Andy posted this an age ago and I always meant to reply. I put it off planning to find some time while at Center Parcs but that holiday turned into mostly sleeping and boardgames so I’ve only got around to it now.
Feel free to put comments on the bottom of this. I also have the document in Google Docs so if people would like to comment on it in-line there (may be easier) let me know and I’ll add you to the share list.
Anyway – here goes (Andy’s original work indented)…
> The Logical God
> OK, so the course on religion has got me thinking.
> Although as I’ve not finished the course, much of what I think may be wrong 🙂
> Either way, I was considering the nature of God (as you do) and thought ‘what are the most reasonable things to assume about God to create a logical world view’.
> Many of you may argue no logical view can possibly contain any form of God, but I’ll get to that one.
I wouldn’t be one of those people. I can imagine a number of logical world views that could contain God (or Gods or unicorns or Santa Claus). Just because you can imagine what they world would be like if something was real certainly doesn’t make it so.
> Given I have people who are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, Agnostic and Atheist on my friends list, I’m curious to know what you all think! (no hair pulling though)
I’m happy to talk to people about this as long as everyone is calm and reasonable. The last few years I has found myself taking the same viewpoint as almost everyone I know in that discussion of God / religion is taboo exactly because people (of all views) for the most part can’t discuss this topic without becoming exasperated and shouty. In fact the majority of Breaking the Spell is not about the details of any specific religion (unlike God Delusion, etc) but the very strong reluctance people have to discuss religion in polite society.
> So, at the risk of starting a cult, causing offense or becoming ‘that God guy on the internet‘ here’s my thoughts on The Logical God
> The Logical God
> So here is the idea.
> I find myself thinking about the nature of God, as you do on the tube, and thought that there must be some something that can be logically figured out about the
> nature of the universe. After all, both scientists and believers say ‘the evidence is all around you’ so maybe it is.
Seeing evidence for what it is and interpreting it in a way that is agreed by any significant number of people is incredibly hard. You can very quirky get tangled in metaphysics if you’re not careful. My choice of approach, the scientific method, is certainly a house of cards, in that its plausible statements are built on the backs of other plausible statements, but unlike any other system of inquiry about the universe it demands the its adherents be willing to re-examine the hypotheses based on existing and new data and be prepared to discard any failing idea without ranker.
> So I’ve made a few assumptions based on the only logical course of argument I can think of about the nature of God based on the evidence we have. It’s a series of
> thoughts; take from it what you will. How much of this I really believe I won’t comment on, this is an academic train of thought, not a sermon! It is simply a few
> assumptions my thoughts took me to that I’ve backed up with my train of thought. Feel free to poke holes in it, try not to be offended by it. Compared to God and the
> universe, my thoughts on the nature of existence really don’t amount to much of importance.
Many philosophers would disagree but I’m not going there. 🙂
> Assumption 1 – There is a God
> Logically we have to assume there is a God.
No, if fact quite the opposite.
The very basis of logical thinking must start with the notion that notion that no thing exists without evidence. Bare in mind that things can exist as concepts – ie I can tell you about the idea I just had – and that shows that thought exists even if it has no material existence outside of my head.
If you start off by assuming God exists why not assume unicorns exist? It sounds like a facetious statement and in some ways it is – however, look at it this way. Unicorns exist, they’re out there somewhere and are extremely good at hiding. There is an international unicorn conspiracy that makes sure that they are never seen and everyone believes that they are made up. We have no proof of their existence beyond the concepts in our heads. This is the same as starting off with the assumption from nothing that God exists.
Oh course – for another example I could have just use the flying spaghetti monster.
When we are faced with the existence or not of a concept or hypothesis we have only two possible actions to determine its veracity. One is to seek and examine direct evidence ourselves, the other is to take (on faith!) statements from other people. Wise people will do a lot of both before coming to their own conclusions. Even wiser people won’t place themselves in a world where any remotely (none mathematical) concept or hypothesis is concretely true but instead assign a probability to each of the possible interpretations of the data. We all do this 1000s of times a day. Is it safe to cross the road? Can I hit the snooze button again and still get to work on time? Each of the answers is a measure of probability but we don’t even think about it. Stating that something is defiantly true is a sure sign either that the person making the statement has come to the conclusion without considering any possibility of other hypotheses explaining the same data or they have simply assumed that concept is true without examining the data at all.
