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Searching for God
by Paul Buller
[This article is part of a larger series on "Evidence for God." Read here for more details.]
The search for God is a quest as old as human thought but the question remains; have we found him? Her? It? What would it look like to find God? How would we go about searching? What might get in our way? These are some of the questions I want to ponder in this article, and I will do so by way of a philosophical parable.
Two scientists, Dr. Alpha and Dr. Zulu, boarded a spacecraft and flew to another planet in search of life. This is what unfolded…
What do you mean by God?
Upon arrival the two doctors disembarked from their craft on the small planet in a galaxy far, far away, and Dr. Zulu immediately began jumping for joy.
“Life! Life! It’s everywhere!!” He shouted, picking up a rock.
Dr. Alpha replied, “What do you mean; I don’t see any life?”
Zulu took the rock and shoved it in Alpha’s face for closer examination, “Here!”
Alpha took a much closer look, “Do you see microbes on the rock?”
“No,” said Zulu, “the rock itself! Life, I tell you.”
Alpha replied, “That’s a rock, it’s not alive.”
“Well, if I choose to call that life then it’s life to me!” said Zulu.
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The first question we have to ask when dealing with the issue of God’s existence is a question of definitions. What, exactly (or even broadly) do we mean by the word, “God?” The various religions of the world have offered various answers which are wildly inconsistent with each other, yet there certain similarities are common to many of them.
God (or the gods) is somehow “beyond” humanity. Typically God is understood to be the creator or cause of the universe whether intentionally or accidentally. Most religions understand God to be more powerful than we are, possibly even limitlessly powerful. Usually God is understood to be morally upstanding (or at least not horrifically evil). He / She / It is usually supernatural; lacking a physical body like ours.
It would be impossible to come to a universally agreed upon understanding of God, but these types of characteristics, and others like it, paint a picture of what most humans have in mind. Suffice it to say if we find a rock we cannot declare the search for God to have been a success. New Age Pantheist protestations notwithstanding (there will always be at least some outliers) we are roughly in the ballpark of a broad definition here.
Given the general description of God that humanity seems to have roughly narrowed down on, this does create a bit of an interesting question to ponder; what would evidence for such a being look like, anyway? Given the fact that God is understood to be “beyond” humanity (and usually also beyond nature itself) it seems virtually impossible to imagine that we might see him, visually, like we might see an animal on a foreign planet. If we cannot see him directly with our five sense then the best we could hope for is some kind of indirect evidence, or evidence of a “metaphysical” nature as opposed to evidence of a physical nature…