18
May

Why God Is More Than a Power Source

th“Oh, I believe in God,” my friend said. “But not the kind of God you’re thinking about. God is just an energy force, like in Star Wars maybe, the stuff that holds the universe together or that powers it. But God’s not a person. The Bible’s just primitive man’s attempt to make sense of this force. Like imagining that Thor throwing thunderbolts is the reason we hear thunder.”

Interesting position, I thought. I wondered how much effort he had spent on developing it, and how satisfying he found it. I decided to try and find out.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” I prompted. “Are we talking about God as in the creator of the universe? Or are we talking about some natural property of the universe, like gravity or light?”

“No,” he said. “I mean that the universe was created by this power source and we were created eventually by the universe. I just reject the idea that God is a person that wants to have a relationship with us. He doesn’t think, at least not like us, and he doesn’t give a hoot about us. He – or rather ‘it’ – just is.”

This was progress. If the “force” were an element of the universe, then my friend would still need to explain where the universe came from. But we were getting more focused: this force was what brought it all into being.

“So, would you agree that the men you’re talking about – the primitive ones who were trying to make sense of things – had minds that utilized reason?”

“Of course,” he answered, not yet seeing the point. “They just weren’t very good about using reason, I guess I’d say.”

“Well,” I asked, “does this ‘force’ have a mind that uses reason? Could this force, if it didn’t have a mind, create something – even primitive men with limited reasoning – that was nonetheless greater than itself? I mean, even poor or primitive reasoning is better than no reasoning at all, right?”

He was beginning to see the problem. He thought at first that I would try to defend the Bible and its “superstitious” positions. “I’m not sure,” he began. “Probably not.”

“So, you’re picturing some form of evolution, right? The ‘force’ gets more complex as time passes, adding more stuff to itself.  Is that how you’re picturing it?”

“Yeah, that’s pretty close,” he said. But this, of course, did not solve his problem.

“Then, is it your view that this ‘force’ eventually developed a mind? That our minds stem from this mind in some way?”

“I don’t know,” he responded, getting a bit short. “I haven’t thought about it all that much.” He was beginning to see the difficulty in his view. Did this “force” now have a mind, having along the way evolved one, or did it create a form of life possessing qualities it did not itself have? Neither option was appealing.

“Fair enough,” I said. “But you do agree, don’t you, that this force you’re thinking of probably couldn’t create something – minds and reason and thoughts – that it did not itself already have?”

“I guess,” he conceded.

I shifted gears. “Do you believe in morality?”

“Of course,” he said. “What do I look like to you?”

“Right,” I chuckled, “it was a rhetorical question. Without getting too technical, would you agree that morality involves the recognition that there are things we should or ought to do when we’d rather do something else?”

He furrowed his brows. “I guess that’s one definition. There are probably others.”

“Such as…?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t know for sure. I haven’t really thought about it that much. It’s, well, you’re mostly right. There are things we can and cannot do, and a bunch of stuff in the middle that isn’t either right or wrong but merely a matter of preference. So, we probably don’t agree on the specifics. All I know is that I don’t need some God in the sky telling me how I should act. I mean, the Bible is ridiculously outdated.”

“I’m not trying to defend the Bible at this point,” I reminded him.  He wanted to get back to where he was more comfortable, attacking the antiquated rules of the Bible. “I want to see whether we agree on some basic things first. You seem to be saying that morality exists, and that while there are many points of disagreement, there are at least a few things – maybe things like rape and murder – that we know we shouldn’t do. Would that be fair?”

He grudgingly agreed.

“Okay. So, that sounds to me like a message. It sounds to me like someone, or something at the very least, is communicating with me; telling me something about how I should act.”

“I don’t follow,” he said, but I suspected that he did more than he was letting on.

“Well, think back to when you were a child. Your parents told you some things that you should or should not do, right? And if you did something wrong, you probably got punished, right?”

He nodded.

“So, your parents were communicating with you, right? Giving you instructions about how to behave, giving you a glimpse of the rulebook they expected you to live by.”

