I Don’t Care if God Exists

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 19, 2010 in General Atheism

eye of god

Religious believers like to think that I don’t accept the arguments for the existence of God because I don’t want to – because then I’d have to give up orgies and heroin and all the things that make an atheist’s life fun.1 In fact, I’ve wondered roughly the same thing about certain atheist philosophers.

But here’s the problem with that line of thinking.

None of the usual arguments for the existence of God even try to prove the existence of a God whose existence would matter to me.

The design argument? It aims to prove the existence of an intelligent, powerful, supernatural Creator. The design argument doesn’t say anything about whether this God cares about morality or humanity or which scriptures you prefer. Do I care if such a God exists? No. It makes not a bit of difference to my life or yours.

The cosmological argument? In its most robust form, it aims to prove the existence of a supernatural, personal Creator. Again, the argument doesn’t say anything about whether this God knows about humanity or has any moral commands to give us. Do I care if such a God exists? No.

The ontological argument? At most, it aims to prove the existence of an all-perfect being. But it doesn’t say anything about whether this God is ‘personal’ in any way that makes sense, or has revealed itself to humans. Do I care if such a God exists? No.

The moral argument? It aims to prove a God whose nature or commands are the foundation for moral values. But it doesn’t say anything about what is moral, or how we could possibly know what is moral, or whether God cares if we are moral any more than he cares whether dolphins are moral. Do I care if such a God exists? No.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Sure, it would be absolutely fascinating to learn that something supernatural existed, or that one of these vague concepts of God referred to something real. That would be quite stunning and invigorating. But would it make any difference at all to how you or I lead our lives? No.

So I don’t think you can say I’m resistant to theistic arguments just because I don’t want to believe in God, because I really don’t care if any of these gods exist. It would be like proving to me that there is indeed a multiverse. That would be pretty fascinating, but… it really wouldn’t effect our lives at all.

  1. For those who missed the joke, I haven’t done either. []

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{ 83 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael March 19, 2010 at 6:11 am

I enjoyed the joke and your are absolutely right about the arguments you mention, and most arguments for the existence of God, if not ALL! But what about an argument for the resurrection, if that was convincing. If one of the God arguments was successful, and one found and argument for the resurrection of Jesus successful, would that make a difference? This is where I was a few years ago. It didn’t seem to matter at all, unless Jesus rose from the dead. In that case, it seemed to me that it did make a difference.

Just wondering what your thoughts were on this.

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manicstreetpreacher March 19, 2010 at 6:12 am

I’d have to give up orgies and heroin and all the things that make an atheist’s life fun.

Atheism: because babies are tasty.

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lukeprog March 19, 2010 at 6:43 am

Michael,

An argument for the resurrection would be different, I think. The problem is that even if Jesus rose from the dead, this doesn’t indicate that all our documents about what Jesus said and did are accurate – in fact, this is impossible, since they contradict each other. So we’re still left with questions like, “Did this resurrected Jesus character claim to be God? Did he want to start a religion? Did he really predict the end of the world within a generation? What were his teachings?”

But of course, I think it’s implausible in the extreme that Jesus rose from the dead.

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Michael March 19, 2010 at 6:53 am

Ok. I guess I would say that if a God powerful enough to create something out of nothing existed, then it wouldn’t be too hard to resurrect a human from the dead. I would say its impossible for any resurrection if there is no God.

As for what He thought He was, why would Jews blaspheme to such a degree of making up that a man was God? This seems entirely contrary to what a Jew would do. So in this context, I find it highly plausible that He claimed to be God and did things that made at least some others believe so as well. A resurrection would seem to solidify His claims if it were true. I don’t think He saw Himself starting a religion, but rather improving upon an old one, being Judaism of course.

I would say that many of the contradictions found can be explained, but that there may be some true contradictions. But that doesn’t mean that both are wrong, but rather that at least one is wrong. This is Ehrman’s problem, to use the common saying, he throws the baby out with the bathwater. His teachings seem to be at least similar if not the same throughout the Gospels, and Paul seems to echo most of that. So I think His teachings can be known. It’s more of a matter of whether he was a lunatic or right.

One final comment in honor of atheists. All the atheists I know actually live pretty “good” lives. They care for the poor, they donate to charity, they don’t have orgies and such. It seems to be the apathetic people who don’t know don’t care and haven’t ever thought about it that fall into the orgy having heroin doing category.

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manicstreetpreacher March 19, 2010 at 6:55 am

At the end of the day, “deep”, “scholarly” discourses on the existence of God are not why the average Joe believes in God.

People believe due to emotional reasons of needing objective purpose to their existence, unwillingness to accept that death is the end, a basis to behave morally and let’s not forget the power of the religious experience itself.

God is also a simple “common sense” reason to explain why there is “something” rather than “nothing” and so satisfies people’s basic curiosity.

Obviously, this is not evidence or argument that God does not exist (I don’t want to be accused of making the genetic fallacy!), but Plantinga and Swinburne merely provide plausible justifications to believe if you already do so.

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Mark CE March 19, 2010 at 7:31 am

One Christian claim I’ve heard is that “God is like Jesus.”

Of course it can’t be even be proved that Jesus was like Jesus.

But if it could be proved.
If there was a God, like Jesus (as portrayed), would you still not care?

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Chris Hallquist March 19, 2010 at 7:49 am

Re: Michael: What’s wrong with orgies?

But sometimes I wish I bought the arguments for the existence of God, because it would let me focus on the really noxious aspects of Christian dogma.

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Reginald Selkirk March 19, 2010 at 8:06 am

I don’t think He saw Himself starting a religion, but rather improving upon an old one, being Judaism of course.

Right, because a religion handed down by Yahweh Himself would certainly be in need of improvement.

They care for the poor, they donate to charity, they don’t have orgies and such.

Oh we do have orgies, we just don’t invite you.

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Justfinethanks March 19, 2010 at 8:20 am

Couldn’t someone just claim the same thing about naturalism?

Even if incompatibility arguments demonstrate that the god concept is untenable.

And even if the failure of dualism shows that humans do not have immaterial souls.

And even if the success of science show that supernatural explanations are useless in understanding how the universe operates.

And even if all claims of supernatural experiences can be explained by natuarlistic means.

None of that demonstrates the Naturalist’s claim that natural forces are all that exist. After all, there might be a planet of battling wizards who harness supernatural powers somewhere deep in the Andromeda galaxy.

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Conor Gilliland March 19, 2010 at 8:37 am

now you’re getting somewhere.

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piero March 19, 2010 at 9:20 am

After all, there might be a planet of battling wizards who harness supernatural powers somewhere deep in the Andromeda galaxy.  

So far, their putative existence has had no bearing upon whether my daughter is happy, or whether my wife loves me, or whether my pay cheque bounces, or whether… I think you get the idea. And neither has God.

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anon March 19, 2010 at 10:22 am

Hi Luke,

This comment concerns an older post of yours that you link to at the beginning of this post here:

http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=995

Given that its an older post, please don’t feel obligated to respond.

You say this:

“This sounds exactly like the Christian philosopher who argues that because the idea of God is so popular, and so ingrained in our conceptions of the world and our language about it, that therefore the burden of proof lies with the person who denies God.

But these are silly arguments. The skeptic need not disprove the existence of everything asserted to him – gods, fairies, moral values, unicorns, UFOs, or electricity. Rather, it’s the duty of the person making a claim to prove it is correct. In the case of gods and fairies, this is rather difficult. In the case of electricity, this is easily done.”

