Infinite God and tolerance
Sadly, I have to start this post with an apology. I recently received a very nice e-mail from a Christian that I thought was very worthy of response. I put it aside while I thought about how I’d answer and in the interim managed to inadvertently permanently delete it in a spam purge. I’m going to do my best to recreate this person’s argument and give it a fair response, but I’m hoping that the correspondent is watching this blog and can post the original in the comments (or resend it to me).
Now I have to apologize again, this time for having to start this post in such a lame way.
In a nutshell, my correspondent’s argument was that there is no reason Christians and atheists can’t get along if we just stop worrying about trying to prove that God exists. If God is absolutely infinite, completely unrestrained by anything including the laws of logic, then He is undiscoverable by the finite human mind. If we can agree that there is no possible proof that God exists, and we can agree that it is impossible to prove the negative statement that God doesn’t exist, then we can just stop arguing about trying to prove or disprove God’s existence and use our time more productively.
To the best of my recollection, that is a fair summary of the argument (although the original was explained in more detail).
Now for my response.
As much as I admire the sentiment here, I think that the argument fails on a number of points.
First, most Christian scholars (at least most of those I am aware of) do not consider God to be infiinite in the sense proposed by my correspondent. Generally, they believe that God has infinite power but that this power is limited by two things: the rules of logic (God can’t make “A” equal to “not A”) and His nature (God can’t do anything that God wouldn’t do; e.g., evil stuff). I think these are reasonable limits, particularly since allowing God to violate the rules of logic opens up many ridiculous possibilities (such as him being able to overcome any possible obstacle, including nonexistence).
Second, there are many religious scholars who believe that you can indeed prove that God exists. Granted, they are generally not trying to prove that a God of unbounded power exists, but rather that an infinitely powerful but limited God (as described in my previous post) exists. The correspondent would have to prove to these scholars both that God is unboundedly infinite and that their proofs of God’s existence are spurious.
And third, I think the correspondent’s argument leads rational people to atheism. Here’s why:
Given that God is unboundedly infinitely powerful and that it is impossible to prove to finite beings that God exists, we can conclude that God wants His existence to be unprovable. (If God has no limits on His power, he could make it possible for finite beings to prove that He exists.)
If it is impossible to prove that God exists, then we must live in a universe that does not appear to need a creator. (If we could tell that it needed a creator, then it would be possible to prove that God exists.)
If the universe appears to not need a creator, then either it really does need a creator and God has hidden this fact from us, or it does not need a creator. If God is hiding this fact from us, then He is being purposefully deceptive, which does not seem to agree with the widely held Christian belief that God is completely good. If God is not hiding this fact from us, then we live in a universe that has a creator but does not require one.
If the universe does not require a creator, then a human could believe that the universe exists without a creator or that it exists with a creator that is unnecessary. A rational person, preferring the simpler explanation, would conclude that God does not exist. Someone preferring the more complicated explanation would not be behaving rationally.
So, given the correspondent’s conditions, I’d be led to conclude that theists must either give up belief in God or admit that their belief is not rational (and, by extension, that any conclusions based on that belief are not rational).
I don’t think that this is where the correspondent wanted the conversation to go, so a revision of the correspondent’s argument is likely in order.