The post yesterday on god as dog owner about how best to respond to religious people who say that the reason we cannot understand why a good god allows suffering is similar to why a dog does not understand why his owner takes him to the vet for what may be painful treatment for his own good. It is something that to the dog is a deep mystery because it is beyond the dog’s comprehension. In the same way that the owner’s actions are ineffable to the dog, God is ineffable to us.
In the comments, I tried to play Devil’s Advocate and defend the religious point of view but was cornered fairly quickly and gave up. The point I was trying to make was that religious people will try to escape from the corner by invoking new ad hoc assumptions and metaphors and that this process can go on indefinitely. At some point one needs to simply find a way to stop the regression and circularity without conceding the argument.
In his book 2011 book Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked Into an Intellectual Black Hole, philosopher Stephen Law provided one means to do that. I used his response to this ‘playing of the mystery card’ to make the case against the dog owner metaphor but he also points out that in order to make the claim that god’s actions are beyond our ken and defend their position, religious people will repeatedly adduce properties to god in order to justify why he/she allows suffering.
This is true, in my experience. If you have any extended conversation with a religious person they will, when cornered on logic, say that god’s actions are inscrutable because he/she is ineffable, while at the same time ascribing all manner of properties to their god in order to defend their position, saying that “god is good”, “god is all powerful”, “god is all knowing”, “god is merciful”, “god is just”, “god wants us to do this”, “god wants us to do that”, and so forth. They cannot avoid this because they have to justify why they worship this god and Law calls this shifty maneuver ‘effing the ineffable’ (p. 113-133).
I like that phrase and intend to use it a lot in the future. Whenever I encounter this type of argument from a religious person, at some point I am going to say, “What you are doing is effing the ineffable”. They will undoubtedly be baffled and say they don’t understand at which point I will explain that there is no point in arguing with someone who takes two contradictory positions simultaneously, and that they need to decide whether god is ineffable or not.