Sure, I’ll tell you why there is no god…

So, I’m minding my own business being an atheist and not talking to anyone about it when I get a note from my TBM sister-in-law. Here’s what it says:

I have a question for you. I have to do a presentation on “does God exist?” I have to use both sides and I can’t think of why he doesn’t. So I was wondering if you had any points that I could use. I have to have it done by sat. If you could help me great if not that’s okay to.

After I swept up the saliva that splashed all over the floor when my jaw hit it, I gladly replied. It took about an hour or so to write the reply, but I thought MSP would like it:

Here are some basic arguments any Mormon considering the existence of god should consider…

First, what do you mean by “god”? This is a definitional issue. Before you can determine whether god or a god exists, you have to know what it is that is supposed to exist. So you have to begin by defining god. Let’s think through this using a god… How about Athena, greek goddess of heroes? Since you are likely an atheist towards her (you don’t believe in her), she’ll work well to illustrate the point.

In Greek mythology, Athena is the shrewd companion of heroes and the goddess of heroic endeavour. As is the case with all of the gods of the Greek pantheon (family of gods), Athena can manifest herself to humans. However, Athena is “supernatural,” which means she is above or beyond nature – she is outside what humans can detect using our five senses (touch, taste, see, smell, hear). We can only detect Athena if she is willing to let us detect her. But, if she wants us to, we can. What else do we know about Athena? Well, according to Greek mythology, she is the offspring of Metis (a Titan), and Zeus, the head god. Zeus was told that Metis would give birth to a god that would one day be greater than he was. So, to prevent that, he ate Metis. But Metis was already pregnant with Athena, who was nurtured inside Metis until she sprang fully formed and with her armor on from Zeus’s forehead.

In most of the stories in which Athena has a part, she ends up helping heroes, but not solving problems for them. For instance, she aided Odysseus only from afar by implanting thoughts in his head during his journey home from Troy. She later shows herself to him, but only to deliver weapons. She appears in Nausicaa’s dreams to ensure that the princess rescues Odysseus and plays a role in his eventual escort to Ithaca. Athena appears in disguise to Odysseus upon his arrival, initially lying and telling him that Penelope, his wife, has remarried and that he is believed to be dead; but Odysseus lies back to her, employing skillful prevarications to protect himself. Impressed by his resolve and shrewdness, she reveals herself and tells him what he needs to know in order to win back his kingdom. She disguises him as an elderly man or beggar so that he cannot be noticed by the suitors or Penelope, and helps him to defeat the suitors. She also plays a role in ending the resultant feud against the suitors’ relatives. In the course of building a temple to her, one of the workers, the quickest and the handiest workman among them all, with a slip of his foot fell down from a great height, and lay in a miserable condition, the physicians having no hope of his recovery. When Pericles was in distress about this, Athena appeared to him at night in a dream, and ordered a course of treatment, which he applied, and in a short time and with great ease cured the man.

Asfor actual descriptions, Athena is described as “unwearying”, virgin, and the First Fighter, i. e. she who fights in front. She is also described as bright-eyed or with gleaming eyes. Athena is frequently depicted with an owl perched on her head. The olive tree is likewise sacred to her. Athena also teaches the art of shipbuilding or navigation and is the patron of craftsmen and artisans. She is also the protector of Athens and its Acropolis, but also of many other cities, including Argos, Sparta, Gortyn, Lindos, and Larisa. She is supposed to have invented the chariot. (FYI, most of the info. on Athena comes from Wikipedia; some quoted directly, just so you know I didn’t plagiarize it.)

So, based on the above, what can we say about Athena? Well, apparently she has the following powers and abilities: (1) she can implant thoughts into peoples’ heads, (2) she can appear as someone else and make others do so as well, (3) she has lots of knowledge, but is probably not all knowing as she doesn’t know how everything is going to turn out (just like her father, Zeus, didn’t), (4) she cares about some humans, but not all humans, (5) she wants to be worshipped, (6) she is a virgin, (7) she is unwearying or doesn’t get tired, and (8) we can only detect her if she wants us too, otherwise we can’t.

Based on this definition, do you think Athena exists? Well, you have to take each of the characteristics I just laid out one by one to determine whether that characteristic is plausible in a supernatural entity. Is it possible for a supernatural entity to implant thoughts in peoples’ minds? Well, we can now do this with various technological advances using magnets and electricity. So, sure; it’s possible. Is it possible for a supernatural entity to change its shape? At present, humans can’t really do this physically, but we can appear to have changed our shape using makeup and special effects, so I’d say sure. Is it possible for a supernatural entity to appear as someone else? Humans can do this, so why not? Seems possible to me. Is it possible for her to know a lot, but not everything? A lot of people know a lot of things, but no human knows everything. So, again, yes she could do this. Is it possible that she cares about some humans, but not all humans? Again, lots of humans are this way, so yes. Is it possible for her to want to be worshipped? Well, again, there are humans who want this, so a supernatural entity could certainly want this. Is it possible for her to be a virgin? Absolutely – plenty of those around. Is it possible for her to be unwearying? Well, that’s a challenging one. This is impossible for humans. So, this clearly falls into the range of supernatural. But, perhaps with future genetic modification we may make it so humans don’t need sleep and we never get tired. So, let’s say this is possible. Finally, is it possible that Athena can avoid detection by all human means (i.e., radar, sight, sounds, smell, touch, etc.) except when she wants to? Well, humans have developed an invisibility cloak that allows light to pass around it. So, you could avoid detection by sight and potentially radar. If we can do that now, with our limited technology, perhaps she can prevent people from touching her, smelling her, or hearing her all at the same time as she can prevent people from seeing her. So, again, I guess this could be possible.

The conclusion: It is possible for someone like Athena to exist.

But now we have to ask: Do you, Hillari, believe that Athena exists? My guess is that you do not. Nor do I. But why? It’s possible she does. I don’t believe she exists because: (1) no one else believes she exists and (2) she no longer manifests herself in ways that reinforce belief in her; i.e., there is no empirical evidence she exists. If it occasionally happened that Athena appeared to people and it could be independently verified (i.e., there are other people around when this happens and they get photos, video, and can detect her), then I would probably believe. I’d probably believe she was an alien, not a supernatural deity. But I would believe. Wouldn’t you?

So, what have we established at this point? That it is possible for a supernatural entity like Athena, a Greek goddess, to exist. However, neither of us believe in her because there is no evidence other than ancient myths that suggest she exists and no one else believes in her. Since there is no current evidence to suggest she does exist, we don’t believe in her. Is this an acceptable exercise to determine the existence of a god? In other words, is it morally okay to ask: (1) How do you define that god? (2) Is that definition logical and/or plausible? (3) What evidence is there to support that the god exists? Then, based on what you conclude from the three questions, you make a decision as to the existence of a god. I think this is exactly what you should do whenever someone presents the possibility of a god: Have them define it, examine the logic of that definition, ask for evidence, then make a decision as to whether that god exists.

Now, let’s turn to a god that is more relevant to you. You believe in a god (at least, I assume you do, as you are Mormon). Can we define the Mormon god? Lucky for us, someone already has. Here is the URL for the entry on god in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:
http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/EoM&CISOPTR=4391&REC=6&CISOSHOW=3731

Mormons actually believe in a lot of gods (sort of henotheists), but let’s just stick with the one main god – god the father. How is this god defined by Mormons? First, he has a body of flesh and bones (not blood). This god is also male. This god is also the creater of the universe. This god lives near a star named Kolob. God the father can communicate with humans and they can hear him with their auditory system (their ears), not just inside their head. This speaking is done from heaven. This god is distinct from Jesus and the Holy Ghost (the other members of the godhead; important criteria for distinguishing Mormons from other Christian religions). God the father is greater than Jesus. God the father won’t judge anyone; that is Jesus’s job. God the father wants people to pray to him. God the father set up a plan that involved his only begotten son dying on a cross. God the father can impregnate human women. God the father is literally the father of all the souls of people. God the father is one in purpose with Jesus. God the father is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. He is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abundant in goodness. He is a god of truth and no respecter of persons. He personifies love. God set forth a system that requires his children to believe in him and follow him in order to return to him. That system requires specific rituals and behaviors. God can tell people things that they would not otherwise know (revelation) God speaks to living prophets today and spoke with prophets in the past. God once lived on a planet, like us, but followed a similar plan to become a god. God sits on a throne. God looks like a man. Finally, the only way to know any of this is for god the father to reveal it to each person individually. However, before he will reveal himself to someone, that person must already have faith in him.

