Question of religious affiliation belongs to one of the most controversial ones and to those which do not contribute to a peaceful flow of conversation. However, freedom of conscience is an acknowledged fact in the bulk of developed countries. Religion is belief in supernatural phenomena. Such a definition presupposes absence of necessity to provide factual evidence of existence of the Supreme Creature. Those who are either not firm in their belief or do not have belief at all need such proofs.
Questioning religious concepts is not a sign of a blatant blasphemy anymore (as opposed to Medieval times and Inquisition). John R. Shook mentions that none of the religions preserved its original features. He states that “thinking, debating and learning enrich religion as much as anything”. Moreover, the author encourages the broadness of views suggesting that church members who are confused by religious questioning deprive their belief of nourishment essential for its vitality (Shook, 2010).
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God figure is present practically in every religion; scientifically speaking, such religions are called theistic. Though the research focuses mainly on theistic religions, one must also pay attention to existence of other types of belief systems, for example, those which reject the idea of God, do not require it or just do not place gods to the center of their spiritual paradigm (Steele, 2008). Mentioning them is crucial for comprehensiveness of investigation.
The idea of belief as a cornerstone of religious commitment is a peculiarity of Christian and Muslim religions. In Christianity, which is a middle world religion in terms of the time of its appearance (birth of Jesus Christ also determines the start of days according to Gregorian calendar, and his death - 1st century AD – begins the count of Christian era), the story of life of the God’s son acquired a historical and literary meaning. This story belongs to the New Testament and is deemed as real, true-to-life events. Christian belief, although divided into several denominations focusing on different Bible aspects and personalities, implies unconditional and undoubted acknowledgement of existence of Jesus. David Steele, analyzing the works of both theologians and adherents of atheology, quotes Bart Ehrman who supports a conviction that there are certain fundamental facts about Jesus people can be sure of, like his historical existence, crucifixion and having siblings, etc. (Steele, 2008). The other issue is the existence of God. The peculiarity and a stumbling block of Christianity is triple embodiment of God. According to theologian Joseph Oomen, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity implies that although God is one, He exists as three persons: The unknown God, Holy Father, who is a creator of all life; Jesus Christ, who presented the Father’s power on earth and the Holy Spirit, a connection of two figures, who is always busy with accomplishment of God’s purpose (Oomen, 2002). Applying this persuasion to the problem of God’s existence, one may conclude that there are no doubts as for the existence of Jesus, while the other two elements of Trinity do not have a material form, thus cannot be seen, felt or proved (thus perceptible to the senses). It should be noted that the scholar, who also practices his knowledge and belief as a priest, calls God “unknown”.
Theologians and ecclesiastics are the main theoreticians supporting the existence of God. Even the clerical persons of the highest standing become a part of a dialogue (although, in some cases one may rather witness the exchange of monologues with the impossible outcome of reaching the supreme truth). Thus, the late pontiff John Paul II suggested the following statements: God has unveiled himself to people and contacted the mankind. He exemplifies the case of supreme revelation of God – Jesus Christ, God incarnate. The Pope refers to the philosophical advancement enabling to elaborate certain demonstrations to support the idea by the means of logical deduction. He also refers to the problem of universe origin, obviously attributing its appearance to a Supreme Entity, the Creator. In such a way, John Paul II tried to attract new adherents and strengthen faith of the existing ones. He understood that the times demanded something more than just a blind pulpiteering and preaching. He strived for displaying that “faith does not humble human intelligence, but stimulates it to reflections and permits it to understand better all the "whys" posed by the observation of reality” (Pope John Paul II, 1985). It really looks like a subtle conciliatory argument in religious debates.
