Thursday, August 12, 2010

God Exists: Therefore, . . . What?

Since the New Atheists started publishing, there have been pundits patting themselves on the back as they challenge the thesis that there is no God, thus offering themselves as heroes to those who need their belief in God given some illusion of support and justification.

Whenever I read one of these articles that claim that God exists - or at least that the new atheists have not proven (using absurdly high standards of proof not required anywhere else in the real world) that no God exists – the question pops into my head:

God exists; Therefore . . . . what?

God exists; therefore all homosexuals must be put to death.

God exists; therefore no atheist is fit to hold public office.

God exists; so every mythology associated with the origins of Earth and all life on it must be given a status equal to that learned by science in school classrooms.

God exists; therefore the world is going to end in a couple of decades and we do not need to worry about the long-term consequences of our actions.

God exists; therefore there is no chance that an asteroid or gamma ray burst can destroy all life on Earth because God would not allow it, or God wants it to happen and there is no way for us to prevent it.

God exists; therefore women must live their lives in unquestioning obedience to their fathers/husbands and in a cloth prison over which he is the warden.

When I read these arguments I look for the author to tell me something of the implications of God’s existence and for them to demonstrate somehow that those implications are valid while the harmful and destructive implications are not.

Actually, what I am looking for are signs the author cares about the potentially destructive implications that others are known to attach to the proposition "God exists". I look for signs that, in knowing about these destructive implications people sometimes draw, the author shows some concern that they not be drawn.

Speaking only in terms of the logic involved and not about the character of individuals, implications of the form that we should be nice to people are no more nor less valid than those that advocate the types of destructions and harms we see around us every day associated with religious belief. No reason whatsoever can be offered for inferring anything good from the existence of God that does not also justify the inference of all of the harmful policies that are making people’s lives worse off.

In fact, the only sense of "God exists" that makes sense in those articles is one in which the God claim is one of the most trivial, worthless, empty, and insignificant claims imaginable - because it implies absolutely nothing.

Even the implication, "God exists; therefore we will live forever in an afterlife that God created for us," is an invalid inference. What is to prevent God from creating a universe without resurrection? Certainly it is not beyond God's power to create a universe where death is final.

On the other side of the coin, I have known atheists who hold that we are immortal - that our life energy cannot be destroyed and must go somewhere when we die. Some believe in reincarnation. Others believe in ghosts. One believed that future time travelers download our consciousness when we die and take it into the future where they do not know death.

So, God is not a necessary nor a sufficient condition for an afterlife.

Another invalid implication is: God exists; therefore, I am loved. Here, too, it might be the case that God exists who cares nothing about you. Instead, he laughs at the utter arrogance of those who assert; "There is a God, and He loves me." He laughs, sends another hurricane or plague to those who claim his love and then laughs again when his victims - like an abused child, comes crawling back on their knees and saying, "I'm sorry father for whatever I did that might have offended you."

Here is what I am looking for. I am looking for signs that the author cares about the harms and suffering that some will attempt to attach to the proposition "God exists" – a fact about the real world with real world consequences that any morally responsible author would be aware of.

If that author puts nothing in his article to address these concerns, others are justified in morally condemning the author for their lack of compassion – for their demonstrated disinterest in the welfare of those harmed by people who draw these implications from the premises they defend.

The morally responsible author would admit explicitly and up front, where no reader might be confused on the matter, that the "God" of his argument is a trivial, meaningless, empty and worthless God from which nothing of substance – not even the existence of an afterlife or the love of the worshipper – can be legitimately inferred so as to block any of the harmful inferences mentioned above. He would do this out of an interest in preventing those harms.

I read the articles and ask: What type of author am I dealing with this time?


SS400 said...

The kind of God the people who make these arguments believe in is generally one from whom some of these things can be inferred, from what I can tell, even if that's not the one they supposedly demonstrated. For example, a great many theists believe in an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God for whom it is possible to give certain beneficial perks such as an afterlife and since this God is both capable and willing to do it, he will give his people an afterlife. Of course, lots of other things about the world, in particular, things like natural disasters, wouldn't seem to sit well with this line of reasoning, but I think this is more what these authors are thinking: not merely, "God exists; therefore...," but, "A God exists and if I smuggle in all the attributes I think that my God should have, then therefore..." Although I don't think they're usually too up front about the qualities they think God has that doesn't follow from their argument.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Yes, certainly, they believe some of these inferences can be drawn from the existence of God.

That is true of all of these inferences, including the the most malicious and morally attrocious implications.

What they cannot do is provide a way of defending those implications - any way to distinguish their implications from the morally attrocious implications others draw.

Of course, it is always "others" who are drawing the morally attrocious implications. The deciding factor here is not whether the implications are morally attrocious or not. The deciding factor is whether these are the implications that the agent herself has drawn, or the (morally attrocious) implications of "others".

Unknown said...

God has many meanings. You array the negs on one side and then attack the unitary God. Let us separate Evil from God, defined as All Good. Sure we sacrifice the concept of God as all mighty. Let us posit God as having an opposite number, whatchamaycall, Mr S. And so the whole cosmic story comes down to good vs evil. Beyond this we like to believe that eventually God will triumph. God has been misrepresented. Let us not attack the actual God - all good - for the inconsistent reports about him. So what's the stake for us humans? Well, let us posit that the standards differ for every individual. I was going to posit earlier that the closer to the truth, the more stakes you gain to claim your final, er, perfect form, but then not everyone are equally gifted to grasp the truth. So each his own standard. Good acts, simple acts of kindness, spontaneity, self-restraint, overcoming disadvantages, suchlike, are also yardsticks. God is just a word, a concept quite apart from the actual God if it exists. Posit our own. But if we mix up the many and conflicting meanings of God, then we will be in sixes and sevens, methink.

Cammie Novara said...

"God exists; so every mythology associated with the origins of Earth and all life on it must be given a status equal to that learned by science in school classrooms." I can totally relate to that quote from personal experience. There's a really animated debate that I thought would be of interest on evolution vs. intelligent design going on at