Are there any posts where you talk about why you are a skeptic w/r/t religious claims but not a skeptic w/r/t perceptual beliefs? To me it seems like you are holding beliefs about God to a really high standard. I can’t prove that I’m not a brain in a vat. But my belief that I’m not a brain in a vat is still justified. Are there any posts where you talk about how God is different?

Also, in the post linked to, you say that you are now a moral realist. As I understand it, you accept desirism. But how does desirism satisfy the constraint you endorse in the passage above. Is there a post where you have proven desirism in a way that would satisfy the moral skeptic?

Best,
Anon

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lukeprog March 19, 2010 at 10:30 am

Anon,

No, I haven’t written much about that subject yet. The closest thing might be On Seeking Truth.

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Brad March 19, 2010 at 10:48 am

How did we go from “your apathies” about the exsistence of God (“I don’t care…”)to something that is our problem/condition:

“That would be pretty fascinating, but… it really wouldn’t effect our lives at all.”

All this posturing just smacks as being intellecutally lazy.

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Justfinethanks March 19, 2010 at 11:07 am

All this posturing just smacks as being intellecutally lazy.

Not really. I think Luke is drawing a distinction between things that are intellectually stimulating and things that have a pragmatic effect on our lives.

For example, in the field of linguistics, would it be interesting if the Universal Grammar theory is true? Sure. Would it matter on any pragmatic level, to the point that we would change how we live if it were so? I’m sure you would agree that it does not.

Similarly, would it be pretty cool if all the stock arguments presented by theists were successful? Sure. Would I change anything in my life if that were the case? Certainly not, because the success of these arguments don’t really give me any reason to.

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anon March 19, 2010 at 11:22 am

Anon,No, I haven’t written much about that subject yet. The closest thing might be On Seeking Truth.  

OK. Thanks Luke. I will read it.

anon

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Brad March 19, 2010 at 12:23 pm

“Certainly not, because the success of these arguments don’t really give me any reason to.”

(Assuming you found them compelling) Why would this be the case?

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Mark March 19, 2010 at 12:31 pm

But you run an active and popular atheist blog. Clearly learning that theism is true would affect your daily life!

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RA March 19, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Let’s see Brad, if God exists, it goes something like this. He created the universe which means that he created earth which means that he created us for it which means that he cares and watches over us which means that he gives us morals which means that Jesus was real which means that he was divine which means that he died as a human being which means he rose from the dead which means that he saved the human race with his human death even though it was completely unnecessary which means that there is a heaven and a hell. Yes, it is all very logical isn’t it.

And Luke is being intellectually lazy because if God does exist then all those things must be true because it was written by a bunch of people living in the desert that didn’t know the difference between a grasshopper plague and a curse from God and they couldn’t have gotten it wrong because people still believe it all these years later.

There couldn’t be a God that didn’t create a heaven or hell or care any more about us than he does a inchworm. That would be impossible wouldn’t it, Brad?

What exactly is the intellectual stimulation about believing the stories of a ignorant group of human beings living in the desert in Judea thousands of years ago?

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Reginald Selkirk March 19, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Couldn’t someone just claim the same thing about naturalism?… After all, there might be a planet of battling wizards who harness supernatural powers somewhere deep in the Andromeda galaxy.  

Occam’s Razor FTW.

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Reginald Selkirk March 19, 2010 at 1:32 pm

BTW, the Andromeda galaxy is a pit. None of the cool gods hang out there.

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lukeprog March 19, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Mark,

I suppose I would have to change the name of my blog to ‘Common Sense Deism.’ :)

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Haukur March 19, 2010 at 4:02 pm

I suppose I would have to change the name of my blog to ‘Common Sense Deism.’ :)

Haha, I’d read that blog. Does anyone know of a good deism blog?

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obi juan March 19, 2010 at 4:19 pm

No theist is interested in proving the existence of a God that does not fit their own religion. For instance, none of arguments for God that you list as examples necessarily need a singular God. The intelligent designer could be a team of a designers. But how many Christians would accept a team of designers?

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Robert Gressis March 19, 2010 at 4:22 pm

I don’t know of any good deism blogs, but David Conway is close to a deist, if not a deist. His book, The Rediscovery of Wisdom: From Here to Antiquity in Quest of ‘Sophia’ is an attack on both atheism and Christian theism.

Anyway, I’m not so sure that you shouldn’t care if the ontological argument is right, Luke. If it’s right, then we know that an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving being exists. While it doesn’t tell you what this being does, if you accept some fairly plausible ideas about what it means to be all-loving, then you may be able to find in it plausible grounds for believing in a pleasant afterlife.

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Jacopo March 19, 2010 at 4:33 pm

@Robert – Ontological arguments only entail all-good/loving &c. gods if we accept goodness as a perfection (or related concept). I doubt many atheists would accept ‘goodness’ as something quite so rarefied as a metaphysical ‘perfection’ (or similar), if at all. Cf. the earlier post about Stephen Law and a perfectly evil God.

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Robert Gressis March 19, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Hmm. I’m not sure I follow; is the idea supposed to be that, since atheists mostly think that moral realism is false that omnibenevolence can’t be a perfection? I can’t understand why that could be unless you told me what a perfection is supposed to be.

Just so I’m fair, I’ll tell you how I understand it. I’ve always understood a perfection–at least as it functions in the OA–in a Aristotelian sense, as referring to a property the having of which gives an entity more being. Having more being has to be cashed out in an act v. potency way, with a being that is pure act being the greatest being, and a being that is pure potency (i.e., prime matter) as having the least being. On that account, perhaps you could argue that, since morality has nothing to do with bringing a being from potency to act, or giving a being more ways to act, that it’s not a perfection? Is that what you’re getting at?

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John W. Loftus March 19, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Exactly Luke. My position to a tee. I’m going to send you a few hits on this.

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Marcus McElhaney March 19, 2010 at 6:42 pm

So if God truly existed it wouldn’t make a big difference in how you live your life? Makes sense. Not. Let’s put aside the arguments for a moment and deal with if God matters. If you are rejecting the idea that God matters then you are saying that the one who made everything doesn’t matter. The one who could absolutely tell you what your purpose is and that does not matter to you. You are saying that if there is one who has made everything then you don’t want to know what that being has to say about you and your life. Does that make sense? Argue all you want. Pontificate. Look for loop wholes. Convince yourself that there is no God…but don’t be dishonest enough to assert that God does not matter even if God does exist. I mean it’s either being stupid or being dishonest….take your pick.

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mark March 19, 2010 at 6:52 pm

I tend to agree with Marcus McElhaney’s comment. On the one hand, I agree with Luke that the fact that a God may exist does not in itself tell us who or what kind of being this God is. But on the other hand, if there is a God, as in someone who created everything, who is the great first cause, then I would be interested in what that being has to say (maybe this being has nothing to say to us, maybe lots, who knows?). However, religionists of all stripes assume that if they can prove that God exists then of course their version of what this God wants us to do is right and you had better obey it NOW! or else. In other words, if God exists then my belief system is the only correct one because God gave it to me and everyone must follow it or be damned.

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Michael March 19, 2010 at 7:57 pm

I tend to agree with Marcus McElhaney’s comment.On the one hand, I agree with Luke that the fact that a God may exist does not in itself tell us who or what kind of being this God is. But on the other hand, if there is a God, as in someone who created everything, who is the great first cause, then I would be interested in what that being has to say (maybe this being has nothing to say to us, maybe lots, who knows?).However, religionists of all stripes assume that if they can prove that God exists then of course their version of what this God wants us to do is right and you had better obey it NOW! or else.In other words, if God exists then my belief system is the only correct one because God gave it to me and everyone must follow it or be damned.  

