The title’s a bit of a hyperbole but I just couldn’t resist using it. It’s been an interesting, if typical, week discussing gods with believers. I have been told that I would get Real Soon Now™ the “right” answer to Romans 9; that claiming that I believed something I do not is just incorrect not a lie, even after I corrected them about their misapprehensions; that God is non-empirical so how dare I expect empirical evidence (like what’s presented is in the bible as evidence for this god, you know). That last one was from one of those Christians, “soul device”, who is sure that those Christians who believe the bible, and what they were taught in Sunday School are just sadly ignorant and that only they, the Roman Catholic Sophisticated Theologian™, knows what his god truly is and truly wants but of course only up to the point of it causing problems and then this god becomes “unknowable”. It was entertaining to watch the progression from personal god that loves, wants certain things, hates certain things, does miracles, and supposedly has gobs of historical evidence, become non-empirical in the space of about two paragraphs.
In the vein of misapprehensions, in my Sunday paper, there is a new God Squad article (can you have a squad with just one person?). Herein, Rabbi Gellman addresses two querents’ questions about atheism and why this god seems rather inept. As always, my posts aren’t short at all. Read at your own risk. (NOTE: this post does rehash many arguments made before on this blog. I do wish theists would come up with new things more often. The “non-empirical” claim was pretty original but awfully easy to show how it failed. Oh well, it keeps my typing skills healthy.)
The first question is an agnostic, a questionable claim as one can see, declaring that atheism is a religion and looking for the rabbi to agree. This agnostic claimed that his religious belief system is that the divine can’t be known by evidence provided by the scientific method, and that it requires faith, belief in the unprovable. Which is the religious claim of quite a few theists, see above. The problem here is that there is claim after claim of evidence for these various gods, which if true, could be put to the test using the scientific method (hypothesis, prediction, experimentation, repetition). So we have plenty of people saying that they indeed “can know” using evidence they claim exists.
The agnostic then claims that atheism is a religion because “it takes a leap of faith to assert the truth that no gods exist”. Lovely strawman, because no, it doesn’t take a leap of faith. It takes evidence that things happened other than the claims of the bible or of believers. If the claim of a god are precluded by evidence that does exist, then poof, there goes the god. Could there be a magical being that cares for humans, and will do magic for them, and created the earth, but this god doesn’t bother now? Yep, and there is a similar chance that there is a many armed deity that is the personification of destruction and that there is a jolly old elf that comes down chimneys on the 24th of December and can be tracked by NORAD. That chance? Essentially none and evidently this is plenty of reason why Christians don’t believe in Kali or adults believe in Santa Claus. Those aren’t religions too are they?
Rabbi Gellman says that atheists make a “fundamental mistake” in believing that the absence of proof for his god is the proof of his god’s absence. However, that is the same evidence that the rabbi uses for his disbelief in other gods. The rabbi does make the point that some theists claim that the only evidence for his god is rational “evidence”, the claim of logical arguments prove his god exists. This would be the cosmological argument, the ontological argument, etc, which bizarrely can and does include the argument from aesthetic experience e.g. if you think Bach sounds pretty, then a god exists. These all can be used for just about any god you might name, not just the Jewish or Christian god. Believers always seem to forget to mention this and consistently present these “logical arguments” as only applying to their god and no other. Oh and for those who would say that “no True Christian would use such silly arguments like the argument from the aesthetic experience” just feast your eyes on silliness from a person who is supposedly a great apologist.
The rabbi goes onto claim that these arguments “do not claim that any other qualities of God can be definitively proved. Beyond the fact of God’s existence, every other quality of God must remain a mystery to us.” Which is utter nonsense since the bible, both OT and NT, claims to give out the truth about this god and its attributes. These claims are not presented as just “beliefs” but as facts. The rabbi tries to claim otherwise, falsely. It’s always rather amazing to me to watch people who will claim the bible as the truth in one case, will quickly retract that when it proves to be a problem. I’m more than happy to agree that the bible is fully of nonsense and does not describe any divine being at all, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a Jew or a Christian who agrees with that. They will bring out the magic decoder ring to pick and choose the parts that they want to be true.
