The Trouble With God(s)

 

THE TROUBLE WITH GOD(S)

(c) 2012 The Church of Freethought

 

                It should never be our intention to give offense.  And there is an emotional attachment that many people have to a belief in god(s) and that attachment is not really a bad thing as such.  But the trouble with god(s) is that theology tends to spill over into other areas, as we saw with the 9/11 attacks.  And there are many other examples of this.

                That said, it is hard to present anything original on the subject of god(s).  The issues connected with the subject have been so thoroughly picked over for so long that there is very little left to say that is original.

                But it is significant that in all this time no consensus has been reached in favor of any theological proposition, let alone in favor of any particular theology.  That is perhaps the greatest trouble with god(s).  The other troubles have to do with the clearly mythical origins of each and every specific god, the logical inconsistencies and contradictions connected with virtually every concept of god and the lack of correlation between propositions concerning god(s) and the facts as we know them as well as the nature of our knowledge about objective reality.  So let us plunge ahead in an effort to summarize some of this, as well as to suggest something new about the concept of divine perfection.

                Let’s begin with Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Athena, Ares, Poseidon, Hermes, and so on and the corresponding Roman pantheon of Jupiter, Juno, Sol, Minerva, Neptune, Mars, Mercury etc.  Then there are Odin, Freya, Thor, and many more Norse and Germanic gods.  There are Horus, Anubis, Isis, and scores more Egyptian gods, Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna and many many more from India – three hundred thousand by one count.  More gods still come from the East Asian lands of China, Korea, Japan, and so on, while peoples from Polynesia, Australia, Africa, and the Americas believed in hundreds of thousands if not millions more gods.

                Yahweh, of course, wound up being the big winner in the Americas and in Europe from which he was imported.  But Yahweh’s origin as a tribal god – one of many biblical Elohim– of the ancient Middle East is fundamentally no different than the backgrounds of all these other gods.  Each of these many gods is unique, of course, but each is unique in the way that an individual snowflake or each particular grain of sand on a beach is unique.

                As with snowflakes and grains of beach sand, there is no logical reason to suspect that the basic cause of any one of them is unique.  On the contrary, there is every reason to suppose that the social mechanisms and cultural forces that resulted in all of these gods were similar and that god(s), consequently, are clues to human nature and human culture and not to a reality beyond that of objective experience.  Legitimate theology ought to be a science like anthropology or linguistics, one that studies its chosen subject for the purpose of better understanding ourselves.

                Now even the ancients, when their world grew large enough for them to see it, and at the same time that they began to appreciate and understand the predictable regularities of nature, were troubled by the enormous variety and number of gods.  They attempted to make sense of these difficulties in different ways.  Some sought correlations between different divine pantheons in order to collapse them into one.  Another approach – taken by the Jews in exile in Babylon – was to take this process all the way to monotheism.  Still others dispensed with the idea of gods altogether, substituting impersonal forces that, while they remain only a bit less mysterious today, are at least reliably and reproducibly demonstrable.

                Within the Western tradition of Christianity we see something of an amalgam of these approaches: the incorporation of other god(s) as patron saints, angels, or demons, the trend towards and emphasis on the primacy of a single supernatural being whose power dwarfs all others, and an acceptance – gradual at first and accelerating after the time of Galileo – of the fact that objective reality is governed by impersonal forces that god(s) cannot or do not wish to contravene.  The present state of affairs has not advanced much beyond this, although the discrediting of miracles that began with David Hume has greatly curtailed serious consideration of supernaturalism.  Thus, there are those who attack evolution but people who want to be taken seriously do not attack the idea of a round earth, or heliocentrism, or the Germ Theory of Disease in favor of supernaturalistic alternatives such as can be found in holy books like the Bible.