I am a Christian, and I don’t think it would be fair to tell someone that just because one could show that God exists (assuming they can simply for the sake of argument), that “my” God is the true one. I would expect them to investigate into all deities. However, I do find that the Bible is the most historically reliable religious work (may not be saying much, but its a start?), and that Christian philosophy is more coherent than say, Buddhist or Zoroastrian philosophy, and may be preferred on those grounds. Though I would want them to have their reasons for whatever they believed.

I have actually gone through Buddhism, Hinduism, New Age, Islam, Judiasm and Toaism with a friend and he found them all insufficient in one way or another. He is a deist still, but is becoming sympathetic toward Christianity the more he has looked into it since last September.

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RA March 19, 2010 at 8:12 pm

I don’t think Luke said God wouldn’t matter. He just said that it wouldn’t change his life if he did exist because he’s living his life the best way he knows how. So he doesn’t have any reason to change what’s working.

If God exists that doesn’t mean he is the God of the Bible that Marcus believes in. Doesn’t mean there is heaven or a hell or ever was a Jesus or that your life has any purpose whatsoever. You still aren’t past square one with an actual God. Nothing has changed.

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Brad March 19, 2010 at 8:15 pm

HI R.A.

When you get around to address what I actually wrote, then by all means, feel free, until then…cheers.

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RA March 19, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Cheers to you, Brad. I guess we don’t really have anything to discuss because I don’t know what you’re talking about and I’m not that interested in finding out.

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Charles March 19, 2010 at 9:34 pm

What does it mean, “more coherent”? Either a thing is coherent or it’s not. There are no points for second place.

The gospel stories tell of many situations where Jesus said to people, “Your sins are forgiven.” If the stories are to be believed, he did this while he was alive. Assume he was right, and that in all of those instances sins actually were forgiven. Then why the hell did he have to die? What is stopping God from just deciding to forgive sins? Because he did in those stories.

I think it’s instructive to look at how we tell our own stories. Here’s one. Guy commits heinous crime. Guy spends most of the movie trying to make up for it. Except he can’t. (Remember, the crime was really, really heinous.) At the end of the movie, he dies. If he’s penitent, it’s an act of self-sacrifice. If he isn’t, he’s just killed. Either way, justice has been served.

Since I became a writer, I’ve paid close attention to this sort of thing. In our stories, we see this theme repeated over and over. Pick just about any movie or book. If it’s a story about redemption, the hero nearly always dies. Now imagine something different happens. Guy lives because in the final scene, Girl steps in, Girl takes the bullet, and Girl dies. Is this story satisfying? No, it’s not, and I’ll tell you why. We have a different name for it. It’s called a “tragedy”.

And while we’re on the subject, how about Original Sin?

We now know that our species could not have arisen from a single male-female pair. The Flood story is false. The Garden story is false. Science hasn’t left any room to square this circle. Even if a man called Adam ever lived, clearly he wasn’t “first”. By the Biblical account, he is at least 100,000 years too late.

So, the standard view of the Atonement doesn’t make sense. The standard view of how sin entered the world (whatever that means) doesn’t make sense.

Just what part of this story are we suppose to find compelling?

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Hermes March 19, 2010 at 10:08 pm

The main issue with me isn’t if I care (like Luke, I don’t), or if the arguments offered are logical or even credible (most are neither).

To me it’s very simple. None of the positive claims for a deity connect with reality. That is, they are assertions without referents.

A mind twisting example of this, but one that highlights the staggeringly obvious nature of this problem for the Christian and I’d say nearly all if not all theists is that they can’t say what the phrases “exists” and “a god” mean and they can only deal with them in a dogmatic manner. For example, ‘God exists, and He …’.

Tracie Harris (Atheist Experience) nailed this brilliantly a few years ago when she noted that Christians are incapable (or unwilling) to say what the phrases mean. Each are highly specialized and do not have a referent that lines up with any other thing either as a trait or as a concept. Nouns and verbs are employed but both are defined only in terms of themselves in a highly circular manner.

As an example, Karen Armstrong, author of A history of God and The Case for God, doesn’t think that the word “exists” in the phrase “God exists” means “exists as a being”.

Yet, most Christians will be flabbergasted if you ask “Is your deity (Yahweh) a being?” If they respond at all after getting over the shock of such an inane question, will usually give an answer like “of course it is” or even “God (Yahweh) is the greatest of all beings; He is the foundation of being”.

I’d like to get back to Tracie’s point that the words being employed to build the phrase “God exists” aren’t common words.

Expanding on her idea: Each piece of that phrase is a kaleidoscope of tightly bound dogmatic ideas that don’t apply to anything except for the Christian deity. As such, the phrase could be any two nouns and verbs as the ones that are being used now are largely undefined and are not agreed upon.

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Robert Gressis March 19, 2010 at 11:25 pm

“To me it’s very simple. None of the positive claims for a deity connect with reality. That is, they are assertions without referents.

“A mind twisting example of this, but one that highlights the staggeringly obvious nature of this problem for the Christian and I’d say nearly all if not all theists is that they can’t say what the phrases “exists” and “a god” mean and they can only deal with them in a dogmatic manner. For example, ‘God exists, and He …’.

“Tracie Harris (Atheist Experience) nailed this brilliantly a few years ago when she noted that Christians are incapable (or unwilling) to say what the phrases mean. Each are highly specialized and do not have a referent that lines up with any other thing either as a trait or as a concept. Nouns and verbs are employed but both are defined only in terms of themselves in a highly circular manner.”

I don’t understand this. Are you saying that since Christians can’t define “exist” then it’s not clear what they’re saying when they say that God exists?

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Jacopo March 20, 2010 at 1:41 am

@Robert – I wouldn’t say that morality “can’t” be a perfection. But there would be reason to be skeptical of the idea, simply by dint of the argument that however you frame the term ‘perfection’ or similar, in terms of a ‘perfect being’ we couldn’t be sure if that would entail a moral component, and even if that was the case, whether this moral component would be seen as ‘good’ or ‘loving’. I don’t have a fully worked-out concept of perfection, more a wariness of the concept in general and a willingness to view multiple views (or none) of it as possible.

Your argument against Aristotelian-type perfection would certainly be one avenue of criticism, if perfection is framed that way. However it is framed, it will remain very contentious to draw the logical lines from ‘perfect being’ (or similar) to ‘something that cares about us or otherwise makes things better’. I would say that it’s always likely, without any philosophical revolutions, to be something reasonable people can hold a position against.

Of course I guess this discussion is a little off the point, and I’d have to take the ‘credit’ for that. What Luke is getting at is what the arguments would do if they worked, in their most robust form. And I suppose the most robust form of ontological arguments do entail goodness as a perfection, however tenuous the steps, so perhaps that is something we would want to know about after all!

Perhaps an ‘out’ for Luke would be to say that “whatever this maximally morally good being wants to do, all I can do in this life is try and figure things out morally as best I can, and if a maximally morally good being decides to give me an afterlife, that’s great.” But in the meantime, the thought ‘oh there may be an afterlife that’s really great because I’ve decided the ontological argument works’ probably wouldn’t make much difference to many everyday decisions, which is what Luke was getting at in this post.

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Kristinn March 20, 2010 at 1:49 am

If some kind of god was proven to exist it would suggest that something with a will existed outside of our understanding of time and space.

That would make dualism plausable and more people would probably strive for mind-over-matter-ideas. That might in turn effect our lives and we ourselves perhaps fall for those ideas.