Excellent. That’s a pretty clear definition of the Mormon god. That gives us a lot to work with, more than we had with Athena. But, let’s follow the pattern we used with Athena. Based on our limited knowledge, is it possible for a god to have all of the characteristics above? Well, let’s see…

Is it possible for god to have a body of flesh and bones? Well, I do. So, sure. Of course, this rules out god being omnipresent, but we’ll get to that later.

Is it possible for god to be male? Again, I am, so sure. This does imply male superiority, which I find repugnant, but that is a different issue. It’s possible.

Is it possible that god is the creater of the universe? Well, yes and no. Here we run into our first problem with Mormon theology. In order for god to create something, he must be outside that thing. Think about it this way: Hillari, could you create a child but be inside that child while you create it? In other words, could you create a child that surrounds you? No. You can’t. Likewise, can you create a house but be part of the house? You could actually be “inside” the house while building it, but if you are “part” of the house (say, you make yourself a support structure like a pillar holding up the celing), can you still build the house if you are now part of it? No. Here’s why: Something cannot create itself as part of something else. You may be able to create a clone of yourself as part of something else, but you literally cannot create YOU as part of something else. So, here’s where the problem comes in for the Mormon god: He (Elohim) lives in this universe, near a star named Kolob. How could he create the universe if he is in it? Doesn’t that make god part of his own creation? As we just illustrated, you cannot create yourself. God supposedly didn’t create himself, but was created by his father. Fine. But how does god create a universe that he is part of? Here’s the possible answer: Perhaps god created the universe while he was outside it. So, he was not part of the universe. Then, once it was created, he moved into the universe. Science, of course, is uncertain how such a thing could occur because there is nothing we know of outside the universe. But let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that it is possible to create something as immense as the universe, which is quite impressive. Then let’s say that the entity (god) that created it decided to inhabit it. If you assume god is smaller than the universe, then this is theoretically possible (though remember this when we discuss omnipresence). God didn’t create himself. He just created an immense universe then inhabited it. He created it while outside it, then moved inside it. Okay, possible. Moving on…

Can this god speak and be heard from heaven? Well, it depends on where heaven is… If heaven just means “the heavens” as in – up in the sky, absolutely. I can hear sonic booms occasionally, so it is theoretically possible for a loud enough sound to come from the sky and be heard by mortals on the planet. I’m not sure how intelligible it would be, but it’s possible. But if heaven is either (1) near a star named Kolob or (2) outside the universe, this is substantially less likely. Unless god is able to instantly teleport himself to any part of his creation, from either inside or outside it, and then speak to humans and have them detect it with one of their five senses, god would have to have some tool to transmit his voice across the universe or into and across the universe. Such a tool is well beyond what we can accomplish scientifically. It would probably have to be a faster than light tool (or god would have to plan out his transmissions hundreds of millions of years in advance). But, let’s say god is so advanced that he has figured out how to warp the space-time continuum and travel or send messages faster than light. We can imagine this. So, let’s say it is possible. It’s highly improbable, but possible. So, let’s say god has the ability to warp space and time (since he created it, why not) to communicate instantly anywhere in the universe. So, we haven’t ruled out the existence of god yet.

Next, god is distinct from Jesus and the Holy Ghost. Distinct from Jesus, sure, why not. I’m distinct from other people with bodies. But I’m not sure I’m distinct from the Holy Ghost. I also don’t know what the Holy Ghost is, so I’m not sure how I can be distinct from it. But, let’s pretend the Holy Ghost is actually made up of some material that is finer than matter (Joseph Smith taught this), but has a finite essence. If the Holy Ghost can control that essence, then I guess I could be distinct from it and so could god. However, there is another problem here. Supposedly, through god’s spirit, which is also supposedly distinct from the Holy Ghost, god is everywhere in the universe at once. Well, now we have a real quandary. If god is distinct from Jesus and the Holy Ghost, and if both Jesus and the Holy Ghost are inside the universe, then god and Jesus and the Holy Ghost are not, truly, distinct. If god is in the universe, and Joseph Smith said he is, living on a planet near Kolob, then I’m not sure how Jesus and the Holy Ghost could be outside the universe. If they are not, then they are not distinct from god as god is everywhere. Thus, either god is not distinct from Jesus and the Holy Ghost or god’s presence is not everywhere through his spirit (a.k.a. the light of christ). So, this characteristic of god is not logically correct. Strike one against the Mormon god.

Next, is God the father greater than Jesus? Well, since he created him, the obvious answer would be yes. However, we do have to stipulate that this can only be true for a certain period of time. Why? God promises that all those who attain godhood will have all that he has. If that is true, then at some point in the future, assuming Jesus attains godhood (which Mormons believe has already happened), then Jesus will be as great as god. Thus, god the father is currently greater than Jesus. But god the father cannot always be greater than Jesus or he was lying about his children having all that he has. So, this may be true now, but cannot be true forever. We’ll call this a half-strike against the Mormon god.

Is it true that God the father won’t judge anyone; that is Jesus’s job? Well, again, this may be true at some point, but certainly cannot have been true in the past, with some possible qualifications. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Jesus will judge all of those who live and die on this planet. Fine. If that is the only judgment this refers to, then god the father won’t judge anyone in the future. But if this refers to ever judging anyone, god has already done so. In the pre-existence, he cast 1/3 of his children from heaven. That included a judgment as those children are sons of perdition, doomed for eternity. That seems like a judgment to me. I guess it’s possible that Jesus made that decision. But that would imply that god the father doesn’t do anything and wasn’t really involved in the war in heaven. Possible, I guess. Additionally, didn’t god the father prejudge all of his children as being unworthy to be in his presence once they came to earth? That was the whole reason for the atonement. Did Jesus also make that determination? If so, again, god the father isn’t very involved in his creation. Possible, I guess. If all this is true, then god the father is a very, very distant god who basically just gets involved to tell others to listen to Jesus. That, of course, doesn’t mesh with what most Mormons think and also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in light of other things that have happened. For instance, when Jesus died on the cross supposedly the earth shook and there were horrible catastrophes. Did Jesus do that or did god the father? Jesus would have had to do that while he simultaneously was ministering do spirits in spirit prison, which is where he went when he died and before he was resurrected (by himself). So, it would seem god the father did that. That would also seem like something of a judgment, as lots of people died as a result. So, does god the father judge? Well, I’d say yes. There are ways to kind of weasel around this, but I don’t find them compelling. So, another half-strike against the Mormon god.

Does God the father want people to pray to him? Well, I can understand why an all-powerful (we’ll get to this issue later) god would want to know what people want – he can do something about it. But why would a god want prayers of praise? Doesn’t that sound egotistical? I guess we didn’t specify that god is humble. In fact, god says he is a jealous god. Maybe god is also a proud god that wants praise. Maybe god wants people to praise him and thank him to teach humans humility. That’s a strange way of teaching that. So, I guess this is possible. But if god the father does want people to praise him, which he says he does, he is not a god I would want to praise. I’m not a fan of arrogance. This is a possibility, but if it is true, I wouldn’t worship this god. After all, why would he need or want my praise?

Is it possible God the father set up a plan that involved his only begotten son dying on a cross? Yeah. I guess that’s possible. That’s a pretty cruel god, though. Think about it, if god is all powerful, why can’t he simply make everyone’s sins go away? If he can’t do that, he isn’t all powerful. If he can but he won’t, then he is not the personification of love. So, again, it’s possible that god did this, but if he did, he’s a cruel god. I wouldn’t worship such a god, but still possible.

