Friday, October 23, 2009

Arguing on the Internet: Machina Ex Deus, part two (cl)

I left off yesterday vaguely gesturing at my transition from fundagelical Christianity to non-denominational Christianity. I didn't know whether I could trust the Bible or not, and the Bible itself is no help here (if I doubt a book, then I clearly can't take the book's word that I shouldn't doubt it!). I want to clarify right up front that my problem with God thus far isn't that I don't want to believe in him - after all, if there is in fact a Heaven which is the Best Thing Ever, then I certainly want to go there! - it's that I want to believe sensible things and I can't make God make sense to my mind. God could make it make sense to me, though, if he wanted (because he knows what I mean by "sense," and he knows that I want to believe in what makes sense).

But wait... even if I get to Heaven, is there still a Hell? If so, then if I'm in Heaven and know about Hell, it's gonna make me fuckin' miserable! I barely manage to get by as is, knowing that people starve to death every fucking day; how much worse would this be if I knew that people were being tortured forever?! I came to the conclusion that this could go three ways: either there is no Hell, or God needs to give me an empathy-ectomy at the Pearly Gates, or I need to forget about Hell. If there is no Hell, then... no problem! I don't even need to worry about it myself! But if there is, and God gives me an empathy-ectomy or makes me forget a rather key fact of reality, I don't really see what makes such a being worthy of worship. Not being dismissive, I just don't see anything good in a being that says with its actions, "Forget about those losers, they don't count; come hang out with us cool kids."

I don't know what it is, but all my role models, all my favorite superheroes, everyone I admire and even myself, we all have one thing in common: we are unable to stand idly by and watch others suffer. How is it that God is able to do such a thing, but still call himself good? I looked into the literature and found a whole lot of stupid bullshit.

Theodicies, in my experience, are categorically failures, more or less because I buy into Epicurus' dilemma: "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both willing and able? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?" Who gives a flying fuck about our precious free will? Not God - he hardened Pharaoh's heart several times, he chose Moses and Saul of Tarsus despite their wills, and when Jonah flew the coop, God wouldn't take "no" for an answer. No, abiding evil when you don't have to, compromising with it when you have the advantage, allowing it when you could do otherwise, this strikes me as "knowing better but doing worse." This is a long-respected definition of "evil."

Let's briefly switch gears and talk about relationships, starting with figure 4:
In a parent/child relationship (and I mean a minor child, not a grown one), the parent has the child at a disadvantage. The parent is older, wiser, and possessing of more self-control than the child is (usually). This makes the relationship asymmetrical, and it places responsibility for the child directly on the parent because the child can't take care of itself. Ideally, the parent raises the child to be a peer, another adult among many, capable of making intelligent and mature decisions autonomously. This is done with one-on-one interaction, an adult teaching a child step-by-step to become an adult itself. And this is done, at least in part, because the parent loves the child and cares for its well-being. Now consider the relationship between God and humanity:
It's a similar relationship - again, God has the advantage, and again, he damn well ought to be older, wiser, etc. than we are. How has God contributed to raising me as his child? Am I to reason from his lack of in-my-face involvement that he cares less about me than my own parents do? As far as I can tell, he wrote a letter and walked out before I was born - the letter is the Bible, walking out is Jesus' ascension into Heaven. To the best of my ability to tell, any moral shortcomings on humanity's part are the direct result of God's total failure to either make us right or raise us right, both as individuals and as a species.

Once I saw that, I couldn't un-see it. Good parents don't let their children do whatever the Hell they please; good parents make themselves a known presence in their childrens' lives, they raise their children by hand and guide them into becoming better people. Good parents do whatever the Hell it takes to protect their children and raise them to be the best people they can be. Any parent who allows her child to upset her has failed to control her temper; any parent who strikes a child in anger is at fault for not remaining in control of the situation. Why? Because children don't know what the fuck they're doing. I would know: I was a child once and I did some really embarrassing shit!

The parallels don't stop there. Households have rules, and parents are their authors; similarly, reality has rules (yay physics!), and God is their author. Why didn't God include any of these rules in his instruction manual? People understood math long before the Hebrews put quill to scroll, so why does the Bible have precisely zero interesting math in it (with the exception of a botched calculation of pi)? Moreover, why a holy book, instead of something more impressive? Every religion has holy books, but no religion has a holy organism that sings the holy text aloud and has no natural predators. Or how about a holy computer, a machine from God that can answer all our questions and also preserve God's language? The machine could also self-replicate and self-assemble, like a glorified RepRap machine. And a million other things, too - in short, why is God so boring?! Why did God do nothing to distinguish the one true religion from every other religion? Why is Yahwism, to all appearances, the same stuff in a similar package? I just don't get it.