Starving in dessert caves would become very popular ;)

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ned March 20, 2010 at 2:00 am

hi heathens writing from a mobile but am bored. First rationale and logic are impotent in the face of the search for god. If we could deduce gods existence it would be too easy. This is the impotence of philosophy its tools of study do not allow it to explore the area it most wishes to explore. Nietzche is possibly the only modern philosopher to realise this when he found an unexpected door out of modern philosophy but it cost him his sanity. There are no arguments for gods existence there never will be this is the futility of any philosophy on the subject. Finding god is purely empirical and personal. its like going to the moon few people have done it only they know what its like and there are some who doubt their experience but those that have been to the moon can only give an approximation to what its like.
There are 3 types of people those who willingly go through nietzches door and find their way in the darkness and come back with a nugget of truth, there are those who believe the testimony of those people and those who are sceptical of the testimony of those people. The second two people are left within the constraints of religious dogma and philosophy. which is fine but they should not kid themselves that they are making inroads into the truth . My testimony is i do not dismiss other gods as there arent any only one. He does not give a flying monkey what you believe he cares about what you do. i have chosen to be a christian but any spiritual path that feels right to you is best. However the whole ‘i dont care if god exists’ argument is a teenagers argument like ‘parents suck’ or ‘i hope i die before i get old’. I do not know of a group that cares more whether god exists than modern western atheism. Further i would add god exists like a tree exists not like metaphysical realism ‘exists’. Further occhams razor does not favour naturalism over supernaturalism both sides are influenced by a persons belief so both sides can claim theirs is the simplest of explanations however, both of these ideas exclude the possibility the other exists. They are like the argument that a chess board is white with black squares or black with white squares. Anyhoo please forgive my grammar and spelling am on a mobile using predictive text. Ned

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Edson March 20, 2010 at 3:28 am

The design argument and the cosmological argument should at least instill in everyone, atheist or christian, a feeling of enchantment, appreciation of awesomeness of life and a sense of wonder and gratitude to, without even the need to call it “god”, this Intelligent Designer.

Yet atheists, at least those that I read, when in debate with christians consistently flash out this idea and often reacting “the Universe looks exactly as you would expect if the intelligent designer or god does not exist or if an evil, incompetent god exists”.

To understand what is moral and what is not results from the basic intuition – you appreciate and feel a sense of gratefulness for your life (even without knowing to whom should you express your gratitude) and this has a profound implication in your personal life – you become responsible and careful on how you conduct your life.

Religions are extended case on why and how people express their gratitude or to whom or where should they direct their gratitude. We could debate over and over on what right way or means to express our gratitude or conduct our lives until cows come home. But one thing we should not do: we should not argue about the nature that unites us as humanity and if I choose to use the words of GK Chesterton, the message of Christianity “which preaches an obviously unattractive idea such as Original Sin, but when we wait for its results, they are pathos and brotherhood, a thunder of laughter and pity, for only with original sin can we at once pity the beggar and distrust the king”.

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Edson March 20, 2010 at 4:29 am

If the stories are to be believed, he did this while he was alive. Assume he was right, and that in all of those instances sins actually were forgiven. Then why the hell did he have to die? What is stopping God from just deciding to forgive sins?

Charles, I agree with you. It is not necessary for something or somebody to suffer or die in order for God to forgive sins.

But, from what I understand about when I read the history of Christianity, God is not merely interested on forgiving sins. Rather, he is interested on humans to refrain from consistently committing sins and to freely, unselfishly and happily for humans to treat others well.

And this is not a very small thing to do. It requires a spirit of altruism that goes far beyond what human nature can offer. It demands unprecedented epitome of moral perfection to be a motivating factor to live the golden rule in its positive version. And that’s what God intended to teach us about the circumstances surrounding Jesus Crucifixion.

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Reginald Selkirk March 20, 2010 at 4:55 am

But how many Christians would accept a team of designers?

You mean like the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost?

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Reginald Selkirk March 20, 2010 at 4:59 am

So if God truly existed it wouldn’t make a big difference in how you live your life? Makes sense. Not.

Marcus McElhaney fails to get the point. The arguments mentioned above, if successful, would not prove the existence of Yahweh, the tribal god of the Jews, repurposed as Yahweh 2.0 plus his Son/self and the mysterious Holy Ghost. I.e. they would not prove the existence of the specific God you are thinking of.

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Reginald Selkirk March 20, 2010 at 5:04 am

I do find that the Bible is the most historically reliable religious work (may not be saying much, but its a start?)

Srsly, Michael? A book which claims that insects have four legs?

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Reginald Selkirk March 20, 2010 at 5:11 am

Further occhams razor does not favour naturalism over supernaturalism both sides are influenced by a persons belief so both sides can claim theirs is the simplest of explanations …

Except that one calls for an all-powerful supernatural being to exist. Overlooking that minor point, they are both very simple.

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Michael March 20, 2010 at 5:37 am

Srsly, Michael? A book which claims that insects have four legs?

What about all the archeological finds that support the Bible? The people named in the NT, groups of people in the OT that people thought were made up only to find evidence of them fairly recently? We have remains of Solomons temple which was originally thought to be dated wrong in the Bible but new evidence has surfaced that supports that of the Bible. Luke was a very good historian and minus the quirinius thing (which some even non-Christian historians have defended) is considered very reliable. Now compare this to Islam and the Quran. Or other holy books.

And I believe your comment is a genetic fallacy. I don’t think our definition of insects was known then to use “correctly.”

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Reginald Selkirk March 20, 2010 at 5:48 am

What about all the archeological finds that support the Bible?

The Middle East actually existed. You’ve got me there.

The rest is not as impressive as you seem to think. Some Christian-raised archaelogist finds a former city in the “Holy Land,” he tends to name it after a city or a people which existed in the Bible. Self-fulfillment. So a temple existed in Jerusalem – does this prove the tale of Solomon is accurate?

Does the existence of forests in Maine prove the tale of Paul Bunyan?

As someone already noted, the Garden of Eden story, the ark story, the Exodus – there is no evidence for these things.

I believe your use of the term “genetic fallacy” is entirely bogus. Go look it up.

You are evidence of the harm done by religion, it has obviously damaged your ability to think critically.

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lukeprog March 20, 2010 at 6:56 am

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Hermes March 20, 2010 at 7:53 am

Robert Gressis: I don’t understand this. Are you saying that since Christians can’t define “exist” then it’s not clear what they’re saying when they say that God exists?

First off, so there is absolutely no confusion on this point, I am not asking for evidence of any sort that any gods exist.

I am only commenting on the lack of concurrence of the parts that make up the phrase “God exists” when they are broken into the more generic parts “a god” and “exists”.

Asking what is “a god” is results in “God is …”.

Asking how does a god or Yahweh “exist” results in “God exists like no other …”.

It’s dogmatic. It’s self-referential. What does “God exist” mean? It means “God exists”. Any foundational details are usually tied to sectarian ideas or general dogmas.

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Hermes March 20, 2010 at 8:06 am

Edson, wow, so much to disagree with.

It would take quite a few pages to explain exactly how I think you’re just not getting it. If anything, please do not attempt any further mind reading. Do not assert that you know what other people think. I assure you that your conjectures on what non-Christians think are not even close to being accurate.

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Hermes March 20, 2010 at 8:18 am

Michael, what are priests in seminary taught about history? Does it differ from what the laity are taught or popular (non-scholarly) books assert? If so, why the difference?

