Friday, November 16, 2007

Is God Imaginary?

I am responding here to a blogger named Thom (The Beauty of Grace). Although I intend to respond to some of his posts here, I don’t plan to quote everything he said. If any reader wants to see Thom’s comments please click on the links below the main articles.

Hello Thom. Welcome to my blog. Thank you for your comments. I’m interested to find the path you took to reach me because I had never heard of although I am quite familiar with as evidenced by the fact that I provide links to that site in multiple places. But the blogosphere is too vast for anyone to keep track of it. Anyway, I’m glad you pointed it out to me.

I appreciate your cordiality and graciousness in your posts. Sadly that is not always the case with theists who post here. However, I have a feeling that you will soon become frustrated with my blog because it is clearly and without question atheistic while having a firm grounding in Judeo-Christian theology. It will be nigh impossible to sneak simple theistic arguments by me since I have been a master of such arguments myself in my past life. When you say that you are interested in reading what I have written I interpret that to mean that you are interested in seeing how you can attack my premises and circumvent the purpose of my blog. I don’t intend to discourage you from this endeavor. In fact, I welcome it. I am confident that you have nothing new to offer in the way of Christian apologetics or theistic rationalization. Do your worst. I have no fear. You are fighting from a position of weakness and will fail miserably. And I love you no less for all that.

Now, let’s get down to brass tacks. You make a proposition that needs to be addressed. You say “I am assuming that anyone who claims Atheism is asserting at least some confidence in the non-existence of any God.” That’s stating the obvious but okay. You go on to say, “Now, from a science perspective, I hear that God is un-provable, so therefore He does not exist.” I would go even further and say that whether inside or outside of science God is unverifiable. It is all hearsay and opinion. But without further ado, let us proceed to your proposition.

You say, “I propose that since science, by definition, is limited to the ‘natural’ world, that by declaring the possibility of the existence of a ‘supernatural’ world - meaning a world that is not bound by nor even operating under natural law - the possibility, then, of God does exist.” That’s quite a mouthful. Basically you wish to declare the existence of an unknowable and unexplainable realm (apparently by fiat) in order to justify the existence of an unknowable and unexplainable being. Have you ever heard of Occam’s Razor? I suppose we could go on infinitely positing fantastical ideas but how does that make it any more likely to be true? It seems to me that the more we multiply entities (or realms) the more farfetched the whole notion becomes. With a supernatural being we have one item for which we have neither adequate description nor validation. After you posit your “supernatural world”, we have simply added an item to that list. It sounds to me like we are doing nothing but making our task more difficult. Aside from that, I think the very concept of “supernatural” is nonsense.

There is nothing except nature. We define what exists as nature. It’s very simply put thus: Existents exist. Nature is what is. Additionally, all things are defined by their nature. It doesn’t mean anything to say something is outside of or above or beyond nature. We obviously don’t know the extent of existence nor do we completely understand everything of which we are aware, but the natural universe is the sum total of all that exists – by any definition of existence. Let’s say that something exists or functions in some way outside of the laws we have heretofore recognized. That does not put it outside of the universe or outside of nature. It just means that we need to re-evaluate our understanding of the universe. But there wouldn’t be much point in modifying our understanding of natural reality on pure speculation. Perhaps there is a being that can create things by sheer force of will. Perhaps it can somehow defy the currently understood limitations of nature. If so, these abilities would be part of that beings nature – its attributes. But it would only be unnatural if we were to cling to our outdated understanding of nature. Once a being like that is discovered, everything about it would need to be incorporated into our understanding of nature. There would never be a need for a supernatural realm.

Your casual dismissal of the example of the Flying Spaghetti Monster tells me you don’t even understand the point of it. I hope you do not think anyone seriously believes in the FSM. It was created as a demonstration of how one could posit any being at all and claim that it was supernatural with just as much validity as any god. The only thing that makes the notion of God more respectable is how long that particular myth has persisted. It makes no difference if we are positing gods, unicorns, leprechauns, the FSM or a fire-breathing chicken. If one must rely on tradition or the testimony of others to ascertain the existence of any such being, they all have the same chance of being real. I say the chance is, at best, negligible. That’s being very generous. It is so unlikely that the only sensible thing to do is to ignore it. As my Dad used to say, “The chances are slim and none. And slim just left town.” By your reasoning, anything at all might exist. We should be open to the possibility that it might rain gumdrops next Tuesday. What we are talking about here is the logical fallacy known as “The Argument from Ignorance.” The classic example is Bertrand Russell’s china teapot orbiting the Sun between Earth and Mars. It might exist. You cannot prove that it doesn’t.

Theists have probably always argued that since you can’t prove God does not exist you should assume he does exist. If we grant there is a chance that God exists, the next step is to say, “Do you want to risk his wrath by assuming that he doesn’t?” Pascal’s Wager is a prime example of this rationale. This is the way that many people are suckered into religion. The point is that it is not up to the atheist to disprove anything. People just don’t operate on the “Believe whatever is not disproven” philosophy. We would be crazy to do so. In the case of any proposition, it is up to the claimant to substantiate his claim. There is no substantiation for the claim that God exists and therefore we have no need to even entertain it as a possibility. Whether you assume God does exist or that he does not exist, there is no difference at all in the way the universe works. The entire idea has zero value.

You repeat that science is, by definition, limited to the five natural senses. I disagree with this statement. Science is not limited to the five natural senses. Only our ability to observe is thus limited. We are limited to our natural senses but only for direct observation. Since we are humans, human science is primarily based on what we can perceive in some way. But it is not limited to mere observation. Reason is a much more important part of science than simple observation. By couching your argument this way you try to eliminate reason and rationality as major components of our understanding.

Now let’s look at your example of the ancient belief that the earth was flat and compare it to belief in God. When people were so ignorant of the facts that they believed the earth was flat and the center of the universe, they also believed, at this time, that there was a magical being in the sky called God who would answer prayers and promised an afterlife and blessings for obedience to him. The notions about the earth were based on what limited observations the people could make along with a limited amount of deductive reasoning. The notions of God were based on no observation at all but on what was passed down through tradition.

Today, we have many more facts about the earth and we know that it is an oblate spheroid that rotates on its axis and orbits a star we call the Sun or Sol which is one of billions of stars in the spiral galaxy we call the Milky Way. Our observations and reasoning about the earth have grown exponentially over the span of a few thousand years. Human understanding of God has had the same amount of time to evolve and grow, but nothing has changed. People still believe there is a magical being in the sky called God who answers prayers and promises an afterlife and blessings for obedience to him.

I just don’t see the sense in clinging to such stagnant superstitions. The only effects of belief are psychological. Some might be considered beneficial. Many are impediments to progress. Some are outright dangerous. I personally think the time has come for people to stop perpetuating useless ancient myths and superstitions. Reality is not a maleable concept.

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