Can God the father impregnate human women? Well, if he has a body of flesh and bones, I guess so. He’d either have to sleep with the woman, use artificial insemination, or be able to materialize a sperm in a woman’s fallopian tube. Let’s think about those options. If god slept with Mary but was not married to her, then god is an adulterer and he committed incest (she is his daughter). If god used artificial insemination, then god masturbated. If god made a sperm materialize in a woman’s fallopian tube, god has some remarkable technological prowess. That would entail having the technology to send a single sperm across the universe to a specific location inside a woman’s body that is about the size of a straw. That’s remarkable. Personally, I like to think god used one of the other two methods – sex with his daughter who he wasn’t married to or masturbation – it makes me laugh that the Mormon god broke his own commandments in order for his plan to work. So, is this possible? Yes. Is it probable? Not at all. Another half-strike against the Mormon god.

Is it possible that God the father is literally the father of all the souls of people? Well, considering how many souls that is, that, too, is quite a feat. It isn’t necessarily impossible, but I have to wonder how many wives he has, how often they have kids, and how a spiritual child is created. Is it similar to the mortal process? If so, and if the universe is 13.8 billion years old, that would mean that to people just this one planet, god would have to have one child with at least one of his wives every year since the beginning of the universe to populate this planet. And this is just one planet. Supposedly there are millions like this across the universe, all peopled by god. Since we don’t know how god creates his children, we can’t really rule out that this is possible. But it seems highly improbable as well. Semi-strike against the Mormon god.

Is God the father one in purpose with Jesus? If so, Jesus committed suicide. He knew he was going to be killed, could have stopped it, and didn’t. That must mean he wanted to die. If god and jesus are one in purpose, then god must advocate suicide. Since the Mormon god does not advocate suicide, I have to assume that god and Jesus are not one in purpose. Strike against the Mormon god.

Is God the father omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent? This is probably the easiest one to refute. First, omnipotence. That means all-powerful. Here’s the question: Can god create a rock so big that even he cannot lift it. If he can, he is not all powerful. If he cannot, then he is not all powerful. God is not all powerful. Second, omniscient. That means all-knowing. If god is all knowing, that means he knew when he created Satan that Satan would become the devil, convince 1/3 of his kids to rebel against him, and doom them to eternal damnation. If god knew that before it happened but he did nothing to stop it, then he may be all knowing, but he certainly isn’t loving. He basically didn’t care about 1/3 of his kids. If he knew, and he is loving, but he couldn’t stop it, then he is not all powerful. So, either god is omniscient but doesn’t care about his kids, or god is omniscient, cares, but is not all powerful. Take your pick. Either way, this also makes god responsible for all evil as well. Is god omnipresent? That means present everywhere. If god is present everywhere, that means everything is god. If everything is god, then there is no way to distinguish god from anything else. My shoe is god; my toilet bowl is god; my house is god; my computer is god. If everything is god, then nothing is god, because it makes no sense to call everything something other than something. That just makes god something, but simultaneously makes god nothing in particular, as god is no different from anything else. So, if god is omnipresent, then god is nothing. So, is god omnipotent, omnisicent, and omnipresent? No. Three strikes agains the Mormon god.

Is god merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in goodness? Well, if he is, he sure doesn’t show it. Where was god when Hurricane Katrina hit? Where was god when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit and over 200,000 people died? Where was god during WWII when over 6 million Jews died? Why did god kill all of his children except Noah during the flood? Either god is merciful but can’t do anything about it, which means he is not all powerful, or god is not merciful. Take your pick. God cannot be merciful and omnipotent. He is either mean and vindictive and all powerful, or he is merciful and not all powerful. If he is mean and vindictive, he is not worthy of our worship. So, you best hope he is merciful but not all powerful. Is god slow to anger? Well, if he is actually the one causing all the destruction around the world, I’d say quite the opposite – he is quick to anger. Read the Old Testament – when Moses goes up the mountain to get god’s commandments, all it takes is for the children of Israel to start worshipping a golden calf for him to curse them and demand the deaths of dozens. God is not, by his own record, slow to anger. If by gracious it is meant humble, we already illustrated that is not true as we wants his children to praise him. That’s the epitome of arrogance. Is god abundant in goodness? I see no difference between that and merciful, which we already ruled out. Ergo, 4 strikes against the Mormon god.

Is he a god of truth and no respecter of persons? Well, if god is a god of truth, why are there so many different religions that claim to know his will? Either god is a mischeivious god who likes screwing around with his followers by making it hard to know his will, which means you shouldn’t worship him anyway, or god has no way of conveying his truth to his children. If that is the case, then god is not a god of truth. Additionally, why does god’s truth change? Mormon doctrine has changed over the years (look up Brigham Young’s Adam-God doctrine). Does that mean god’s truth changes? If so, god’s truth doesn’t mean the same thing that I think of when I think truth. Is god a respecter of persons? Well, he does seem to talk to some people more than others. Why? By Joseph Smith’s own accounts, he was a sinner, he deceived people, slept with women other than his wife (than married them to justify it), drank alcohol, etc. By the standards of the Mormon Church, I’m more worthy to receive god’s will than Joseph Smith was. Why did Joseph Smith receive it and not me? That would suggest that god is a respecter of persons. Isn’t it more likely that “prophets” like Joseph Smith are just pretending they know god’s will than that they actually do? After all, god would definitely have to show favoritism toward certain people, who were clearly sinners and less worthy to receive his will than others, for them to receive it. Thus, the Mormon god is not a god of truth and is a respecter of persons. Two strikes against him.

Does god personify love? If you define love as watching 200,000 of your children die in a preventable tsunami, then I guess god does personify love. If giving some people who absolutely shouldn’t be parents a child (Debi worked with a woman who had 6 or 7 kids, all with fetal alcohol syndrome except 1) and not others who should have a child (I had a woman in my class this last semester who is financially settled, nice, married, caring, etc. but not fertile, even with fertility treatments), is that love? Maybe god does love them and he wants to do something about it but can’t. That means he is not all powerful. Or maybe he feels like that is in the person’s best interest. For the life of me I cannot see how giving a woman who can’t take care of herself or 6 kids with fetal alcohol syndrome is in the best interest of anyone. God does not personify love, which means he is not worthy of worship. Strike against god.

Did God set forth a system that requires his children to believe in him and follow him in order to return to him? Does that system requires specific rituals and behaviors? Let’s say for the sake of argument that god did set out this system and it does require that you be Mormon. This does suggest that god is not very loving as there are millions if not billions who will never receive it. Mormons have a solution for this, though: they say that all of those who have ever lived will be revealed during the millennium so they can have their work done. Okay. Possible. But not very practical or efficient. Also not very loving. But let’s give this one to Mormons.

Can God tell people things that they would not otherwise know (revelation)? There is no evidence that this has ever happened. There is nothing in any book of scripture ever written that cannot have been known by other means. In fact, much of what is written in scripture is simply wrong. Ancient America, if that is the setting for the Book of Mormon (which many Mormon apologists now claim it is not because of these problems), did not have elephants or horses, but they are mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Either god lied or Joseph Smith got it wrong when he wrote it. If god can reveal things people wouldn’t otherwise know to people, why doesn’t he? My religious students don’t do better on tests than my non-religious students? The standard Mormon answer is because it is not in your best interest. This is circular logic: You know god’s will by determining what god does. What god does is god’s will. That’s useless. Strike against a Mormon god.

Can God speak to living prophets today and did he speak with prophets in the past? Well, if he does speak to prophets today, he is a prejudicial god, as he just told Mormon prophets to work against homosexuals, removing their rights. That would indicate god is a respecter of persons. And if god spoke with prophets in the past, he either lied to them, the transmission was faulty, or god didn’t know what he was talking about in the past. The god of the New Testament told his prophets the earth had four corners (Revelation 7:1). Oops. Strike against god.

