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36 Arguments
November 23, 2009 12:33 PM   Subscribe

36 Arguments for the Existence of God
posted by vronsky (160 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Arguments Against:

1) Side-hugging
posted by Avenger at 12:41 PM on November 23, 2009 [30 favorites]


If you're having faith problems, I feel bad for you son.
posted by GuyZero at 12:44 PM on November 23, 2009 [28 favorites]


Missing the obvious ones:

- Beer. Just because. First noticed by Ben Franklin.

- Wine. Because the yeast necessary to make wine can be found on the skin of the grape. Q.E.D. L.M.A.O.

Really, though. If there was a god, then s/he could have made things so the world just came into existence at this very moment. Including this discussion. So, of course god exists, then.

Or not, depending.
posted by clvrmnky at 12:44 PM on November 23, 2009 [8 favorites]


..and their 77 flaws.
posted by _aa_ at 12:48 PM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Rational arguments on questions of faith are dumb. Faith is an irrational decision (I'm not making a value judgment, that's what the word _means_), so it's pointless arguing for/against it.

You want to believe in God? Great, by all means, go for it. That doesn't mean you can prove it with logical argument. It's a belief system, not hypothesis testing.
posted by mcstayinskool at 12:50 PM on November 23, 2009 [19 favorites]


..and their 77 flaws

about 44 women.

Deborah liked to argue
from cosmic coincidence
Carla was a different type
she used answered prayers
Mary was a black girl
who argued from hard consciousness
Susan painted pictured
showing the consensus of mysticness.


mmmm....mmm-mm-m-mmmm....
posted by GuyZero at 12:52 PM on November 23, 2009 [41 favorites]


tl;dr

Short version: There is no god.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 12:53 PM on November 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


O boy. This is gonna wendell.

A. Religious faith can't be predicated on rational argument.

B. Atheism is not an assertion that I can prove god does not exist.
posted by Babblesort at 12:53 PM on November 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


This had better be 36 pictures of Robert Pattinson.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:54 PM on November 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


tl;dr:

A. YEAH BUT BANANAS

B. That argument also works for unicorns.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:55 PM on November 23, 2009 [9 favorites]


2) Brainworms
posted by benzenedream at 12:56 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


RTFA, then snark, shitheads.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:56 PM on November 23, 2009 [14 favorites]


37) How can you tell me there's no God when bananas are so freaking easy to open? I mean seriously. Also, if there's no god then why is my wife so hot? Because my wife is pretty hot. All the kids in the church group I mentor tell me she's a MILSH.*



*Mom I'd like to side hug
posted by hifiparasol at 12:57 PM on November 23, 2009 [15 favorites]


IF GOD EXISTS WHY DIDN'T HE MAKE ME PREVIEW
posted by hifiparasol at 12:57 PM on November 23, 2009 [12 favorites]


hifiparasol: MILSH

Oh thank god I can make teeshirts on the internet.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:58 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


IF GOD EXISTS WHY DIDN'T HE MAKE ME PREVIEW

Free will, dude. You always had the choice to hit Preview before posting, just like I had when I writed this.
posted by Spatch at 1:00 PM on November 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


Is it reasonable to assume that an omniscient, omnipotent, eternal and unknowable entity is somehow constrained by human understanding? Just asking...
posted by jim in austin at 1:00 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


B. is not an argument. At least it's not an argument I'm making.

I'm saying that I'm an atheist and I am preempting the inevitable statement from someone that being an atheist means I think I can prove god doesn't exist. (I do feel that I can make a decent argument that unicorns are made of rainbows and awesome.)
posted by Babblesort at 1:01 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


RTFA, then snark, shitheads.

I like jokes involving numbers. Are there actually no numbers in the article?

"And with you there shall be a man of every tribe; every one head of the house of his fathers. And these are the names of the men that shall stand with you: of the tribe of Reuben; Elizur the son of Shedeur. Of Simeon; Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai. Of Judah; Nahshon the son of Amminadab. Of Issachar; Nethaneel the son of Zuar. Of Zebulun; Eliab the son of Helon. Of the children of Joseph: of Ephraim; Elishama the son of Ammihud: of Manasseh; Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur. Of Benjamin; Abidan the son of Gideoni. Of Dan; Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai. Of Asher; Pagiel the son of Ocran. Of Gad; Eliasaph the son of Deuel. Of Naphtali; Ahira the son of Enan. These were the renowned of the congregation, princes of the tribes of their fathers, heads of thousands in Israel."

I mean, who doesn't love Numbers?

Note: there are numbers, but no quotes from Numbers in the linked article.
posted by GuyZero at 1:01 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


As I'm reading through these, I'm seeing a common theme: All the original arguments seem to be predicated on the fact that because we don't understand something, it must be god.

I can see why this wouldn't be pointed out in the Flaws sections, as it does nothing to move the argument, but for me it boils down to "I'm okay with stuff not having answers that we know about right now."
posted by quin at 1:02 PM on November 23, 2009


Spatch: Free will, dude. You always had the choice to hit Preview before posting, just like I had when I writed this.

What I have only recently begun to wonder is: If the rationale for sin and evil is that God can only shower us with His Great Love when we have free will and are able to do bad stuff, then how come heaven is perfect with no sorrow or pain or sin? Is there no free will in heaven? Does God love us less in the afterlife?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:04 PM on November 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


People need to read the freaking article seriously this time before y'all look like fools for 'ZOMG you can't prove God from reason'.
posted by spicynuts at 1:05 PM on November 23, 2009


I can't believe how long that article is and didn't have enough faith in the vronsky that it was worth slogging through, especially on a day so beautiful where I live that I just want to enjoy it and not worry about Who/What made it so and if I have obligations to that entity...
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:08 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, to be honest, I had to look at some other reviews to figure out exactly what's going on. The FPP is an excerpt from a fictional novel about an atheist who becomes a publishing sensation for listing arguments for and against the existence of god. The problem is that if you read the FPP lightly, it looks like yet another book review.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:10 PM on November 23, 2009


This question will never be answered. At least not in our lifetime.

1. Everything that exists must have a cause.

Alright.

2. The universe must have a cause (from 1).

3. Nothing can be the cause of itself.

Define nothing. Nothing here might be something somewhere else.

4. The universe cannot be the cause of itself (from 3).

5. Something outside the universe must have caused the universe (from 2 & 4).

6. God is the only thing that is outside of the universe.


The only thing? How do you know? That's a bit presumptuous.

7. God caused the universe (from 5 & 6).

8. God exists.


Well then, who created God? What is God? What do we mean by the word or concept of God?

This just makes me believe that the universe is the result of some cosmic chemistry set given to some sort of entity for its birthday. This entity dabbled around with it for a while, got bored and then moved onto to more important things.
posted by chillmost at 1:10 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


People need to read the freaking article seriously this time before y'all look like fools for 'ZOMG you can't prove God from reason'

True, but a bit of context in the post would have been better. As it stands, vronsky basically set this thread up to happen this way.
posted by Sova at 1:11 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I read the article.

Holy breathless prose, Batman! That last paragraph is all one massive run-on sentence. This surely disproves the existence of God, right there...
posted by vorfeed at 1:17 PM on November 23, 2009


For we are born at all adventure: and we shall be hereafter as though we had never been: for the breath in our nostrils is as smoke, and a little spark in the moving of our heart; which being extinguished, our body shall be turned into ashes, and our spirit shall vanish as the soft air, and our name shall be forgotten in time, and no man shall have our works in remembrance, and our life shall pass away as the trace of a cloud, and shall be dispersed as a mist, that is driven away with the beams of the sun, and overcome with the heat thereof.
posted by Abiezer at 1:17 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


While it's certainly possible to logically prove that there is no god based on the picking apart of a certain set of assumptions, this refutation means nothing to the faithful. The problem is not that people believe in god, but that they (and especially their leadership) use their beliefs to justify actions that are hugely detrimental to society and their stated goals of peace, love, and a just society.

Believing that you're a sinner and that you must worship and fear the One True God in order to achieve salvation will lead to beliefs that other people must be forced to worship and fear your One True God for their own salvation. This leads to all kinds of problems.

But if we can change this fundamental belief, then the actions that spring from it can change.

Whereas old time religion insists that God created the universe, and that God needs you to worship Him, I propose fomenting the twin idea that god = the universe, and that god needs nothing. There is no evidence for a god outside of creation, and if god = all that exists, then what could god possibly want that god doesn't already have?

Under this cosmology, all the laws of nature and science are god's laws. It doesn't matter whether you 'believe in god' as long as you believe in the universe. Scientists will call it one thing and people of faith will call it another, but it will be the same thing: the universe, which is god, which is the universe...

And since god/universe needs nothing from anyone, people will stop requiring other people to submit to Their God's needs, ending religious wars and sanctimonious political meddling forever.
posted by crunch42 at 1:18 PM on November 23, 2009 [11 favorites]


Well then, who created God? What is God? What do we mean by the word or concept of God?

This just makes me believe that the universe is the result of some cosmic chemistry set given to some sort of entity for its birthday.


Go too far down that road and someone might accuse you of being a Mormon. Be careful.
posted by The World Famous at 1:20 PM on November 23, 2009


I was going to comment that the assertion of the 'flaw' in the Spinozan argument (physical laws exist - 'just because') is similar to what theologians do regarding God (who does things - just because), so the 'it exists because I'm ignorant of it otherwise' schtick is there, and that most 'God' arguments are over what 'God's' existence means rather than exploring/positing the nature of being in any real way and that perhaps the only good rebuttal to Spinoza would be a Godelian incompleteness argument (and even then Godel had his own, quite logical, ideas on the existence of God).

Buuuut that seems to mostly be the thesis of the book anyway, in that people don't care one way or the other (the atheist arguments fail to make a dent. Although even given a fundamentally strong argument for the existence of God, people don't want to hear about it if it can't be used to for meaning, purpose and comfort) given the diversity of their individual experiences.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:21 PM on November 23, 2009


ah, ye of little faith.
posted by Postroad at 1:22 PM on November 23, 2009


What I have only recently begun to wonder is: If the rationale for sin and evil is that God can only shower us with His Great Love when we have free will and are able to do bad stuff, then how come heaven is perfect with no sorrow or pain or sin? Is there no free will in heaven? Does God love us less in the afterlife?

