal that tend to be rather hard to verify and prove to those who do not believe this to be true. How to explain to someone what chocolate ice cream tastes and feels like if they have never had chocolate or ice cream before.

Just trust me is all that we could say here. In fact, we are asked to either bet on God’s existence, a kind of blind but cautious wager à la Pascal or to just hold our breath, close our eyes and take a leap of faith as Kierkegaard and others would suggest (please note that the leap is only figurative and never literal).

Existentially and essentially, there is this gap left by the void of God and so we look for ways of filling it with close-enough substitutes. Ironically, that could be science as well. Although Freud vehemently denied and decried the existence of the otherworldly or the mystical, we have his once protégé and projected successor later turned persona-non-grata Otto Rank who underscored the importance of the psyche in the field of psychology. Rank so wanted to believe in a soul but never seemed to fully accept and embrace the idea, something that felt and came more naturally to the more psychic-oriented, “spiritually” inclined Carl Gustav Jung.

And yet essentially, the question is the same. We either have a soul or we do not, and if we do, then denying or rejecting that we have a soul does not make it any less so. If you deny having a body, you would be seen as irrational and delusional, but it is more easily acceptable to deny the soul. We say we are more materialistic in outlook believing our own eyes and only what we can see, and yet, we live in a world where there are wireless devices that connect to invisible sources operated by unseen electromagnetic waves, not to mention the enigmatic and paradoxical and inherently entangled and bundled (not to say messed up) world of quantum physics.

But what would account for proof and evidence of God’s existence and presence? Then again, if God exists in my worldview only when, whenever, and as long as He makes my wishes and desires come true, then that would mean that He would not and does not exist if and when my prayers and wishes are not answered and are left hanging and dangling in the void. Again, the hubris of it all is that we would have the power to will or not will God into existence as long as He fulfills our will and demand or does not fulfill them. Put differently, God exists as long as He is on my side; if bad things happen to me, such as my prayers being left unanswered, then He must not exist. We are back at Square One.

Let me retrace my steps. This question about God’s existence independent of our belief in him came to me when watching Kiarostami’s movie Ten. In one of the segments, a young love-stricken woman was asking or pleading with God to unite her with her lover. He did not.

I then assumed that she would be angered and even doubt His existence because her wish had not been granted. But no, what if God did purposely not respond to her will and actually went against it. What if His will being done did not include the wishes and desires of this young female. If you prefer a more generic term, what if the universe did not give you what you asked for, does that mean that the universe did not exist?

Some would say that God acts in mysterious ways that are not always reasonable or fathomable or even logical to human minds. Although that seems to be the easy way out of a difficult dilemma and conundrum, which would also entail and assuage the problem of evil or which one was first, the chicken or the egg, there seems to be some uncomfortable and inconvenient truth to it all.

At least when seen and looked at from the human perspective. We would then not be as powerful as we think we are, nor are we immortal. It clips the wings of our flight and exposes the hubris we have created after our many discoveries and accomplishments. Instead of being the one who decides whether God may or may not live, we could attain a certain humility about it all and not just claim ignorance or lack of knowledge but openly state that despite all our knowledge and wisdom, there are certain things that we do not know and acknowledge our limitations. This does not make us less as we continue swirling around on a tiny orb in an endless expansive universe.

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