                The result is that scarcely anyone in the modern world worships or appeases or importunes god(s) as the ancient peoples whose god(s) they were once did.  The names, the old stories, the festivals, the ecclesiastical structures and something of the emotional attachment remains, but none if it means what it once did.  The very idea of god(s) – even that of a supposedly single, unique, all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect and unchanging God – has become an indefinite, vague, and mutable concept that changes to suit the needs of the moment.

                For example, some suggest that God is equivalent to the forces of nature.  But what purpose does this actually serve?  How does it make any more sense than to say that God is the Periodic Table or the prime numbers?  Likewise, it is said that “God is love.”  But in what way is God the same as what we mean when we love something or someone?  These “God is” claims are impostures aimed at blurring the distinction between our everyday experience of the natural world or of our own subjective experience and the alleged realm of the supernatural.  For when we talk about the forces of nature or about love, we are talking about experiences that we associate with these terms, and no additional terms or concepts connected with an alleged world beyond objective reality are needed to help us make sense of them.

                If you disagree with this assessment, then I have a question for you.  Can you take as a serious possibility, if not probability, that leprechauns are the forces of nature?  Are you prepared to thoughtfully consider that love is a result of Eros shooting metaphysical arrows into our hearts?

                It might be objected that these are outrageous trivializations of profound questions.  But on what basis are they either outrageous or trivializations?  Is it because “everyone knows” that leprechauns and Eros are mythical beings?  Is it because so many people take seriously the idea of the existence and importance of very similar beings called god(s)?  Yet if we must consider that Yahweh or Jesus or Allah are actually existing, supernatural entities, then how can we possibly dismiss leprechauns and Eros and millions of other such beings as the fictional products of myth?

                More “sophisticated” versions of theism retreat into more abstract concepts.  This is where Deism came from, which is an altogether different lecture.  But what we see today in theism is basically Deism plus whatever additional claims or biblical authority can be included depending on the target audience.  So from this point on, when I use the term “God,” I am referring to this U.S. government-approved Judeo-Christian-compatible deity that is basically the Deists’ god plus such familiar attributes as omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and who may or may not hear and answer prayers and who may or may not, to a small degree or a large degree, be the deity of the Christian Bible.

                This is clearly rather vague and indefinite.  Taken together with its internal contradictions it makes the concept of God basically incoherent.  This is a really inexcusable state of affairs for serious discussion, let alone philosophy.  Were it any other concept it would simply not be tolerated.  But that, again, is part of the trouble with god(s).

                Let us be clear about what some of the problems are:

 

  • If God is omniscient then why would he take action that he knows beforehand will have an outcome that he does not want?  Are we to believe that he foresaw “war in heaven” as the Bible mentions?  That he made, not only angels, but then human beings that he knew would displease him?  “Free will” – another lecture! – is the excuse offered for this contradiction.  But if “free will” is such a stumbling block, how will eternal bliss ever be achieved?  Or, if it can be achieved, why wouldn’t God simply make it that way to begin with?

 

  • If God is omniscient then he himself does not have a will that is free and he cannot be omnipotent.  This is because God knows what he will do before he does it and, therefore, cannot do anything else without falsifying that foreknowledge.  Neither can this God be surprised or experience anticipation, disappointment, puzzlement, frustration, fear or dread.  In this respect God’s abilities are surpassed by those of a small human child because, being omniscient, God cannot learn anything.  Neither can God know what it is like to experience what we call the “Eureka” moment, or adventure or many other human pleasures connected with the unexpected.

 

  • If God is all-powerful as well as all-good – and if this good corresponds to our human notions of what is good – then why is there so much evil in the world?  Again, “free will” is invoked, but smallpox and AIDS and SARS and earthquakes and landslides and volcanic eruptions are hardly the result of human “free will.”  It is also objected that it simply wouldn’t “do” if God created a just world in which wrongdoers could not do wrong or were immediately punished and things set right.  But why?  We already live in a world in which spitballs bounce off of us harmlessly.  Why not a world in which bullets would bounce off of us as well?  Why not a world in which manacles and prison cells could not hold the innocent?  It is objected that, somehow, for reasons that we cannot understand, we must suffer evils that good may come.  But what is this but a fancy way of saying that God is not omnipotent?

