The Existence of God
by Woody Brison

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1 Mankind has carried this tradition, that there is a god or gods, as far back as we have history.

We might suppose that if there were no such universal tradition, we would never look for God. He isn't visible like, say, Mt. Everest.
Supporting comments and documentation:

Some things in order of visibility:
the sky – almost everyone can see it. It's a pretty blue in daylight, but it's transparent at night. And it may be completely hidden by clouds.
Mt. Everest – the British first glimpsed it in 1847 from India. It's real, thousands of people have climbed it; but to us here in America, it's "invisible".
air – can be easily seen as the blue sky, but seeing it for instance in a room is very difficult. Astronauts are able to see distant objects in the vacuum of space, such as other spacecraft, with astonishing clarity – we don't notice it but air blurs our vision quite a bit. But you can feel it; just wave your hand around.
magnetic fields – move one magnet around another, and you can feel the forces. There is something between them that pushes and pulls. It's invisible. It can be imaged with a compass or iron filings.
the core of the earth – no one's ever even been near it, let alone seen it, but it obviously exists. It can be imaged via seismic data.
mathematical theorems – these are things that do exist, they are patterns in human brains. But they are not just constructions, or purely imaginary things: there is for instance only one correct formula for the third side of a right triangle. It can be proven, verified in many ways; it is something that really seems to exist. Who can see such a thing? But we can make diagrams of theorems. Do they exist before we discover them? Computers can actually discover them and print visible representations of them – imaging them, so to speak.

2 A bit of thought however, shows that if there is a God, he might leave some evidence of himself around, however subtle. And this would prompt people to investigate. And that would account for this tradition.

That's the whole point: the evidence is subtle.

The notion that God might leave evidence is not something that should be quickly dismissed. Why would he want us to behave well, thinking he exists, on zero evidence?
"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." –Galileo
The idea is not unreasonable, however, that God might want us to demonstrate, for some reason, that we can heed subtle evidence.

Psalms 46:10)   Be still, and know that I am God.

On the basis of augmenting our thinking by looking at what conclusions other people have come to, out of a very large population (billions), each of whose lives are just as real, just as important, just as tragic or wondrous as ours, a large fraction honestly believe that God exists. And they don't exhibit stupidness as a group; probably the opposite trend, and many are brilliant.

The inference I find is that there might just be some subtle evidence, which some people see and some don't.

Some will object. They want hard, concrete, loud proof of God. But our task is not to dictate to the universe what's there, but to investigate and learn what is there.

3 In the Americas, Europe, Africa, and much of western Asia, the main tradition is of a singular God, male, usually with angels helping him and devils trying to decieve us away from him. In formal English grammar, any of the names of God are capitalized; even pronouns refering to Him are. I don't follow that tradition with the pronouns, except when it clarifies things. Too much flowery grammar and capitalization detracts from quiet, simple truths. And the Mormon pioneer publishers knew God well but they didn't follow that tradition either, and still don't, as can be seen in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. For instance, DC 20:17-28, a magnificent formal grand statement, refers to the Father or the Son as "he" or "him" over a dozen times, capitalizing them only twice (at the start of sentences.)

4 In the old Greek religion, and apparently it was believed and acted upon, there was a group or family of gods, who governed the universe like the most atrocious human committee, with various agendas, conflict, deals, intrigue, capriciousness, betrayal, and war. (And mankind was the unfortunate subject who suffered as a result.)

In other areas of the world, such as eastern and southern Asia, I think that divinity is understood less as persons and more as impersonal forces, or truths, or factors which are fundamental to existence, altho these may still be envisioned as having minds and personalities.

Many people are bothered that very unpleasant things happen to innocent people, even to good people – disasters, accidents, wars, sickness, etc. Some people reason that if God existed and intervened in the world, he wouldn't let all that bad stuff happen. This reasoning is faulty in that God might be letting us experience these things to teach us some lesson. Yes, it would be severe. But our stupidity and cruelty can be great.

For instance, the German people elected Hitler. Any of them could have dropped in on his beer-hall rallies and seen what kind of agenda and associates he had; but they didn't bother, and only about 20% turned out to vote in those elections. They left the future of their beloved country up to whatever. As a result, their resources were turned into a machine to loot the planet, and the result was their country took a severe beating – 95% of their buildings were reduced to rubble. The Germans are very intelligent and highly educated – they could have understood these things, but they chose to ignore them.

