**This post is dedicated to the door knockers, college acquaintances and Master’s thesis advisor whose sometimes relentless arguments made religion sound even more tendentious and boring than Sunday school did. **
A thousand some years back a Christian fellow, Anselm of Canterbury, made an argument for the existence of god that has had some influence. All things that refuse to become irrelevant eventually get a proper name and this one is known as the Ontological Argument. It stipulates that the very concept of a most perfect being by itself proves that such a thing exists, since a perfect (or most excellent, puissant or whatever) thing has to exist or it wouldn’t be perfect. Not existing would make it not perfect. If we can imagine perfection then it has to be real.
The argument right away struck the college me as kind of silly and I reacted with a simple reductio ad absurdum about a perfect giant fire-breathing lizard creature. This is a pretty shallow response and probably the most common, since it took about five minutes for a fellow monk-philosopher named Guanilo to make the same joke. Aquinas argued that ‘knowing’ an unknowable thing like god sounds kind of presumptuous, Hume noted that perfection (or absolute greatness or whatever) should not automatically imply existence and Kant called the argument circular.
Having thought a bit more about it, I can buy Anselm’s response to my Godzilla critique (that ‘being’ is a category general enough to be eligible for perfection, unlike a fire lizard or island) but I’d respond with a different kind of reductio ad absurdum. Let’s grant that imagining a perfect being means that it has to exist. However, it can’t have boundaries because that would not be perfect. It cannot be made of any one thing or stuff because then it would lack some other stuff and, again, not perfect. It has to e everywhere because if you can hide your keys somewhere that it can’t see them then it is not perfect or most awesome. It cannot make decisions in any meaningful sense of the word, because the capacity to make decisions implies the capacity to make mistakes. Everything that it does or wills to happen is therefore just the inevitable outcome of its inexorable and singular will, which never changes because changing its mind would imply that it made a mistake. That leaves us with a god that is more or less just the universe and the laws of physics that govern it. No wonder Augustine never liked the guy. Believing in Anselm’s god (and the god of Descartes and Leibniz and the other philosophers who adopted it) is really no different from hard materialism.
Another issue than nobody has brought up I will title How Would Jesus Quibble. The whole point of logic is to compel people to agree with something, or at least accept its truth, whether they want to or not. I might be Jewish but I read the New Testament. Jesus made pretty clear that you cannot compel someone to salvation. People have to get there because they want to and because they believe at a level where logic cannot touch. I do not doubt that should Jesus return, after he finished DDoS’ing the websites of 99% of his present day fan clubs, he would sniff at people trying to sell righteousness with a syllogism. You might as well ban an HPV vaccine because sex or nourish the poor with patronizing lectures. It is like putting an Ikea bed together by painting the screws. You can find both paint and screws in the instruction manual but you’re still sleeping on the floor.
Being a Yank and sceptic by trade I prefer the ontological argument as framed by the Augustine of pragmatic agnostics, William James, who wrote, “Since God produces real effects in the world, God must be real.” The trick of course is that James comes at god from the opposite direction: no idea what god is, but you cannot deny that people do non-selfish, stupid or counterproductive things because god. This God thing might be a viral idea, an annoying byproduct of our species’ habit of giving agency to inanimate things or an unmoved mover who tweets via burning shrubbery, either way he (she (it)) makes people do things and that makes him (her (it)) important enough to at least not dismiss out of hand.
Too many Pliny the Elders tonight.
I shall run this through Babblefish.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Where is this evidence of a God who created everything?
There is none. It’s all wishful thinking and appeal to authority/tradition.
We’re on our own. Let’s make the best of it.
Yes, the idea of God is real; whether there is an omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, and all-powerful being, well, I’m skeptical, but there is Florida Gulf Coast University to consider.
Al Maviva says:
The ability to make decisions in no way presupposes the possibility of mistakes. Nonetheless, isn’t that what Christianity and Islam proscribe, i.e., that god made a mistake a/o changed his* mind & is, therefore less than perfect? God didn’t get it right with Judaism so he had to send Christ to set things right since he didn’t foresee what his people would do with the (severely limited -obey or burn; choice?) free will on offer. Same goes for Islam. God screwed up, so he had to send along another prophet to set the course right. What gives?
* Before anyone gets twisted shorts, we’re talking about imaginary beings so pronoun gender is immaterial.
