What does a theist mean by ‘God’?

Crazy little thing called God:

In ancient times, unusual physical events apparently scared the shit out of the locals, even the local philosophers. Events like lightning, earthquakes, meteors, floods and things of that nature prompted fears and speculations about the wrath of some critter, a critter much more powerful than ourselves, that suffered petty jealousy and fits of rage. The goal, assuming such a being, becomes appeasement. That is a highly rational belief. Bad things are bad. It’s worth investigating ways to avoid them. It’s probably why Richard Simmons became a celebrity.

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But the story of God also includes the effects of such natural pharmaceuticals as the psilocybin content in certain mushrooms, the mescaline content of certain cacti and many other wonderful things. The ingestion of these substances to differing degrees produces highly altered states of consciousness with a notable continuity of experience between them. That experience often leads to novel understanding which, to the ancient tripper, needed a name also. Maybe the two issues were somehow related.

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Finally, the ever present nasty knowledge of our own mortality added a nut to the trail mix. Now we have a god who is a creature which occasionally brings great calamity, a known alternative universe and the need for some experiential continuity bridging the state of alive with the state of dead. Add in some mumbo jumbo by a priest trying to impress a girl or claim a mandate for leadership and you have the stew from which a God is born. Sort of like Aphrodite born of the simmering foam, arriving on a chunk of potato and waving a hunk of meat menacingly.

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Eventually, each of those issues became known to be the result of ‘ordinary’ physical and biological processes. The God that used to explain data received through the senses, rationally explain I should add, ceased to explain those phenomena any more. The deeper mysteries still allow for a God as explanation but the rational tag doesn’t fit so well any more. Now that God doesn’t explain any of its original activity, we hold onto the idea simply because it is an idea, not because it’s a good idea. The common parlance for that behavior is “God of the gaps”. God suddenly loses any relevance. This God cannot be appeased because it doesn’t interact. It’s like trying to appease arithmetic.

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Our perceptions are what they are. We learned to measure most of them. Explanations for those perceptions however, change with experience. The God explanation has so far failed in every case to account for an event in our perceived universe. So, where a rational person once posited a God with the burden of proof on an unbeliever to proffer a better explanation, that burden was met in every single case until we get what we have now. The activity became a game of hunt for the gaps and fill them with knowledge, knowledge in all cases replacing God. There is also another word for what knowledge replaces.

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At any rate, clearly the burden was met and now has shifted to the believer to explain what the heck God is and does. It is not rational to believe in something which has no measureable effect, is odorless, colorless, tasteless, massless, chargeless and above all pointless.

So, unless this god has an attribute that matters to us here, in this universe, pointing to the universe and doing things like claiming an unmoved mover or some ineffable je ne sais quoi is merely masturbation to the memory of a lost lover. The argument means nothing because the mover has no qualities other than that it came first. Aspice, officio fungeris sine spe honoris amplioris.

Some say love, it is a river, but it isn’t a river. It’s an emotion or a complex mix of emotions. Some say God, it is a flower, but what good does that do? What’s wrong with the word ‘flower’? People tend to use a lot of words to get around the fact that any definition of God which doesn’t run into the problem of stupidity immediately faces the challenge of irrelevance.

In other words, just give one concrete attribute and defend it. All knowing? All loving? All powerful? A matter of any relevance whatsoever? None of the preceding have managed to hold up under scrutiny (although I am happy to go ahead and go through the motions if you like). What can a disembodied mind do? Can it turn water into wine? Can it drive a plexiglass wedge through an ocean to allow some nomads to escape an army? Can it feed the slavering crowd on a bagel and some lox? Does it have desire? Does it have goals? Is that consistent with all knowing and all powerful? Is this just a run-around? I guess I have to throw the teleologimacal argument in the same trash bin. Without a definition, the argument is empty. With a definition, the argument is unnecessary.

So, even though clearly our universe is big, really big, and even though we are little and tiny compared to the big, really big, universe, and even though the grand order of things exceeds our knowledge, our word ‘God’ is only a placeholder and has no actual meaning when examined. What we used to call God, we now have different and more specific words for. Gravity, electromagnetism, air pressure, chemistry and ideas like that replaced the entire dictionary of definitions we used to use for God. At this point it is clear that the personal deity idea was bunk. It is only still rational to believe in such a creature if the believer is ignorant of the bulk of human learning over the past 400 years. Given access to elementary education and the internet, the belief is either not rational or not relevant. You choose.

Perhaps someone can explain to me what they mean by God.

163 thoughts on “What does a theist mean by ‘God’?

