I can’t speak for everyone else but I certainly have. In fact, the answers I give to people who ask me whether or not I’m an atheist depend on the definition of god that we’re dealing with in our conversations. If a friend and I are talking about Yahweh or Zeus, and I’m asked what I believe, I say I’m a strong atheist. But if we’re talking about an Aristotelian prime-mover, then I’m a weak atheist. If we define god in some Einsteinian way and say that god is the sum of all of the laws of nature, then I’m a believer. But as someone once said, “This God is emotionally unsatisfying…it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.”
On the other hand, if we have no meaningful definition for god in the first place, then there wouldn’t be much of a point in talking about it at all until we had defined god in some way before beginning our conversation.
I’m not Bruno, but hopefully you wont mind if I hazard an answer to that
If “God” is capable of creating the universe, and we’ve yet to understand the universe, how can we even attempt to understand a being that created it?
Scientific theory is constantly changing throughout the years. As our understanding of a subject improves, the theory changes to reflect that.
It’s common to look at theories thought up in the past 300 years and chuckle at how they tried to explain the phenomena we now understand better (light, gravity, etc). With what information was available to them, they tried to come up with a plausible theory for whatever specific subject they were focussed on. In a couple hundred years from now people will look at today’s theories and laugh the same way.
Really, this is the same situation surrounding religion. Religion is theory. It’s why in the past the Catholic church has been against discoveries which go against it’s teachings, such as Galileo’s theories. What he discovered disproved a piece of their religious theory.
Today we understand a staggering amount more about the Earth and surrounding space than the people did 2000+ years ago. To take a definition of God provided by people living over 2000 years ago, it’s not going to be vastly difficult to argue against what they suggested. These were people who didn’t even understand why it rains, so felt that if there’s a drought it’s due to them offending God in some way. I think it would be a mistake to consider the possibility of the existence of God only by what these people defined it to be.
I don’t believe it’s possible to provide a definition of a limitless being capable of creating the universe and all that’s in it, without inadvertently placing some sort of limitation in the definition. To restrict a god by morality, power, appearance, gender, name, or any other attempt at defining a part of it, that is a limit. Everything that isn’t a part of that definition forms a border around what we are claiming god to be. Essentially we’d be taking a supposed infinite being and making it finite so that we can understand it.
I think it is possible to believe in the existence of a God without definition simply by believing that the universe was created by that God. With no attempt to claim how or why it was created by that god, there’s no attempt to limit that God to a specific morality, personality, purpose, etc. God just is.
However… our minds are inherently curious, so we always want to know the who, what, when, how, and why? But we may never have those answers, unfortunately.
i’m not exactly sure if people have already covered this, but i did read most of what was written here and i agree with Josh and Dreamer a lot.
i think pragmatism comes into play here when we’re dealing with the definition of god. if god is defined, then there are all the ways that Josh and Dreamer said to put him in check, and if god isn’t defined, and when it all boils down in the end, who really cares? if god can be everything and anything and he steps outside the bounds of all logical rules of argument like, “oh god just IS” or “god doesn’t have to be defined” or, “god is the universe” then god really has no weight to him. some of you say he’s there, but that he doesn’t care to interact with us. if he doesn’t care to interact with us and life would carry on just the same, then the existance of god doesn’t really matter anyways.
Dreamer: consider the following theory of god, which is actually just a modern version of the theory of Plato’s that James started this topic with (adapted by yours truly from an ancient Muslim theory of god which we’re not getting into right now): 1. Things that come to be, come to be for a reason.
(This is reasonable to assume if we’re playing Logic in the first place — if you don’t believe things can be rationalised, then that whole “science” thing wouldn’t mean much to you anyway.)
Existence came to be.
(After all, existence is our definition of being, before existence, there was no verb “to be”).
Therefore, existence came to be for a reason.
Therefore, there is something beyond existence.