“So?”

“Well, your parents had minds, and they were using those minds to send you a message about some expectations they had. And, you know from your experience that they attached a consequence to your not following their expectations. Right?”

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean that every message must have some intelligent source behind it? I mean,” he paused to think for a minute, “When it’s snowing outside, I don’t imagine that nature is telling me to put on a jacket. These are things that are just part of how we think.”

“But there’s a difference there, isn’t there? When it’s snowing, putting a jacket on is your response to your environment. It’s not really a moral thing. It’s more of the middle ground you talked about earlier. I’m not ‘bad’ if I choose to not wear one, just foolish maybe. I’m talking about those things where we conclude that doing something is ‘bad’ or ‘evil’”?

“What’s your point?” I could see he was losing interest.

“My point is that only other minds can send messages. Intelligence must lie behind a message. If I see alphabet cereal spread randomly on the table, I might see the word ‘cat’ or ‘ox’ spelled out, but the only message there would be one that I might imagine. But if the words spelled out ‘Went to the store, I’ll be home in an hour,’ I would be wise to conclude that someone is trying to tell me something. So, if we both recognize that someone, or something, is telling me not to murder my fellow human beings, it is similarly wise for me to conclude that I’m dealing with a person. At the very least, I’m dealing with an intelligence that is seeking to communicate with me.”

“But those are just social constructs. You don’t need God to know it’s wrong to rape or murder. We evolved those rules so that we could live peaceably together.”

“Oh, so if society changed back to, say, the time of the Romans, where society’s view was one more consistent with nature, you know, a survival of the fittest type approach, would that change your view?”

“Meaning…?”

“Well, you say that these are just social constructs we are following. So, if society’s Caesar orders gladiator fights and tells one man to murder another, or if he rapes a woman, exercises his ‘privilege’ even though he knows she is not consenting, would society’s approval of that make those behaviors moral?”

“No, that’s different…,” his answer trailed off.

“Is it? It sounds to me like you are judging that scenario using some objective rules you recognize as binding on everyone, and that you realize that even Caesars can’t change those rules. You wouldn’t accept that as moral, would you? So, the question I’ll leave you with is pretty simple: how does this ‘force’ you imagine not, in reality, sound an awful lot like the God of the Bible? Yes, he’s all powerful and outside of nature, like your ‘force,’ but he’s also personal, has a mind, and uses that mind to communicate with us, his creation?”

He said he’ll think on it. I hope he does. But for now, at least, there was nothing more to add.

Posted by Al Serrato

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25 Comments

  1. tumeyn says:

    Great stuff Al! I love it. I run across that sort of view a lot and it is difficult to engage meaningfully. I’ve started really trying to gently push the question about the origins of morality when this type of conversation arises. For exactly the same reasons that you give: Darwinian evolution, if anything, should promote precisely the OPPOSITE sort of morality that is commonly believed today. It seems to me that the “peace,love, & harmony” morality of the 21st century flies in the face of evolutionary biology. I enjoy bringing this up with people, but I’m not very good at boldly proclaiming the alternative…

  2. zilch says:

    tumeyn- in a way, you’re right, and Dawkins and Darwin would also agree with you. Peace, love, and harmony, for all people, not just yourself, your family, and your tribe, are not built into us by evolution, which favors those who manage to put more of their genes into the future than others. As they say, differential reproductive success is where evolution’s at.

    But this is an oversimplification. Selfishness will only get you so far, and there are trends within evolution to favor larger units when they work better. The first primitive replicators found they could do better (or rather, strictly speaking, those who mutated in this direction were favored) by pooling their resources, and getting along together as a society of genes in a cell. Cells which became societies, symbioses of bacteria and algae, our eucaryotes with nuclei and mitochondria, did better (under some conditions) than their predecessors. Societies of cells forming multicellular organisms, did better (again, under some conditions) than single cells. Societies of organisms also do very well: the most successful insects are the ants, the bees, and the termites, all societies with rigidly enforced genetic morals.

