Does Melvin the god want us to know if he exists or not?

There is a nagging little problem that I have with all the proofs of god that theologians keep insisting should be convincing. The fact that we are not all believers in the various gods means that these arguments are not that persuasive and, if gods exist, immediately raises the question: Do these gods want us to know they exist or not?

Here’s what I mean. Suppose we assume the existence of a god. We immediately run into a problem in that there are so many gods out there with different qualities that we need to pick on one, or at least one set of properties. Let us assume a god with some of the usual abilities assigned to gods, such as some human cognitive properties, like the ability to ‘know’ what is going on in the universe, plus the ability to act if necessary to contradict the laws of nature to change the course of events for whatever reason. Let’s give this god a name so that we do not confuse him with any of the thousands of other gods that people have thought existed over time. Let’s call this god Melvin, because it is a good name and I have used it before.

Melvin has a pretty impressive resume. He created the universe and everything in it but then is immediately faced with a problem. Should he let the human beings he created know that he exists? Or should he hide the fact of his own existence? As I see it, those are the two options at Melvin’s disposal and since he is all-powerful, he could do either one easily.

If the option chosen is to hide his own existence, Melvin can avoid doing anything at all to suggest that he exists or intervene in ways such that no one is able to detect that he has intervened, like the Men in Black do by wiping out people’s memories of the presence of extra-terrestrial beings. The catch with this option is that the undetectable and the non-existent look very much alike and people may come to the conclusion that Melvin does not exist at all since there is no evidence of his existence.

If, on the other hand, Melvin does want people to know he exists, he could make his presence known to everyone in such a spectacular way that there would be no doubt at all that he exists. For example, he could announce to the whole world that at one particular specified time, he is going to stop the rotation of the Earth for (say) 24 hours (or something like that) and carry out that promise. Melvin could ramp up the spectacular nature of the evidence beyond anything that the most gifted CGI artists could come up with so that one would think that it should not be hard to convince any doubters. And since Melvin is god, if all else fails and some atheists remain unconvinced, he could presumably intervene directly in their brains, again Men in Black style, to get even the most obstinate person to believe.

So if Melvin did not want us to know he exists, then he could have achieved that quite easily. If Melvin had wanted us to know he existed, he could have done it just as easily. That would have ended once and for all time all religious conflicts about who worships the right god since people would know that there was only one god, and that it is Melvin, or that there are no gods to fight over.

But according to theologians, Melvin seems to have chosen to do something else entirely. He seems to want people to believe in his existence (and will punish those who do not) but has decided to leave extremely subtle clues to his existence so that only a few theologians have the ability to detect and interpret those clues. He is like the most cruel teacher you can think of who sets an exam that almost no one can pass. Only a few people like Aristotle, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and more recently and moving down the alphabet, Edward Feser have been able to piece together those clues to prove his existence. (That was a fun thread!. It generated a record (for this blog) 295 comments. Who knew Feser had such passionate supporters?)

According to these theologians, Melvin seems to want to let people know that he exists but is too bashful to come right out and clearly demonstrate that fact. Melvin seems to be like a shy suitor unable to confess his love openly, leaving others to press his suit on his behalf. The problem is that the efforts of his chosen advocates are less than impressive in that they have failed to be convincing and are becoming even less so with time, as the rise in nonbelievers indicates. Either they are incompetent at their task or what they think are clues are not really such and Melvin does not exist.

Maybe Melvin does exist but for some inscrutable reason, his goal in creating the universe was to create jobs for theologians.


  1. Owlmirror says

    I think Aristotelian-Thomist classical theolology appeals to a certain, very nerdy sort of believer; one that finds the Latin vocabulary with very finely parsed definitions and subtle reasoning to be mental catnip.

    Oh, and the sneering. Feser’s sneering at atheists and others who do not engage with Aristotelian-Thomism is a joy to the heart of some of these people.

    I think something that really appeals is that at the core of all of this wordplay and reasoning is a point that I think isn’t entirely wrongheaded: that there must be something that is fundamental to reality. Well and good. But Feser, like Aquinas before him, go overboard in insisting that this “something fundamental to reality” is God.

    I’ve been reading a bit of Feser’s works. You might find them amusing, if not convincing.

    Here’s one: Ed Feser, on nothing much

  2. says

    Reason #516 on why the god Christians believe in is a monster: Refuses to prove its existence beyond any doubt, yet will punish you eternally if you don’t believe in it.

