"A universe with a god would look very different to a universe without one.” Richard Dawkins.
It's one of the wisest things Dawkins has ever said. Believers and unbelievers alike should take heed.
Let's tease out some implications of it.
1) Dawkins clearly has a doctrine of "god" in mind as he makes the statement. The flying spaghetti monster wouldn't affect the kind of universe we inhabit. But Thor might. Allah in a different way. And the triune God, different again. Therefore it's not a straight binary choice.
2) I would look different depending on the existence of God or not. Dawkins seems to imagine two states (a theistic and an atheistic universe) as alternatives lying before him. And who is the great unmoved mover in this scenario? Who is the neutral observer, the one enthroned above all worlds? The scientist! But no, Dawkins' thought experiment - if it takes the word "God" with any seriousness - is one in which everything must be re-imagined. If I am a creature, made by the Father's Word, intended for life in communion with God, then everything changes for me.
3) I would look differently depending on the existence of God or not. If I was a creature of the Word, and if the world is a creature of the same Word, I would look through the lens of His Word. I would see all things in relationship to Christ the Creator. That would simply be good science if the Christian God existed.
But here's something strange...
4) Dawkins ridicules Christian scientists who do actually deliver a different vision of the universe to his own. Yet how could they do otherwise, if "a universe with a god will look very different"?
Which only makes me think...
5) Dawkins has not entered into his own thought-experiment for even a minute. Has he really considered the revolution involved in actually reconceiving Self and World and God according to the Christian vision? Of course not. To do so would mean repenting of his position as all-seeing Arbiter. Or in other words:
"Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3)
7 thoughts on ““A universe with a god would look very different to a universe without one.””
I think what Dawkins was pointing out was that there should be a difference between a world with a god, and one without. If there's no difference, there wouldn't be a logical reason to believe in god. Also, he was distinctly comparing the Theist (any of them) vs. Atheist view. Yes, Yahweh and Thor would run the world quite differently from each other, but the point is they wouldn't be the same as a world run without any god, and this makes Dawkins' concept of binary opposites a valid one.
You argue that you would see things differently, depending on whether god *exists* or not. I would say that his existence doesn't matter. What matters is whether you *believe* he exists. And now we come to the difficult part, since I can imagine a world with a god, but I don't think you can imagine a world without one. I think we would be able to find evidence of god through controlled experiments, *if* there was a god. However, I don't think you can conceive of a world without god, and I do not mean that with any condescension. I completely understand why this would be. (Personally, I find it hard to envision a world with and without god, so I'm agnostic.)
However, if you can go along with this, think of a world without a god. You would argue there would be differences as well. Where would our moral compass come from? What about the accounts of miracles being performed 2000 years ago by the son of god himself? What about all the miraculous recoveries we see even today, when doctors say there's no chance of getting better? But think about the world without a god. Before we could make sense of everything, wouldn't we make up myths to explain stuff? I think you would agree with this, since I assume you don't believe in the Greek myths, or African tribal spirits. If some of us could experience vivid dreams, and recall them after we woke, would we not think they were caused by the supernatural?
The atheist POV argues that we can explain why certain historical events have occurred, and that we shouldn't make extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence. We see this pattern among cultures of having a concept of something *above* or *outside* this world that still influences us. And there is also the pattern of good v. evil, including Christianity. So what's the reason for believing in Christianity, if we don't believe in the Greek Gods?
In conclusion, I feel your conclusion is quite harsh on Dawkins. I don't think he feels like an "all-seeing Arbiter." Rather, he probably feels more like a blind human trying to make sense of the world using reason, rather than explaining away the unknown with another unknown. And you say he hasn't " entered into his own thought-experiment"? Of course he has...that's how he can present this idea. If god existed, then why wouldn't we be able to experimentally find proof? For example, if a person could turn water into wine today, we could test to make sure it's really water, and observe the event happening. This would be undisputed proof that "miracles" can occur. But we have no such proof. Sure, we have "eyewitness testimony" from thousands of years ago, but there're eyewitness accounts in China, India, pre-Columbus America, etc. Why do you not consider these as "credible," yet base your life off only the belief-system you were either raised in, or first exposed to? I'm sure Dawkins has considered the world from the Christian POV, but only a little more than the Greek or Viking POV that he's so fond of. Why don't you consider the world from these views, and see what makes them different from yours?
