Why I believe in God, Jesus, and miracles

As I write we approach Easter Sunday, when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his death by crucifixion. As a Christian I celebrate this holiday. For me this holiday raises many intellectual questions, such as:

  1. Did the resurrection of Christ which Christians celebrate on Easter actually occur?
  2. Did Jesus Christ exist as a historical figure?
  3. Was Jesus Christ involved in miraculous events such as those told in the Gospels of the New Testament?
  4. Does God exist? Is there a loving intelligence with the properties Christians traditionally ascribe to God, such as:
    • omnipotence (absolute power over everything),
    • omnipresence (presence everywhere at all times),
    • and ominscience (total knowledge of everything)?

I answer all four of these questions in basically the same way. As my first step I consider two ways that each question can be made more precise. Each question can be made more precise by considering it as a question about existence, or a question about actuality.

The distinction between existence and actuality is the distinction between the existence of a phenomenon in some world, and the existence of a phenomenon in the actual world we live in.

When these four questions are considered as existence questions, I answer them in the affirmative on a priori grounds based on logic and mysticism. My perspective on logic tells me that all possibilities exist, and that there are no limitations to what is possible (even logically inconsistent phenomena are possible in my view on logic). My perspective on logic is informed and justified both by purely logical considerations, and by mystical experience. From this perspective it follows immediately that Jesus Christ, God, and miracles all exist a priori and certainly.

When these four questions are considered as questions about actuality, I say that the answers to all of them are uncertain to me, but that in my opinion the answers to all four questions are probably still affirmative. I don’t know certainly and empirically whether Jesus Christ existed historically in this time line; I don’t know certainly and empirically whether a miracle has ever occurred in this time line; and I don’t know certainly and empirically whether the universe we live in was caused by an omnipotent, omniscient, ominpresent, loving intelligence. It is my opinion that the true answers to the four questions are probably “yes” when they are considered as questions about actuality.

I will spend the rest of this post laying out my justification for the views just described. I want to begin by clarifying the distinction between existence and actuality, by giving a definition of world.

Definition of “world.”

Many philosophers believe that there exist worlds (universes) other than the world we live in. A world, or universe, is basically a self-contained being. For example, we can define a world as any maximal spatiotemporally connected object.

  • An object x is spatiotemporally connected if and only if for any two parts of x, call them y and z, there is a path in space-time connecting y and z.
    • For instance, if y = z, there is a trivial path in space-time, of length 0, connecting y and z.
    • For instance, if you are reading these words, then there are paths in space-time connecting you and I. In general, if one object affects another within the laws of physics known to mainstream science, then there is a path in space-time connecting the two objects.
  • An object x is maximal spatiotemporally connected if and only if x is spatiotemporally connected, and there is no object y of which x is a proper part, such that y is spatiotemporally connected.
    • A proper part of an object y is an object x such that x is a part of y and x is not y, so that there is a part of y which is not a part of x.

In short, a world (by this definition) is a spatiotemporally connected object such that anything you add to it will make it spatiotemporally disconnected.

The universe as typically conceived by physicists has this property of being a world or a maximal spatiotemporally connected object. The multiverse, on the other hand, is typically not a world in this sense, because things in different universes in the multiverse can’t be connected by paths in space-time, on most conceptions of the multiverse. If you like, you can equate the multiverse with the set of all worlds.

If you don’t like this definition of “world,” you can substitute your own definition of “world,” and the rest of this post should still be intelligible.

Definition of “existent.”

“Existence” is for me a primitive, unanalyzable notion. Everything which exists exists, or in other words, everything exists. This is an uncontroversial opinion for the most part; those who think there are things which don’t exist (i.e., there exist things which don’t exist?) are usually called Meinongians.

On my conception of logic, everything conceivable exists as a matter of logic. To disagree with this is not necessarily to be a Meinongian. Most people don’t believe there are non-existent beings, but they also don’t believe that everything conceivable exists. For instance, most people familiar with the Harry Potter series believe there is no being about which the statements made about Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series are true. This is commonly paraphrased by the statement “Harry Potter does not exist.” The statement “Harry Potter does not exist,” interpreted quite literally, appears to be a Meinongian assertion presupposing the existence of the non-existent being Harry Potter, but most people who assert it would, if pressed, agree that they meant it essentially as a paraphrase of the statement “there is no being about which the statements made about Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series are true.”

So then we have three views on existence in play:

  • my view, that everything conceivable exists,
  • the Meinongian view, that there are non-existent beings,
  • and what I’d call the usual view, that neither my view nor the Meinongian view is correct.

