Saturday, November 06, 2010

A stupid question

PZ Myers maintains his stance that you cannot convince him any God exists.

He's right, you know. Fundamentally, the sentence "God exists" is not literally meaningful, even in the loosest sense. It is a mistake, I think, to so easily concede that the statement "God exists" is literally meaningful. As Myers notes, to make the statement meaningful would entail a definition of God that most modern theists would find more objectionable than atheism, [UTA:] and we know of no such beings that actually exist. Alternatively, most atheists who blithely accept the meaning of this statement conflate "God" with "that which causes unexplained phenomena." But of course we are presently surrounded by unexplained phenomena, hence a vigorous and persistent scientific profession. If we sincerely believe that unexplained phenomena are by definition evidence of a god, we should all be theists.

Either way, I think the proper response to the question, "Do you believe any god exists?" is, "What the fuck do you mean by 'god'?" Furthermore, we should respond to the doubletalk and mumbo-jumbo spouted by theologians, apologists and the occasional philosopher with a similar question: what the fuck do you mean by "the ground of all being"? What the fuck do you mean by "that which we cannot speak positively about"? In general, "I'm entirely unimpressed that you can string a lot of fifty-cent words together in complex sentences; what the fuck are you talking about?"

The statement "God exists" is really a idiom for, "Do what I tell you to do, because you are a miserable, despicable sinner." Because I refuse under all conceivable circumstances to subordinate my own moral conscience to another's — all anyone can do is coerce my compliance, which requires guns, not gods — nothing can therefore convince me that any gods exist; the two statements are identical and I categorically reject both.

[Thanks to Dan for the update.]

12 comments:

  1. Personally, I don't really see the problem in including D&D-style superhuman entities in the god category. That's, I think, been the idea for a significantly longer time than the nebulous, modern, "sophisticated" god. And I think it'd be silly to be an atheist in the sense I am in a D&D setting with gods, because they clearly exist, and give their followers magic powers and stuff. I don't think it's "sneaky," as PZ says, to include them. I'm pretty sure Batman and Tiger Woods don't qualify as D&D type gods, either.

    But, you and he are right that those sorts of gods have serious problems. For one, they clearly don't exist in our vicinity. Catholic priests can't cast cure light wounds, even though Jesus pretty much said they should be able to. For two, they completely fail at justifying the things that theists want them to justify. Why should I worship a D&D god? Either for rewards, or because they'll beat the shit out of me if I don't. In no sense are they inherently worthy of worship (not that I think anything really could be). And they don't provide any justification for ethics. Old testament Yahweh is clearly a bad guy, not the source of all morality.

    To overcome this, theologians and philosophers try to move away from the anthropomorphic gods, and at that point, I agree, it's word salad. I have no idea how you could convice me some entity is omnipotent in some rarefied philosophical sense. But I don't really have a problem saying that Q, if he existed, could be called a god. You could say, "he's just a very powerful alien," but I'd probably say, "that's pretty much what a god is." That's what a lot of god concepts are.

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  2. All what this Dan personage is telling about the "Q" and stuff being like a God is just takeing direct from "STAR TREK" the Next Generation. "Q" was a mischievous type, a alien also, who done tons of bad stuff to the Enterprize crew. "Q" has got nothing to do with PZ Myers, D=D, or anything, it's STAR TEK!!!
    Huh, so what's the point and stuff to present all difficult to understand ideas when one it is really about is STAR TREK?

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  3. Huh, so what's the point and stuff to present all difficult to understand ideas when one it is really about is STAR TREK?

    Basically, we have the theists "hopping from leg to leg", in my friend Dagood's terminology. Sure, it might be possible for Star Trek-like paranormally powerful aliens to exist, but theists use this sort of possibility on one leg, then "hop" to the other leg and thus declare their incoherent, mystical deities possible in the same sense, which they're not.

    Furthermore, since Star Trek aliens are possible, lack of evidence is sufficient to justify disbelief: I do not believe that any such being as Q actually exists. The disbelief is provisional: if new evidence comes to light, I'll revise my beliefs, but until then, the non-existence of such beings is the simplest explanation for the facts presently in evidence.

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  4. Q is a character on Star Trek. He lives in a parallel dimension called the Q continuum, and has seemingly magical powers to bend certain aspects of reality to his whims. He typically screws with the rest of the cast for his own amusement. In one episode, he bestows similar magic powers on Riker for a little while.

    In D&D, gods are entities that live in various parallel dimensions or "planes," but they have seemingly magical powers to bend certain aspects of reality to their whims. Many occasionally concoct schemes to dick around with the lesser beings and other gods. Many also have groups that worship them, and in return, the gods bestow magic powers on them.