I've always gotten the impression that Serious Christians™ consider Heaven to be a sort of merging with God, or at least an existence of being so close to god that you don't really do anything except revel in his presence, and the accompanying presence of all those you ever loved (once they die, assuming they don't go to hell instead). So God in Heaven is sort of like Instrumentality, only without the orange goo and giant melting Ayanami head.

It might be a mistaken impression, though.
posted by Caduceus at 1:23 PM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


RTFA, then snark, shitheads.

It's too long.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:25 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


1. Everything that exists must have a cause.

Sez who? What does this even mean? I would say the existence of fractals ends the argument right here. (And if you want to say the computer that draws it is the cause of the Mandelbrot Set, that sets a very low bar for estimating the nature of this God whatsis being postulated.)

Religious metaphors are based on the technology of their time. The oldest religious taught that the world was born or hatched or had some similar biological origin. The monotheistic father-god making the world as a thing of skill is relatively new, and was a departure almost certainly inspired by the emergence of civilization with specialized crafts; these things don't arise spontaneously, they must be made, so surely something as intricate as the Universe must have been made too. But an adherent of the White Goddess would not have been so sure about that.

And very recently, really within the last 30 years, we have learned that incredibly and unexpectedly complex systems can arise from a combination of simple information processing (not displaying any skill or sentience or organization any more special than a crystal) and an algorithm simple enough to emerge at random through an evolutionary process.

Before 3,000 years ago the only way we saw complex things emerge was by being born, and that's what we thought of the universe. Ever since then we saw complex things emerge by being made by more complex things, and that's what we think of the universe. But now we see that complex things can emerge from simpler systems under the right conditions, in particular conditions that seem very similar to the structure of the Universe. And the implication of that is very simple. There may be a cause, but there is absolutely no need for it to be sentient, to care about us, or even to have the slightest ability to sensibly interact with the thing it is causing.
posted by localroger at 1:26 PM on November 23, 2009 [14 favorites]


This list doesn't even mention the Transcendental argument which is the most intriguing. So it's pretty much a waste of time.
posted by TetrisKid at 1:27 PM on November 23, 2009


Holy breathless prose, Batman! That last paragraph is all one massive run-on sentence.

Yes, I'm slightly torn on this one. On the one hand, it seems to support a premise (expressed by Schermer and Wilson, among others) close to my heart that experiences of grace, beauty, and mystery which are pivotal to religious experience are not uniquely held by those who believe in a God.

On the other hand, the prose doesn't grab me, the setting makes me want to flee in terror, and I generally have a limited tolerance for polemics as part of my fiction.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:27 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: The Argument from the Unreasonableness of Reason
posted by mazola at 1:30 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Rah rah ah ah ah roma roma ma ga ga ooh la la

Sorry, still have that song in my head.
posted by everichon at 1:30 PM on November 23, 2009


...and, (without reading the long article) isn't the real challenge providing any proof that there is a specific God you need to pledge yourself to?

5. Something outside the universe must have caused the universe (from 2 & 4).
6. God is the only thing that is outside of the universe.

...which defines God as 'whatever is outside of the universe that created the universe'. I can accept that. It's believing that that entity wants you to eats fish on Fridays, avoid sex with those of your own gender or hijack planes and crash them into large buildings where you totally lose me.

on preview, crunch42 nails it. Dude, consider me a charter member of your religion - an apostle (but I can't promise I won't go Judas on you 'cause I really need 30 pieces of silver to pay my car insurance).
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:31 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


1. Everything that exists must have a cause.
3. Nothing can be the cause of itself.
8. God exists.

Therefore, God must have a cause, and that cause cannot be God. Hmm. Let's call it SuperGod. By the same argument, SuperGod must have a cause; let's call it SuperSuperGod. The Axiom of Induction now implies that there is a SupernGod for any postive integer n. By the Axiom of Infinity, the infinite set SuperωGod = {SupernGod | n ∊ ℕ} exists, and thus must have a cause other than itself; call it Superω+1God. Transfinite induction implies that there is a SuperεGod for any ordinal ε. Amusingly, this argument does not require the Axiom of Choice; thus, the existence of the transfinite ordinal Gods is independent of the existence of free will.

This is fun!
posted by erniepan at 1:37 PM on November 23, 2009 [29 favorites]


Hello and welcome to another edition of Internet News, your source for news from The Internet. I'm Chet Waspman.

Earlier today, an unidentified internet terrorist known only as "vronsky" hurled an improvised explosive device through the window of the establishment Metafilter, flaming hundreds and injuring thousands. The assailant has released no statement to the press regarding his motivations or any list of demands. The explosive device, or "Dogma Bomb," as the authorities are also calling it, is said to have sparked a lolreligious flamewar and resulted in no less than 13 links to pictures located on icanhazcheezburger and another 2 dozen from various somethingawful and 4chan forums. Emergency personal at the scene were heard to remark that it was the worst incidence of internet combustion they'd seen in their careers. Said one emergency technician on site, "I've simply never seen so many instances of the word 'asshat' in one thread before, and I was there for 9622.'"

Here's Don with the internet weather. Don?

Thanks Chet. The weather's fine.
posted by shmegegge at 1:44 PM on November 23, 2009 [19 favorites]


Hey guys you know what if you don't like fiction with a philosophical premise and would rather make jokes about your presumption of the content based on the title alone then where do I go if I wanted to read this piece of fiction and then comment on it, and read the commentary of others who had read it, and perhaps learn something in the process?
posted by idiopath at 1:44 PM on November 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


One of these days I'm going to create a computer program that creates entities that evolve to discuss philosophy. Then I can't wait to see those entities devolve into whether they were created by an outside individual, or whether they are just the natural evolution based on the constraints of the universe they live in.
The funniest part is that they'd both be right.
posted by forforf at 1:53 PM on November 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


uh ... "devolve into" meaning "devolve into arguments over"
posted by forforf at 1:55 PM on November 23, 2009


God needs nothing and is identical to the Universe, and the Universe's laws are Gods laws?

Ok, good, good, I'm liking it so far, but what about the death thing? I really like the Heaven feature that the Christianity product offers, do you have a Heaven? 'Cause that's pretty much a must have feature for my mass-religion needs.
posted by Reverend John at 1:57 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nothing new there. Hey mathematicians, want to read a really amazing set theoretic proof of the existence of god? Check out "God Exists!" by Robert Meyer (Here if you have jstor access). It's cheeky and hilarious. The conclusion of the paper is that the existence of god is logically equivalent to the axiom of choice! (Coincidentally, I made that my facebook status just last night and got a bunch of mathematicians all riled up, which was fun. Some nice proofs were had. I particularly liked the observation that Jesus could only have fed the masses with a single loaf of bread by using the Banach-Tarski paradox.)

Here's the proof in quick. In one direction: you can show that a causal antecedence relation defines a partial ordering over everything, and then use Zorn's lemma to show that there was a first cause. (It's a cosmological argument.) In the other direction: the axiom of choice is true iff it's possible to choose an element from each set for any collection of sets. By hypothesis, god exists, and god can do anything, so he can make the choices. QED.

The argument was apparently prompted by Hilary Putnam mentioning to Meyer, the author, that most responses to the cosmological argument are heavy-handed and could probably be bested with a good theory of transfinite induction. I think he's right about this. My favorite part is when Meyer suggests that we should properly attribute the axiom of choice to Aquinas rather than Zermelo.

chillmost: Define nothing. Nothing here might be something somewhere else.

I'm having a hard time letting this sentence pass by without noting how nonsensical it is. Might as well succumb.
posted by painquale at 2:00 PM on November 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


The Argument from the Beauty of Physical Laws

1. Scientists use aesthetic principles (simplicity, symmetry, elegance) to discover the laws of nature.

2. Tacos are simple, symmetric, and elegant.

C. God exists.
posted by nola at 2:03 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


As I'm reading through these, I'm seeing a common theme: All the original arguments seem to be predicated on the fact that because we don't understand something, it must be god.

I can see why this wouldn't be pointed out in the Flaws sections, as it does nothing to move the argument, but for me it boils down to "I'm okay with stuff not having answers that we know about right now."

See argument 3B:
COMMENT: This last flaw can be seen as one particular instance of the more general and fallacious Argument from Ignorance:

1.There are things that we cannot explain yet.

2. Those things must be caused by God.

FLAW: Premise 1 is obviously true. If there weren't things that we could not explain yet, then science would be complete, laboratories and observatories would unplug their computers and convert to condominiums, and all departments of science would be converted to departments in the History of Science. Science is only in business because there are things we have not explained yet. So we cannot infer from the existence of genuine, ongoing science that there must be a God.
posted by designbot at 2:08 PM on November 23, 2009


Here's that paradigm of cause/effect again.
posted by bam at 2:17 PM on November 23, 2009


She is writing about a man in a world where atheism is nothing special, is pretty much taken for granted, and religious ideas are dismissed (academia, of course). He is not taken seriously because, though he does not propose that any gods exist, he does work related to religion (psychology of religion).

Something of his gets some mainstream attention, and suddenly he is suddenly an atheist celebrity.

The science world does not respect him, because he addresses religion.

The mainstream world does not respect him, because he vocally does not believe in God.

In between, in the narrative of the moment to moment events, she describes many of the kinds of feelings and experiences which people invoke religion to explain.

I read this as a wishful retelling of the ascension of the new athiests. Instead of arrogant sounding biologists who dismiss religion wholesale, this is someone who is actually in a field somehow related to religion, in a conflicted place where neither side wants him to be standing.

That is how I read it, at least. And there were some really nice emotional moments in the story, but I had a harder time tying them to the themes of the narrative (maybe it is meant to be fractured in this way?).
posted by idiopath at 2:26 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


God exists.

Flaw: If God's account is disabled, does he really exist?
posted by mazola at 2:26 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Pfft. This list has many more than a mere few dozen proofs for the existence of God. So there.
posted by graymouser at 2:27 PM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


The Grand Unified Argument for the Existence of God:

1. I am desperate to believe that there is more to my life than this apparently meaningless, finite, drab existence.

2. I am incapable of seeing just how priceless, enjoyable and wonderful life is, in itself, without imagining it as part of some larger context wherein I am a precious snowflake nurtured by some benevolent, all-powerful parent-figure.

3. I therefore engage in much specious argumentation and flights of fancy to construct a reality wherein my life is not meaningless, drab or finite and is instead part of a larger, nurturing context.

4. ???

