The Rationality of Theism

This was part of an earlier post, but I thought it should be its own separate post for clarity.

A Simple Demonstration of the Rationality of Theism

When one considers the question of existence, one quite quickly comes across the problem of the infinite regress.  This problem has been illustrated many times in the popular culture using the story of an old lady and a scientist:

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s tortoises all the way down!”
Hawking, 1988

To my mind, this problem of the infinite regress necessitates the division of reality into two different types.  Transcendent reality is “self-existent” reality and it does not need to be created.  Contingent reality is reality that is dependent upon transcendent reality for its existence.  The infinite regress of contingent reality tortoises is the only other alternative to dividing reality into two different types in this way.

Branch 1:  Believe in the infinite regress or believe in “self-existent” reality.

Dividing reality into two types in this way avoids the infinite regress but it does not answer the obvious question that follows.  What is the nature of transcendent reality?  Is transcendent reality merely a multiverse of eternally existing matter?  Or is transcendent reality something more?

Before I go on to examine that question, I examine what I know of myself.  I am a small subset of contingent reality, but when I examine myself I have a number of awesome capabilities.  I am a rational being who can think, communicate, make choices, love and experience joy.  Now there are many out there who claim that these capabilities are delusions.  Typically, they point out experimental evidence that calls into question my conscious experience of these capacities and argue that my conscious experience is an entirely untrustworthy delusion.  I have discussed one such claim in my essay “Free Will Illusions”, but I am not going to go into those kinds of arguments here.  Suffice it to say that every human being must make their own choice.  Is our conscious experience entirely untrustworthy or do such things as consciousness, love, joy, rationality and choice exist?

Branch #2  Believe that conscious experience is entirely delusional or believe in love/joy/rationality/choice.

So at branch #1 I chose to believe in transcendent reality as opposed to the infinite regress because tortoises all the way down seems too ridiculous.  At branch #2 I chose to believe that conscious experience was not entirely delusional because of the self-refutation that is the inevitable consequence of making the other choice.  How can it be rational to deny the existence of rationality?  Some people might try to separate out these various aspects of our conscious experience and argue that rationality is real but love and joy are not.  To me it is obvious that the different aspects of our conscious experience stand or fall together.   None of this, however, makes any difference to the argument for theism.  That rationality is part of contingent reality is sufficient for our purposes.

So transcendent reality exists and it is (by definition) a necessary and sufficient basis for contingent reality.  Contingent reality contains consciousness, rationality, joy, love and choice.  The question to ask now is, does transcendent reality have consciousness, rationality, joy, love and choice?  I call the reason I choose to believe that transcendent reality has the capacity for love/joy/consciousness/rationality and choice the argument from megalomania.

I don’t know about you, but the experiences of this life have taught me many hard lessons.  I am not the smartest person on earth, I am not the only person who matters, I need the help and love of other people, I am really small potatoes when it comes to reality.  The humility that this life has taught me (and perhaps this was part of its purpose?) makes the statement “I am more rational than the transcendent reality that is responsible for the existence of the universe.” utterly terrifying.  If I am capable of rationality, then the transcendent reality that is responsible for the universe must also be capable of rationality.  The other choice is insanity.  As C.S. Lewis once said, ” If you think you are a poached egg, when you are looking for a piece of toast to suit you, you may be sane, but if you think you are God, there is no chance for you.”  How could it possibly be that I am greater than transcendent reality?

Branch #3  Believe that you are greater than transcendent reality in your capacity for consciousness/rationality/love/joy/choice or believe that it is greater than you are.

Now this is not a proof of theism, it is just a demonstration of the available options.  You can believe that there is an infinite stack of tortoises, or you can believe in the necessity of the “self-existent”.  You can believe in the reality of our conscious experience or you can believe it is all a delusion.  You can believe that you are greater than the self-existent in terms of your conscious experience, or you can believe that you are not.  A theist is a person who believes in the necessity of the self-existent, the reality of our conscious experience and that the self-existent is unimaginably greater than any contingent being in terms of love, joy, consciousness, thought and choice.  Many materialists believe that our conscious experience is entirely delusional.  Other materialists believe that we are superior to transcendent reality in that we have evolved the capacity for love, joy, consciousness, thought and choice.  Neither of the materialistic alternatives seem rational to me and I am a theist.

About Robert V

Former atheist currently living in Toronto.
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