Did God once live on a planet, like us, but followed a similar plan to become a god? Since this would have had to have happened in a different universe, there is no way of knowing this except by god telling us that it happened. However, we cannot verify it. So, it’s possible. Improbable, but possible.

Does God sit on a throne? Not sure. He could. But if he does, he is also an arrogant god that I would not want to worship. I’d rather my god be humble and walk among the people like one of them. So, possible.

Does God look like a man? Again, possible. But this also suggests another alternative: that man created god, not the other way around. Emile Durkheim basically suggested as much when he was analyzing religion over 100 years ago. He saw god as being the embodiment of man: we create god in our image, not vice versa. Which is more probable? So, while it is possible that god looks like a man, what this suggest to me is not that god looks like a man but rather than man can’t think of anything else that would be worthy of adoration except someone who looks like him. This shows a good deal of arrogance on the part of the men who created that god. This also shows patriarchy. So, is it possible? Yes. Is it more probable that a man created god? Yes. Half-strike against the Mormon god.

Finally, is it possible that the only way to know any of this is for god the father to reveal it to each person individually? And, is it true that god will only reveal himself to someone if that person already has faith in him? Well, let’s put this in simpler terms. What this says is: (1) There is no evidence for any of this. (2) The only way to find out if it is true is to believe that it is true. Well, isn’t that convenient? There is no evidence for any of the above characteristics of god. And the only people who believe this are people who believe this. That is absolutely circular logic. That’s the equivalent of a parent saying to his child: The only way for you to find out if Santa exists is to believe in Santa first. Then Santa will show himself to you. The child says she believes, then the parent takes the child to the mall and shows her a fake Santa. This reinforces the belief. Then she asks Santa for something and her parents get it for her. This reinforces the belief. All of this appears to be evidence of Santa, but, in fact, is not, as Santa does not exist. It just appears to be evidence of Santa. Then the child gets old enough to talk to her friends who don’t believe and finds out that her parents were just screwing with her – Santa doesn’t exist. So, Mormons say the only way to “know” god exists is to believe. Well, you can never know it because there is no evidence. But the only way to believe is to believe. Wow! How’s that for a compelling argument? Two strikes agains the Mormon god.

That took a while…

Now let’s return to the example of Athena. You don’t believe in her because (1) there is no evidence to support her existence, and (2) no one else does. But, (3) Athena is a conceptually plausible god – she could exist.

Let’s apply these criteria to the Mormon god. (1) There is no evidence to support the existence of this god; mormons even say so explicitly. (2) Lots of other people believe this god exists. In fact, the religion often talks about just how many members there are as though that supports the belief in this god. But what about number 3? Well, (3) many of the characteristics of this god are completely implausible. Only one characteristic being implausible should be sufficient to make someone not believe. But you do believe in this god despite the many, many completely implausible characteristics. So, rather than ask why I don’t believe, why not ask why you do believe? I don’t believe in the Mormon god because of #1 and #3. You can’t believe in the Mormon god for either #1 or #3, as neither support belief in that god. So you must believe in the Mormon god because of #2 – other people believe.

So, to answer your question: Why doesn’t god exist? First, define god. We did that for two separate gods. Second, think about that definition logically, preferrably using empirical evidence wherever possible. God doesn’t exist if: (1) there is no evidence to support his/her/its existence, depending on the definition, and/or (2) god’s characteristics are illogical. Those are the two reasons why god does not exist.

Does that help?

Published by

profxm

I'm a college professor and, well, a professional X-Mormon. Thus, ProfXM. I love my Mormon family, but have issues with LDS Inc. And I'm not afraid to tell LDS Inc. what I really think... anonymously, of course!

78 thoughts on “Sure, I’ll tell you why there is no god…

  1. Andrew — Way back up in your point about ultraviolet light:

    I agree that there are probably natural forces that we could potentially measure but we can’t currently measure because we aren’t aware of them. But that’s not what your father is talking about at all. He’s claiming that there’s a force that he is aware of — that he is able to sense it (through spirituality) and/or channel it (through the priesthood). Those are claims that could potentially be examined and scrutinized.

  2. Re 46 Holly: try the fact that gays are indignant that the very word “gay” is being stolen from them as we speak to mean a pejorative in the same way that “stupid” or “uncool” used to mean. This is perhaps more applicable, because it’s not a case of time (e.g., old usage vs. modern usage), but a case of majority usage vs. minority usage (of course, the question is: who will win? It’s not like the LGBTQ crowd are pushovers — I haven’t abandoned use of the term in the “homosexual” sense and I don’t see too many people doing so in the future)…and on the other side defending a pejorative use of the word are teenage punks who traditionally have no power other than being teenage and punks).

    by the term “god,” you don’t have to mean what I mean. But the fact remains that whether you use it the same way or not, I have legitimate precedence for the way I deploy it.

    perhaps you’ll have to forward the research, because it seems that what they are teaching now is that for communication to work, yes, it is EXACTLY true that when you use terms, the audience/receiver of the term should mean the same thing as what the speaker of the term means. If I don’t use it the same way or not, then regardless of if you do have a justified usage of the term, communication will fail. So communication really becomes an anarchy of popular sentiment or it must require operational definition of terms beforehand.

    Why is that so hard for you to allow? If we were talking about the color blue, and we agreed that by blue, most people mean, say, a pale sky blue, would I be wrong if I referred to something that was navy blue or midnight blue as “blue”? After all, there are shades and gradations of blue.

    But you see, the critical problem is what we actually do need to “agree” on. See, some people agree that green is just a shade of blue. Some people think pink is just a shade of red, while others delineate a specific word for it. It’s incredibly important that the receiver is on same terms with you on what his spectrum of blue includes and does not include.

    So really, the qualia of “blueness” or “greenness” and “redness” and “saltiness” and things like this is rather meaningless. The spectrum of blueness is just an arbitrary division of light vibrations…it just happens that psychologically and sociologically, we find that cultures tend to find certain divisions before others (there will be a division recognizing red as a distinct color before green, usually).

    I’m not saying, though, that you cannot use the term in a way unsupported by an entire intellectual tradition. And I agree: it would be intellectually and spiritually lazy to limit use of the term based on unfamiliarity.

    But the fact is, I’m sorry…but people tend to be intellectually and spiritually lazy. We do label ourselves with rather comfortable labels. We do put ourselves in linguistic boxes.

    I will not say you cannot use a term in whatever way you want. All I will say is that, in my intellectual laziness, or whatever it is, that as I respect your usage of the term, I cannot help but feel that you could have something really interesting, but I’m stuck 30 miles behind by your peculiar use of language.

  3. Re Holly 48:

    Because we aren’t perfect.

    :/ I’m not saying you can’t use the term. I’m just saying that, as you’ve discovered, there will be confusion and misunderstanding if you use such a term. This is wholly unlike your youth, I feel, because in many ways, we aren’t “inexperienced virgins” to the word god. There’s a set hair-trigger response of all kinds of connotations that we have to get over. How are we supposed to do that?

    It would require more than 48 posts — our own understandings of god (why we believe, why we don’t believe, what we use to back our beliefs and disbeliefs) develop over lifetimes, so how do we jump that hurdle?

  4. Re Holly 49:

    Actually, that’s generally what it does mean. That’s why you have so many people rail against the church for perverting what they feel the priesthood “should” be. It takes years and years for the church to be able to seem like a somewhat legitimate source of terminology for the world to accept — and it’s still not very legitimate, considering how many people view the church. “it’s really weird, but mormons are nice people.”

    You say that your point in 46 makes my point in 44 inviable, but I say that your point in 46 cries out to my point in 44. Language is flexible, but not necessarily in the ways we want it. Gay now means homosexual, but also it means “bad” or “uncool.” We don’t choose this! And we don’t easily discard any meaning that has accumulated as a hurricane. Water is flexible, but we most certainly choose to let hurricanes destroy our properties.