These things might be lessons from a God who is serious about us making free choices and having to live to some degree with the consequences. If he can reverse death, then death, no matter how painful, ceases to be infinitely terrible. If he can bring us back when we've learned, these things might be understandable as him allowing us to learn in the School of Hard Knox, just as ordinary parents sometimes do.

Good stuff also happens. People get well, science finds cures, hospitals and schools are built, nations find ways to coexist, wars come to an end, bad rulers die, the sun shines, the earth turns, babies are born, new ways to make music are found, etc. These things might be kindnesses from a God who loves us. The severe lessons might be evidence of his love also – a kind of tough love. Or they might be tests. Or, he has thrown us into a somewhat random situation for some reason. Or all of these, or we might be misinterpreting it entirely. We might also consider the possibility of a God who is not totally omnipotent, but has limits. We cannot deduce, from the fact that there are disasters, that God does not love us, or that he doesn't exist.
5 I think people in primitive (=illiterate approximately) societies tend to envision gods in the weather and seasons, in good and bad occurences, and in birth, death, etc. And not just among provincials; luck and fortune for instance are envisioned by large numbers of very cosmopolitan people.

If a pair of dice rolls to a certain position, they say it was good luck. Yet there's nothing in the dice or the table that can influence the dice to land one way rather than another – the casino operators go to great lengths to ensure that. It takes an intelligent party to steer events to a special outcome. If there's no intelligent party controlling things, then luck does not exist.

6 Modern science has found explanations for much of nature, so that in recent times atheism or agnosticism has become more common, especially among educated people. I believe that our schools and curriculum, which ignore the really intelligent kids, and don't connect to the fundamentals of knowledge, are miseducating many people. Around the 1800's, European scientists were trying to detect the Ether – the medium thru which light waves move, even in a perfect vacuum. After many unsuccessful experiments, they invoked the idea that if you can't see it, measure it, weigh it, or detect it, it either doesn't exist or might as well not exist and you might as well not even think about it. Many of them put God in this same category, not because it was astute, but because they wanted to. Bias can be hard to see in ourselves.
7 Whether God exists or not might be the most important question that the mind can address.

If he exists, we need to know. We need to find out what he's like and how he wants us to act. That is the essence of navigation in life. If that intelligence wishes to help us be happy, then it would be silly to ignore it. If he has rewards for right actions, then we want to know what those rewards are, so we can decide whether we want them enough to acquire them. If he's dangerous, maybe by understanding the situtation we could defend ourselves. If he doesn't care, or is just a myth, then it would be liberating to know we don't have to observe a lot of ritual. We need to know what the situation is to navigate.

And it affects our science; if the universe is governed by intelligence, then things will work differently than if they are just random events.

"God wants people to be happy. No one can stay sad forever." -Mr. Monk's assistant Natalie

"The usual approach of science, of constructing a mathematical model, cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?" -Stephen Hawking

Astronomers looking at galaxies, trying to determine how they came to exist – the possibility of an intelligence who engineers them would affect many conclusions and steer many investigations. If we know, or think we know, the way it is, then we don't tend to pay much attention to theories that contradict that. Or evidence. We won't search for evidence that points a different way; and surprise surprise, we won't find it. The only way thru this is to determine carefully and accurately if there is such an intelligence. And we should avoid making this determination based on paradigms that circularly depend on it pro or con.

8 We investigate everything else from galaxy clusters to subatomic particles, and everything in between, things that are friendly and things that aren't. Scientists look into the strangest and oddest things. But while they usually have an opinion about the existence and nature of a governing intelligence, they generally avoid anything even approaching a formal investigation of it – with notes, experiments, discussion, let alone publication. Modern scientists have discovered that in much of nature, there are laws. When they investigate something new they set about trying to discover the laws that govern it, automatically assuming there are going to be such laws. Gravity, electromagnetism, nuclear physics, chemistry, biology, the cosmos, and even mathematics, all follow laws – that right there would be a strange thing in a random universe – which laws ultimately seem to have no origin or why; they just are, as far as can be determined by observation and manipulation.