5. God exists! (and PROFIT!)
posted by darkstar at 2:29 PM on November 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


Interesting, painquale. Looks like you don't get a unique god, though, and you can't guarantee omniscience either. The definition of God that you need to make it run is something like "an existing thing that has no cause but itself"-so there might be a huge array of 'gods', each initiating their own causal chains with no domain over their rivals. I can't see behind jstor these days, but commentary here. If Pruss is being fair to Meyer, it looks like we still need some metaphysical justification that the set of all things that exist is inductively ordered. Pruss's gloss of Meyer's attempted justification (about the position of a ball at time t) seems fishy to me, but I confess that I don't exactly understand it.
posted by Kwine at 2:30 PM on November 23, 2009


er, commentary here
posted by Kwine at 2:31 PM on November 23, 2009


And what's funny about this is how everyone is tripping over themselves to debate what appears to be something of a MacGuffin of the excerpted novel. From the few reviews I can find, the main focus appears to be the protagonist's relationships with a mentor, an ex-lover, an ex-wife, and a potential protege. The protagonist's upcoming debate regarding religion is just a convenient narrative hook.

idiopath: Well, it is Chapter 1 and the appendix.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:37 PM on November 23, 2009


Spoiler: it's the 1st chapter and the appendix (the 36 arguments, plus flaws and comments) from the (fiction) novel by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:39 PM on November 23, 2009


(Or as KirkJobSlunder said)
posted by filthy light thief at 2:40 PM on November 23, 2009


Yeah, I read the first couple of pages before I lost interest. The writing is pretty crappy, but everybody's a critic, right?

The more interesting aspect of what was posted, to me, was the Appendix.
posted by darkstar at 2:42 PM on November 23, 2009


The FPP is an excerpt from a fictional novel about an atheist who becomes a publishing sensation for listing arguments for and against the existence of god. The problem is that if you read the FPP lightly, it looks like yet another book review.

Wait, wait. I'm confused. I'm not snarking, I swear: Is it a "fictional novel" in the simple sense that it's a work of fiction? Or is is a "fictional novel" in the sense that no such novel has actually been published? 'Cuz the sub-title of the book is A Work Of Fiction.

Full Disclosure: I skimmed.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 2:43 PM on November 23, 2009


Therefore, God must have a cause, and that cause cannot be God. Hmm. Let's call it SuperGod. By the same argument, SuperGod must have a cause; let's call it SuperSuperGod. The Axiom of Induction now implies that there is a SupernGod for any postive integer n.

It's SuperGods all of the way up!
posted by codswallop at 2:44 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


On preview, I have my answer.

But to throw more crap on the pile:

Hundreds of Proofs

posted by Mister Moofoo at 2:45 PM on November 23, 2009


Hey cool. I kind of arrived at Spinoza's argument during some, uh, smoky nights during my adolescence. Which goes to demonstrate not that I am uberintelligent, but that philosophy is actually a pretty natural and often simple enterprise.
posted by jokeefe at 2:51 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Grand Unified Argument for the Existence of God:

1. I am desperate to believe that there is more to my life than this apparently meaningless, finite, drab existence.

2. I am incapable of seeing just how priceless, enjoyable and wonderful life is, in itself, without imagining it as part of some larger context wherein I am a precious snowflake nurtured by some benevolent, all-powerful parent-figure.

3. I therefore engage in much specious argumentation and flights of fancy to construct a reality wherein my life is not meaningless, drab or finite and is instead part of a larger, nurturing context.


All due respect, but it's condescending crap like this that makes me lose respect for atheists. I can understand and respect your position; why can't you do likewise for mine (agnostic)?
posted by jokeefe at 2:53 PM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


filthy light thief: "Spoiler: it's the 1st chapter and the appendix (the 36 arguments, plus flaws and comments) from the (fiction) novel by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein."

Yeah, the article makes that quite clear. Instead of "spoiler", you could have said "for those of us that are more interested in an argument that has not changed much since the 19th century than the link in question".

After a third reading, (head a little fuzzy this afternoon and my concentration not the best), The love interest is a contrast, the "hard science" side of philosophy, while he is on the "soft science" side. He sees her as out of his league, and she has only been dating him since he became a controversial posterboy for atheism.

I am pretty sure as I speculated before the author sees Cass as a idealized version of Hitchens, Adams, Gould, or Dawkins - in an alternate reality where the most famous atheist spokesperson is actually someone qualified to talk about atheism and religion, rather than a random successful or loud person who also happens to be an atheist.

On my first reading the contrast between the current events / philosophical controversy and the personal details seemed a bit strange, but with re-reading it works better, and I am sure it works much better if you are actually immersed into the book.

The first few paragraphs carry an air of elitism that I hope is being set up as the foil for the protagonists further personal growth and self awareness, rather than simply the author's arrogance peeking through.
posted by idiopath at 2:54 PM on November 23, 2009


Mister Moofoo: It's published by Pantheon and can be pre-ordered at Amazon. (Although the last time I pre-ordered something in January it was actually published in June.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:56 PM on November 23, 2009


To those who thought it was TL;DR, sorry, I meant to add that you can just scroll down to the appendix.
posted by vronsky at 2:59 PM on November 23, 2009


jokeefe: All due respect, but it's condescending crap like this that makes me lose respect for atheists.

Yes, yes, because we are all a hive mind of condescension. We also stick our pinkies out when we drink tea.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:01 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


All due respect, but it's condescending crap like this that makes me lose respect for atheists. I can understand and respect your position; why can't you do likewise for mine (agnostic)?

From "all due respect" to "condescending crap" in 0.25 seconds. Nice rhetorical flourish.

As it happens, I'm an agnostic and my post was tongue-in-cheek. Sensitive, much?
posted by darkstar at 3:03 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


In fact, it's a little funny that you sail past a whole thread full of snarking and riffing on the topic in order to take umbrage at my comment, but whatever.
posted by darkstar at 3:07 PM on November 23, 2009


KirkJobSluder: Thanks, but I was really just being a little assy about the phrase "fictional novel." I thought that a page that was written as a review of a novel that didn't really exist was a kind of tortuous way to write about arguments for the existence of god, but not something I'd put past the internets.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:16 PM on November 23, 2009


idiopath: The early reviews suggest that the novel does a classic switch where the protagonist (re)discovers a romantic relationship that's better than his/her current one. But certainly, I'll agree that Cass certainly seems a bit like a reasonable paragon set up against strawman Hitch and Dick. Perhaps its just me, but while Hitchins consistently comes off as being the meanest guy in the room, Dawkins often fails to live up to his negative reputation. And of course, it bugs me that there are, in fact, primarily secular writers who struggle with the whole issue of religious experience.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:30 PM on November 23, 2009


Metafilter: A reasonable paragon set up against strawman Hitch and Dick.
posted by The World Famous at 3:35 PM on November 23, 2009


Yes, yes, because we are all a hive mind of condescension. We also stick our pinkies out when we drink tea.

KirkJob, "stuff like this" does not equal "all atheists think like this". darkstar's comment demonstrated a subset of atheist thinking that often gets an airing around here (see "invisible sky friend", etc.).

As it happens, I'm an agnostic and my post was tongue-in-cheek. Sensitive, much?

darkstar: Maybe you should have included a hamburger tag? Because the post was pretty indistinguishable from normal Mefi commentary on theism...
posted by jokeefe at 3:38 PM on November 23, 2009


Thanks for the link and all, and it looks like an interesting article, but...it's a novel or something? Holy Christ that's a long page of text. Time to power up the speed reading module.
posted by zardoz at 3:43 PM on November 23, 2009


I think a big part of the problem is that the premise of atheism brings up so many doubts and fears and such that it is an uphill battle to be an atheist among theists and not come off as rude. I mean, it is called faith because you have to believe in it, right? So every believer has to consider the possibility that there is no God for faith to even take its rightful place in theology*. And I think that talking publicly about atheism brings up those fears and worries that come with the need for faith.

Presume a world where we, as the presumers, Know Without A Doubt that God exists. And the people in that world get only as much evidence either way as we do here. Someone who believes in God would see atheism as a threat, no matter how politely or civilly presented - because it is a temptation to sin, it is a possible trap that could damn them. How do you have a civil discussion with someone who's point of view is a temptation that could damn you to eternal suffering?

That said, I am an athiest - but I try to understand how it is that even the most mildly stated atheism is taken as being angry or rude.

*within a Christian society, or another which similarly places an emphasis on faith
posted by idiopath at 3:47 PM on November 23, 2009


Positive feedback loops could be thought of as an instance in which a thing causes itself, right?
posted by solipsophistocracy at 3:53 PM on November 23, 2009


Your ability to argue against the existence of God is proof God exists.

Or not.
posted by bwg at 3:53 PM on November 23, 2009


3. Nothing can be the cause of itself.

Some religions would argue that God is the cause of itself. Many would also argue that God is not outside the universe.


If you can argue that God has to exist because something had to create the universe, couldn't that mean that the universe created God in order for there to be something that created it? "The universe" is not just space, but time.
posted by Foosnark at 3:56 PM on November 23, 2009


solipsophistocracy: "Positive feedback loops could be thought of as an instance in which a thing causes itself, right?"

Positive feedback does not create systems, but rather is a dynamic within a system. A positive feedback loop is a process that causes itself to continue, but there is usually something else that kickstarted the process (ie. there was an iteration of the loop that caused this iteration and it was caused by the previous etc. until you get to the perturbation that made the loop trigger or the construction of the system in which the feedback occurs).
posted by idiopath at 3:58 PM on November 23, 2009


Tl;dr - did it include "Because it would really, really annoy Richard Dawkins, however much he says it wouldn't"? That's my favourite.
posted by Grangousier at 4:00 PM on November 23, 2009


One frustrating aspect of being atheist in an overwhelmingly theist world is the presumption some make (not pointing at this thread - just over the course of my life out IRL) that I have no basis for ethics or morality without a deity.

Frustrating for two reasons.

One. I do in fact have a pretty hefty set of beliefs on how to act ethically and morally that I attempt to follow.

Two. My ethics and morals had to come from an internal source. I don't have a list of rules preset for me to follow or face punishment. Behavior based on punishment isn't ethical or moral, it's fearful. Remove the punishment phase and you're left with only the belief in right or wrong to guide you.

idiopaths comment above, with which I agree, brought this to mind. There are certainly people who perceive atheism as a threat because it strips away the punishment aspect of the giant Skinner box we call a world. It leaves nothing to grasp for ethics and morality except a self developed sense of fairness and empathy.
posted by Babblesort at 4:06 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


KirkJob, "stuff like this" does not equal "all atheists think like this". darkstar's comment demonstrated a subset of atheist thinking that often gets an airing around here (see "invisible sky friend", etc.).