  1. William J Murray: ” My argument is not that atheists cannot deliberately discern true statements, but rather that they cannot rationally justify the expected capacity of people to deliberately discern true statements via atheistic premises.”

    Your argument has changed quite a bit over the last few weeks.

    A theist cannot “rationally justify…via theistic premises”, either.

    The position you are taking in regards to the “grounding” effect of accepting the existence of a single god, is a position that most Baptist Christian churches in the USA have taken.

    This world-view has not lead to better reasoning at all as members of their congregation still lie, steal and commit adultery at the same rate as any other citizen.

    Adopting your world-view does nothing for reasoning ability or behaviour.

  2. William J Murray: As I have said repeatedly, premises that support one’s arguments are only necessary if one wishes to develop a rationally coherent worldview.

    Yes, you have said that repeatedly. The repetition is becoming tiresome. And it still seems wrong, no matter how many times you repeat it.

    Showing that A implies B only demonstrates that A is sufficient for B. It does not demonstrate that A is necessary for B.

  3. William J Murray: When we say “I deliberately did X”, as a practical matter we assume that will (deliberacy) to be a sufficient causative agency, which is why we hold people accountable for their actions.

    This is absurd. It’s an example of the folly of reification.

    “Free will” and “intent” can be descriptive terms in an explanation. But they are not actual causes of anything, because they are not actual things. They are terms we use to characterize abilities of people to act. If you deliberately do X, then a case can be made that you were the cause of X. It is just word salad to assert that deliberacy or free will is the cause of X.

  4. William J Murray: My argument is not that atheists cannot deliberately discern true statements, but rather that they cannot rationally justify the expected capacity of people to deliberately discern true statements via atheistic premises.

    No, that is not your argument. It is not any kind of argument. It is an assertion that you repeatedly make. You will have to go beyond assertion before it can be considered an argument.

  5. Who are you paraphrasing by saying “ever and always a sufficient and necessary cause in and of itself”? Not me. I never said or implied that. That there may be factors that mitigate certain instances of free will intention doesn’t change the fact that we must behave and argue as if we and others have libertarian free will – which is why “mitigating” means something in the first place – in relationship to non-mitigated deliberate causation.

    This particular theistic case is:

    In order for us to expect libertarian free will to exist (which we must assume exists as a sufficient and necessary cause in and of itself in everyday life and in almost all practical matters) in a rationally coherent worldview, we must provide the basis for the existence of free will as an independent and sufficient originator of some effects.

    This means sentient deliberacy, or free will, must exist as a fundamental, uncaused commodity, which is compatible with theistic arguments that posit a sentient, deliberate, uncaused god as founding source of such free will capacity.

    Another question is: why should we believe that true statements can be made about ourselves and the world? Why should human reason correspond to anything factual? Why should the world even be describable in logical terms?

    If logic is not accepted as an intrinsically valid method of correlating thought to reality, then we have no reason to expect to be able to deliberately discern true statements about anything. Logic cannot be accepted as merely a contingent descriptor, but rather as a intrinsic, necessary feature of how phenomena are organized and interact.

    If logic was merely a contingent descriptor of such relationships, then it may or may not be true, and we can simply suspend our logic at any point and make groundless and irrational assertions and reach irrational conclusions and simply claim that logic is not a valid descriptor or this particular item.

    No, we do not expect logic to be a contingent descriptor; we expect it to be an intrinsic arbiter of what is true and what is not. This expectation must rely on the assumption that logic is an intrinsic, governing aspect of existence. A cannot be both A and not-A at the same time and place – in any universe, under any conditions. One side of a piece of paper cannot be both all black and all white at the same time and place.

    We say “cannot” because we expect reality to be governed by this logical principle. We don’t use “conditional” or “contingency” phrases like “may or may not” because we are applying logic in the governing sense, not in the descriptive sense. If we expected that things “may or may not conform to logical rules” we would have no tool to argue with other than rhetoric, because no own would expect a sound logical argument to be “true” any more than they would expect a detailed description to be “true”

    A detailed description may or may not be true; we expect a sound logical argument to be true and in fact expect the universe to operate in a sound, logical manner.

    So, not only do we live with the espectation that we can deliberately (using libertarian free will) discern true (logically sound) statements about ourselves and the world, that expectation is necessarily founded on the expectation that logic governs what is possible in reality. We live our lives every day based on that premise whether we admit it or not.

    Why should the universe be governed by logic? If it was generated by chance, or some non-sentient source, what possible grounds can there be for the expectation that it is governed by logic? Why should the road in front of us always lead to destination X? There is no physical rule that prevents it from leading to a different place every time you get on it. Nothing prevents the road from turning into purple taffey as you are driving down on it.

