Whilst on holiday I finished reading John Loftus’ The Outsider Test for Faith which I greatly enjoyed and will be reviewing in a short while. There is much to talk about within the pages, not least some of the excellent quotes he has gathered from other writers which he uses to defend his own positions on various topics.
For the purposes of this post, I want to just think a little about the jurisdiction, even the residence, of God.
Before I get on to Loftus’ quote, here is an interesting quote from James A. Lindsay’s forthcoming book on infinities and God, Dot, Dot, Dot: Infinity Plus God Equals Folly which touches upon the idea about God being squeezed further and further away from humanity and real existence into nothing more than an abstraction:
When “God” was conceived, at least in the Abrahamic traditions, he lived on a mountaintop. When people climbed the mountain, God wasn’t there to be met, and when they descended the other side to meet new people, they were forced to place God in the sky, and they had to make God big enough for both peoples. We’ve been to the sky; in fact we’ve been above it. God isn’t there either. He did not meet us in low earth orbit; he did not meet us when we walked upon the moon; and our robots have not found him on any planet in our solar system or, now, just outside it. Our telescopes cannot see him, even as they peer out into the apparently edgeless universe, and so people have moved God beyond the universe to an imaginary realm, and as God went, they’ve had to make him big enough to account for it all. Part of that “all” is not only every conception of God that humans have entertained and worshiped, but also every potential conception of God that is conceivable. Monotheism demands it, in lieu of an actual physical God of this world. The potential conceptions of God are infinite, and so God too must be infinite to usurp them all. But as we’ve seen, God cannot be infinite, unless believers would also accept he must also be abstract, that is mental stuff. Though apologists may defend this idea of God, a majority of believers do not accept an unreal philosophical deity of this kind. Theirs is a living, breathing, acting agent that will one day judge the living and the dead, a fact easy to lose sight of when talking with apologists.
Loftus talks about similar ideas, together with the cognitive biases concerned with dealing with the ever retreating God.
The best and only way to avoid cognitive bias then is to actively seek out disconfirming evidence, which is what the OTF encourages believers to do as informed sceptics. In 1971 a NASA space orbiter named Mariner 9 discovered that the canals on Mars were illusory. This discovery strongly disconfirmed the claim that there was intelligent life on that planet. Before this discovery many people claimed they encountered Martians. Afterward, Martians stopped visiting us and we instead started receiving visitors from Venus. Then after the surface of Venus was found to be hot enough to melt lead, Venusians stopped visiting us, too. Now visitors from space come from far more distant places in our universe. What best explains this? It’s because there were never any Martians of Venusians who visited earth.
When we examine the messages from UFOs we see that they have always been addressed to the fashions of a particular time period. None of them conveyed any new scientific information, even though visitors from other planets should be far more advanced than us. Before the Cold War was over the messages warned of nuclear war, then later they warned us about the degradation of our environment… UFOs didn’t warn us about ozone depletion in the 1950s or about the HIV virus in the 1970s, “when it might really have done some good?… Can it be that aliens know only as much as those who report their presence?” (pp. 195-6)
Now this quote talks about how ‘miracle’ claims at their basis are nothing more than spurious, and we can apply such to the claims of Jesus, for sure. Why didn’t the all-loving God incarnate as man tell us something about how malaria is spread, how we should boil surgical utensils before using, how… how… Jesus didn’t seem to know anything more than a simple itinerant preacher of his time, and God seems rather unwilling to give knowledgeable advice in visions and through prayer. Loftus continues:
Now apply this same critical thinking to the Bible and its God. You don’t believe Martians or Venusians visited earth. Why? Because we discovered some facts about these planets (yes, I know we’ve discovered water on Mars). You also don’t believe they visited us because the messages these aliens supposedly communicated were not the kind we would expect. Offering us nothing new and changing with the fashions of the times.
That’s why you shouldn’t believe in the God of the Bible.
First, when we discovered that the gods didn’t live in the mountains, believers then proposed that they lived in the sky. As we gradually discovered how huge the sky was, the God of faith got bigger, too, until believers claimed he lived in an entirely different realm. (p. 196)
So God seems to have been squeezed to the last, most untouchable place. God appears to be nothing more than an abstraction, invisible to science. Invisible to humanity.