    Social behavior helps many more complex organisms too: the herd instinct of buffalo, the hunting together of lions, the tribal organization of chimps. Humans are part of this development too: we instinctively protect children and fight off strangers.

    If morals were only genetic, that would be where it would stop, probably: tribes taking care of their own but fighting strangers. That seems to be pretty much the primitive condition of humanity, if you look at surviving Stone Age tribes. Luckily (if you count the possibility of, say, indulging in transatlantic cyberchat useful), we humans can go one step further: we have culture and reason that enable us to further extend our sense of what constitutes ourselves, or what’s worth protecting, beyond ourselves, our families, and our tribes. And we do so in many ways: what our parents teach us, cultural mores, religions, laws…

    Our biology provides us with the ground for our morals. But we’re not very decent people if we don’t go beyond that. If your religion helps you go beyond selfishness, more power to you. I don’t need it myself, though, and I don’t think it’s necessary.

    cheers from stormy Vienna, zilch

    • Al says:

      Zilch, we agree on one thing – your analysis rests on an oversimplification. I have no doubt ‘evolution’ operates on fully functioning systems, but when you ‘oversimplify’ and extrapolate evolution to explain everything, you miss the point – the thing ‘evolving’ has to be created in the first place with a full complement of genes directing its construction and functioning, before any process can act upon it. Your ‘just so’ story about how we got here reminds me of Lamarckism. Before genes were understood, it was natural to assume that giraffes, for instance, got their long necks by passing on to the next generation the ‘stretching’ that allowed them to reach higher fruit, and then survive more often than their non-stretching contemporaries. Even the most primitive single cell organism is so incredibly complex that the process you describe, of grouping to larger units, is about as likely as a 747 assembling itself in a junkyard. Far too much order and intelligence are required for interdependent systems to work as reliably as ‘life’ does. What you’re doing is sneaking in some “organizing” principle inherent in life, but that is the thing that must be explained.

      Our biology cannot provide ‘grounds’ for morals, as morals are ideas. Biology might favor survival, but it could never tell us whether survival is good or evil. You may not think you need religion to have morals, but the thoughts and ideas that motivate you did not come from ‘biology’ but by some worldview that was informed by religious ideas – where we came from, why we’re here, what we owe to each other. Religion simply provides the systematic way of studying and expressing these concepts.

    • Jordan says:

      zilch,
      I think we have a problem of definition here. What is your definition of morality? Perhaps, “doing that which best advances the world.” (Tell me if you have a definition that more accurately fits your view.
      My definition of morality is “doing that which is RIGHT.” Say someone were to steal a million dollars from a billionaire and then use half the money to help victims of the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma. Society is better off for it. The individual is happy. Morally sound action?
      How about torturing babies for fun? What if it were later discovered that these babies grew up to be the most successful in life as a direct result of this torture? Does this change something we know intuitively to not be morally sound into something that is?
      I’m not saying reason can’t lead us to right answers on these issues, but it can do so only because a “right” answer exists that we can reason toward. A “right” answer that doesn’t change because it is not dependent on how we think, how we evolved, or what society says is best.

  3. zilch says:

    Al- you say that you “have no doubt ‘evolution’ operates on fully functioning systems”. Does that mean that you believe we all evolved from a fully functioning single celled organism? That’s at least a start.

    But you’re right: I started in the middle. I didn’t explain how it was that fully functioning single celled organisms got here. Truth is, no one knows. There’s lots of speculation and lots of research- if you google “abiogenesis” you’ll find lots of stuff- but so far there is no certainty how life evolved.

    That said, I think it’s a fair assumption that life did evolve somehow, even if we don’t know exactly how. Knowing what we do about the evolution from simple organisms to more complex ones, we can reasonably extrapolate backwards to hypothesize that the same sorts of organizing properties of matter and energy, in certain circumstances, could proceed from simpler forms (say, amino acids, which are naturally formed) to replicators (perhaps crystals growing on clay deposited in streams, to mention one theory), to primitive cells (naturally occurring lipids spontaneously form vesicles, or cells), to life as we know it.

