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On God and Belief

March 13, 2010

[This was originally a follow up comment clarifying a (rather badly written) comment on Christian’s ‘Am I an Atheist’ post, however it has expanded somewhat so I am going to submit it as a full blown post.]

Consider four possible options:

1.There is no God, the universe spontaneously came into being (at the big bang) or has always existed (e.g. successive bang and crunch, the ‘champagne universe’ model with universes as expanding bubbles within something larger, or as a fixed four (or more) dimensional shape). The universe is governed by natural laws.
2.The universe was created either by accident or on purpose and after creation has had no interference from its creator, which we refer to as God. The universe is governed by natural laws without intervention from this supernatural being.
3.The universe was created either by accident or on purpose and its creator now has an active interventionist role. The universe is governed by natural laws but these can be broken by God to suit his/her/its will. Intervention is either too subtle to be observed or is missed by the scientific method (we never catch God ‘in the act’ or choose to attribute it to error if we do).
4.The universe was created either by accident or on purpose and its creator now has an active interventionist role. The universe has no natural laws and all events are determined by the will of God but God is so consistent in will that it appears to be immutable law.

From our perspective we cannot tell the difference between these four. All would give evidence for a naturally governed world instead of a supernaturally governed one. This is what I meant when I said that a naturalistic view based on evidence does not rule out deistic or theistic Gods. We can reason that the likeliness of each is different and arrive what is a reasonable position given no evidence (i.e. that an anthropomorphic God has the same probability of existence as the Flying Spaghetti Monster and thus very likely does not exist) but this does not then make that position (that there is no God) true.

I do not have a problem with the existence or non-existence of a God. What is true is true, and if there really is a being that created everything that would be a truth I would want to know.

I have a problem with belief in God. Both in principle and in the various practices seen around the world.

In principle I cannot, or should not, believe in anything and everything that could exist but for which there is poor evidence or no evidence at all. I do not believe that there is a teapot in orbit around Mars. That is not to say that I believe, with absolute certainty, that there is no teapot in orbit around Mars, only that I do not believe there is. If anyone were to preach that there was I could not disprove their position (given current technology and the limits of my overdraft). I could on the other hand question their right to certainty and why we should believe them when last week they claimed, with equal certainty, it was a flowerpot instead.

This applies to belief in practice; the organised religions of the world. As with the teapot, we cannot fully disprove their position (only show how very unlikely it is) and so there is always room for their belief. We can, and should, however, question their right to certainty, especially given the influence that rides on such certainty (I do not mind irrational beliefs when they have little influence, but religion does not fall into this category). We can also question the certainty that their faith holds the right answers now when they view the same faith to have been wrong in the past despite the certainty that is was right at the time. What makes now different? And how can they view some aspects of their holy books as false but then treat other aspects as revealed, unquestionable, truths?

These questions, and there are many more, do not attack God, they attack religion. There is room, no matter how miniscule, for their God. However I think there is no room for their certainty and for their hypocrisy. We can attack their ability to believe and, most importantly, to use those beliefs to dictate how any of us should live our lives.


One Comment leave one →
  1. March 17, 2010 10:18 AM


    Found a passage by Shelley in The Portable Atheist where he looks at the watch analogy. He says that “Design must be proved before a designer can be inferred.”

    The main thrust of his argument is in the following:

    Why do we admit design in any machine of human contrivance? Simply, because innumerable instances of machines having been contrived by human art are present to our mind, because we are acquainted with persons who could construct such machines; but if, having no previous knowledge of any artificial contrivance, we had accidentally found a watch upon the ground, we should have been justified in concluding that it was a thing of Nature, that it was a combination of matter with whose cause we were unacquainted, and that any attempt to account for the origin of its existence would be equally presumptuous and unsatisfactory.

    Shelley therefore argues that the analogy between human creation and the existence of the universe is inadmissible.

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