Ted & Hellen
Yay for this post.
If gods didn’t exist, man would have to create them… Oh, wait
I truly hope you post your answers to your imminent daughter’s first questions about the sky’s apparent blueness, her own biological origins, and the where exactly her pets and elder loved ones go when you say they’ve passed away. Please respond to her with the rigor and vocabulary displayed above. If you really love Balloon Juice, you’ll post video.
Kant called it.
So basically what you’re saying is God exists because we exist?
You’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head. Good work.
This is where a course in cultural anthropology, even introductory level, comes in handy. Innumerable cultures get on quite nicely without a capital-G-God-concept, it’s a conceit of westerners that such a thing is universal.
@LGRooney: the idea behind Christianity is that man sinned (garden of Eden), and Jesus was sent to forgive the sin. One theory I’ve heard a lot is that god had to become man to understand or something like that (so that might imply mistake). Islam, from what I’ve read on it was another attempt to spread the truth, and also the mistake that man created of thinking Jesus was divine rather than a prophet… Basically, the idea behind both is that man screwed up and god was trying to straighten it out, or something
Any Supreme Being worth the title would not be obsessing about our nitwit arguments as to its existence.
If it had nothing better to do, it wouldn’t be worthy of the title.
The ontological argument is, and always has been, utterly dumb-shit stupid. The person using it basically invents a definition of “perfect” that happens to include the property that perfection requires existence. All I have to do is disagree that perfection carries that property, and the argument falls apart.
Indeed, I would argue that by definition, “perfect” includes the property of *NON*-existence, because nothing is perfect.
If a perfect god can exist, this admits the possibility that an imperfect god could also exist.
Such an entity would be quite rightly feared, loathed and worshipped, making this the best supported and most credible argument for the temperament of such a deity. Whether or not we should (or could) worship an entity that could rain destruction on us by accident, or capricious whim, is another argument entirely.
You do not need to go that far to proclaim they are compatible.
Science is based on several principles, which have to be accepted a priori in the same way that we accept basic logical principles such as moden ponens. (This is one of the reasons why people say science is just a religion, but that critique trivializes the success of science and empiricism, which cannot be ignored)
Anyway, one of these principles is naturalism. Methodological naturalism is all you need in order to do science (e.g. science is only capable of making pronouncements of the natural). Metaphysical naturalism is a much stronger, and decidedly non-scientific, principle. It is also the principle that atheists adhere to.
The explanation I’ve read is that a perfect being that exists is more perfect than a perfect being that doesn’t exist, so a perfect being must exist. I never understood why the fuck a perfect being has to exist in the first place. It always seemed like the stupidest fucking argument ever to me.
But maybe a Perfect Stupid Argument For The Existence of A Perfect Being proves that A Perfect Being Exists!
Bear in mind that no assumption that some God or magic supreme being exists suggests that it’s your preferred God or magic supreme being, or that said God gives a shit about your assumption. Different things.
God admitted to making a mistake with the flood in the Bible. Here’s a partial list of mistakes.
Well, this depends on your definition of existence. Does the number zero exist? As a conceptual notion, sure. But is there some actual manifestation of zero in the real world? Does that deny its existence.
Of course, if you extend existence to this definition all you are claiming is that a perfect being exists as a conceptual notion, not necessarily as a metaphysical entity.
My first Epiphany about God: even if he exists, there’s no way to know who’s right about him. So why bother?
My second, and much greater, epiphany about God; even if you knew the truth beyond a shadow of a doubt, what would it change? If you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Osama Bin Laden was right, there is a God, and he’s the kind of monster Hannibal Lecter would find over the top, would you change all your beliefs and worship him, or conclude that he didn’t deserve it? If you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the atheists were right and there is no God or higher, supernatural order and meaning, would your values change – would your family and friends matter any less, would you treat people any worse, or would you go on as before because that’s actually a pretty good way to do things, God or no God? Then what does it matter, really, for our purposes?
I’m one of these people; whether out of nostalgia or sentimentality or latent Christianity, I actually do hope there is a God, and that he’s the kind of entity I could admire. But I’m willing to wait until I’m dead to get my answers (or not), and I don’t think I’d change even if I had them now, so in the end, it really doesn’t change anything except for my own curiosity.