    I apologize if you think I’ve been against you. In short, I’ve never held that you cannot use the term or that you have no right to a term. All I’m saying is that, I’ve seen this comment war, back and forth back and forth, and it reinforces within me at the same time that language is flexible, but not necessarily in all ways that we want. It *does* change in ways that we don’t want it, and even though we may be in the right …this may not win us any practical favors *because* of that flexibility.

    Practically, we have something like 53 comments of confusion. Is it any wonder?

    Let’s take the legions of people who don’t understand language and its flexibility. So language is a sea that tosses and turns very flexibly that wreaks havoc on the people. Now, let’s insert chanson and me into this legion of ignorance (just for kicks and grins). So, what next? Then linguistic flexibility doesn’t really help you. Because it’s flexible in a way uncontrollable by intellectually lazy and ignorant people just as a wave is uncontrollable by a surfer or a hurricane is uncontrollable by the people living near the beach! We the ignorant just go with the tide of language, and so all we can say to you now is, “I’m sorry; we recognize you have every right to use the word, but that doesn’t mean that all the confusion is going to end. We, as part of this rough linguistic wave, are being carried out to one particular use of the word — so even if we concede that you have a right to use “god,” this doesn’t bridge any gaps. We are still going out to sea and the distance between us makes you hard to understand.”

  5. chanson 51:

    it’s a bit more subtler. What if there are things that we could potentially measure but we currently don’t not because we are unaware of them, but because we lack the tools to reliably measure them. This would be like what my father states.

    Now, I think this is a copout (just like another copout of the church’s: “tee hee faith always works if you just *desire* to believe, so if you don’t *desire* to believe, you really can’t say that faith/spirituality is just coincidental or that it doesn’t exist based on your results) but it requires a different surgical tool to cut that tumor away.

  6. What if there are things that we could potentially measure but we currently don’t not because we are unaware of them, but because we lack the tools to reliably measure them.

    But he claims that he’s sensing this force himself, right? That he can perceive its presence? Even if he doesn’t claim his perception is consistent or reliable, it’s still a claim (that, say, a given feeling was produced by something other than his own brain), and it could potentially be examined. For example, neurologists can study the phenomenon of spiritual experiences.

  7. but it requires a different surgical tool to cut that tumor away.

    I really don’t recommend trying to talk your dad out of his beliefs. It could potentially do serious damage to your relationship, and he’s not harming anyone with his mysticism. I’d recommend just stating your position clearly once and then agreeing to disagree.

  8. chanson:

    Well, yes, because he agrees that this is something that can be examined. But let me pull up what he would say to give an analogy.

    He would say, “Neurologists can study the phenomenon of spiritual experiences, but because they have given in to a ‘worldly’ philosophy about what science is, their skepticism would cause them to often miss the value of spiritual experiences and instead rationalize them.”

    And then he’d point out people who are scientists but still believers and say something like, “See, you should be a believer too!”

    so what he’s saying is that these phenomena can be classified, but that science as we understand it will…misclassify…these phenomenon because of assumptions it makes about the nature that phenomena must have.

    I won’t try to talk my dad out of his beliefs, but keep in mind that he’ll just take me aside for a several hour lecture about these things. There’s no real harm done, but I think he himself put it succinctly when he once called it “death by verbage”

  9. their skepticism would cause them to often miss the value of spiritual experiences

    Whether or not a spiritual experience is valuable is an entirely different question.

    For example: love is beautiful, it is real, it is valuable. It is also something that can be studied in terms of natural functions of the brain.

  10. RE: #46

    And, in the future, please address me directly rather than talking about me to someone else. It’s a gesture of courtesy I would very much appreciate.

    I wasn’t talking just to you. I was talking to everyone commenting. It was a general suggestion. Perhaps it is a limitation of language that it is difficult to simultaneously address one person directly and others indirectly at the same time, but that was my intent. FYI, sometimes it’s hard to interpret someone’s intent due to the limitations of language. At least, so I’m told… 😉

    profxm, here’s something already on my blog from a paper I delivered on Armstrong.

    So, I just read what you wrote. It sounds like your “source” for this possible belief is primarily Karen Armstrong, who I am guessing is drawing on many others. After reading what you wrote, it sounds to me like this “god” is best characterized as:
    (1) an absolute mystery; by definition it is undefinable (great paradox)
    (2) something we create with our imagination
    (3) something that can be experienced
    (4) something that is subjective; everyone’s “deity” is relative to themselves

    In a sense, then, your “god”, Holly (if you believed in it), would, quite literally, be YOUR GOD. No one else can know or understand YOUR GOD because no one else can sense or detect or understand or create or imagine it. Such a god is, by “definition”, not measurable using empirical tools or philosophical logic. Thus I conclude, “It is absolutely the case that a completely subjective, made up god is certainly not something chanson or I could disprove. Kudos to you.”

    But I would be remiss if I didn’t also provide a comparison to what you’ve done with this discussion. Imagine, if you will, what would happen if I were to run into the middle of a crowd and start demanding a cellphone, but when someone offers me one I tell them that is not what I mean. I’m guessing peoples’ patience with me would quickly ebb. If what I mean by a cellphone is something completely undefinable, the people in that crowd would have every right to dismiss me as insane. I’m not saying you are insane, but you thinking we empiricists should immediately understand what you mean is expecting a bit much. As Andrew quite clearly pointed out, you are using a notion of “god” that is completely alien to us. In fact, your notion of god is so alien that it is actually quite impossible for us to know YOUR GOD. We can understand what you mean by god, eventually, maybe, but we can never actually know YOUR GOD. Getting upset at us or calling us “intellectually lazy” for not grasping this from the get go seems a bit presumptive on your part.

    Since you seem to like arguments from authority (i.e., Karen Armstrong believes it, so it must be true), let me draw upon some “luminaries” in my field: George Herbert Mead, Charles Horton Cooley, and Herbert Blumer to say, “Meaning is negotiated in every interaction. Unless we can negotiate an agreed upon definition, we cannot actually communicate. Thus, meaning must be negotiated through symbolic interactions.” (Thus the name of this subfield of sociology: symbolic interactionism.) Ergo, Holly, unless you can help us arrive at your meaning of the term, we have every right to look at you as the people in the crowd would look at me when I tell them that their cellphones are not the cellphone I’m thinking of. Your demanding a lot of patience from us in order for us to understand your definition of a cellphone, which can’t actually be defined, but just loosely characterized. My guess: 99% of people in that crowd would leave before they came to arrive at what you meant. Don’t get snippy with us for trying to understand your usage of a term that runs counter to what 99% of people understand by that term.

  11. re: Chanson #50

    OK, so then we’re essentially in agreement.

    Look, I’m not trying to piss you off, I’m just trying to understand what you mean.

    What pissed me off is that if you had bothered to read (with any care? in the first place?) the things I’d written, you’d have known already that we were essentially in agreement. Which is why I cited old comments rather than writing new ones in order to establish that we were essentially in agreement.

    re: Andrew in several comments:

    Some people think pink is just a shade of red,

    Yes. They’re called the French.

    The invocation of French is useful here, since there is this thing called the Academie Francaise, that tries to police the French language. It gets huffy and fines writers and publications when they import foreign words into written French, uses constructions it considers “un-French,” or uses words it doesn’t like.

    For instance, when computers first started becoming popular, French writers and publications wrote about a “computeur.” The Academie Francaise didn’t like that, and insisted they use a French word, even though it didn’t have the larger relevance or recognizability: ordinateur.

    English has no such comparable body, and that is one of the many reasons for English’s dominance as a world language.

    English has a significantly larger vocabulary than any other language in the world. There are many reasons for this, including the Norman conquest of England in 1066, which meant that suddenly the language spoken by the ruling class in England spoke French while the peasants spoke Anglo-Saxon. Ultimately, over the course of several centuries, the basic grammar and vocabulary of English won out, but the wealth of French vocabulary in English is due to this military event.

