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Sep 28 2008

Show #572: A Missed Opportunity

What does it mean to say “God Exists”? That was what I examined Sunday afternoon on The Atheist Experience. The statement is brief–only two words. It should be simple, but for some reason, it’s always disproportionately hard.

What is god? Every theist seems to know. Yet no two theists seem to agree. And no one theist seems able to communicate it in a way that actually provides any real, informed data.

I think it’s safe to say a concept of god can exist in any mind. But most apologists put forward that god is not merely mental concept–an idea; god is, rather, existent outside the mind. Despite the often used refrain “god exists like love exists,” I have yet to meet the theist who will then declare that god, like love, is a mental concept with no external referent–solely an idea. God does not exist like love exists, to theists, when you explain how love exists, and ask them if this is what they mean by “god.”

I have been told on air that god is “ultimate strategy,” and tonight someone told me god is “the set of all [logical] possibilities.” What does this mean? I agree there is a set of logical possibilities–but how does that constitute a “god” any more than the set of all ipods constitutes a god? I’m less willing to agree there is such a thing as “ultimate strategy.” I have actually witnessed many times when there are equally efficient strategies for achieving any given goal. But even if there is a most efficient strategy–again, how is that a “god”? This might provide me some shred of information about an individual theist’s concept of a god–but it gives me no data about any god that exists outside this theist’s mind.

Without a god to compare to the theist’s idea, I must acknowledge no real information or data about a god has been provided to me. If a theist claims god is “ultimate strategy”, and I cannot examine god, then I understand his idea of god is “ultimate strategy”–but is there an existent god that actually is “ultimate strategy”? Telling me about an idea of god does not provide me with data about a real, existent god. And our argument is not about anyone’s concept of god. As I said, I fully agree that a person can have a mental model of a god. No one needs to convince me of that. But if a theist is claiming god is more than an idea, then providing me with more and more information about his idea of god helps me not at all. Explaining his idea of god does nothing to support the existence of a god outside his mind.

If his idea of god cannot be verified as correlating to any “god” in objectively verifiable, existent reality, then his idea of god cannot be said to be a god until some external referent can be provided with which to compare his claims. I don’t doubt the theist has an idea of god. I understand that he clearly does. What I doubt is that there is an external referent, “god,” to compare to his claims about his idea. I doubt that his mental model exists in any way outside his own mind.

Meanwhile, there are attempts to “define” god by putting god forward as the cause of particular effects. “God is the creator of the universe,” is one common example (but “the Bible” or “manifestation as Jesus” would work just as well). Ask this theist, “if we examine the universe to determine the cause, and it turns out to be a singularity–is that god to you?” You will find that is not god to the theist. So, “god” is not whatever the evidence asserts is the cause of the universe. God, to this theist is a preconceived concept that exists regardless of the actual cause of the universe. If a singularity turns out to be the best model of what caused the universe, but god, I am told, is not a singularity–then this helps me not at all to understand what it is this theist is calling god. And I am only confused now by his claim that god is what caused the universe. Going back to an earlier point, without a god to examine, I have no idea whether a god is at all connected to the production of any universe, holy books, manifestations of Jesus or prophets, miraculous events, or anything else we can drum up. What is this theist calling god, then? I have no idea.

There are also those who define god as “nothing.” God cannot be measured. Cannot be examined. Cannot be verified. Cannot be known or understood by mere mortals. God is transcendent, supernatural (and what does that mean?), outside time and space. In other words, god shares all the same attributes in objective existence as “nothing.” Except that god is “something,” insists the theist. God is exactly like nothing–except god is something. Not helpful.

In fact, definitions of “god” are as unhelpful as they are confusing. And the only external referents we are given are insufficient, to be kind. Intuition and instinct are often defined as evidence of “god” guiding believers. In my earlier post about Jung’s book “Psychology of Religion,” I discussed his reasons for pointing out that the subconscious mind is more than sufficient to explain why most people who believe in a god, believe in a god. Alternately, claims of miracles are sometimes provided. In fact, on the program, a woman claimed that several years back, she had an indeterminate mass in her chest one morning. She never went to a doctor, so we have no idea what it was. She prayed. It was gone the following morning. Ergo god. I feel no need to critique this “miracle,” as I trust any reader’s capacity to identify the problem here.

I don’t doubt such experiences. However, I’m highly dubious of the presumed interpretations and implications that people place upon them, unfounded.

