Millions of people believe that God exists. Although they picture and describe this God in many different ways, we assume that there is only one God,
one reality. Some religions, such as Hinduism, propose a world of "Gods". However, these manifestations of God are only aspects of the one God.
I think it is safe to claim that God is the ultimate and unitary reality. Everything that exists is created and sustained by this reality.
Philosophers and scientists as well postulate a fundamental and unitary reality from which everything that exists originates.
They name it differently, though, such as the Absolute, or the quantum vacuum. However, I don't think that a religious person would like the
idea of equating the quantum vacuum to an omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent God. Religious people need a personal God, a God that they can love and
a God that, in reciprocation, loves them. It is a "social" relationship between us humans, the creatures, and God, the creator.
We are his children, his sons and daughters. We are a family, where he is the father. These anthropomorphic, and also predominantly patriarchical,
descriptions of God do, however, not describe God as this ultimately unknowable reality, but as a living, human-like entity.
We cannot relate to an abstract entity that is beyond comprehension and experience. We need a God that we can talk to, a God who listens,
a God who leads us back to him. Belief in such a God gives meaning to our lives and helps us cope with the problems and sufferings of everyday life.
That's the original meaning of religion (religare, from Latin, meaning to bind back).
We can clearly see that the descriptions of God in religion, in philosophy, and science are completely different, although all point to the same underlying reality.
Different religions describe God in different aspects, as different manifestations. The God of Christianity is a very personal God,
whereas the God of the philosophers is an abstract, rational concept. Still, both views refer to this one entity, this one reality,
which Christians call God and philosophers call the Absolute. Just a different name, but an important difference.
The Christian God is the God of love and compassion, a God that people can believe in, pray to, relate to. Not so the philosopher's God.
It is a cold, intellectual concept, without any human attributes. Nobody prays to 'the Absolute'. People need to picture and imagine a God.
And what is better than a God that has an anthropomorphic nature!
Now, since we realize that there is God as described by the different religions and some kind of ultimate reality beyond description,
we have to ask the next logical question: is the God of religion identical with this ultimate unknown reality?
The God of religion is like a model that we have of reality. For example, scientists have a model of the physical world. It is the model of particles, of atoms.
Nobody has ever seen with their own eyes an atom or any of the various kinds of particle postulated in the subatomic realm.
Physicists have a mathematical, that is, a rational model or theory based on experiments. They had to try out and develop different models until they found one that
explains the nature of their experiments most adequately. A model, however, is not static, it is dynamic: scientists refine the model to make it more accurate.
They never confuse the model with reality, which is fundamentally unknown, because we cannot experience the reality directly but only through instruments which are
themselves objectified models. Even the macroscopic reality is not the reality we experience. Here too, we apply an internal, cognitive model that forms
and organizes reality so that we think we experience the world as it is, but actually see it only as it appears to us in our mind.
Similarly, we apply a model to the idea of a God. This model has been developed over thousands of years and is still being refined and adapted.
Religion was not suddenly created out of nowhere and stayed forever the same. Religion is a dynamic process, because the underlying culture and people
change with time. Christianity at its dawn is very different from modern Christianity. Also, the picture of God changed considerably over time.
And here's the point: the models of God change, but not what they are thought to refer to, namely, reality per se.
If we accept the idea of a model that we apply to this ultimate reality, then the question of whether God exists or not can only be applied to the model.
Why? We cannot define and describe the ultimate reality in terms of any anthropomorphic concepts. 'Existence' is a human concept, because that's how we define our world.
Something can only exist or not, but it cannot exist and not exist at the same time (see law of contradiction). Existence refers to a thing or entity that is manifest,
that we can experience in some way or another, something that our mind can grasp and understand. If we cannot know a thing, then it doesn't exist for us.
Since our mind models the world, all entities of this world are a defined part of our model.
For example, if we don't know what a tree is, we cannot see it. Our knowledge determines its existence. All that our mind is capable of perceiving and knowing is
part of that model, even if certain things or concepts haven't been determined explicitly, they are still part of a future model that grows out of the current model.
But if something is beyond the capability of our understanding and experience, then it is not part of the model. Even a mystic experience of God does not go beyond the model,
but is still within the model of human experience and understanding. We cannot go beyond the model, because we would need again a model to know and experience
what is beyond the model. How else would be able to know that we have gone beyond the model? How else would be able to experience something that is beyond the model?
If we say that God exists, what we actually mean is that the model that we have of God is real. We cannot apply the term 'existence' to God as the ultimate reality.
It would not make sense to say that the ultimate reality exists, because it is not part of our model. The ultimate reality cannot be modeled, because it is beyond our model,
beyond any concepts, beyond any possible form of experience.
It is a very paradoxical situation: God as model exists, but God as an actual reality neither exists nor does not exist. And even if the ultimate reality were God, we
would never be able to know or experience it, let alone prove that God exists.
That means, that what religious people relate to and believe in is God as modeled by our mind, not God as the ultimate reality,
because you cannot believe in something that is beyond comprehension and experience. We need a God that we know something about, such as that he is omnipotent,
omniscient, omnipresent, all-good, all-loving, etc. If we cannot describe God in these terms, then we cannot relate to him. It would be an empty, abstract concept.
Even the philosophical concept of the 'Absolute' is a model that thinkers developed to describe the ultimate reality, not so much in personal and anthropomorphic terms
but in terms of purely rational concepts.
This model theory would also explain the fact that different cultures have different models of God. If Hindus believe in a multiplicity of manifested Gods and
Christians in the trinity of God, then we do not have here two clashing views of the reality of God, but only two different models of God.
The question which one is true will not come up and wouldn't make sense because we realize that we are talking about models or views and not the ultimate reality.
Does this model theory in any way deprecate the value of religion or the belief in God? I don't think so. The model is just the personal or social way of relating to the
ultimate reality. We never have a direct relation to reality, but always through participating in this modeling activity which our mind essentially is.
We have to understand how our mind works in order to understand our beliefs. Without a basic knowledge of the structure of our mind, we tend to confuse
our model with reality itself. Most people believe that when they see a tree that this tree actually exists in the same way they perceive it.
Similarly, most religious people believe that when they talk about God, they think that their idea of God represents an actually existing reality.
Our language uses words that are always part of our current model and therefore very limited. We have to understand that naming things makes them
exist in our model, that is, in our experience and knowledge. Whatever entity we apply the name 'God' to, it will become part of our model, it will 'exist'.
Knowledge and experience define what is 'real' and what 'exists' in our model, in our human world.
Any statement that claims that something exists independently of human beings or a perceiving and conceiving mind is absolutely absurd and meaningless.
Whatever is outside of our model does not exist, is not real, is only pure potentiality and cannot be known or experienced.
Only what becomes part of our model is actual and real, exists and can be part of what we know, believe, and experience.
The existence of God is not real but conditional. God only "exists" for a person who adopts the model of God in their mind. There is no God for an atheist.
Both the believer and the atheist are right in their beliefs. We make God real for us by believing in him!