[color=#666666][size=100]An aside: do notice that “d” doesn’t necessarily follow from “c” — are we omitting a passage here? Yes: “d” is an enthymeme, whose expanded version would be “provided its reasonable to assume existence cannot be itself its own cause, there is something beyond existence.” But what’s that? A doxa — “it is reasonable that” — in the middle of the argument? How dirty!
Well, that’s how it works with metaphysics: I’ll make a bet with you, if you think you’ve found a completely logical argument from which the existence or non-existence of god follows, then there’s an doxa in hiding somewhere. The only things that can make religion (that is, both theism and atheism) look undoubtedly true are a faith leap and rhetoric.[/size][/color]
Lets call the reason for existence “god.” It’s just a name I’m giving to it. Now, if you accept that theory — for the sake of discussion, assume it, I’ve checked it and even pointed its flaws, so you know it is a valid theory and you know what its premises are, even the hidden one — if you accept it, then you’ll have to agree the definition of god is impossible, for god is beyond existence and therefore beyond epistemology: even to metaphysics, according to this theory, a precise definition of god is impossible.
What we can do, according to it, in terms of defining god is just as much as saying “god is beyond understanding,” since god is beyond all there is and therefore “is” not, themselves, anything. In other words, our model of god here states that god is beyond the verb “to be.” So, see, I’m being rational, I’m using a theory whose premises I’m well aware of, and whose conclusions is that there “is” god and god “is” the reason for existence, but which also makes it clear that god cannot be defined.
There you go. Logical faith in god sans definition of god.
But Bruno, I could just as easily gather from everything you just said that God is “the reason for existence”. That’s a definition of sorts, isn’t it?
I mean it just seems to me that by doing this, we’re saying God cannot be defined as anything that is…but really, all we’ve done is define him as something that cannot be defined as something that is, which is really just another definition, albeit a not a precise one (but if god is so vague, who cares about being precise, since we can’t be).
In strictly formal terms, in formal logic, you’re right, that’s a definition of sorts for god. " ‘God’ if and only if ‘beyond being’." But formal logic is not the best you can do, now, is it? In terms of epistemology, god can’t be made into an episteme according to that theory. In terms of metaphysics, god is beyond understanding according to that theory. In terms of science, god is an irrelevant concept. Et cetera. For all schools of thought except for the strictest kind of formal logic, god’s unreachable, and all formal logic can say about god is that they are beyond any inference other than that they are beyond any inference.
I agree, but as an atheist I’m not the one who’s putting god within a strictly metaphysical framework, all I do is respond to the many definitions of god which people seem to arrive at despite the logic we’ve discussed here. After all most believers do not limit themselves to this strict formal logic at all; they reject the definition of god as something undefinable, and then give it a name, attribute to it certain characteristics, etc. And when someone (not me ) actually does this, it makes it a lot easier to actually check and see if such a god is or isn’t real, since it entails claims about the universe that we could potentially falsify.
Hence my status as an atheist will differ depending on which god someone’s asking me about. That’s all I really mean to say.
Troober - By definition of God I don’t mean such things as you said, such as gender morality e.t.c. (even though most religions do claim to know these things). Rather what I meant was such definitions as you just posted. E.g.
“If “God” is capable of creating the universe”
“a being that created it”
“simply by believing that the universe was created by that God”
“a limitless being capable of creating the universe and all that’s in it.”
You have defined God here as a limitless being which created the universe. That’s the sort of definition I was talking about.
Bruno - assuming that theory is logically true, it’s not really saying much different from the first of the basic definitions of God I proposed.
“Lets call the reason for existence “god.”” is surely the same as “Without God the universe would not be”
I do accept that the second of my definitions - that God is conscious - can’t be drawn from that theory. So you know what, if the theory is true, I believe in God, if it is reasonable to assume that something outside the universe created God and we call that something God then I’d be foolish to not believe in it.
But equally I could say that it is reasonable to assume that somebody built that house across the road from me, and I call that something God. I could certainly say I was a theist then. But by this time the word has lost all meaning, and I don’t really see the point of its use. Wouldn’t it be better simply to say that you believe there is something outside of the universe rather than you believe in God.
