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.

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