 

  • But even simple omnipotence raises similar difficulties.  Can God make a rock so big that he cannot lift it?  Can God make a square circle?  Can he make a logic circuit based on something that exists in only one state?  The answer most often offered for these difficulties is that God cannot do what is logically impossible.  But why not?  If God is omnipotent, how can he be subject to logic?  For being subject to logic is again a fancy way of saying that God is not omnipotent.  Rather, logic is omnipotent.

 

  • Saint Paul wrestles with the idea that God is omnibenevolent when there are clear instances in the Bible – the Old Testament, which was the only Bible Paul knew – that God incites or encourages people to do evil.  But let us allow Paul to speak for himself: “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.  Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?  Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?  Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?  Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? [Romans 9:18-21]  This is obviously a complete repudiation, not only of human “free will” but of any kind of divine goodness beyond the pseudomorality that might makes right.  But what is the alternative?  If God is subject to an external standard of morality, then he cannot be omnipotent.

 

  • God’s omnibenevolence – however it is construed – must also conflict with his omniscience.  For if everything God does is good or he cannot do wrong, then he cannot know guilt, regret, and other experiences connected with wrongdoing.

 

  • Does God hear or grant prayer requests?  If he does then there is another obvious contradiction with his omniscience and/or his omnibenevolence.  But the question of the efficacy of prayer is at least susceptible to scientific investigation.  Unfortunately for believers, there is no credible body of evidence that the answer is “yes” or even a “maybe.”  British statistician and geneticist Francis Galton was the first to try to investigate the question.  He did so by comparing the longevity of members of the British royal family, for whose health and long life British subjects continually pray, with the longevity of people engaged in other occupations.  Galton found no increased longevity for members of the royal family.  In fact, they had, on average, shorter lifespans than other members of the British gentry and aristocracy.  Over the last few decades there have been reports of scientific studies claiming to show that prayer is efficacious in recovery from illness and an amazing report claiming to show a doubling of the success rate of assisted reproduction due to prayer.  Unfortunately, none of these studies have been replicated, although one was a failed attempt to replicate a prior study.  All of these studies were methodologically questionable, the data suspect or made unavailable and, in the case of the last, one of the authors is already in trouble with the FBI for fraud.  So the scientific evidence for the efficacy of prayer is like that of the scientific evidence for “psychic powers” and ESP: nonexistent to poor to fraudulent.

 

                There remain three other arguments for God that deserve attention:

 

  • One is the antique Argument From Design together with “new” forms of it known variously as the “Cosmological Argument” or “Fine Tuning Argument” or the “Anthropic Principle.”
  • The second is the “prove me wrong” challenge that relies on an epistemological mistake.
  • And the third attempts to make a virtue of the lack of valid argument with the idea of “faith.”

 

                The Argument From Design takes a variety of forms ranging from challenges of “Well, then where did all this – existence as we know it – come from?” to assertions that “Everything must have a cause and God is the First Cause or Uncaused Cause.”  We know that these arguments have been employed for a very long time to fend off critics who recognized the trouble with god(s).  Even in the New Testament, particularly in the Gospel of John, we see the identification of God or Jesus with the Greek philosophical idea of the Logos, which by that time had been related to Jewish Wisdom theology by Philo.

                The Argument From Design had problems from the first.  But it did seem effective for a long time.  In large part this was because the Christian Church suppressed or executed those who objected to it.  But even after this became difficult or impossible, and even after David Hume’s decisive refutation of the argument in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, it was easier for many to accept an invalid proposition – especially a socially acceptable and politically popular one – than to accept an appalling ignorance of so many things about the everyday experience of objective reality.