    Yes, there are a lot of unknowns. But they don’t involve any magic. Gods involve magic, and as soon as you invoke magic, all bets are off. Basically, we don’t know how life got started, nor do we know how the Universe got started- or even if there was a start. Positing that an omniscient omnipotent Being was simply “there all the time” does not answer the questions: it just passes the buck to the next question, and begs off answering it. Unless you can: why is there God? How is there God?

    And again: you say that morals can only come from God, not from nature and reason. Evidence?

    cheers from unseasonably cold Vienna, zilch

    • Al says:

      Zilch, let me see if I understand you correctly: resort to “magic” is illicit, so you’re just going to say that “somehow” through means no one can actually explain things “self assemble” due to properties they just happen to have, proceeding all the while from simpler to more complex forms. Oh, by the way, where did these things – like crystals or lipids come from in the first place, possessed as they are of self assembling characteristics? That sounds an awful lot like magic to me, but if you want to place your “faith” in science’s ability prove that something came from nothing, I guess we’ll have to leave it at that. God, by contrast, is not a resort to magic. It is the same type of logical inference that allows me to conclude that automobiles were designed and manufactured and didn’t “evolve” from simpler forms.

      • zilch says:

        You conclude that automobiles were designed, al, and rightfully so, because you can see the process of design: people draw plans, use tools, and design and build cars. It’s observable.

        But evolution “designs” things too, although in a completely different way. Dawkins prefers to use the word “designed” for artifacts such as cars that are designed by beings with foresight, and calls the products of evolution, which appear “designed” by dint of their obvious order, “designoid”.

        In any case, we need to appreciate the difference between design by humans and design by evolution: humans think about the way things work, and about how previous designs work, and then make new designs. Evolution is blind and has no thought processes: it’s not a being like a human. It just tries out stuff by means of mutation, and what works is kept and passed on.

        It’s a terribly wasteful way to design stuff, as Darwin also pointed out. It takes gazillions of generations to make changes, and gazillions of years. But evolution has gazillions of organisms and gazillions of years to play with, unlike us shortlived and underpowered humans.

        And it demonstrably does the job. Thus, while we can’t yet explain, and perhaps will never be able to explain, exactly how life came about in the first place, I would still bet a silk pyjama that it did, and that no magical, or supernatural if you prefer, forces were necessary. And as I’ve mentioned several times, with no answer from you so far, your positing a God to explain order just begs the question, which you do not answer, of how it is that God exists.

        It’s exactly the same as saying that if we don’t understand lightning, then there must be a god Thor who makes and throws them. This is not an explanation, but a stop to all explanations.

        • Al says:

          Zilch, begging the question occurs where, for instance, you say that evolution “designs” things by a process which results in things that are designed. The point is that evolution does not design anything. Things that are already designed and operating pursuant to a highly complex set of instructions are modified over time, within their design parameters, due to changes in their environment. This is what science is measuring. Extrapolating backward to say, for instance, that life emerged from inert matter is unsupported by any evidence. It is a just so story. At the very least, you have to sneak in some “organizing force,” but that is just a euphemism for God. My point remains: rocks don’t become life, regardless of how long you wait, unless something immensely powerful and immensely intelligent acts. Recognizing that this “something” must exist is not begging the question. It is using rational thought to describe the characteristics of the explanation which is adequate – this being must possess them to make sense of what we see.
          As for the car analogy, if we found a machine of any type on the moon, it would not have been necessary to know anything about its source, or to ever have observed the machine builder or the factory to know, beyond any rational doubt, that the machine was designed and built. The same type of reasoning is used here.

          • zilch says:

            We’ve reached an impasse again, al. You are making claims about what evolution can and cannot do that are not supported by the evidence. For instance, your claim that organisms can only evolve “within their design parameters”, presumably the God-given baramin, is simply not true, unless you include, for instance, “mammals” under the “reptile” kind. The fossil record of the transition between reptiles and mammals is very detailed, and it is so smooth that there is no place you can draw a line between mammal-like reptiles and “true” mammals.

