There’s an ancient cosmology that goes something like this:
An ancient teacher taught that the earth rested on the back of a huge turtle. “But teacher”, a student asked, “what holds up the turtle?” “Ah”, he said, “that’s easy. He is standing on the back of another turtle.” “Oh, I see”, said the student. But what holds up the second turtle?” “My son”, said the teacher, “It’s turtles-turtles-turtles, all the way down.”
This cosmology is actually apocryphal, but it illustrates an important point.
We begin by noting that although this cosmology sounds silly, it still contains a certain grain of truth—that the universe is infinite.
Our understanding of the universe has come a long way in the past few millenia. Our cosmology today accounts for vastly more of the universe than ancient cosmologies did. Nevertheless ancient cosmologies were an important first step, and accounted for what they were able to observe about the cosmos in their time.
Similarly, ancient theologians had ideas about God that seem silly to us now, but were nevertheless a step forward for their day.
Some ancient theologies are still followed today. Some folks argue that since elements of those theologies are silly (e.g. “old man on a throne in the sky”), therefore all theology is silly and there is no God. That’s a bit like arguing that since ancient cosmologies are silly, therefore cosmology itself is silly and there is no cosmos.
Let’s consider for a moment the positivist/physics view of the cosmos—that only what can be observed and tested is to be believed. Yet, consider some features of their view:
- The Laws of Nature were the same in the past and will behave the same in the future. That is an unprovable/untestable assumption. An article of faith, in fact.
- The Laws of Nature are the same everywhere in our infinite universe. That is an unprovable/untestable assumption. An article of faith, in fact.
- The Laws of Nature are ultimately comprehensible by the human mind. That is an unprovable/untestable assumption. An article of faith, in fact.
- The idea that there are “Laws of Nature” is itself something that cannot be observed or tested. The “Laws of Nature” is eerily close to Plato’s Ideals, or to a “God” that doesn’t have consciousness per se (a common enough idea in Eastern religions).
So I would argue that the debate is not whether there is a God or not, but the nature of ‘God’. And I would heartily agree that many current ‘standard theologies’ (elements of current major religions) are long overdue for revision. So let’s get to work!