I understand your objection: I really do. You say I’m begging the question, assuming my conclusion as one of the premises of my argument. To use your summary of my argument: “God is a person. Persons are real. Therefore God exists”. In that form, you are quite right – this would be a logical howler. But this is not what I am presenting to you.
If I were to convert what I’ve said thus far into a logical syllogism, the conclusion would not be “Therefore, God exists.” Indeed, I’m challenging the very notion that such a proposition is the conclusion we are working towards. The existence of a person is not the conclusion to an argument like this. It is more of an assumption we make while working towards the conclusion. The conclusion of my argument would be something like “Therefore, we should love him”.
If that sounds extreme to your ears, or more begging of the question, let me ask you to pause and consider the two-word proposition “God exists”. On which of those two words do you find yourself laying the emphasis of meaning? Is it “God exists” or “God exists”? I’m going to venture to suggest that you lay the emphasis on the word exists. You are concerned with the existence, reality, and actuality of God. The problem with that approach is that the subject of the sentence, God, radically changes the tests for existence. You cannot simply insert the word “God” before the verb exists, and hope to prove the validity of the statement by the normal tests for existence, as if God were merely one more member of the class “things”. Because once God is the subject of the verb, it changes everything. It changes what you mean by existence. It changes your tests for existence, or even your expectation of how a being like God would make his existence known.
That’s what I’m proposing. We do start with God, because otherwise we can’t make sense of what we even mean by “exists”. If you lay the emphasis thus, “God exists”, you then find yourself asking what sort of being or entity God is. You must immediately decide if you are on the hunt for an impersonal substance, or a personal being. You must decide if you can test this proposition using the scientific method, or if it will require intelligent, personal engagement. There is all the difference in the world between verifying the proposition, “Carbon dioxide exists” and the proposition “The spouse of David Smith exists”. One subject is a what, making impersonal tests entirely appropriate. The other is a who, meaning we must employ the tests of relationships, family, bonds, names, and history.
I think you’d agree that if we are debating about the Christian God, we are talking about an Intelligence, a Mind, not an abstract or impersonal power. We don’t debate (much) about cosmic energies, or the Force, or the Universal Power, because none of these lay obligations upon us. But the God claimed by Christians, through their use of the Bible, is portrayed with all the elements of personality: intelligence, affections, purpose, language, commitment, and desire.
Now, you may say, that doesn’t mean God is that way. Perhaps, says one, God is a superpower beyond personality. But this is just playing with words without meaning. What does “beyond personality” even mean? I think it is just a verbal ploy to phase God back into the impersonal category, where he is safely corralled into making no demands upon us. For in the end, our experience of reality comes in two forms: persons and impersonal objects. Mind and matter. Consciousness and unconscious substance. God is one of these.
Granted, animals appear as a kind of halfway between consciousness and impersonal matter, which is likely why we enjoy them. But we recognise that their inability to frame the fundamental sentence “I am” precludes us from calling them persons. And even if they appear halfway between the two categories, that does not argue for a third category; it only emphasises the duality of reality.
God is a person or an impersonal substance. If God is an impersonal substance, then even the question of its existence becomes quite pedestrian and uninteresting – merely another feature of the cold cosmos. In fact, “God” becomes simply a term to denote original causation, such as quantum foam or singularity.
If God is a person, then the implications are indeed daunting to the serious thinker. He is already aware of your thoughts of him. He already knows (and has tolerated) your doubt or disbelief in him. He has designed and permitted your very existence, and allowed it to play out in a cosmos of his making.
But I think I have got ahead of myself. I meant only to show that assuming God as a person is the only coherent way to proceed with the thought experiment “God exists.” I’m sure you’ll tell me where I’ve failed.