I wanted to write about what the epistemic status of God is. As in: is the god hypothesis provably false, probably false, something else entirely? Trouble is, there are lots and lots of different god ideas (ancient greek gods like Zeus, the god of thomas jefferson, Allah). There really isn’t any one broom that sweeps away all of them, each god concept comes laden with its own set of problems. Here they are:
Ancient gods – We’ve been into outer space, we didn’t see these guys. Enough said.
God of Abraham – Yahweh (or Allah), the God of the Hebrews, is known to be a fiction for many reasons. One of the clearest reasons is that the concept of this god probably started out as a kind of Hebrew superman, just like all other gods that were worshipped over 3000 years ago. The evidence for this is all over the Old testament: Genesis 3:8 speaks of god walking around (meaning he had a body!). He wasn’t an object of tedious theology or an abstract, timeless person. He was literally a king living in the sky, a mascot of the Hebrews, a comic book hero of the ancient people. Whether embodied or pure spirit, this god is so anthropomorphic that one can hardly take him seriously. Biblical scholar Jaco Gericke and psychologist Valerie Tarico contribute especially strong arguments to this effect in The End of Christianity. Gericke points out absurd passages like those on EvilBible.com (Warning: Anything on Evil Bible must be read in context– Among the good points that are made there are occasional misunderstandings). Tarico argues that an all-powerful and immaterial being like God would not, and could not, have emotions like anger. Emotions serve a function that is only necessary in finite and power-limited creatures like humans. Anger is there to allow you to prepare for situations of conflict, because in a situation of conflict you need to be more aggressive and alert, lest you lose the fight. All of that is obviously advantageous in evolutionary terms. But a God wouldn’t really need any emotions. After all, how could an all-powerful being need to become more alert or more aggressive to ensure that it didn’t “lose the fight” against some other entity? Though many might describe those passages on God’s anger as metaphorical, that is not the most obvious or plain meaning of the text. In Exodus 33:3 God had to keep a distance between himself and his people because God thought that if he dwelt among the people he might lose control of himself and lash out and kill them.
The death of Yahweh is the death of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
The God of Classical Theology – This is the God that philosophers talk about: he is a non-physical person who is perfect, all powerful, all knowing, etc. The biggest problem with this is the age old problem of evil: A God that could prevent evil and wants to ought to mean a world with no evil. But there is evil. I’ve written about this (including a refutation of the “free will defense”) and a number of other problems with this God here. I recently found a great site about the arguments against this god at DisproofAtheism.com
The Deist God – This is the god that Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and others affirmed belief in. It’s basically just a mind without a body that started up the universe. This god lets nature run its course, he doesn’t do miracles or supernaturally reveal the truth to people in visions. This god suffers from most of the same problems I talk about in this post: it violates Ockam’s razor. A mind without a body probably cannot exist. And so on.
Pantheism/Spinoza’s God. I fail to see how this is in any sense different from atheism. It is basically a way of glorifying nature by dubbing it ‘God.’
The God of Theologians – Though theologians are not united about their definition of God (some could be said to believe in the God of classical theology) it is clear to me that some of them use the word God and talk about God in a way that is highly imprecise. They aren’t referring to a mind without a body who has experiences of things like you and I do. Their God is a something-or-other outside of all time and space that doesn’t look or feel like anything and does not itself feel or see (or have any sensations at all). You’ll run into this when hearing William Lane Craig talk about the Kalam cosmological argument. This god concept (if you can even call it a concept) is not true or false. Nor can it be true or false. I am convinced that this is nothing more than a string of words, signifying nothing. I have arguments for a theory about meaning that solidifies the case for the meaninglessness of this kind of god talk, just in case your common sense hadn’t already led you to suspect that it was meaningless.
Nutshell: Words stand in for things that you can point to and show other people. This is how children learn a language: a Mom points to a ball and says “Ball!” Any new word or phrase you make up, if it has meaning, must signify something you can point to or be something you can explain to someone else based on stuff that they are already familiar with (i.e. stuff that you can point to). When we look closely at statements we consider to be meaningful, we find that all of them fit this criteria. However, the god of theologians is not anything you could point to and it isn’t defined in terms of concepts that you could point to and show another person. You can’t even come up with a thought experiment in which this test could be met for the theologian’s god. Moreover, when you really think about it, do you think they are saying anything meaningful? I don’t.