I don’t have anything substantive to add, but I was once arguing online with a religious guy who tried to make a rational argument for the existence of God. There were so many holes in his obviously Christian argument that I couldn’t help proposing that God could be a committee, with more than three members. Of course, the perfection idea, given my experience, would go out the window there…
@Walker: well, unicorns exhibit the number zero. There are zero unicorns.
@dnfree: Look, every now and then a loving Supreme Being and Creator has to drown every mother, child, grandparent, and so forth in a complete and utter genocide against His creation excepting one chosen family in the cold, cold, lung-bursting waters, because they seemed to be a bit out of control and worshiping other gods and such.
But after killing each of them, after each incident of a mother holding on to her young daughter as the waters swept the child away, as the mother watched the child’s coughing and wracking and her eyes grow cold and still, He sent a rainbow, showing that He would never kill everyone again.
Such, such was His love that we tell this story of benevolent watery slaughter constantly in our Judeo-Christian culture.
@Heliopause: Basic morality is an evolved trait. It is biological. It is amazing to me how rarely this is pointed out.
1. Saying God must exist because stuff had to come from somewhere is less logical than the alternative. Think about it: you’re saying material simply being there is less likely than an all-powerful being simply springing into existence first nd then creating everything else. That is comparatively absurd.
2. The entropy argument comes from people who do not understand entropy. A simple google search is enough to provide a rebuttal. Here is the first result, pretty accessible: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/11/10/entropy-and-evolution/
3. Pascal’s wager implies you can deceive an all-knowing being.
1. Exhibiting number zero is not necessarily the same as the existence of zero.
2. Granting your assumption (likely correct) that unicorns do not exist, that still means that existence of zero is a conceptual and not metaphysical concept.
This discussion is reminding me of all those years of undergraduate philosophy. After 4 years about the only thing I came away (it being drilled into me by all the profs) was that if you thought a famous argument was stupid or definitely debunked, it meant that you did not understand the argument.
What would the existence of a God tell you about that God’s relationship to your concept of God?
Assuming your premises, physicalism perhaps (allowing for non-reductive, supervenience views), but not necessarily materialism.
I would say the utility of logic is to explore contingencies – analytic truths – nothing can be compelled without the acceptance of common premises, and that acceptance cannot itself be compelled.
Sneaking a hidden premise in here.. Why is it that a bounded being is imperfect? Is this perfection a feature of the universe independent of your thinking about it? If so, how does one gain access to the concept? Where does it come from? How do you know it when you see it? Could you be mistaken? If not, if the concept of perfection exists as a product of human cognition, how can one be sure that this notion of perfection is broadly applicable to the external world.. and whatever we’re positing god is?
Love James; would probably call myself a Pragmatist (perhaps adding a Neo) if forced to self-identify.
As well as suggesting that any such God was a complete asshole who if existing deserved nothing but scorn, as would any toddler tyrant with superpowers.
I’m confused. Was this thread on god the result of too much flagellation at the dies sanguinis today, or are you just prepping us for the hilaria tomorrow?
If there’s no God, who decides the winner of sporting events?
Answer that, David Hume.
The thing I don’t get about God is that if he’s all powerful, then he must be either really insecure or needy or demanding, because people who believe in him have to praise him all the freaking time. Why does God need all that praise? Isn’t he already the most amazing power out there? He’s going to be that way whether you praise him or not.
Why so needy, God? If people don’t praise you, what happens to them? Do you smite them? Why the strong reaction? Why not live and let live? Not everyone’s the praising type.
Tim F., you would be a totally awesome student to have in one of my theology classes. You cut right past all the crap that people usually argue–that most of the commenters so far are arguing, about various stupid shit people believe about God–and are asking the real question: why do people do kind and compassionate and non-selfish things? How do we best talk about that? Can it be encouraged? Is that kind of thing the truth about what we are as human beings, and what the universe is about–or is it about chaos, or violence, or nothing in particular? Those are theological questions. And the answers matter, whether you believe in something you want to call “God” or not.
I heard this argument when I was 12 and figured that if this is the best anyone could do to prove the existence of some sort of magical being there must be nothing to prove. After decades this is still the best argument that I’ve heard so that should tell you how twisted people have to get to prove that they will believe anything as long as others will go along with it.
Was thinking about scientology earlier today and how l ron was a hack SF writer with a rather small following but selling his shit with the concept of religion attached has produced a ton of morons who will pay good money to find out much it costs to find that out. And then of course never admit finding that out.
