Four steps of reason leading to a personal God

As I begin this post, I ask myself “Am I deciding what to write?”  You might think that a strange question with an obvious answer, but if I were to have a materialist view of things then I would struggle to answer with a ‘yes’.  At the heart of the problem is the question of whether I have free will or not.  Am I able to exert any choice on any decision (such as what to write) or is my action simply a result of the state of the molecules in my brain at the particular time when I think I am making a choice?

If there is nothing but matter, and matter behaves according to strict laws then there is no scope for me, or you, to make a free choice about anything.  Holders of the materialist view have argued that those who believe in free will need to demonstrate a mechanism before free will can be accepted to exist.

I do not subscribe to that view of things.  A bumblebee flies even if I am unable to demonstrate the mechanism.

Other disagreements with such a view are subjective.  Whilst I recognise that many of my actions might indeed be simply as a result of my brain state at a given time, I identify situations where I stop myself behaving according to ‘habit’ and consciously choose to behave differently.

From a practical viewpoint, our whole society is built on the basis that we have free will.  If I have no free will to be able to choose how to behave, then what right has society to imprison me for murder?  I would have had no choice but to kill my neighbour – it would have been an action that simply resulted from the chemical configuration in my brain at the time.

So for all practical and from all subjective points of view, I accept that we have free will.

That is step one; that we have free will.

The fact that I can call an opinion subjective inherently means that there is an “I” that is choosing to have an opinion.  Similarly, I speak about personal experience which requires there to be a person.  My personal subjective view is that there is indeed an “I” who is considering the facts and deciding what to write.  Descartes’ famous statement “I think therefore I am” argues that the only thing I know is that there is an “I” who thinks, and therefore “I” must exist – even if everything else is just my imagination.

So step two is that there is an “I” who exists.

The next thing to consider is how I exist (with the proviso that my physical being might be a delusion – but I still exist).   I exist because I have the ability to exist; something is causing me to exist.  I am not causing myself to exist, it is something apart from me that is ensuring that I exist.  Some might call that something ‘the laws of physics’, but I shall choose here to call that something God. (A rose by any other name …).  That is step 3.  There is something that sustains me (and everything else) that can be called God.

The final step is to ask whether it is reasonable to imagine that this something (God) could sustain an “I”, who has free-will (which must operate outside the laws of physics) without itself having an “I-ness” to it.  Can the physical properties of a human being, which are sustained by God, ‘create’ an “I-ness” that God does not have itself?  Can “I-ness” be dependent on the sustaining power of God and yet above and separate from God?  And if not, then the power that sustains us must also have an “I-ness” about it.

Step four: the power that sustains us has itself the characteristics of a person: it is a personal God.

About Minimalist Christian

Phil Hemsley is a graduate of the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the UK. He works for a multinational company in the power industry, has presented technical papers at international conferences and holds many patents. He has published two books, the most recent is "The Big Picture, an Honest Examination of God Science and Purpose". He has lived on both sides of the faith fence. He is married, with two daughters.
This entry was posted in Minimalist Christianity, Philosophy, Science and Christianity, The Big Picture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Four steps of reason leading to a personal God

  1. ratamacue0 says:

    > I am not causing myself to exist, it is something apart from me that is ensuring that I exist. Some might call that something ‘the laws of physics’, but I shall choose here to call that something God. (A rose by any other name …). That is step 3. There is something that sustains me (and everything else) that can be called God.

    This bit strikes me as sleight of hand–choosing to call it God, not “the laws of physics”.

    I think the question is not in the sustenance of consciousness, but in the source.

    Like

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes I had a similar thought. Wouldn’t it be better to call it ‘life force’ until you get to step 4 which makes it a personal God?

      Like

      • A problem with calling ‘God’ by another term is that one may be content with the substitute term and search no further.

        Like

        • ratamacue0 says:

          You’re begging the question.