    Then there was the British empire, which increased the vocabulary even more, as words were imported to describe animals, practices, objects, attitudes, etc found in the places the British colonized.

    English not a policed language. We’ve dropped all sorts of verb conjugations and noun declensions. At one point English was close to German, which is WACKY with all its cases and so forth. English grammar is also fluid–it is no longer unacceptable to split infinitives in newspaper copy, for instance.

    Don’t take the role of the Academie Anglaise and tell me that the English speaking world at large can’t deal with the fact that a word has multiple meanings. I know very well that it can.

    perhaps you’ll have to forward the research, because it seems that what they are teaching now is that for communication to work, yes, it is EXACTLY true that when you use terms, the audience/receiver of the term should mean the same thing as what the speaker of the term means.

    I am not saying that there should not be general awareness of how terms are being used. But it is a well established practice of conversation, formal speech and written discourse to define one’s terms,, and once that’s done, provided there is a precedence and a logic for the definition, one is entitled to use the term as defined throughout the conversation, discussion or text, because virtually all audiences are sophisticated enough to deal with that.

    and that’s what I did and that’s what I asked people to deal with. As I say, it’s not a stretch. It’s not a weird request. It’s done ALL THE TIME.

    People don’t NEED to have the flexibility of language explained to them; they accommodate it intuitively and automatically, countless times each day. They know when GAY means “happy or carefree” or “homosexual” or “stupid and gross.” They might not like one or more of these meanings, but they can recognize the difference.

    Context is key. Words mean many things, and the human mind is, in most cases, sophisticated enough to judge for context in order to select a meaning.

    Once I had said, “this is what I am trying to convey when I use the term ‘god’ in the context of THIS conversation,” it should have been acceptable for the terms of THIS conversation. Because not only was I not trying to insist that EVERYONE ELSE agree that that is the ONLY usage, I would not even want to limit MYSELF to that usage. As it happens, I also intend in the future use the word GOD to mean “god the father”and “Athena” and “someone who excels at something,” because those are concepts I intend to discuss from time to time–depending on the CONTEXT.

    But as soon as I provided a rationale for my use of the term IN THIS CONVERSATION, everyone could have said, “Oh. I get it.”

    It could have happened. The rules of discourse allow it. Our brains allow it. It was entirely possible.

    However, it didn’t happen in this conversation, and you have told me why:

    people tend to be intellectually and spiritually lazy.

    Well. Forgive me for thinking the people I was talking to here might rise about intellectual and spiritual laziness. Thanks for letting me know that you’ll cop to that. I will avoid expecting more from you in the future.

    I’m not saying you can’t use the term.

    Yeah, you sorta did, here:

    On the other hand, the one thing I’m not sure about is that Holly’s argument relies on something that she’s tried to stress in most of her comments:

    But I disagree if we think of “god” as another name “the ultimate mystery of the universe, or the nature and source of consciousness”–which is one way the term has been used from time to time.

    ….So, the deeper question is…is language so flexible? Can we go back to a previous usage of “god” and other god-language that would accommodate Holly’s idea,

    You expressed doubt about the intellectual and linguistic legitimacy of what I was doing, both for yourself and the world at large.

    And I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be that way.

    I’m just saying that, as you’ve discovered, there will be confusion and misunderstanding if you use such a term.

    and what I’m saying is that there needn’t be, if people are not intellectually lazy. I explained the term, provided justification for its usage, and recognized that this usage did not exclude other usages. In a more sophisticated conversation, that would have been enough for us to proceed on an equal footing.

    But as you point out here

    Let’s take the legions of people who don’t understand language and its flexibility. So language is a sea that tosses and turns very flexibly that wreaks havoc on the people. Now, let’s insert chanson and me into this legion of ignorance (just for kicks and grins). So, what next? Then linguistic flexibility doesn’t really help you. Because it’s flexible in a way uncontrollable by intellectually lazy and ignorant people just as a wave is uncontrollable by a surfer or a hurricane is uncontrollable by the people living near the beach! We the ignorant just go with the tide of language, and so all we can say to you now is, “I’m sorry; we recognize you have every right to use the word, but that doesn’t mean that all the confusion is going to end. We, as part of this rough linguistic wave, are being carried out to one particular use of the word — so even if we concede that you have a right to use “god,” this doesn’t bridge any gaps. We are still going out to sea and the distance between us makes you hard to understand.”

    you don’t aspire to be one of the more sophisticated people.

    So from here on out, I will operate on the understanding that sophisticated explorations of ideas and nuanced discussions are not possible at MSP. Thanks for clearing that up for me.

  12. I was kind of feeling bad for my last post, thinking maybe I was too hard on you, Holly… Until I read this,

    So from here on out, I will operate on the understanding that sophisticated explorations of ideas and nuanced discussions are not possible at MSP. Thanks for clearing that up for me.

    If, by “sophisticated,” Holly, you mean, “Everyone let’s me use whatever words I want whenever I want without questioning my usage of the words,” then I guess MSP is not sophisticated. Just because English is flexible doesn’t mean you can’t be challenged on your definitions and usage of words. If you can’t handle being challenged in your usage of words, maybe you don’t belong here. FYI, MSP is a place where peoples’ ideas (that includes definitions) are challenged. If you can’t handle that, ce la vie and adieu!

    Also, I’m getting the sense that you have a clear double-standard. You want everyone to be nice to you but you run around calling everyone “intellectually lazy” and “unsophisticated.” Well, if you don’t want to play nice, we don’t have to play nice…

  13. profxm:

    thanks for talking to me.
    profxm:

    Perhaps it is a limitation of language that it is difficult to simultaneously address one person directly and others indirectly at the same time, but that was my intent.

    It’s not that hard to write, instead of “What I think may be interesting to see is for Holly to write up her own post describing (as best as possible) this other idea” something like, “Holly, would you write this up.”

    Imagine, if you will, what would happen if I were to run into the middle of a crowd and start demanding a cellphone, but when someone offers me one I tell them that is not what I mean.

    this is not analogous. I have not demanded that anyone “give” me a god. What would be analogous is if someone said, “Cell phones don’t exist,” and then offered a detailed set of arguments proving that cell phones don’t exist. At that point, I might say, “Cell phones as you define them do not exist, and I don’t believe in the existence of this dreadful cell phone you’ve just debunked. However, there is this other definition of cell phone, the non-existence of which is much harder to prove. It’s hard to pin down, but here are some of the ways people have talked about it.”

    As my comment in #61 should demonstrate, I have encountered before and have no problem with the statement that “Meaning is negotiated in every interaction. Unless we can negotiate an agreed upon definition, we cannot actually communicate. Thus, meaning must be negotiated through symbolic interactions.”

    but you thinking we empiricists should immediately understand what you mean is expecting a bit much.

    I DON’T expect you to understand. As I’ve said, this defies explanation. What I’ve asked for is for people to accept that this is a usage with a legitimate history–in other words, to accept my negotiations re: the history and usage of this other meaning for the term god.

    I still don’t think that should be so hard.

    You are welcome to question my usages. I recognized from the outset that my usage was questionable and unfamiliar.

    But I think the real I encountered is one of orthodoxy. Instead of a group of Mormons saying, “Oh, wait, you just defined ‘god’ in a way we’re uncomfortable with. That’s not the ‘god’ we believe in, so we can’t have this conversation,” a group of post- and ex-Mormons said, “Oh, wait, you just defined ‘god’ in a way we’re uncomfortable with. That’s not the ‘god’ we DON’T believe in, so we can’t have this conversation.”

    Re: #62: by “sophisticated” I mean “able to understand the difference between the practical act of asking for a cell phone and the verbal discussion of theoretical definitions of an abstraction.”

  14. Re Holly in 61:

    But it’s not me who’s taking the role of the Academy Anglaise: it’s you.

    You’re demanding that we control a hurricane of popular understanding of the term god and fit yours at equal ends with the others. The English-speaking world deals very well with the fact that words have multiple meanings, but meanings 1 – 5 of what “god” means to any given person isn’t going to be *your* meaning.