> With no evidence to tell us he doesn’t exist (as you can’t prove a negative with any ease) we cannot be sure he doesn’t exist.
You cannot prove a negative at all under any circumstances. It is a logical fallacy to try to do so.
> If you live life assuming there isn’t a God, when you do die you may be well and truly screwed.
Ah, Pascals Wager (circa 1670). There are a significant number of issues with this. For one, how do you know you believe in the correct God(s)? For another surely any all power deity will be able to tell the difference between “true faith” and “faith out of fear”?
> The only bonus you get from this is being aware of the utter pointlessness of existence for your entire life. Whoopee, bonus.
The idea that atheists should think that their lives have no point just because they don’t have approval from an outside entity is always one that I have found ratherbizarre. Why should anyone rely on anyone but themselves to assess the “point” of their lives. For that matter why does that even have to be a point to life? Can’t we be rational, happy and caring without any there being any “point” we are aiming towards?
Try reading this.
> If you choose to at least entertain the idea of God you stand a chance at the afterlife, and if it doesn’t exist then you certainly aren’t missing anything. Now that is
> not to say your belief in God needs to colour anything else about your perception of the universe, that we’ll come to later, you just need to entertain the idea that
> something, somewhere has a controlling or at least originating power to the universe.
Careful, these are two wholly different strands of philosophy. A Creator God who who is non-controlling (and is in fact completely disinterested in humanity) leads you to Deism. An interventionist God leads you somewhere else entirely. Let’s not get the two confused.
> However, the nature of this power and its actual purpose we’ll come to later.
> Believing in God does not insist you believe in a particular religion.
> This might seem a scientific cop out, but we can consider this assumption from a scientific base. Rational science
That’s a tautology.
> creates a hypothesis to explain what is going on in the world. Then it tests that hypothesis until it is proved or disproved.
No. You can never prove a hypothesis. You can only state that it is currently not disproved. In science there should be no such thing as a “law” (a phrase that has done a lot to confuse people over the years). Only statements to the effect of “this is what we currently believe is most likely and has withstood rigorous testing for the longest time”.
> When mankind first came to consider how the universe worked they came up with the hypothesis that there was a God involved somewhere. This hypothesis has yet to
> be proved or disproved so it is not unscientific to keep it on the table.
However, as I’ve stated above in the real world we don’t deal with absolutes – we deal in probabilities. Why is it that there are no scientists fighting for funding for research into the existence or nature of God? Because no-one is offering the money. Given the large amounts of money in the various churches why is this the case? Because aftercenturies of investigation everyone has simply given up looking for any kind of rational scientific proof of the existence of God. The probability of reproducible evidence of God existing is so low that there is no credible research. That is not to say that the chances of God not existing are zero (see above, we cannot prove a negative) they are just too low to be worth considering.
> Mind you, it is unscientific to consider it proved and true when it remains simply an unproven hypothesis. So even if we assume there is a God, we cannot ignore the
> fact this may prove completely untrue.
> It is sensible to assume there is a God
I respectfully disagree.
> but not to insist that existence is an absolute fact.
Although, to belong to any organised religion you must do exactly that.
> Assumption 2 – It doesn’t pay to be specific
> While it is the only sensible option to believe in God, taking on a religion is not a very good idea at all. The problem is that each truth about the divine often promises
> hellfire and damnation to those who don’t believe in that particular faith. With so many faiths in the world, the chances of you picking the right one (as we have no
> conclusive evidence which is correct) are extremely limited. No gambler bets their life on more than a 10 to one bet and there are far more than 10 religions in the
> world, not counting the various factions within each one.
Very very few people pick a religion to follow. Most people who have faith in a traditional religious organisation are born into it. Even the idea of “picking the right one” must, be necessity, come from a position of being outside of organised religion otherwise the concept would be anathema.
