I jump back and forth across the fence vis-a-vis Aquinas's proofs of the existence of God, in the service of disproving him. It made sense at the time. Be aware, this was in my "semicolon" phase.
A Whole New God
God has been used as an explanation of natural phenomena forever, but with what justification? Even those most dedicated to the existence of God see that the bulk of historical evidence is little more than mythology. Theologians have taken upon themselves the task of divining the nature of God from the perspective of human existence, but they must assume His existence first. This assumption reduces their study to a conditional: “If there was a God, he would be like ______.” Philosophy offers us the opportunity to examine God's function in our thought scheme while maintaining agnosticism. Only after analyzing our assumptions can the most fundamental aspects of the universe be exposed.
Saint Thomas Aquinas inferred the existence of God as the best explanation for five observed aspects of existence: motion, cause and effect, possibility and necessity, gradation, and intent. He claims his proofs function as a bridge between certain undeniable facts of logical reality and our intuition regarding nature of the universe. He invokes difficult-to-grasp concepts like infinite regression and nothingness to show the reader a missing link in human understanding. Each of his conclusions suggests that this gap could be filled by something called “God”. But the only information about the nature of God comes as a result of Aquinas' proofs; no auxiliary hypotheses (such as “God is someone who is willing to move the first object”) are posited prior to the mention of God. Obviously, Aquinas' preconceptions about God have in part germinated the link between his deductive expansions and a Supreme Being.
This appears to be bad philosophy; it seems to be unconvincing unless one is already convinced. He assumes God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, and he presumes the reader also defines the word “God” similarly. But know that a nonexistent entity may still take on properties: a unicorn is a white horse with a single horn in its forehead. Such a proposition is not dependent on the truth of its subject; it is a tautology. So Aquinas may feel free to grant any properties (or in this case, roles) he wishes to God without entering the possibly irrational realm of an Existence argument.
So Aquinas' defense consists of this: He was merely pointing out that if there was an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God, He would fill the void in our knowledge of the world, (one might say) miraculously so. Aquinas' Existence argument is, at its root, the illumination of this tight fit between his theoretical God and the unexplained. This argument can definitely appear enlightening while keeping its feet firmly on rational ground.
But perhaps Aquinas is a special case. Perhaps this dodge of fallacious reasoning is possible because of poorly articulated thoughts or a bad translation, and all other arguments for the existence of God are truly nonsense. An agnostic natural philosopher has a responsibility to question our commonplace applications of God as any kind of answer to a question. A good philosopher knows that a one-word answer to a fundamental question does not suffice unless that one word is truly understood. Just like Aquinas, we must appeal to our intuitive notions of how reality functions. We see that the God answer seems not to give answers but to beg them.
Well, what do we want? The single desire in investigative human thought is to discover a law (or coherent set of laws) that will provide an explanation of the past, a reason for the present, and predictions of the future, all of these so fundamentally accurate as to be considered infallible. A being that already possesses that which we seek represents an ideal that is ubiquitous in our species and vital to the search; if we can conceive of such knowledge than we can conceive of an entity with such knowledge, and since we desire that knowledge, we desire a union with that entity. See that a being that knows all explanations, reasons, and predictions will also know how to do anything that can be done; this being will know the fundamental concepts behind any action. All this is just to build an intuitive sense of God from which to start.
The God hypothesis posits that such an entity exists. A reasonable question is “How would we know?” We could rule out God if we could access natural structures and processes that do not require an intelligence to initiate or guide them. This has not happened. An atheist blames the temporary incompleteness of human science. A theist predicts the perpetual incompleteness of science. Finally, a testable prediction from the God hypothesis! Of course, an answer depends on the finity of natural science, which is nonintuitive, and verification of such a conclusion requires a human's judgment which is subject to the flimsiness of Aquinas' leaps of faith.
Another way we might know the truth of God is if He perfectly fit the gaps between science and intuition in a coherent, formalized way. If our explanations required divine intervention in a predictable spot, we could use the God answer as we use gravity: another force of the universe to account for.
But unfortunately, since God is all-powerful, His presence could be anywhere and everywhere. Well, not everywhere; in some cases, we've found reasons for natural events that do not necessarily require a divine intelligence. So do we just pick which parts of the God hypothesis that suit our needs? That society has produced the myth of a Supreme Being just to be used as a skeleton key to the mysteries of the universe is difficult to believe. So either science is wrong in its answers, or society is wrong in its conception of God.
We would be loathe to reject science since we would then be saddled with the task of dealing with an extraordinary number of coincidences between its answers and the world. And we cannot pick and choose from science, since science is built on its own stability; that is, its coherence depends on its theories' solid interrelationships. We can however look to science to help us redefine God. The human race has traditionally defined itself in relation to an ideal. But the Enlightenment taught us the power of foundation and structure, growing with our minds focused downwards, not up. It is possible to modify the God hypothesis so that it fits both our modern perceptual choices and the incompleteness of our science.
What is necessary is to throw away God as an explanation, in the classical sense. If we attribute to this concept all that Sober tells us to, we are forced to take or leave it as a whole. God just cannot be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, with all that we know of the inner workings of our world. We have been shown endless times that humans have within them such a capacity for (what we might call) evil that we are able to overturn and abuse gifts like Jesus, the human body, the divine right of kings, and imagination, ideas that could be used to perpetuate our species but which we bastardize into weapons for use against ourselves. God cannot claim to be building souls if He is destroying them. But if we are totally to abandon any concept of God, we had better be sure our science is watertight.
Until then, let us use science and natural philosophy as fingers pointing to the (what seems right now) unexplainable. Consider this “evidence”. Infer from this evidence the best explanation, considering also the processes declared by science to be autonomous. We do not need to call the end Result “God”, but we must prepare for its similarity to religious formulations. We must use the same techniques used everywhere else in natural philosophy to formalize the questions that we need to answer. We must be prepared to allow our Result to change as more evidence is gathered. We will flex the conceptual muscles built by theists to functionally-define a supernatural entity. In time, we may even come to apply mathematical models to its behavior, so that we may become more familiar with the forces outside of our natural system. This will be the Grand Unified Theory of What We Don't Know.
Theists have always claimed that there exist forces outside of our normal understanding that govern processes too subtle for our current minds to perceive. They also claim these forces are united under the “control” of a single construct. There has been much evidence presented to refute science's heralds of the coming of a self-referencing ball of natural explanations. We must remember that both scientists and theologians are living in the same world ; regardless who seeks the Truth and from what starting assumptions, they must all find the same answers. As long as the method is valid, truth is Truth. Science and theology have remained disparate disciplines for ancient reasons of pride, bigotry, and a clouded view of the interconnections inherent in human thought. Through abduction, we can create a common ground that plays to both scheme's strengths, weaknesses, and questions.
The debate stops being whether the supernatural is an answer. The debate becomes how possible the creation of a hyper-practical Divinity would be, given that the “evidence” used to build it is so multifaceted and discombobulated (by our choice!). Remember that our intuition is part of our natural system and, like all parts of the system, can (and must) be utilized in the definition process. We simply permute Aquinas' method: use intuition to bridge the gap between the world and the divine (the Result in this case). Even speaking intuitively, the Result must suit the input and process; this is an abstract notion that is created to complement our understanding, so failure seems absurd.
All that is left to examine is the adequacy of our solution. We do not solve any scientific problems or answer theological questions. Our functional lives do not (appreciably) change. But our perceptions are given a well-needed overhaul, and this causes us to see that our relationship to knowledge and the world is one of cooperation. In this spirit we recognize the Result as a transpersonal phenomena that is the very definition of “adequate”.