27 Mar 2022
I have decided to take a philosophical turn with this blog, because why the Dickens not. Philosphers love doing useless crap (just kidding, I heart you guys), so in that spirit I have converged upon the ultimate philosophical waste of time: Does god exist?
Right so as a good proto-philsopher, it’s important to start with definitions in order to elucidate the subsequent discussion. What do we mean by ‘god’?
I distinguish between two broad formulations.
Formulation 1: The man in the sky
This notion of god would have him as a physical being, residing in a physical place in the universe (in our exemplar, the sky). So basically, a bloke a lot like you or I, except holding some mysterious interest in/sway over mundane human matters.
Now I think we are quite justified in concluding with an extremely high level of confidence that this god does not exist. First of all, you’d think we would have located him by now. And don’t give me that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence claptrap - if I look extensively in the place where the thing would be if it existed and turn up nothing, then that is evidence that the thing ain’t there. But more than that, this hypothetical being would, according to most ideas about god, have various supernatural powers/properties that are contrary to basically everything that we know and believe about anything. If we ever found him, this lad would have a lot of explaining to do. The physics textbooks would have to be re-written for a start.
Alright so let’s move on to the next door.
Formulation 2: The whatcha-ma-callit in the thing-ma-bob
Admittedly, this one is a bit more abstract. But I think it is the concept of god that most believers have, whether they acknowledge it or not. Namely; god as a mysterious, supernatural and completely intangible entity. There is no experiment that we could do, not even in principle, that would allow us to reasonably adjust our degree of belief in his existence one way or the other. God transcends all that pedestrian stuff.
At this point my reply is pretty simple: I consider this to be the definition of something that does not exist. Like, if someone tells me there’s a gnome on my shoulder, but this gnome does not interact with our universe in any intelligble way and has a presence that is theoretically undetectable, then I am pretty uninterested in talking about the gnome. That is as long as I’m on a fact-finding mission about the universe. This gnome contains no information about the universe, and so frankly can take a running jump. Just another Russell’s teapot.
I think this is a reasonable definition of what it means for something to not exist, and I’m willing to engage in trial by combat with anyone who thinks otherwise.
Hang on, but isn't the idea of god interesting/useful?
For sure. And this is quite separate from the idea of whether god exists. Humans are quite capable of entertaining/believing in all manner of fantastical, self-inconsistent and just plain wrong things.
As a storytelling device god is absolutely unparalleled. I think the most compelling stories that have ever been told have all in one way or another been about god. As an organising idea for human behaviour and by extension a force guiding the course of human history, you’ll struggle to find anything more significant - religious stories have had as deep an impact on humanity as you care to realise. For my money, I think that god and religion provide a sort of familial superstructure to society - in Christianity it is the brotherhood of man under the paternal bond of god. I don’t think we stop having a deep yearning for a father figure as soon as we become adults ourselves. That’s our so-called god-shaped-hole, and it needs filled with something, gosh darnit. Indeed, I am semi-convinced that such superstructures are necessary/responsible for the emergence of humans from the wretched state of nature. And I have had my mind changed in a fairly major way in recent years on the merits of religion and the contributions that it has made to humanity. In short, I think it’s likely a net positive. But that’s a subject for another day.