That’s the extent to which I will clarify what I mean by existence. I hope it’s sufficiently clear for you; please let me know in the comments if not.

Definition of “actual.”

“Actual” is easier to define than “existent” for my purposes, because rather than being a primitive notion not definable in terms of other notions, “actual” as I’ll define it is a derivative of the already explained concepts of “world” and “existent.”

“Actual” is a relative notion: it’s relative to a world, implicitly always the world the speaker is in. A being is actual if and only if it is part of the world the speaker is in. When I say George Washington actually existed, I mean that George Washington exists in the past of the world I am in. In other words, I mean that there is a spatiotemporal path (going backwards in time) from me to George Washington.

Why I believe everything conceivable exists

My perspective on logic entails that everything conceivable exists. I believe in my perspective on logic on the basis of reflections and arguments I have presented in a book and two blog posts. I will briefly rehash those reflections and arguments here, with some new elements. For more detailed and careful presentations, see the linked resources.

Justification of a perspective on logic is a difficult problem. Most people, if they have systematically learned anything about logic, are in a position of receiving a view on logic from experts without questioning it. I am an expert on logic; I have published in top logic journals, I peer review papers for top logic journals, and I studied with world renowned experts on logic in the University of Connecticut PhD program. My own perspective on logic is not something I received from other logic experts; I have synthesized this perspective as original research. Therefore I have to face the conceptually difficult problem of justifying my perspective on logic.

This problem is conceptually difficult because logic is foundational to essentially all academic methods of justifying objective claims. The scientific method relies heavily on logic, for example because today the scientific method relies heavily on math, and math is founded on logic. The scientific method can’t by itself justify a perspective on logic if it relies on logic. Futhermore, logic is almost always considered to be a priori; in other words the principles of logic can be established without any empirical investigation of the actual world. If logic is a priori then the scientific method must not be involved in establishing the principles of logic.

If science can’t be used to justify logic, that leaves us with two main tools in the academic toolkit for justifying objective principles: logic itself, and math. Math is founded on logic, so any justification of principles of logic using math will have circularity. And, obviously, any justification of principles of logic using logic will have circularity.

How do we resolve this paradox, that on the face of it there is no way to justify principles of logic, because logic is foundational to all our tools for justifying objective principles?

For starters, I reject the notion that principles of logic are objective knowledge. To me it is obvious that principles of logic are essentially subjective opinions, because they can’t be justified objectively in a non-circular way, and different logicians have different opinions on what principles of logic are correct (witness for example the debate between believers in classical logic and believers in intuitionistic logic).

This view that principles of logic are subjective opinions has the interesting implication that basically all objective learning is grounded in subjective opinion, because basically all methods of objective learning are understood today to be grounded in principles of logic.

I do not believe in the idea that human learning can be built up in a step-wise fashion starting from nothing, the way Descartes attempted to do in his Meditations on First Philosophy. Atheists are amused by the fact that when Descartes attempted to throw out all of his assumptions and build up knowledge from a perfectly blank foundation, he very quickly arrived at the conclusion that the Christian God exists. One could argue that Descartes was not truly able to divorce himself from his own assumptions; even when he thought he did, he didn’t. I think this is a definite possibility. The other possibility I see is that Descartes did not really believe his meditations justified belief in the Christian God, but he lied about this to avoid religious persecution.

I don’t believe that we as humans can divorce ourselves from all of our assumptions. When learning, we never begin from nothing. We always begin from where we are. We can reflect on and question the way we think, but we can only think in a different way by performing transformations on the way we currently think.

My perspective on logic is something I began to arrive at by learning established perspectives on logic, which I was able to do because of my natural cognitive capabilities shaped and developed through my education. My next step was transforming those established perspectives in my mind to arrive at a new perspective which I believe better explains the data I have experienced.

The most relevant experience which my perspective on logic fits is of two types: logical experience, and mystical experience. My logical experience comes from using logic, and particularly using math, logic, and philosophy to study logic. My mystical experience is of entirely different origins which I don’t claim to understand but view as spiritual/divine. My logical experience and mystical experience each reinforce my perspective on logic in different ways.

My relevant logical experience mainly comes from analysis of the phenomenon of logical and mathematical paradoxes. Consider, as a simple example, the sentence “this sentence is false.” This is a perfectly valid English sentence, and if you think about it, you can see that by pure logic, if the sentence is true, then it’s false, and if it’s false, then it’s true. This paradox can be made precise within many systems of formal logic and math, and many variants on this paradox affect many systems of formal logic and math.

