Hello Bob, I wonder would you mind elucidating these points a little further which you made here:
Similarly, for me, God is a useful idea. There are communities of people who study and talk about God. Just like with energy, there's a whole, vast literature about God, some of it pretty firm, some of it more speculative, a lot of it hard for outsiders to understand without extensive study.
We had recently mentioned opening a separate discussion on what your understanding of God is. I am an ex-Catholic and having grown up in Ireland and lived here for over 40 years I thought I knew all about what a Catholic believed. However I have no understanding of what your definition of God is. I have no problem understanding what you mean when discussing Physics but I am lost when it comes to figuring out what you mean by “God”. Anytime we have asked you to explain you appear to avoid the question by the use of analogies as to how Science works. That might be not as you see it but it does appear that way to me.
“God is a useful idea” is the same (to my ears) as saying “God is a concept”. An idea is abstract and subjective. The idea of God is an idea. The concept of God is a concept. To me, it does not seem that you belief in a “real” God but rather in the idea of one. This also seems strange to me as you have a very clear understandings of scientific concepts and I cannot “get” how you can and also maintain that “God” is still useful to answer the bigger questions.
I understand all the ontological arguments from Anselm to WL Craig on one hand and Big Bang Cosmology to Quantum Mechanics (which nobody understands :-)) on the other but I don’t want to go down the road of Science vs. Religion until we get to grips with what you actual beliefs are, if that's ok with you.
So would you mind defining what (or who) God is to you and what your basic beliefs are?
Note: anyone can join this discussion but let’s aim to stay focused on the nature of belief.
Let me open by stating the obvious. I am an atheist. I hold no beliefs in the existence of any Gods, least of all a personal God that is concerned with my life. You said (above) that among the vast (historic) literature about God that some of it is “pretty firm”. I wonder what that is as it all seems “speculative” to me. I have never been able to find any evidence - not proof - just simple evidence to give some credence to the idea that God may be more than just a concept. It is because of this that I find it difficult to understand how other people can maintain a belief in God. I can understand the Deists accepting that “a God” may exist but not the theists when they state that a specific God exists and that they have a “personal relationship” with that God.
Finally Bob, I am entering into this in the spirit of having an interesting philosophical debate. I am sure at the end of it neither of us will budge too much. That is not the point of this discussion. It is to see if we can understand each other’s beliefs or lack of them a little more. The debate itself is the prize. So over to you Bob, if you wish to reply.
Bob, maybe if we look at your use of analogies from a different perspective.
If you were giving a group of students a lecture on (say) Gravity would it go something like this?
…and to recap…..Aristotle’s ideas about the motion of objects was flawed because he did not understand the concept of the attraction of objects due to their mass. Forces acted upon each other even if no contact between them was made. Newton moved the idea further along with his understanding of Force and Mass and the universal Gravitational constant. Einstein stood on their shoulders and realised that time and space are interwoven and that massive objects distort this fabric of space-time with his theory. It is like the way we grow to know God. When we are young ours ideas are a bit like Aristotle’s but as we grow in faith we can appreciate the beauty of Einstein’s ideas. So really what we are doing when we study Science is that we are discovering the beauty of the Universe as God reveals it to us through Science.
No, Bob, I cannot hear you say this to anyone. Yet when we are discussing the nature of religious belief or debunking theistic based explanations for natural phenomena you will do the above in reverse and try to explain to us where we are wrong with the use of a science based analogy rather than directly address the point made.
You would not say (would you?) that a photon acting on an electron and therefore causing it to move position is like how God operates. You know, we can’t actually see him but we can observe his presence because we feel moved by the light he shines on us.
You would say (to us Atheists) when we say that there is no evidence for your God that is like Energy that cannot be measured but you know it is present because you can feel its heat. That never addresses the point of our argument. So rather than using the analogy just explain where there is evidence for your God or at least tell us where we are wrong.
