Thursday, March 4, 2010

"I was God once." "Yes, I saw. You were doing well until everyone died."

I'm talking out of my ass, won't you join me?

One of the things my brain does, when it's not being required to do anything important, is concoct scenarios in which a personal god makes sense. I've said numerous times that I'm not really an atheist, because I don't actively believe that the existence of "god" is impossible. What I'm relatively sure about, is that organized religion is, more or less, complete nonsensical superstition wrapped around a few universal truths that you could learn just as easily by opening your eyes. Christianity's version of god simply doesn't gel with reality, as far as I can see. To my knowledge, neither does anyone else's. Well, maybe the Greeks. The reason I say that is because the Greek gods were flawed. All of the traits, good and bad, that humans, and pretty much everything in existence, have, the gods had also.

Christians need god to be perfect. Well, why is it that such a perfect thing, that you believe created everything, has shown himself incapable of creating anything perfectly? Maybe you're putting too much pressure on him. For all we really know, maybe direction of the supernatural is just a skill set that this guy happens to have, and just like anything else, it seems miraculous and amazing to people who can't do it. Playing guitar is impossible to do until you learn how to do it. What if the same reality applies to things like directing evolution or whatever reasonable theists think god does? If we say, for the sake of argument, that a personal god does exist, and we also accept the fact of Evolutionary Theory, then it looks to me that what we could infer is that god didn't have a goal, started simply, like a novice, and got better and capable of more complexity as time (lots and lots of time) went on.

So what if god is good, but he's not perfect? Maybe all those times that people feel like things worked out so perfectly that god must've been involved, he was, and he's happy he could help. But all those times that things couldn't have possibly worked out worse, he couldn't make it, there's a lot of people on the earth and hey, they all got problems, but he's really sorry. Hopefully, he can get you next time. Maybe we really are "made in his image" but what that really means is that, just like us, most of the time god is good, but he can be a real disappointing bastard sometimes, too.

In such an obviously imperfect world, why do we need to believe in a perfect deity? Why would we even think it possible? To me, if god exists, he has to feel like C-3P0, surrounded by adorable, and well meaning, but painfully misguided Ewoks.


  1. Do you read Adbusters at all? If not, you might want to check it out. This article - "God Fearing vs. God Sneering" by David Loy - was in a 2007 issue that I was going through again last night. The only online version is from a forum, and I haven't checked to see what they said about it. Anyway, here's the link:

  2. Do Christians need to believe in a perfect God? That is sort of like asking ‘do Christians need to believe in Christ’? Christianity just is, among other things, the belief in a maximally powerful, knowledgeable, beautiful, good, unchanging God. If they give up on that, they cease to be Christians in any interesting sense.
    A lot of people, even professing theists, don’t have a clear idea of what we believe God is. God isn’t merely another being in the universe who happens to be much smarter and more powerful than ourselves. A God like that, as with the gods of Greek mythology, would be consistent with metaphysical Naturalism. If he were like that, he wouldn’t be worthy of our worship anymore than the smartest and strongest humans among us are worthy of our worship.
    The God of classical Theism is a necessary being. He could not have not existed. He brought the universe into existence and sustains it from moment to moment. Furthermore, he is not only really really smart, and really really powerful, and really really good. He is the standard by which we use those words. If Theism is true, when we use words like ‘good’ and ‘beautiful’ and ‘powerful’, we mean that any given thing stands in a certain relation to God. Looking for goodness, strength, knowledge and beauty independent of God is impossible- like looking for color without light.
    Theists do run into a problem here though: the problem of evil. Very often, this certainly doesn’t seem like the sort of world that was created and is sustained by God. Though the world is wonderful in so many ways, we can imagine it a little bit better. If God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, then surely he could have easily prevented the recent earthquakes in Haiti, for instance. Or maybe encouraged Mr. And Mrs. Hitler to go out that night instead of staying in to make little Adolf. God could have at least prevented me from burning my toast this morning. Is that so much to ask? Or is God just some well meaning but ultimately bumbling idiot?
    The problem of evil attempts to show that if we want to continue to believe in God, we need to give up at least one of his traditional attributes. Maybe God is all good and all powerful, but he just doesn’t know how to prevent some evil. Maybe he knows about all of it and is willing to help, but he just doesn’t have the power. Or maybe he knows about and is able to prevent all evil, but isn’t really a good God. The attempt to reconcile all of God’s attributes with the existence of evil in the world is called theodicy. Many of these accounts have been offered throughout the history of Christianity.
    There is something revealing about the problem of evil though, and in a way I think it is actually a very strong argument for Theism. We all have an idea of how we think the universe could be better, or how it ought to be. We’re upset because this world doesn’t seem right for us, or at any rate, not right enough. This is a very strong intuition. But if Naturalism is true, that intuition is false. The world just is as it is, and it’s stupid to be upset about it. Theists attempt to give an account of why God permits so much evil in the world. A Naturalist though, will just have to accept that in a chance universe made up of matter colliding into other matter, shit just happens. Sometimes one set of animals (The Nazis) does horrible things to another set of animals (The Jews), and that’s just the way it is. Sometimes the shifting of tectonic plates causes earthquakes that kill thousands of people. It happens. You may not like it (I certainly don’t), but that is irrelevant if you are a Naturalist.

  3. Come on, man, at least cite Epicurus.

  4. Truth never cares if we like it or not. I'm not going to buy into an explanation simply because it provides me with a more favorable outlook or fulfills more of my wishful thinking than another. That's what theism sounds like.

    I wonder where the Hebrews got the idea that god is ALL-powerful, ALL-knowing, and ALL-good. Did someone dreamily muse "Hey guys, you know what I love? Wandering aimlessly through the desert! Surely G-d is the standard by which we must judge goodness!"

    If it exists at all, to me, the "evidence" suggests more of a "god" and less of a "G-d." Maybe it's less "all-knowing," and more "knows a lot." Less "all-good" and more "pretty good."

    Can you know the artist by simply studying the art? Wouldn't a perfect artist paint a perfect picture because all things done by his perfect hand would be an extension of that perfection? If the art is flawed, what does it teach us about the artist, assuming that said artist exists?

  5. Teresa,
    It didn't occur to me when I typed that, but your right. That is basically paraphrasing him.
    So here it is: Thanks Epicurus.

  6. Taylor,
    You said you were unwilling to believe an explanation only because it fulfills more of your wishful thinking. I think that is a perfectly appropriate and noble attitude to take, and I can understand why theism sounds like wishful thinking. It is wishful thinking. From a theist’s perspective, that is why it is such a relief to discover it is true. I would never tell someone they should believe in Theism only because it is a much nicer thing to believe than Naturalism. However, I have noticed that very few atheists seem to see how colossal the implications for accepting Naturalism are. If Naturalism is true, aesthetic and moral properties almost certainly do not exist. Furthermore, if our minds were created by a process whose goal was not the production of true beliefs, we have no reason to think that they are reliable for anything other than survival and reproducing. That would entail that Naturalism is incompatible with science and philosophy. It’s a little ironic, but I actually think that evolution is incompatible with atheism.
    But as long as we’re talking about wish fulfillment, from my experience people are more inclined to want to believe in an imperfect deity than a perfect one. It feels nice to believe in a God when the weather is nice outside, when your feeling especially loving toward your wife or child, and when things are generally going well. And it is extremely convenient to disbelieve in a perfect God when in your proud moments you desire totally autonomy, or when you are compelled to do something you know that a perfect God would disapprove of. Who in their right mind would invent a God that knows us so intimately and expects so much from us?
    Presumably, if classical theism is true, the Hebrew people got the idea of an omniscient omnipotent, omnibenevolent God from God. Obviously if it is false they got it from somewhere else, but it does seem strange that the Jews would have invented a figure of God that was so critical of his own chosen people.
    I was glad you used the example of art, though there is another way of looking at it. It is impossible to tell what counts as an imperfection in a piece of art unless you know what the artist is trying to do. If theism is true, God permits evil to bring about something better than could be without it, but we don’t really know what exactly God is trying to do.
    Maybe a better analogy for our situation in this world is that it is more like a piece of literature. God could have told a story where creation contained a long list of nice and pleasant things- where everyone was superficially happy and naively obedient to God. That would be nice, I guess, but not a very satisfying or rewarding story. All of the best, most beautiful stories contain a struggle with evil, and an eventual overcoming of it. Maybe of all the worlds that God could have created, the best one entailed incarnation, atonement, grace, and an ethic of altruism between God and his creatures- and that entailed Sin. Maybe our struggling with evil is making us more suited to spend eternity with God and with each other.

  7. Hey Travis,
    The consistent theme in your comments is always, "If Naturalism is true, then nothing makes sense / Things only make sense if Theism is true." Which is, I think, an incomplete statement. I think what you mean to say, or at least what I think you should mean to say, is "If Naturalism is true, then nothing makes sense (to me) / Things only make sense (to me) if Theism is true."
    I don't have any problem making sense of altruism, art, or evolution without postulating deities, but if I know anything about life, it's that no two people think exactly alike.

    The description of god that you prescribe to, seems about as believable as the one that I proposed, even if the evidence does seem to sway my way. ;-) Yeah, I'm using emoticons to imply levity. The difference is that I KNOW I'm talking out of my ass. ;-) See, I did it again.

  8. Taylor,
    Maybe I'm failing to see myself clearly (that's always possible), but I don't think that my dissatisfaction with Naturalism's ability to offer a robust worldview that permits the intelligibility of ethics, aesthetics, science, and reason is a subjective claim. Regardless of how I personally feel about the matter, Naturalism is either able to provide a basis for the validity of our mental endeavors, or it is not. I'm not convinced that it can, and I'm not the only person who thinks so. Some of the most sophisticated atheists of the last 100 years have argued that if Naturalism is true, there are no moral, or aesthetic facts. J.L. Mackie is one of the most prominent philosophers who have endorsed this view. On his view (Called error-theory) the claim: "Torturing little babies for fun is immoral" is false, because there are no moral facts. He would say the same thing about the statement: "Taylor Muse plays piano better than Travis Hinkle" is also false because there are no aesthetic facts. That certainly seems counter-intuitive, because I don't know the first thing about playing the piano. Richard Rorty has extended this line of thinking, and has argued that in the absence of the "metaphysical project" in philosophy (Read: Classical Theism), our way of thinking about reality precludes the possibility of ever knowing ANYTHING.
    These are not people on the fringe. These are some of the most respected philosophers of the last century, and this line of thinking has come out of Naturalism.

    As I've mentioned before, I know perfectly well that you accept an altruistic ethic, that you make aesthetic judgments, and that you accept evolution, all the while denying the existence of God. That is really besides the point. A man who denies the existence of air is still perfectly capable of breathing even though his belief is in conflict with his actions (and other beliefs).

    I really don't think your talking out of your ass. If you didn't take this kind of thing as seriously as I do, you wouldn't post on it so often. It's obvious that you wrestle with questions like this, so don't allow a few rude comments from theists discourage you from speaking your mind. As long as your being honest, it doesn't matter if people react negatively.
    I appreciate the levity, and I want to reenforce that I never mean to come off as hostile or overly serious. Maybe I'm just annoying at this point though.