In the end, I have no idea what any of these people mean when they say “god.” And explanations of what “exist” means only appear to cause more trouble.

Humans use the term “exist” in normal conversation to mean “manifest to humans”–to be somehow measurable in a way that is perceptible to human beings. If I say to you, “give me an example of an existent item,” you will, no doubt, point out something that clearly manifests. Certainly some things are more difficult to make manifest to us than others–but the things that we can measure–difficult or easy–are the only things we can legitimately toss into the group we label “existent.” And, again, just to clarify, I’m not referring here to the existence of ideas–but of the objectively verifiable items we think of as being existent outside our minds.

How do theists tell the difference between existent and nonexistent items? Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? We all are called upon every day of our lives to perform this task. People who can’t perform it are sometimes locked away–considered too defective as human beings to function properly in reality. But never, under any circumstances, underestimate the power of a theist to confuse the simplest of things if they conflict with his belief in god. Don’t get me wrong–existence itself is a real wonder. I’ll be the first to agree that I’m amazed at the idea that I am “here.” I’m confounded by the properties of light. I have no idea what causes matter and energy act on one another as they do. But as odd and wonderful as existence can be, is it incorrect to claim that we can tell the difference between that which exists and that which does not exist? If we can, how can we? If we cannot, then how can it mean anything to say that any item or entity exists?

This is a fair question–and one I was repeating often on the program. But at a pivotal point, with a caller on the line, I failed to address it. Alisha called to talk about “The Void.” Apparently god is a physics model called “The Void.” Alisha is going to send us some information so we can look into this for ourselves. “The Void,” according to Alisha, is the set of all possible items. Somehow, we reached a later consensus of “logically possible” items. But, when pressed as to whether she believed in a god or not, she said it was possible. “All things are possible,” she quickly added.

My first failing was in not pointing out that not all things are possible. As I had noted earlier, logical impossibilities can be formed. There are no married bachelors. I might have asked Alisha how much she believes her own statement. If I drop a lead weight off a building on a normal day–does Alisha think we can predict accurately whether the weight will float away like a soap bubble or fall to the ground? Or is she unsure what the weight will do–since all things are possible?

Carl Sagan once repeated a quote that it is fine to keep an open mind, but it may not be wise to keep your mind so open that your brain falls out. Did Alisha mean that at the singularity, we cannot say what is and is not possible? I don’t know, because she didn’t mention the singularity. Did Alisha mean that relativity and uncertainty and subatomic behavior wreak havoc with our physical “laws”? Perhaps. That was my initial assumption. But should I have to assume and guess at what someone means? If a theist expects to communicate an idea, and he is unclear about this idea–how can he possibly hope to provide an understanding of it to another human being? If a theist can’t explain what he means, he will sound as though he is saying he doesn’t understand what he believes. And if that is the message, how can he then ask me, not only to share that belief, but to even comprehend it?

But I missed a golden opportunity. We asked the caller if she believes fairies exist. Her response was “It’s possible.” OK, I understand her framework. No matter how farfetched I make the example, I am going to get “it’s possible.” While this may be an interesting philosophical thought, is it not the case in reality that we operate as though certain possibilities are not possible, and that others are so probable that one would be a fool to doubt them? For example, there may be an invisible, pandimensional vehicle in the middle of my lane as I’m driving forward on the highway. Should I swerve to avoid it–since it is possible the cars on either side of me will not be impacted by my car as the mass of my vehicle moves through them effortlessly? Philosophically, we can acknowledge this is possible. Realistically, however, will it work? Does anyone who holds to this philosophical claim walk the walk in their life outside of their god claims? Not that I’ve ever seen.

Did my brain lock up? I’m not sure. But the next question I should have asked was “is there anything you are willing to acknowledge does not exist?” At this point I can only wager a guess–since I didn’t ask. But based on her response about the fairies, I’ll wager that Alisha would not be willing to state conclusively that any item-X does not exist. I do not think that is an unfair characterization of her mindset during our discussion. All things, after all, are possible, to Alisha. She cannot, therefore, say they do not exist. Gods, fairies–sky’s the limit.

Alisha scores a brilliant gold star for consistency. However, she presents a major dilemma for the claim “god exists.” What does it mean to exist in a reality where nothing can be said to NOT exist? If we cannot differentiate between existent and nonexistent items–does it mean anything to claim that any item-X “exists”? Rhetorical as that could be, let me answer for clarity’s sake: No.

