Friday, November 28, 2014

The Definition of God, Dammit

What do people mean when they use the word ‘God’? Often, they are referring to the God of their particular religious choosing, which in turn entails the particular qualities ascribed to that entity. For example, the qualities are particular when ‘God’ refers to one of the three monotheistic gods – Yahweh, God, Allah. [Each god is believed to be distinct by each one’s followers, insofar as each believer denies the existence of the others’ god when it comes down to the minute details.]  However, the general qualities of any one of the monotheistic gods persists (that is, shared amongst these gods). God is typical described in the following fashion, a fashion that is fraught with difficulties…


We begin with God as being supernatural, that is, outside or in some sense superior to nature. Problem is, there is no way for a believer to know this with certainty, reassurances from their god notwithstanding. Can anyone demonstrate how he or she can have knowledge of what is not natural to our universe? Despite the unlikelihood of anyone having knowledge of what is supernatural, the faithful wish to say it is none-the-less a quality of God. Sorry, but the application of faith does not prove a statement that requires a demonstration, a proof, to be considered true (especially in a universe where all proofs must be of nature for us to make inferences). Belief in a supernatural entity currently requires the acceptance of such a being prior to or without any evidence, which is clearly illogical. Given a believer’s current methodology for acquiring knowledge of supernatural things – that being no methodology – a believer may imagine whatever evidence they wish and cite it as proof of God's existence. Did it rain last night? That was God in action the believer will say. Yet a belief in their deity came before the use of rain as evidence for this being. If it is the case that God told whomever that He is supernatural, this does not automatically preclude the possibility that this being is lying. Using a similar methodology as before though, the believer has already concluded that God is good, so they don't think that He would lie. However, this lie is still within the realm of possibility, as we'll see when we question God's goodness. The idea that a deity is supernatural is super quickly in trouble.

Theistic objection: "God is a part of this universe but we cannot see or measure Him (for whatever reason)." That really doesn’t solve anything. This “transcendent God” who exists both in and out of our universe amounts to Panentheism; identifying God as an immanent force within all creation. The question of how a believer may come to possess knowledge of God’s existence is still suspect, especially when you consider the more one insists that their deity exists. If we return to Panentheism for a moment, if God is immanent in all creation we can surely measure God. It’s not like we’ve never measure anything in our universe before. But the believer may further their objection by saying we have in fact measured God though perhaps we don’t realize it. That’s all well and good but if we don’t know what we’ve measured, we have no business calling it a god.

Theistic objection: "God is the universe." I’m on board, only, this is called Pantheism which weakens traditional monotheism, unlike Panentheism. Using the word ‘God’ to identify the universe confuses the issue. The believer might as well call God the ‘Tao’ or even ‘Smurf’ since these words are all ambiguous on their best day.

Let's move on to God's next attribute, omnipotence. Since believers believe that God created the universe, they automatically assume that He is all-powerful. This is what you might call “jumping to conclusions” because it is not known how much power it takes to create a universe. It may be that you need an appropriate amount of knowledge to create a universe while only needing very little power. If there is a creator, it does not automatically follow that this creator is omnipotent. If robots could think, and it seems likely at some point they will, would they believe humans are all-powerful?

In supposing that some god does have enormous power, we may look upon this quality in two different ways. First, one might suppose that an omnipotent being could do anything it wants at all. It can suspend the laws of the universe and create square circles or turn people into pillars of salt (in which case we’re all screwed). As before, it cannot be known whether or not this ability to do whatever this entity wants is a matter of knowledge or of power. Maybe knowledge really is power. Maybe it’s Maybelline. I dunno. On the other hand, maybe God can only do what is logically possible. Sorry, no square circles. This is the position of most believers. However, if He is restricted to doing only what is logically possible, then it follows that anything an existent god has ever done is logically possible. This means that human beings (or some other sentient beings) could also do such things as create a universe with the appropriate amount of knowledge and/or power. Perhaps we'd even be able to raise the dead. Wait a second here, aren't people who are pronounced clinically dead resuscitated all the time? Hmm, suddenly God doesn’t seem like such a hotshot.

Believe it or not it gets worse. The problems with God's attributes are about to go from convoluted to downright wacky as we tackle the possibility of God’s omniscience. Ready, set, go!

There’s a big problem regarding The Supreme Cheese and the attribute of His omniscience. If God can know anything and everything at any given moment, then He can know the future with absolute precision. If this is true, then mankind has no free will, for God knows what you will do, why you will do it, and when. A god who knows everything already knows who is and is not condemned to Hell or some other kind of suffering. Has God arbitrarily created some people (or their souls, whatever) to suffer while being generous to others for no good reason we're privy to? Forgive me if I'm not okay with that premise. Sadly, some believers are okay with that and they make really good slaves for us more cunning folk. Pre-destination isn’t all bad though. I guess I can thank God I’m an atheist…But it doesn’t stop there. If God possesses absolute knowledge of our future, even if He chooses not to know such things, He is not omnipotent. God's possible infallible foreknowledge of events would preclude Him from doing whatever he wants when He wants to do it. If our future is immutable, God has no free will to change it, even if He somehow exists outside of space and time which blah blah blah re-read the first part of this entry. In the case that God could use his omnipotence to manipulate events to make them turn out as He wishes, He couldn't know he was going to do so prior to taking such action. Again, if God "chooses" not to know the future in order to take certain actions, He is still a slave to the future He could  know. Are you getting a headache?

