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In reply to “On God and Belief”

March 15, 2010

In his post, Carl gave 4 possible options for a universe that appears to be governed by natural laws. I take issue with the third option, in which

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).

I think this option doesn’t belong in the list, as it doesn’t say that we couldn’t catch god in the act. This option is equivalent only until we do notice his/her intervention. Of the remaining options, the first two (no god or a deistic god) are, at the moment, impossible to distinguish. The final option (a theistic god maintaining a charade of natural laws inside the universe at all times) would require such a leap of faith that it is vastly more irrational than the first two.

I will still maintain that naturalism by definition rules out a theistic god. It’s “the universe is governed by natural laws” rather than “the universe appears to be governed by natural laws”. That’s what I believe, and it’s straying into the realm of agnosticism to add in the uncertainty.

Carl went on to discuss the question of whether it is better to “attack” religion or the existence of god. I think there’s an important point to add here. Whilst it’s true that attacking the tenets surrounding the practise of religion will help to prevent further damage to humanity caused by these practices, there does need to be an effort to remove god from the picture altogether.

As I discussed in my post Faith, science has been claimed back from religion as the gods given a causative role in the natural world have been seen to be non-existent (I gave the example of the sea gods, other examples spring to mind though, Aeolus the Greek god of the winds for example). However it isn’t only science that we have claimed back. Emotions, virtues, skills; these have all had their gods. Palaemon was the Greek god of sailors and harbours, attributed with rescuing sailors in distress. Saraswati, the Hindu god of knowledge and the arts. Artemis was the Greek goddess of (among other things) hunting, wild animals and childbirth. Slowly, those things that make us human have been claimed back by humanity and seen for what they are, human traits, human skills, human activities. There are still some exceptions, and the two that immediately occur to me are morality and meaning/comfort.

It seems to me that for large numbers of people, religions are viewed as offering something above atheism in morality. We practise “Christian values”, even if that just involves being good to other people because we want to be. Without removing the issue of god, it is very hard to say “this is all that there is, we need to practise morality based on our common humanity”. The same goes for getting meaning out of life, or comfort at the end of it. Without knowing that we have to live this life to the full now, in the absence of a god, humanity still allows religion to hang on to this aspect of its appeal.

Fighting the practice of religion is just half the battle. For humanity to claim back everything it deserves from religion, we do need to question the existence of their gods.

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