1. In order to deal with this complex and easily misunderstood subject, I shall try to define my terms as I go, and sequentially pose, and address what I feel are the crucial questions.
2. To start with, let me define God as a transcendent sentience, where both words have their standard dictionary definitions. Transcendent means that God is beyond or outside the limits of ordinary experience, and sentience means that God has the capability of perceiving and feeling things.
3. Assuming that they actually exist, this definition would include many entities that have been discussed for centuries in human literature. For example, it would include the deities of the major modern religions such as Jehovah, Jesus, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. It would also include the deities of more archaic religions such as Zeus, Aphrodite, Thor, Gilgamesh, and Moloch. Again, assuming that they exist, it would also include a host of other entities such as gremlins, ghosts, saints, leprechauns, vampires, and so on.
4. This begs the important question of what we mean by existence? And, again, the standard dictionary definition will suffice. To exist means ‘to be, or to have reality'. The question of what is real is probably a more profound question than the question of the existence of God. I say that because whatever reality is, God is merely part of it, assuming that He exists, and there is, or may be, much in reality in addition to God.
5. I will use a mathematical trick to deal with this meaty question. Instead of defining, or describing what reality is, I will just assume that there is such a thing, give it a name, and let it go at that. So in that spirit, so to speak, let us call reality ‘atiwowb'. We can pronounce the ‘ati' as we would in ‘attitude', and the ‘wowb' just as it looks. By the term atiwowb, we will mean ‘All that is, was, or will be'.
6. By this definition, atiwowb is the maximal possible universe. Atiwowb of course includes our observable universe as well as everything outside our light cone. It also includes concepts and ideas and all of Plato's ideal world. And it would include any and all Gods that might exist. It would also include anything that is, or was, or will be whether anyone has seen, imagined, or conceived of it at all, or not.
7. Next, I want to talk a little about beliefs themselves. It is clear that different people hold different beliefs. This alone tells us that beliefs are not the same things as truths, since the definition of ‘truth' does not allow for contradictions. Furthermore, beliefs vary, not only among individuals, but they also vary in a single individual; beliefs of an individual may vary over time, and beliefs may also vary in their intensity, or strength. For example, one individual might believe very fervently in flying saucers, but not so much so in Sasquatch, even though he might believe that both exist.
8. In light of this, I think it is useful to try to place our beliefs on a numeric scale from 0 to 1. Or, equivalently, to state them in terms of a percentage, much like we would betting odds. In this way, if we held a belief in a certain proposition at the 0 level, it would mean that we believed that the proposition was utterly false with absolutely no possibility of it being true. Similarly, a belief at the 100% level would be considered to be absolute truth.
9. My personal belief (at about the 90% level) is that there is only one proposition that I would agree is true at the 100% level: that is Descartes' cogito ergo sum. By this I mean that I believe implicitly that I exist, not that Descartes existed.
10. With this groundwork, let me take on a series of questions about God, give you my beliefs about some possible answers to these questions, and also give you what I feel are the major reasons that I hold those beliefs. This series of questions will build on one another in the sense that I will take on each question assuming that the previous questions, which I believe at over a 50% level, are all true. This way, the number I give as a probability, or confidence level will be for each individual question by itself. The cumulative confidence level can be computed by multiplying the levels of all the preceding applicable questions.
11. The first question is ‘does God exist?' I believe, at about the 99% level that the answer is ‘yes'. My basic reason for this belief is the argument from design; the universe (or my solipsistic imagined perception of it) is just too complex and wonderful to have arisen without some other sentience than humans, and any sentience which could have conceivably been responsible would be well beyond our ordinary experience.
12. The next question doesn't appear at first to relate to God. The question is ‘what, if anything, does atiwowb contain besides our universe?' Science would say the answer to this question is ‘nothing', but I believe at about the 99.9% level that it contains vastly more, in fact I believe it has room to easily hold an astronomically large number of universes, each no less vast than the 4-dimensional space time continuum of science. My high level of belief in this position is based on two propositions that I also believe at a very high level. First, is the proposition, first proposed by Einstein, that our 4-dimensional space time continuum is bent, and secondly, a mathematical theorem that states that in order to bend a space, it must necessarily be a manifold imbedded in a space of at least one greater dimension. Since adding a dimension greatly increases the ‘room' within a space, this means that atiwowb contains vastly more ‘room' than our universe. This would provide a much more complex, and potential-rich place for God to inhabit than there is anywhere in our universe.
13. The next question is, ‘is God described accurately by some religion?' Assuming that God does exist, I believe at about the 98% level that the answer is ‘no'. (Without making the assumption that God exists, the level of my belief in this answer would be at the .97=.99x.98 level.) My basic reasons for this level of disbelief is the contradictions and absurdities in the doctrines of the world's religions.