    Why is the universe and existence ordered in a coherent, logically explicable manner? Why don’t things just fluctuate in and out of existence in utter chaos?

    Theism offers a sufficient grounding (a rational creator) for the expectation that the universe is governed by logic (so that we can expect there to be true statements about it available in the first place and not non-rational chaos where true statements could not be reasoned), and for the expectation that we have the necessary free will to deliberately discern such true statements.

    Obviously, theism also serves as grounding for an uncaused cause, first cause/sufficient cause, and also serves as a basis for any significant, rationally coherent morality. If you want to hear that argument as well, I’ll be happy to oblige.

  6. Your argument has changed quite a bit over the last few weeks.

    How seriously should I take any claim made by someone who admits they aren’t even trying to make true statements?

  7. Neil Rickert: No, that is not your argument.It is not any kind of argument.It is an assertion that you repeatedly make.You will have to go beyond assertion before it can be considered an argument.

    Neil, how about starting a new thread for Mr Murray to expound on that, since this one has become so long and hard to follow (for me, at least)?

    Or, Mr Murray, if you have thread-making privileges, you might start one in which you quote your particular theistic case for libertarian free will and its dependence on theism, the nice one you posted today (October 5, 2011 at 3:23 pm).

    And then, once that issue has been settled to your satisfaction, you can proceed with your case for a theism that “serves as grounding for an uncaused cause, first cause/sufficient cause, and also serves as a basis for any significant, rationally coherent morality.”

  8. William J Murray: “How seriously should I take any claim made by someone who admits they aren’t even trying to make true statements?”

    You should respond to the message, not the messenger.

    If a voice from a loudspeaker in a store says, “Please evacute the premises”, I’ll respond to that message, but what I won’t do is demand some background about the person speaking.

    The claim stands, that “A theist cannot “rationally justify…via theistic premises” ,either”.

  9. To sum up:

    True statements can only be expected to exist, and we can only expect to be able to deliberately discern them, if we assume the universe is governed by logic (necssarily rationally ordered) and if we assume for ourselves the libertarian free will causative capacity to discern them.

    The alternative assumptions that logic may not or does not truthfully describe phenomena, and that deliberacy may not be or is not a sufficient cause in and of itself, is simply not enough grounds to warrant the daily, ongoing, universal expectation we operate from,, that true statements exist, and that we can independently, deliberately discern them.

    Theism comports with these necessary assumptions by providing the basis for (1) the expectation of a rationally governed universe, and (2) the source of acausal, libertarian deliberacy.

    I have yet to find a non-theist view that provides sufficient basis for these expectations. Feel free to provide one.

  10. Toronto: “Your argument has changed quite a bit over the last few weeks.”

    ………………………………

    William J Murray: “How seriously should I take any claim made by someone who admits they aren’t even trying to make true statements?

    Are you saying it hasn’t changed?

  11. William J Murray wrote:

    This particular theistic case is:

    In order for us to expect libertarian free will to exist (which we must assume exists as a sufficient and necessary cause in and of itself in everyday life and in almost all practical matters) in a rationally coherent worldview, we must provide the basis for the existence of free will as an independent and sufficient originator of some effects.

    That we assume free will exists is a common observation. But, an assumption is an assumption, and does not become more than an assumption without good reason and an explanation.

    Who determines what is “a rationally coherent worldview”? If William J Murray is the arbiter, he decides what is rationally coherent. That makes it a foregone conclusion that he wins any argument about whether any worldview possesses rational coherence. Forget about that.

    Why must we “provide the basis for the existence of free will as an independent and sufficient originator of some effects”? The assumption (see above) that free will exists may grease the wheels of everyday life and the judicial system, but why do we need a “basis” for it? Why isn’t a pragmatic approach to that useful assumption enough?

    This means sentient deliberacy, or free will, must exist as a fundamental, uncaused commodity, which is compatible with theistic arguments that posit a sentient, deliberate, uncaused god as founding source of such free will capacity.

    Wow, that’s quite an unwarranted jump, I think. How did an assumption just become a fundamental uncaused commodity? I see no logical argument supporting that.

    Another question is: why should we believe that true statements can be made about ourselves and the world? Why should human reason correspond to anything factual? Why should the world even be describable in logical terms?

    I see that Neil Rickert has started another thread on this question.

    Thank you, Neil.

    As time allows, I will critique that component of Mr Murray’s argument for theism.

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