Posts Tagged ‘God’
First off, don’t anyone get their knickers in a twist, this post is an exercise in logic and debate, not theology or metaphysics. I’m not attacking anyone’s faith, just discussing something that came up in an atheist/theist debate group I am in. A theist pointed out that when an atheist claims “There is no God,” why shouldn’t they have to prove their statement? Atheists are always shifting the burden of proof to the theists, why shouldn’t they have to prove their assertions?
It was an interesting argument, and whenever it’s raised, atheists generally explain seven ways from Sunday why the burden of proof is on the person claiming that their invisible supernatural friend is real. And then they fall back on the “you can’t prove a negative” canard. OK, true enough, I do actually think that the burden of proof is on theists, but just for the purposes of debate, let’s grant the point and see where it goes. First we run right into our familiar “can’t prove a negative” canard. I say canard because there are a vast array of circumstances where it is most definitely possible to prove something isn’t possible, in some ways math and science is based on proving negatives. Can one divide 13 by 2 and get an even number? No, and vastly more complex negatives than that can be proven.
So I’m up to the challenge, can I prove that God doesn’t exist? And here we come to the first problem, what, exactly, do we mean by God? And to avoid a lot of discussion and codicils, I’m going to cut right to the chase. Who is usually the one asking atheists to prove there is no God? Evangelical Christians primarily, but fundamentalists in all the Abrahamaaic faiths have been known to raise the question. So for purposes of our discussion, I am going to try and disprove the literal existence of the Old Testament Biblical God. We’ll call him God for simplicity’s sake. I am going with three lines of argument. Lack of evidence, similarity to other supernatural mythical figures, and psychological/cultural need for.
The first thing is that there is no empirical evidence for him. Science had shown by the late 18th century that the events described in Genesis didn’t happen. The Earth is billions of years old, and there was never any global flood, certainly not in human times. And none of God’s appearances in the Bible are documented by anything even remotely resembling historically trustworthy standards. At best the evidence for God is anecdotal, often FOAF (friend of a friend) anecdotal, including evidence for his supernatural powers. And not only is there no evidence for God, there are no gaps in our scientific understanding of the Universe that require a God to fill. There are those that would dispute all these points, but the vast majority of modern educated people, including huge numbers of theists, would grant them. (I didn’t say I would convince anyone, I’m just making my case for the premise God doesn’t exist.)
Secondly, the Old Testament is not the only ancient text that references supernatural beings. Humans have worshipped thousands of Gods, some very similar to the God of Abraham, most very very different. And humans have recognized thousands of prophets, Jesus was by no means a one shot deal. And prophets have followed him, some with large numbers of followers who claim Jesus foreshadowed their real prophet. Like Joseph Smith for example. And innumerable sacred texts like the Bible. Hell, even what is exactly meant by the Old Testament varies depending on whom one asks. My point here is that there is a vast canon of literature about Gods and prophets, the old testament god is nothing special. Again, I suspect that most educated people, including many theists, would agree with this. Some wouldn’t.
Lastly, I think there are powerful reasons why the idea of God would naturally appeal to people, and powerful reasons why some people would encourage the idea. I will go into more detail, but this quote sums it up
“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful”. – Seneca (ca. 4 BC –AD 65)
A lot of people very much want an authority figure to explain a confusing and sometimes painful world to them. Religion fits the bill nicely. And there’s plenty of people perfectly happy to use religion to enhance their social status and manipulate the common people. This is probably the least debatable of my three points, which may explain why Evangelicals avoid it like the plague. There are powerful social and psychological reasons why faith and religion exist and prosper, the fact that we find variations of it in all human cultures testifies to that.
Add these three points together, and I think this is a powerful argument that the God of the Old Testament is no more real than Thor or Santa Claus. The arguments I have heard claiming otherwise have been weak at best, but if anyone has a new angle I would be glad to hear the argument as to why your particular God is the God and the rest are all imaginary. I think it’s interesting that a number of faiths, even ones with Abrahamaaic roots, have adopted to the arguments above and have adopted their beliefs to be in line with modern scientific thinking.
And others have dug in their heels and would rather we all die than admit that Genesis was allegorical. What the hell is up with that? Tomorrow’s blog post, maybe.
(The above post is being used legally as it is a NASA image, credit and copyright: Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), C. Conselice (U. Wisconsin/STScI) et al., NASA. It’s a warped spiral galaxy. Most spiral galaxies are flat, some are deformed by near misses or collisions with other galaxies. I chose it because it shows the universe we live in is grand and amazing and awe inspiring … without any God required.)
