A friend was posed the question “Does God exist?” by an ethics professor with a clear far right bent (says you have to believe in God to be moral, purposefully deadnames his trans students, etc). I offered to answer the question for her and pounded out a few paragraphs that I probably wouldn’t have written with quite so much snark if it had been my grade on the line. She has a bunch of other equally biased prompts so maybe I’ll make this a little mini series. Enjoy!
“Does God exist?”
The first question is not whether god exists – it’s what concept you mean when you say “god”. Do you mean an entity that created the entire universe, each animal and plant and miscellaneous whatever, in a particular number of days? Do you mean an entity which in some way initiated the birth of the universe in a big bang type event and then let things continue to evolve on their own without much, or any, interference? Do you mean an entity which, regardless of its own true existence, has so shaped life and culture through the sheer belief of its followers that for all intents and purposes it exists as much as anything else? The debate regarding whether god exists changes greatly depending on which version of god you’re debating. An omnipresent, omniscient god requires a different level of proof than a remote god which only had a hand in the very beginnings of our world. A god which exists through belief requires no proof at all, depending on how loose you’re willing to be with your definitions of concepts like belief, existence, power, etc. But for simplicity’s sake let’s ignore that particular rabbit hole completely and go with a concept of deity which hinges on the actual existence of some all powerful being which still actively takes part in our world and its fate.
The second question is also not whether god exists – it’s what entity you mean when you say god. If we’re discussing whether it’s possible for such an entity to exist in the first place then to be fair we should consider any god, or every god. It’s just as possible for Odin to exist as for Yahweh or Krishna or Ra or Zeus. Any argument which can be made for the existence of God can be made for the existence of The Morrigan and Aphrodite and Inanna. The same could also be said for the existence of all gods simultaneously. Edging even further out on this metaphorical branch, you could then include what gods we might create from our own beliefs – and are they not just as real when they so influence our actions? But I won’t spoil the plot of American Gods by expanding on that topic here. Besides, you capitalized God, so perhaps you mean the Christian god. Do you mean him and only him, though, or do you also include Yahweh and Allah who share so many remarkable similarities? See, the question isn’t so straightforward. Yet, once more for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume you meant the Christian god. Let’s be honest, other possibilities probably didn’t cross your mind – or, having crossed it, were quickly dismissed due to the western-centric view that, well, of course THOSE gods wouldn’t exist. So we’ll agree we’re discussing Christianity’s God who created the world in seven days, did the flood, all of that. Now we can move on.
The third question is, I suppose, whether the extremely specific concept and identity of God we’ve chosen to debate exists. But before that, I think there’s one last question to consider: is it ethical to ask students to answer a question like “does God exist” in such a public forum? Can the debate over such a personal topic, one which may risk alienating or even endangering certain individuals, really be considered ethical when you’re also requiring them to participate for a grade? Sure, a person too uncomfortable to share their personal views could lie, or stick to safe comments and vague arguments, but that’s not the point. The point is that, given the complete impossibility of ever proving with concrete evidence that this particular God exists (and exists in the manner that we have come to expect), choosing this topic for a class discussion feels purposefully antagonistic.
(At this point I lost steam because everything I tried to write after that was probably too combative for my friend to submit for her assignment, but I think you get my drift.)