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May 22 2008

The end of god-16: The tortured reasoning of the new apologetics

(For previous posts in this series, see here.)

In the previous post I discussed the fact that the new religious apologists start by arguing that a God of the Ultimate Gaps cannot be ruled out as a logical possibility and then simply assert that this means one can believe in a Personal God as well.

This raises an interesting question. Why do religious apologists take this tortured style of bait and switch arguing? Why not, right from the start, argue for the existence of a Personal God, the way that religious fundamentalists do? After all, the same logical arguments used in favor of the possibility of existence of a God of the Ultimate Gaps can also be used to argue for the existence of a Personal God. In fact, such an argument can be used for the existence of anything you like, however preposterous, as was emphatically pointed out by Hermione Granger in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007, p. 411) when she says, “But that’s – I’m sorry, but that’s completely ridiculous! How can I possibly prove [the Resurrection Stone] doesn’t exist? Do you expect me to get hold of – of all the pebbles in the world and test them? I mean, you could claim that anything’s real if the only basis for believing in it is that nobody’s proved it doesn’t exist!”

In order to logically argue this way for the existence of a Personal God, all you have to do is add the feature that this god, for inscrutable reasons, has decided to hide all evidence of his existence and has made his presence so undetectable that his existence is evidence-free (except for a few clues here and there) and requires unquestioning faith to accept that he exists. This is a logically impeccable stance to take since we cannot prove such a negative. We cannot logically exclude such a possibility any more than we can logically exclude the possibility of fairies or magic unicorns or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Of course, such arguments for the existence of god are pretty much free of any content. They do not really add anything to our knowledge and such reasoning is designed “to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”, as George Orwell so pithily put it in his classic 1946 essay Politics and the English Language. But since belief in god means abandoning belief in reason and evidence, this lack of content should not bother apologists.

So why is it that when you ask more sophisticated religious people why they believe in god, they will initially resort to something like that there must have been someone who initiated the big bang or first created life or the anthropic principle? This is a far cry from the kind of god they actually believe in, a Personal God. Why not simply start with the latter god and say that we cannot logically rule any type of god we wish to believe in?

I think that there are two reasons for this tortured argumentation route.

The first is that this argument is so obviously self-serving, so obviously tailored to support a pre-determined conclusion, that it invites ridicule.

The second is that sophisticated religious people are embarrassed by those religious people whom they themselves look down upon as anti-science extremists, such as religious fundamentalists and young Earth creationists, and seek to find ways to differentiate themselves from them. These latter groups people believe in a Very Personal God who micromanages everything down to the last detail, to the extent of whether they recover from an illness, whether they win the lottery, whether they get a new job or a promotion, and so on. But what is worse is that many also believe in the literal truth of the Bible, that every event recorded in it is historically accurate, and reject all of science in order to cling on to their idea that the Earth is just 6,000 years old, Adam and Eve were real people, Noah’s flood actually happened, and so forth. They also reject the theory of evolution almost in its entirety, believing that god created each species individually.

Such fundamentalist believers in a Personal God are an embarrassment to the sophisticated religious apologists because the latter like to think of themselves as children of the Enlightenment, supporters of science and reason, while the former are seen as ignorant prisoners of medieval thinking. So in order to distinguish themselves from the fundamentalists, the new apologists need to resort to using the God of the Ultimate Gaps to try and establish a kind of respectable intellectual beachhead, and then sneak in a watered down version of the Personal God behind it, hoping that no one will notice the switch.

Just like people put out the good china when guests are visiting while using plastic plates in everyday life, the God of the Ultimate Gaps has become the god that sophisticated religious believers trot out for formal public occasions where the existence of god needs to be defended, while the Personal God is the one secretly believed by them in everyday life.

Next: A god who plays peek-a-boo.

POST SCRIPT: The O’Reilly gift that keeps on giving

I mentioned recently that a video clip had surfaced of Bill O’Reilly letting loose an obscenity-filled tirade at an off-camera producer on his former show Inside Edition. O’Reilly has apparently sanctimoniously chastised celebrities for using obscenities, so this example of his hypocrisy did not go unnoticed.

I showed this clip earlier of Stephen Colbert coming to the defense of his hero by revealing his own meltdown many years ago.

Perhaps you were wondering how the producer at the receiving end of O’Reilly’s anger reacted. Now someone has managed to obtain video of the producer’s reaction. (Very strong language advisory)

You can now even dance to this remix of O’Reilly. (Very strong language advisory)

The lesson is that in the internet age, be very careful if there is a camera anywhere near you.

1 comment

  1. 1
    A Nonny Mouse

    The problem with your statements on Bill O’Reilly is one of false assumptions. Celebrities, by the definition of group status, are generally people impressionable youths (or adults) want to emulate, be like, or imagine the life of. Thus some semi-rational argument for control of their actions can be asserted as model for their fans.

    Bill O’Reilly, on the other hand, is someone no one wanted to be like. Just someone people occasionally listened to. Therefore a mismatch between his rhetoric and his action is less notable.

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