Most logicians believe that it’s impossible for a sentence to be both true and false. In other words, there are no true contradictions, and there are no true logical paradoxes. This conviction, and variants on this conviction such as the conviction that not every statement is true, have motivated a vast program of research looking for ways to define logic and math such that logical paradoxes do not arise or such that the paradoxes that arise are in some sense “solved.”

There are ways to define logic and math such that logical paradoxes do not arise or are in some sense “solved.” However, all of these ways involve putting restrictions on what can be expressed or inferred. For example, Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory explains how to define the informal concept of “set” such that logical contradictions do not arise (as far as we know). The “naïve,” informal concept of sets gives rise to Russell’s paradox, which is the paradox of whether the set of all sets which do not contain themselves contains itself. As with the liar paradox, logic tells us that if the statement “the set of all sets which do not contain themselves contains itself” is true, then it’s false, and if it’s false, then it’s true. Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory resolves this paradox by stating axioms (assumptions) about sets which allow math to be developed but do not allow the existence of Russell’s paradoxical set to be proven. At the same time, these axioms rule out the existence of sets such as the set of all sets, the set of all rings, the category of all topological spaces, the category of all categories, and other objects which mathematicians would find it natural to talk about.

Nobody has been able to find a way of defining logic such that everything we can express in English can be expressed, and logical paradoxes do not arise, and all of the rules of logical inference necessary to do math are present. This is true to the best of my awareness, after spending a lot of time looking at the field of logical paradoxes, and extensively discussing this issue with people whose awareness of the field greatly exceeds mine. I believe that in all probability, if such a method existed, then I would have heard about it. In my opinion it is very unlikely that any such method will ever be discovered.

This is my logical justification for believing that true contradictions do exist. I believe there is nothing incorrect about the classical rules of logic and math which give rise to logical paradoxes, because assuming there is something incorrect about those rules leads to a research program which I view as unsuccessful, to revise the rules of logic and math to eliminate or “resolve” logical paradoxes in a satisfactory manner.

The usual rules of classical logic allow us to prove that if any contradiction is true, in other words if any statement is both true and false, then every statement is true. I accept this conclusion. I believe that in the final analysis, every statement is true, and that the common logical arguments which lead to this conclusion are valid, sound arguments.

From a mystical perspective, I justify the belief that every statement is true on the basis of mystical experience. I believe mystical experience has shown me that all is one, which I interpret as meaning that all beings are in the final analysis one and the same as each other. In precise terms, for any beings x and y, x is y. This statement, which I call the Law of One, is logically equivalent to the statement that every statement is true. Of course the statement that every statement is true implies the Law of One. Conversely, the Law of One implies that every statement is true: for example, it implies that the property of truth is the property of falsehood, and since every (precise, objective) statement without the property of truth has the property of falsehood, therefore all statements have the property of truth. This is how through mystical experience I arrive at the same conclusion which I arrived at through purely logical methods explained above.

Why I believe God, Jesus Christ, and miracles exist

From the belief that every statement is true, the belief that everything conceivable exists follows immediately. From the belief that everything conceivable exists, the belief that God, Jesus Christ, and miracles exist follows immediately.

Why I believe God, Jesus Christ, and miracles are probably actual

To say that God, Jesus Christ, and miracles are actual is to make a stronger statement than that they exist. It’s to say that they exist in the world we are in. Of course if every statement is true, then this is true, but only in the trivial sense that applies to all statements. In most contexts I don’t carry the assumption that every statement is true, because this assumption obviates the purpose of thought itself. Without this assumption or anything equivalent to it, can we still conclude that God, Jesus Christ, and miracles are actual?

When I ask whether Jesus Christ is actual, I mean to ask, was there a person in our world of whom most of the statements about Jesus in the Gospels of the New Testament are true, who performed miracles, who died in crucifixon, and who rose from the dead three days later? I am now thinking about this question not from an a priori logical perspective, but from an empirical perspective. I am asking what we can say about this question purely on the basis of historical evidence and inference from it, without drawing on the powerful logical principles I accept which imply that every statement is true.

I believe Jesus Christ probably actually existed. I am no expert on historical Jesus studies. My opinion on this question comes primarily from an argument by Peter J. Williams. Here is a brief version of part of that argument. Why would people who were predominantly monotheistic Jews, who eschewed idol worship, start worshiping Jesus as God, with the energy needed to spread the religion as rapidly as it spread around the first century, under intense persecution, while believing that Jesus performed miracles and was resurrected, unless those facts about Jesus are true and there was a core group of eyewitnesses who got the ball rolling? It’s possible in my mind that as a matter of historical truth, the Gospels are fiction, but in my mind this is a less likely possibility than that they are historically true, because if the Gospels were fiction then it would be more difficult for basic agreed upon facts about the history of Christianity to be true. In the future I would like to publish more analysis of this question, in particular weighing the merits of prominent arguments against the historical existence of Jesus.