14. Next, ‘is God omnipresent?' By this question, I mean ‘is God at once in contact with, and in observation of all parts of atiwowb?' I believe the answer is ‘no' at the 98% level, or, I believe the answer is ‘yes' at the 2% level. My reasons for this level of doubt is the vast extent of atiwowb. Since we have almost no access to anything outside of our universe and we have limited theoretical insight into what it must be like out there, I really doubt that there is a God who takes it all in. There are also some logical reasons why such an idea cannot be true.
15. Restricting the definition of omnipresence to our universe instead of atiwowb would help this problem somewhat and would probably change my percentage to 10% belief and 90% disbelief. The overwhelming doubt is due to the amount of evident trial and error that goes on in the natural world of life. It seems to me that if God were omnipresent, events on earth would unfold a lot less haphazardly.
16. So then is God oblivious of our universe? I believe at about 99% that he is not. Again assuming that God does exist, he must have somehow been responsible for, or involved in, the creation or construction of the universe and maybe my own consciousness, if not atiwowb. If so, it seems reasonable that he must in some sense, or somehow, still be in touch with what is going on.
17. Now, is God omniscient? That is, does God know all details of atiwowb? I believe there is only a 2% chance the answer is ‘yes'. This is for the same reasons as my doubts about omnipresence. Restricting omniscience just to our universe would improve my number to maybe 5%. There is still the problem of God knowing all the details of the future of our universe. If we left off the future and asked about God's past and present omniscience only, my number might grow to 10%. Again, my doubt is due to the trial and error and haphazardness mentioned before.
18. Next, is God omnipotent? That is, can God do anything at all with any part or parts of atiwowb? I believe the answer is ‘no' in the 99% confidence range. Even restricting omnipotence to our universe, or to the future of our universe, wouldn't increase my confidence much more than 5 percentage points. My reasons are much the same as my reasons for doubting omnipresence and omniscience.
19. So far, my beliefs about God net down to the high probability that a limited God exists.
20. Now I want to pursue a series of questions relating to the concept of ‘soul'. To start with, let me define ‘soul' to mean a single sentient entity. This definition differs somewhat from the standard dictionary definition, but since I don't think the term is well defined, nor is it generally connoted the same way by different writers or individuals, I am taking the liberty of making a more specific definition. If you are uncomfortable in my doing so, just consider it a loan. I would like to borrow the term ‘soul' for the remainder of this essay and use it to mean a single sentient entity. After that, you may use the word in any way you like.
21. The ideas relating to souls that I think are important are first, the idea of sentience, and secondly the idea of individuality. I think these are two profound ideas which raise profound questions: What is this remarkable ability to perceive and know? and How many of what kinds of entities can do so?
22. Let me return to the Cartesian starting point. I think, therefore I am. I can distinctly remember being awed and baffled by my own ability to perceive and ponder at the age of 4 or 5. I can remember the exact spot, sitting on a petrified tree stump in our backyard when this awareness first took hold of me, although I don't have any way of pinning down the date more precisely.
23. As with Descartes, there is no doubt in my mind that I think, and as a result, by my definition, I have a soul. The next part isn't so easy. Who or what am I? What is the thing that does the perceiving? There probably isn't an atom remaining in my body today that was part of "me" when "I" was sitting on that stump over a half century ago. Yet I think it was me who had those thoughts then. So my identity is not defined by any collection of atoms.
24. It is tempting to claim that there seems to be a continuity of identity that follows us through the course of our lives. This is an illusion because this ‘continuity' is interrupted every time we lose consciousness under anaesthesia, or from a blow on the head, or indeed, every time we fall asleep and wake up again.
25. But I digress. There are many fascinating questions about this subject that we could explore, but I will leave that to other essays. For now, let me return to the mainline of questions about God.
26. The question at hand is ‘Who, or what, has a soul?" To start with, as I indicated, I believe with 100% confidence that I do, ignoring for now what I mean by me. And, if God exists, then by definition, he also has a soul. And, unless I am God, this makes at least 2 souls.
27. But how many others? Let me propose a list of candidates and to keep it brief, I will just follow each item in the list with my belief probability that the candidate(s) have a soul(s).
28. a. Each atom has a soul. .5%
b. Each living cell has a soul. 1%
c. Each living organism has a soul. 10%
d. Each living animal has a soul. 15%
e. Each living mammal has a soul. 20%
f. Each living human has a soul. 30%
g. Each human who ever lived has a soul. 29%
h. Only God and I have souls. 1%
i. Only God has a soul. 40%
29. Of course all the percentages in this essay just came out of my head and there is no science to it, just my feelings. But they illustrate where my beliefs lie and where the doubt is. The big unknown for me is wrapped up in the notion of identity more so than in the notion of God. The big questions are Who or what am I? What is it that can perceive and know? What if anything survives death? Who or what can perceive anything beyond our 4-dimensional universe? If there are multiple souls, what is the relationship among them? What is a soul's responsibility, if anything, in the conduct of living a life? To whom or what is a soul responsible, if at all?
30. To me these are the profound questions that may have a bearing on my life. The questions about the existence and nature of God seem less interesting or profound to me.Please send me an email with your comments.
©1999, 2003 Paul R. Martin, All rights reserved.