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There can be no evidence for God (revisited)

With time, some arguments can become simpler. I'm optimistic that this is the case with arguments I put forward last year on the subjects of theism and the supernatural, and so it's worth re-examining them, or at least one proposition that really matters:

There can be no evidence for God

What is a god? A god is not just a powerful being. With the power and technology each of us controls today we would seem like gods to our ancestors of a thousand years ago, but we aren't gods. A god is not just a powerful supernatural being. Ghosts aren't gods, and neither are fairies, angels or demons. There is something specific to gods, something more. It is that a god is almost always a personification of an aspect of Nature. The words 'god of' usually go together. The Norse god Thor isn't simply a being who conjours up storms, Thor is the god 'of' storms. If you want to talk to the stormy aspect of Nature, you talk to Thor. Venus is the godess of love Yahweh is a monopolist. He's the Rupert Murdoch or Bill Gates of gods (at least until recently). He's the god of Everything.

Gods represent ultimates. There is no-one higher than Yahweh to appeal to if you want reality changed, anything from a win on the lottery to a plague on your enemies. This ultimate nature of gods is beyond evidence. After all, how could it possibly be tested? If some being called Thor turns up, with very impressive hammer, and starts some storms that may seem impressive, how could it be shown that some other being might not turn up and take over the weather franchise at some point? Jupiter has far more impressive storms than those of Earth, and who knows who is responsible for those?

Yahweh in particular has a considerable set of unprovable attributes: omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, infinitude, being beyond time and space, being a necessary origin of things, and so on. None of these attributes could ever be shown to be true using science. Not because science is flawed, but because none of these attributes could ever be shown to be true using any test against reality. How do you measure omnibenevolence, for example?

If there can be no evidence for god or gods, this challenges statements that people become atheists because of lack of evidence. People become atheists, I suggest, not because of of lack of evidence for gods, but because of lack of evidence for beliefs which are supposed to point to a god, which may seem the same thing but is really quite different. There can be no evidence for a being of ultimate goodness, but a belief in such a being might continue until it is discovered that stories of the acts of such a being were baseless.

Anyway, Gods of weather aren't too dangerous to believe in, even provisionally, just as long as nothing too extreme in terms of sacrifice or worship is performed. The problem starts when people insist that they know about Gods of Morality; beings that aren't just good and evil, but the personifications of good and evil, the ultimates. When someone says that you are done wrong because they know the mind of a God, there is no appeal, no higher authority, by definition. And that's bad.

This is why theism is not just a philosophical mistake, but a moral hazard. It's a source of claims of unchallengeable ultimate moral authority. It bypasses civilized standards of equality and fairness, and it's deeply undemocratic. Accepting that theism, albeit phenomenally unlikely, might just be right is not just (in my view) scientifically incorrect, but may encourage theists to think that their beliefs have some slight scientific respectability, and that only adds to their insistence that their views should have political weight.

Of course, politics should not get in the way of statements of truth, but it might help encourage those of us who believe that theism is not a matter of evidence, but a dangerous mistake, to state the truth with a little more stridency!

More stridency? Like this - we should challenge the very concept of gods, we should not let believers set the rules of the game with flim-flam about the possible truth of Biblical miracles, or other ways of knowing reality, or necessary beings. We should make it clear that all arguments that lead to gods are wrong because they lead to gods! God is a singular mistake, a philosophical division by zero, a point at which the respectability of arguments break down. God is out of the question, the ultimate wrong answer.

That should do for a start.

TAGGED: ATHEISM, PHILOSOPHY, REASON


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