Yes, the last post was going somewhere. Or at least I thought when I wrote it, it was an extemporaneous post, so I’ll see if I can pick up on it. In the previous post I tried to make the case that the Universe we live in is vastly larger and more complicated than humans can really comprehend. That’s not to say scientists haven’t made great strides in understanding the Universe around us, on the contrary, our understanding of the broad strokes so to speak is breathtaking. It’s just that it’s clear that there is vastly more to learn, and the Universe is richer and more complicated than humans ever dreamt of until recently. In the mid nineteenth century scientists actually thought they were on the verge of figuring it all out so to speak, boy, were they wrong.
So that’s the science and limits of human knowledge part. Now we come to the atheism and religion part. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately in the Yahoo Answers Religion and Spirituality section. An experience I strongly advise against, it would be more aptly named Evangelical Trolls vs. Atheist Trolls. Leave it to people with no feelings, decency, and common sense … like professional bloggers for example. And I noted a common theme there among the science deniers, primarily Evolution and Big Bang deniers, but they usually generalize to all science. And the theme is this, they are constantly looking for gaps in scientific knowledge, and using same to claim that science doesn’t have all the answers. The implication being that if science can’t explain it, a supernatural agency must be the cause.
There’s two major problems with this line of reasoning. The first, as I laid out in my premise, is that there are always going to be gaps in scientific knowledge. The second problem is that because science doesn’t understand something, doesn’t mean there must be a supernatural explanation. As a long time student of science and the history of science, I can safely say that it’s almost unknown for a scientist to say “science can’t explain this, so God must have done it.” And in the past 400 years, as science has expanded its knowledge of our Universe, there’s always been some religious type claiming “Science doesn’t understand this!” Then when science does indeed understand it, the religious type just moves the goalpost to some new area that science hasn’t yet explored. And it goes on. At this point one would think that literal Bible defenders would long ago have realized that challenging science to explain some unknown aspect of reality is a lost cause. It’s clear now that the amazing Universe we live in is in fact internally self consistent, and that no invisible hand of God is required to make it work.
Which brings me to my thought, and the reason I am rambling on about this nonsense instead of pounding my forehead bloody on my keyboard parsing the Olympic class nonsense certain Republican candidates are espousing. My thought is, why the hell are Evangelicals so terrified of science? At this point huge numbers of religious people have accepted science for a century or more. The vast majority of my friends and relatives practise a religion to some degree, and they all have no problem with the scientific understanding of the Universe. Why do the Evangelicals reject the scientific understanding of the Universe? I used to think that it was because it contradicted Genesis, and they were threatened by anything that made out the Bible to be less than perfect, and reduced man’s central role in their ideology.
And, to a certain extent, that’s still true. I think there’s a deeper reason though. They are afraid of God. Or more on point, they are afraid of a God that makes their petulant, one dimensional, predictable, old testament God look like a loser. If God created the Universe with the Big Bang, which scientifically is the only viable God hypothesis remaining, it means God created a Universe that is almost infinitely grander than the fairy tale posited in Genesis. An entire Universe sprung from a single point, expanding and evolving and creating new stars and galaxies and forms of life for billions of years, with no end in sight. A Universe so magnificent and complex and perfect on so many levels that humans will never be able to completely understand and comprehend every aspect of it. A Universe where God is truly grander than the insignificant worms crawling around on a minor planet orbiting a minor star. A Universe where God expected people to think for themselves, not base their lives and morality on the pronouncements of a talking bush. A Universe where God is real, not just a fairy tale in an old book.
That’s what truly frightens Evangelicals and why they are still sticking their heads in the sand centuries after science showed that Genesis cannot literally be true. If they admit science is true, then they have to admit that the God of science is far greater and far more frightening than the Teddy Bear God they cling to so fiercely. A God that expects his creations to act like grown ups and think for themselves, not scared little children repeating their lessons. Evangelicals are like children telling ghost stories around a fire, terrified of the dark … and even more terrified to throw more wood on the fire to see what’s actually out there.
“But of the tree of the knowledge of science, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
(The above image as created by me, not God, using the tools of science. Credit and copyright: Doug Stych © 2012, all rights reserved. I used the image because it gives me pleasure. Tomorrow, back to ranting about something or other. )
God is in his corner office, sitting at his desk, creating new stars, galaxies, and forms of life … as he has done dutifully six days a week for billions of years. St Peter walks in.
St. Peter: “My Lord, I have a message from the Pope, supreme leader of one of your fan clubs on Earth.”
