You won't find God in the dictionary.
July 31, 2019 at 11:48 pm #27305
I have been giving some consideration as to why theists are unable to furnish us with a working definition of their god. Many just don’t grasp what we atheists don’t understand what they mean when they use the word “God”. This is because they presuppose that a god must exist. It is taken for granted by them and so becomes “obvious” to them that a Creator God they hear about must be real. Eventually they cannot imagine or even consider that their particular god could not exist.
During their normal daily lives they never have to give any consideration to the possibility that they may be wrong. He becomes an integral part of the inner conversation that goes on in their minds. They wake up in the morning and give “Him” thanks for another day. They pray to him each time they eat. They often spend their whole day (for years) mostly only dealing with other people who seem to believe in the same god that they believe in. They all adopt a common language in talking about their god and they have revivals and prayer meetings and all important family events happen surrounded by and embedded in a shared religious language. It would appear to each of them individually that they all collectively believe in the same version of the same God. A definition of what that god is not required by them because it is the core of their shared worldview. The belief has its strength in numbers and no single individuals doubt can ever survive long enough to take hold.
The problem comes when one of those individuals is asked by an atheist to describe what they mean when they use the word “God”. They don’t get that we don’t understand what they are talking about because it normally appears so real to them (as delusions do). When they try to give an explanation it become clear to us that they are not able to. So why is this? I think the best way to put it is to put it like this:
The god of their belief is not the god of their argument.
The God that they have in their minds (the only place gods exist), that they have a “personal relationship” with, that they talk to, that they pray to, that they come to rely upon, the God that eventually becomes “real” to them is nothing like the god they try to argue for. It is because of this that we get to hear a million and one definitions of god, all of which collapse upon the simplest of counter arguments. This in turn leads to the introduction of theological word games as per Jordan Peterson in a recent post. (Note, this is not a post about Peterson, just an example of a definition by an apologist). They sound profound and intelligently worded upon first hearing them but once again they are just “deepities”.
Here is part of his description of God:
Part of the concept of God that underlies the Western ethos is the notion that whatever God is, is expressed in the truthful speech that rectifies pathological hierarchies, that isn’t all it does, it also confronts the chaos of being itself and generates habitable order, that’s the metaphysical proposition, and that’s best conceptualized as at least one element of God; and so I would think about it as a transcendent reality that’s only observable across the longest of time-frames.
Even the first six words of it show that he is not talking about something real. He is talking about a concept. Concepts, even the concept of God, exist only in the mind. Everything after those words is irrelevant and can be dismissed without further consideration. He, like many other apologists then makes the common (to my experience in debates with theists) mistake of invoking Pascal’s Wager by claiming “that he acts as if God exists”. That is,as if his still undefined god exists in reality. This is a terrible argument for belief. Apart from virtual signalling, it is a very immature argument, especially when used by a Professor of Psychology. A grad student could stretch a thesis to almost a whole page debunking it. I mean anyone attempting a serious theological argument like this must know how intellectually impoverished it is to use it in a debate, yet they still do.
So is the common argument that all theists eventually use when they get frustrated by not being able to come up with a working definition: “Well you can’t prove god does not exist!” This is an even worse reason for considering your belief to be justified. “I believe in God because you can’t prove God does not exist” Well I might if you would be kind enough to tell me what you mean by “God”!!!!
It is because the god of their belief is not the god of their argument that theists get emotional and find it difficult to come up with a definition. They are not in the echo chamber company of other believers who think God is real because everyone else talks about God as they do. We are the opposite of the confirmation bias brigade that they depend on to reinforce their delusion.
Our questioning of their beliefs and our insistence on a definition of what they are claiming is real is not to ask them what the god in their minds means to them but to ask them what they mean by God in the first place.
Those that not too familiar with the theology of the apologists will compensate by claiming that humans have always had mystical or spiritual experiences. This is just another effort to deflect answering the question. Mysticism and spiritualism are just two more dodge words for super-naturalism.