            We can only distinguish them today for living animals because all the intermediates have died out. This is just one of hundreds of examples. And obviously, we don’t see reptiles becoming mammals today because it takes millions of years, and we don’t live that long.

          • Al says:

            Ziclh, an impasse, yes, but still productive. While I know your position doesn’t represent all ‘skeptics,’ its instructive to see the level of ‘faith’ you have in your worldview. Your comments suggest that science has shown this ‘seamless transition’ the same way it shows how a cell replicates, or that no one is really concerned that all – yes, all – the ‘intermediates’ just happen to have died out, and that it takes too long for us to see evolution actually happening, even though at the same time you think the fossil record – which fails to capture evidence of these ‘intermediates’ – can otherwise be relied upon.
            As always, thanks for weighing in. I’ve enjoyed the dialogue.

  4. zilch says:

    Jordan- again, you claim that something has to be “right” in some absolute sense in order to have any morals at all. But again, this is merely your claim. As I’ve mentioned before, we can live quite well without absolutes, and with admitting that we learn as we go along. If you need to believe that there’s an absolute right and wrong in order to behave nicely, that’s fine with me. But most people without absolute morals, such as myself and many even nicer people, manage to live and not kill others, or rob banks, or steal candy from babies. So what’s the advantage of sticking a God onto your still obviously conflicted morals?

    Again, I’ll mention slavery. Do you think slavery is evil? The God of the Bible did not. Why did God think that working on the Sabbath was evil, and that witches should not be suffered to live, but never bothered to say “thou shalt not hold slaves”? If I were a Christian, this would bother me a lot.

  5. zilch says:

    Al- don’t take this the wrong way, but I get the feeling that all your information about evolution is from creationist sites. Otherwise, you would not baldly state that the fossil record “fails to capture evidence” of these intermediates. Please check out what scientists say first: you can find lots of info by googling “reptile mammal transition”, or just read this to start with:
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/section1.html#morphological_intermediates_ex2
    Let me know what you think of these “non-existent” intermediates.

    The transitional animals here didn’t just “happen to die out”- most animals die out in the long run. There are some transitions that survive: so-called “ring species”, where there is a ring of organisms across a large geographical area, say around the Arctic Circle in the case of herring gulls/black backed gulls. The animals around the ring can all interbreed with their immediate neighbors, but where the ring joins, in England with the gulls, they are different enough that they are classified as separate species, and do not interbreed. But you can google this too.

    And again- I must say, I find it rather unbalanced that many atheists, including myself, have taken the time and energy to read the Bible carefully, to chat with Christians online, and to read lots of theology, while many Christians don’t seem to have spent any time at all trying to learn about, say, evolution, except from other Christians.

    I, too, enjoy this dialogue with you, but if you are not willing to look into what evidence evolutionary science really has, as opposed to what creationists say about it, there’s not much point in further discussion.

    • Al says:

      Zilch, a good reminder once again of the need for precision in language. My comments were in a way contradictory, as I said both that the intermediates happened to die out and that they were not captured by the record. I have not studied evolutionary science in any detail, so it’s best that I just stay away from making pronouncements on it. By the way, I don’t read creationist sites, so I’m not getting my views from that source. I believe that the earth is 4.8 or so billion years old and that life has existed here for millions of years. That life forms are changing over time is not controversial. The difference is that you ascribe that to mindless evolution whereas I ascribe it to design parameters. I don’t see how studying those transitions can actually prove that life emerged from non-life, which is my focus. While it may be an interesting field to see how transitions occur, I am interested only in how that negates the possibilty or the probability of a creator being. More importantly (to me anyway) is the ‘evolution,’ if you will, of intelligence. Again, it makes no sense to me that we, of all life forms on the planet, are the only ones to have developed language and abstract thought. Yes, I see how you can say that we are the tip of the spear, but I simply find that unpersuasive, as we should be seeing intelligence also in at least some of the early primates, who after all, had just as much or more time to evolve as we did. What am I missing?