On the binary opposites point, I can imagine many universes run by the gods of chaos, sex and death. You might call those POVs theist, but they'd look remarkably like the primeval forces of atheistic evolution. It really isn't a case of God versus no-God. "Which God?" is always the key question.
You say "[God's] existence doesn't matter. What matters is whether you *believe* he exists."
But you simply couldn't say that if you meant the same God that Christians talk about. The Christian God's existence is absolutely determinative for everything else. He shapes me, He shapes the world, He shapes how I interact with the world. And this is the sense in which neither Dawkins nor yourself have entered into the thought-experiment. You're not letting the 'god' you say you're prepared to consider' be *God*!
You say: "If god existed, then why wouldn't we be able to experimentally find proof?"
Again, it all depends on which god you're looking for. If you're looking for the god who occasionally shows up in limited aspects of his creation, then you're looking for an idol and I too am an atheist concerning such a god. But if the God Christians believe in exists then everything is proof of Him. Seriously. Everything.
Besides, there's lots of things that exist without experimental proof, wouldn't you agree? (Love, beauty, honour, maths, logic, harmony, goodness, truth, etc). The God Christians believe in doesn't show up in a test tube. But He did show up in an even more vulnerable place. He showed up as a baby who grew into a man, who suffered and bled and died. He was dissected on full view of the world so that we can see exactly what He's like.
A Christian is simply someone who looks at Jesus on the cross and says "There is the real driving Force behind this world: Suffering love. And His name is Jesus." A world without Him really is unthinkable.
My purpose about mentioning binary opposites was that there must be a difference between a world with no god, and a world with one. If a god of "chaos, sex and death" would run the universe exactly like a world with no god, then there's no reason to believe in this god of chaos/sex/death. Same for any other god: if the world we live in is run by a god that mimics what atheists believe, then there's no reason to believe in this god. Even though he technically exists, there's no evidence, and all completely rational and logical people would not believe in him.
I guess my main question for you is, if you believe that Yahweh controls the universe, how would it look if no one controlled it?
And, in response to your Jesus story, many other religions have stories too. You just choose not to believe them. And if you don't believe those, then why should I believe yours?
And this last statement: "A world without Him really is unthinkable." If you cannot even conceive of this world being run by another god, or no god at all, then perhaps we shouldn't be having this discussion since this means that your mind is not open to being swayed, and there is no point for me to try.
musingmartian - very sorry, your comment slipped through the cracks of my inbox.
In answer to your 3 questions:
1) if no *one* controlled the universe (only some *thing*) then I would expect ultimate reality to be impersonal. Of course neither you nor I live for 5 minutes as though that were true.
2) other religions indeed have stories. As do atheists (see Dawkins' 'the Magic of Reality') I've looked into many of them. None of them combine A) an account of reality that has self-giving personal love as ultimate reality and B) cold, hard, investigatable, historical fact on their side. Have you examined the resurrection of Jesus yourself?
3) I mean unthinkable in the sense of 1) - i.e. neither of us live for 5 minutes as if what you believed was *really* what's important. I can, logically speaking, imagine an ultimately impersonal universe. But the minute I imagine it, I've refuted it - because it's the product of a lively (or not so lively!) mind. You want to tell me that the impersonal has created the personal. But everything in my experience and everything I value makes the personal the ultimate value.
Sorry again for the lateness.
1) Really? Yes, I agree with your statement, but do you think I live believing that someone is controlling the universe? I don't know what to believe, but I live as if there is no god, and make decisions based on this assumption.