But most importantly, if God exists, then why is he hiding from me? Silver Garou came up with what I think is an excellent argument on exactly this point, and it proceeds as follows:
1. God is omnipotent and omniscient, and therefore cannot be stymied in his efforts (or at least not by humans).
2. Since I myself know what would convince me of God's existence, God too must also know that thing.
3. Thus, God knows what would convince me of his existence. (from 2)
4. God has not convinced me of his existence (my mother did, once, but that wore off).
5. "Being hidden" does not necessarily imply the intention of "is hiding," since ruins can "be hidden" in the forest but obviously have no intentions of hiding. Yet until they are actually found, they do in fact remain hidden.
6. An entity that chooses whether to remain hidden or not, and has this as its option, does so with intent insofar as it is intelligent.
7. God is intelligent.
8. Thus God cannot remain hidden unless he also intends to be hidden and therefore "is hiding." (from 1, 6, 7)
C: Since God has not yet convinced me of his existence, then he is either hiding while waiting, or hiding forever, or does not actually exist as such (as omnipotent and omniscient, or at least enough of those things to actually convince me). Or he just doesn't want me to believe in him, which I guess is cool, too, except that it tells me he wants me to go to Hell (if there is one). (from 1, 4, 8)
God knows where I'm at, and God knows what it would take to make another Saul, Thomas, Jonah, or Pharaoh out of me. I can think of many reasons for him to do so, but none at all for him to wait or not do so at all.

OK, whew! That's it from me on why I don't believe... in this discussion... so far... today. It's been a little rough, but that is the gist of why theism makes no sense to me. So that's enough out of me: what do you think, cl? Where do you disagree with me, or at least diverge, and why? I'll make the assumption that you've still got what you think is a better way, and I'm curious to know what it is that you think is a good justification for theism, and why I should endorse it. Or, if it's a matter of personal revelation, then I'm curious as to how you can comfortably and honestly distinguish that revelation from insanity - no joke, this is an honest question on my part here.

I've pretty much said my piece and will wait to write anything as substantial as this until either I'm asked a direct question, or something else piques me. Ball's in your court!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm no expert on "theology" and am not religious either, but I find it hard NOT to believe in God. The way I think of it is that there is obviously a reason why things in the world are so fucked up. But all of the monotheistic religions explain that God gave us an original mandate to run the world, which was bartered away to his adversary by us breaking a promise with him. He then withdrew the 'direct contact' we had with him permanently and left us to get on with it. We also lost our perfection, fell into sin, and became mortal. Then 2000 years ago someone called Jesus took back some of that contract, but not all of it. That's why things as they stand now aren't quite so bad. If you look back in history things have been a lot worse for other generations; people should be glad to be alive today. When I say contract I mean it in a spiritual sense, after all that is what God is. However, he did promise us that in the future the contact would be renewed fully but that time is yet to come. Ultimately he set very high thresholds for humanity to meet this criteria. If you compare it to a test or examination, then maybe Jesus managed a B+, but most of humanity are on a permanent F grade. However he could just decide to change things about on a whim but he likes to see people make an effort first. He isn't really a He, as God is gender neutral, not being a physical thing, so I will stop referring to him as such. From an intellectual POV, God gave us intellectual gifts of reasoning, logic and deduction, because God knows that in the end the only logical kind of life is a moral kind of life. But because God realises that logic is not enough God gave us a conscience to arbitrate our actions and decide if we have done wrong by feeling a sense of shame, guilt or regret after the wrong itself. However, this only works after the action is carried out, and cannot forewarn us of the action beforehand, because otherwise it would interfere with free will. God's adversary though, has no such reservations about fucking with our heads, and actively entices and lures us into doing wrong, then blames the guilt we feel on God, when God is trying to steer us after we have collided, due to God's own rigid compliance with the rules. I suppose God lives in hope more than expectation, but God is incapable of sinning so God cannot work out why we would disobey God when God gave us so much in the first place. I think it comes down to the fact that what was originally freely bestowed as a gift will be eventually earned (and learned) the hard way and therefore won't be thrown away so cheaply once it is achieved.

D said...

Hey, thanks for the comment! Sorry it took me so long to get back to you, I haven't checked my e-mail since school started. On to your comment!

You've told what I think is a very nice story - and I don't mean to be flippant, I myself am sympathetic to heroic creation myths that give us divine origin and purpose. But liking them is an entirely different matter from believing them, and I do not assent to believe something without reason and evidence.

The difficulty of disbelieving in deities is not evidence of their existence, either. We believe a great many things out of simple psychological necessity: just about everybody believes that they are smarter than the average bear (nevermind that fully half of us are below the 50th percentile). Everybody believes that they're basically good and do the right thing most of the time, whether this is true or not (see The Lucifer Effect for a plethora of examples where this is disastrously wrong). We also believe that there is a "unified I" at the helm of consciousness, but current neuroscience shows that this is an illusion which can only really be seen for what it is under somewhat bizarre circumstances. Our brains are also hard-wired to see patterns where there is only noise (e.g. Rorschach ink blots) and to see faces where there are none (e.g. the "face" on Mars, or this "A" on the pavement); see also The Treachery of Images. We also detect agency where there is none, and positing nonexistent agency behind the whole Universe is possibly where the idea of God comes from in the first place.