In order for Alisha’s god to “exist” requires “exist” to be redefined to include all items–whether they actually exist or not. In other words, it’s the same as defining “red” as “all colors–whether they are red or not.” If we accept that, does it then mean anything anymore to call something “red”? No. It doesn’t.

I missed my chance to exercise the point of my presentation live and on the air. And I couldn’t have asked for a more serendipitous opportunity. My only excuse is that when presented with claims that are unfamiliar, unclear, and that defy my experience with reality, it is sometimes difficult for me to wrap my brain around them in the present moment. And it is only later, after some consideration, that the bizarre contortions of logic that were used become clear.

“God exists.” Three callers later and I still don’t have a clue what I’m even being asked to believe.

36 comments

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  1. 1
    Cafeeine Addicted

    I was listening on the podcast this morning and when you talked about how no theist considers God solely as a concept, I realized that I did so at some point, and it was one of the first steps taken before I acknowledged my atheism (although its fair to say I was never heavily indoctrinated in my youth). Therefore I think there is I think a point where people experience this cognitive dissonance, whereas they can respond to certain arguments as if God was a concept, and to certain ones are if he is a tangible person. Furthermore, they are brought into the idea that while these two types of existence being concurrent is self-contradictory, it is a testament of the divine nature that they do in fact coexist.On a different note, I move that you guys always make a post before an AE show, where us non-Austin listeners can throw ideas around (I guess Austinians –is that correct?– can join in too…)

  2. 2
    Unethical Chum Tin

    Cafeeine Addicted said: “On a different note, I move that you guys always make a post before an AE show, where us non-Austin listeners can throw ideas around (I guess Austinians –is that correct?– can join in too…)”I second that emotion.

  3. 3
    tracieh

    Cafeeine:I accept your claim about your own view of god at that time in your life. Often on the show we do (not just me, but others as well) generalize. My program yesterday was mainly about theists who promote their views in public forums–people we might engage with because they are arguing for their ideas.I think _generally_ the people most eager to convince us that “god exists” are promoting that god exists as more than a concept. However, I don’t doubt that there are people who consider themselves theists who hold that god is only a concept. In fact, they are often critical of more famous atheists; they claim that the idea that god is an existent, objective reality is unsophisticated and not what “god” is at all–and that real Christians understand that.However, that does not reflect the majority of Christians (or theists/deists) who contact our list to explain that god exists.Still, your point is taken. And I am happy to clarify that I am generalizing about the most regular theists I encounter at AE.When you say “make a post”–do you mean with regard to the topic of the program that will be airing?

  4. 4
    Matt D.

    There was a second “missed opportunity” yesterday – and the last caller tried to address it.He was correct, we hung up on Diane too early. What we should have done was recommend she see a doctor, despite any fears. Not so she could have better evidence for her supposed miracle, but so she could have better information with which to make decisions about her health.Given recent happenings, I’m rather irritated that I didn’t think of that.-Matt

  5. 5
    Jeremy

    “God exists.” Three callers later and I still don’t have a clue what I’m even being asked to believe.That’s probably because they’ve rarely given any thought as to what they’re asking (or demanding, in some cases) you to believe in the first place. It would seem that god was set up to be believed in, not thought about. That’s probably why we have so many conlicting and meaningless responses to the question, even from members of the same religion.

  6. 6
    Joe McCraw

    Such a great show this week!I gotta say that the clarity in which Tracie posed her questions couldn’t have been better. I’ve tried to articulate that exact thought, but I’ve never been as succinct.The statement “God Exists” is ridiculously nebulous.As people try to explain it, the concept falls apart unto it’s own illogic. People don’t usually know what they mean by the term god, yet it rarely stops them from asserting it’s existence. I’m glad you touched on these nebulous ideas of what it means for something it exist.

  7. 7
    TheBrainFromPlanetArous

    Tracie,Good show. You and Matt both were inhumanly patient with those callers – esp the “God is the void” one. I fear, though, that the problem (and our mutual frustration) with apologetics may well be insoluble.I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason for all the endless bad logic, special pleading, question begging, etc. on the part of believers is that their claims are essentially incoherent.It’s not that they’re lying; they are HONESTLY not making a bit of sense.