It's not the subject of the sentence that's the problem, it's the "lose respect for atheists." Of course it's also typical mefi discourse on theism for someone to claim to be an agnostic and complain that atheists are so ____.

But on a different subject, positive treatments of atheism are so rare, that I actually took note when the Stargate: Universe(*) episode "Time" included a conversation between Eli, an atheist, and Rush, who sees salvation of the soul in the possibility of technology-driven Ascension, regarding their mortality. So I'm warming to 36 Arguments, although I'll probably keep it near the bottom of my wishlist pending more reviews.

(*) Yes, I watch bad science fiction television.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:12 PM on November 23, 2009


Babblesort: "There are certainly people who perceive atheism as a threat because it strips away the punishment aspect of the giant Skinner box we call a world"

"As if," as Cass often finds himself saying into microphones, "the only reason to live morally is out of fear of getting caught and being spanked by the heavenly father."

--

which, granted, is maybe a inflammatory characterization for those who do not believe in a personal God.
posted by idiopath at 4:28 PM on November 23, 2009


@oneswellfoop:
Thanks, but I think there are enough religions already. As for your car insurance, since your insurer is part of the universe, and since the god/universe needs nothing from you personally, you need not pay your car insurance. : )

@Reverend John: but what about the death thing? I really like the Heaven feature that the Christianity product offers

Christianity's heaven is an "afterlife experience" that requires that you satisfy the incredible needs of its God to the satisfaction of the Church's arbiters of morality. Since the universe/god has nothing it needs from you personally, how then to decide who "goes" to heaven? I say you decide. Heaven (and hell) are here on earth, in this life you're living, for the taking. Your experience of whether your life at this moment is heavenly or hellish is based on your reactions to your current surroundings and experiences. Want to experience heaven? Act like an angel. Want to experience hell? Act like a devil.

As to the death thing, I can't speak to an afterlife for your body or for your current personality (downloading to the Coming Mainframe notwithstanding). But if the universe is god, and if you're a part of the universe, then it follows that you're a part of god. And if the universe has existed for all of spacetime and will continue to exist for all of spacetime, that makes you a part of an eternal entity, although localized in time, space, and scope. So in one sense, you've always existed and will always exist (so don't worry about dying), but in another sense, your time on earth is limited (so make it count).
posted by crunch42 at 4:31 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


88 lines about 44 gods....
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 4:33 PM on November 23, 2009


One thing that struck me about this list is how very Western it is. When I was younger I would have been thrilled by these arguments, but as I get older, I am find myself struck more and more by the fragility of language, and the inescapable weakness of all philosophical systems. I find myself craving a world beyond words and arguments. It is hard for me to define but I guess I mean something like poetry or zen or faith.

Here is Jorge Luis Borges's proof for the existence of God.

"I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second or perhaps less; I am not sure how many birds I saw. Was the number of birds definite or indefinite? The problem involves the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite, because God knows how many birds I saw. If God does not exist, the number is indefinite, because no one can have counted. In this case I saw fewer than ten birds (let us say) and more than one, but did not see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three or two birds. I saw a number between ten and one, which was not nine , eight, seven, six, five, etc. That integer—not-nine, not-eight, not-seven, not-six, not-five, etc.—is inconceivable. Ergo, God exists."
posted by vronsky at 4:48 PM on November 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


It's not the subject of the sentence that's the problem, it's the "lose respect for atheists." Of course it's also typical mefi discourse on theism for someone to claim to be an agnostic and complain that atheists are so ____.

Okay, point taken. I should have clarified my remark by saying "lost respect for *some* atheists", instead of (as it could be read) all of them. Consider the correction made.

I think a big part of the problem is that the premise of atheism brings up so many doubts and fears and such that it is an uphill battle to be an atheist among theists and not come off as rude. I mean, it is called faith because you have to believe in it, right? So every believer has to consider the possibility that there is no God for faith to even take its rightful place in theology*. And I think that talking publicly about atheism brings up those fears and worries that come with the need for faith.

Again, I can't help but feel a massive cultural divide-- Canada's pretty much a secular society, and nobody, at least in my experience, has had to deal with anything like the kind of social pressure which seems to exist in the States around religion; it's generally considered a private matter. Once again, I remind myself that atheism in America is as much a political stance as a philosophical one. It would likely make me crazy if I lived in a place where I was constanlty being proselytized to, or being lectured about how to construct my version of faith. So I do understand how emotionally charged the subject can be (and why it comes out sometimes in the kind of dismissal I was snarking about).
posted by jokeefe at 5:14 PM on November 23, 2009


LOLATHEISTS
posted by Doohickie at 5:37 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


3. Nothing can be the cause of itself.

This is philosophy, not physics. Time travel does not technically preclude this.


But lets begin with something a bit more basic, I like "Nothing unreal exists".

If something exists it then must have some properties. Being able to describe those properties is the the core of observation, and thus science. Once you can observe you can study.

Of course to observe, it has to have an effect on its environs. So, cutting to the chase, and the segue into philo; If something has a property that doesn't effect its environment, it might as well not have said property. To summarize, the difference that makes no difference is no difference.

This is the crux of issue of belief without proof. Any description of the nature of something of faith falls flat because there is nothing observable. You cant record, you cant test.

I realize this ends up being a degenerate tautology, but its ultimately circular anyway. The best quote ive seen on this topic was on fark one day... (it made my head hurt) "God is perfect, but is no way we can understand." To assert a property of something, means that you understand it on some level. Total logic failure.
posted by MrLint at 7:01 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don't believe in God and they can prove He doesn't exist, and some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it's about who is smarter, and honestly I don't care."

--Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz
posted by dblslash at 7:15 PM on November 23, 2009 [9 favorites]


I'm fascinated with the word "belief." I once thought I knew what it meant, but the more I chase it, the more it runs from me. I often say that I believe certain things, but I'm not even sure what I mean by that.

For instance, when I say "I believe that one plus one is two," is that somehow different from saying "One plus one IS two"? The former seems a little less sure than the latter, as if I'm saying, "I THINK one plus one is two. Boy, I REALLY think that. But I might be wrong."

I might be wrong about anything. Still, about some thing I feel safe saying that they just ARE. Others, I feel like it makes more sense to say, "I believe."

("Disbelief" is equally vague. I consider myself an atheist. But sometimes I'm asked, "Are you 100% sure that God doesn't exist." I answer, "That's not how I think about it. I'm an atheist because I have no reason to believe in God, just as I have no reason to believe in unicorns." In such discussions, I'm sometimes told that I'm an agnostic, not an atheist. I think the confusion comes from differing definitions of "disbelief." To some, my form is not strong enough. To really disbelieve something, you must have proof it doesn't exist or you must disbelieve it in the God-DOESN'T-exist sense, the reverse of one-plus-one-IS-two.)

"Belief" is a very fuzzy term. When two people say "believe," they may not be talking about the same mental state. In fact, one person might mean something different by the word on Monday than on Tuesday. And this is surely a problem in rigorous, philosophical discussions. (Though I doubt it's a problem in casual discussions, and I doubt it's a problem in most heated arguments, which aren't really about belief -- they're more often about us vs. them.)

I also get very confused by the way people talk about belief and whether or not they think belief is consciously alterable. (For me, it doesn't seem to be.) People say things like, "if you WANT to believe in God, that's fine," which implies that it's a choice. It may be for some people, but it if is, what mental state are those people putting themselves in when they "choose" to believe? How are they different than they were before they made the choice?

(I've been told by people that my life would be better if I took a "leap of faith." What does that mean? How would I do it. I don't believe in God. I probably would start believing in Him if enough evidence of his existence was shown to me, but without that, if I decided I wanted to believe, I would have to take that leap.

Okay, say I decided to do it. What EXACTLY should I do? Do I become like the Cowardly Lion? "I do believe in God! I do believe in God! I do! I do!" That sort of thing doesn't work for me, though it seems to work for some people. I could pretend to believe in God. I could go to church and pray. But my mental state would be the same after as it was before. The "leap of faith" would be nothing but a social mask.

This isn't just of academic interest to me. I've come to the conclusion that I'd rather be a believer than an atheist. But I don't see how it's even remotely possible to change myself in that way. It would be like taking a leap of faith that I have four arms. I KNOW that I don't have four arms!)

Here's a (surely incomplete) list of what someone might mean by "I believe in God." (And I suspect often people mean some complex mixture of the following.)

- God exists. (Similar to one plus one EQUALS two.)

- I'm pretty sure God exists.

- Based on the evidence, it's rational to assume God exists.

- I FEEL like God exists.

- I am going to base my life around the premise that God exists.

- I want God to exist.

- I love the idea of God, and I don't really care if he actually exists or is just in my imagination. In the end, it's all the same as far as my life and feelings are concerned.

- I try to believe that God exists.

Sometimes I hear an atheist say to a believer, "How can you say you believe in God when there's no evidence for His existence?" The believer says, "I just do!" And I wonder if they mean the same thing by "belief."
posted by grumblebee at 7:25 PM on November 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


We will never know, because we can't get outside ourselves in the most funda-mental ways. We're made of the very stuff (starstuff) that makes up the universe. It's an ouroboros question. Can any one thing "figure itself out", in a way that truly understands? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe God, maybe not god.

Godel had something to say about this - and about rational systems. Belief and non-belief are part of the same thing. God exists and doesn't exist. Two sides of belief. Two of the sides that we know. Looks like a meta-quantum problem to me, and a problem that human beings are not capable of asking appropriate questions about.

J.B.S. Haldane, the famous biologist said: "now my own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose; I suspect that there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamed of or can be dreamed of in any philosophy".

Richard Feynman said: "if you think you understand quantum theory, you don't understand quantum theory".

Same for the existence of God, or not god.

We're here, in this little place, evolved to live in three dimensions. We know so little.

Wittgenstein had a great way of dealing with this; he said (to paraphrase) "don't wonder about why you are, or what you are, or how you came to be, etc. - simply wonder THAT you are. I try to come back to that, when I remember to. (pun intended)
posted by Vibrissae at 8:00 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Language (and logic, which is bounded by language) is inherently limited because the act of description involves categorizing/comparing discrete things. In describing a universe in which there ARE no discrete things - all that we perceive as discrete arises from or is a manifestation of a single source (as in many non-western ways of thought) - language is mostly useless. And, by extension, logic. How to talk about a "single source" without comparing it to anything else in the universe, all of which is a mere manifestation of the single thing you're trying to describe in the first place? (whew) Direct, unmediated experience is the closest we can come, and this is largely noncommunicable.

