The only way to win is to not play

I like this one: Theologian Chess.

In Theology Chess, the theologian has the entire chessboard to himself and only one piece: God. Whenever the opponent (who has no pieces) asks a question about God, the piece may be moved to a different square in any direction with no restriction on distance. This may be done infinitely until the questioner gets up and leaves.


  1. opposablethumbs says

    I think the opponent ought to have at least one piece; (e.g. reason, perhaps, or reality … or even lots of pieces; it makes no odds because) otherwise it is played as stated – no matter where the opponent plays or how close they get, the theologian just jumps to another part of the board :-\

  2. raven says

    To make Theology Chess more realistic:

    The god piece has to be…invisible.

  3. Sastra says

    Many years ago, back when I was Spiritual and believed in a very nebulous form of God which seemed to change its characteristics depending on mood and need (mine, usually), I remember thinking that this shape-shifting ability was a feature and not a bug.

    After all, if God existed then It would have to be something far above the human capacity to understand. Wouldn’t it make sense that It would transcend simple categories and easy classification? Sometimes It is like one thing; another time, It is like something else. All labels are merely an attempt to limit and control. How much more humble and open it was, to refuse to try to put God into some sort of easily-understood box. God is Many-in-One. Or One-in-Many. Contradictions can’t really exist in that state. Any confusion is therefore our own.

    After all, God is as all-encompassing and basic as reality and existence itself. So the question isn’t whether God exists. All real questions involve how we relate to God.

    Seriously, you can keep that shit up forever. Sometimes I look back and wonder how I finally managed to smell a rat. I suspect I either lost or never really had a firmly grounded faith in faith — by which I mean the strong conviction that it is very important to be the kind of person who believes in God. I was technically seeking truth, not Truth — what’s real, not God.

  4. Moggie says

    That God piece certainly moves in a mysterious way.

    I’m not sure I like the analogy, though. Chess has a certain intellectual cachet. So does theology, but in the latter case it’s undeserved. Let’s not bolster theology’s snooty cred by associating it with a smart pastime.

    No, theology is Calvinball for the sedentary.

  5. =8)-DX says

    Ah yes, theologian chess sounds just about right. Very fitting for me since my fundamentalist dad always used to trounce us at chess. But then he did play by the rules.

    Messed about in paint a bit: this is what it theologian chess looks like =) , 64 squares really isn’t enough, I came up with another 5 squares immediately after finishing this..

  6. twas brillig (stevem) says

    Chess has a certain intellectual cachet. So does theology, but in the latter case it’s undeserved. Let’s not bolster theology’s snooty cred by associating it with a smart pastime.

    And we aren’t, They Do It. It is the theologians luring us into their “game” by calling by the name of a game we’re familiar with; and when partaking, say that the “rules” of their game lets them change the rules whenever they want to. In our chess, the King can only move one square, in their’s, the king can move anywhere, etc. etc.
    We’ve realized that they are just pretending to play a reasonable game when even they know, they are just pretending; since their very subject is just pretend. So comparing theology to chess IS totally wrong and denigrates Chess, but that is the theology fault, not ours. Mock them, more, they deserve it.

  7. says

    This reminds me of the religious version of what I like to think of a “primate chess”. The specific forms of conversation and argument that a person engages in when they are interested in winning an argument, but uninterested in making sure their argument is actually consistent with reality. It is very dependent on appeals to group culture and often plays on that by use of logical fallacies and other means of avoiding challenges to what they believe, or shifting any defense to the person they are engaging in social warfare with.

    Primate chess is primarily concerned with style and emotional satisfaction of one’s in-group as the person wants to convince people by manipulating feelings instead of addressing a set of observations shared by the partners in conversation. It is most useful at reinforcing the beliefs of people that already believe, and trying to capture people that are fence sitters but have poor reasoning skills. But it tends to be ineffective with people that are primarily interested in the demonstration of arguments and fact claims.