  3. Owlmirror says

    One of the works I tracked down was “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways”. The bulk of it is some twenty-five pages arguing that not only does God exist, but God continuously makes everything else exist, because Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics says so, according to Feser.
    But towards the end is a remarkable admission: that the entire argument for God from the Thomistic Five Ways only makes sense if you accept Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics in the first place! It certainly looks like if you don’t accept Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics, you are completely justified in rejecting the arguments from the Five Ways.
    Check it out (American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, v 85, n 2, pp. 263-264):

       There can be no question that the prevailing attitude among modern phi­losophers has been that the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics and philosophy of nature is in error. Indeed, this attitude can plausibly be seen as definitive of modern philosophy. When Galileo, Descartes, Boyle, Locke, and the other early moderns replaced the Scholastics’ conception of nature with a “mechanistic” one, what this entailed, essentially, was a rejection of substantial forms and final causes. Other elements too were part of the original mechanistic project (corpuscularianism, a push-pull model of causation, and so forth) but while these were all eventually either radically modified or dropped altogether, the negative anti-Aristotelian element of the program--the resolve to avoid any appeal to immanent teleology, to the notion of an end to which a natural substance or process is directed given its nature or essence--has remained, and remained definitive of a mechanistic approach to nature, down to the present day.
       From an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, it was this move to mecha­nism that effectively undermined the possibility of arguing from the world to God, especially to God as a conserving cause. For the various elements of the Aristotelico-Thomistic metaphysical system are tightly integrated; remove one and the rest could not fail to go with it. In particular, if things have no substan­tial forms or immanent final causes, then they cannot coherently be said to be compounds of act and potency either. A substantial form just is what actualizes a potency inherent in matter. A potency is a potency for some actuality, toward which it is directed as towards an end. Hence, if there are no substantial forms, there is no actualizing of potencies, and if there are no ends or final causes, there are no potencies either. The notion of substances as compounds of essence and existence goes out the window too, since from a Thomistic point of view an essence is in potency relative to an act of existence, which actualizes it.
       With this conceptual apparatus abandoned, the foundations of the tradi­tional theistic arguments summarized in the Five Ways were undermined. The elements composing the material world--no longer united organically into substances via immanent formal and final causes--came to seem essentially “loose and separate,” having no more inherent unity than the parts of a machine do. Hence the regularities they did exhibit were re-conceived on the model of the regularities a watch or some other mechanical artifact exhibits when its parts are arranged by an artificer. The “laws of nature”--as these regularities came to be described, displacing talk of the natures or substantial forms of things--were just the patterns the divine artificer had put into the bits of clockwork that make up the world. As a machine can operate in the absence of its maker, though, so too did the world come to seem something that could operate in the absence of the artificer. Thus did the doctrine of divine conservation give way to deism. And the sequel, naturally, was atheism, once it occurred to mechanists that if the “machine” of the world could operate here and now without a machinist, maybe it always has so operated--maybe the “machine” and the “laws” governing it are all that has ever existed.
       Rationalist cosmological arguments of the sort associated with Leibniz were intended to counter this atheistic trend. But the notions of contingency and ne­cessity they employ are no longer grounded in the natures of things--in the real composition of act and potency and essence and existence in contingent things, and in the pure actuality and identity of essence and existence in God. Instead, a things contingency is reduced to the logical possibility of its non-existence, and necessity is reduced to logical necessity. A “principle of sufficient reason” is deployed in place of the Scholastics’ principle of causality, and where the latter is grounded in the objective impossibility of a mere potency actualizing itself, the former is put forward as a would-be “law of thought.” The cosmological argument comes to seem little more than a demand that the world meet certain explana­tory criteria which may (or may not) be built into the structure of the human mind, but which do not necessarily reflect any aspect of objective, extra-mental reality, and the door is thereby opened to the refutations of Hume and Kant.

  4. busterggi says

    Just what does Melvin, who can have anything the moment he wants it, want us yet push he pushes us away?

    What does Melvin, who needs nothing because he is everything, need from us?

    Why doesn’t Melvin, who knows everything, not know how to communicate better than a two year old?

    Finally, if Melvin is the source of everything that exists then who decided his name was Melvin when that’s kinda what parents decide for their kids?

  5. invivoMark says

    Melvin chose the half-measure of proving his existence to a few people early on, then waiting to see if the rest of the world would believe based on word-of-mouth alone.

    If we want the simplest explanation, Occam’s Razor would suggest that this means Melvin just really isn’t all that bothered with whether or not we all know He exists. But of course, Melvinists can’t have that! Why would anybody pay attention to Melvinists if Melvin doesn’t give a toss?