("The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.")

(See also this comment [by darkstar, apparently])
posted by naju at 8:47 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Goldstein wrote a previous novel about a woman who was married to a philosopher modeled on Saul Kripke. Goldstein herself used to be married to him.
posted by painquale at 9:06 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here, let me summarize.

Here are some debatable arguments for the existence of God.
Here are our equally debatable counter-arguments.

Therefore, God does not exist.
posted by shivohum at 10:10 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


("Disbelief" is equally vague. I consider myself an atheist. But sometimes I'm asked, "Are you 100% sure that God doesn't exist." I answer, "That's not how I think about it. I'm an atheist because I have no reason to believe in God, just as I have no reason to believe in unicorns." In such discussions, I'm sometimes told that I'm an agnostic, not an atheist. I think the confusion comes from differing definitions of "disbelief." To some, my form is not strong enough. To really disbelieve something, you must have proof it doesn't exist or you must disbelieve it in the God-DOESN'T-exist sense, the reverse of one-plus-one-IS-two.)

Anyone who tells you that you're an agnostic doesn't have the faintest clue about what agnosticism is. An answer of "I don't know if god exists or not and neither do you" would make you agnostic.

Me? I'm a weak agnostic. Not only do we believe that we don't know if God exists or not, we also shit off strong agnostics by saying that we might one day know but right now nobody can say for sure (a strong agnostic holds the belief that we'll never know if god exists). It's not so much a belief as a statement. We're basically the religious equivalent of pussies who hedge our bets in every conceivable way.
posted by Talez at 10:19 PM on November 23, 2009


But lets begin with something a bit more basic, I like "Nothing unreal exists".

How do you feel, Spock?
posted by Kirklander at 10:42 PM on November 23, 2009


Nothing unreal exists

Well if you're so smart how would you access 4GB of extended memory in real mode?
posted by Talez at 11:02 PM on November 23, 2009


How can you tell me there's no God when bananas are so freaking easy to open?

Two things allow me to tell you this.

1) Cashews are so freaking tedious to open (won't find those in shells).

2) Mosquitoes
posted by IvoShandor at 11:22 PM on November 23, 2009


Here, let me summarize.

Here are some debatable arguments for the existence of God.
Here are our equally debatable counter-arguments.

Therefore, God does not exist.




Well, just because two assertions are both "debatable" doesn't mean they have equal validity or soundness. Another summary that may more accurately reflect where I am, personally, as an agnostic:

Here are a slew of logical arguments that people of faith use to argue for the existence of God.

Here are the ways in which each of those arguments seem to have basic flaws of logic.

Therefore, it would seem that God has not yet been definitively proven to exist by the arguments presented.

Not to say that there might not be other ways of demonstrating God's existence other than ontological argument. And not to say that there might not some day be a logical argument that effectively does demonstrate His existence. It's just that the arguments under consideration have been shown fairly well to have basic flaws in their reasoning and can't really be said to have weathered fundamental scrutiny for soundness or validity.
posted by darkstar at 11:31 PM on November 23, 2009


I feel like rolling my eyes at the whole discussion here. It seems like most people have this tunnel vision that a novel about many things in addition to the protagonist's atheism becomes a springboard for basic and simplistic axe grinding about how dare people call themselves atheist/theist in the face of such-and-such philosophical argument. Usually when I encounter religion in fiction, I can take for granted that the characters are religious and not engage in extended rants about how they are or are not justified in their beliefs and practices. Can you imagine how tedious Tolkien criticism would be if it was stuck on the validity of Frodo's adoption of Elven religion?

Granted, the 36 Questions does invite that as a novel. But I'm perpetually annoyed that we are stuck in the position of justifying ourselves rather than talking about how we do or do not experience our lives.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:02 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks, KirkJobSluder and idiopath, for giving some more detail on the novel. And for making it clear that it was, in fact, a novel.

With hindsight, the intro is obviously the blurb on the back of the book. But I didn't realise that, and it's a bloody strange way to start a magazine article. Unless you're going to format it in such a way that makes it obvious it's a quote of someone else's words, not the actual article.

And then calling Brookman's words the "introduction" affected my reading of that too, thinking it was the same as the foreword you might find in a non-fiction book, completely missing the mentions of the book being a novel. By the time I got to Chapter 1, I thought it was bizarrely over-written for non-fiction, skimmed until I got to the appendix, read quite a lot of the arguments (the ones that were new to me) and only when I got to the end did I realise the importance of the subtitle of the book.

I'ma go look at some lolcats now.
posted by harriet vane at 5:13 AM on November 24, 2009


You know I love you, Jorge, but you're not getting away with that old trick.

I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second or perhaps less; I am not sure how many birds I saw. Was the number of birds definite or indefinite?

The vision was what it was. You say there were birds in it, and I have no reason to doubt you; but the fact that you have now forgotten the number of birds in the flock is of no particular relevance to anybody but you.

The problem involves the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite, because God knows how many birds I saw.

Even if I grant you that, the definiteness or otherwise of the number says nothing about the existence or otherwise of God.

If God does not exist, the number is indefinite, because no one can have counted.

In this case I saw fewer than ten birds (let us say) and more than one, but did not see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three or two birds. I saw a number between ten and one, which was not nine , eight, seven, six, five, etc. That integer—not-nine, not-eight, not-seven, not-six, not-five, etc.—is inconceivable. Ergo, God exists.

So you're saying that although the number in question is not any integer between one and nine, it's more than zero and less than ten; in fact, you're contradicting yourself, then pointing out that you must have contradicted yourself ("That integer ... is inconceivable"), then proceeding via a fallacy to a non sequitur.

Really, the whole birds thing is just smoke and mirrors to keep your audience distracted from the fact that from a contradiction, anything follows.
posted by flabdablet at 5:16 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here are the ways in which each of those arguments seem to have basic flaws of logic.

Yeah, except that these "ways" are themselves pretty flawed and debatable, and hardly obviously superior to the arguments they're up against.

For example, even in the very first argument against God as first cause, they ask: if God is first cause, what causes God? That neglects the possibility that God is not a "thing" in the "everything" sense of the first premise of that argument.

Obviously, the point of the argument is that an intelligent, all-powerful creator is a more aesthetically satisfying starting point for a lot of people than a so-called "blind" world of matter, whatever that is.

That all this is based on aesthetics and not some kind of hard logic -- and that these arguments against God are by and large just as much a matter of preference and not some kind of superior "reason" or "truth" as the arguments for it -- is the giant obvious blinking point that is missing from the article.
posted by shivohum at 6:25 AM on November 24, 2009


shivohum: The fundamental problem is that once you've admitted that it's all an aesthetic argument then you've effectively conceded the argument towards one in which doubt is reasonable. Once you've made that concession there is no more reason to advance the Cosmological Argument than there is to advance the position that 2012 is a good example of a disaster movie, or that coffee is improved by a shot of whiskey. You've conceded that the Cosmological Argument fails to perform as intended, which means that atheism, as broadly stated, wins.

And I got the exact opposite view from the linked excerpt and reviews in which the protagonist's atheism isn't particularly conclusive, but certainly well-justified.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:57 AM on November 24, 2009


Sigh, I guess people will try to climb the highest mountains. God is on another plane of existence that is impossible for us to travel to except through death. Trying to argue if God does or does not exist is pointless. There is no way I can show anyone that God does exist. Just like there is no way anyone can prove that God does not. It is one of those things that either you A) believe in God and have faith or B) You don't.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:04 AM on November 24, 2009


The fundamental problem is that once you've admitted that it's all an aesthetic argument then you've effectively conceded the argument towards one in which doubt is reasonable.

Well I mean aesthetically in a broad sense: meaning axiomatic assumptions that can never be "proven." Our idea that other people actually have minds and centers of awareness, for instance, is an aesthetic idea.

And anyway, doubt certainly is reasonable. It hardly proves that atheists have the kind or extent of intellectual high ground that many of them like to pretend they have. Just the opposite, I think (but then I think some of the arguments for God -- though not as poorly portrayed as in this article -- are highly persuasive).
posted by shivohum at 7:15 AM on November 24, 2009


shivohum: And anyway, doubt certainly is reasonable. It hardly proves that atheists have the kind or extent of intellectual high ground that many of them like to pretend they have.

The reasonableness of doubt has been the central thesis of atheist thought since the early 20th century. Having conceded the central thesis of atheism, it's really hard to see what objections you can reasonably hold.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:26 AM on November 24, 2009


Oh yes, I remember, we are smug, and overbearing in our doubt, and stick our pinkies out when we sip our tea.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:35 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


What if time were divided into spans of three days. God exists one day, may not exist another and definitely doesn't exist on the third day ad infinitum. Would that make everyone happy? No, I thought not.
posted by ob at 7:36 AM on November 24, 2009


ob: We are smug and overbearing in our doubt, stick our pinkies out when we sip our tea, and we want a pony.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:40 AM on November 24, 2009


The reasonableness of doubt has been the central thesis of atheist thought since the early 20th century. Having conceded the central thesis of atheism, it's really hard to see what objections you can reasonably hold.

Well though I can concede doubt is reasonable, I can also believe it is less reasonable than belief. And doubt has been part of sophisticated religious traditions for a long time too, so I hardly see how it is unique to atheism.

No, the central plank of atheism is not the centrality of doubt (a process & state of mind) but the conclusion that this is all there is. And I disagree, even though I agree that reasonable people can hold different views on the subject.

I mainly object to the attitude held by a lot of prominent atheists that religious people are simply stupid or psychologically overborne AND that the arguments show it is so. They most certainly do not. See Richard Dawkins' quotes for great examples of the kind of unjustified contempt heaped on religion and taken as the atheist mainstream.

Even the very existence of atheists "brights," for instance, as others have pointed out, implies everyone else is dim.

We are smug and overbearing in our doubt,

Yes, and entirely without justification. It's a lot like the attitude a lot of Objectivists take towards people who believe other things.
posted by shivohum at 7:50 AM on November 24, 2009


You know I love you, Jorge, but you're not getting away with that old trick.

