Let’s look at truth first, and then see how it applies to God. First, a couple of examples.
If we each picture a dog in our head, then what we each picture will be the same in many ways, but also different in many way. If you wanted me to have a clear understanding of just what you are seeing in your mind, then it will be very hard for me to get to that understanding just from the word “dog.”
Maybe you are imagining a specific breed of dog, at a certain age and health, a certain color, in a certain position, against a certain background, and so on. Hidden within that tiny little word “dog,” there are a thousand details. That is why we say “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Again, suppose we each imagine a person walking down a street. Have you done so? Great. Now, if you were to just tell me that you imagined “a person walking down a street,” I will have a vague idea of what you imagined, but I won’t understand it well enough to picture the same thing in my head.
The image in your head, did you imagine a male or a female? Of what age? Were they walking with their face toward you or away? Or at an angle? Did you see them as though you were at eye level, or maybe from above? What side of the street were they on? What color and make was the street? What was on the sides of the street? And so on.
Just like with “dog,” when you say “a person walking down the street,” there are a thousand little details all bundled up inside that simple phrase. It is a deceptively simple phrase, really.
Now, when it’s just your imagination, of course you can have all the details you want. But, let’s imagine now that we’re saying that the idea in your head corresponds to something that’s not only in your head, but which is also out there somewhere, in reality. We say the idea is “true,” and by “true” we mean that the idea matches something that really exists somewhere. Well, in that case, every detail has to match the real thing. If my idea of the thing has a thousand details, then, for me to be right, for my idea to be true, then the real thing also has to have those same thousand details.
So, if I believe someone is guilty of stealing a shirt from a store (and you think I’m wrong), then for my idea to be true, this person must really have taken a shirt from the store without permission. If the person actually took a pair of pants, or if it was actually a different person who stole a shirt, or if someone took a shirt from a store but they actually had permission…
Then my belief is true in some ways, and not true in others. I should keep all the true parts, and I should allow the untrue parts to be replaced with true ones. All of us must allow reality to change our ideas, sorting out the bad parts and installing new, better parts.
God As An Idea
So, I have two points now about God. First, “God” is a deceptively simple phrase. What is the idea of God you have in your head? Is it of a being who created the universe? If yes, then great! But, is that all there is to the idea of God you have in your head? Or is there more?
Is this creator also supposed to still be alive today? That’s another detail. Is the creator also responsible for many good things happening in your life? Those are more details. Is it an honest being, a loving being, a male being? More details. Will it judge people, reward or punish them, and provide an afterlife? And so, we go on and on, until we have really heard the thousand details all bundled up in this deceptively simple word “God.”
And now, the second part. Some people say they know that this idea of God is true, that is, they know that the idea in their head matches some real being that exists somewhere. Each detail is claimed to match a detail that the being really has.
If you ask someone how they know this idea is true (and this is the crucial part), people will tend to provide a collection of arguments, some philosophical, some scientific, and some from their own personal experiences. You, or another person might think these arguments are flawed, and might not be convinced that this God idea matches anything that really exists.
(Note, by “arguments,” I’m including personal spiritual experiences, too, along with scientific or philosophical reasoning arguments. Some people think all 3 of these things are flawed)
Well, I want you to bear with me here. Let us suppose all these arguments are true. Now, where will that get us? I mean, what will that really get us?
I know arguments that prove (or claim to prove) that there is an intelligent creator. That’s wonderful. That works for one of the details in the God idea. Other arguments claim to prove that the being is timeless, spaceless, and massless. That the being resurrected Jesus Christ or inspired Mohammed to write the Quran. That the being talks to people today and helps them in their lives.
And there are many more arguments.
But, I admit, we do have to ask how many of the details of the God idea have arguments for them. Out of 1000 details, how many can be proven this way? I confess, maybe only 20 or so.
For example, I’ve never heard, an argument that says it can prove that this creator is honest, rather than pretending to be honest (indeed, it would be difficult to have such an argument, since such a powerful being could easily make itself look honest. It could look honest if it really was honest, but also if it was only pretending).
But, many of us are just as sure of this detail in our God idea as we are of the details that do have arguments.
Isn’t that a little unusual, when you think about it? One detail has a very convincing argument, and a second detail has no argument at all. You would expect someone to be more sure of the first detail, and less sure of the second, right? Instead, we tend to be equally sure that there is a creator, and that the creator is honest.
I think this reveals something very interesting about how our minds work. Maybe the reason we’re sure there is a creator isn’t really because of the argument that says there is one. After all, we don’t have arguments for some other details of the belief, but that doesn’t keep us from being sure they’re true. Maybe we’re sure for a different reason.
If you asked someone why they were sure that God was honest, not just pretending to be honest, they might have already noticed on their own that God could pretend to be honest if it wanted. Many of them would be sure God was really honest, anyway, though. If asked, I think they would say they believed it was true because they had faith.
Faith. Maybe this is the real key to why we are equally sure of the details we have arguments for as we are of the details we don’t have arguments for. Maybe it’s all faith, and the arguments aren’t that important.
This is how it looks to me — at least, so far. What do you think? Is it all about faith? I want to look more at how faith works and how well it leads to the truth later. For now, I just want to ask, how much of our certainty is really based on arguments, and how much is based on faith? How many of the details in our God idea do we think are true because we have arguments or experiences that make us think they’re true, and how many of those details do we think are true even without any arguments?