God: “The guys who think I sent my son on a suicide mission to show them I loved them, what is it this time?”
St. Peter: “They want to know your official position on the wearing of little rubber hats on their male reproductive organs while they have sex.”
God: “Peter, I’m really busy today, I don’t have time for jokes.”
St. Peter: “No, he is really serious. Apparently this is a matter of considerable importance to him.”
God: “He … really … thinks I care about how he decorates his dick during sex? What’s next, he’s going to want my opinion of what reproductive organ should be placed in what bodily orifice while they screw?”
St. Peter: “Well, now that you mention it, yes, he also has some questions along those lines.”
God: “I was joking!”
St. Peter: “I wasn’t my Lord, apparently him and many people on Earth are quite concerned about this issue, mating genders, orifices, they have even killed each other over it.”
God: “They’ve killed each other over disagreements about who and how people should have sex with?”
St. Peter: “Yes my Lord.”
God: “The fact that their entire planet is filled with animals and plants, including their near relatives, that are happily engaged in a vast array of consensual mating activities hasn’t suggested to them that sex is a good thing, and I couldn’t care less about them doing it however they please?”
St. Peter: “They seem to think they are a special case my Lord, and that you would have specific requirements for them in the realm of sexual activity.”
God: “Jesus Christ!”
Jesus (from next room): “Yo, dad?”
God: “Nothing, go back to your PS3.” (Sound of muffled explosions and gunfire resumes from the next room.)
God: “So this really isn’t some elaborate joke you and Satan cooked up on your rafting trip last week?”
St. Peter: “I wish it was my Lord.”
God (facepalms): “So do I Peter, so do I.”
(The above image is hundreds of years old and thus is no longer copyrighted. Well, at least until SOPA II is passed. If people like this, I may write more. There’s a lot of things that could go on in God’s office. Copyright © 2012 Doug Stych, All Rights Reserved.)
The people in the above photograph are all dead. Most of them have been dead for decades, some of them more than likely were dead within a few years or less of the date when this photograph was taken. They are German and British troops on Christmas day, 1914. In the two years since I originally posted this image and below post I am more than ever convinced that people, left to their own devices, will get along just fine. When was the last time the gentle reader went out and tried to kill their neighbours? I suspect that for most if not all readers, the answer is “never.” Yet as I type governments and insurgents around the world are killing people, most of them innocent of any wrongdoing. Organized mass murder is the most popular “sport” on the planet … and some wonder why the aliens haven’t contacted us yet?
In 1914 during the First World War, something remarkable happened. In parts of the front lines on the western front, soldiers on both sides declared an informal and unofficial truce on Christmas Day. After months of bloodshed and horror in the trenches like the world had never known, the protagonists not only laid down their arms, in many cases they fraternized and socialized together. As well they used the opportunity to both safely retrieve the dead from no man’s land, and safely transport the wounded away from the front lines. Leaders on both sides were so moved and shamed by their troops courage in seeking peace with their enemies, that they heeded the Pope’s call for a negotiated end to the war, thus saving countless lives and ending a bloody pointless war less than six months after it had started.
I jest. In actuality, leaders of both sides were horrified by the truce, and went to great lengths to downplay it, deny it, and make sure it never happened again. There were minor outbreaks of peace on subsequent Christmases, but widespread artillery bombardments on Christmas Eves did a pretty good job of discouraging the idea that their opponents were human beings. Such is the evil of war, that the leaders of both sides colluded to continue the slaughter rather than encourage peace.
On this Christmas Day I hope that the memory of this event serves to show us that people want peace, and left to their own devices peace is what they do. Most humans by nature would rather make love than war. It is our leaders, and their lies, madness, stupidity, and greed, that lead us into war. As the world slips further into insanity and yet another terrible world war looms on the horizon, I can only hope that enough people everywhere , of all faiths, choose peace rather than war. We are all brothers and sisters in God’s eyes, Dear God give us the strength to act like it.
The story of the Christmas Truce can be read here, with many links to other resources on this little known chapter in the history of peace. The last known survivor of the Christmas truce died in 2005, his story is here. God rest his soul.
And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
Since I wrote the preceding in 2008 I have become an atheist … and have become ever more passionate in my understanding that there is no such thing as a “just” war. Violence is the problem, not the solution. And all too often God is used to justify said violence, something that would bother him immensely if he actually existed. This is my favourite religious reading, and I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it before: God Angrily Clarifies “Don’t Kill” rule.
25 December 2010
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Peace on Earth and Good Will to All!
(The above image predates 1923 and is public domain under US copyright law.)