About Me

My photo
Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Can I Imagine a World Without God?

Today someone asked me whether I could imagine a world without God. They were not asking whether I had any doubts about God's existence but whether I thought it even possible that God not exist.

It sounds like a simple question. Like, "can you imagine a world in which your cat Monty did not exist?" That's easy, right?

Actually, it is a far more difficult question for me to answer than you might think.

What exactly am I being asked to imagine?

To me God is, among other things, the one who gives being to creation.
So a world without God is a world that is not given being (i.e., absolutely nothing).
But that is not "a world without God." That is . . . nothing.

Or perhaps I am to imagine that the world gives itself being.
Can I imagine that?
Not easily; perhaps not at all. I could if the cosmos was the kind of thing the essence and existence of which were identical but . . . surely it is not that kind of thing. I'd have to ponder that but I think that this suggestion would be riddled with problems.

Or perhaps I am to imagine a world that has being for no reason whatsoever. It did not have to exist but it does — it just is and that is all we can say.
Is that possible?
I have no idea. Maybe. Maybe not. It is certainly a bold claim! But perhaps it is possible. I just don't know. It may actually be impossible. (And it is certainly unsatisfactory when there is a better alternative, that the world has its being from God. And God's being is not a brute fact but is self-explanatory in a way that the being of the world seems not to be — God's existence and essence are identical)

My friend could not understand my dithering. Obviously we can imagine a world without God! After all, there are lots of people who see the world precisely like this.

But do they?

Do atheists really imagine a world without God? Perhaps, but I'm not sure.

Suppose, for arguments sake, that the sober metaphysical truth is that the only possible world without God is . . . absolutely nothing (and this may be true even if we cannot know whether or not it is). Then when atheists imagine this world in which we live as being "without God" they are simply confused. What they are imagining is actually a world with God (because it has being) but they are failing to recognize God's role in it. The real "world without God" is the world without being (i.e., no world at all).

This post is hopelessly bumbling around in terms of offering clear arguments but I have a gut instinct that I am on the right lines here.

So can I imagine a universe in which God does not exist?

Hmmmmmmmmmm. Not sure.

Perhaps not a universe. Perhaps just NOTHING.

2 comments:

Human Ape said...

"Do atheists really imagine a world without God? Perhaps, but I'm not sure."

Let me clear that up for you. They don't imagine it. They are certain about it.

"a world without God" is a world without magic. Magic is an impossible ridiculous fantasy.

What has the magical god fantasy given the world besides ignorance, stupidity, and violence?

What evidence is there for it? Nothing but wishful thinking and wild guessing. Nothing but looking for an excuse to not think, an excuse to not try to solve scientific problems without invoking god-did-it-with-its-magic-wand.

Too bad we couldn't ask the victims of the 9/11 atrocities, as they were about to explode into a red mist after jumping to escape the flames, if they could imagine a world without the god disease.

Robin Parry said...

Human Ape,

Interesting. That's one of the things I always felt was odd about atheism. I can understand someone being agnostic re: God's existence. There are plenty of reasons for and against faith in God and I can understand someone who was unsure where to come down on the issue. But atheism goes beyond that. As you say, it involves people feeling "certain" that there is no God (a conviction based on . . . what?).

Is there a reason that you are an atheist rather than an agnostic? Just interested really.

Anyway, I fear that you do not appear to have a very clear grasp on what God-believers actually believe. Thus you seem to go for the jugular of a staw man rather than a mainstream theistic view.

I know lots of Christians who work in the sciences and they don't "invoke God" as a scientific hypothesis. So I suggest that if you really wish to serve your atheist cause what you ought to do first is to find out what believers in God REALLY believe —understand it deeply —and THEN explain why it is all rubbish.

The problem is that you attack fictional faith that exists only in religious fanatics and in your own imagination.

But I'd love to see you read, for instance, Conor Cunningham's book on Darwin and show why his arguments do not work. That would be a great contribution to the discussion.

But, alas, uninformed insults may serve as helpful therapy for you (letting off steam and all that) but they don't take intelligent discussion forward.

Tell you what. Don't read Cunningham. It is too long. Just read this little booklet (http://theologicalscribbles.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/thomas-aquinas-and-science.html) and then show why its account of science and God is all a pile of magic and nonsense.

Do that and I'll engage you in discussion.