  8. 8
    TheBrainFromPlanetArous

    Another matter entirely is the “switching” rhetorical move we always see – with which Jeff Dee was so famously impatient as show host.”My beliefs are true because X.”.(Atheist challenges X.)”Oh yeah, well what about Y?”(Atheist rebuts Y.)”How about Z, then?!”This “switching” trick is sheer bad faith; outright sleight of hand.I suspect the believers know, or fear, that their arguments are houses of cards.Hence they are abandoned when the slightest challenge is presented – like defensive trenches evacuated at the mere appearance of enemy soldiers with hardly a shot being fired.They don’t dig in or man the barricades because their positions are not defensible and were never intended to be. Theirs is a combat of maneuver; keep asking questions, begging other questions, changing the subject. Eventually the skeptic will respond with “Well, I dunno about that but maybe…” at which point, at long last, they finally plant their flag.”Ah-ha! And THAT’S how I know there’s a God!”I know this trick well, because I used to do it myself.- George, NY

  9. 9
    Sparrowhawk

    This is a problem that you will ALWAYS run into with people who believe in god(s). Of course they’ll say they believe that god “exists”, because otherwise they don’t really believe it do they? Why claim to believe in something and then not really care whether or not its real? Or so goes their logic anyway.But of course the very definition of god for most people is something that “exists”, but is a different kind of existence. I don’t know what the hell that means any better than any of you, but they have to find a way to explain away the fact that their god is completely undetectable, completely impossible to understand, and completely impossible to explain in any way, shape or form. It’s part of the package. It’s a form of “prestige” that they feel. They get it!It’s almost as if people enjoy being able to say all that poetic, flowery stuff about “god being so great and his glory so awe-inspiring that the brains of mankind can not even comprehend it and…” blah blah blah. They know that this isn’t a truly “logical” argument, but I really think that people like this feel like they have to believe in something so completely contradictory and unknowable in order to make their lives “richer” or something. Sure, for you and I that doesn’t seem beautiful and poetic or enriching at all…it doesn’t even make sense to us, but that’s probably why we’ve rejected the claims about god that have been made to us.I think it ties back in to the whole accusation from theists (and other types of people I’m sure) that we “worship” reason. I realize I may be overgeneralizing a bit here, but people like to accuse atheists and others of putting too much stock in reason, because reason is “cold” and “boring” and just…they assume we only “believe” in things that we can literally touch and feel, and oh poor us because how dull and uninteresting. I realize this isn’t a fully fleshed-out argument, but I really think most theists get a sense of pride from “knowing” that they understand something that they just can’t explain to you…because you won’t open your heart…blah blah blah. But you know what, theists? We aren’t ALL satisfied by the idea of living in a made-up poetic fairy-tale world with gods and spirits and ghosts just because it “feels” better. Obviously, if it felt better to us, we’d do it…but it isn’t enough. That’s the key difference I think…or at least one of them.

  10. 10
    crucifinch

    Tracie, thank you again for another brilliant show. Your analysis of the phrase “God exists” was well thought out (as always) and I hope you won’t mind if I add some of your points to my mental arsenal for later use.”My only excuse is that when presented with claims that … defy my experience with reality, it is sometimes difficult for me to wrap my brain around them in the present moment.”I was totally brainf***ed by the end of that last caller, so who could blame you?

  11. 11
    Zurahn

    Great great work on the show Tracie, it was the best topic in a long while.I think it’s possible to define both a god and the word existence to include it, but I don’t think many theists could.I hadn’t really thought about asking what people mean by the “exists” part of “god exists.” It’s nice when you make me think :)

  12. 12
    Cafeeine Addicted

    Tracie,I see what you mean, and I agree that those driven to promote their faith to others are in my experience as you describe. I did not mean my post as a rebuke, but rather as an complement. I wanted to comment because at the time I mentioned, I would have answered ‘yes’ to the question ‘do you believe in god?’ and would have considered myself a theist.A further point is that people do not actually care that their god concept makes sense, or has internal consistency, as long as it provides them with answers. Those that come to be apologists usually try to turn the tables, and claim that the inherent contradiction between the attributes they give God could only be a mark of His (sic) omnicognitiveness. They are taught that God is the ultimate answer to their questions, and therefore the perceived nature of God will be contigent to the types of questions thought of by the theist. Therefore God can be logical or beyond logic, loving, cruel, just, jealous, material, immaterial, imperious of self-sacrificing. In every case, God will be there, justifying the term Deus Ex Machina. As for the blog posts, yes, a place for discussion of the topic at hand, as well as the show in general, from comments on various callers to whatever hat Matt is wearing that day (I really need to open Google video to see that safari hat)