    Since it’s wholly dependent on emotional manipulation and logical trickery, engaging with someone using primate chess is an experience that often includes running in circles around the same points over and over as one’s conversation partner constantly avoids defending their claims, refuses to answer questions or challenges, misrepresents what one is saying and arguing through things like hypothetical implications and hyperbolic representations, changes their standard of evidence when one meets it, and other tactics common to creationism, anti-vax denialism and other social conflict purely running off of culture and politics with no reality-based support.

  8. richcon says

    To make Theology Chess more realistic:

    The god piece has to be…invisible.

    “There aren’t any pieces on your board…”

    “Of course there is! A chess board must by definition have a chess piece. This is a chess board. Ergo, it must have a chess piece on it.”

  9. Crimson Clupeidae says

    But…what happens when a pigeon plays theology chess?

    Now I’m really confused…..

  10. says

    Pigeons probably only have some of the rules.

    Skinner conducted his research on a group of hungry pigeons whose body weights had been reduced to 75% of their normal weight when well-fed. For a few minutes each day, a mechanism fed the birds at regular intervals. What observers of the pigeons found showed the birds developing superstitious behaviour, believing that by acting in a particular way, or committing a certain action, food would arrive.

    They can develop ideas about what random crap might lead to something they want, but probably can’t create a symbolic system of belief with psychological mechanisms designed to protect the belief at all costs.

  11. thebookofdave says

    The god piece has to be…invisible.

    You beat me to it, @raven #3. The tangible king is used to try to trap the spiritual king. Every time the opponent calls “check”, the theologian says, “My king is not on that spot”. Play resumes and goes on indefinitely until opponent gives up, falls asleep, or dies of thirst and boredom (Victory!). Alternately, the theologian may succumb to exhaustion, and declare the rules give an unfair advantage to the physical king’s side (Persecution!).

    64 squares really isn’t enough

    Theologian Chess must be played on a twenty-five square board, @=8)-DX #6,so that it doubles for bingo.

  12. says

    I somewhat disagree, PZ. As the “non-Theologian”, I would move my “piece”, by grasping it between my thumb/forefinger, with middle finger extended. Good for any move, any direction, any distance…

  13. =8)-DX says

    @Ken Kohl #16

    A godpiece is the esential component of the theologians new clothes….

  14. Lofty says

    And the chessboard should be not only infinitely large but also metaphorical. This allows the theologian to put his piece absolutely anywhere, including up his opponent’s fundament. And the god-piece only becomes visible if you are sufficiently hyperventilated.

  15. chigau (違う) says

    Why is this God-chess played in only 2 dimensions?
    Spock played in 3 dimensions.
    God must have more…

  16. thebookofdave says

    Pretty much, =8)-DX. The lower RH square should be renamed “spirit”. It’s present label is redundant, since the piece itself is the trinity. The theologian controls separate pieces (king, queen, and knight), merged into a unified godpiece. During any given turn, it occupies every square on the board, except one his opponent has placed in check.

    I understand the difficulty in accurately portraying the godpiece. It must simultaneously appear as a king, queen, and knight. And it’s invisible, though it randomly casts its silhouette on tortillas.

  17. says

    Heh. Thanks for the shout-out, PZ. You and the Horde are all welcome to my place (linked in the OP) for tea and cakes.

    I was going to respond to comment #5 but comment #7 more or less said what I would’ve. It’s not us (or me) lending intellectual cachet to theology with the chess metaphor; rather, theologians are doing a bait and switch by affecting the pretense of logic and empiricism and then slowly (or not) revealing their gap-god or pre-suppishness (or whatever other transparent apologetic they have concealed beneath their opaque tedium) when we get close enough.

    In my original post I called Theologian Chess a corollary to Pigeon Chess for that reason: ostensibly, we’re working from the same starting point, but it soon becomes apparent that the pigeons don’t know or care how to play – and as soon as you sit down with the theologian, you see that they’ve removed 31 pieces from the board and not only have both hands clasped on a piece so you can’t see it but are also inviting you to make the first move.

    Also, “theologian” and “pigeon” sort of rhyme. Sort of.

  18. JohnnieCanuck says


    I like what you did with ‘conscience’ on the 64 squares version.