Whether a being with the attributes Christian theologians ascribe to God created the universe is another historical question, far more distant than the question of whether the Gospels are true. I do not have any empirical evidence weighing on this question. In my opinion this is the most likely possibility, because that belief coheres well with the rest of what I believe, but of course this question deserves far more analysis than I am giving it here. In all humility I must admit that I view the question of how the universe began as being beyond the capability of human philosophers to clearly resolve in any foreseeable future.

Whether any miracles have occurred is another historical question. I am defining miracles here as roughly any phenomena which defy the laws of physics. I believe miracles are possible and exist in some worlds, on the basis of my views on logic. Whether they have occurred in this world, and whether this can be shown empirically, are additional questions. Many cash prizes are offered by skeptical societies to anybody who can show the existence of paranormal phenomena (basically the same type of phenomena I call miracles). According to Wikipedia, none of those prizes have been claimed. From this we can safely conclude that if miracles exist in the modern world, they are extremely rare and/or hard to reproduce at will and measure empirically.

I have seen some empirical evidence which at least on the surface appears to show the existence of miracles. Most striking is this video of Simone Ravenda which claims to show him bending a fork with the power of his mind. Possibly this video is a mere illusion, as I guess most claimed instances of psychokinetic silverware bending are. However, after significant analysis of this video I haven’t been able to see how it could plausibly be an illusion. In the future I plan to write more about this video.

Here are some scientific studies which appear to show additional independent evidence of the empirical existence of miracles in the modern world:

The PEAR Project: Studies done at Princeton showing that people can use mental intention to bias the output of analog random number generators

Dean I. Radin and Roger D. Nelson. Evidence for Consciousness-Related Anomalies in Random Physical Systems. Foundations of Physics, Vol. 19, No. 12, 1989. A meta-analysis of studies of using mental intention to bias the output of analog random number generators.

Studies showing that large groups of meditating individuals in an area can reduce violent crime in the area

I have reviewed these studies, applying my learning in statistics, research methods, philosophy of science, and epistemology, without finding any problems in their methodology. However I admit the studies could be flawed for reasons I haven’t uncovered, so that I don’t consider them to provide certain evidence of miracles.

My views on logic tell me that miracles are possible and exist, and in light of this preconception, I am not predisposed to reject claimed evidence of miracles without investigation, as many people are. If you are a scientific materialist, then you probably assume that any evidence of miracles is overwhelmingly likely to be unsound, and you may be predisposed for this reason against investigation of any claimed evidence of miracles. I would guess most claimed evidence of miracles is in fact unsound, but when I encounter what appears to me to be high quality evidence of miracles, such as what I have cited above, I am not afraid to say that I think that’s what it is, even while I admit my uncertainty about its actual correctness.

Why I believe humans can commune with God

My views on logic imply that God exists, but if God exists only in some other world we’re not a part of, it doesn’t follow that humans can contact God, as Christians believe we can.

I believe humans can contact, communicate with, and commune with God. Why? Because we are God, as follows from the Law of One. To commune with God is in the final analysis to commune with ourselves and everything that exists, because God is everything that exists. That’s my perspective.

P.S.: This post is not an April fool’s joke. That should be fairly obvious if you’ve read my related writings.

Scientific materialism is arrogant and laughable (or vacuous)

Scientific materialism, more accurately called metaphysical naturalism, “is a philosophical worldview, which holds that there is nothing but natural elements, principles, and relations of the kind studied by the natural sciences.” (Quoted from Wikipedia.)

I will henceforth use materialism as a shorthand for scientific materialism, i.e. metaphysical naturalism.

In other words, materialists hold that the world is the elements, principles, and relations posited by science. By “the world,” I mean everything that exists. Elements may include things such as electrons and stars. Principles may include laws such as the law of gravity. Relations may include, for example, the relation of gravitational attraction between the Earth and the Moon.

Different materialists differ about what elements, principles and relations are real and constitute the world. For example, some materialists say that the only elements that really exist are the smallest elements, such as subatomic particles. Other materialists say that macroscopic objects, such as chairs and giraffes, also exist.

Here is a dilemma for materialists. Are the elements, principles, and relations which constitute the world, those of today’s science, or those of a hypothetical future science?