I’m not really sure what you’re trying to say here.
On an aside I don’t think that theory follows logically through. For a start there’s B - “Existence came to be” - how do we know existance hasn’t been around for ever?
Then the bit you already pointed out about D. “provided its reasonable to assume existence cannot be itself its own cause, there is something beyond existence.”
If you assume it’s true, which I don’t assume, nor do I assume it’s false, I don’t think we can know. But if you assume it’s true then I also say it would be fair to apply the theory to the something outside of existance.
A) Things that come to be come to be for a reason
B) Something outside of existance came to be
C) Therefore, something outside of existance came to be for a reason.
D) Therefore, there is something beyond something beyond existance.
And you could go on.
This is going back to the origional first cause argument, and it’s why I can’t accept these types of theories. If the definition of God is that it caused existance because existance cannot have caused itself to exist then it doesn’t logically follow on that God can have caused itself to exist.
Now, it may be true that God caused itself to exist and then caused the universe to exist, but if something can have caused itself to exist why add that extra step of God into a logical theory. It may be true but it doesn’t neccessarily follow on,
In my mind the only logical explanation we can have is this.
Wrong! See, "if ‘god’ then ‘universe exists’ " being right doesn’t mean "if ‘fjdos’ then ‘universe exists’ ". Without god, it might be that the universe would be — with another cause. What I’m saying is, the reason (or set of reasons) for our existence to exist, that I am calling ‘god.’ If the universe could go by with another set of reasons, I don’t know and I can’t make any inference about that.
Wait — the theory doesn’t say god is conscious but it also doesn’t say they’re not. It doesn’t even say it is possible to frame god in a “consciousness” concept, perhaps god is “beyond conscience”: after all, they are beyond our existence, and therefore the rules that apply to them are not the same that apply to us. But no, my minimalistic theory of god only tries to prove the presence of a creator. It does not know about grand designs, or about god being present right now, or about god being a god of love or hatred, or if god themselves were created by a god god of sorts. The more complex you want your god to be, the less elegant your theory will look.
I don’t see the point here. What are you talking about? Guy across the road is not the “reason for existence to be,” how can you call him god?
(Oh, and before you and Josh point out “reason for existence to be” is a definition of god: it isn’t. “Reason…to be” expresses a logical relation of material implication, so when you say “god’s the reason for existence to be,” you’re saying “god–>existence” and not “god=reason” which in fact would turn out to have contradictory consequences).
That there are valid theories whose consequences is “god–>existence” without necessarily giving a definition for “god”. Want the whole derivation in symbolic logic?
It’s a premise. You don’t have to agree with it. But! What makes you think time is beyond existence? I’m saying it came to be in the big picture: in the nothingness that would be much simpler than an existence to be. Have you stopped to think about it? Why is there a universe? Is it really of any decency to say it just happened that nothingness was easier but perchance an existence came to be? with time and space and whatnot? And that then a singularity, which came out of nowhere, exploded and now the universe came to be as well?
Hell. That’s a contradiction — in fact, skepticism arrives at as much logical contradictions as science. Assuming the world we see is real, everything points towards there being something bigger and beyond our universe — beyond space, and beyond time even. I’m just saying the universe came to be in the bigger picture. This can’t be proved (as nothing can, anyway) but it’s the general commonsense among scientists nowadays: there is more.
At no point we said the thing “beyond existence” “came to be,” in fact, as our definition of “existence” is “things that are,” anything “beyond existence” is also "beyond the verb ‘to be’ " which is the whole point I’m trying to make here: god doesn’t need to have a reason, because he didn’t “come to be,” because he’s “beyond existence,” so saying “god is” in the sense of “god exists” is wrong according to that theory. God happens — or rather god happened, at least once. God might “exist” in a different sense than we exist, in his beyond-existence. You’re not keeping to the theory, Dreamer.