      • zilch says:

        I’m glad to hear you’re not a Young Earth Creationist, al. But yes, you’re still missing a couple of things here.

        One- as I’ve already said, all living things today have evolved exactly the same amount of time. That follows logically from all living things having shared a common ancestor, which is not in doubt among scientists.

        Second- yes, we’re the tip of the spear, or at least the tip of one spear among many. We humans, as I’ve also said before, are descended from the brainiest branches of the brainiest branches of the animals. Why is that mysterious? Or is it also a mystery that only elephants have trunks?

        Tigers aren’t as brainy as we are, but they are stronger, faster, and have sharper teeth and claws: one on one with no weapons, I wouldn’t give a human much of a chance against a tiger. Having a brain is also a liability: you need lots of energy to keep a brain happy, and that requires lots of high proteins, and a big head, which makes for a very high maternal mortality.

        Again, I’ll ask: why don’t bacteria have feet? And why don’t penguins have trunks? There are lots of ways of living. I guess I don’t really understand why this should be a mystery in need of a supernatural explanation.

        • Al says:

          Zilch, I guess my answer would be that your preconceptions are forcing you to miss the forest for the trees. Yes, you can look at the tree of life and force a construct upon it in which all life descends from a common first cell. What amazes me is how you cannot see how wildly counterintuitive this is. I don’t for a minute think that tigers are simply creatures who needed to run faster than us. While they possess common systems with us (hearts and lungs), it is apparent that they have nothing really in common with us. They were designed for a different purpose, occupying a particular part in an ecosystem that is designed to be interdependent. You by contrast have to marvel at how nature could mindlessly create such complexity, so you keep coming back to natural selection, never appearing to recognize the circularity of that position. In essence, you are saying that since there was no intelligent source to this universe, the complexity must be a product of this “force” of nature that allows for complexity and intelligence to emerge for inert and mindless matter. Christians aren’t the only one who are practicing faith.

  6. zilch says:

    Al- I don’t need to “force a construct” upon the tree of life in which all life descends from a single cell. The construct forces itself upon me, and upon anyone who looks at it carefully. Not just comparative anatomy and the fossil record, but biochemistry and genetics leave no doubt that all of life descends from a common ancestor. Sorry, I’m not going to take the word of one very old book against the stones and bones and living things of the Earth.

    And what is circular about natural selection? Sure, it’s amazing, but it’s not really hard to grasp how it works: mutations that cause changes that aid survival and reproduction tend to get passed on.

    And again: where did God get His rational thinking from? Do you think you can demand a naturalistic explanation of rational thinking and get away with not answering the same question for God?

    Why is there a God, al? How is it that there is a God? How is it that there is anything at all, including God and the Universe, rather than nothing?

    Unless you can answer these questions, and show that they fit the real world better than a naturalistic explanation (no matter how incomplete), then why should I believe in God?

    As far as I can see, the God hypothesis, like the hypothesis that there is a teapot in orbit between Mars and Jupiter, is unfalsifiable and has no explanatory power. Thus, until I see evidence otherwise, I will continue to apply Occam’s Razor and go with the tentative conclusion that there are no Gods (and no orbiting teapots).

    cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

  7. Al says:

    Zilch, that’s actually kind of amazing to me – you apparently have zero doubt that life just happened to evolve without any guidance from an intelligent source. In your view, it appears to be impossible that an intelligent creator could have used common systems in the life forms he created. That seems like a pretty strong bias to me, but if you’re satisfied, then far be it from me to tell you that there are other possibilities.
    The reason its circular is that the process needs to be explained, which you have not done. God, by contrast, is the explanation. Such a being that is eternal and omniscient is a sufficient cause for the increasing order that we see. Random processes are not. Moreover, random processes can’t start this work until DNA is up and running, but even the simplest living cells require millions of lines of code to function.
    I will grant you that the intelligent source of life on earth may not be the God of the Bible. There are other possibilities. But that there is an intelligent designer behind this universe – as opposed to just nature – is beyond rational doubt in my view.
    By the way, I think we’re back to repeating ourselves. Also, I know these threads can be a bit strongly worded at times, so I hope you are not offended by any of my comments. I do appreciate the challenge and the dialogue.