Heartbroken but proud to be an Illini!
@MikeJ: In the Illini Miami and Iowa State Ohio State games it was the officials.
Ted & Hellen
Rock Chalk Jayhawk
Are you sure?
In the beginning Man created God;
and in the image of Man
created he Him.
2 And Man gave unto God a multitude of
names, that he might be Lord of all
the earth when it was suited to Man
3 And on the seven millionth
day Man rested and did lean
heavily on his God and saw that
it was good.
4 And Man formed Aqualung of
the dust of the ground, and a
host of others likened unto his kind.
5 And these lesser men were cast into the
void; And some were burned, and some were
put apart from their kind.
6 And Man became the God that he had
created and with his miracles did
rule over all the earth.
7 But as all these things
came to pass, the Spirit that did
cause man to create his God
lived on within all men: even
8 And man saw it not.
9 But for Christ’s sake he’d
better start looking.
I prefer science to religion.
What? The null value exists in real life as a manifestation as well as a concept.
No real God would ever have made a republican or a conservative. So, tautological bullshit is still bullshit.
The only possible deity is the God of Flatulence for he shall set you free or at least thin the crowd.
Go Florida Gulf Coast U.
I think that’s a beautiful thing. I like the thought of my physical and conscious energy reintegrating with the universe after I die so much better than sitting in judgement to a vain and jealous god.
The concept that we can know God is clearly man’s conceit. How can we, as a flawed and imperfect being, begin to understand an object outside of time and space? Who are we to conceptualize “perfect”, much less define it?
Isn’t it much more likely, and I would suggest inarguable at this point, that God exists and we’re living some measured existence in Hell?
Hell not being the fiery pits of the damned or the flesh rending demons but rather the more simple definition of “the absence of His light”.
That’s the way I originally heard the ontological argument, too, but Anselm stated it several different ways. And one of those ways, I think, actually does prove something. But what it proves is that either “God” exists or the concept of God is logically inconsistent.
The key here is that Anselm thinks of God as self-caused. Otherwise put, the concept of God is the concept of an existing being that doesn’t exist contingently, but exists necessarily. Rather like mathematical entities, which are what they are necessarily (although even a Platonist might not go so far as to say that they exist.)
If it is possible to have a clear, logically consistent conception of a being whose existence is necessary, then it is a straightforward exercise in modal logic to conclude that that being does in fact exist. So either the concept of God implies His existence; or the concept is too muddled or too self-contradictory to be conceived. Anselm seems not to have been aware of the second possibility.
Of course, that argument at best only gets you a self-caused entity – it doesn’t get you any of the other traditional attributes of deity: the omnipotence, the omniscience, the omnibeneficence, the status of being Creator of everything else. So the argument gets you somewhere; it’s just that the somewhere it gets you isn’t very far.
I’m not sure if you really believe this or not, but if you do, this is almost identical to Alan Watts’s concept of the “Religion of No Religion” , which Watts always argued was what most intellectually sophisticated interpretations of religion eventually arrived at.
Logic is the study of the form of an argument.
All smedlicks are boodale
All micben are smedlicks.
Therefore, all micben are boodale.
Is a Logically valid argument as the form of the argument is correct. (Known as an AAA syllogism. It’s also call Barbara. Because Latin.) There’s no semantic or cognitive content to the argument but Logicians don’t care about that stuff (and rightfully so.) The study of Logic is important. If you don’t study Logic you’ll end up with herpes and your arguments will be fallacious. If you do study Logic you may end up with herpes but at least your arguments will be Formally correct. Which makes them Valid and, sometimes, True. It does not in any way, shape, manner, or mode make them accurate.
Here endth the Lesson.
P.S. Can’t prove ontology by pure Logic. Otherwise I could assert “Not London” and the city would vanish. And that would be silly.
Some would argue it can’t be hell if there are glimpses of the divine.
Have you never banged a Sorbonne student after a drizzly afternoon walking around Montmartre?
Dodos used to exist. We done kilt them all. There are now zero dodos. Rinse, repeat for the usual gazillion thangs that no longer exist.
Not merely conceptual. There are any number of physical manifestations of end-of-existence that map perfectly well to zero.
I think you meant hard determinism where you said hard materialism.
