Why Don’t You Just Believe?

No one can see Him
No one can hear Him
He’s beyond our mere, limited scope
He exists beyond matter
Beyond space, beyond time
Where mortal man never may grope
His Mind is omniscient;
His reach is so vast,
Our senses just cannot conceive
The least of His traits
Is beyond comprehension…
So why don’t you folks just believe?

Back on August 1st, PZ linked to my post on presuppositional arguments for god, and disagreed with it slightly. In that disagreement, I think he (again, slightly) misrepresented some of the believers’ claims. I commented there, “But if we presuppose that the apparent natural order of things is the result of a god who keeps things looking like there is no god, the inability to detect some supernatural glitch in natural order is absolutely consistent with the god you have presupposed.“, to which PZ commented:

If you postulate an invisible god whose machinations are completely undetectable and further, are completely indistinguishable from natural, unguided processes (angels are very careful and precise in their steering and acceleration of apples that are detached from tree branches) then sure, we can’t argue against such a god experimentally. But we can argue against such a god epistemologically. How does the person who claims such a god exists know it? What tests did that person carry out to obtain this knowledge of the perfectly invisible god?

While I agree with this, completely, it misstates the believers’ view once again. So Imma try one more time, and then point out that it really doesn’t matter.

First, the try. It is not that the angels are behind each instance of apple-falling, but rather that the whole reason gravity (and other observable physical laws) are seen to have order, is that God made it so. Without a God, the argument goes, we’d have utter chaos, and no physical laws at all for us to observe (meaning, of course, that we would also not be here to observe them). So it is not necessarily the case that God is constantly intervening (yes, there is no shortage of those who claim this–their claims are completely testable, and to the extent that they have been tested they have failed resoundingly), but rather that the ordered physical world we are able to observe is the result of God’s past actions (back before we were there to witness, of course). No current intervention is necessary. Such a god, of course, cannot be falsified, but also cannot be proved by observation or evidence. If one assumes this God, one cannot disprove him. If one assumes no God, one does not need him.

But of course, the bulk of PZ’s comment is what matters, and where he is dead right. “How does the person who claims such a god exists know it? What tests did that person carry out to obtain this knowledge of the perfectly invisible god?” There is no reason whatsoever that such a god should ever have been assumed–at least, no reasons that can be credited to that god. We can look to history and see the anthropology, sociology, and psychology of religion–as a form of government (that is, a means by which to control people), as a tribal identifier, as a costly signal, as any number of functional, worldly things. All the reasons for belief in god are in the real world. Which means, none of them have anything to do with this god, which must necessarily first be assumed to exist, to have any hope of logically existing.

But of course, billions do assume their god exists. And, overwhelmingly, they call him Him (thus the gendered language in my verse, against my wishes). Which allows us a bit of a test, since this puts us back in the realm of the empirical. And the test is simple: Do these believers agree? They are positing universal truths about an omnipresent being (well, at least some of them are); are they converging on a common answer?

Well, there, at least, should be an answer we can agree upon fairly easily.


  1. rikitiki says

    We no longer believe the moon is green cheese
    Or the world as we know it is flat
    We used-to “know” those
    (Heck, we used to use bows)
    But science sure sorted out that

    If we sicken, most go to a doctor
    (And not the witchdoctor of old)
    No kraken’s been found
    No Zeus, no hell-hound
    Yet, I’m to believe a tale told?

    So many beliefs that we had once a time
    Overturned, examined, found bad
    Yet some say, “Just believe!”
    But I’ll not bow a knee
    To your unscientific sky-dad

  2. stever says

    Kraken probably grew out of reports of big cephalopods. Those are rarely seen at the surface, but it happens. It wouldn’t take many ’round-the-tavern passages to turn a giant squid into something that could drag a ship down. And the “green cheese” story came from a description of the color of the moon.

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