Consider the following;

* * *

When in seminary, he noticed the differing reactions that his classmates had to the scholarly information they were receiving about biblical history.

“I would guess if there were 30 people in the archeology class, there would be 25% of them who would become very defensive and argumentative with the professor. And probably only one or two of the 30 would be open to it. The rest would just not say much.”

* * *

Source: http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/Non-Believing-Clergy.pdf

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Robert Gressis March 20, 2010 at 10:00 am

First off, so there is absolutely no confusion on this point, I am not asking for evidence of any sort that any gods exist.I am only commenting on the lack of concurrence of the parts that make up the phrase “God exists” when they are broken into the more generic parts “a god” and “exists”.Asking what is “a god” is results in “God is …”.Asking how does a god or Yahweh “exist” results in “God exists like no other …”.It’s dogmatic.It’s self-referential.What does “God exist” mean?It means “God exists”.Any foundational details are usually tied to sectarian ideas or general dogmas.  

I certainly didn’t think that you were asking for any evidence for the claim that God existed. What I thought you were claiming was something like this:

(1) Christians sometimes claim “God exists”.
(2) For us to evaluate that claim, we have to know what it means.
(3) For us to know what “God exists” means, we have to know what “God” means, and what “exists” means.
(4) Christians haven’t told us either what “God” means or what “exists” means.
(5) Therefore, we have no idea what Christians are saying when they say “God exists”.

Is that a fair breakdown of what you’re claiming, Hermes?

If it is–and I’m sure it’s not–then I would raise the following challenges to it. First, I’m skeptical of (3). It might very well be the case that we understand sentences better than we understand individual words, as individual words may get their sense from how they connect to other words, rather than in some free-standing way. Second, I’m skeptical of (4). Christians say all the time what “God” means, and while they don’t often say what “exists” means, almost no one says what “exists” means. It’s usually taken to be an indefinable primitive that expresses a relationship of instantiation. Admittedly, some people do define “exists”, but to the best of my knowledge they’re phenomenalists who define “x exists” as “x is being perceived and/or is possibly perceivable”.

So, I think we understand well enough what Christians mean when they say that God exists: an immaterial, omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good, … being exists.

***

One last thing; it occurs to me that perhaps you’re merely talking about some Christians who claim that “God is the ground of being” or is “not a being among beings but being itself”, and you may be saying that you don’t understand them. Fair enough; I think there may be a definite sense that attaches to what these (Tillichian) Christians are saying, although I admit it’s puzzling (and certainly prominent Christian philosophers–e.g., Plantinga and van Inwagen–find these phrases very puzzling as well).

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Robert Gressis March 20, 2010 at 10:25 am

@Jacopo:

You wrote:

@Robert – I wouldn’t say that morality “can’t” be a perfection. But there would be reason to be skeptical of the idea, simply by dint of the argument that however you frame the term ‘perfection’ or similar, in terms of a ‘perfect being’ we couldn’t be sure if that would entail a moral component, and even if that was the case, whether this moral component would be seen as ‘good’ or ‘loving’.

If I understand you correctly, it seems as though you’re arguing that, even if the ontological argument (OA) works–that is, even if it’s the case that existence is a perfection, and therefore a greatest conceivable being (GCB) exists–we still don’t have grounds for believing that this GCB is morally perfect, because it’s contestable how to understand morality, as well as whether morality is a perfection. But if this is what you’re saying, then I’m confused; after all, the assumption that the OA is sound is not the assumption that all disagreement over the OA will go away, right? To assume it’s sound is merely to assume what I said above: that existence is a perfection, so the GCB exists. Some people would, presumably, disagree with that claim–they would just be wrong. So why couldn’t it equally be the case that omnibenevolence is a perfection, even if there’s no consensus over whether that’s true?

I don’t have a fully worked-out concept of perfection, more a wariness of the concept in general and a willingness to view multiple views (or none) of it as possible.Your argument against Aristotelian-type perfection would certainly be one avenue of criticism, if perfection is framed that way.

Maybe so, but the Aristotelian tradition, from which my definition derives, also holds that immorality can be defined as acting to take away a being’s perfection. In other words, you act immorally, broadly speaking, when you knowingly act to diminish another being’s perfection. Consequently, a perfectly moral being would never act in such a way–it would never try to undercut the actualization of a being’s potency.

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Jacopo March 20, 2010 at 5:37 pm

@Robert – Oh I agree that the fact something is contested doesn’t lead to it being false. On reflection, my initial arguments against omnibenevolence being taken as an perfection of a GCB were a bit off the point given what I was trying to say, so I won’t further defend them.

I’ll clarify – there are a few questions here, and these are the answers I’d suggest:

Would there being a GCB, the consequence of a postulated successful ontological argument, affect everyday decisions or significantly impact our lives? No, I don’t think so.

Would there being a GCB with a moral aspect, omnibenevolence, the consequence of the most robust ontological arguments if successful, affect everyday decisions or significantly impact our lives? No, again, I don’t think it would.

Does such a robust ontological argument which includes omnibenevolence succeed? I doubt it, but I couldn’t commit to an exchange on this point.

It’s the first two questions which are relevant to Luke’s original post, and IMHO he’s probably right.

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Hermes March 20, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Robert, well done.

Yes, I agree in general with your summary of what I wrote.

I’ve written on this topic many times. On review of this latest attempt, I noticed a few places where I’ve assumed some details or not emphasized others when I should have.

With that in mind, here are a few comments before I address your message in detail;

Evidence
Agreed. Consider me overly cautious. A few good conversations were wrecked by this.

Exists
There is a difference between ‘exists’ and ‘exists as’. I’m primarily interested in ‘exists as’ and the variety of those types of existences. A cow exists … in specific ways. A formula exists … . Logic exists. Harry Potter exists. Love exists. A sunset exists. Tuesday exist(ed) and will exist and does exist. Many of these exist in ways that the others exist in, and some exist in ways that none of the others exist in. Example: Some only ‘exist as’ characters or concepts or … – but do not ‘exist as’ creatures/people/objects/… .

Being
The issue of ‘being’/'entity’/… was an extreme example of the issue, not central to it. It also gave an opportunity to emphasize “exists as”. For the most part, I take ‘exists as’ to be roughly equivalent to ‘being as’ but not limited to ‘an entity’ or even ‘a being’.

Phenomenalism
This was not considered. With the above clarifications in mind, I don’t think it is an issue. If you see that it is, let me know.

Omnimax (omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent)
I hope (!) this does not derail the conversation as it is not important at this stage. I mention it only because you noted it, and it is an example of a description that does not address what “a god” is or how it “exists as” in a logical or generally credible manner.

I’ll now comment on two entirely different issues dealing with omnimax deities. Once you read #1, I hope that we can move on and discuss the issues identified in #2 or other issues we identify later;

1. Omnimax deities of any name are self-refuting and as such are one example of why descriptions of deities are often not logical or credible. For Christians applying omnimax to their deity, it gets worse as there are religious texts that now must be in accord with that already invalid description. If I were a Christian I would stay far away from any discussion on Yahweh where it is by necessity described as an omnimax.

Yet, to cover why it’s such a bad description in general or even worse for Christians, we’d have to deal with reality and evidence. As such, for now, let’s just say that I am wrong and that in reality some set of deities ‘exist as omnimax’.

That leaves us with a more on-topic #2 …

2. Saying something is an ‘omnimax’ doesn’t say anything about what category it is in or what other items it is similar to. It only says that in addition to it being in some undefined ‘a god’ category it is one with ‘omnimax’ properties. The definition is based on dogmatic assertions structured like ‘the deity Yahweh is an omnimax’ (with or without Bible verses sited) and leaves ‘a god’ unaddressed.