Explain to us why we are wrong for not believing in (your) God in a straightforward manner with no theological padding. Why Bob do you believe in the existence of your God?
I hope my point is made. I must brush up on my use of analogies!!
I'm looking forward to Bob's answer, he is a bright guy and should be able to articulate an answer.
Everybody has a different definition of god from benevolent sky daddy to Einstein's god which even I can believe in because there really isn't a "God" there. As for me, I cannot define that which doesn't exist except in terms so broad as to be worthless.
Maybe Bob, if I explain it another way……
I regularly engage in debates with theists of different faiths. It is seldom that I can get anyone to explain to me what they actually believe. Most offer only an obscure notion of what or who their God is. They assume that I somehow know their God on a personal level and that I am refusing to acknowledge “His” existence, which to them is apparently self-evident. They think that I am being somehow disingenuous when I ask for an explanation or definition.
Usually I get to hear about how HE is omniscient or omnipotent. When I point out the various contradictions in those concepts and ask for something more concrete I get told that He is all-loving, all powerful, all forgiving and that if I only read the Koran or Bible that I would “come to know Him”. When I explain that I have read both those books (I often think atheists know more about them than your average theist) and start quoting them I get stared at as if I am “Satan”. “How could this Atheist know our book and not believe” to which I might quote from the Merchant of Venice:
“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”
Eventually……always eventually…….the Faith Card gets played. I am told that “my heart is not open” to hear the Lord’s words and often It is because I “lack humility”. Christians will have no problem knocking on my front door to tell me that I lack it. Not only do they know the Truth but they can show me the way to finding it myself. I tell them “I do not believe what you believe” and when I ask for evidence I am told that I should just read the Bible as it is all there is black and white for me.
I tell them that the Bible is not proof of anything; it is the claim. I ask for some evidence, a single shred, a morsel…anything. They all think that they can show me some. Never once has anyone ever shown me anything. Not a Jehovah Witness, not a Baptist, not a Muslim, nobody ever has. Everything and anything ever pandered as evidence is always (yes, always) just an argument as to the existence of their God. They see their subjective opinions as being objective evidence because others share the same opinions with the same enthusiasm.
However Bob, (if you read this) I believe that you understand the distinction that I am making when I ask for something more substantial than vague definitions or subjective opinions that are held only because of the emotional impact they have on the people that hold them.
So will you not define your God to me? Don’t assume I already “kind of know”. In a few bullet pointed sentences can you explain what God is to you and on what knowledge you base your faith upon?
Let’s use the term “Knowledge” in the philosophical sense where Knowledge is a belief that is justified and true.
When someone tells me that they are (say) a Christian the only thing I know about them is how they view the world. To me they have constructed a worldview that is based upon magical thinking. Its cornerstones are sunk into supernatural cement that never sets. The only way I can take their beliefs seriously is if they can show me that they are not just purely subjective.
If they cannot share that “knowledge” with me so I can evaluate it then I can only assume that they are unable to do so. This is because their beliefs are based upon faith alone. If they at least admit that they have no objective reasons we can move on. However to imply that the Atheist worldview is wrong because we don’t believe what you (any other theist) believes while refusing to explain yourself is bad manners.
If you do not want you your beliefs to be criticized then you should not air them on an atheist website. If you don’t or won’t explain yourself then you lose your credibility and our respect.
The silence is hauntingly devastating.
For me the silence is deafening, but understandable. :)
When someone tells me that they are (say) a Christian the only thing I know about them is how they view the world. To me they have constructed a worldview that is based upon magical thinking. Its cornerstones are sunk into supernatural cement that never sets.
This is exactly how I feel, and I only wish I had thought to put it this way myself. Bravo, sir.
Thanks Stutz, it's good to see an old face about :-)
Where questions of religion are concerned, people are guilty of every possible sort of dishonesty and intellectual misdemeanour.
Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion and from the start of Chapter 11 of God is not Great.