I think he may have been putting you on.
posted by naju at 7:52 AM on November 24, 2009


shivohum: Well though I can concede doubt is reasonable, I can also believe it is less reasonable than belief. And doubt has been part of sophisticated religious traditions for a long time too, so I hardly see how it is unique to atheism.

Certainly. Which is why modern apologetics tends to focus less on the Cosmological Argument as proof than on the legitimacy of faith in the presence of doubt.

shivohum: No, the central plank of atheism is not the centrality of doubt (a process & state of mind) but the conclusion that this is all there is.

Of course it is. We can no more prove that we live in a materialist universe than you can prove the existence of God. The central question comes down to whether doubt and methodological materialism are reasonable working assumptions, which is what most atheists have argued since Bertrand Russell, including your little pet straw-Dawkins.

ob obliquely asked about what would make us happy. I'd be happy if people like you stopped shamelessly bullshitting about my beliefs. There is really no excuse for it.

shivohum: I mainly object to the attitude held by a lot of prominent atheists that religious people are simply stupid or psychologically overborne AND that the arguments show it is so.

Which is changing the subject. It's a bit like arguing that Christianity is wrong because of the actions of George Bush. It's certainly reasonable to object to the way Dawkins oversimplifies faith to the point of saying unwarranted and ugly things about people of faith, and many atheists would agree. So what does this have to do with the failure of the Cosmological Argument to undermine the central thesis of atheism?

shivohum: Yes, and entirely without justification.

Wow. Because you know, that was an obviously sarcastic reframing of a statement that's generally inaccurate and loaded with prejudice. Are you sure you want to openly identify yourself as a bigot?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:22 AM on November 24, 2009


And it's getting to the point where there really should be a derivative of Godwin's law for invoking Dawkins as evidence that atheists can be dismissed as smug, arrogant, and mean-spirited.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:26 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, except that these "ways" are themselves pretty flawed and debatable, and hardly obviously superior to the arguments they're up against.

The problem is that an ontological argument is a positive assertion for an extraordinary claim. For an argument to stand, it must weather logical scrutiny. It's not simply sufficienct to say that the refutation is "hardly superior" than the original argument. It doesn't need to be. All a refutation needs to do is to show how a single flaw in reasoning has been made in the original argument.

In the example you've chosen, the term "thing" is clearly intended to encapsulate entities which exist. A toy, a planet, a human, etc. But God, who is presumed by the argument to exist, is allowed a special pleading exemption from the semantic rules of "things that exist": God ostensibly has no cause. Why not? The argument doesn't stipulate at all why God is exempted from this. The assertion is simply made wihtout any reasoning to back it up. Hence, special pleading and argument by assertion dooms the argument from it's first premise. A huge flaw in the logic of the argument. And once you've said that, for formal logic purposes, the argument can be said to have been refuted effectively. Come back later when you've fixed that. That's the way formal logic works.

The follow on comment about the aesthetics is a great one. It illustrates why this particular logical argument fails to address that flaw: because it offends the aesthetic of believers to have to explain why God logically is exempted from having a cause. Believers don't prefer to imagine God had a cause, therefore, voila! He simply is asserted not to have one. That's a great argument from psychology, aesthetics, etc., but as a formal logical argument about the existence of God - an ontological argument - it's worthless.

The term "debatable" is kind of a weasel word in formal logic, too. I can debate whether 2+2=4. Just because a point is debatable doesn't mean all positions in the debate have equal weight. Saying that something is debatable doesn't mean it isn't true, sound or valid. It just means there's someone somewhere willing to take up the cudgel.

All of this is just to emphasize that as an agnostic, I don't begrudge the possibility that someday there may be a formal logical argument that can withstand this kind of scrutiny. I'm just saying that, from my perspective, I haven't seen one yet. And I'm quite open to the possibility that God might be demonstrated to exist in myriad other ways that do not rely on the rather strict and sterile confines of a formal logical argument. But since the topic here is really ontological argumentation, I've restricted my thoughts to that particular sphere.

(I find the questions raised in the Appendix far more interesting, by the way, than the prose in the first chapter. That's why I'm choosing to focus on that part of the content of the link.)
posted by darkstar at 8:35 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


KirkJobSluder: "a derivative of Godwin's law for invoking Dawkins as evidence that atheists can be dismissed as smug, arrogant, and mean-spirited"

Expand that to include maybe, say, Osama Bin Ladin, Bill Donohue, Robert Thurman, and Jerry Fallwell, and you may have a good proposition there.
posted by idiopath at 8:41 AM on November 24, 2009


Which is changing the subject. It's a bit like arguing that Christianity is wrong because of the actions of George Bush. It's certainly reasonable to object to the way Dawkins oversimplifies faith to the point of saying unwarranted and ugly things about people of faith, and many atheists would agree.

There are others, too. See Christopher Hitchens. See Daniel Dennett. These are not fringe wackos. Seems like a lot of the "leaders" of the "atheist movement" are of this ilk.

So what does this have to do with the failure of the Cosmological Argument to undermine the central thesis of atheism?

It doesn't. You said "The reasonableness of doubt has been the central thesis of atheist thought since the early 20th century. Having conceded the central thesis of atheism, it's really hard to see what objections you can reasonably hold [against atheism]."

So I said that a) doubt is not the sole province of atheism (so it's not conceding the central plank...) and b) that other objections include the attitude that many atheist intellectual leaders take towards people of other reasonable viewpoints.

If all atheists want to say is that the Cosmological Argument is suggestive rather than absolutely demonstrative, I think that goes without saying.

---

Darkstar:

In the example you've chosen, the term 'thing' is clearly intended to encapsulate entities which exist. ... But God, who is presumed by the argument to exist, is allowed a special pleading exemption

It would only be a special pleading exemption if God was an entity in the same sense that a "toy" or "planet" is. I think the argument would be that God is not any such entity -- it is, unlike every other thing, beyond time, beyond space, beyond thought, i.e. not a thing at all, not describable in human terms.

So the argument really says: the cause of all things must not be a thing itself, and such a not-thing source-of-everything could reasonably be called God.

The term "debatable" is kind of a weasel word in formal logic, too. I can debate whether 2+2=4.

Aesthetic/metaphysical arguments are different from mathematical or scientific arguments. You cannot not take a position, and you cannot prove them either with evidence or by definition. That's an important point in formal logic. ;)

So under these conditions it is sufficient to say that a refutation is hardly superior to the original argument. Debatable is an important word. It means that the suggestive effect of the aesthetic argument has not been persuasively blunted.
posted by shivohum at 8:48 AM on November 24, 2009


Mastercheddaar: "God is on another plane of existence that is impossible for us to travel to except through death."

And what reason does anyone have to conclude that there is such a thing as "traveling" after death? I mean you can drag a corpse somewhere but I know that is not what you are trying to talk about here.

Leaving aside logic for the moment, a world inhabited by all-powerful forces which are invisible and entirely unknowable until death, after which they show their full power over us for all eternity with no escape, is much scarier than simple oblivion.

If we cannot know anything about God either way, why not gods plural, why not a malicious God that fundamentally wants us all to suffer, why not a God that just wants us to feel as much pleasure as we can while we have the chance? All of these are exactly as likely as a Christian God, if we can have no sort of knowledge of gods until death.
posted by idiopath at 8:50 AM on November 24, 2009


shivohum: "beyond time, beyond space, beyond thought, i.e. not a thing at all"

In other words nonexistant.
posted by idiopath at 8:52 AM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


Doubt and belief are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Proof of God's existence is not necessary for belief. In fact, I don't care, really, if God exists. I agree with Karen Armstrong. All discussion of "proof" of God is silliness, IMO.

Y'all are arguing over the wrong God, anyway. I join the atheists in their skepticism of that particular "God."

But I still believe in God and accept His influence over my life and my thinking. Just as I believe in Being, Family, Community, Relationship, Selflessness, Love, Reason, Basic Human Dignity, Liberty -- none of which "exist" but I am willing to sacrifice all for. One might argue that belief in all of the latter list might constitute a belief in God whether you wanted to call it that or not.
posted by cross_impact at 8:54 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


shivohum: There are others, too. See Christopher Hitchens. See Daniel Dennett. These are not fringe wackos. Seems like a lot of the "leaders" of the "atheist movement" are of this ilk.

Hrm. Leaders? Dawkins is head of a science education foundation that seems to consist almost entirely of him. Hitchins is a journalist. To my knowledge neither of them sit on the board of any Humanist society or organization. Publication and leadership are two very different things. But as idiopath points out, one can easily point to a fair number of people of faith who actually hold leadership positions and (wrongly) claim that their unsavoriness makes the underlying beliefs unreasonable. I generally give Catholics the benefit of the doubt rather than treat Pope Benedict as a universal mouthpiece.

(I've said it before, but I suspect that ilk is the new gay.)

shivohum: So I said that a) doubt is not the sole province of atheism (so it's not conceding the central plank...) and b) that other objections include the attitude that many atheist intellectual leaders take towards people of other reasonable viewpoints.

a) Well, it doesn't have to be the sole province of atheism in order to be a central plank. In fact, it's a patently unfair double standard to admit doubt as a key feature of modern and post-modern religious apologetics and not admit the same developments in epistemology as a key feature of atheistic philosophy. What most modern atheists have argued over the last century is that given the failure of apologetics to produce a definitive argument that isn't purely a matter of preference, methodological materialism is a strong working hypothesis.

b) Isn't really a reasonable argument, because it's grounded in a prejudice that borders on bigotry, and because it really doesn't have anything to do with atheism as a philosophy.

shivohum: If all atheists want to say is that the Cosmological Argument is suggestive rather than absolutely demonstrative, I think that goes without saying.

Certainly. However the implications of that difference are critical. If, as you admit, it's merely suggestive and aesthetic, then doubts are reasonable. If doubts are reasonable, then methodological materialism is a reasonable assumption until definitive evidence is possible. Therefore atheism.

shivohum: So the argument really says: the cause of all things must not be a thing itself, and such a not-thing source-of-everything could reasonably be called God.

Or Bob, or Joe, or a collapsing quantum wave function.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:16 AM on November 24, 2009


I have a bachelor's degree in philosophy that provides irrefutable proof that I'm really bored with feckless arguments about the existence of God.
posted by Zed at 9:25 AM on November 24, 2009


But as idiopath points out, one can easily point to a fair number of people of faith who actually hold leadership positions and (wrongly) claim that their unsavoriness makes the underlying beliefs unreasonable. I generally give Catholics the benefit of the doubt rather than treat Pope Benedict as a universal mouthpiece.