I’m pretty meh about God. I realize that this sounds intellectually uncurious, it I don’t think about it much. Whether or not there is a god (uppercase or lowercase G, take your pick), it really doesn’t change what I have to worry about, which is kindness and selfless love to my fellow human and animal.
However, I think Jesus is awesome. That dude, whether or not he was actually divine, was the SHIT. Love, compassion, and truth to power. I can strive no higher.
Jeez, if even Godel fell for this self-serving ontological crap, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Sophistry aside, just ask yourself, if this religion didn’t promise me eternal life/nirvana would I bother to believe in it?
Higgs Boson's Mate
That’s the answer! It explains why God hasn’t spoken to a human since he spoke to the Apostle John, c. 90 A.D. God is in a meeting.
Florida Gulf Coast University might be the biggest sports “miracle” since the 69 Mets. Also, how their Coach met his wife and where their first dinner date was (Taco Bell) should also be considered a miracle.
As for God, I’m a live and let liver (no, Tunch, settle down, not THAT liver) on Belief (or lack thereof). I will say I’ve seen things that defy rationale explanation (beyond the Mets and the Eagles), but have little to no interest in using those experiences to try to convince anyone of anything in an argument that is, by definition, unwinnable.
@Higgs Boson’s Mate:
Such inefficiency. God should trim the fat. The Father should fire the Holy Spirit and dock the Son’s pay in order to incentivize him to work harder. But still keep the Holy Spirit around, you know, in case the Son goes on strike. You can always hire one third of the Holy Trinity to kill the other third.
@MikeJ: It should be evident that once in the warmth of His love, the experience of banging that dude after walking around Montmartre would pale.
The sins of the flesh, and all that.
Higgs Boson's Mate
Damn straight! We know who the Maker was. Time to clear out the Takers.
If it were possible to have a ‘perfect’ being then surely it would also be possible for a ‘perfect’ anti-being and a ‘perfect’ not-being.
Could a ‘perfect’ being resist a ‘perfect’ anti-being?
To not resist would mean that it wasn’t ‘perfect’, to resist would mean that the anti-being was not ‘perfect’.
Therefore, the only option is for a ‘perfect’ not-being.
But then that is no better than nothing at all.
I am not a kook
Ooh, a theologician!
I am an atheist (I grew up culturally Lutheran). I was never wired to look at the world through a religious lens, and I’ve grown more stringent about verifiable facts since. I also studied anthropology. Phew, with that out of the way…
Why do people do compassionate things?
I don’t like biological determinism, but we are social animals, adapted to live in groups with division of labor, hairless apes who cannot grow up to procreative age without others, and we apparently have physiological features that enable us to feel what others are feeling (“mirror neurons”). So there’s the whole evolutionary history. Primates are just wired for social networks (FYFB!).
So all that, and we also have consciousness that differs from other animals (I think we’ll eventually have to acknowledge that it’s a quantitative, not qualitative difference). So, I can figure out that if I help Ugh with her fishing nets today, I can ask her to help spot game the next day or ask her to sit with me in the moonlight tonight and who knows… IOW, cause and effect based reasoning is well developed in our monkey brains (well, compared to cats anyway).
So why do we do compassionate things? Well, why not? You know what – it feels good. Part of it is surely biological, part is cultural (I think we can argue that a human without culture, including language is not fully human, but a tragedy), part is individual reasoning.
I don’t need a metaphysical entity to explain humanity. I find attributing morality to a higher power distasteful because it removes the responsibility from us. Our intermediaries to this higher power (priests and kings and charlatans) have used this “god tells us so” in well known ways. It’s a simplistic notion that we need to grow out of.
I believe we all live in the same physical world. Since humans are such crappy observers and everybody interprets the world in slightly different ways[*], science has grown all its methodologies to nail down the facts that can be nailed down.
Some people mainly see the world through a religious or spiritual lens. That’s fine, that’s their experience of the world. But the difference leads us to talk past each other.
I’m curious how you see this from a theological perspective. It was actually good exercise to type this out, I didn’t really know how much of a materialist I’ve become. Hope it makes some sense.
[*] I recently came across the notion that we all speak our own idiolects and I find that fascinating :)
I am not a kook
@YoohooCthulhu: Thanks for the Watts link. I’d never heard him speak before. He sounds just like a buddhist master, chuckling and tossing off little logic bombs, the bastard. I say bastard in the most loving kindness way, since if I had to pick a “religion” with a gun to my head, I’d be an atheist Buddhist, since it deals mostly with living well in this world. And they always have fun – just see some Dalai Lama interviews.