  8. zilch says:

    Again- thanks for the thoughtful reply, al. That’s actually my main goal here: to engage in thoughtful, respectful dialogue. I’m sure I wouldn’t have any problems inviting you to a barbecue.

    That said: you still haven’t answered my question. Positing a God to explain order simply postpones the question: where did God’s order come from? If you just say “it was here eternally”, you have not answered the question, but merely placed its answer out of reach.

    As I’ve said, I don’t have an answer for the ultimate question, “why is there anything at all?” either. And although I’m willing, especially in the face of overwhelming evidence, to believe that life evolved from non-life, I have no explanation for the existence of the considerable amount of order evinced in just the natural laws of our Universe, on which order the order of life depends. But your explanation, God, is simply a placeholder for your non-answer to the same question.

    Thus, my worldview leaves a lot less unexplained than yours. I can’t explain why there is anything at all, nor why there is order in what is; you can’t explain these either, and in addition cannot explain why there is an omniscient omnipotent rational thinker who simply happened to have been around for eternity.

    Your faith is much greater than mine, but I think you do not recognize what you assume without critically examining.

    • Al says:

      Zilch, the question you raise is an ancient one. I am certainly not the first to grapple with it. You’re asking me to describe the origin and purpose of a being who, I contend, necessarily has no origin and has not “purpose,” being the creator of all things including all purposes. So, I hope you can see that the question you pose, in the form you pose it, cannot be answered.
      You think I’m sidestepping the question, but I’m not. I’m telling you that the real question is not who created God, or how God was created (neither can be answered), but whether I should conclude that there must be such a being or that there can’t be such a being.
      An analogy is the only way I can convey to you both the distinction I’m drawing and its importance. If I find a fully functional spaceship on the moon, I can conclude that it was left there by an intelligent source or can I set about ways of “proving” that given vast amounts of time it created itself. Concluding the former leaves me open to your challenge – well who created the spaceship maker? The placeholder – spaceship maker – is legitimate. I may know nothing about them except that they possess power and intelligence. But concluding that resort to a spaceship maker is an illicit move – a placeholder as you put it – is irrational. Of course there is a spaceship maker in that scenario – complexity and order require intelligent sources.
      Insisting that life functioning the way it does is proof that its doing it on its own is also illogical. Life is obviously following instructions coded into DNA. Who made the DNA is the question we’re grappling with.
      Why this question is important has to do with what comes next. If the spaceship maker is giving us a way to get off the moon, then studying any messages they left behind will be useful. Insisting that there can be no messages because spaceship makers can’t possibly exist may cause us to get left behind.
      Take care,
      Al

  9. zilch says:

    Al- yes, you’ve used this spaceship metaphor before. But it’s not convincing, because there are observable differences between things designed by beings with foresight (such as humans) and things “designed”, or evolved, by nature. And positing the existence of rational beings who designed a spaceship, who are presumed to be non-magical, visible, and made of matter and energy, and might conceivably be seen someday, is very different from positing the existence of a magical (or supernatural), invisible, not made of matter or energy, omnipotent and omniscient Being who cannot be detected by any natural means.

    And yes, I still think you’re sidestepping the question of how God came to be, or why it is that God exists, by simply defining God in such a way that it becomes unanswerable. I can do that too: I have a unicorn in my garage. Unfortunately, it’s invisible and undetectable by any natural means, by definition (it’s the Invisible Pink Unicorn). And it’s been around forever. I guess that takes care of any questions you might have about Her.