What you're saying is that i shouldn't take these people as representative, that lots of atheists are not strident and condescending. Fair enough. I'm just making the point that many prominent people advocate atheism as abrasively as religious fanatics. It's an odd "non-belief belief" that way.


Well, it doesn't have to be the sole province of atheism in order to be a central plank.


But it does in order for a "concession" of it to have any meaning. If I'm conceding a plank that is also my own, it doesn't make much difference.

If doubts are reasonable, then methodological materialism is a reasonable assumption until definitive evidence is possible. Therefore atheism.

No, because doubts are also reasonable as to methodical materialism.

Or Bob, or Joe, or a collapsing quantum wave function.

Well then again we're getting into aesthetics. If you want to call Bob something outside of time that is the source of everything, a pure omniscient and omnipotent intelligence, well, you're just changing the name...

The question is really what "characteristics" this thing outside of time and space, if it existed, might possibly have, and why we would believe that.

---

I have a bachelor's degree in philosophy that provides irrefutable proof that I'm really bored with feckless arguments about the existence of God.

Not bored enough not to comment about your boredom on this thread, though!
posted by shivohum at 9:28 AM on November 24, 2009


(Kwine, if you want a copy of the Meyer article, memail me.)
posted by painquale at 9:34 AM on November 24, 2009


Nearly every Intro to Philosophy class I've seen teaches arguments for and against the existence of god, but I refuse to. They mostly aren't very formally interesting (except maybe for the ontological argument), I find that most students are surprisingly bored by them, they convince nearly no one, and they're pretty far removed from the reason I became interested in philosophy in the first place. The only time I engage with proofs for or against god outside of undergrad classes is when I'm toying around in a tongue-in-cheek, crossword-solving way, like I was doing with that set theoretic proof above. There are more interesting arguments in philosophy to teach undergrads. I do teach William James on faith and the will to believe, but that's interesting independently of any religious purpose.
posted by painquale at 9:46 AM on November 24, 2009


I propose fomenting the twin idea that god = the universe, and that god needs nothing. There is no evidence for a god outside of creation, and if god = all that exists, then what could god possibly want that god doesn't already have?

Congratulations! You just invented Buddhism!

Sort of. I mean, not exactly, but not too far off either.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:49 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


And what reason does anyone have to conclude that there is such a thing as "traveling" after death?

Many of the major world religions (e.g. Judaism, Islam, Christianity) include at least a foundational belief that God or some representative of God has either appeared to or communicated directly with people to impart knowledge regarding just that.

Leaving aside logic for the moment, a world inhabited by all-powerful forces which are invisible and entirely unknowable until death, after which they show their full power over us for all eternity with no escape, is much scarier than simple oblivion.

But Christianity - the religious stand-in for many discussions of theology by atheists - does not assert that the afterlife and/or God are "invisible and entirely unknowable until death."

If we cannot know anything about God either way, why not gods plural, why not a malicious God that fundamentally wants us all to suffer, why not a God that just wants us to feel as much pleasure as we can while we have the chance? All of these are exactly as likely as a Christian God, if we can have no sort of knowledge of gods until death.

You're right. If Christianity believed that we could have no sort of knowledge of gods until death, then your assertion would make sense. But if, for the sake of argument, you are taking as true the various assertions of Christianity, those include the assertion that God has directly communicated with people, that God has appeared to people, and that God has, on numerous occasions, explained at least some of the details of the afterlife, the nature of existence, the nature of God, etc. either directly or through intermediaries.

It's all well and good to be dismissive of the "evidence" upon which Christianity bases its various assertions about God. But you don't gain much ground by feigning total ignorance of what Christians actually believe.
posted by The World Famous at 10:07 AM on November 24, 2009


The World Famous: "You're right. If Christianity believed that we could have no sort of knowledge of gods until death, then your assertion would make sense."

I was not replying to Christianity, but a person denying the relevance of argument regarding God.
posted by idiopath at 10:17 AM on November 24, 2009



Expand that to include maybe, say, Osama Bin Ladin, Bill Donohue, Robert Thurman, and Jerry Fallwell, and you may have a good proposition there.


And. Expand that to include Stalin (who was a seminary student, BTW), Mao, and every other opportunistic monster who used the cloak of Atheism to merely build another type man-god religion around themselves. The problem ain't god. If he exists or not. The problem is th idea we need to worship a god at all. The problem is the root of most theistic religion. And that root is not god. But controlling people with the threat of deity.

When people are done arguing all the same stupid Atheist boogyman / strawmen what you're left with is a religion that people feel they "need" to believe. This need is beyond facts or proof because the need for it is pathological and programmed from birth.

Religion is only possible because the believer rarely, if ever, examines the true source of their own underlying fears and desires driving this need. And even if they do their entire world is built of other believers. Leaving the fold is terrifying. Usually they leave the fold for another fold. It's like being an alcoholic in a world built of alcoholics where AA is seen as a dangerous fringe movement.
posted by tkchrist at 10:18 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was not replying to Christianity, but a person denying the relevance of argument regarding God.

Sorry, then. Your reference to "a Christian God" tripped me up, I guess.
posted by The World Famous at 10:21 AM on November 24, 2009


But you don't gain much ground by feigning total ignorance of what Christians actually believe.

Oh. Come on. What Christian actually believes is completely contradictory within and between each sect. And completely contradictory within the bible it self.

If God has appeared to various people to explain Christianity then the multiple god theory is definitely in evidence since this god has contradicted himself over and over. It makes much more sense that it was a bunch of semi-omnipotent gods who don't speak to each other very often.
posted by tkchrist at 10:27 AM on November 24, 2009


In fact, I don't care, really, if God exists. I agree with Karen Armstrong. All discussion of "proof" of God is silliness, IMO.

I'm with you in not caring. I spent hours of my youth fascinated by all those pro and con arguments. Then, having thought through all their nooks and crannies, I got bored with them. There seem to be a finite number of them. In the last 20 years of my life, I haven't seen anyone come up with an original argument for or against the existence of God. Same old, same old.

I am now a confirmed atheist, and those arguments are such trodden ground that they bore me to tears. I really don't get why other atheists who have thought through this stuff enjoy reading books by Dawkins and co. Maybe they are useful, but yeah, yeah, yeah... Occam's Razer ... blah, blah, blah... Darwin... snore.

I dread when someone asks me to explain why I'm an atheist, because I know I will have to dust off all the moldy old arguments once again. I'm far more interested in how atheism or its opposite affects one's life.

That said, Armstrong's point (as far as it's explained in that article) is vague to the point of being nonsense. It seem like she's saying, "God can't be defined in any way," but He's still important. She's saying He can't be described with language, yet she's using language to talk about Him. ("What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence" -- Wittgenstein)

I get that this is sort of her point. But then why not just say: "God, if you get it, you get it. If you don't, sorry. I can't explain it to you"?

There's this very important thing called a Zoopzoop. I can't tell you what it is or whether it exists, and trying to do so is foolish. But I suggest that you live your life according to it.

Sure, there are some people who don't need a definition. They know Zoopzoop when they see it. But that doesn't help the rest of us. In fact, if the only people who can understand something are the people who already understand it, what's the point in talking about it?

"I can't tell you what God is, but look in your heart and you'll find Him." Well, I've looked and I don't see anything. So I guess I'm shit out of luck. (My point is not that He doesn't exist. If a fictional God would better my life, I'd be happy to worship Him, but I don't see a fictional God in my heart, either.)

Is Armstrong talking about ritual? Is she claiming that the ancients used to follow rituals without caring whether those rituals stemmed from something real or imaginary? And that by doing so, their lives were richer. If so, I agree. Most people enjoy ritual. I can enjoy celebrating Christmas without believing in Jesus or Santa.

But surely if it's ritual that's important, the specific ritual is somewhat arbitrary, though I can see that it might be expedient to follow a conventional set of rituals, because they already exist and have large communities based around them.

I guess my problem is that Armstrong is using vague language. I get that she's saying that we can only understand God as a vague concept, but that doesn't mean that her thesis ITSELF has to be vague.

It seems like she believes it's possible that God doesn't exist (though she doesn't think His existence is an important issue). If so, she's saying that as humans, we don't have the language to describe this thing that might not even exist. That reaches a level of absurdity that I can't swallow.

SOMETHING must exist, even if it's just a feeling. If so, why not just say this? Many people have a profound feeling that they can't completely put into words. There's reason to believe that this feeling shares some common features from person to person. Since it's a wide-spread phenomenon, it's useful to give it a name. Let's call it God.
posted by grumblebee at 10:50 AM on November 24, 2009


Religion is only possible because the believer rarely, if ever, examines the true source of their own underlying fears and desires driving this need. And even if they do their entire world is built of other believers. Leaving the fold is terrifying. Usually they leave the fold for another fold. It's like being an alcoholic in a world built of alcoholics where AA is seen as a dangerous fringe movement.
This seems ridiculously at odds with the long list of religious thinkers who have examined their own motivations and thoughts in exhaustive detail: Montaigne and Kirkegaard spring to mind from the Christian tradition, and wrestling with doubt as a young person is a commonplace of early modern spiritual autobiographies; there's an entire corpus of Buddhist writing that's practitioners examining and classifying the thought-moments that arise and their imagined selves; and so on.
Given that, for example, one of the most famous authors of a Christian spiritual autobiography, John Bunyan who wrote Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, was in many ways a very ordinary person despite his genius, it doesn't seem any stretch to imagine that such self-examination was a common place and all the history points to this.
posted by Abiezer at 11:01 AM on November 24, 2009


grumblebee: "Many people have a profound feeling that they can't completely put into words. There's reason to believe that this feeling shares some common features from person to person. Since it's a wide-spread phenomenon, it's useful to give it a name. Let's call it God."

As long as "God said so" is not taken as a legitimate justification for any action ever, then sure, with you 100%.
posted by idiopath at 11:04 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


idiopath, I wasn't saying that was my definition -- it's way to vague for me. I asking how that differs from that Armstrong is saying.
posted by grumblebee at 11:12 AM on November 24, 2009


Metafilter: They know Zoopzoop when they see it
posted by vronsky at 11:46 AM on November 24, 2009


Well though I can concede doubt is reasonable, I can also believe it is less reasonable than belief.