Lets see the theory again, shall we? In symbolic logic this time (with due explanations), because you’re not keeping to it:
(The second line might be a bit tougher to figure out if you don’t know set theory, so short explanation: if a set exists, then it is a subset of itself, so proposing “existence exists” is the same as proposing “existence came to be”).
Here. See the first rule, “things that come to be come to be for a reason”? Formalised, it says: “for all things that are Real, there is a reason.” Now, see the conclusion: “if Real is not itself is own cause, then something Not Real is the cause to Real.” So god does not belong to the “Real” set, and therefore the rule doesn’t apply to them, so they might or might not have a cause, but as far as we can tell, it might be that god doesn’t have any causes.
Which is quite naïve, as you can’t prove that more than you can prove a whole theory of god. See, Descartes tried to find some kind of truth that was incontestable, and came up with “I think therefore I am” which is a proof that “I exist” because “I think.” Nietzsche pointed out that he couldn’t possibly know he was the cause to thoughts (“I think”) let alone that that thoughts were a proof of him (“thoughts exist–>I exist”) and elegantly demonstrated after a long argumentation I’m not getting into that the only absolute truth, the only one men are able to prove, one which is besides science and philosophy and is the one big truth you can be sure about for ever is:
Some thoughts exist.
So unless you’re defining your universe as “some thoughts,” then no, you can’t prove that it’s there. It’s commonsense that it is. It looks like it is, but perhaps… the universe is just “some thoughts” and is not really out there. Your skepticism strikes me as being just as dogmatic as the beliefs you attack. It’s like contemporary political correctness: “people who think they’re better than others are wrong; we, who don’t think like that, are right, therefore we’re better than them”… You’re just as contradictory as the religions you attack!
That’s no more ridiculous than saying that a god who exists outside of what is real (and therefore isn’t real) did it. Besides, most scientists worth their salt don’t say that the universe came from a singularity which exploded out of nothing. As you say, “it’s the general commonsense among scientists nowadays: there is more,” which I would somewhat agree with. But as I discuss below, I simply don’t call it god, but the reason for that is a matter of language, not metaphysics.
Anyways I’m like Dreamer; I’m just not satisfied with this sort of argument, because if you answer the question “Why is there a universe?” with “God created it,” then you’re just stuck at “Why is there a God?” And if the answer to that is “God just is (even though he isn’t because he exists apart from existence),” then why don’t we just save a step and say that the universe just is (not just the local universe…the whole thing, whatever that whole thing is.)
After all, all one is doing by saying “God just is,” is creating an ad hoc explanation to solve a problem that nobody can actually solve…whereas it might, just might, someday be theoretically possible to solve the mysteries surrounding the natural universe.
This is where the importance of getting definitions straight comes in, and just for the heck of it I’ll throw my two cents in: if the thing that created this universe, which is “something bigger and beyond our universe,” is a conscious intelligence of some sort, then sure, it should probably be called god. That’s word the word implies, some sort of entity. But if, as you’ve argued, the only thing we can possibly establish about this creative thing is that it is something vague which exists outside of our existence, then why call it god? It could be any number of things. For example; perhaps our universe sprang from some sort of multiverse, thus the cause of our universe would be beyond our existence, yet it would be a natural phenomenon, and not a god. Now, there’s no way we can say what the case is at this point. So, that is why I don’t use the word ‘god’ (and why I call myself an atheist and not a pantheist) to describe things like this…but then again I tend to be overly-picky with words
Well, Josh, but now you’re trying to force me into your framework, aren’t you? forcing personification into god. I needn’t think like that. Assuming logic — some sort of logic, even if it’s not our logic — extends to the spheres of Beyond, we could say god is the intangible trends behind the forces of nature. Am I sounding esoteric here? Let me try to make this exoteric then: I could argue, for instance, that the trend of samsara is an echo of god in our universe. Does this personify god? No more than a thunder personifies electromagnetism. But if god is responsible for trends and events, if we are to assume that, then there is, at some level, some logic of sorts governing god’s behaviour — and that logic of sorts can be understood in a manifold of ways.