* * *

This topic can be a bit of a mind bender. Let me know if I’ve explained the basics well enough.

[ to be continued ... ]

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Hermes March 20, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Bah;

“(with or without Bible verses sited)”

==>

“(with or without Bible verses cited)”

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Robert Gressis March 20, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Exists
There is a difference between ‘exists’ and ‘exists as’.I’m primarily interested in ‘exists as’ and the variety of those types of existences.A cow exists … in specific ways.A formula exists … .Logic exists.Harry Potter exists.Love exists.A sunset exists.Tuesday exist(ed) and will exist and does exist.Many of these exist in ways that the others exist in, and some exist in ways that none of the others exist in.Example: Some only ‘exist as’ characters or concepts or … – but do not ‘exist as’ creatures/people/objects/…

Ah, I’m beginning to see better what you’re getting at. You’re asking, I take it, for the sense in which God exists. Does God exist in the same way as a number or as a pencil or what? I think theists are loathe to say either, though I suspect most of us think of God as existing in a way much more similar to the way in which a pencil exists rather than the way in which a number exists.

That said, to say that “Tuesday exists” or “2 exists” is really weird, right? I mean, who besides philosophers and comedians ever uses such locutions? Personally, I think it’s true that 2+2=4, but I’m not sure what it means to say that “2 exists”. Yet Platonists in mathematics assure me that unless 2 exists then 2+2=4 can’t be true, unless you accept a deflationary account of true.

Personally, when I say that God exists I don’t usually have in mind a clear sense of the manner in which God exists. I take it that without God’s existing, nothing else could exist–which certainly makes the way in which he exists different from the way in which a pencil or a number exists–but I don’t think I can sense God in nearly the same way that I can sense the existence of a pencil. I think that to assert that God exists amounts to looking at the world in a certain way–as in some deep sense non-contingent, as good that it exists–and that consequently we should behave in a certain way in relation to the world. But I have to say, I haven’t thought about this question in much detail, so I’m not sure I personally have a good answer to the sense in which God exists. I believe Peter van Inwagen has a new book coming out addressing this question, though.

Omnimax (omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent)
I hope (!) this does not derail the conversation as it is not important at this stage. I mention it only because you noted it, and it is an example of a description that does not address what “a god” is or how it “exists as” in a logical or generally credible manner.I’ll now comment on two entirely different issues dealing with omnimax deities.Once you read #1, I hope that we can move on and discuss the issues identified in #2 or other issues we identify later;1. Omnimax deities of any name are self-refuting and as such are one example of why descriptions of deities are often not logical or credible.For Christians applying omnimax to their deity, it gets worse as there are religious texts that now must be in accord with that already invalid description. If I were a Christian I would stay far away from any discussion on Yahweh where it is by necessity described as an omnimax.Yet, to cover why it’s such a bad description in general or even worse for Christians, we’d have to deal with reality and evidence.As such, for now, let’s just say that I am wrong and that in reality some set of deities ‘exist as omnimax’.That leaves us with a more on-topic #2 …2. Saying something is an ‘omnimax’ doesn’t say anything about what category it is in or what other items it is similar to.It only says that in addition to it being in some undefined ‘a god’ category it is one with ‘omnimax’ properties.The definition is based on dogmatic assertions structured like ‘the deity Yahweh is an omnimax’ (with or without Bible verses sited) and leaves ‘a god’ unaddressed.***This topic can be a bit of a mind bender.Let me know if I’ve explained the basics well enough.[ to be continued ... ]  

I think I get what you’re getting at; you’re saying that omnimax deities are logically inconsistent (presumably because of the alleged incompatibility between God’s mercy and his justice, or between his omniscience and our freedom, or between his freedom and his goodness, etc.) and also that omnimax properties are unlike any other properties we know of, and so aren’t illuminating.

I don’t personally agree with either of your claims, but I don’t think either of us is particularly interested in the logical incompatibility arguments; we’ve heard them before, I gather, and I doubt you or I are going to do much to advance that debate. More interesting to me is your second claim, about the dissimilarity of omnimax properties and anything else we have knowledge of.

I think we can understand God’s willing largely on a model with our own, and I think we can understand God’s knowledge as non-discursive–that is, God doesn’t need to have concepts to apprehend reality, but sees it in all its particularity. I think we have sensory analogues of that, but of course they’re just analogies. I think that, probably, we can have mostly analogical knowledge of God (though there is probably some univocal knowledge of God too, like when one says that his properties are self-consistent).

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Robert Gressis March 20, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Above, I wrote, “I think that to assert that God exists amounts to looking at the world in a certain way–as in some deep sense non-contingent, as good that it exists–and that consequently we should behave in a certain way in relation to the world.”

I’m now considerably less sure of that claim. The above is probably better understood as a consequences of accepting that God exists. But I’m not sure anymore that I have to specify the way in which God exists, other than to say that God exists in the same sense of “exists” that is used in the phrase “Robert Gressis exists”. In other words, maybe the best approach is the Quinean one that says simply that to be is to be the value of a variable.

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ned March 21, 2010 at 12:55 am

Except that one calls for an all-powerful supernatural being to exist. Overlooking that minor point, they are both very simple.  

No neither are simple and neither are an explanation. To me an uncaused cause requires an explanation. An uncaused cause defies logic and reason not to mention the sacred law of cause and effect. Unless of course one believes in miracles. Also positing an eternal universe is no explanation either for the same reasons as an uncaused cause. So i reiterate occhams razor favours neither naturalism or supernaturalism because neither is an explanation and at best an abuse of occhams razor.

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Reginald Selkirk March 21, 2010 at 7:49 am

To me an uncaused cause requires an explanation. An uncaused cause defies logic and reason not to mention the sacred law of cause and effect.

Unfortunately, quantum mechanics does not respect your “sacred” law of cause and effect. You are apparently not old enough to be trusted with Occam’s razor.

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Hermes March 21, 2010 at 8:15 am

Maybe another detour is needed?

I’m not talking directly about Yahweh/capital-G-god-named-God but asking what the category “a god” is that Yahweh just happens to be in((Footnote: I am not assuming that ‘a god’ that Yahweh is a member of is the same as the ‘a god’ that Zeus or Thor are a member of. To push this further, I don’t require that Yahweh be ‘a god’ but many Christians insist on using ‘God’ as a proper name for Yahweh, so I am making the conversational leap that it is appropriate to call Yahweh ‘a god’ and then ask what ‘a god’ is.)).

Maybe the issue is that I’m just not understanding what Christians say when they use those specialized terms from their religious texts? Yet, I get the impression that even Christians don’t know; there are a wide variety of Christian sects and there is a great deal of reliance on words that don’t apply outside of a religious context. Many individual Christians have make a point to me of not being capable of knowing.

Yet, there are descriptions of Yahweh and I am fully aware of of dozens of them. They are also ones that are to me incoherent, self-referential, in conflict with what other Christians say, and/or they are self-contradictory. You may agree with some of those assessments, but point to others that do not — as far as you can tell — have any of those problems. So, maybe it’s my understanding that needs to be addressed?

Here’s a question to consider;

Are the descriptions commonly given of what Yahweh is also applicable to all members of the set ‘a god’ that Yahweh is a member of?

One possible answer is “yes, and the set ‘a god’ is not limited to Yahweh”. (I doubt you’re saying that and I don’t take that as a common Christian claim though there could be some Christians that would say it.)

