I have discussed many philosophical worldviews, but I left out my understanding of a religious philosophical worldview involving God’s existence. I want to consider my understanding of a theological worldview here (e.g. the Christian worldview). The theological worldview has philosophical implications mainly insofar as theologians have borrowed arguments from Parmenides and Plato. Theological religious philosophy has been rejected by most respectable contemporary philosophers, but there is some motivation behind the belief in God. In particular, people attracted to religious philosophy and the belief in God want to know more about the universe than other philosophers, even if it requires a great deal of speculation. Atheists often see such hypotheses as requiring “wild speculation.”
I will talk about the following:
- How religious philosophers have borrowed arguments from Parmenides and Plato.
- The motivation of religious philosophy.
- Objections to religious philosophy.
Parmenides and Plato
I have already discussed my understanding of the worldviews of Parmenides and Plato, but I will now discuss how I understand their views to be relevant to religious philosophy and the belief in God.
Parmenides believed that there is only one domain of reality and only one object of reality. It is unchanging and unmoving. The material world as we experience it is a massive illusion. I believe Parmenides thought the material world was impossible because it would require that we could get something for nothing. Even many scientists today agree that energy can’t be created or destroyed. In other words, the material world would have to pop into existence and nothing could cause it to do so. This, he thought, would be impossible.
The pre-Socratic philosophers saw the material world as one that constantly decays and disintegrates. The universe tends towards chaos, not order. If the material world is eternal, they would expect that it would eventually crumble apart and everyone would die. In fact, it would have done so a long time ago. This is actually much like what scientists now call entropy. We currently believe that everything in the universe will eventually fall apart except for light. Even black holes will disintegrate.
The fact that the universe hasn’t fallen apart is evidence that the material world isn’t eternal. So, it might have popped into existence. But Parmenides thought this answer was absurd. He thought that there must be an eternal domain of reality and he thought there could only be one domain of reality. After all, two separate domains of reality probably couldn’t interact. (If the mind is a separate domain of reality from the body, then how could I choose to raise my hand?) Parmenides decided that we should reject the material world entirely in favor of an eternal, unchanging, and completely unified reality.
We could provide the following argument in favor of the worldview of Parmenides:
- There can only be one domain of reality.
- The material world and the eternal are two separate domains of reality.
- The eternal must exist because reality can’t just pop into existence.
- Therefore, the material world can’t exist.
Plato decided that two domains of reality can exist. He agreed with Parmenides that an eternal realm exists (the Forms) and he also found it to be the most real and most important part of reality. Plato suggested that the material world comes in degrees closer to the eternal realm. We can perfect ourselves and become more perfect. Our souls would then be much more like the eternal than the material world as many people imagine it to be.
The problem of the material world popping into existence isn’t a problem for Plato because the material world can somehow be created by the eternal realm.
We could provide an argument for Plato’s worldview as the following:
- The material world exists.
- The material world can’t pop into existence out of nothing.
- Something must be eternal.
- The material world can’t be eternal.
- If the material world exists, then it must have been created by an eternal realm.
- Therefore, that which is eternal created the material world.
How does this relate to religion?
Many religious philosophers plagiarized Plato’s philosophy with minor adjustments almost right after Christianity was created. They also believe in a material and an eternal realm and they believe that it helps them explain the beginning of the universe. They don’t have to assume that the material world just pops into existence out of nothing.
The main difference between the worldview of religious philosophers and Plato is that religious philosophers believe that the eternal realm is God and Plato believes that the eternal realm is the forms.
The motivation of religious philosophy.
Religious philosophers tend to want to understand reality no matter how little we actually can know about the universe. We can’t confirm the existence of an eternal realm or God, but they would still prefer to speculate about such things as long as it provides some possible answer rather than none.
Objections to religious philosophy.
How can the eternal and material realms interact?
If we agree with Plato that multiple domains of reality exist with totally different properties, then we are left with a huge problem. It is utterly mysterious how the two realms could interact. The eternal and unchanging realm couldn’t possibly move anything or cause an event at any given moment because it is outside space and time. It doesn’t move or change, so it can’t push part of reality in any particular direction at any particular moment.
Who created God?
If we accept that “things need to be created,” then God must have also been created. Therefore, God is not a good explanation for where the material world came from because even God would have to be created in that view.
I don’t find this argument fully satisfying because the whole point of an eternal realm is that it doesn’t have to be created. Parmenides’s answer that the universe is eternal is a fairly satisfying view because we can imagine that something wouldn’t have to be created if it has always existed.
Of course, we could wonder if the material world could be eternal. It is true that entropy seems to prove that the material world can’t be eternal, but that is only the material world as we experience it. There could be a more eternal part of the material world that we don’t experience. This is speculative, but (a) it is no more speculative than to propose the existence of a separate eternal realm that we don’t experience and (b) it doesn’t require us to propose the existence of a separate domain of reality from material reality.
Why not the Forms?
It’s not clear why Plato’s worldview is supposed to be worse than the religious worldview. Why propose that God exists instead of just the Forms? Many religious philosophers seem to believe that God is the Forms and more. But we should prefer to only believe in the Forms rather than the Forms and something else. We should only believe that God exists if it is necessary.
Why can’t material reality pop into existence?
Although most scientists believe that energy can’t be created or destroyed, it is still possible that the universe popped into existence out of nothing. This might sound absurd, but we can’t just rule out such a possibility because we don’t like the sound of it.
Extraordinary beliefs require extraordinary evidence.
We shouldn’t propose more to exist in reality than necessary. Most people don’t believe aliens visit the planet Earth because we can explain UFO’s as government experiments and so on. If we want others to believe in strange entities, then we need a great deal of evidence to expect anyone to do so. Aliens visiting the Earth is scientifically possible, but unlikely. God existing on the other hand requires us to believe in something totally unlike the scientific worldview—an eternal, unchanging, unmoving, entity that can have thoughts. We can’t expect anyone to accept such a hypothesis without a great deal of evidence.
Philosophers have argued that we simply don’t have enough evidence to reliably believe in God at this time—It hasn’t even been established that the belief in God explains any particular philosophical question better than some other hypothesis.
There might be some reason to accept the existence of God if we accept that any hypothesis is better than none, but even then it isn’t clear. The main reason to believe in God is that an eternal realm is necessary for the existence of the material realm, but this is far from proven. The material world might have always existed, or it might have just popped into existence. Philosophers who want to know which of these “hypotheses” to accept will need to find out why one view is preferable to another.
Additionally, even if an eternal realm does exist, we don’t know that it has anything to do with God. Plato’s Forms or the unchanging world of Parmenides do not require us to accept the existence of gods.