/me stops this post to see what’s going on out of the window, as he’s seeing a series of lights flashing in the horizon, similar to lightnings, but too numerous and rhythmic to be so, not to mention he’s not hearing any thunder (or any bang or crack for that matter).
… nevermind, I don’t know what that was. And now it stopped.
Anyway. Back to what I was saying: god being beyond existence only means they’re one step further than metaphysics, so to speak. That we can understand this world through physics; and what’s behind this world through metaphysics; and god through some parametaphysical thought of some sort. If physics are already an allegorical representation of the world; and metaphysics, an allegorical representation of what’s beyond the world; the study of god would be an uncertain, esoteric set of intricate allegories and representations… So complex, in fact, we could just never mind giving it a mathematical formula and instead give it a personality. It would be beyond reach, anyway! (Well, who knows, life is a tiny little box full of surprises, if the M-Theory becomes falsifiable we’ll have made metaphysics into a science, who’s to say that can’t happen to our “parametaphysical” theory too…)
But that doesn’t mean I have to understand them under a personification. They’re just complex beyond easy comprehension, what’s a personality to one is a set of trends to someone else, and a kabbalistic geometric shape in the 50th dimension, and who’s to say any more about how people face god nowadays? Christians, Jews, Muslims… and all other monotheists! Because, see, that is the catch of contemporary monotheism. Up to Zarathustra and his dual theism, god was definable, but starting from the point you say “god is infinite and god is beyond and god is ineffable,” no-one’s to advocate something about god (“god is love,” “god is fear,” “god is the sum of all forces of nature”) without knowing that it might be that they’re just as right as someone claiming the exact opposite. After all, isn’t god infinite, beyond and ineffable? Who’s to say the godly logic of sorts doesn’t conciliate love with fear, or personification and mathematical symbolism?
I’m don’t mean to write a treatise on the undefined god here, I’m not an expert on the subject and in fact my conception of god* is another, I’m just defending the validity of a theory I don’t particularly adhere to, for the sake of devil advocating here, but I haven’t studied it in depth or anything. Look, all I’m saying is, yes, I agree with you, god can be one big blatant ad-hoc, and when I read the line where you said that, I smiled and wanted to go onto a different theory of god, but now I’m compromised with the theory I’m defending here and I must say: it might well be one big blatant ad-hoc, yes, but it needn’t be so. Add just a single new premise to the model I created, and bam! you have panentheism. Exchange that premise for a slightly different one, and there you go, you have naturalism.
Seriously! That model is not all bad. Provided we’re talking about things “beyond,” and therefore things which are of no scientific relevance, things which cannot be falsified anyway… Things that can be, thus, ad-hocs, because that’s what metaphysics are made of; since that’s what we’re down to here, that’s not a bad model at all. It all depends on how you project it onto reality, and in that sense, like I said, it’s just a couple of premises away from religious thoughts I know you entertain and respect.
My conception of god, nota bene, as I have become a theist of sorts, out of embarrassment with the atheist community, but a weird kind of theist for that matter.
Well, religious thoughts…that depends on what we mean by religion…but that discussion would open up a whole other can of worms
But I don’t really disagree with you regarding the rest, I just choose to use different words than you. In fact you probably could have caught me, in the past, using ‘god’ to describe any set of descriptions regarding that big gap in our knowledge when it comes to the origins of the cosmos, or the laws that describe how said cosmos operates. But now, simply for clarity’s sake (although after this discussion I’m not sure whether using or not using the word ‘god’ this way makes anything any clearer anyway ), I just choose not to use the word ‘god’ that way.
I’d certainly be interested to hear about your theism
My point here is hidden in your answer. When I said that I could call the guy across the road God, your immediate reaction is that he can’t be God. Why don’t you think he can be God? Because he violates the definition you have in your head for what God is. If you have no definition in your head for what the word “God” means then, in my opinion, the word becomes meaningless. I could call my computer God, and how could you argue with that if you have no definition for what God is?