                After all, no one had seen bacteria until Leeuwenhoek described them in the late 17thCentury.  It would be almost another 100 years before Pasteur connected these microorganisms with disease.  Even a phenomenon as “simple” as lightning was not identified with static electricity until Benjamin Franklin’s historic experiments.  And for a long time after that there was no understanding of what separated the world of inanimate, inorganic things from the world of organic life or how the latter thrived in such enormous and dizzying variety.  Many people today, perhaps even most, still do not understand Darwin’s principle of evolution by natural selection, and only 50 years ago this last April was Watson and Crick’s seminal paper on the structure of DNA published, finally explicating a physical basis for the replication of life and heredity.  So it easy to see that up until very recently, there was plenty of room for a “God of the Gaps” to fill huge and important deficits in human understanding of everyday objective reality.

                But today the gaps have shrunk very small.  In the case of cosmology, the “God of the Gaps” has to fit into the singularity from which the Big Bang is posited to have come.  And while biological systems remain frustratingly complex, they look like nothing so much as enormous Rube Goldberg machines.  What were once puzzling functional problems are more and more becoming, on the molecular level, problems of anatomy.  Those who point to what they call “irreducible complexity” are not talking about a scientific concept, much less a barrier to understanding.  The “central dogma” of biology, that DNA makes RNA makes protein, for example, appears to have arisen from an “RNA world” in which this nucleic acid originally served both genetic and catalytic functions.  Likewise, the blood clotting cascade is a clear case of duplication within a simpler system, as is body segmentation that can be seen from earthworms to humans.

                Although there are many gaps in our knowledge, living things, as we continue to discover them in what were once thought unlikely places, appear to be the natural, if not the inevitable result of carbon chemistry.  Given almost any conditions in which carbon chemistry can take place, it appears that life can arise and develop.  Exactly how and which organic precursors form what kind of proto-living systems are details yet to be elucidated.  But these are hardly everyday concerns.  And if long odds seem impressive, we can easily work them out for events that no one considers extraordinary.  For example, assuming that there are 100 million – 106 – spermatazoa in a human ejaculate and 100 eggs produced by a woman over her reproductive years, the odds are 100 million to one against any one of us having been born.  If we extend the same reasoning back over only 100 generations, the odds against any one of us existing becomes 10800to one.  This number far exceeds the number of protons in the known universe as well as the lifetime of the universe measured even in a short interval such as a second.  But, clearly, these staggering odds do not mean that we do not exist.

                Now suppose that someone were to argue that circumstances concerning which we have no idea of how to apply probabilities prove the existence of an “Intelligent Designer.”  Presumptuous?  Silly?  Yes, but this is exactly what is claimed by proponents of a form of the Argument From Design that appeals to “Cosmological” or “Fine Tuning” or “Anthropic” considerations.

                This argument begins with the observation that the universe, including carbon-based life forms such as ourselves, could not exist as we know them were it not for the fact that several dozen physical parameters or constants happen to have the precise (or nearly precise) values that we observe.  These things include the fine structure constant, the ratio of protons to electrons and the ratio of their masses, the decay rate of 8Be, the abundances of dwarf binaries, the distance of Earth from the Sun and the inclination of the Earth’s axis and so on.  Therefore, it is said, the universe is “fine-tuned” for human beings and the best, if not the only explanation for this is that an “intelligent designer” – “an ID” God – intended it that way.

                But here are some of the many troubles with this revamped Argument From Design that purports to be based on the newest discoveries of modern physics and astronomy:

 

  • To begin with, some of the “fine tuning,” such as the distance of Earth from the Sun, the brightness of the Sun, the presence of a large moon in orbit around the Earth and other factors, are unimpressive.  In a universe of many billions of galaxies, each with a hundred billion or more stars, such happenstances are unlikely to be rare.  In our galaxy alone it is estimated that there are a billion or so terrestrial-type planets capable of sustaining – or which already sustain – living things.  We happen to live on one of them, and would not be here to wonder about it all otherwise.