    And conversations will be sorely misinterpreted as you try to resolve this issue and fight a hurricane.

    The way you describe English is correct — and this does describe the metaphorical hurricane I speak rather than this world you would like where people consciously bend and direct water as they please. It’s like you want a tabula rasa of English and anything else would not represent the flexibility of English that we understand.

    I am not saying that there should not be general awareness of how terms are being used. But it is a well established practice of conversation, formal speech and written discourse to define one’s terms,, and once that’s done, provided there is a precedence and a logic for the definition, one is entitled to use the term as defined throughout the conversation, discussion or text, because virtually all audiences are sophisticated enough to deal with that.

    and that’s what I did and that’s what I asked people to deal with. As I say, it’s not a stretch. It’s not a weird request. It’s done ALL THE TIME.

    Of course we define our terms. And you know what…that’s what this entire dialogue has been about. It’s not a one-time shot. It’s not something that happens in ten seconds, especially when you’re dealing with concepts that already have a wide range of tremendous connotations, but none of these connotations fit along well with your connotations. It doesn’t help when you see probing questions to better understand your definition (such as those by chanson) as events where she “had to be sh*tting you.”

    There was nothing in the paragraph you had quoted of mine that either implied or explicitly stated that you have no right to use the word.

    The real question is: if language is so flexible, then your definition of god can be stolen from you and be no longer readily available by virtue that it is not commonly used. And you know what: we saw that. THAT IS WHAT FLEXIBILITY OF LANGUAGE IS.

    In my very post, I acknowledged that you had the historical and linguistic heads-up for your definition. The reason I questioned was because the FLEXIBILITY OF LANGUAGE, in this case, HURTS YOUR CASE. It sticks so many connotations on god that you cannot easily escape. But in fact, you can escape these, but it involves more charity than saying that people have got to be “sh*tting you.”

    I can discuss your god under any terms you want, including use of the term god. You can BRING IT and we could have that conversation.

    but I’m having a more meta-linguistic conversation. Let’s say I call my god “a shoe.” Well, I’m perfectly able and chanson is perfectly able and you’re perfectly able and profxm and everyone is perfectly able to talk about the god in terms of “a shoe,” but the elephant in the room is, SOMEONE should be asking me, “Why is he using ‘shoe’? Sure, we all understand now what he means, but there seems to be no reason why he uses shoe. That is not what anyone would currently associate with the ideas he has.”

    We acknowledge something further for you. We acknowledge that you have a historical or linguistic allowance that gives your use of the term god some legitimacy…that is…if language is to a certain degree *inflexible*. This inflexibility would also allow people in modern times to use gay to mean happy without any strange glares.

    And yet, this is a world we do not live in. Precisely because of the flexibility of language, there can be a definition of language that bulges and spreads and overtakes the numerous definitions of a word. So, chanson asks things like, “Why would you use god to describe that? God has connotations of x, y and z” and then you say, “Well, my definition just doesn’t take those connotations.” WE UNDERSTAND THAT, BUT IF IT DOESN’T TAKE THOSE CONNOTATIONS whereas POPULAR LANGUAGE HAS, THEN DON’T YOU SEE WHERE THE CONFLICT WILL INEVITABLY ARISE?

    Would you rather us forgo everything we know about language in the past and use whatever terms we see fit and accept the use and definitions of these terms as a blank slate in the future?

  15. errrr, That final quote should have not been quote. I should’ve quoted what you had said here:

    You expressed doubt about the intellectual and linguistic legitimacy of what I was doing, both for yourself and the world at large.

    And I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be that way.

    and the entire final quote should not have been quoted

  16. Holly in 63:

    profxm: “Cell phones do not exist. Here is a reasoned set of arguments why cellphones do not exist.”

    Holly: “Cell phones do not exist as you have formulated them, I agree. However, there is this other definition of a cellphone, the non-existence of which is much harder to prove. See…this is a telephone…and this is a pager…these are two accepted things and even though this combination isn’t commonly accepted as a “cellphone,” I’m not saying I necessarily believe in it. It’s just something I’m interested in.”

    Andrew S: “OK, I understand that formulation. I can see the phone and the pager. But don’t you see that when most people think of a “cellphone,” they think of something closer to that of what profxm and chanson just debunked? Your concept of a cellphone may be technically and historically an accurate definition of something that fits the cellphone function, but because language has changed over time (because it is flexible), most people wouldn’t view this as a cellphone.”

    Holly: “BUT YOU SHOULD EASILY BE ABLE TO HOLD TWO IDEAS OF A CELLPHONE IN YOUR HEAD. Ugh, I shouldn’t have hoped that you’d be intellectual enough to be able to suspend your engineer nature of what a cellphone is and use a more flexible definition. English does not have a FCC of cellphones saying what is and what is not a cellphone. Stop being so rigid!”

    Andrew S: “But that isn’t the problem. We can all easily conceptualize the idea of this regular telephone and a pager as a “cell phone.” But what we’re asking is…why call it that when the idea of cellphones now has, as a result of the flexibility of language, attracted a bunch of other connotations?”

    Holly: “But my definition of a cellphone is clearly legitimate. It calls people and you can get mobile notice of your calls! Be more flexible!”

    Andrew S: “We…recognize…that you have all the technical attributes for a cellphone, but that’s just not what cellphones are thought to be anymore! You are free to use whatever definition you want, but you will just see confusion and misunderstanding if you use this one.”

  17. Andrew: I did my best to inform you of a fact. Whether you like it or not, whether you feel comfortable with it or not, whether it’s logical to you or not, the FACT remains that there is a significant school of theology that discusses god in the vague, weird metaphorical terms I tried to invoke.

    I thought people here might be interested. I see that I was wrong.

    This usage wasn’t something I made up, and I’m not in a position to convince everyone else who uses the term to stop. The term for this concept I’m interested in is “god,” so I bow to usage and use it too, at least in certain contexts.

    If there were indeed objects significant to me that could be referred to as “cell phones”–blackberries, for instance, or iphones–and there were scholars and thinkers who called them “cell phones,” and if I had a significant interest in the nature of cell-phone-ness, I might indeed inform a group of people discussing the nature of cell phones about these other objects, particularly if I saw them using a very limited definition. I might suggest that whether they liked it or not, these things were known by a significant group of relevant people–albeit not most people–as cell phones.

    That’s what it comes down to: whether it makes sense to you or not, whether it’s goofy or stupid of them to do so or not, there is a significant tradition that uses the term “god” to mean something very different than what you mean, and that usage is not going to go away, despite the more common usage.

  18. Holly: I did my best to inform you of a fact. Whether you like it or no, whether you feel comfortable or not, whether it’s logical to you or not, the FACT remains that the significant schools of theology that the vast majority of people will recognize (which is critical to recognize in communication) is not going to discuss god in the vague, metaphorical terms you tried to invoke.

    This does not belittle the significant schools of theology that do. And that is not what I or anyone else is trying to do. We are not saying that there are no significant schools of theology that discuss god in a vague, weird metaphorical way as you have. But it does point out that you will face an uphill battle to fight against the theological connotations that people already have toward god.

    We’re not saying you made up this usage. What we are saying is that, whether it makes sense to you or not, whether it’s goofy or stupid of all of us to be so absorbed on this petty point, the vast majority of people that use the term “god” have colored with with particular connotations that cannot easily be escaped, and these connotations are not going to go away, despite your interest in another significant tradition.

  19. Holly — The type of God/force you’re talking about may well be very interesting to contemplate. But the thing is that it is so completely disjoint from what most people understand by “God” as to be different concept entirely.

    If you bring up the existence of your type of God on this thread that started as ProfXM’s discussion with his SiL about the existence of her type of God, naturally people are going to assume you’re saying that the two questions are related, and it will cause confusion if they’re not. This leads us to waste a lot of time and energy distracted by semantic questions that have nothing to do with the energy force you find interesting and want to discuss.