Even if you just say God is outside of existance, that to me is the start of a definition.
Ah, I understand what you’re saying. I’ll be honest, I know next to nothing about logic, and I’ve got no clue at all as to what those symbols mean. But I accept that this theory makes sense in it’s own terms.
I suppose the problem I have with these sorts of theories is the assumption that God has a different rule set to existance, and that it can make other things exist without actually existing itself. But I think that’s more of a problem with the ideas assumed to be true for the theory to work, rather than with the workings of the theory itself.
That’s a dirty trick, comparing me to political corectness
I accept unvierse was the wrong word to use, what I meant was that something exists, whether it be the whole universe we see, or just “some thoughts.”
I believe wholeheartadly that we can’t prove the universe (as we see it now) exists, my fault for using the wrong word! We have no disagreement here.
On a somewhat related note, Draginvry, I was reading the Cloud logs in the Archive this afternoon, and found out that at some point, in a completely unrelated conversation, we had the same model of God at play.
At some point in the discussion, you raised the problem of free will as an argument do defend your point, and I (this old devil advocate I’ve always been), countered your argumentation with the exact same model of a god out of the loop, in a much more didatic way. (Philosophy classes tend to make us write confusingly).
Worth checking that thread, it has a couple of interesting posts concerning the problem of universal causation, even though that wasn’t its main topic.
Back on to first cause as opposed to the nature of God:
We understand from the laws of energy and the conservation of mass that neither can be meaningfully destroyed, and equally neither can be created, both being essentially a constant, albeit in differing and transferable states. Therefore it follows that the only thing that could cause the creation of an expanding universe would be the destruction of a collapsing universe with equal energy and mass to that which is created.
There is no place for a “god from beyond” in this universe, indeed, if there were a god here, it would be as a shaper more than a creater. People tend to think that referencing god as a creator means that he created everything, from scratch: God created matter, before God there was nothing. But I ask you: Does a sculptor create the stone with which he works?
We actually don’t know that. And, like Turin said in another topic, the mainstream theory of Physics is falling in discredit because it can explain very little among the phoenomena there are, and has been failing to provide new ways to be tested anyway. And, theoretically, there’s always space for a god from beyond. Not that I believe in him, but he is still plausible.
OK then, so for a cause of God, maybe we should look to Teilhard for an explanation. It is often assumed that a God would be some vastly different being than us, with unfathomable motives (esp. by the religious) but what if the cause of God was us, the pinacle, or maybe not the pinacle but certainly a high mark in human evolution, from the increasing noosphere all the way up to Omega point. In which, if we are to follow Teilhard’s theory:
it must be already existing; this is the only way to explain the rise of the universe towards higher stages of consciousness.
it must be personal – an intellectual being and not an abstract idea; the complexification of matter has not only led to higher forms of consciousness, but accordingly to more individualized forms of personality, of which human-beings, who are “self-reflective”, are the highest attained form of this personalization of the universe. They are completely individualized, free centers of operation. It is in this way that man is said to be made in the image of God, who is the highest form of personality. He expressly states that in the Omega Point, the human person and their freedom will not be suppressed, but super-personalized. Personality will be infinitely enriched. Omega Point, then, is a Person. And not a Person like you and I, but a higher form of Person. A Divine Person.
it must be transcendent; Omega Point can not be the result of the universe’s final complexification of itself on consciousness. Omega Point, instead, is the prime mover, ahead, which draws the universe towards itself. Which essentially means, that Omega Point is outside the framework in which the universe rises. If it was found only in the framework of the universe it could not explain how the universe was able to rise to higher forms of consciousness.
it must be autonomous – nonlocal and atemporal
it must be irreversible, that is it must be attainable.
It is the fourth of these five attributes that I find most interesting, as it states that it will be outside of, and as such free from the restrictions of, time and space, and there you have your God.