    Not convinced? Neither am I.

    cheers from sunny Vienna, zilch

    • Al says:

      Zilch, I’m not positing the existence of rational beings. I’m reasoning to the best explanation. Let me change the analogy a bit. Imagine that when you drill down and examine the ship more closely, it is actually constructed of living cells. (I think I may have seen this on Star Trek once). You now have the possibility that it evolved from some simpler state. This may be a competing inference, as you continue to study. But you would have to, logically, keep open the possibility that an intelligent designer was a work. This remains true even though you know nothing about that designer. The mistake in your reasoning is that you insist that questions about God must be fully answerable before you will acknowledge the possibility of God as an explanation.
      As to your second point, I am not defining God. I am, again, using reason to infer what type of being this must be. When you imagine a unicorn, you are doing something quite different. You are piecing together things you already know about – horses and horns and magic – and pretending that such a being exists. What I am doing is more like looking at tracks in the sand and determining what kind of being left them, given the size and shape of the imprint. Boot patterns would tell me its human, while paw prints would tell me something quite different.

  10. zilch says:

    al- you say:

    “But you would have to, logically, keep open the possibility that an intelligent designer was a work. This remains true even though you know nothing about that designer. The mistake in your reasoning is that you insist that questions about God must be fully answerable before you will acknowledge the possibility of God as an explanation.”

    Not true. I’ve mentioned several times here that I am open to any explanation, including one involving God, as long as it seems to be the best explanation for what we see. I don’t demand that my questions about God be fully answered- in fact, I’m not only willing, but I’m always forced to accept explanations for anything I believe in, even though unanswered questions remain. That’s the human condition: we never have perfect knowledge, but must believe and act according to the best knowledge we have.

    I acknowledge the possibility that God exists. But after looking very carefully at the facts, I haven’t seen any evidence for God’s existence yet.

    About unicorns- while there are people who believe in God as some sort of impersonal force, maybe like Spinoza’s “Deus, sive Natura”, you are a Christian, and the God of the Christians is most definitely a unicorn. That is of course, a unicorn in the sense of piecing together things you already know about: men and authority and magic. Just as a unicorn is a kind of Superhorse, a god is a kind of Superman.

    Of course, none of this proves God- or unicorns- don’t exist. I’m keeping my eyes open- time permitting- for both.

    cheers from very wet Vienna, zilch

    • Al says:

      Zilch, you are using “fact” and “evidence” to mean something different than they mean in courtrooms. Perhaps you mean “proof,” that you are not satisfied that the facts and evidence establish, or prove, God’s existence. Could you define what you mean by “fact” and “evidence?” I can accept that you have set the standard of proof higher than believers, but the claim that there is no “evidence” in support of a creator is difficult to understand, as there are many facts relating to the universe that would support an inference that a creator is the best explanation.

      • zilch says:

        al- I’m not really interested in what courtrooms define as “fact” and “evidence”, as courtrooms are not the right forum for finding out how the world works. I will go rather with the scientific definition of “fact” and “evidence”. This would be something like “observations of the way things are, independently verifiable”. And while Muslim scientists can independently verify, say, the gravitational field of the Earth, they will not independently verify that Jesus is the Son of God. I’ll go with what can be independently verified.

        • Al says:

          Zilch, I don’t think science defines fact and evidence differently than do the courts. That may be source of our disagreement. And your definition is not workable in the world. If you limit facts to things which are independently verifiable, you could never establish that an event occurred unless it was witnessed by several people. By your standard, most of what people know would not be considered factual. For example, since I can’t independently verify that you are a human being, as opposed to a robot or a figment of my imagination, would I be wise to conclude that I don’t know for sure what you are?

          No, I think the better practice is to view “evidence” as anything that has a tendency in reason to prove or disprove a disputed issue. A fact is something that has been established in some fashion. Adding “independently verifiable” adds nothing meaningful to the definition. What it does is show that your reasoning is circular, as you will always, on this definition, end up the inquiry “is there a God” right where you began, as you cannot “independently verify” God’s existence.

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