If the answer is “yes, and that there is only one member in that set — Yahweh”, then it’s self-referential. That could be OK, but I have had nobody succeed in dealing with the problems that involves such as making that comprehensible except by assertion.

If the answer is “no, but a subset of the description of Yahweh applies to the members of the group ‘a god’”, then we are getting somewhere. At this point, I’m attempting to get at a description of that group; What is ‘a god’?

* * *

As an analogy, if I say that I went on a tarbasten this morning, and you ask what a tarbasten is, and I answer “a tarbasten is wonderful!” you aren’t any closer to understanding what ‘a tarbasten’ is beyond my emotional reaction to it.

It could be an activity with or without other people involved, it could be a type of vehicle, it could be an alternate name for something that you already know, it could be an animal, it could even be something like ‘going on a bender’ but it may involve something other than alcohol; maybe it’s like ‘going on a happiness bender’?

Your imagination can be used to fill in the gaps, but you can’t know what I’m talking about because I haven’t given you enough to go on.

If you then ask what it is similar to, and I then say it was depressing and painful, you would be justified in wondering if I had just changed the conversation to another topic or if I am either sane or if I know what I’m talking about at all.

So, in this example, you have a few choices.

* You can simply ignore what I said.

* Maybe, to be nice, you could ignore that whole tarbasten thing/event/whatever and acknowledge that I said something.

* You may even focus on the emotional content and talk to me about what I felt.

* You could decide that I’m a bottle short on my medications, and that a call to the nice men in the white coats is in order before I hurt myself.

In any case, if you mention the word ‘tarbasten’ to someone later, and they ask you what a tarbasten is, you can repeat my incoherent assessment of it, you can tell the other person o talk with me, or you can say you have no clue, or you can call it meaningless. You can’t, though, answer the question.

* * *

Yahweh/God is a type of tarbasten in the ‘a god’ category. Worse than that, it is a tarbasten that everyone has an opinion on and is assumed to know about.

To give tarbasten Yahweh/God comments the benefit of the doubt, I am forced to ask esoteric questions like ‘how does it exist as’?.

In your replies, for example, you didn’t talk about ‘a god’ you talked about a specific something named God (Yahweh). We’re not there yet. I still don’t know what ‘a god’ is.

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Michael March 21, 2010 at 9:29 am

If the answer is “yes, and that there is only one member in that set — Yahweh”, then it’s self-referential. That could be OK, but I have had nobody succeed in dealing with the problems that involves such as making that comprehensible except by assertion.
If the answer is “no, but a subset of the description of Yahweh applies to the members of the group ‘a god’”, then we are getting somewhere. At this point, I’m attempting to get at a description of that group; What is ‘a god’?

I’m not 100% clear what the difference between these answers are. I understand the self-refertial idea and how that is problematic. But I would think that the term “a god” would refer to a supernatural being that has some power of humans and/or nature. Supernatural being defined simply in that Latin terminology of being beyond nature, so beyond the scope of science proper. All gods would fit into this category, but many would have different attributes predicated to them. Zeus was more powerful than Athena, and the Greek gods all ruled over something different, so they aren’t the same. I would not consider any monisms to fall into this concept of “a god.” The Judeo-Christian God and the God of Islam would be more powerful than the gods like Zeus and such, as they rule everything and know everything. There are other attributes that set them apart, but the idea is that they are “a god” and in the minds of their followers, “the God.” So what we find in this concept of “a god” is all gods, but all of different attributes.

I think that most Christians would agree with the definitions, but simply deny that the other gods are Gods. By this definition of “a god,” “a god” could be a demon as well. Even Christians would agree that there is some hierarchical idea of supernatural beings with demons and angels somewhere below God and God at the top. Being at the top makes Him holy, or set apart simply because He is the pinnacle. You can’t be better than Him and nothing can be equal to Him. So in this manner, He is different than all other “gods” in the way defined earlier.

Hermes, I tracked down a comparative religions person and a theology person and proposed some ideas and asked for them to comment, add, adjust, etc. if they could to hopefully leave me with 3 solid unique ideas. So we will see how that goes. I also asked for an explanation why each was unique/not unique.

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Hermes March 21, 2010 at 10:48 am

Michael, thanks for joining in on this topic. I’ll wait on the feedback from the specialists before continuing. Who knows what they will say?

Keep in mind that I’m absolutely not interested in proof or evidence or even the Christian perspective. I mean that strictly; I’m only looking at the basic question ‘What is the set called “a god” that Yahweh is a member of?’.

When you mention other gods and say that Christians would not consider them ‘a god’ because they are monotheists, that’s really dipping into evidence and proof territory. I’ll grant that makes total sense from the Christian perspective.

Christians and other monotheists like Muslims can still imagine that there are many gods, just as I could imagine how dragon biology would work. If the other gods aren’t in the same category as ‘a god’, then as with the dragon where I can imagine how it’s liver works or how it ‘exists as’ a creature like a unicorn (each would probably have a liver), you can still imagine a limited subset of ‘a god’ that is not a 1:1 correlation to Yahweh but that Yahweh is still a member of.

The last thing I’m interested in is a theological numeration of Yahweh as described in the Christian Bible. Just as I am ‘a person’, and the Pythagorean formula is ‘a formula’, I am not a generic Platonic ‘person’ nor can any two formulas be arbitrarily swapped. I expect (?) that Yahweh is ‘a god’ and that ‘a god’ is not equal to Yahweh(tm).

What are the basics? What is ‘a god’?

* * *

Hermes, I tracked down a comparative religions person and a theology person and proposed some ideas and asked for them to comment, add, adjust, etc. if they could to hopefully leave me with 3 solid unique ideas. So we will see how that goes. I also asked for an explanation why each was unique/not unique.

Sounds good! No rush on that.

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Robert Gressis March 21, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Hi Hermes,

I would say that there is a set of beings, “gods” that God could be a member of; at the very least, God shares some properties with them, to wit:

[a] immaterial
[b] very powerful
[c] interested in human affairs
[d] existing
[e] possessed of a will

(I’m not saying, by the way, that Greek gods exist; just that they, like God, are thought to exist).

Does that clarify things?

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Robert Gressis March 21, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Also, the fact that Christians can’t clarify the concept of ‘gods’ or ‘God’ to you shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, unless the Christians you talked to were philosophers or theologians (though I’m a little unsure on theologians).

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Hermes March 21, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Robert, thanks for the list. I appreciate that it doesn’t overreach and insert too many extra parts that are not appropriate to the basic description.

As I see it, that is a specific subset of things/entities/… that have had the title of a god. Many gods are said to be disinterested in humans ([c]) some have stopped existing (in the common sense) or will exist at some future point (usually cyclically) ([d]) and/or are described as having an essence that isn’t exactly immaterial but more ethereal — ghost like — but not dead or insubstantial ([a]). More the embodiment of some characteristic or force or material.

I’m fine with dealing with a subset, but something seems to be missing. I guess it is that the list emphasizes intent ([c] and [e] and somewhat [a]) and not essence ([b] and [d] and somewhat [a]). What is a god? Something with intentions and a great deal of ability.

This seems to be too thin. Let me think on it a bit. Maybe it’s not, or maybe it’s an OK starting place.

[ extra parts deleted; maybe later? ]

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Mark CE March 22, 2010 at 6:09 am

Hi Luke,
I can’t find a response from you to my original question on this post. So to restate….

You say you don’t care if there is a God, and then outline various “Gods” you don’t care about.

One Christian claim I’ve heard is that “God is like Jesus.”