  13. 13
    tracieh

    I just want to thank the commentors for your feedback and insights. I appreciate them. I don't have much to add. I agree with mostly everything stated so far in this section. One response I would make is to this comment:>Obviously, if it felt better to us, we'd do it…but it isn't enough.I appreciate your caveat, Sparrow, that you were writing on the fly and thinking out loud here. I take the post with that grain of salt. That being said, I would revise that line to say that I wouldn't believe a thing necessarily because it felt better. If I suspected my spouse was lying to me, it certainly would feel better to believe he was not–but I wouldn't disregard my suspicions and not consider the possibility of lying simply because it feels better to have an honest spouse.I don't think you'd disagree. I just thought that clarification should be communicated. Perhaps that is what you meant by "it isn't enough" (that it isn't enough for a belief to feel good)? I couldn't actually tell.

  14. 14
    -C

    The show sounds fascinating! And I wants to watch its, but it’s not yet on google video. :(

  15. 15
    Kingasaurus

    “A further point is that people do not actually care that their god concept makes sense, or has internal consistency, as long as it provides them with answers.”This is a perfect illustration of the concepts outlined in Harry Frankfurt’s essay On Bullshit.

  16. 16
    Cafeeine Addicted

    “This is a perfect illustration of the concepts outlined in Harry Frankfurt’s essay On Bullshit.”Is this it?I don’t have the time to read that tonight, but I hope thats a good thing.

  17. 17
    Kingasaurus

    The most pertinent part, I think, is this:”When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”The callers arguing with Tracy seem to fit this category, especially when challenged by someone who disagrees. Their “answers” must be defended at all costs, and the question of whether the answers they have are – deep down – the correct ones don’t ultimately matter. They aren’t really interested in what’s true, only defending what they find comfortable in their minds.

  18. 18
    tracieh

    Just to add that I appreciate the further comments on bullshit. And I think they are entirely appropriate.

  19. 19
    Curt Cameron

    I too thought it was a great topic – good work, Tracie.May I defend the guy who came up with the “ultimate strategy” bit a couple of months ago? My impression was that he was using that as an example of something that we know exists (the best possible strategy in some situation), without our necessarily knowing what it is. I don’t think he was defining God as “the ultimate strategy.”In light of this week’s show, he was also comparing God to a concept which has no actual manifestation. Tracie would have pinned him on the “exists” part of his analogy.

  20. 20
    Tom Foss

    Brainfromarous: This “switching” trick is sheer bad faith; outright sleight of hand.I suspect the believers know, or fear, that their arguments are houses of cards.I don’t know if it’s quite so well-thought-out. It seems to me that many believers, especially of the less skilled or thoughtful sort, work with an evangelical script. They’ve heard from the pulpit, or they’ve read online, lists of common criticisms of religion and the pat apologetic responses to them–or, more frequently, lists of things to ask or say to nonbelievers (a la the Ray Comfort tracts). In those scripts, everything is laid out in such a way that there is one question, one response, and one winner–the evangelist. Atheists rarely stick to the script, and often (I think) expose problems in the original question. The theist is left with three options: repeat the question until receiving the desired response, move on to the next point on the list and hope for a better outcome, or move off-script and into unfamiliar territory. It may not be quite so simple, but I’m convinced that quite a lot of believers are expecting particular responses to their questions, and particular reactions to their arguments. When they don’t get what they expect, they’re left in a sort of panic. In my experience online, and in hearing callers to the show, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard all three responses.sparrowhawk: It’s a form of “prestige” that they feel. They get it!Or at least pretend to. They know all the right words to say, whether or not they know what they mean–much like how I could recite the Lord’s Prayer as a kid, but had no idea what I was actually saying. It is, quite simply, the Emperor’s new clothes. They can pretend to that prestige, even if they can’t actually describe what the clothes look like. And then there’s that class of evangelist who make the roundabout claim that it’s true because it’s so unbelievable, contradictory, and incoherent, and so forth. I’ve never understood that one. Great show; I wish Diane had let you get a word in edgewise, though. She might have put some thought into her claims if she could have stopped spouting apologetics and anecdotes and declaring premature victory for a second. Incidentally, it’s been awhile since I was in a Physics class, but I couldn’t stop shaking my head during Alisha’s tirade. First, “void” to me isn’t a set of anything–it’s a set of nothing. It sounded to me like she was talking rather confusedly about vacuum fluctuations, where particle-antiparticle pairs spontaneously appear and subsequently annihilate even in a complete vacuum, according to quantum mechanics. The net energy is still zero, so there’s no violation of thermodynamics, and I think this is at the heart of Vic Stenger’s hypothesis about the origins of the universe (though I could be mistaken about that, and I know there’s some contention about his hypothesis besides), but it’s certainly nothing mystical. The Biblical quote she referenced at the beginning was Gen. 1:2: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”She’s naturally just quote-mining the word “void,” trying to map it onto physical concepts, and ignoring that “the earth was without form, and void” simply meant that the world was shapeless and empty.