 

  • If we had more than one example of an observable universe, these same considerations might very well apply to all the other supposedly “fine tuned” parameters.  Now I would agree that it is far-fetched to suppose that every collapse of a quantum uncertainty in our universe causes another universe to come into being somewhere else.  But this “many worlds” explanation of quantum weirdness is no more far-fetched than that of an ID God choosing the physical constants of universes.  It’s just that the “intelligent designer” idea – god(s) – is a more familiar idea to which many people are already attached.

 

  • There is good reason to at least suspect that there are “other universes” inasmuch as our observable universe extends out to only some 13 billion or so light years and that throughout all of that space there is no apparent thinning of matter.  Beyond the event horizon of our universe, then, there could be lots of universes, just as there are lots and lots of stars and galaxies in the universe that we can see.  In fact, a recent Scientific American article deals with this possibility as if it were settled fact.  But if there are other universes then it is reasonable to suppose that some will be like and some will be unlike our universe and that our universe is chiefly distinguished by the fact that we are able to observe it but not other universes.

 

  • Even if the universe that we can observe is all that exists – and this is all that we are really entitled to believe exists – the nonexistence of universes that are devoid of life does not demand an explanation.  We cannot even know that such universes don’t exist.  And no one would exist in such universes to be able to wonder about it all as we do.  This is, in fact, a legitimate form of the Anthropic Principle, sometimes called the “weak” AP to distinguish it from the “strong” AP asserted by proponents of the Cosmological Argument.

 

  • The claim of “fine tuning” assumes that various physical constants and characteristics of the universe could have been other than they are.  That is, they proceed from the idea that “if this or that had been different” without any knowledge or understanding of whether it makes sense to posit the “if.”  It may very well be, for example, that many or even all of these parameters are related to one another.  They could all reflect a single constant.  Or they could all be related to one another in such a way that if one of them were to be altered – and again, no one has any idea as to how that could be done, although physicists already speculate that it may be happening on its own – others parameters would be altered as well in such a way as to keep the universe much as we see it.

 

  • Again, it may be that universes coming into being are governed by “metaphysical laws” that nevertheless resemble familiar physical processes that usually give us a particular result.  We could speculate without end as to what such “metaphysical laws” might be but it seems likely that firstly, we will be thwarted in such efforts until such time as we are able to observe the formation of many other universes, and, secondly, that whatever those “metaphysical laws” appear to be based on will then be claimed by theists to have been determined by the ID God.  And this is what the Argument From Design has always done: it exploits ignorance to “prove” what cannot be supported by what we do know.  So we see that the ID God is not an explanation but simply a kind of backstop or barrier to inquiry.

 

  • The lack of “explanatory power” of an alleged ID God is further shown by the fact that no details are offered as to where this being is supposed to exist and by what means he or she creates and chooses the fixed constants for universes.  Although theists who rely on this argument would like us to assume that we can at least know this God’s motives – that he wants to create the conditions for life generally and for human beings in particular – this is by no means clear either.  Knowing as little as we do about the universe, how can anyone possibly know what the alleged “intelligent designer” may have been interested in producing?  It could be any number of alien races or empires.  It could be for the purpose of “war-gaming” among such extraterrestrial beings.  We certainly see that a huge amount of interest and resources are devoted in our own little world both to war and to games.

 

  • If the intent of an ID God was to produce us, it was certainly a very inefficient process!  For many billions of years this supposedly obvious purpose could never have been guessed.  Again, even here on our planet, there are millions of species of insects, particularly beetles.  How can we know that they are not what the “fine tuner” wanted?  How can we know that some form of life yet to arise long after we become extinct is not what the ID God had in mind?  Or perhaps the “fine tuner” wanted dinosaurs and is now no longer the least bit interested in this universe.  The possibilities are nearly limitless, making theists’ preferred interpretation extremely unlikely.