KS in MA
Y’all might be interested in reading this excerpt from Ronald Dworkin’s book, “Religion Without God,” in the NY Review of Books. Another way of looking at it.
I had a similar reaction on my first exposure to Anselm, except that I imagined the perfect pie. And of course the perfect pie would have to exist or it wouldn’t be perfect because a pie you can’t eat is necessarily flawed. However, as soon as it exists it almost immediately ceases to exist because nom nom nom…
Interesting post and thread.
@Chris: I recall reading a synopsis of a book some years ago whose premise was along the lines of, “If archeologists were to discover Jesus’s bones, would you still be a Christian?” (with the “you” of course being a professing Christian). Being a Christian myself, I thought that was a fascinating moral question. It strikes me as an excellent exercise both intellectually and spiritually for us believers to examine our own morality by challenging and even removing the dogmatic underpinnings of it, to find out how (and how well) it actually ticks.
Likewise, @I am not a kook:
This is one of the things I like best about humanistic atheism. Years ago, when we got into a philosophical/theological discussion, my atheistic/agnostic husband said to me, “If you believe in God, how can you put people first?” My short answer to that is that God himself obliges us to put people first, but this is nevertheless an outstanding question, and presents an excellent challenge within the parameters of belief, since it compels us believers to continually ask ourselves, “Are we putting people first?” This blog is rife with examples where that answer is “no” in egregious and ugly fashion, and it’s easy to get jaded by that. But the fact that we can still have a post and thread like this on this blog, in which we all can and do identify moral and spiritual common ground, shows that these issues can certainly still be addressed in constructive terms.
Why ya’ wanna do this?
There is this Social Science called Anthropology.
We (Anthropologists, or students thereof) consider this kinda shit invalid.
We just went through an installation of a Pope.
Can we leave that bullshit theology argumentation for a later time.
Like maybe, never.
I am not a kook
@Poicephalus: Dude, we’re humans, we’re built to talk shit around the camp fire, or server (hopefully not on fire).
I’ve studied anthropology, there’s nothing human that’s invalid as a subject of study or discussion. Religion is part of the human experience.
The best answer to this is the chapter on religion in Morris’ The Naked Ape. When apes feel social stress they can relieve the stress by acting out rituals of subservience and dominance, reassuring all participants that they are in a socially stable and safe order. The more powerful your alpha male, headman, chief, lord, king, emperor, and god, the more gratifying the obedience ritual.
Indeed, we are psychologically designed to identify with the powerful figure we submit to. Thus, when worshipers declare their faith in god they are at a subconscious level declaring their love for themselves – the more awesome they claim god is, the more awesome they are telling themselves that they are. The apex of this is fundamentalism, which is nearly entirely a matter of a vulgar, narcissistic amour-propre that pretends to be anything but that.
@I am not a kook: You have posted two comments that have used simplicity to speak volumes.
A million years of evolution have created this most amazing social primate.
yeah, i never really understood the obsession with god being ‘perfect’. why can’t god be imperfect? why can’t he make mistakes?
i guess if he isn’t perfect and all-this and all-that, it implies the possibility of some other god which can be more perfect and therefore god isn’t at the top of the pile.
If that logic worked I could imagine a perfect sandwich that would entail that it existed and I’d have a sandwich. Yet I still don’t have a sandwich. QED.
@srv: i’ve always wondered why “Can’t figure it out” automatically = “ergo God.” Makes no sense.
I am still, after all these years, constantly surprised that any halfway educated and sensible person of our time can actually entertain the idea of an Abrahamic deity. When I was about primary school age, I learned about the size, age and hostility to life of the universe, the position and relevance of our planet in it (hooray for popular astronomy books for children), and the deep time, general course and needless cruelty of evolution (yay, dinosaur books). That already blew the idea of a creator god, especially one who cares about us in any way whatsoever, completely out of the water.
Learning about human history and the fragility of our minds and memories to purely physical trauma did not help either. Heck, if you are intellectually honest you just need to open a newspaper to realize that this show is not run by a benevolent god.
I dunno about theology, but I can sing it:
St. Anselm’s Proof of God (To The Tune of Waltzing Matilda)
If that than which no greater thing can be conceived
Can be conceiv-ed not to exist,
Then ’tis not that than which no greater thing can be conceived:
This is ontologically true, I insist.