Topics of religion, the paranormal, Bigfoot, UFOs, ESP, conspiracy theories, etc. are all things that could be investigated, but competent scientists tend to stay away from them. They have reputations and careers, and it's a morass of wild speculation, bad science, and hoaxes, loaded with consequences and media hysteria.

In his novel, Code of the Lifemaker, Paul Hogan brought out the point that a con artist is not best detected/exposed by a scientist, but by another con artist.

9 Can the question of God's existence even be investigated? Yes, just like any other question. But can we learn anything by such investigation? That is something we can only find out by investigating! Richard Feynmann, famous scientist, member of the Rogers Commission to investigate the Challenger disaster and the key person who solved that mystery, looked into the JFK assassination briefly and pointed out something no one else had noticed. He had trained himself to look at things and see what was there. But he didn't get involved in the Warren Commission controversy. -from David Lifton, Best Evidence, p. 48-50.


Does it make sense to start by assuming God Does Not Exist Because I Just Don't Want Him To, and run with that, without even so much as an investigation, not even a sanity check?

It is a fair question; no one can object to someone asking it.

Galileo (see the quote above) struggled against institutionalized religious obeisance. His example should not now create institutionalized religious avoidance.
10 What are we looking for? That could be important; if we define God as, say, a cute purple dinosaur who energizes the world, then we might go right past the real God and miss him. In recent times some have objected to automatically assuming God is a He, and they search for a She. There could be an infinite range of things to look for.

In this essay, I'll use the term "He" because it's convenient. If you prefer something else, by all means use your own terminology.

11 But do we have to look for any specific form? No. It seems reasonable to me to search for "an intelligence that governs the universe" – some sort of open definition in general terms, to first learn whether God exists. This intelligence could be a human, or like a human, or very unlike; it could control the universe very closely, or more loosely.

We might have a desire that things be a certain way, but ultimately we just want to know what the situation is.

12 How can we investigate? We can:

– Look for evidence (See below)

13 – Think up some experiments and try them. For instance, you could try prayer. People have these prearranged traditional recitations that they call prayer; not what I'm suggesting. Just say something to God. Ask him questions. An omniscient being ought to be able to hear you. (Check that roomates are not listening if you don't wan't to cloud the issue.) Ask Him to help you sort this out. If he exists and is alive, couldn't he in some way let you know? I suggest to keep it real simple, for the simple reason that it can get complicated by all sorts of things.

14 There are other experiments that one could do, such as fasting, paying tithing or other forms of sacrifice to get God's attention. It shouldn't be difficult to get an omniscient being to notice you, or an omnipotent being to communicate with you, if that being wants to. If there is evidence that can be found, it should be possible to find it!

15 – Reason carefully. There are some things than can be deduced about God – if he exists, then he has to be like such and so. But some of the reasoning that has been done has been bogus.

See my essay on the Ontological Argument.

"We're not here by accident. For us to be sitting here right now is so illogical; mathematically can be proved to be impossible. So you have to ask: Along the way, who pushed and pulled and adjusted to make us be what we are now, here, today?" -Arthur C. Clarke

There is a flaw in Clarke's reasoning: Suppose that there are zillions of worlds, with a very large variety of conditions; a certain fraction could be favorable for life to arise, even if that fraction were very, very small. Suppose that in all the universe life has arisen only, say one time on one planet. On that planet, the intelligent species' scientists will wonder why they are so lucky that it happened on their planet.
16 – Write down your observations and reasoning. I suggest a blank composition book, or start a computer folder. Make journal entries. Write down what you think, and what you do. Then write in your journal any answers that you get or evidence that you observe, or thoughts you have.

"If ye find a beaten game trail, ye follow that an it'll bring ye to water – that is, if ye go the right way, an' that ye know by its gettin' stronger. If it's peterin' out, ye'r goin' in the wrong direction." -Ernest Thompson Seton, Two Little Savages, part 3 chapter 12

17 – Identify blockages in yourself. Almost everyone has emotional baggage, and it can be hard to see thru these blind spots. Identify them and work thru them carefully. This situation is a little tricky. It might be that you desire the outcome of an experiment to be one way or another, or that you are assuming something without realizing it. We are capable of imagining things we desire, and we are capable of ignoring things we don't like. Here is where your written notes can help. When you come back and read them later, unconscious bias may be easier to spot. You can read this record almost as if written by someone else – separating yourself from it a little.

