The Proof Industry
Today at The Guardian, a bit of a glimpse into my ongoing obsessions about proofs for the existence of God. Just last night, sifting through a novella I wrote as a freshman in college, I discovered a whole forgotten chapter about the proofs—for some reason, they have been following me so doggedly all these years. Today’s essay is something of a defense of those ancient proofs I love, against the caricatures that tend to speak for them today.
People have been thinking of proofs for the existence of God for millennia. Today’s ongoing arguments conjure notions that date back to ancient Greece, the medieval monasteries, and Abbasid-era Baghdad. They come from some of history’s greatest thinkers, polymaths who posited their proofs in the context of broader philosophical systems and bodies of reasoned knowledge. These people were generally less concerned to show whether a God exists or not – most assumed the answer to be yes – than to insist on the capacity of human reason to comprehend the universe.
In our age of televangelists and monkey trials, the proofs have come to take on a different form altogether. They’re the weapons with which atheists and believers battle for control of the public square in polemical tracts and newspaper op-eds. What was once the pursuit of obscurantist intellectuals has become a hobby for the rank-and-file, spawning an industry all its own. Recent decades have seen the creation of a whole crop of organisations devoted to promoting arguments for the existence or nonexistence of God. In the process, the meanings and ends of the classic proofs are being transformed.
Don’t miss the comments, which in The Guardian always reminds me of the ruckus at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park.
Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.