As for the philosophers who supported the idea of God’s existence, pontiff must have meant, among the others, Descartes and Leibniz, thinkers of the Enlightenment. The latter questions the arguments of the former, having been given implicitly and explicitly expressed in works like the Fifth Meditation and First Set of Replies, respectively, and calls them incorrect. Descartes referred to God as to “a being having all perfections, existence is a perfection”. Therefore, he concluded that God exists (Look, 2007). Leibniz had somewhat different views, stating that there is a necessity to prove that “it is possible for such a being to exist, that is, that it is possible for all perfections to co-exist in one being” (Look, 2007). Apparently, the future philosophy directions developed in another way and produced other ideas. Nicholas Everitt summarizes his research by a condensed assertion that there have been three ways according to which the appeal to reason was inappropriate. One group of thinkers thought it blasphemous even to question God’s existence, the second group deemed it pointless as there are no reasons to be given, and the third group confessed the presence of such reasons but considered them inconclusive, hence inapplicable.
Mark Thomas maintains the opposite opinion explaining the foundations of atheism. Atheology focuses on questioning the existence of anything divine or supernatural, with atheism being only one of its branches (Shook, 2010). An atheist is skeptical towards religions and gods in general. According to Thomas, our comprehension of reality is based on naturalism, which is the basis of science. He continues by stating that nowadays science resorts to methodological naturalism. The author explains that it means that science “does not incorporate any supernatural or religious assumptions and does not seek any religious or supernatural explanations” (Thomas). Developing the topic in a set of articles, Thomas, raised in Christian tradition, concludes that there is even no reliable evidence supporting the existence of Jesus. The scholar refers to the eternal problem of difficult relations between science and religion and their constant collisions. The adherents of atheism demand proofs for existence of God, and as science, an authoritative source, cannot provide them; atheists use it as the main argument in religious debates. Belief means nothing to them, they apply to reason and facts.
The book by David Steele deals with the logical thinking mode of campers of the both sides of the issue. The author mentions that theists are convinced that the God is the ultimate explanation of the universe, and when asked what the ultimate explanation of God is retreat to the idea that God is a kind of entity demanding no further explanations. Thus, the scientist concludes that the stumbling block for theists is explanation of God, while atheists are more bothered with the explication of the universe itself (Steele, 2008). Such an approach of believers presupposes that they simply do not want to investigate the matter of the universe and life in general at a deeper level, which contradicts the abovementioned words of John Paul II who claimed an open-minded attitude of church towards existential issues. Steele conducted a profound and comprehensive research of the problem. When referring to reality of Jesus, the author, not disregarding the opposing viewpoints, still states that information about the Son of God presented in gospels cannot be considered reliable, as the majority of claims about the events of Jesus’s life are absent from the earlier Christian documents. Debunking blind religious adherence, Steele continues by assuming that the ability to explain complicated phenomena in a simple way contributes to human progress, however, going to extremes may become counterproductive. The scholar points to the fact that with the development of science more complicated explanations tend to prevail and gain a steady ground over the simple ones. He gives a bright example that “thunder caused by god’s anger is far simpler than an explanation in terms of electromagnetism, but by comparison it is a pathetically bad explanation”. The author, of course, exemplifies this very case in a very impressive way, but the reader surely understands that such an approach is considerably outdated, and serves rather for oratory vividness than for logical explication. Still, this insight remains striking and, probably, generalizing if one interprets them not literally. Steele also introduces a religion-related term ‘agnosticism’, explicating it through applying of logical reasoning. According to him, agnostic is a “person who fails to believe in the existence of something while not believing in its nonexistence” (Steele, 2008). This approach is a kind of intermediate one regarding a severe struggle between two opposing viewpoints. Agnostics, in such a way, neither have evidence for existence of God (as well as atheists), nor disregard the concept (which makes them closer to theists). However, in contrast with the two groups they preserve a passive attitude to the whole problem. Steele also mentions a popular term ‘nontheist’ used for denomination of those who “merely fail to believe in God’s existence and those who believe in God’s nonexistence” (Steele, 2008). The author considers nontheism to be a branch of atheism. In such a way, readers are introduced to a comprehensive overview of possible religious actualizations of a person.