(Of course it can’t be even be proved that Jesus was like Jesus)

But my question is this: if there could be a God; a God like Jesus (as portrayed (however unlikely you think this is)), would you still not care whether this God existed or not?

Mark

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lukeprog March 22, 2010 at 7:32 am

Mark,

The point of this post is to show that I don’t care if the usual theistic arguments succeed. If there is a God and he has a very long list of properties and interests, for example those held by robust Christian theism, then I would care.

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Robert Gressis March 22, 2010 at 8:43 am

I wouldn’t want to say that a god is just something with intentions and a great deal of ability; for instance, space aliens could fall into that category (like the black monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey), and I wouldn’t want to call them gods. Part of me wants to say that to count as a god, your coming to exist can’t have a natural explanation, but since “natural”, “explanation”, and “natural explanation” are so contested, I’m not sure I should say that. So I’ll add (f) to my list:

(f) created physical reality, played a part in relation to the creation of physical reality, or is related in a familial sense to the being or beings that created/played a part in creating physical reality.

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Robert Gressis March 22, 2010 at 8:49 am

Well, I’m not succeeding at editing my comment right now, so I’ll just that I think I should take away the “immaterial” part. I’m not sure what I should replace it with, but it’s clear that gods like Zeus, et al. could take physical form and, say, fornicate with women in the form of a sun-beam. I’m not sure that the Greek myths ever really say what form gods take when they’re not dilly-dallying with mortals. Still, I think it’s fair to say that in the vast majority of cases, gods aren’t restricted to taking physical form (Hobbes’s God and early Mormon versions of God, as well as demigods like Hercules, excepted).

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ned March 23, 2010 at 11:47 am

Unfortunately, quantum mechanics does not respect your “sacred” law of cause and effect. You are apparently not old enough to be trusted with Occam’s razor.  

Well Reginald you seem to have a less than tenuous grasp of it yourself. I was being facetious when I used the word sacred and I did assume you understood cause and effect.
QM does seem to say that things can happen without a cause yet this is misleading to put it as simply as this. The multiple universe theory although by and large without evidence itself can explain this phenomena in that the cause may lie in a parallel universe or at least beyond our universe. However, even without the multiple universe theory an uncaused cause still requires an explanation. I doubt many physicists would accept there is no explanation behind this phenomena just because they are stumped remember physicists are scientist not philosophers.
Yet this is irrelevant to what you have asserted. Now lets assume there is no multiple universe and say our universe is the only one. Yet you have implied the laws applicable within this universe could somehow bring about the uncaused cause that started the big bang. If there is an uncaused cause within our universe it is at the very least an effect of our universe but what you are saying is that this effect exists outside our universe – don’t forget we are talking about the cause of the universe.
If we say there are multiple universes then you just push the layers of explanation back to the cause of the multiverse. Both of which add very complicated layers of explanation to your already blunted razor. Although at first look naturalism seems to have Occhams Razor on its side when one questions it one realises it doesn’t it is just a sleight of hand. Naturalism is still as much in the faith area of human enquiry as supernaturalism when it comes to the cause of the universe.

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Will March 23, 2010 at 3:38 pm

I must strongly refute your statement – if there were a multiverse it would be a profound discovery and, once we could drop by and visit our neighbors, a huge change to our society.

The rest of your argument is fine, though.

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Hermes March 23, 2010 at 5:34 pm

If there were a multiverse, it wouldn’t matter directly to us. We probably couldn’t even get to any other universe let alone communicate with any neighbors.

To put this in perspective, look at the purple bubble that appears about 2:30 and note what happens in the next 30 seconds of the video.

Already, some religious leaders are saying that they would not be surprised if other life forms are discovered in this universe.

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Hermes March 23, 2010 at 5:38 pm

[ Note: I'm not saying that other universes are lined up right next to our universe. I'm not even saying that there are other universes. I'm patient and have no problem with not having the answers. ]

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cris April 30, 2010 at 9:06 am

God isn’t starting any kind of religion nor improving old ones nor providing us religion. He doesn’t want any religion but rather a relationship, a “personal relationship.” That’s the reason why He went down to this world to reach us and to make relationship with humans not to condemn us. But that is really one act of humility, that the Christ, who, although existed on the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

God bless you all

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Márcio July 29, 2010 at 5:30 pm

cris,

agreed.God doesnt care about religion, neither did Jesus. He just want us to repent and believe in Jesus, the savior of humanity.

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Michael Simons September 8, 2010 at 7:22 am

I couldn’t care less about god either. My parents didn’t teach me about religion or god, therefore I have no interest in it, nor does it have any affect on me whatsoever. I find it more absurd that in this day and age so many people still hold onto these concepts of religion and god when we know that religion and god are relatively new concepts in the overall lengthy lifespan of the Earth. Between all the scandals in various churches and all the wars started because of religion, the world would be a lot better place if people didn’t care or think about religion or god.

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The Radish October 19, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Just look at the eye. Imagine the creative power it would have taken to make the very first eye. The type of eye doesn’t even matter. Just look at all the beauty and love inside that eye and honestly tell yourself there is no god. As for your moral dillema just remember that we are all born with the knowledge we need to be good, caring, loving, compassionate people. If you have to have someone or something, depending on what you believe, tell you what good morals are you have a very lazy mind and it needs a little exercise. Shalom.

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lukeprog October 19, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Radish,

Dawkins’ stuff on the evolution of the eye is quite good. You might want to read it.

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Manstie July 13, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Ok. I guess I would say that if a God powerful enough to create something out of nothing existed, then it wouldn’t be too hard to resurrect a human from the dead. I would say its impossible for any resurrection if there is no God.

What if Jesus was just a lunatic? He had hallucinations about riding a unicorn into a ‘heaven’ and speaking to this big bearded man. Besides, there are many things that could be arguable about the factual evidence of what this bible is saying. Maybe Jesus was knocked out and he didn’t raise from the dead, but just awoke from a coma.

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Zuijiadeai August 27, 2011 at 5:15 am

God is indeed exist. The universe speaks about God existence. God’s who are taking care human being. You can see how the earth are just fine in the distance from the sun, a little closer you will be baked, a litter far you will be chilled. There a plenty of water and air we can drink and breath in order to sustain our life. Peoples who does not acknowledge the existence of God are simply brainless and foolish man who denying the existence of his parents. He think he can survive if after he was born, his parents leaves him on the field and nobody help him or took care of him until he grows up till now!

But then people asking, if there God’s exist then why so many suffering and affliction? I’ll ask you back if you have a naughty and rebellious kid what will you do? If you let him be naughty he will be criminal in the future. You have the responsibility to educate him, punish him if necessary. Thus how God also treated the human being. We must understand that suffering and affliction doesn’t denies the existence of God. It is there for God to exercise his authority. But you must understand that there are also suffering and affliction that is caused by satan. And satan will accuse this that God’s did this. So you must have understanding to discern between which one is coming from God or satan.

If God really exist then he will reveal about himself to humanity. Then the next question will be why there are so many religion telling many stupid story about God? My answer is religion is not from God, religion is all just human mock up story. So you must find the truth which one is really the word of God. Which one is really make sense with the scientific point of view. God give human wisdom and understanding. Human must exercise his wisdom and understanding to discern which one is from God and which one is not from God. It’s your task to find it out. And there is only one answer!

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resmunga December 15, 2011 at 8:31 am

My exact feelings! Also, the belief in a God with human concepts of right and wrong or, conversely, the belief in our own enormous importance as his top-of-the-line creation is plain ridiculous.

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