2) Ok, so you like the conclusion you arrive at through the bible, and that's a emotional reason for believing in it, but not a logical one. And, I would say Hinduism and Buddhism have a similar "self-giving personal love" (although Buddhism is generally atheism, Hinduism has the same concept of love through/from god). There are historical facts everywhere, and in all religions. What none of them have is evidence for ALL of their historical references (in fact, there is evidence against many). I have not examined the resurrection, at least not in the way I think you are asking, but this is because I cannot believe in god in the first place, so examining a specific religion would be rather unproductive. Do you believe that the bible is inerrant? Since in the first chapter, it claims that the animals were created separately, light was created before the stars, the sun and earth were the first things created (before stars), and all of these have been proven incorrect (beyond a reasonable doubt, and that's what our legal system uses).
3) Ok, I see where you are coming from now. I suppose I was in the same boat a couple years before. I couldn't see how we could exist without god, or how we could even have thoughts, but I also couldn't find any evidence of god. After listening to Stephen Hawking's documentary discussing if there is a god. If there is nothing before the big bang, then there is no time, and the big bang could spontaneously happen without any energy needed. This is similar to how graphite can turn into diamond in regular conditions. It is so rare, but it is a spontaneous reaction, which means it does not need energy, and will happen (either randomly, or according to some law that we have not discovered). This creates dark energy and regular energy, meaning that, on average, there's nothing in the universe since everything cancels out. This gives us a plausible explanation for the big bang without need for a creator, and biology and neuroscience can tell us how we are able to think and imagine, even though the process of how we attained consciousness is driven by random phenomena. Just as energy can be created out of nothing, and just as life can be created from non-life, consciousness can be created out of nonconsciousness.
1) I suppose I'm getting at the profound impersonality of the atheist vision as opposed to the deeply *personal* vision of a universe made by the triune God. And even though you (along with billions of others, and myself most days!) live as though there's no god, in another important sense none of us do. We all live as though personal relationships, love, truth and beauty are not an after-thought but the very heart of life. The thing is, on the atheist vision, those values *aren't* the heart of life - impersonal forces and the struggle to preserve my selfish genes are ultimate. With the atheist vision, everything I hold dear must be explained in terms that are essentially de-humanizing.
2) No, what I'm offering in support of the Christian vision is: A) an inference to the best explanation: i.e. only the Christian vision has loving, personal relationships as ultimate reality (the Trinity), therefore it explains best what we know to be ultimate in life; B) the undeniable historical occurrence of Christ's birth, life, death and resurrection - anchoring that life of love in our time and space. And if you want to investigate this evidence, C) you can pick up the written word of God, the Bible - read a Gospel and meet the historical Jesus in the Scriptures.
On Hinduism and Buddhism you are very mistaken. For Hindus, Brahman is an impersonal force, and the millions gods who exist as lesser beings are certainly not in united in love. For Buddhism, as you say, most branches are atheistic and the great hope is not personal at all but dissolving into an impersonal reality like a drop of water into the ocean. These philosophies are deeply impersonal and dehumanizing – perhaps even as dehumanizing as naturalistic atheism!
3) Hawking says: ""Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing," This is exactly the kind of argument that is A) utterly confused and B) completely unsatisfying.
A) It's confused because, (i) X can create Y but X cannot create X, (ii) 'laws' do not create anything. They don't even explain anything. They only describe what we find.
B) It's unsatisfying because again it makes impersonal forces 'God'. At that point neuroscience can assert all it likes that personal reality (consciousness etc) has arisen from the impersonal - but there is no satisfying account for how the personal comes from the impersonal. To say that it comes by "random phenomena" only heightens the absurdity.
And let's not forget that Hawking must also fall back on the multiverse for his speculations to work. The finetuning of these laws would be a gazillion to one shot and so Hawking invokes the completely unscientific notion of gazillions of other universes that are, in principle and in fact, inaccessible. These are the lengths people will go to in order to flee a personal God.
That's tragic to me because the good news is that God is love and in Jesus He is shining at full-strength saying "Come on in!"
I really hope you investigate Jesus some more. My top tip is John's Gospel. Cracking read. Wonderful God :)
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