Super-naturalism cannot define anything in the natural world. Their god cannot exist in the natural world so god is (obviously) supernatural. At best they have a subjective concept of what that god could be in their minds but they cannot articulate it in meaningful words because you cannot give a natural definition of a supernatural entity. If nothing supernatural exists in the natural world then it only exists in the mind of the believer. This is the god delusion. They are left trying to define something that exists only as a delusion. This is why the god of their belief is not the god of their argument.August 1, 2019 at 3:22 am #27306
Good post, and on the money I think.
Over the years I have been stunned at how differently people, even in the same sect, describe their god.Even more, how much the understanding of doctrine differs. EG whilst in the army, I had a discussion with one of my mates. He was adamant that Catholicism teaches reincarnation.
Happy clappers tend to be dismayed by my description of YHWH as; nasty, petty, jealous, vindictive, cruel, petulant, homicidal, totally lacking empathy or conscience. Actually seems more psychotic than autistic. I guess he could be both.
“Ten thousand monks, ten thousand religions” (Buddhist saying)August 1, 2019 at 1:48 pm #27310
Too many of them don’t realize that they just “believe in belief”. Belief for many is seen as a virtue. When I ask Christians what they think of Hindu beliefs I often get the reply “Well at least they believe in something” as if that elevates the beliefs of Hindus above the atheist lack of belief. They don’t comprehend that atheists hold the same position on the gods of Hinduism (all 33 million of them) that Christians hold. Neither of us believe in their existence yet they get credit for at least making an effort to believe something….you know because it is important to believe in something! Fortunately the Hindu gods take up the same amount of space in the cupboard as the Christian god does.August 1, 2019 at 9:43 pm #27311
If there are non-overlapping magisteria, you can’t expect to talk about the two domains in the same terms, i.e. scientific language. Jordan Peterson’s partial description is a good one if you take it on its own terms.
it also confronts the chaos of being itself and generates habitable order … a transcendent reality that’s only observable across the longest of time-frames
In other words, for JP, God helps us make sense of reality across a long time frame. Or something like that.
To talk about God in scientific language might seem bland and uninformative. God’s love is equivalent to the biological pressure to thrive. The two possess the same qualities (universal, personal, maximising) as inclusive fitness (likelihood to survive).August 1, 2019 at 10:48 pm #27312
Simon..I think I have a blunt around here somewhere, ah OK, here it is, please continue 😉August 2, 2019 at 12:05 am #27313
@simon – are you an advocate of NOMA as Gould understood it? When you say “God” what do you mean?
To talk about God in scientific language might seem bland and uninformative…
Religion is in conflict with Science but science is completely unconcerned with any notion of “god” or other super-naturalism. It only investigates the natural world because that is all there is. The religious try to explain that their books knew about scientific discoveries all along but what annoys them most is that Science, in the form of modern psychology, has explained religion for the mental phenomenon that it is. They just don’t see that they are deluded.
While this is not intended to be a discussion on JP, I am not sure how something that confronts the chaos of being itself and generates habitable order … a transcendent reality that’s only observable across the longest of time-frames could have a son and personal relationships with millions of people via telepathy while being concerned about their sexual preferences.
August 2, 2019 at 3:21 am #27315
- This reply was modified 2 months, 3 weeks ago by Reg the Fronkey Farmer.
Why would I need a definition when I just know something exists.
I’m talking about the Nazi base on the dark side of the Moon.August 2, 2019 at 8:29 am #27316
Even the first six words of it show that he is not talking about something real. He is talking about a concept.
Right there….you hit the nail on the head. He INTENDED to say it that way for a reason. He is a clinical psychologist.
I realize that you said this isn’t a post about Jordan Peterson, I just have to point out the fact that if you listen to a lot of his lectures, he uses mythological archetypes to describe human behavior a lot. Not just with God. But with many different types of stories….And I really don’t understand what’s confusing about what he said.
Me personally, I just can’t jump on the atheist bandwagon anymore. I think the thing that has done it for me it’s looking at span of human history. Every single culture over every single generation has had some form of a concept of God in some way. There is lots of evidence that that is not insignificant. It has actually contributed to our evolution overtime and aided our survival. That to me is one of the many reasons why I am no longer an atheist. There have been many concepts of God over time… And yes they are concepts. What else could they possibly be besides concepts?August 2, 2019 at 9:10 am #27317
he uses mythological archetypes to describe human behavior a lot….