> However, many religions allow you to be part of them without actually getting too involved. Many Muslims believe that just to declare that there is no God but God
> makes you a Muslim.
However, I am sure that the same Muslims would happily argue that the God in question is not the same as that worshipped by Hindus so the idea of believing in aDivine being and using that to “cover all the bases” won’t work.
> Plenty of people are baptised or similar into one faith or another before they get much of a say in the matter. So joining the side of the believers is reasonably simple,
> but it is vital to divorce yourself from all active religions to avoid hell and an eternity of pain.
If you happen to believe in any such thing.
> Otherwise you are better off in the atheist camp as few religions suggest non-belief is quite as bad as believing the wrong thing. So believe in God, but don’t believe
> in religion.
> Assumption 3 – God has a plan
> There must be some order and reason to the universe, otherwise why bother.
I respectfully disagree – see above.
> The plan may not be a nice one, or especially complex, but there must be some purpose. Even if God was just really bored one afternoon, his creation of existence
> must at the very least be to while away a few hours. It therefore stands to reason that something so complicated as existence is unlikely to be created on a whim
Actually, I see no argument that any such thing “stands to reason”. There is no solid evidence to judge such a statement on.
> and if it took effort it must have a decent reason to be around.
Likewise, there is no logical reason that such a statement follows the previous one. If God does exist who are we to determine His nature and indeed assume that His motivations would be anything like ours – or even comprehensible to us?
> What that reason is, no one is telling
And in fact, as detailed in Breaking the Spell, hiding that kind of information in increasingly complex questions and answers (along with the questioning taboo) is what has made religion such asuccessful meme. “Don’t ask questions and anyway if you do don’t expect to understand the answers – they’re ineffable”.
> but it does mean there is a certain rationality and sense to the universe even if it doesn’t appear so.
I see to rational series of statements to imply that.
> Assumption 4 – God wants to communicate this plan
> Human beings are the dominant form of life of this planet, and even in the vastness of the universe
Absolutely no reason to accept the latter statement.
> if there is purpose, everything must have a reason of some form. God needs to know that our part of the universe is working right or the whole thing might be falling
Earlier you were contemplating a non-interfering Creator God.
> While we could be a minor cog in the machine or a major nexus of import in the universal scheme we cannot know. However, the fact of our existence proves we must
> be required to do something, even if it is to not fuck up for the term of our existence.
No, I see no rational that gives good cause to show that “we must be required to do something”.
> Consequently, God needs to tell us what he needs done.
That is one option. Another is we have to work it out for ourselves through rationality. Another is we might have to just guess. Yet another is that God decides even before we are born which of us will have sinless lives and go to Heaven and which will be damned to Hell (see St Augustine a major figure in Christian orthodoxy).
> How else can we figure it out? It is just damn bad management
Who is to say? Perhaps it is perfect management and we are simply not equipped to understand why?
> to expect everything in a vast and complicated system to instinctively understand what it is meant to do. So he sends a few prophets to give us the basic rules and
> give us the heads up about what needs doing. This doesn’t specify he loves and cherishes us,
Are you implying the existence and genuine nature of “a few prophets”? You’re really not very specific about this.
> but we can be reasonably certain he cares about what we are up to.
I do not see evidence for a rational hypothesis to make that at all probable.
> Assumption 5 – God thinks we have brains
> Just about every scripture or prophesy that God has delivered has been vague and open to wild interpretation. While some religions take this to mean the human
> prophets were unable to articulate the universal plan, not all of them do. The Qur’an is not just Mohamed writing down a few thoughts but the actual voice of God
> speaking through him. Even so, it is not a straight forward and specific set of rules;
For specific sets of rules see Judaism or even Christianity – although almost all Christians ignore and break almost all of the rules.
> otherwise there would not be several different interpretations of Islamic faith and law. This goes for pretty much every holy book ever written. They are all interpreted
> in different ways depending on how they are read. What sense does that make?