If you think the world is the elements, principles, and relations of today’s science, then you think our current understanding of the universe is very close to finalized. That’s arrogant to assume. I find it laughable to assume that.

The history of science has been characterized by periodic “revolutions,” where established theories are found to be wrong in some cases or are otherwise overturned. If not arrogance, why assume that revolutions in fundamental science are basically in the rear-view mirror for humans today?

Fundamental science is not even one coherent idea today. Physicists use conflicting paradigms which they have trouble reconciling with each other: in particular, quantum physics and relativity. If you think today’s science describes reality, what is today’s science? What are the elements and relations that exist in the universe according to physics? What principles apply to them? To the best of my understanding, physicists don’t agree to any one theory answering these questions over all scenarios.

Suppose, on the other hand, that you’re a materialist and you think the world is the elements, principles, and relations of some hypothetical completed science of the future.

How far in the future do you suppose the theoretical fundamentals of science will be completed? It’s arrogant to assume that science will be completed soon. It’s arrogant to assume that a completed science would fundamentally resemble the science of today. For example, perhaps a completed science would be well beyond human intelligence to comprehend even in its fundamentals or the basic underpinnings of its fundamentals.

I don’t assume that there is such a thing as a completed science. It’s possible that there is an actually infinite amount of theory required to completely explain the world, and that this infinite theory can’t be compressed into any kind of finite representation.

A direct philosophical interpretation of Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem says that an actually infinite set of axioms is required to entail all truths about the natural numbers, and that these infinite axioms can’t be compressed into any kind of finite representation. The set of statements which are true of the natural numbers is a complete and consistent set of statements including the axioms of Peano arithmetic, and therefore by Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem, this set cannot be effectively generated, i.e. it is not recursively enumerable. By the same reasoning, the same is true of any set of axioms sufficient to prove all true statements about natural numbers.

To simplify the language, you can’t write a computer program that would (in theory, if it could run forever) list out all the statements that are true about natural numbers. Nor can a program list out a set of true statements (axioms) about natural numbers which is sufficient to prove (logically entail) all statements true of natural numbers.

To simplify further, Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem as interpreted says that you will never get a complete description of the fundamentals of math, unless you have infinite time.

This interpretation rests on the assumption that we can coherently speak of the set of all true statements about natural numbers (in some formal language such as the language of Peano arithmetic). In short the assumption is that statements about natural numbers are all objectively true or false.

What if science is infinite in the way this interpretation says math is? What if a completed science would be infinitely complex in its fundamentals and not possible to finitely describe? If so, then a completed science would certainly never be comprehensible, even in its fundamentals, to a being such as a human. In this scenario, only an infinite being of godlike intelligence could fully comprehend a completed science.

To me it’s arrogant and laughable to reject the possibility that a completed science would be very different from today’s science, beyond human comprehension, and even infinitely complicated. On the other hand, if materialists accept this possibility, then they admit that in no meaningful sense do they comprehend what their view says about the world. In that case their view says nothing and is vacuous.

Thus, in all the possibilities I have envisioned, scientific materialism is arrogant and laughable, or else vacuous and devoid of content.

What exactly is the substance of my accusation? I’ve said that philosophy may be inherently arrogant. If all philosophy is arrogant, then it’s not interesting to say that scientific materialism is arrogant, because scientific materialism is a philosophical hypothesis.

The substance of my accusation is that scientific materialism is arrogant specifically in its neglect of the possible greatness of the gap between human understanding of physical reality and a completed understanding of physical reality. Scientific materialists whose views are non-vacuous are assuming there is not a significant possibility that a correct and complete understanding of the fundamental principles of physical reality would be beyond the comprehension of humans and would bear little resemblance to the theories of today’s physics. I describe the unwarranted assumption — that we are close to understanding the physical world — as an example of intellectual arrogance.

To put the point differently, I am observing that scientific materialists who endorse contentful versions of scientific materialism must assume that certain possibilities do not exist or are not significantly likely. A reasonable person can reject that assumption of contentful scientific materialism.

I’m interested in pointing out that scientific materialism can be doubted, because I want to clear space for other metaphysical views to compete with scientific materialism. This is necessary for me, because of my intellectual history in American academia, where scientific materialism is the prevailing metaphysical view. In my background, scientific materialism has been held in elevated prestige compared to other views, well beyond what it deserves in my opinion, so that I feel the desire to mock it with justified accusations.

Let me know what you think. Is there a form of scientific materialism against which my accusations are unsuccessful?