Friday, April 20, 2012

The mosaic of faith

I have been thinking more about why I believe there is a God and how to present my views in a logical way. I think belief in God is like a mosaic.For a start I am sure we all accept that there is no proof absolute that God exists, so that is not my objective. So what constitutes reasonable or sufficient proof?

An analogy: Archaeologists unearth a piece of a ceramic tile. What can they conclude – it is a piece of a ceramic tile. As they find more pieces of different shapes and colours they head towards a question. Are the tile fragments part of a mosaic, a picture, a work of art or just bits of tiles from a wall or floor or two?

If they assume the latter there will be little motivation to piece the bits together – you just get a few walls of tiles. However, if they are open minded and acknowledge that it is possible that the tiles are part of a picture, then, as they piece the tiles together they will start to look for a pattern and yes any emerging pattern will influence where they place each tile.

They progress to the point where a picture is staring to emerge as they find more bits of tile. Some will see a possible picture sooner than others; some may even see a different picture. Certainly different cultural backgrounds may influence the picture some see emerging.

Eventually there are enough bits of tile to form a reasonably clear picture.

I suggest that belief in God is analogous to the mosaic.
No one piece of tile is sufficient to see the picture and certainly individual pieces evidence that God exists are often unconvincing on their own.

But once we have amassed enough individual pieces we have a case to present that God exists when all the evidence is considered in its entirety.

But is this proof enough? What of those who argue that as the bits of evidence were amassed they were selected to support the argument that God exists. The analogy of the mosaic holds – there too it may be argued that as each piece is found and placed it may have been placed with a picture in mind. Guess the objection fails if the bits of tile fit really well together, but it is still an argument to consider.

How do we resolve this apparent impasse. Simply put we gather more evidence. Are there other mosaic pictures in or adjacent to the site? Did those who lived there use mosaic art? Following these questions we can validate our case that we have assembled a genuine picture. In a similar way we ask question about the evidence we have assembled into a ‘picture’ that God exists. We ask questions like is there beliefs and evidence of the existence of God in adjacent communities?

Again we may reach a belief that we have rebuilt a genuine mosaic or reached a belief in a genuine God. But as different people look at the mosaic picture they will interpret the imagery, use of colour or layout in the context of their own cultures, referring to other mosaics they have seen, ancient or modern. They will in effect see a different picture.

So too those looking at our assembled evidence for God will interpret it differently, within the context of their culture and background. They will see a different picture of God.

So if we accept we have a mosaic picture we should not expect everyone to agree about the picture – and certainly there may be some who stubbornly refuse to accept that it is a genuine reconstruction. So too we should not expect everyone to agree with either our conclusion that we have enough evidence that God exists or on the nature of God.

Unfortunately for the naysayers they face a difficult task. As with the mosaic, once it is assembled and the picture revealed; removing (or discrediting) a single piece is unlikely to hide the image in the picture. So too once we have assembled the evidence that God exists discrediting one element is unlikely to destroy the whole case.

Yes there may well be pieces of the mosaic that are in the wrong place, or perhaps belonged to another mosaic but even accepting that we have a mosaic, we can see the picture. Equally we may have accepted some invalid evidence of God’s existence, or perhaps misinterpreted it, so we need to ensure we still have sufficient evidence to “see the picture”.

Certainly I emerged from my atheism little by little as I saw the arguments for atheism being demolished. That was not immediately replaced by a belief in God; no I had to assemble quite a lot of the ‘God’ mosaic before I recognised, or was willing to recognise the picture.

Hamba kahle – peace be with you.