For in that case one greater thing can be conceived,
Whose major traits we can easily list:
Namely, that than which no greater thing can be conceived
And which cannot be thought not to exist.
Thus spake St. Anselm, thus spake St. Anselm,
Never forgotten though centuries dead,
And we’re awed as we read his proof so ontological
Would that we could understand what he said.
For if that than which no greater thing can be conceived
Has no existence outside of man’s mind,
Then ’tis not that than which no greater thing can be conceived,
Due to the way that the words are defined.
For in that case a greater thing can be conceived
(This is of course analytically true);
Namely, that thing than which no greater thing can be conceived
And which exists in reality too!
Thus spake St. Anselm, thus spake St. Anselm,
Thus spake St. Anselm with pious intent,
And we’re awed as we read his proof so ontological
Would that we could understand what it meant.
If there is such a thing as a perfect God, I would like to subscribe to his/her/its newsletter. Because the local version sucks monkey balls.
So, Jesus “would sniff at people trying to sell righteousness with a syllogism”?
As Descartes might say, I think not. See 1 Corinthians 15:12-28. There, Jesus’ BFF Paul (the real author of Christianity) uses syllogism to make the case. It’s idiotic syllogism but syllogism nevertheless. Credo quia absurdum est.
A unicorn is defined as a horse which has a horn on its head.
If a thing was not a horse with a horn on its head then it would not be a proper unicorn.
I can imagine a horse with a horn on its head, therefore unicorns must exist.
Just because I am capable of imagining something which meets a definition doesn’t mean there really is such a thing.
FTR, I’m sympathetic to much of religion, because it does a lot of good in people’s lives – done right it can build community, charity, and a sense of meaning that people find comforting. You can find all of those things other place too, but that’s like complaining that other people shouldn’t like dark chocolate, because you prefer milk chocolate – it’s no reason to get down on religion per se.
jake the snake
U haz won the internets!
jake the snake
I personally think Yeshua would have called Saul of Tarsus a whited sepulcher. And don’t get me started on Augustine of Hippo blaming women because he couldn’t keep it in his breeches.
I watched the first part of touched by an angel’s bible miniseries. I did get two things out of it, that Eve was the main hero of Genesis, and that Abraham should have told Jevohah to go screw himself.
If god is infinate, how can he/she/it be comprehended by the finate mind. By defination beyond defination. If you can put it in a box it is not infinate.
@jake the snake: Indeed. And when you launch a religion based on the visions of a dude having seizures, you end up with the God you deserve.
@Ecks: Re “done right it can build community” and so on. Done wrong it can lead to crusades, rally genocide, justify a Holocaust, promote slavery, enslave women, launch wars, and cause horrific planes crashes. And then Mussolini, done right, got the trains running on time.
Emily Hauser wrote a fascinating blog post a year or so ago about the concept of an imperfect God, from the standpoint of a Jewish scholar. Needless to say, there’s plenty of evidence supporting it in scripture. Plus, there’s the fun little head-scratcher of an idea that maybe we limit God by thinking of him as perfect, period.
@Alex SL: That’s easy. Everyone makes his or her own spiritual journey through life. Just as not every journey leads to theism, not every journey leads to atheism either.
@Ecks: I’ve always thought that was a goofy argument too. In fact, the more I look at any logical arguments for the existence of a deity, the more I see every one of them going in circles. Belief and logic come from different places in the human consciousness. Trying to make them come from the same place is a fool’s errand.
I once asked a creationist for scientific proof in support of creationism. His verbatim response? “That you exist. Q.E.D.”
Like Homer Simpson’s Wager: “But Marge, what if we chose the wrong religion? Each week we just make God madder and madder.”
I’m not sure why we’re having a discussion of the ontological argument, since Anselm was pretty much the only major thinker to take it very seriously as a profound argument for God’s existence. The primary argument for the existence of God throughout history is Aristotle’s argument of the Unmoved Mover – which is the argument that Aquinas, Maimonides, Joseph Albo, Avicenna, Averroes, Richard of St. Victor, Samuel Clarke, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange and hundreds of others utilize.
“yeah, i never really understood the obsession with god being ‘perfect’. why can’t god be imperfect? why can’t he make mistakes?”
