Why God Has to Exist
Somewhere in The God Delusion, Dawkins proposes a thought experiment. A universe without God, he suggests, would be very different from a universe with God. And for this reason, science and religion are not entirely separate from each other, dealing with separate spheres, but have an important area of overlap – that is, the existence of God.
Try to imagine, if you will, two parallel universes – the one with God and the other without. Are they different?
The experiment sounds very simple on the surface but is actually very difficult. For either an atheist, or a theist, I think the construction of a universe opposite from what you believe in is very hard. But I think that it is not just difficult to imagine a universe without God: it is actually impossible for one to exist.
As a theist, I believe that the universe depends on the existence of God. That is, you cannot have a universe without God. That is not because I believe the universe requires God to create it, nor because God is constantly involved in its sustenance. It is because of one of the proofs of Thomas Aquinas (which, by the way, Dawkins completely misunderstood), which says something like:
Anything that happens has a cause. That cause itself has a cause, until you follow the chain all the way back. And that first cause is what we call God.
Whether or not the first cause is God as we currently understand the word, there is a first cause, and that first cause is what we call God. It may simply be a trick of linguistics, but ‘that thing to which we owe our very existence’, the first cause, whether it be energy, or a big bang, is our god. You may not worship it, you may not believe it to be conscious, but you owe your existence to it. You cannot have a universe without a first cause; you cannot have a universe without a god of some kind.
There is another reason. In order for the universe to exist, it has to be. This is obvious, even self-evident. In order for the universe to be, it has to have a nature. Anything that has a nature expresses something – it has to be some how. It has to be in a certain way, and the way of its being has to hang together and work, in order for that universe to exist. That way of being, that howness, is a system or principle that pervades all things. A universe cannot exist without a how, and the how is the ultimate environment, the ultimate reality of that universe. The how is what we call God. The Bible expresses this by saying that all things were created by the Word (Greek logos, which is also speech, order, rationality, the root of –ology), and the Word was God. God is the totality of everything that exists.
To put this slightly differently, a universe without God would have nothing in it. It could not be, because it would not have a way of being.
The question, then, is not ‘does God exist?’ but ‘how does God exist?’, or ‘what is God really like?’ This allows for the fact that what God is, and what I think God to be, can be two completely different things. It separates belief in God from belief in a specific model of God, putting elasticity, playfulness and even security into it, safeguarding against extremism and bigotry. It gives you the freedom to think for yourself about what is real, and what is true. It wrests belief in God from the hands of the church and allows us to question it in the safety of our own worldview.
It is easy to lose sight of such a big God. It is easy to believe that such a God does not exist, or is not necessary, because we get lost in all the small things that make up everyday life. We forget that God is the reality behind reality, the first cause, the totality. We lose the forest in the trees. (The opposite, of course, is to get so wrapped up in the belief in the forest that you fail to see the trees in the first place. Then when the leaves start falling, you begin to wonder why the forest is dead and why you even believed in it in the first place. Suddenly the tree believers don’t seem so ridiculous.)
God works slowly. In fact, I think that when something happens ‘miraculously’ it is not ‘God working’, but a misunderstanding of a scientific principle, known or unknown. God moves mountains, God heals the sick, God shaped man out of the dust. But God does these things over the space of hundreds of thousands of years. I believe that God will cure cancer, not by the laying on of hands, but by the devoted hard work of hundreds and thousands of scientists’ studying, testing and cooperating. This is the mighty work of the One True God, the power of the hand of the divine.
And if you are waiting for God to act in your life, stop waiting. He is already working, but slowly, behind the scenes. God is expressing himself in the story of your life, in the story of the universe.
If you think this is a lousy excuse for defending superstitious belief: perhaps we don’t need the idea of a god to explain the things I have explained. But that is a matter of linguistics – and it is a matter of religion. Perhaps ‘flying spaghetti monster’ would have been an appropriate alternative phrase: the point is that it is the associated qualities of the word ‘god’, such as the qualities of beneficence and intelligence, that give the appearance of superstition to theism. Again, these are all subsumed under the question of the ‘how’ of God, rather than his (her/its if you prefer) existence.