Well, then, you're an idiot.
posted by grubi at 11:59 AM on November 24, 2009


So the argument really says: the cause of all things must not be a thing itself, and such a not-thing source-of-everything could reasonably be called God.

Problem is, there's no reason at all in that assertion. It's still just an assertion.

It's making the assertion that there must be a non-thing that nevertheless exists, which is causative, but doesn't exist within the framework of spacetime where causation makes any sense at all. It's a handwaving attempt to try to make sense out of something that is completely nonsensical from a semantic argument.

If one wished to call whatever-that-is "God", they're certainly welcome to do so, but to pretend that the ontological argument is still sound when they have introduced a concept that is so completely meaningless ignores what formal logic is all about.

You can't simply introduce a word and then, by assertion, define that word as "logically consistent in such a way that it makes this otherwise flawed argument sound". That's cheating.

idiopath's concise comment above summarizes the limitations of this semantic game perfectly:

"beyond time, beyond space, beyond thought, i.e. not a thing at all"

In other words nonexistant.

posted by darkstar at 12:13 PM on November 24, 2009


“I might be wrong about anything. Still, about some thing I feel safe saying that they just ARE. Others, I feel like it makes more sense to say, "I believe." “

That’s what it typically comes down to though. In all things – what is it one believes or thinks or interprets about the fact of something. At a fundamental level of existence there isn’t really anything solid. The micro level quantum forces that make up the universe can hardly be said to exist and even then only when we observe them.

So when one gets down to whether that tree is actually there – one can argue that the tree is mostly space or that the tree is solid. The problem then is whether the tree is actually there becomes one of – what will happen if you run into that tree with your car.
Atheists say nothing will happen to the car because the tree is as much a mental projection as the boogeyman. Theists say the tree is real, physically real, despite all the holographic projection equipment set up around it and the car will crash.

This is an intractable argument, since even if one reaches the tree (dies, perhaps, or some other altered state of existence) one can’t tell for sure for the other.
Since the argument is over interpretation of reality rather than the reality itself which simply is and is not subject to interpretation (whether God exists or not - that fact, whichever the case, is meaningless), it doesn’t matter whether the tree is there or not you shouldn’t drive off the road in the first place.
‘Course, that’s a non-theistic view. But it’s more valid a world picture, since there will never be a useful interpretation of the existence of God because there is no state in which God’s actions can be predicted.
People used to not believe that rocks could fall out of the clear blue sky. Now we have a whole science around meteors and asteroids, etc.
You can track the motions of those rocks. But an omniscient, omnipotent being that exists both in and out of time – that beings motivations and works no finite being(s) are ever going to understand. Even miracles – hell, especially miracles.
The book here seems to be more about people and their beliefs than the actual God debate. Which I like – but, I think the importance of God exists whether God exists or not. She doesn’t seem to point that out. Rather, there seems to be an infinite regress in the importance that it’s important because it’s important – etc.

So meaning is manufactured, and promptly forgotten about, much like doublethink.
But then (as I say) so is all meaning. Whatever one thinks, death and the void are certain. Eventual proton decay – the universe, all existence, eventually will fade or change. It’s changed just now. Between two seconds ago and ten years and ten million years, are only a matter of degree.
All meaning is the illusion of unchanging. Perhaps the only constant is change. And so the only real seeming constant is derived from one’s own position, like two points in space. Naturally dispute is going to arise between which point is referential and who’s moving. But that doesn’t much matter either.
Whether any of these things can be determined with relevant validity is less consequential than the fact that one can know that the other does have their own perspective. What that is, is less important than the meaning, and therefore the actions they derive from it.
Some guy wants to feed the hungry because of “God” – meh. Some guy wants to kill because of “God” – different story.
But in either case – the truth of the object from which meaning is derived doesn’t much matter. It’s the meaning they feel that drives their acts that matters.
I can see though why we get snarky atheists. It’s a rebuttal to the negative actions of folks who believe in God doing nasty things in many cases rather than, as in some other cases (some folks here) an examination of whether it’s useful (non-trivial) to get into God’s existence or not.
And indeed – obviating the whole question is most certainly useful. Because you’re going to get people doing ill or good for whatever reason. When, in fact, it’s only the ‘doing’ that matters, not the reason.
But that’s a less focused, and certainly less viscerally satisfying path. And far be it for me to criticize, I know where the road is but hell, I’m all over it. Surprised they gave me a drivers license. …of course that’s predicated on the belief that the beforelife is akin to the DMV. Just as screwy a belief as any other I suppose, but it does explain why we all want to get the hell out of there.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:19 PM on November 24, 2009


Oh come now grubi. That the scientific mind and the mystical mind can co-exist is well documented throughout history. Calling people idiots is not just uncalled for but it doesn't seem evidence based -- consider Max Planck nobel laureate and founder of Quantum Physics, Gregor Mendel, monk and father of modern genetics, Michael Faraday who's work on electricity and magnetism revolutionized physics was a devout Christian, Isaac Newton, possibly the greatest scientific genius that ever lived, Francis Bacon who founded the scientific method and said, "It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion; for while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate, and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity." And that is just off the top of my head.
posted by vronsky at 12:53 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's making the assertion that there must be a non-thing that nevertheless exists, which is causative, but doesn't exist within the framework of spacetime where causation makes any sense at all. It's a handwaving attempt to try to make sense out of something that is completely nonsensical from a semantic argument.

The question if the assumption is useful aesthetically or pragmatically. When you're talking about very subtle ways of looking at the world, you may not be able to get beyond very vague statements. That's the nature of the beast.

Also, we haven't fully defined this concept. We've said what the concept ISN'T (in space, time, etc.) - but we haven't said what it is yet. That's another set of debates.

If one wished to call whatever-that-is "God", they're certainly welcome to do so, but to pretend that the ontological argument is still sound when they have introduced a concept that is so completely meaningless ignores what formal logic is all about.

Oh boy. Sorry, I think you need to take more courses on formal logic if you think formal logic has something important to say about this.
posted by shivohum at 12:58 PM on November 24, 2009


Also Georges Lemaître who first proposed the idea of a "big bang." Actually the Big Bang was a term of derision used by famous atheist Fred Hoyle who hated the idea in that it implied a sense that the universe had been created.
posted by vronsky at 1:13 PM on November 24, 2009


Don't let's start with the condescension, shivohum. I'm fairly well acquainted with formal logic and have even taught it. If you disagree with me, simply say so and back up your assertion rather than make a thinly veiled ad hominem.

Formal logic is a rather austere, unforgiving formalism. It does not simply allow people to use arguments from utility or aesthetics to rationalize away an otherwise weak syllogism. You may certainly invent a term with whatever properties in order to construct a syllogism that is sound, by virtue of the semantic trick, but the semantic trick does not make the argument valid.

When you say that the question is the assumption is useful aesthetically or pragmatically, I have no doubt that it is. It's a very useful assumption for a lot of people to make, for exactly those reasons. But just because it has aesthetic or pragmatic utility does not mean that it is logically sound or valid. Which is the entire scope of my comment.

If you can point to any, and I mean any, principle of formal logic that allows an argument from utility or an argument from aesthetics to satisfy the validity requirement of a syllogism, then I am eagerly awaiting your instruction. But from my understanding of formal logic, such principles are not a part of the formalism at all.
posted by darkstar at 1:16 PM on November 24, 2009


Bah, I mean to say "You may certainly invent a term with whatever properties in order to construct a syllogism that is *valid*, by virtue of the semantic trick, but the semantic trick does not make the argument sound."
posted by darkstar at 1:21 PM on November 24, 2009


But you know, when we've reached that point (as so often happens in these debates) where we're not debating opinions or facts anymore, but the fundamental formalism of logic itself, then we probably need to shake hands amicably and both step back, recognizing that any further discussion of the point is probably going to be less than pointless.
posted by darkstar at 1:28 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was way into zoopzoop before they got all popular. Back when they still did ritual sacrifice and held orgies. It's all about money now.
posted by tkchrist at 1:41 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


shivohum: "if you think formal logic has something important to say about this"

darkstar: "if you can point to any, and I mean any, principle of formal logic that allows an argument from utility or an argument from aesthetics to satisfy the validity requirement of a syllogism"

Hey I don't agree with him or anything but I think you missed his point there.
posted by idiopath at 1:48 PM on November 24, 2009


But just because it has aesthetic or pragmatic utility does not mean that it is logically sound or valid. Which is the entire scope of my comment.

This basically gets into the question of what truth means in metaphysics. I suggest it is essentially aesthetic.

...then we probably need to shake hands amicably and both step back, recognizing that any further discussion of the point is probably going to be less than pointless.

Fair enough.
posted by shivohum at 1:50 PM on November 24, 2009


...then we probably need to shake hands amicably and both step back, recognizing that any further discussion of the point is probably going to be less than pointless.

Damn. I was really hoping you guys would hammer this one out this time. Once and for all.

Then we could move on to if you should spank your de-clawed obese cats question.
posted by tkchrist at 2:01 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


spank your de-clawed obese cats


Is that what the kids are calling it. these days?
posted by darkstar at 2:14 PM on November 24, 2009


I think he may have been putting you on.

I can haz HAMBURGER?
posted by flabdablet at 2:25 PM on November 24, 2009


Wow, sorry for all those mangled sentences above.

I may have overstated one part, I'm getting conflicting accounts -- after reading Hoyle's wiki page there seems to be some controversy as to whether he was being derisive in using the term "big bang."
posted by vronsky at 3:15 PM on November 24, 2009


Hoyle's wiki
posted by vronsky at 3:17 PM on November 24, 2009


We are smug and overbearing in our doubt, stick our pinkies out when we sip our tea, we want a pony, and we oppose the big bang theory. (Hey wait a minute.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:39 PM on November 24, 2009


vronsky, I didn't say "You can't believe and be logical at once." I referred to the idea of belief being than doubt as stupid.

Read it again.
posted by grubi at 6:47 AM on November 25, 2009


Correction (mistyped): "the idea of belief being better than doubt".
posted by grubi at 6:48 AM on November 25, 2009


Re: Jorge Luis Borges
"Of Exactitude in Science."

"... In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such Perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the Study of Cartography, succeeding Generations came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome, and, not without Irreverence, they abandoned it to the rigors of sun and Rain. In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in the whole Nation, no other relic is left of the Discipline of Geography."
posted by Smedleyman at 1:39 PM on November 25, 2009


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