18 – Read what others have written. We have a lot of books today, countless websites, even a few scraps of text from very long ago, addressing our question. It's impossible to read it all, but we can read some, and focus on what seems lucid or what others say has been useful. It would seem almost a complete given that we could benefit from reading the writings of others who have made this same investigation.

I've decided it's almost a waste of time to browse the shelves of the public library. The best books are always checked out; they go from the return bin back out to the next person who's requested them. The books on the shelves are the ones nobody cares about. To read the good books, I have to identify them somehow, and request them myself. To identify them, I listen to people, or read their output, and note what books they say are valuable.

19 – Focus your mind on the question. Read back over your notes, repeatedly. Engage your unconscious mind on the question.

20 – Using discretion, converse with others, respectfully, on the question. Some people are hysterical about it, and anyone can be offended – it's a very personal matter with most. Don't be pompous about any conclusions you've found.

Ben Franklin found that his friends were avoiding him, because he knew so darn much and he would insist on things he knew. He started using phrases like "I imagine it to be so" or "if I am not mistaken..." developing a habit of expressing himelf with "modest diffidence".


          Evidence


21

Tom Morris tells a story of how the wind blew his little son's beach ball away, out onto Lake Michigan. The boy, age 4, said, "Dad, if we pray to God, he'll give us our ball back." Very skeptical, but willing to try, Tom said a quiet prayer asking God to bring the little boy's ball back. Right about then, two men cleaning their boat at a dock 10 miles south had a completely unexpected, unlikely (it was a fairly cold windy day), mutual urge to fire up the boat and cruise north along the shore. They thought they were looking for women, and scanned the beach with binoculars. As they came to where Tom was with his family, he saw them and had the thought to make signs that their ball had blown away to the northwest. The guys didn't understand the signs but seeing no girls, they went far out on the water for some reason, where they found the ball and retrieved it. They they came back near shore and, now seeing some girls on the beach, moved in closer. Tom waded out toward them and they suddenly wondered if the strange signs he'd been making were about a ball. They held up the ball and said, "Is this yours?"


-from Philosophy for Dummies, Tom Morris, 1999, p. 233-236

If this story is true, then it certainly seems that some fairly powerful intelligent party answering to the name of "God" was able to 1) hear Tom's silent prayer, ie. read Tom's thoughts; 2) love and pity the little boy; 3) immediately cause things to happen ten miles away; 4) place irresistible thoughts and urges in the minds of a couple of men; 5) have a way to get them to examine the people on the beach with binoculars; 6) get Tom to make signs; 7) get them to move out on the lake and find the ball; 8) move them back toward shore; 9) move some girls into place to get them to come close in; and 10) get Tom to wade out into the cold water, almost freezing his nanas off – all this without being seen or heard. It would be effectively impossible for those events to happen in that way by random chance; it implies that God exists.

So the question to ask is whether the story is true. Tom Morris assured me personally in an email that the story is 100% true. Independent of any "gut feeling" I have about it, I think that because of his profession, his long years working with lofty ideas, demonstrating a good understanding of integrity, he'd tend to be a truth teller. Several of his lectures are posted on YouTube and he occasionally stresses the point that people need to have integrity. Some additional considerations might or might not help; for instance, his children and the men could possibly verify the story. I don't have their input, but they could pipe up with a denial anytime they wished, and I'm unaware of any. He's a Southerner, and there's an ideal that Southern gentlemen are noble and honest; that doesn't prove the issue but makes it more likely. Ditto for him being a Catholic layman. I'd have to evaluate this story as being very probably true, on the basis of its source, independent of its implications.

As far as implications go, it didn't look like Tom cared much whether anybody believed the story or not; he doesn't urge it in his book and he discussed many other aspects of the topic in a nearly neutral way. He says that if he were going to make something up, he'd have "tried something a lot more believable and high impact than a multi colored beach ball!"

Since I know that God exists, this removes for me the limitation that the story could not be true, but I want my readers to make their own discoveries. I want to avoid circular reasoning or anything that looks like it.