See Aquinas’ Summa Theologica: Prima Pars, Question 4. An Uncaused Cause (Aristotle’s God) must be pure actuality, thus will not lack any potential perfection, thus it will be perfect. It’s a logical necessity of Aristotle’s metaphysics.
“The thing I don’t get about God is that if he’s all powerful, then he must be either really insecure or needy or demanding, because people who believe in him have to praise him all the freaking time. Why does God need all that praise? Isn’t he already the most amazing power out there? He’s going to be that way whether you praise him or not.”
God doesn’t “need” anything at all. Humans praise God not because God needs the praise, but because God (within Aristotlean metaphysics) is the underlying reason why there is something rather than nothing. Within Aristotle, “Man, by nature, desires to know”. Logically, man will desire to know the most important things. The most important things within Aristotle are such things as Being and Becoming, which questions lead directly to the contemplation of God. If humans are doing what they are already inclined to do (their nature), they will be contemplating God.
You should read Hindu philosophy. There are multiple strains of the arguments on the existence of God there, but one of them ultimately come to the conclusion that God can only be defined by what it is not, since humans – not being perfect – are, by definition, incapable of understanding the omnipotent. Logically satisfactory – at least more so than other arguments – but, obviously, of no use at all for practical purposes.
Seems to me that, given an infinite universe anything that can exist must exist so if the universe is infinite and God can exist then God must exist.
But then Einstein pipes in that the universe can’t be infinite ’cause if it were there would be infinite mass and infinite gravety and it all would crash in on itself. Besides, who says God is possible?
Well Einstein says there can be. But Einstein’s God seems to be, well the universe. This is the “God” who doesn’t play dice with the universe so there can’t be any quantum physics. Einstein believed in absolute predetermination so there can’t be any uncertainty principal. Schrodinger’s Cat is either alive or dead and your knowlege one way or the other be damned.
But Vonegut looked at how everything seems to always work out so miraculously and asked how he could continue to be an atheist? But he could.
And so it goes.
Thomas Hobbes would find that hilarious. Nietszche would just shrug.
“Thomas Hobbes would find that hilarious. Nietszche would just shrug.”
The question is whether Aristotle’s metaphysics are logically necessary. Hobbes’ arguments against Aristotle’s metaphysics are fairly weak and insubstantial, in my opinion. I would even go so far as to say that I find Hobbes’ metaphysics to be internally contradictory and incoherent.
@ColleenMary: Because it feels good?
I used to love this shit. Age has dulled my enthusiasm. I have bills to pay now and plumbers who charge Sunday prices.
Modern logic says existence is a quantity not a quality, specifically the quantity greater than zero. So a perfect being could have all the perfect qualities but the quantity of such beings is still zero
Everyone makes his or her own spiritual journey through life.
Talking past each other doesn’t help either. I was writing about demonstrable fact leading directly to the conclusion that the existence of gods is extremely unlikely; you are writing about spiritual journeys.
It could be added that talking about people making spiritual journeys is question-begging. Not only am I reasonably sure that I never made one, I would also immediately ask whether the word “spiritual journey” has any coherent meaning in the first place. It appears that to even intelligibly use that word beyond “being mistaken about how the world works due to wishful thinking” one would first have to demonstrate that spirits actually exist, and that has not been done so far.
See, religious or spiritual people and rationalists agree on using reason, evidence, logic and inference to the simplest explanation under ordinary circumstances (what is that noise? Where is my jacket? How do I get the most out of my field of potatoes?). The rationalist merely applies the same approach consistently to all areas of inquiry while the religious or spiritual person arbitrarily picks some beliefs and fences them off from that approach.
Aristotle isn’t a rationalist? The argument in the Metaphysics is pretty rigorous – you don’t have to accept it, but saying that Aristotle “picks some beliefs and fences them off from” rationality is just ludicrous. And the argument in Aristotle’s Metaphysics (and On the Soul) is, with various modifications, the same argument as used by Aquinas, Maimonides, Richard of St. Victor, Samuel Clarke, Averroes, Al-Farabi, Joseph Albo, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, etc. That is, Aristotle’s metaphysical theory is the argument that underlies much of Islamic, Jewish and Catholic theology – as well as the pagans Aristotle and Cicero, along with prominent Anglican and Lutheran theologians.
You have to do a lot more work than you’re doing.