    The simplest explanation again is that even if Melvin does exist, he doesn’t care if we know, but the only Melvinist sects anybody paid attention to are those sects that insisted that He cares (even though He doesn’t).

  6. Mark Dowd says

    It doesn’t even need to be anything as massive as stopping the rotation of the earth. If numerous people really did have personal relationships with the same transcendent deity (or even a small number of different deities), it would be pretty fucking obvious. Talking to god isn’t crazy if all of your friends and family and neighbors are also talking to the same god. And even if the relationships were restricted to a few privileged prophets, it would still have obvious differences compared to this world. Prophecies would actually be precise AND accurate, instead of the jokes that they are. If the prophet Vulcan fortells that the volcano will erput tomorrow, and it actually erupts the next day, people will fucking notice that. Instead you get stuff that’s precise but always wrong (The world will end on XX/XX/XXXX!), or wishy-washy ambiguous garbage. Faith healing would work too, if it was really something the god wanted to do.

    The only reason such a spectacular display is even mentioned as necessary is because none of the more prosaic evidence has ever existed. Scientific investigation has revealed the world to be so thoroughly godless at every scale of existence that it would take that much to shake us off our current understanding. Once “global cataclysm” is your minimum bar of evidence for the alternative, it’s pretty safe to call the question answered.

  7. DonDueed says

    To pick up on the Men In Black metaphor, maybe Melvin only wants the “best of the best of the best”. He lays out a few ambiguous clues, notes those who pick up on them, and takes in their souls to hang out with forevah.

    I mean, who would want to spend eternity with a bunch of us grouchy skeptics?

  8. deepak shetty says

    since he is all-powerful, he could do either one easily.

    Or both or neither.
    I remember a believers answer to Could God create a rock so large that he can’t lift-it? Yes he can! And then he’d lift it anyway.
    Answers dont have to make sense though!

  9. Holms says

    The usual rebuttal to this is “but free will!” but the rebuttal to that is to note that we are supposedly designed by Melvin, and if that is true, it is part of his design of us that our faculties be fallible. We are fallible out of the box… and punished for it. If Melvin exists, he cannot possibly be the slightest bit benevolent (let alone omnibenevolent!) given that he designed us such that some percentage of us were guaranteed to fail his torture exemption test.

    Speaking of percentages, at its broadest estimate, christianity has convinced 33% of the world, leaving 66% unconvinced. Depending on the particular denomination and their criteria for getting into heaven -- or at least, avoiding hell -- this may change drastically. Those claiming that people who are generally good will go to heaven even if they aren’t believers are the most generous, with (probably) far fewer than 66% condemned to hell.

    But this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are of denominations that say non-christians automatically go to hell, and some claim that even christians can go to hell if they are of the wrong denomination, or are unrepentant of their sins at the time of their death. And there are even some that only guarantee heaven to those that are of the right denomination and died with no sins and recieved the appropriate last rites.

    It stricks me that there is a strong trend: those christians that are the most obsessed with piety are the ones that worship the most monstrous Melvin. But all of them are monsters. Even if there was a denomination that condemned only one person to hell, it remains that that version of Melvin is still willing to hand out infinite torture, while Hitler / Stalin / Temujin / and so on through the greatest killers and monsters of history only caused a finite amount of bloodshed.

  10. Acolyte of Sagan says

    How would we know if Melvin was who he says, and not an advanced life-form playing us?
    Further, if I perceived that the Earth stood still for 24hrs, or witnessed some similarly impossible event, how would I know that it wasn’t my brain mis-firing and causing hallucinations?
    What proof would be proof enough?

  11. John Morales says

    What proof would be proof enough?

    For me, that has an easy answer. It would take God to make me believe in (the veridical existence of) God, so were I to come to believe in God, it would prove its existence to me. I know that seems circular, but it’s not.

    (It is a very silly concept)

  12. rjw1 says

    Suppose we assume there are no gods and no supernatural beings because there’s no evidence whatsoever. Then there are no problems with theodicy, free will and a thousand other meaningless complications religiots fantasise about.

    The onus of proof is on the believers, so far they have done a pathetically unconvincing effort in establishing the existence of their favourite sky fairy. That’s why, historically, terror has been their only ‘argument’.

  13. says

    I’ve said before that the gods gave us brains and they expect us to use them. Marvin’s existence is irrelevant — our ability to use Marvin’s gifts, however, is what has made us, and what may well break us.

  14. Mano Singham says

    Careful now, WMDKitty, the name is Melvin, not Marvin. Melvin gets pretty upset when people get his name wrong, or so I’ve been told.

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