It’s called a one-way street, people. Either God is omniscient and there is no free will and no omnipotence, or God is not all-knowing which allows for free will. Personally, if god does know it all, I would appreciate an answer as to why Paula Abdul was ever on a panel of judges overseeing a singing competition.

By now the believer will start arguing along the lines that God's knowledge somehow differs from knowledge as we know it. Sure, but then it's not what we call "knowledge", is it? What I'm implying here is that believers don't really have a clue what they're talking about when they say God is omnipotent or all-knowing.

Okay, now it’s wrestle with God's supposed goodness. Given the Judeo-Christian scriptures or the Koran, it's hard to believe that this deity is universally benevolent. In the Old Testament (OT) this god is one bloodthirsty SOB who has Hell set up by the time the New Testament (NT) rolls around. Given the Bible in particular, it cannot be concluded that God is all-good because conditions exist to acquire the benefits of God's benevolence. For God to be as wonderful as believers usually claim, God's benevolence would have to be completely unconditional, meaning that even atheists would get to go to Heaven if Heaven exists. Although, can anyone give me an example of any completely unconditional act of benevolence? Even altruistic people do what they do to make themselves feel better or score “karma points,” which is their condition for committing to such acts. Altruistic people, or gods, cannot escape the reasons or conditions for doing what they do. The notion of love, for example, being ‘unconditional’ is nonsense.

Because God’s love is conditional we can infer that any existent god is not unconditionally benevolent. Duh. This is in fact what makes the notion of believing any particular religion worthwhile. Belivers of organized religion follow certain rules in hopes of reaping the benefits of God's love. But if we're all God's creation as believers claim, why should God choose to be good to some people and not others? Why not just make life wonderful for everyone or make a world where it’s impossible to bend His rules? Perhaps the creations are flawed, but then why would there be a flaw in God's design? This might suggest that the deity in question is flawed as well unless, well, this is the way the believer’s god wants things to be. Since suffering exists and we cannot be sure why, God no longer seems to be such a nice guy. In fact, He seems like a prick.

Theistic objection: “We suffer because God gave us free will. Free will is really important to God because He wants you to choose to follow Him.” Let me get this straight; God wants us to choose to follow Him but if we don’t choose to we have to suffer for it? I don’t see the logic in a god creating such a situation. It’s the equivalent of wanting a romantic interest to be with you of their own free will but if they choose not to be with you, you’re prepared to kill them. Nice.


We're not done just yet. By what standard is God's goodness judged? For God to be considered good He must be capable of evil, otherwise He is simply amoral. God can only be good if He is allowed to make choices. If we retread God's omniscience a moment and are faced with the proposition that ifGod has no free will, He is not good. Again, if there is no real choice, He is amoral. Now, if God is good, there must exist a standard of goodness apart from this divine entity that we are using to come to the conclusion that this god is good. This would allow atheists to be as moral as anyone else. If we take the position that this deity is the standard of goodness (a usual theistic defense) then God may do anything He wants and we would have to conclude what He does is good despite any evidence to the contrary. Then, if God did do something wrong or evil or lied to us, we couldn't know as much because the definition of God automatically leads us to believe that everything He does is good. Talk about being able to get away with murder!


Theistic objection: "Yes, there is evil in the universe, but it is actually all for the greater good of God's plan." I might buy this if it could be demonstrated that anyone knows what this ‘plan’ is. If we were planning to rob a bank together and I told you that for you to be shot and killed by the police was for the greater good of my plan, it's unlikely that you would go with me on the heist.


Now we turn to God's appearance. If we could see God what would He look like? Or, if we saw God would our eyes melt? The monotheistic believers like to think of God on human terms. They have prescribed Him a gender. So, if God has a penis, we might assume that He has a face, arms, legs, etc. Although, if God does have a dick, I wonder why He made Adam first…Anyway, theists do this so that it's easier to relate to their gods. I mean, how promiscuous was Zeus? Ah, those wacky Greeks. If God is indeed human-like in appearance, this is a minor concern. All we may infer from it is that God likely possesses other human like qualities, such as being the squirrelly boss no one likes.

Epicurus made a poignant observation about the attributes of God over 2,300 years ago. As he put it: If God is willing to prevent evil but cannot, God is impotent. If God is able and not willing, (He) is malevolent. If God is both willing and able, then why is there evil? The traditional qualities of the monotheistic god as we have laid them out here are largely not reconcilable with each other. This doesn’t prevent believers from going through incredible contortions of reasoning to defend them, however. Of course, the more contorting you have to do, the more likely you are to lose at Twister.


Is it possible that the qualities ascribed to God are merely the attributes that people wished they possessed? Who wouldn't want to know everything or have such incredible power? People certainly wish they were perfect. However, in failing to be so they have imagined an idol they can look up to and try to emulate. I suppose in the case of God, it seems the more perfect people wish they could be, the more imaginative they really are. Well, it's okay to be imaginative. Being unrealistic and confused is another matter though, and that's exactly what the traditionally mentioned deity's definition is. Perhaps believers should come up with a less confusing and a more likely description of God if they want to be taken seriously. They should be careful, though. They wouldn't want them to rob God of His incredible essence, unless of course God is incredible because of  His convoluted definition. Well then, that would be extra hard to believe now wouldn't it?

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