          Like

          • ratamacue0 says:

            (My “begging the question” comment was in reply to Phil’s comment on “substitute terms”. Apparently this blog only displays 3 levels of nesting.)

            Like

          • Which is? (should be able to nest more now – I found the setting :-) )

            Like

            • ratamacue0 says:

              Which is?

              That God exists, and that he sustains the universe.

              If Christianity is true, then I believe this follows. If it’s not, then I see no reason to suppose that God sustains the universe–if he exists. It seems to me that your argument rests on what I called “sleight of hand”, where you redefined terms–a “choice” by your own admission.

              Thus I proposed a better approach would be to consider the origins (the original source of the universe, consciousness, etc.) over who or what sustains these things.

              Like

            • I think I was actually trying to do what you suggest, and start from there being no assumption of God existing (in terms of what anyone would preconceive God to be) and then deducing that there must be ‘something’, which not only sustains, but also initiated the universe. (it would be bizarre to suggest that one ‘something’ hands over to another ‘something’ after the intial creative event. My calling that ‘something’ God is to point out that whatever we might already have conceived a God to be, one characteristic is the creation and sustaining of the universe. i.e a preconceived God must be fulfilling the function of the laws of Physics.

              My comment on the naming is that if we deduce that ‘something’ to exist, and then call it ‘laws of physics’ or ‘life force’ then we risk stopping thinking at that point, and consider a preconceived God only as a god of the supernatural, or of the personal, and not a God of Everything.

              Does that tie in with what your proposed approach?

              Like

            • ratamacue0 says:

              there must be ‘something’, which not only sustains, but also initiated the universe.

              I find the initiation argument (first and uncaused cause) persuasive. Even if it’s true that there is something metaphysical (a being) sustaining the universe, you’ve not given evidence of it; you’ve only postulated it.

              My comment on the naming is that if we deduce that ‘something’ to exist, and then call it ‘laws of physics’ or ‘life force’ then we risk stopping thinking at that point, and consider a preconceived God only as a god of the supernatural, or of the personal, and not a God of Everything.

              To persuade someone to believe in the unseen, the burden of proof is on you. I read your statement here as a claim that God might possibly sustain the universe; he (/she/it/etc.) may exist beside them. Okay, fine–but that doesn’t prove it so.

              Does that tie in with what your proposed approach?

              The present tense verbs in your OP (e.g. “causing me to exist”) suggested to me that you were speaking of why you’re still here, vs. poofing out of existence. I think that’s a losing battle. You’d need another premise (or series) to convince me that a metaphysical entity is necessary for my continued existence.

              …I feel like I’m rewording the same thoughts here.

              Like

            • We may be going round in circles, but let’s have another go…

              “Even if it’s true that there is something metaphysical (a being) sustaining the universe,” …. I am not concerned with whether we call it metaphysical or what, and certainly not at this point considering a ‘being’. But since the universe began and is here, there has to be ‘something’ which causes it to be. (I used to accept that it just ‘is’, but I think that’s a cop out now).

              We all already believe in many ‘unseen’ things. We believe in matter, stuff, yet we don’t actually see it. We only see photons that impinge on our eye, and then our brian constructs a virtual model that we interpret as a chair or suchlike. We read a book and it’s just a bunch of inkspots on a page, but we create in our mind an unseen story with characters who express love (unseen too) or goodness, or who do calculations (where mathematics is also unseen – it is not anything physical).

              These are all very familiar, as are many of the arguments for or against God, and none are proof either way. Whether we accept any argument depends on how we feel about it. (what is is about an an argument that makes it persuasive?) And ‘feeling’ depends very much on the experiences that we’ve had up until now. What I hope to do is challenge the ‘accepted’ ways of looking at things and change the way people ‘feel’ about things. I want people to go a step further than saying ‘the laws of physics’ for instance, to ask what it actually is that makes stuff appear to behave as it does. And I suspect that probably means going round the circle a number of times to deduce what we both really mean…

              Like

  2. ratamacue0 says:

    Since we do seem to be going in circles, let me try a different approach.