Perhaps that they were written by mortal men in a way that was deliberately hard to pin down so that their interpretation could keep them busy (and employed)?
> God sends down the detail about how to live
There is no reliable evidence that this is the case.
> and doesn’t get specific? How can he hope to get anything working correctly? It makes no sense that a being capable of creating the universe cannot figure out a
> straight forward and easily understood (and more importantly, not easily misinterpreted) set of operating instructions.
One has to consider that perhaps He wishes misinterpretation. Perhaps he enjoys seeing the strife caused. There is nothing to show that this is in any way likely but it has about as much rationality as any other explanation.
> However, this is not proof that God is a bad manager. He can’t be, he’s already built a pretty complicated universe so he must know how it needs to be run.
No, actually it’s much more than that.
Almost every religion (taken to mean any belief in God) states that God is perfect. Therefore, being perfect, He cannot help but act at all times in a perfect way. His creation of the universe must have been perfect, his creation of us / his prophets must be perfect and anyreligious writing must (in the first divinely inspired instance) must also be perfect.
See Gottfried Leibniz and the “Best of all Possible Worlds” theory.
> The reason the holy books are not clear and precise is because God assumes
By any of the usual definitions of God (perfect, omniscient, etc) its fallacious to state that he can “assume” anything.
> we are intelligent enough to interpret them without working to the letter of their law. He assumes we’ll get the gist of what he wants and apply that detail to our
> changing lives as time moves on. How could God not plan ahead?
God does not need to plan ahead. He has total knowledge of all space and time (otherwise He is not omniscient).
> He has a plan that has been running for billions of years. He can’t spend the time
> to keep sending a new prophet every 2 centuries, in universal time that is a blink of an eye and he has better things to do.
We have no way of knowing the mind of any God(s).
> Instead he gives us a rough guidebook and says ‘well, you know what I’m getting at here, so use your brain and figure it out.’
> By looking at the letter of any holy text and not allowing it to move with the times you are failing to use the greatest gift you’ve been given
Everyone in every religion I know of would very strongly disagree. The Word of God (as specified in their books) is for all time. The idea that it can be updated to “move with the times” implies taint by mortal men that will no longer making it divinely true and hence worthless.
> the one that God and the universe needs you to use to make everything go smoothly, your brain and basic common sense.
God cannot need us if he is Omnipotent.
> This is where some of the problem lies. Most people want a nice simple set of rules to follow, but it doesn’t work that way. Each person needs to figure out their place
> in the universe and what they are meant to do.
Leaving aside the discussion above about why there needs to be a thing that we are “meant to do” (which, by the way, implies an uncomfortable level of predestination)religious people would argue that what we are “meant to do” is specified in the rules of their particular book.
> While the books and guides can help, there is no simple set of rules and never will be. You have to figure things out. Luckily we’re all in it together so you have help
> and the more people reach a consensus the more it is likely to be the right way to go. But even a large group of people can get the wrong end of the stick; especially
> if most of the group are letting a few people do all their thinking for them. If you have all thought about it and all come to the same conclusion you may be right.
> If you are following someone who seemed to have the right idea you screwed up. Even when you have a consensus you must keep updating it. Like any system we
> must be able to react to the changes wrought in the whole by the other components. If we don’t adapt, the machine will grind to a halt. So it isn’t enough to think, we
> must keep thinking and be prepared to totally revise what we are doing as circumstances change.
> Assumption 6 – We have Freewill
> We must be able to think and act for ourselves, otherwise, why all the prophets and religions?
Your argument is post hoc and relies on the earlier unsupported statements regarding the likelihood of prophets and religions being real.
> They all tend to agree that we can choose our own path and the evidence backs this up.
Please state this evidence.
> If there was no freewill there would be no need for a multitude of religions
If there is no freewill God may have wished us to form a multitude of religions. Just because this does not make sense to us does not make it not the case.
> we would just do what God needed doing and that would be that. As we clearly don’t
Please demonstrate any evidence for this.
> due to our inability to grasp what he wants, we must have freewill.