“Atheists reach too far when they claim to know that these beliefs are false.” No, we are not reaching too far when we have evidence that the bible makes claims that are false, that other events happened in place of the supposed events of the bible and we can show that there is no evidence that the stories in the bible “give hope, moral purpose and compassion to believers and they sustain lives of virtue.” Again, the rabbi unfortunately relies on the nonsense that no one but believers can be decent, empathic, kind, humane people without his stories.
The rabbi does say that “Theists reach too far when they claim that just because these beliefs are recorded in religious texts and affirmed by religious leaders that they are provably true.” However, that’s exactly what the rabbi does. He tries to claim that he may have his own truths and that is a rather ridiculous concept, especially when religious truths are based on claims that anyone who doesn’t agree should be punished severely. When one claims that one has a truth that one doesn’t need evidence for and “that is all I need to know” then you have declared that you have no concern for the supportable truth. You have closed your mind to anything that dares to say you are wrong. “When I look into the night sky and see a bright star, it doesn’t matter if that star burned out long ago and all I’m seeing is the residue of its light. The twinkle in the darkness is enough for me to stand in awe.” I stand in awe too, but I don’t try to pretend that some magical being made it just for me and that other ridiculous stories are true too.
The rabbi starts off with a bang, saying that asking why God didn’t make life easier for us is a selfish question. I guess it’s selfish to ask a direct question of a deity that supposed wants the very best for us but has a funny way of showing it; I’d say it was just looking for an honest answer. He says it’s okay to ask why this god didn’t make life just a little bit easier. The answer? Why yes, you’ve guessed it: “That’s a wonderful question because it forces us to admit that we don’t understand the mind of God”. But golly if theists don’t make claims that they know this god wants this and that, and the other thing. We have pages and pages saying exactly what this god is thinking and what this god wants in both the OT and NT. Now, if we don’t understand this god, and it seems that we do not understand it at all by the rabbi’s claim which mentions no exceptions, then the bible is utterly worthless per the believers.
The rabbi believes that his god wants humans to do its work, which is pretty much impossible to differentiate from not needing a god at all. It is a lovely example of how a theist does claim to know the mind of their god pretty well. Per Gellman, we should be happy that this god “gave us a world that’s fertile enough and resilient enough to feel and shelter us” *and* “point our way to the Creator of all life but not so fertile or resilient that it’s utterly immune to our predations – our pollution and violence, greed and indolence.”
Again, this speaks to a quite arrogant idea that the rabbi’s god is the one responsible for the universe and that belief that as long as you are happy and healthy, why the earth is just perfect. Don’t mind those poor folks who live in places that aren’t so wonderful through no fault of their own and who get infested by guinea worms, have to deal with malaria, drink arsenic laced water, etc, all which are very natural things thanks to biology and geology, and per the rabbi, put right there by his god. I’m guessing that somehow the rabbi would blame humans for this. Perhaps those people are just too lazy? Another common excuse is that this god put those things there to harm those people so us people who have it pretty good have something to practice our humanity on. What a sad thing, to think that someone else should suffer so you can show off. Not that this is a strange thing for someone who believes in this god, which did exactly that in that story of the “exodus”.
Finally, Rabbi Gellman gives us a rather glurgy story about how heaven and hell are the same to excuse his god; that everyone is at a feast but their arms are locked straight so they can’t feed themselves. In heaven, the people feed each other; in hell they don’t. The rabbi believes that this god is waiting for us to choose what to do. The problem with this story is that this god character didn’t need to lock anyone’s arms at all and it did. I’m more than happy to be sure that there is no god that would do such a thing.
If heaven is humans just working together, then we don’t need a god at all and it certainly seems we don’t have one. We just need to work harder at realizing that there are no differences between humans, including those religions that say that anyone who doesn’t believe in a particular god should be harmed. That’s what the rabbi’s religion says. That’s what Islam and Christianity say and quite a few others, though not all. Humans can do without that nonsense.
The next post in the “not so polite dinner conversation” will probably be a bit on the story of “exodus”. The Discovery channel had a special on since there is a rather amusing looking movie out about it to try to cash in. I am guessing it’s about as “good” as the whole noah nonsense.