If you don't believe in God then you might assume this story is not true, and therefore it's not evidence for God's existence. This would be circular reasoning.

If we can't prove this story is true, but can only assign a probability, then the thing to do is look for more evidence. Numerous independent things, all with a good probability, can add up to a very strong case.

22 Tom reports that he related this experience to his colleagues in the philosophy dept. at Notre Dame, discussed it with them; and of course he put it in his book and has doubtless discussed it with many people. It seemed like he didn't know where to take it from there.

Tom's colleagues wondered why God would answer his prayer to recover a plastic beach ball when lots of other people elsewhere had far more serious problems – cancer victims, murder victims, etc. Would that cancel the evidence? He prayed for something, and it was delivered in a most unlikely and miraculous-looking way. Those other situations are separate problems. If we understand this one event, then maybe it will help us understand or maybe even fix some of those.

"God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs." -Spencer W. Kimball

          And now, a personal experience of my own:


23

When I was a little boy, I was struggling with this question. I'd had a couple of dreams that indicated the existence of angels and devil. My dad said that angels and devils are just parts of our mind that lead us to do good or bad. But he and my mom both were very sure that God was real. To me, it was yet another puzzle. I always attacked puzzles and solved them. Well, here's how I attacked this one: I was alone in the house one evening, Mom and Dad had gone out somewhere, and I figured that if God exists, he can hear me talk. So I spoke out loud: "God, if you exist, make a big light flash on the wall in front of me." And within two seconds, a big light flashed on the wall in front of me!!

24 This was no supernatural light, hallucination, or anything like that; the source of it was very easy to indentify. At night, the headlights of cars coming up the street in front of our house would shine thru the house. My mom liked mirrors and she had a number of them here and there, and the lights from a car shone in the front windows, reflected off some mirror perhaps, and hit the wall in front of me. Now that I paid attention to it, I heard the car going by. It was the timing that was impossible to dismiss. I asked for a big light, and immediately there was a big light. I didn't know whether God had controlled things to come out that way, but if God exists, and is a being who can do things like that, then it looked like this was his doing. It looked very, very likely.

25 Suddenly I was terrified. I found myself on the threshold of learning that God exists. And it was scary. What if he's a monstrous, dangerous entity who will destroy me or do other bad stuff to me? What if it was going to be very scary? That was scary!

I recommend Bill Cosby's routine about the little kids going to the theater to see a monster film, sitting in the front to row to get the maximum effect, and then hiding under their seats with their eyes shut when the monster was about to appear on the screen.

26 And so I backed off. I didn't ask God any more questions, and even avoided thinking about it any more, for quite a long time, years.

It's crazy to come up with a question, devise an experiment to probe the question, do the experiment, and then, when you don't like the result, avoid it!

27 My reaction there was not heroic. But, I was a little kid, so it's not a problem. I forgive myself, I think, for not persuing this at that time. I went many years more before I resumed the investigation.

One of the effects of maturity is that we gain courage. Little kids should not be judged on an adult basis.

28 When I was older and had a little more courage, I resumed my investigation of whether God exists. I made the assumption, like many people today, that he does not. I struggled, and after a kind of Gethsemane experience, got past many impediments. I didn't keep a journal, I just kept my notes in my head, so to speak. I think I made the process a lot slower that way. I found out for myself, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that God is real, and that he is willing to be a benevolent, wise friend to one and all.

Harold B. Lee was boarding a flight. He shook hands with a few people standing around at the airport, as commonly happens, then as he started walking across the tarmac to his plane, some lady ran up to the fence and asked him "President Lee, how do I find God?" He didn't have any time at all so he just said, "Seek him." As they were taking off, he pondered on this and thought he could hardly have given her a better answer if he'd had a month to prepare one. -Harold B. Lee, Young Adult meeting, Long Beach Auditorium, 1973
29 Is it worth the effort to get the answer? Oh, yes, absolutely.

Wood


Notes

1. Woody Brison is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but this website is not affiliated with the church. It may be thought of as an additional, somewhat independent witness.

2. I want this page to be as accurate as I can make it. If you have a correction, please email me.

3. All biblical quotations are from the King James unless otherwise noted.

Copyright 2013 Woody Brison. All rights reserved.