  21. 21
    Eric Ross

    Tracie,If you will permit me to role-play theist’s advocate for a moment … I would think the theist’s argument would be that God occasionally manifests. For the most part, God leaves the universe to its own laws, but from time to time, subject to his inscrutable will, he intervenes. He manifested as Jesus about 2000 years ago, of course, but also manifests in modern times by occasionally communicating with people, providing guidance, answering prayers, and performing miracles. The theist might add that God’s manifestations are so sporadic and unpredictable (from the point of view of “limited” beings like humans), that any attempt to detect him will fail.Now I can think of several responses to this. I might point out, for example, that this is a sly attempt to have it both ways — claiming that God does manifest, but only occasionally, and only in ways that are unverifiable. However, I would be interested in knowing your response, Tracie.

  22. 22
    TheBrainFromPlanetArous

    Eric, I’ve heard that many a time. Thing is, this is no different from what ANY adherent of ANY religion could say – including those whom more conventional theists (the Big Three) would find outrageous. Christians retreating to such a position have no grounds to protest when a druid, say, makes the exact same claim.”Well sure, most trees are just… you know… trees. But some are in fact magical and they speak ancient wisdom to me during sacred rites.No, I can’t make them talk to you. No, you’re not invited to the next sacred rite.”

  23. 23
    Cafeeine Addicted

    Eric, while I agree that this is a common occurrence with apologists, it still does not address the questions of what ‘god’ is, or by what meaning the word ‘existence’ applied to Him/It has.

  24. 24
    tracieh

    Cafeeine:Right answer.Eric:What you are decribing is not a response to the question “What is god?” but a response to the question “What does god do?”Saying the sun heats the earth does not answer the question “What is the sun?”The attempt to say that “god manifests as Jesus” is really just a restatement that god was the cause of Jesus’ existence on earth.The problem is this: Things that do not exist cannot be the cause of other things.This is not a presupposition that god exists, but a point that we cannot use circular evidence.That is: Jesus was a rare manifestation of fairies. Jesus existed. Ergo, fairies exist.I think you can see the problem there.Same with miracles. Any event that god “causes” can only really be caused by a god if there is an existent god. So, we’re back to square one: Is there a god that could even be responsible for these events?In order to answer that, we must identify “god”–not a god effect. And to do that, we have to have some idea of what we’re actually looking for–which we don’t. And we’re faced with the original dilemma agian: How do we define god?Until we can answer the question “What is god?” It is not logical to assert that god “does” anything. We have no god to examine, so we have no way to test any claims about what god “does.”What if we find a god and we determine it does not manifest as people–like Jesus? Then our assessment as Jesus as an effect of the cause god was a misinterpretation of the data.We cannot assume an effect is the result of cause god without any verification of the existence of a god.This was addressed my paragraph in the blog about god creating the universe:”Meanwhile, there are attempts to “define” god by putting god forward as the cause of particular effects. “God is the creator of the universe,” is one common example (but “the Bible” or “manifestation as Jesus” would work just as well). Ask this theist, “if we examine the universe to determine the cause, and it turns out to be a singularity–is that god to you?” You will find that is not god to the theist. So, “god” is not whatever the evidence asserts is the cause of the universe. God, to this theist is a preconceived concept that exists regardless of the actual cause of the universe. If a singularity turns out to be the best model of what caused the universe, but god, I am told, is not a singularity–then this helps me not at all to understand what it is this theist is calling god. And I am only confused now by his claim that god is what caused the universe. Going back to an earlier point, without a god to examine, I have no idea whether a god is at all connected to the production of any universe, holy books, manifestations of Jesus or prophets, miraculous events, or anything else we can drum up. What is this theist calling god, then? I have no idea.”That’s pretty much my response to that line of reasoning.