> Assumption 7 – Sex is basically ok
> Following from the previous 2 assumptions, it is easy to suggest that God has given us the tools to figure out what is right and wrong for ourselves. Most religions are
> remarkably clear about some of the basics like murder and theft. So where we find absolute clarity that is shared in several religious texts we can assume that to be
> pretty definite. However, things like homosexuality and ‘wanton behaviour’ are only ever considered in very vague ways, putting them in the category of God wanting
> us to make sense of them ourselves.
Er, no, not even slightly.
Christianity and Judaism, Leviticus:
18:22 Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.
20:13 If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
We also (sent) Lut: he said to his people: “Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? “For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.” – Holy Quran 7:80-81
“Of all the creatures in the world will ye approach males”. “And leave those whom Allah has created for you to be your mates? Nay ye are a people transgressing (all limits)!” – Holy Quran 26:165-166
> In most cases we can assume God wants us all to have a lot of sex. Otherwise, why would it be so much fun to do?
See the excellent book Why is Sex Fun? by Jarad Diamond (I can lend you my copy).
> As gay sex doesn’t procreate, we can take this as definitive evidence that God (who created the whole system) actually likes the idea of us all having sex for the sake > of love and intimacy as well as procreation.
Or that homosexuality is wrong.
> If God was so keen on procreation he would have created a far better system, 9 months of gestation with a chance the mother might die and no physical imperative for
> the father to remain? He could have done better, or at least made it easier, proving procreation isn’t that important to the plan.
No, he could not have done any better if you hold Him to be perfect.
> Assumption 8 – God’s plan is not perfect
> Having established God has a plan and that we have freewill, his plan cannot be perfect.
Ah, if God is not perfect then we have another whole issue about the existence of evil.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able, and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God.
For more details on this see here.
> There is no possible way for this to be the case. It can be damn good, but for it to be perfect it would need all of us to do exactly as we are required. If that is what
> we are doing we have no freewill. If the only choice we can make is the right one, what part did we play in the decision?
> However, an imperfect plan is not a bad one.
Who can judge God on whether what He does it good or bad. Many would say anything He does must be good by definition.
> So far the universe is still around, so something must be working. It may be the plan is for us to blow ourselves up, but if so, top work guys. However, with no perfect
> plan we cannot blame God for our screw ups. Bad shit is going to happen. Hopefully the plan will work well enough to make sure things are still basically going ok. But
> we are not all going to have a wonderful time even if we believe in God and do what needs to be done. The universe is a bit pants, but it is up to us to do the best we
> can with it.
> Assumption 9 – God is in the science
> One last one for the evolution lobby, God is in the science. Having established
I would respectfully disagree.
> that all holy books must be allegory or at least not taken literally, we must accept the evidence of our own observations. This is especially true when we have also
> established that God wants and even needs us to investigate, analyse and generally use our brains.
Again I would respectfully disagree.
> We are descended from Monkey-like creatures, deal with it. However, it is just as likely that this was part of Gods plan as it was random mutation. Any element of
> chance can possibly be an act of the divine.
Ah, the God of the gaps.
> Even if it takes millions of years this means God turns single celled creatures into fish, then mammals then monkeys then humans.
It would be interesting to hear your opinion on why you think God would be so intimately involved in life for such a long time and then back off when Humanity came along.
> That is a pretty damn fine miracle if you ask me.
What definition of miracle are you using here?
> The more we continue to investigate the nature of the universe, the more we are investigating what God needs us to do. Hiding the truth or sulking when we discover > things we don’t like is not only counter productive but also as close as you can really get to heresy. So the best plan is to stop arguing about what God wants, and get
> out there and figure it out.
Well put. However, if “figuring it out” leads you to the conclusion that the likelihood or God existing at all is extremely small, then what?
> Of course, most, if not all of this stream of argument hinges of the fact of God’s existence in some form. But if he doesn’t exist then anything we do is basically a
> total waste of time as we are nothing but specks in a vast and uncaring universe that serves no purpose. In which case I hope it helped pass the time, which, if that is
> the case, is all any of us can do.
What a fatalistic attitude. 🙂