Let's get one thing straight from the get-go: God is real. The evidence, as I will show in this column, is overwhelming. The rest is all detail.
Those pesky details, however, prove to be important beyond all measure. It's the details that inspire people, give them hope, and incite them to fight to the death. If you ask a believer about who God is and what He wants, the typical response will be to cite scripture -- the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, or whatever.
That, however, in no way determines the answers. Scriptures are magic mirrors: when people look into them they see whatever they want and turn a blind eye to whatever inconveniences them. Take Leviticus. That testy Old Testament book contains one of the religious right's favorite condemnations of homosexuality. It actually proclaims the death penalty for any man who "lies with a man as he lies with a woman." Of course, the very same book proclaims eating any seafood that lacks fins and scales an abomination. Yet, how often do you see Westboro Baptist picketing Red Lobster?
In the past, the good that religion did as an organizing force in society might have
outweighed the evils it inspired.Take the Torah. Seen in the context of their times, most of the hundreds of rules in the Pentateuch aimed to maintain peace and justice among the Israelites. That, and to keep the priests fat and happy. Sticking with Leviticus:
The LORD said to Moses: If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD ... or if they cheat their neighbor, or if they find lost property and lie about it, or if they swear falsely about any such sin that people may commit ... They must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day they present their guilt offering. And as a penalty they must bring to the priest, that is, to the LORD, their guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for them before the LORD, and they will be forgiven for any of the things they did that made them guilty.
I have to admit that those "sacrifices unto the LORD" always make me chuckle. They just happen to suit the priests so much better than the Almighty. I can just hear ancient Homer Cohen: "Mmmmm. Unblemished ram!"
In fairness, though, we should keep this in perspective. Compared with modern legal fees, one high-quality ruminant might not seem too high a price to pay for settling a feud.
These days our incessant battles over God have spilled outside the law of priests and scriptures and onto the global stage. They threaten all of civilization. The danger arises not only from the madness of Islamist "holy warriors," but from the mad fatalism that religion inspires in the face of imminent, self-inflicted catastrophe from overpopulation, resource depletion and human-induced climate change. Here's former Congressman and Majority Leader Dick Armey in testimony before a Senate hearing:
Let me say, I take it as an article of faith if the lord God almighty made the heavens and the Earth, and he made them to his satisfaction and it is quite pretentious of we little weaklings here on earth to think that we are going to destroy God's creation.
This kind of "thinking" apparently resonates with many voters. It's easy to shrug off responsibility when you figure God is in the driver's seat. Hey, sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery!
But what if God's grant of free will to humanity includes full responsibility for what happens next? What if the evidence suggests that God isn't even aboard the bus?
Maybe it's high time we make use of the most reliable knowledge-producing tool ever devised to give us a shared, evidence-based understanding of what is expected of us. Maybe it's time we apply science to God.
OK, you say, but of what use is science in understanding God? Well, it's true that science cannot produce any evidence for a deity out there in cosmos or beyond, but it can tell us a great deal about what God is not, down here where we actually live out our lives. Indeed, science can do more than provide negative knowledge about God. It can elevate faith above doctrine. And that may prove to be a lifesaving move in the decades to come.
But hold on a sec. As a highly intelligent Huffington Post reader, you will no doubt have spotted a paradox. If science cannot give positive evidence for the existence of God, and I claim to rely on science for knowledge, then how could I open this essay by affirming the existence of God?
That's easy. God manifestly exists as an idea in the minds of believers. God may or may not be more than that, but no one can deny the existence and power of God the Idea. The evidence is overwhelming. And frightening. God the Idea is evidently capable of inspiring anything, from the ennobling nonviolence of Martin Luther King Jr. to the murderous, hateful and sadistic terrorism of al Qaeda.
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The Urantia Book, on Science, Religion, Reason, and Revelation:
101:2.2 "Reason is the method of science; faith is the method of religion; logic is the attempted technique of philosophy. Revelation compensates for the absence of the morontia viewpoint by providing a technique for achieving unity in the comprehension of the reality and relationships of matter and spirit by the mediation of mind. And true revelation never renders science unnatural, religion unreasonable, or philosophy illogical.
"Reason, through the study of science, may lead back through nature to a First Cause, but it requires religious faith to transform the First Cause of science into a God of salvation; and revelation is further required for the validation of such a faith, such spiritual insight."
101:2.7 "Science ends its reason-search in the hypothesis of a First Cause. Religion does not stop in its flight of faith until it is sure of a God of salvation. The discriminating study of science logically suggests the reality and existence of an Absolute. Religion believes unreservedly in the existence and reality of a God who fosters personality survival. What metaphysics fails utterly in doing, and what even philosophy fails partially in doing, revelation does; that is, affirms that this First Cause of science and religion's God of salvation are one and the same Deity.
"Reason is the proof of science, faith the proof of religion, logic the proof of philosophy, but revelation is validated only by human experience. Science yields knowledge; religion yields happiness; philosophy yields unity; revelation confirms the experiential harmony of this triune approach to universal reality."