Mythological archetypes do not exist in reality. As a clinical psychologist he should describe human behavior by comparing it to human behavior and not to entities that do not exist in reality. You can attribute human traits to gods and other mythological creatures in order for humans to understand the context of the myth but the reverse does not work because mythological archetypes have no traits until they are conjured up in our imaginations and they we, as humans, assign them as descriptors. Mythology is just another form of super-naturalism. If I am ever in need of a psychologist I would hope that he or she would not describe my struggle to overcome something with an analogy to Jack’s struggle in climbing the beanstalk.August 2, 2019 at 9:30 am #27318
As a clinical psychologist he should describe human behavior by comparing it to human behavior and not to entities that do not exist in reality.
No, as it turns out, fiction is a very effective tool for learning. Even when the entity in the story isn’t “real.” I was JUST reading an article on that last night I’ll have to dig it up.
Before the printing press we learned through oral tradition (another phenomena that has existed as long as we have). Stories are how we teach our children, and how we entertain ourselves (like a good Netflix binge)….or a trip to the opera….It all serves a very valuable purpose.August 2, 2019 at 9:35 am #27319
….I would hope that he or she would not describe my struggle to overcome something with an analogy to Jack’s struggle in climbing the beanstalk.
Good for you. But what about a 4 year old. Would you expect to read them a line from a Dawkins book to make them feel better about something they are struggling with? Or would you connect with them through story?August 2, 2019 at 9:47 am #27320
Every single culture over every single generation has had some form of a concept of God in some way. There is lots of evidence that that is not insignificant. It has actually contributed to our evolution overtime and aided our survival….
No, they have had concepts of “a” god, not one particular god called “God”. They had these concepts (yes, concepts) because we were a ignorant species for thousands of years. Because we had none of the correct answers for why we had famines or flooding or volcanic activity, the “concept” of gods arose because we prefer an answer, even a wrong one, to none at all.
If you had seriously undertaken a study of the history of religion and the evolution of belief this would be self-evident. But Christians barely know the history of how their Bible was compiled, never mind making an effort to study religion itself.
That to me is one of the many reasons why I am no longer an atheist..
Because we have a history of religious belief does not make a claim that a god exists to be real. That is wishful thinking. I am an atheist because I do not believe in the existence of any god. I do not care if for all of history people did. I do not care if a billion Christians, a billion Muslims and a billions Hindus all claim that their undefined gods are real. I think they are all mistaken. But don’t dismiss that as you firmly believe 2 billion of them are mistaken.
It has actually contributed to our evolution overtime and aided our survival…
Expect for at least the first few million years of our existence before we used language, which we probably only evolved to do in order to share knowledge about tool making. Since we have now figured out the psychology of “god belief” we no longer need religion to answer any questions….well, except for those psychologists who don’t understand the psychology behind it.
Religious beliefs did help us evolve to an extent when we in our infancy but the organized religions of the last 2000 years have not. It retarded our progress for 1500 years of that time. It still does but has been dwindling away for the last 400 years since the Enlightenment.August 2, 2019 at 11:37 am #27321
We call our own voice in our head god, we call our yearning for everlasting life and eternal justice god. We call our need for unity, cooperation and leadership god. We call our desire to understand the universe god. It’s just a nice simple answer for all our existential needs that easily overpowers the lack of any evidence. We are very needy creatures living on a knife edge. We just want everything to be alright; therefore god.August 2, 2019 at 12:39 pm #27323
Stories are how we teach our children, and how we entertain ourselves (like a good Netflix binge)….or a trip to the opera….It all serves a very valuable purpose.
I think it’s because we live our lives in stories, and we understand a good story better than any other medium of information. So, I think the same applies to teaching by topic – each topic has a story, and is most easily understood as a story.August 2, 2019 at 12:44 pm #27324
Religion is in conflict with Science
Only where they seek to explain the physical world, which religion doesn’t need to concern itself with, except to assert the reality of their fantastical founding myths (the resurrection, Mohammed talking to the angel). However, the religions don’t rely on those founding myths in order to be effective.
Other than that, religion has a major spiritual side that science doesn’t have: concerning itself with the long-term well-being (emotional, moral, and otherwise) of the person. So, if done right, it has value and there is a need for it in society.
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