Philosophical aspect of religious debates is also presented at the atheistic side. Steele claims that ontological argument is a failure in any case, as it contains a fallacy of equivocation, explained by the scholar as a feature of an argument which is considered to be unsound due to the fact that there was switching in the meaning of terms in the course of the argument (Steele, 2008). According to Shook, dialectal nonexistence proof rest on the fact that there are at least two characteristics of a certain god that cannot be logically compatible, and logical incompatibility defines only a necessarily nonexistent entity (Shook, 2010). The author mentions that positive philosophical atheology presents plenty of material to work with. He explains such a fertility of this knowledge field by the fact that the fruits of human imagination will always outnumber any assertions of logics of reason or scientific facts, so the work of providing reliable explication continues for several centuries and is potentially an eternal one.
A profound study of atheism based on the works of philosophers of different epochs and directions was conducted by Michel Onfray in a book titled pompously and not with an allusion Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The author obviously aimed at the broadest readership as he embraced all the world religions. Among the others he mentions Nietzsche and the influence of his creations. Onfray compares the ideas of the philosopher with a building project. Presenting the progress of the atheistic thinking, the scholar mentions that “Meslier denied all divinity, Holbach dismantled Christianity and Feuerbach deconstructed God” (Onfray, 2007). The role of the German philosopher is that he went further and offered transvaluation claiming that atheism as a notion does not have to be a supreme aim. Nietzsche sought a creation of a new morality which will enable to reach atheism and then surpass it. Onfray suggests that atheism can make a solution for nihilism, which is still present and is called a philosophical disease of our civilization. He also offers to think and move past Nietzsche in order to fulfill his ideas. The position of scholar is clearly stated in the preface to the book: the French philosopher claims religious texts to be fables helping to avoid the reality and deems atheism to be a state when a person is in harmony with the earth. Onfray is also a hedonist, which allows arriving at the conclusion that a lifestyle presupposing enjoying all the world’s pleasures runs counter to any world religion. It should be mentioned that philosophy is a very flexible means due to its numerous methods; such a peculiarity does not allow designating the results of its research as belonging to higher authority. This science should merely try to explain the world around us, and religion presents, probably, the greatest challenge in this aspect. That is why there are so many approaches towards this issue.
As far as I am concerned, metaphysical data and logical explanation, as well as the whole Bible story, do not provide enough evidence of God’s existence to me. It may be the innate skepticism that makes me question everything which cannot be palpable. The power of thought has gained considerable recognition all over the world. It may be one of the ways to explain the unconditional belief of religious zealots and common believers of all denominations. I respect the idea of the power of thought (briefly presented as “we are what we think”) only in the aspect that the mood of people encourages them to take action, fight for anything they aspire for and achieve it. When the theory is applied to religious belief I do not see it working. I do not intend to criticize any religion or people’s beliefs in general. We are free to practice whatever we want, and it is great if there is something helping people to become kinder and happier, to overcome difficulties and live on in spite of them and to find a peace of mind. In my life I prefer to explain all the events not by providence, destiny or intervention of guardian angels, but as a result of my approach to certain phenomena and my actions. It is my firm conviction that not only fear of being cast into hell facilitates leading of decent way of life and committing to self-designed moral rules. The moral aspect, by the way, is what seems attractive in the concept of Christianity. But I do not intend to accept dogmas of spiritual submission due to this fact only. It is strictly my opinion, and, as well as anything in religious debates, it does not claim to be ultimate.
The research has shown that most of the scholars support a certain idea in God debates. Although, some of them managed to provide arguments of both sides, thus presenting factual information and letting the readers make a final decision themselves. It should be noted that Christianity took a long way to tolerance and now religious debates are interpreted as attempts to grasp the idea of divinity in all aspects. Religious affiliation or non-affiliation is mostly obtained in early childhood through upbringing, but may also be a result of spiritual searches and a conscious choice of adult age. Those who take a side with atheism feel that all the historical and metaphysical evidence does not and cannot explain the concept of the existence of a Supreme Creature to them, while religious people actually rely on their faith when it comes to the question on God’s existence.