    I think Jonathan Blake’s comment above was insightful:

    I share this interest in the mystery of the world. It awes me. I often experience wonder at the beauty, strangeness, vastness, tragedy, irony, and briefness of life, of being. Where you and I seem to part company, Holly, is that I avoid calling this God because it is such a loaded word.

  20. These cell phone analogies are too funny — I shouldn’t be wasting time on this, but I want to do one too!

    Suppose the title of the post had been “Sure, I’ll tell you why cell phones don’t grow on trees…” and in it ProfXM had written a detailed discussion of organic chemistry and had explained where the components of a typical cell phone come from. Then suppose Holly comes along and says “I don’t like your definition of cell phone, and by my definition of cell phone, maybe they do grow on trees.” Then we discover that Holly is talking about an obscure dialect on an island (in the English Channel) where they use the word “cell phone” as their word for “banana.” And we find that it really is a legitimate usage of the word that makes sense to everyone on that island, and it turns out there’s a fascinating story of how this usage came about, based on the islanders’ traditional greeting of holding a banana to their ears in the same way that we might hold an ordinary cell phone. I’d say that — even though this alternate usage may be interesting — it’s not clear that it’s relevant to the point ProfXM was originally making.

    Also, this discussion answers another interesting question: What happens when you throw a mystic-friendly agnostic into a swarm of hard-core atheists? I’ve never seen a theological discussion quite like this one. I hope there are no hard feelings all around and that this won’t drive people away from MSP.

    Oh, yeah, and Merry Christmas, Good Yule!!

  21. re: Andrew #69

    No freakin’ duh, Andrew. I already knew all that. I mentioned it frequently in my original comments. I wrote, way up in #10:

    You might say that this is again a cop-out because it rejects the idea of god dominant in the world today…. And a lot of the time I avoid using the term “god” to talk about this…something that interests me, precisely because “god” is such a loaded, loathsome term. But the fact remains that “god” has been used throughout the centuries as a term for this great mystery. The fact that a lot of people use the term as narrowly as possible doesn’t change the fact that there’s this OTHER concept covered by the term that is more complicated, more thoughtful, and beyond our comprehension and description.

    I don’t know why you felt obligated to repeat that information back to me as if I didn’t know it, but oh well. I hope we’ve both learned something from this, if not about “god,” at least about communication. Because neither of us did it very well.

    I know that where I really got hung up was when you asked,

    is language so flexible? Can we go back to a previous usage of “god” and other god-language that would accommodate Holly’s idea

    A way of paraphrasing that question is, “Is this phenomenon that has happened really possible?”

    I offered you reasons why it was possible, and when you questioned them, I offered more. When you still had problems, I offered reasons why, cognitively, you could accept the fact that this phenomenon had indeed happened.

    I should have just said, “The fact that this potentially difficult-to-understand-and-accommodate linguistic phenomenon has happened is evidence that it is possible; otherwise it–and multiple similar linguistic phenomena throughout human history–would not have happened,” and not wasted my time or yours with the other stuff.

    re: Chanson 70:

    If you bring up the existence of your type of God on this thread that started as ProfXM’s discussion with his SiL about the existence of her type of God, naturally people are going to assume you’re saying that the two questions are related, and it will cause confusion if they’re not.

    They are related if one is interested in the larger question of what “god” means to certain rare, more careful, thoughtful believers, instead of merely to those believers with a very traditional view of an anthropomorphic god. If one is merely interested in disproving the existence of anthropomorphic gods who interact with humans in fairly conventional albeit supernatural ways, then I can see that the concept I brought up is of no interest whatsoever.

    Unfortunately, I assumed that in a discussion instigated by someone who teaches sociology of religion, about all the reasons why people reject belief in a volitional, active deity, there might be room for introducing information about another concept of the divine–one that renders the SiL’s original assignment not only masochistic on the part of the instructor who gave it, but irrelevant. Behold my faux pas. Mea culpa.

    re #71: cell phone analogies. Yeah, I worked out a very detailed analogy where the conversation about cell phones included a discussion of the nature of phone-ness, so I asked people to look at the old 1960s wall-mounted dial phone left in my basement by the previous owner and everyone freaked out and started saying, “That’s not a cell phone! It doesn’t have a key pad! Or a menu! It’s not portable! Why would you even keep it in your basement?” While I keep saying, “I never said it was a cell phone, it’s a phone, and I keep it so I don’t have to run upstairs to answer the phone if it rings while I’m doing laundry” and Andrew asks, “Is language flexible enough for ‘phone’ to mean both a cell phone and that old thing in Holly’s basement?” but it’s not worth posting, only paraphrasing.

    I will also add that I would never hold a phone or pager in my hand and say, as Andrew depicts in his analogy, that their existence or nonexistence are difficult to prove, since if I’m holding them, that to me offers very strong evidence that they do indeed exist.

    What happens when you throw a mystic-friendly agnostic into a swarm of hard-core atheists?

    Well, I will say I feel a little like someone who stumbled into a religious discussion and realized too late that it was not a discussion but a testimony meeting–although one on how great it is NOT to believe in god instead of one about how great it is to BELIEVE in god.

    This is why I said above that I think the problem is really one of orthodoxy. I do try to follow the rules once I understand them, and if a certain atheistic orthodoxy is the requirement here, I’ll adhere to it whenever I come back.

  22. p.s.

    What happens when you throw a mystic-friendly agnostic into a swarm of hard-core atheists?

    If it is indeed the case that, as I seem to be discovering, this forum is mainly for and by “hard-core atheists,” you might, in the interest of fairness in advertising, include a reference to that on the policy page. I just checked, and there’s nothing to suggest such a thing–merely a statement about skepticism, and I consider myself a skeptic.

  23. It’s true that most of the regulars are atheists. However, our intended policy is to welcome and discuss a range of viewpoints. If we’re not succeeding at that, then, well, we can work on it.

    But my remark about atheists and agnostics wasn’t meant to be taken as a statement of MSP’s policy. It was merely an attempt to wrap this up on a light note by acknowledging that any minority viewpoint in any debate may have an uphill battle on a 24-hour-a-day site that’s read from multiple time zones worldwide.

  24. re: Holly 72:

    It was because I was trying to make a slightly different point. Yes, of course I recognize that the fact that people use the term in a narrower sense doesn’t change the fact that there’s another concept covered by the term that is more complicated, but that first fact does lead to an impurity of language no matter if we use the first definition or the second definition. To recognize this (as you do, because you do recognize the loathsome connotations around the one conception of god) and still go boldly forward with the second use, even if that second use is disparate and sound as we have agreed, is asking for trouble. And to me, I see clear evidence of this: the way this very discussion unfortunately went.

    In the end, this point I’ve been trying to make is really silly and inconsequential. I shouldn’t have pressed it for so many posts, because in the end, there’s nowhere to go from it.

    On the other hand, the point you’ve been trying to make has much more value. Obviously, we can go into more detail about the concept of god that you are interested and how we can recognize it in various facets of our lives. It is a creative discussion, rather than a destructive one. I don’t know about the others here, but I’d much rather have creative discussions than negative and destructive ones.

  25. So, how’s the weather where you are? A balmy 75 degrees here in Florida. Any plans for the holidays? Anyone?

  26. Hey, I started a new post for holiday stuff! 😉

    We had some great snow here last week — the kids and I made some snowmen and the whole family had a fun snowball fight. Unfortunately, it all melted (at least downtown, probably not up in the mountains). It hasn’t been unseasonably warm, but just a little too warm for snow.

  27. Hi Andrew:

    On the other hand, the point you’ve been trying to make has much more value. Obviously, we can go into more detail about the concept of god that you are interested and how we can recognize it in various facets of our lives.

    Thanks–it’s nice of you to say so. But I think that unless the absolutely PERFECT opportunity to discuss it here at MSP comes up, I’ll save discussions like that for my own blog, so that the comments don’t become clogged with stuff that isn’t really interesting to a lot of the people here.

    In any event, Happy Holidays.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *