The “Question of God” has undoubtedly occupied the minds of individuals and societies since the dawn of humankind. Throughout recorded history, philosophers, writers, religious figures, scientists, and political leaders have weighed in on the issue, but as yet, a universal consensus remains as elusive as ever.
There are numerous reasons for this difficulty. One is historical. Simply put, the history of God in human existence has been inextricably connected not only with organized religion, but with politics, war, conquest, colonization, arts, science, and culture. It is impossible to view human history as being separable from the conception of God espoused by people and societies at the time. As such, God has been invoked to justify or explain any number of events--considered both good and bad in retrospect. Indeed, armies, each claiming to “have God on their side”, have gone to war against each other--clearly both could not be right. Surely, the sheer number of historical figures claiming to do reprehensible things in the name of “God” has clouded the picture.
There is perhaps a more fundamental difficulty in addressing the “God Question” --defining God in the first place. It is impossible to investigate the existence of God without first answering the question “Who, or what is God?”. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam present “God” as an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent father figure (and of course, Creator of the Universe) who rewards those who do “good” and punishes those who do “evil”. Despite these similarities, differences in practice between these religions and their various subdivisions have caused real and perceived schisms in the way God is understood. Hinduism and Buddhism do not emphasize a monotheistic “God” so to speak, but stress individual actions, eternal cycles, and personal spiritual enlightenment. Although the system of beliefs within these diverse religions and their branches make generalization difficult, some ultimately see the spirituality inherent in these faiths as tantamount to “God”. Animism, probably the world’s oldest faith, focuses on the spiritual qualities in nature, and the connection of humans to this spiritual realm, although again, it may or may not imply a single “God”. In the modern world, where freedom of religion is somewhat prevalent, definitions of “God” are expressed in widely differing terms. To many, God is simply the force of good in the world. Others view “God” as a universal energy, an abstract force of connectivity within the Universe, or even as the Universe itself. Even science is largely based on the faith that the Universe operates according to natural “laws”, which scientists can never observe throughout the totality of space and time (although quantum theory provides challenges to the assumption of universal “laws“). If “God” can be defined in such broad terms, then God’s “existence” in one form or another is virtually assured.
The final difficulty in investigating God is the issue of proof. To many of the faithful, everything is proof of God’s existence. From the sublime beauty of the sunset, to a mundane example courtesy of Mel Gibson --“God made my bed this morning”--existence itself is the proof of God to many people who already believe. Numerous theologians, including Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas have attempted more rigorous proofs--however, these efforts are based on numerous assumptions that severely limit their universal acceptance among modern philosophers. Mainstream science, which is arguably the most widely-accepted “currency of truth” in the modern world, has nothing definitive to say on the matter. While science does seem to indicate that the Universe as we observe it doesn’t need a God, it does not say that there isn’t a God. Since God, by definition, is a supernatural entity (and is defined as unknowable by many faiths), it is unlikely that science, which deals with the natural, will ever answer the “God Question“.
Whether God exists or not is perhaps an unanswerable question. However, in some ways the answer is surprisingly unimportant. It is undeniable that the present day world, with all of its good and bad, would be a very different place without the influence of “God” on people throughout the ages. The concept of “God” will undoubtedly continue to play an enormous role in the lives of individuals and society for the foreseeable future. In some senses, then, whether God exists is not as important as the undeniable fact that the idea of God certainly does.