    In Judaism and Christianity, Yahweh is a dude who lives in the clouds, or maybe a parallel dimension called heaven, and has seemingly magical powers to bend certain aspects of reality to his whims. For instance, he can create pillars of fire, or burning bushes that aren't really burning. He frequently screws with his chosen people, and others in their vicinity. For instance, ordering the chosen ones to go to war against some other people, and then actually killing more people with magic hail than the armies can kill. He sometimes gives certain special followers magic powers, like this guy Moses, who banged his walking stick against a rock, and made water come out.

    I thought the parallels were kind of obvious, honestly.

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  5. I thought the parallels were kind of obvious, honestly.

    Of course they are. And of course any time an atheist or critic of Christianity actually talks about those parallels, we're accused of knocking down a straw man, of addressing a naive theology that "everyone" understands is metaphorical.

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  6. Hey Barefoot Bum. I haven't checked out your blog for a while as commenting seemed to be off limits. But anyway, the following reminded me of what I read in and introduction to Augustine's booklet on free will.

    refuse under all conceivable circumstances to subordinate my own moral conscience to another's

    Apparently when you have someone on your own level as your master, you also their slave. So, if you refuse to be subordinate, you're subordinate to yourself. I haven't progressed much further. The guy writing the introduction, has the best sense of irony or he's serious and I can't see the point in continuing.

    Anyway, keep up the good work.

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  7. Apparently when you have someone on your own level as your master, you also their slave. So, if you refuse to be subordinate, you're subordinate to yourself.

    I dunno. Sounds like bullshit to me. Augustine was a clever guy, no doubt, a hundred times more clever than me, but he's not always smart, if you get my drift.

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  8. Generally, as far as I have seen, as well as being accused of knocking down a straw man etc we are given a Courtier's Reply.

    If I can be excused a more personal note, I'd like to say that I really miss the wit and wisdom of Larry at the discussion board I helped found.

    David B

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  9. I really miss the wit and wisdom of Larry at the discussion board I helped found.

    Which board was that? I've been kicked off too many to keep track.

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  10. And of course any time an atheist or critic of Christianity actually talks about those parallels, we're accused of knocking down a straw man

    Yeah. Although there's something I find more perplexing...

    Personally, I think it's entertaining to imagine what things would be like if there really were gods as described by various ancient peoples. I wouldn't want to live in such a universe, but the politics of gods makes for interesting reading, at least.

    However, I've actually seen people suggest that that is played out, and that it would be far more interesting to have a fantasy world with gods that are like 'real' gods. The mysterious, faith-based deities. What these folks never seem to acknowledge, though, is that the real world is simply one with no gods. We have people producing elaborate rationalizations for believing in the non-existent gods, but they're still rationalizations.

    And the worst part (if you ask me), is that fictional stories where the author sets up a bunch of unlikely events that ultimately leads the characters to say, "neener, neener, atheist. I'm going to unjustifiably conclude based on these fortunate events that there is a god*," does work to bolster these elaborate and silly rationalizations for believing in the god of philosophy.

    * You see this in almost every episode of House that deals with religion. The one amusing bit of this is that there actually is a god of philosophy from the point of view of the story: it's the author, directing the story in exactly the way he sees fit. I imagine people who intend to promote the 'nebulous god exists' message wouldn't readily admit that, though.

    Anyhow, I can get behind the idea of a fantasy world without deities, because the real world really is interesting enough without them. And it might be interesting to explore the idea of people believing in gods anyway in such a setting, if you're interested in psychology/etc. But I can't get behind the idea of a world where gods actually exist, yet act in the contrived ways that people have come up with in order to rationalize away their non-existence. Maybe it'd be more interesting to me if I needed a vehicle to buttress my own beliefs in such a god, though.

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  11. Not expecting this to be published, but since you ask, the board is Secular Cafe, easily found by clicking on my name.

    I first came across you as PLP on the Infidels DB, where I soon learned that if you posted something I disagreed with it was well worth me having a re-think. Sometimes after talking the issue over with you in thread, sometimes thinking it through and decided that I needed to change my mind about something, though I now forget most of the details.

    You weren't driven off Sec Cafe, but to my regret, and that of the other Admins who knew you of old, you walked away following someone disagreeing with you about something.

    You would be most welcome to look back in on us from time to time.

    BTW I found your blog via the link at Jesus and Mo

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  12. You weren't driven off Sec Cafe, but to my regret, and that of the other Admins who knew you of old, you walked away following someone disagreeing with you about something.

    Now I remember. It wasn't that she disagreed with me per se; her exquisitely arrogant stupidity reminded me that discussion board conversations give me more heartburn than satisfaction.

    You seem like an intelligent guy. Since I usually restrict myself to the obvious, I can't imagine you would disagree with me all that often.

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