  25. 25
    tracieh

    Just to make it clear, I should add that if we plug in Jesus, it works like this: If we examine Jesus and determine he was just a normal man–will the theist still accept that "Jesus is the manifestation of god?"No, he will most likely not. So, his definition of Jesus as god is not actually genuine. He has a preconceived model of god, and Jesus can only be that god if Jesus fits that model. Jesus does not dictate the model–so to say "Jesus is god" does not fly–since the god model does not rely on Jesus, but rather Jesus would have to be redefined to suit the model for this to work. And that's not how reality operates. The theist presupposes a god model and imposes it onto Jesus–then declares "Jesus is god." But whatever Jesus is, is not god to the theist. Jesus is only god if Jesus was, in fact, the cause of the existent god the theist asserts. So, the theist is presupposing god exists before he uses "Jesus" as his evidence for god's existence.It really is a case of:>Does a divine god exist?>Jesus is a divine god.>Jesus existed.>Therefore god exists.If Jesus was not a divinity–this line of reasoning falls flat. And for Jesus to have been a divinity–god must first exist.It's no different than saying:1. God wrote the bible2. The bible exists.3. Therefore, god exists.I can't presuppose my conclusion within my argument in order to prove my conclusion.

  26. 26
    Cafeeine Addicted

    Regarding the request for posts relegated to shows, it might help alleviate the tons of mails you guys get, as we can answer some questions among ourselves. With the new time slot I expect you are hoping for more viewers / listeners, so this could be beneficial for both sides.

  27. 27
    Canterbury Atheists

    Wow great post, which I mused over and then expanded-on using the proxy ‘God is an Idea’(full article on my blog)Thought provoking stuff, well done.

  28. 28
    Eric Ross

    I agree that my previous post said little, if anything, about what God is. However, for the narrow point that I am addressing — that it is possible to meaningfully claim “God exists” — I do not need to.By way of analogy, physicists claim that dark matter exists without knowing what dark matter actually is. They simply observe that dark matter manifests as gravity and conclude that dark matter exists, with the important caveat that whatever dark matter is, it must be fundamentally separate from everything we already know about. If the gravity now attributed to dark matter were shown to be caused by “ordinary” matter or energy, for example, the claim “dark matter exists” would be refuted.Similarly, if the theist claims that God occasionally manifests as miracles, for example, he has made a meaningful claim that “God exits”, providing that he adds that miracles are violations of the laws of physics and thus cannot be manifestations of anything natural. He does not need to say anything more about what God is. Now, I certainly believe that the theist is incorrect, but I cannot say that his claim is meaningless.

  29. 29
    Tom Foss

    I don’t understand how something can “occasionally” manifest. We’re not sure what dark matter is, but it certainly doesn’t spend its time blinking in and out of existence. A thing exists, or it does not; I know of no entity in the universe which exists, then ceases to exist, then manifests again, and I can’t see how you could meaningfully claim that such a thing “exists” during those times when it is not manifesting.

  30. 30
    Uncle Bob

    This youtube video does a great job going over the argument of God’s ontology. He has two follow up videos also. Check it out