 

  • Proponents of the “Cosmological Argument” rest their case on the claim that the universe we observe is highly improbable.  But what is the basis for this claim?  If the physical constants of the universe could be anything at all, then any other universe would, by their own logic, also be equally improbable.  Any other such universe would also be equally unique.  Besides, why would the laws of physics or of a putative “metaphysics” concerning how physical laws are chosen when universes are formed or what they must be to achieve a desired result, be of any concern for an omnipotent God?  If an “intelligent designer” had to work within constraints of some kind, then said “intelligent designer” is certainly not omnipotent and, indeed, could be little more than an extra-dimensional grade school student working on a homework assignment.

 

  • In addition, there is no reason to assume that any other universe would not have interesting things going on in it, or if it even makes sense to assume that we know what would be “interesting” to an ID God.  There is also no reason to suppose that any other universe could not give rise to physical processes that would meet the criteria for life.  For all we know, some bizarre form of matter besides the elements we know could be the basis for self-replicating systems in such universes.  Or “energy beings” could arise and develop in such universes.  We don’t even know the physics of this universe well enough to be able to say what would happen in a universe governed by different physics.  And if theists are to be believed, there is at least one form of life – that of the “intelligent designer” God – whose existence does not require any kind of matter, energy or laws of physics.  In this the ID proponents wind up proposing as an “answer” the very thing that they begin by ruling out.

 

  • Many other possibilities exist even if “intelligence” is needed to explain the universe.  Remember all those other millions of gods besides the official God of the U.S. government and of many Americans?  Another alternative is that the universe itself could be intelligent.  This is a popular theological concept among some religions but, for obvious reasons, anathema to Christians.  The universe could also be unintelligent but still capable of exerting some kind of homeostasis within itself much as bacteria are able to maintain all sorts of biochemical processes within themselves.

 

                What about the most general case of the Argument From Design, the claim that everything has to have a cause and God is the uncaused cause?  The argument fails in the general case for the same reason that it has repeatedly failed its particular applications.  For if everything needs a cause, then God needs a cause and if God needs no cause then why would existence need one?  The real question then becomes why there is something rather than nothing and on what possible basis we can “explain” the something that we can observe by means of guessing at what we cannot observe – such as God – a concept which is itself logically incoherent.

                It is sometimes said, regardless of the arguments advanced to support or prove the existence of god(s), that not to believe in god(s) is equally unsupported, unproved, or unprovable.  This approach betrays a complete lack of understanding of what knowledge is.  Knowledge about the world outside of our own heads is simply the sense that we make out of what we can all see, hear, smell, taste, touch, or what we can build machines to record for us.  When Rutherford proposed that atoms had small, positively charged nuclei, he did so as a way of making sense of his experiments involving streams of alpha particles directed at thin films of gold.  There was no need, before his experiments, for him to justify his not believing that atoms had small positively-charged nuclei.

                Human understanding depends critically on this distinction: that we do not need reasons to rely on the null hypothesis.  Our everyday lives would be impossible if we did.  How do we know that we are not now, for example, being bombarded by deadly radiation from either an innocent or malevolent source?  How do we know that the SARS virus is not being pumped into the air ducts of the building that we are now inside?  How do you know whether, on your way home tonight or some other night, you might be abducted by aliens, or accidentally run over your best friend?  Anyone with a fairly decent imagination could engage in such speculation endlessly.

                But, as David Hume put it:

 

“If we reason a priori, anything may appear able to produce anything.  The falling of a pebble may, for aught we know, extinguish the sun; or the wish of a man control the planets in their orbits.  It is only experience, which teaches us the nature and bounds of cause and effect, and enables us to infer the existence of one object from that of another.” [An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding(1748)]

 

                William of Ockham is credited with the formulation of “Ockham’s Razor,” also known as the Parsimony Principle or the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) Principle:

 

“`Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate” or “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.”

