In today’s New York Times, there is an interesting article by Stanford anthropologist T. M. Lurhman entitled, “Conjuring up our own Gods.” In this article, Ms Lurhman reprises the notion that God is akin to an imaginary friend. Following the thought of contemporary evolutionary biologists, she suggests that we humans conjure up the notion of God because we are “hard-wired” by evolution to do so and that spiritual practices, like some forms of meditation and prayer (individual or collective), can increase the sense of the presence of a conjured incorporeal entity like a ghost, angel or ultimately God.
The notion of God being a human creation has been around for some time. Freud, for example, argued that God was a projection of our need for a father figure. In this sense, we create God rather than vice versa.
Without denying or affirming the existence of God per se, reflections on the existence of God of the type that Professor Lurhman raises in her article beg the question of what it means to “exist” at all.
The typical definition of “to exist” means to have objective reality. What sort of reality is objective? Objective reality refers to that reality which is not dependent on the mind for its existence; i.e., that reality which we do not only think or believe exists or that multiple people think exists but which is, at least in principle, “there” whether we think and or believe it to be or not. Something which is objectively real has an existence independent of the ideation of a thinker or observer.
Objective reality is often juxtaposed to subjective reality which is that reality that is dependent on the mind or an individual’s/group’s perception for its existence. There is, therefore, little doubt that God exists subjectively; i.e., there are a large number of people who think/believe that such an entity exists. The same, however, cannot, be said for the objective reality of God.
Those who believe in God believe that God is an objective reality. They think that God’s existence is not dependent on anything. The claim the believer makes is that he/she knows that God is an objective reality by subjective means. They claim to know the existence of an objective reality “subjectively.”
This subjective knowledge of an objective reality is commonly called the “gift of faith.” The Greek word usually translated as “faith” literally means “trust.” In short, the believer trusts that what she/he thinks/feels subjectively is objectively the case.
Believers cite miraculous occurrences, purported answers to prayers, tradition (written and oral) and all manner of events serendipitous and not so serendipitous as indicators that their “trust” is well-founded. As great a thinker as Blaise Pascal, thought that it made sense to live as though God were an objective reality because to decline to believe and be wrong would be catastrophic while believing and not being correct would have no dire consequences.
As human beings we cannot have unmediated and objective knowledge of the existence or non-existence of God. We can choose to trust that what some of us as a result subjective experience is objectively true. But, we cannot know whether God is objectively real or not. All we can do is conjure God. The observation that God’s objective existence, as far as we are concerned, is dependent on our minds does not mean that God does not have an objective existence. God may objectively exist but we have no way to know. If we choose to believe, we are trusting in our own conjuring and the conjuring of our forebearers. If we decline to believe, we are only admitting that we cannot know and therefore accept our conjuring for what it is–at best provisional (agnostic) and at worst destructively delusional.