  31. 31
    tracieh

    Eric:You are missing a highly important and very fundamental difference between things like “dark matter” and “god.”I have clearly indicated it, but you’re not understanding the significance for some reason. So here’s an example that hopefully will help. There is a WORLD of difference between these two views:Situation 1. The universe exists. I wonder if it has a cause? Let’s see if we can establish an age to the universe. Ah, we can–it turns out that when we test for it, we can see it’s 100 billion years old (I haven’t looked up the actual age–so this is just a convenient placeholder at the moment). So, prior to 100 billion years ago, there was no universe. I don’t know what caused it to start, but I’ll call it “Event X.” All I can say about Event X at the moment is that it occurred 100 billion years ago.Event X exists–no matter what it is. It is only defined as the cause of an observable event that is established reality. Event X is a model that MUST conform to data. And if the data changes, so will Event X change to conform to the data. Event X is a model–a placeholder while more data is gathered to more fully explain the cause of the universe (the effect of Event X). The effect is examined and tested to define the cause.Situation 2: The universe exists. It must have a cause. The cause is god. And god did it 6,000 years ago. Someone else tests and determines that the age of the universe is 100 billion years. But that conflicts with my belief about god, so the data must be rejected as untrustworthy, because my model requires a 6,000 year old universe.THIS is the difference. Dark Matter is a model that serves an explanatory function. God serves no explanatory function, because the model god exists independently of any actual data. Whatever the data–the data MUST conform to the model. And that’s not how science works. The model MUST conform to the data.When the universe proves to be 100 billion years old, the scientific model must be one that accounts for a 100 billion year old universe. God does not work that way. The model god is held as infallible–even if data contradicts the model.When someone holds to a belief even though data contradicts it–that is defined as a “delusion.”But that is the main difference between the models. I, personally, based on my lack of knowledge of Dark Matter, cannot say it exists. I can only say it offers the best model to fit the current facts/needs. If a better model comes along and requires that Dark Matter be redefined or even abandoned–I have no doubt that science will comply. Religion, on the other hand, insists that the data should be rejected and the model held. That’s a huge difference in the paradigms of religion and science. “Dark Matter” “exists” in a tentative state in science–not in the same way god “exists”–as a reality that cannot be questioned.I don’t know if you can grasp that or not–but if not, I’m at a loss as to how to make the problem any more clear.

  32. 32
    tracieh

    Tom:Virtual particles are interesting things that do exactly what you’re describing–pop into and out of existence.That terminology is highly relevant, because while they do not manifest they ARE described as _not existing_–and I agree.Now this is the current model for these things, and maybe they aren’t doing what they appear to be doing. My only point would be that if they do “sometimes manifest”–then they also, by necessity “sometimes exist.”And I would hold god to that same standard. If god is not manifest god does not exist. If god is manifest, god exists. So, if we have a sometimes manifesting god, we also have a sometimes existing god. But we still need to define and identify and verify that manifestation–just like we have done for virtual particles up to this point.

  33. 33
    rogerdr

    Good show. And for your troubles, I give you a gift!”is there an existent god that actually is ‘ultimate strategy’?”Ask, and you shall receive.

  34. 34
    tracieh

    Thanks Roger. I appreciate the whimsical nature of your post. But I do want to point out, again, that I work as a project manager, so I’m familiar with process efficiency. And _sometimes_ there is a “most efficient” path to a goal–but sometimes, really, not.During the show where the one person was putting forward god as ultimate strategy or like ultimate strategy (as one commenter claims I misunderstood the point)–he was making an assumption that an ultimate strategy for “everything” or “the universe” exists. And I refused to concede that. When I insisted that there can be equally efficient strategies for achieving the same goal (same level of resources and same timeline, but different process), he simply disagreed that was a possibility–but I’ve seen it, so he’s just flat wrong.

  35. 35
    Tom Foss

    Virtual particles are interesting things that do exactly what you’re describing–pop into and out of existence.True enough, at least to some degree. When two electrons exchange virtual photons, though, I’m not entirely sure that I’d say they’re tossing the same photons back and forth. In other words, I’m not sure that I’d agree that a single virtual particle exists, then ceases to exist, then exists again, when it seems equally likely that it’s one virtual particle popping into existence and then out of existence again, then a second virtual particle popping into existence, and then a third, and so on. Each virtual particle then exists briefly–as most things in the universe do–and then ceases to exist thereafter. I’m not sure how you’d even test to see if it’s the same virtual particle popping back and forth, since they tend not to stick around long enough to be measured. But I’ll admit that it’s been awhile since I took a quantum class, and longer still since I really looked into the mechanics of virtual particles (other than on Wikipedia), so I’m not sure.

  36. 36
    Eric Ross

    The only point I have been trying to make (and I thought this would be uncontroversial) is that it is possible to state “God exists” and have that statement mean something. I completely agree that many theists fail to do this. I certainly share Tracie’s frustration with the fact that many theists simply ignore or shrug off evidence that does not fit their model of God, and/or hold their model of God to be impervious to any evidence-based challenge (or any challenge, for that matter). Although I could quibble with the semantics, I will agree that when people like this say “God exists”, it is a meaningless statement. However, that does not disprove my point.So Tracie, are you therefore saying that it is impossible for anyone to meaningfully state “God exists”? If not, I think we agree.

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