Monday, July 30, 2007

Defining god

Some theists try to define their god into existence with prevaricatory bullshit like "God is love." The problem with this is that we already have a word for love. It's called "love". Saying that god is love makes the word useless, not to mention the fact that people who say this invariably have a concept of a god that includes supernatural powers, more than a few idiosyncratic moral precepts, and masculinity, none of which is mentioned next to love in any dictionary I've ever seen. These people -- one would hope -- were conceived in love, but even so, its clearly a stretch to claim that love is their creator.

There are some who say that a volcano or a totem pole is their god. I can see and touch these gods, so I would be forced to admit that they exist. Despite the claims they make about these inanimate objects protecting them from evil, claiming them to be higher beings is clearly daft. These objects have naturalistic origins that we are capable of grasping, and we are far more likely to bend them to our will than they us. You can worship a rock 'til you're blue in the face, but it's not going to know or care, much less have the will or ability to reward you for doing so, nor to punish you for doing otherwise. These gods too are completely useless.

So what would make a god useful? A useful god must have some kind of power over the physical universe, but this alone is not enough. Clark's third law states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, yet an advanced alien species would not be gods, however tempting it may be to call them such. A god does not have naturalistic origins or exert its control through purely naturalistic means. Without naturalistic means, though, the effects of this control would be distinguishable from what would happen in the absence of the god only by the intention behind it. In order to exhibit this intention, the god must have a will, which implies a mind, and presumably one at least as smart as our own. A god would not be very useful if it was dead, or not yet alive, so it would be expected to be uncaused and immortal, and because a physical brain is vulnerable to damage and entropy, we can assume that a useful god would be immaterial. A useful god is usually also considered to a creator, even though our scientific knowledge explains our existence as the result of naturalistic processes.

So, here is my definition of a god: a god is an eternal, non-corporeal, intelligent agent imagined to be the cause of natural events. I say imagined, because those events that are attributed to a god are invariably found to have naturalistic causes upon close enough inspection, thus the ever-narrowing "gaps" into which believers are constantly wedging their gods. A god that is only imagined does not actually exist, so you see, just as theists attempt to define their god into existence, I have defined him out of it.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

What would it take?

I was thinking about what it would take to convince me that there was a god. This is a question that theists seem to like to ask, so I thought I should have an answer.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and they don't get much more extraordinary than the claim of an all-knowing, all-powerful being that's everywhere at once and cares what I do while I'm naked. It would require a demonstration that included a verifiable violation of the laws of physics, and in order for that violation to truly be verifiable, we would need a complete understanding of those laws. Is there a deity out there just waiting for us to stumble upon a Theory of Everything before it makes its presence known? I'm not holding my breath.

Theists often assume that if we had proof of a god, we would have no choice but to bow down and worship. This is not the correct response. If we met a non-human intelligent being, we should treat it the same way whether it was a god, an alien or some kind of super-chimp. The correct course of action (after learning to communicate) would be to invite the being to join our society as an equal. As a person, human or otherwise, it would have "human rights" (I don't like that term) and the obligation to afford other persons the same rights. If the god agreed to abide by our laws, we could get along amicably, and I would enjoy watching its party tricks, but if any appreciable portion of the Bible is factual, it would not accept. This is understandable, as it would need to immediately be brought up on charges that would result in imprisonment for innumerable consecutive life sentences, assuming the death penalty was not feasible.

Of course, an omnipotent being could not be forced to comply with our laws, or any punishments we deemed necessary, but if it refused to do so, it would certainly not be a being to be worshiped, but one to be hated and resisted in any way possible. Only a tyrant would demand worship, and it is the duty of any thinking person to resist tyranny.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Thoughts on morality.

I was thinking about morality today, and it suddenly dawned on me what defines what is and is not moral. I was thinking that despite differing opinions of individuals on what should be considered moral, it's pragmatically a society's consensus on morality that matters. Then I realized, morality isn't what each individual thinks it to be, or even what society agrees it to be, and it certainly isn't what some invisible man in the sky says that it is. What defines morality is what it will be agreed to be.

I don't just mean that the morality of an action must be decided after the fact, what I mean is that what is most moral is what will be considered moral in the future. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins discusses what he calls the "changing moral zeitgeist". This is the phenomenon by which morality evolves (so to speak) through time. Prime examples of this are racism and slavery, which have been the norm until very recently in our history, but are abhorred by anyone we would consider civilized today. I admire Thomas Jefferson, but Jefferson was a slave owner. We all hate Hitler, but the racism that fueled his genocide wasn't nearly as far behind the moral zeitgeist as we would like to believe. The trick to being as moral as possible, I realized, is to be ahead of the curve. Don't try to do what people consider right today, do what will be considered right tomorrow, or next year, or in a thousand years.

Of course, without precognition, it's difficult to know what direction the moral zeitgeist will take. Short-term changes can be sometimes be predicted based on other recent changes as a natural progression, such as the acceptance of homosexuals following from recent moves toward race- and gender-equality, and those who are slightly ahead of the curve already vehemently oppose homophobia and campaign for gay rights. Long-term changes are harder to predict, and even the most progressive among us surely hold beliefs that will be considered appalling within a few generations, but we don't see anything wrong with them today. Perhaps the best we can hope for is to be far enough ahead of the zeitgeist that our posterity will recognize our good intentions, and as with Jefferson, chalk-up our failings to the times in which we live.

Hey, look, it's a blog!

As my regular readers will know, if I ever had any, I've been away for some time. Posting became difficult when one thing in my life after another began to change. Some of these changes you will definitely hear about, others are none of your business. The most significant of the changes that I will be talking about is my apostasy and deconversion.

I spent most of my life as a moderate/liberal Christian, but as a few of my later posts may have hinted, I was struggling with the issue, and I'm proud to say that for the last eight months or so, I have been a godless heathen. I was raised as a Christian and always took it for granted, but amusingly, christianity is far more interesting to me from the outside, and I have much stronger feelings on the subject now.

I've been doing a lot of thinking on the subject, and I recently found myself wanting to write down some of my thoughts again, so I decided it was time to dust-off the blog. I'm not planning on going back to daily posting, and I'll probably be focusing less on news and politics than before, but you can expect some new posts here soon.