 

                But this basic idea appears even in antiquity and has been recognized ever since by scientists as critical to their work.  Einstein put it this way:

 

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

 

                The hidden qualifier in all this has to do with what is “necessary” or “possible.”  This criterion does not have to do with what is emotionally appealing to us.  It has to do with what the proposition or idea explains or predicts.  In the case of god(s), there are no phenomena that god(s) explain better than any other explanation in the sense of accounting for more facts or making predictions that are different from other explanations.  But since god(s) obviously raise more questions than they answer, regardless of what the question is, god(s) clearly unnecessarily complicate our efforts to explain objective reality.

                Those who wish to believe in god(s) are probably on the firmest ground - which is to say no firm ground at all - when they satisfy themselves with the justification of faith based on their own internal, subjective perceptions.  But this is not because, as they suppose, “we all have faith” in ordinary things such as that when we sit in a chair it will support our weight and so on.  For the ordinary kind of “faith” is a faith in facts and reason whereas the faith that justifies belief in god(s) as beings existing outside of people’s imaginations is one which lays aside or at least in this one respect rejects facts and reason.

                You’ll notice, perhaps, the qualifier that leaves open the possibility of belief in god(s) as imaginary beings.  Let it be emhasized that this is not an unacceptable way to believe in god(s), even for those who call themselves believers.  What is wrong with imagination, after all?  Isn’t imagination one of the most important of human faculties, one that not only makes the entertainment industry a lot of money, but which we all find extremely enjoyable as well as helpful in our everyday lives?  Don’t we engage in planning and actions that are largely motivated by our imaginative ideas about where we want to go and what we want to be?  “WWJD?,” for those who are so inclined to rely on it, is not a less useful way of considering how to make the most kind and compassionate choices if Jesus is a fictional character.

                The vain effort of trying to show that this or that physical phenomena or human ignorance about many things “proves” the existence of their god(s) can be seen as a kind of stumbling block to believers.  Would believers not be more capable of seeing the value in many of their own ideas if they would focus on their practical value instead of insisting on their truth value as statements about the world that science has been so effective at exploring?  As the gaps get smaller and more removed from everyday experience, one has to wonder how small and how irrelevant the “God of the Gaps” can be made.

                Meanwhile, science and technology has actually succeeded at solving many of the problems that people once prayed to god(s) for relief from.  The need for and value of religion is no longer primarily in reducing collective human fears about threats and calamities beyond their control.  On the contrary, it is needed for the “smaller” and more personal difficulties that must be surmounted in everyday living.  If, more and more, people turn to a nanny government and the consumer culture of immediate gratification instead of looking within themselves and to timeless moral principles of good behavior and personal happiness, it will not be the fault of atheists.  It will be the fault of theists who wrongly prefer that God be a tiny bit of irrational irrelevance shoehorned into arcane speculations of physics rather than an imaginative human ideal that people can look to for better understanding of their own personal fears, hopes and highest aspirations.

                Let us conclude with a proof against the existence of god(s), one that is original.  It is at least a proof against the possibility that we can know of the existence of a Perfect God.  For what does perfection mean if it does not mean incomparability?  This is often how God is described, in fact: complete in himself, in want of nothing, eternal and immutable.  But such a deity would then have no motivations to act or doanything, because actions are necessarily taken in order to effect some change and satisfy some kind of need or want.  A Perfect God would be a static God who could not affect or be affected by anything.

                So, it is a good thing that we are “only human” and not as perfect as we can imagine mathematical objects or god(s) to be.  It is good that we don’t know everything, that we still have and will, for the foreseeable future, always have many questions.  If this were not so, we would be deprived of many of life’s most welcome rewards.  It would certainly not be eternal bliss not to be able to learn or discover anything.  This is also why there is no need for us to wedge god(s) into every gap in our knowledge so that we can pretend to know more than we do at the price of creating impenetrable problems and colossal ignorance that can never, even in principle, be overcome.

 

 

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