    I am not causing myself to exist, it is something apart from me that is ensuring that I exist. Some might call that something ‘the laws of physics’, but I shall choose here to call that something God.

    I counter-posit: I am not causing myself to exist, it is something apart from me that is ensuring that I [continue to] exist. Some might call that something ‘God’, but I shall choose here to call that something ‘the laws of physics’.

    Now what?

    At first, you may think we’re on an even playing field. However, I contend that my argument is stronger, since the physics is observable and physically repeatable; whereas the God you’ve posited is not (at least, not by your arguments).

    Like

    • I fully agree with your counter proposition. We remain on an even playing field. What is observable and (sometimes) physically repeatable i neither The Laws of Physics nor God, but the result of them/it. At this stage all I can observe about you is that I see some pixels on my computer screen. If I wish, I can believe that these are generated by a piece of computer software (that i might like to call The Laws of Physics). Or I can believe that they are generated by another being who is rather like me. I could claim that I believe the former and that you have to prove to me that you exist.

      Like

      • ratamacue0 says:

        No, as I said, we are not on an even playing field. (“You may think…however…”)

        Are you trying to make a positive case for God’s existence, or just contend that we can’t rule him out? The article’s title suggests the former, but you’ve not succeeded.

        > If I wish, I can believe that these are generated by a piece of computer software (that i might like to call The Laws of Physics). Or I can believe that they are generated by another being who is rather like me. I could claim that I believe the former and that you have to prove to me that you exist.

        Making a positive case for a contention isn’t about what you wish, believe, or choose. It’s about what you can prove by demonstration and reason.

        But, to rebut: the “intelligence” in my replies to you is known to fall within the bounds of what a human can produce. No known computer software, nor the laws of physics themselves, have yet been shown to produce such an effect. (I realize I have not defined the criteria of “intelligence” specifically, but the point should be apparent.) The burden of proof is on you to show otherwise.

        Moreover, the sustenance of my message on this page has nothing to do with me having generated the message. It is the WordPress servers (analogous to the “laws of physics”) that sustains it.

        If you want to argue that an intelligent being (me/God) is required to generate the message/universe, go ahead, you’ve got a shot. But positing via word games that an unproven intelligent being is required to sustain the laws of physics is a losing proposition.

        Like

  3. Somehow I feel we are talking subtly different languages. I feel that you think I am trying to prove beyond doubt in a short post and discussion that the Christian God exists, and that you are unwilling to consider anything that falls short of your requirement. I think it’s fair to say that it is impossible to irrefutably prove the case for or against the Christian God by intellectual argument, but that each of us has to come to a conclusion based on the way we look at and think about things and our experience.

    However, let’s go a little further. Up until step 3 i say nothing about a being, even an intelligent being. The ‘being’ part comes in step 4. You claim that neither computer software nor the laws of physics have yet been shown to produce intelligence, yet many would claim that you and I both do indeed prove it. Many would claim that there is nothing but matter, governed by the laws of physics, and since we exhibit intelligence then that shows that the laws of physics do indeed produce intelligence, as an ‘emergent’ property … as is free will.

    It seems to me that to claim the possibility of the ‘emergence’ of intelligent and self aware beings from inanimate material without the sustaining power of that material possessing the same (or greater) attributes is false. I accept that I too could be deluded in this respect. I cannot see any way to prove either case, nor other questions like ‘was mathematics there before mathematicians discovered it?’

    In exploring questions of God, I feel that it is important to consider as wide a range of information as possible and see which way it might lean. I don’t think we will get to see the big picture by examining every pixel on the TV screen. I put quite a broad spectrum of information in my book. You might find it interesting, or you might find you want more depth in areas, but I try to offer a consistent worldview based on evidence but of course requiring faith (as do all worldviews).

    Like

Please leave a reply and I will try to get back to you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s