So! Now what? Well, your story could still be true, of course. Supposing that it's not, though - if your difficulty in considering atheism is merely a product of your brain and not an effect of God's reality - how could you know? If you are wrong, what could convince you of that? What's more, what reason have I, an unbeliever, to accept your story over a naturalistic account that doesn't invoke supernatural mumbo-jumbo? You've laid out some very nice ideas, but why should I even start to believe any of it at all?

Why should anyone, for that matter?

Anonymous said...

Aha, I think I see what you are getting at. An illogical and irrational belief in something that cannot be seen. Fair enough I suppose. You say that:

"if your difficulty in considering
atheism is merely a product of your brain and not an effect of God's reality - how could you know? If you are wrong, what could convince you of that?"

To answer this question, I would be prepared to take as a proof of God's non-existence, the proof of the impossibility of a "test for God".

In other words, I accept that you cannot prove that God does not exist, as many things do not exist. It cannot be proven one way or the other- You cannot prove a negative, only a positive.

However what is possible is that a scientifically valid test can be devised for the provability of God's existence. In other words a test with a binary outcome, yes or no. If yes, it is true that a test is devisable that would prove God's existence, then this means God exists. On the other hand, you may prove that such a test is not devisable, in which case God cannot exist.

The logic here is that you are no longer asking the question "Does God exist?", but rather "Is it provable that God exists?" I admit there is a question here of whether this could be considered a true-false question, could it be neither true or false, and would this mean God can exist and not exist simultaneously, but assume that this is not the case.

As a final retort, I would put it to you that God is not "in your face". In that respect God is kind of like a weapons cache or ammunition dump. Generally, its location is not signposted, you have to know the general area, maybe ask around, find a few people "in the know" to actually locate the place you are after. And not blatantly either, because if you did that, then it would kind of undermine the whole thing. Just because it's not advertised, and you've never seen a weapon's dump, doesn't mean they don't exist, or that all the rumours of their existence are false. In fact it is in both God's interest and the weapons dump supervisors' to actively maintain the secrecy of the site.

For my own part, I can say that I have been weak-willed and I have been strong-willed in non-material matters. I wouldn't consciously attribute this to any kind of divine being, but I cannot honestly state that with total conviction. I think it is largely human resolution and determination that gets useful things done, weak as it is. In any case, often the only way to accomplish impressive material things is by total dedication to the cause, in some way this is really all that sprituality is about anyway, and not arsing about meditating and chanting pointless mantras as some would have you believe.

Anonymous said...

Aha, I think I see what you are getting at. An illogical and irrational belief in something that cannot be seen. Fair enough I suppose. You say that:

"if your difficulty in considering
atheism is merely a product of your brain and not an effect of God's reality - how could you know? If you are wrong, what could convince you of that?"

To answer this question, I would be prepared to take as a proof of God's non-existence, the proof of the impossibility of a "test for God".

In other words, I accept that you cannot prove that God does not exist, as many things do not exist. It cannot be proven one way or the other- You cannot prove a negative, only a positive.

However what is possible is that a scientifically valid test can be devised for the provability of God's existence. In other words a test with a binary outcome, yes or no. If yes, it is true that a test is devisable that would prove God's existence, then this means God exists. On the other hand, you may prove that such a test is not devisable, in which case God cannot exist.

The logic here is that you are no longer asking the question "Does God exist?", but rather "Is it provable that God exists?" I admit there is a question here of whether this could be considered a true-false question, could it be neither true or false, and would this mean God can exist and not exist simultaneously, but assume that this is not the case.

As a final retort, I would put it to you that God is not "in your face". In that respect God is kind of like a weapons cache or ammunition dump. Generally, its location is not signposted, you have to know the general area, maybe ask around, find a few people "in the know" to actually locate the place you are after. And not blatantly either, because if you did that, then it would kind of undermine the whole thing. Just because it's not advertised, and you've never seen a weapon's dump, doesn't mean they don't exist, or that all the rumours of their existence are false. In fact it is in both God's interest and the weapons dump supervisors' to actively maintain the secrecy of the site.

For my own part, I can say that I have been weak-willed and I have been strong-willed in non-material matters. I wouldn't consciously attribute this to any kind of divine being, but I cannot honestly state that with total conviction. I think it is largely human resolution and determination that gets useful things done, weak as it is. In any case, often the only way to accomplish impressive material things is by total dedication to the cause, in some way this is really all that sprituality is about anyway, and not arsing about meditating and chanting pointless mantras as some would have you believe.