Why Believe (or Disbelieve) in God?

Monday, December 19, 2005 -- 4:00 PM
Ken Taylor

Today's show is about the existence, or non-existence, of God.     Our guest will be Walter Sinnot-Armstrong.  This is Walter's second appearance on Philosophy Talk.  He did a great job on our episode about moral dilemmas.   And we're pleased to have him back.

I gather, from our research team's pre-interview with Walter, that he  is a die-hard atheist.   He thinks that there is ample reason to doubt God's existence and no good reason to affirm god's existence -- at least if one means the all powerful, all loving, all knowing god, existing outside of space and time.   Since it's a season of religious, and quasi-religious holidays,  we thought it might be fun to actually reflect on the rationality, or lack thereof, of the religious beliefs that lie behind the celebration of such holidays. 

I'm going to post a long thread about today's topic after the show  It's a topic I've thought a great deal about for a long time.  I grew up in an intensely religous family and  in my youth,  I myself was a pretty intense and sincere believer.  When I was in my midteens,   though, something happened and I began to have serious  doubts.  I went on to Notre Dame where I met lots of very reflective and caring Catholics, whose religious belief played a major role in what sometimes seemed to me incredibly exemplary lives of service and compassion.  With my then girlfriend,  I would often go to high Mass.  That was a moving experience.    For a brief period,  I even contemplated converting to Catholicism.   That now seems like a distant past and another self to me.

But enough about me.  I opened this thread to find out what some of you think.   I invite you to weigh in with your own reaons for belief  or disbeilef.    If your  comments are succint and well argued,  we may have a chance to get to them on the air today.

So have at it, folks!  But be warned,  we will delete comments that violate the spirit of reasoned and cooperative inquiry and will also ban those who violate from posting any further.

Comments (18)


Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, December 19, 2005 -- 4:00 PM

Putting aside all the impersonal arguments for and

Putting aside all the impersonal arguments for and against the existence of a God who stands beyond nature and takes an interest in human affairs -- whether the universe betrays a *design* or not, whether the concept of God implies his existence, etc. -- the two most compelling arguments for and against his existence follow from human experience. (I'm more persuaded by the first argument, against, but if I were to be persuaded in favor of God it would be by the second argument, for):
Against: wish-fulfilment. God is just too convenient a concept. Everything difficult about a grown-up view of human life -- that it ends once and for all, that there's no giant mommy and daddy approving and taking note of what we do, that often the bad prosper while the good suffer, that we must decide for ourselves how and why to live -- all of this is answered and denied by faith in a God who grants life after death, to whom our deeds and misdeeds matter, who assures a moral order in the face of apparent cosmic indifference, and who gives us rules by which to live. Just too reassuring and, if you ask me, infantile.
For: the insufficiency of Darwin to explain the richness of human experience. I don't mean that Darwin can't explain the physical design of the human body and mind. What I mean is that, to explain morality, humor, aesthetic appreciation, and so forth under a darwinian account requires you to dismiss the reality and centrality of those spheres of existence. They're generally shrugged off as selfish genes gone awry, incidental and developmentally hypertrophied "spandrels", or elaborate (and implausible) mechanisms for surviving on the savannah. I'm still an atheist, but goodness, beauty, funniness, all the stuff that makes up human life, requires some sort of explanation that the run-of-the-mill atheist world-view has yet to offer.
Thanks for the show!
-Joe

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, December 19, 2005 -- 4:00 PM

I am atheistic, but nowhere near in the sense that

I am atheistic, but nowhere near in the sense that many people seem to assume -- my disbelief in God or a higher power is founded in the belief that I don't think it matters, not that I have a stake in whether it's provable or significant that God exists.
Likewise, I don't side with agnostics, who seem weak-spined at best, or hard-hearted aetheists who take it upon themselves to puncture others' fantasies about their Gods.
Regards, and Merrrrrry Xmas,
Bob

Stephen White's picture

Stephen White

Monday, December 19, 2005 -- 4:00 PM

The basic proposition of your guest - that to be w

The basic proposition of your guest - that to be worth discussing, 'God' must be personalized - is incorrect; good for writing a book, but a false presupposition. Further, the assumption that a non-personalized God is undemanding is simplistic.
Let us assume that 'God' is a phenomenon which is a property of matter - how 'bout a God Boson; something along those lines. I postulate that the presence of this property manifests, among other ways, in the experience of "being called" to behave in ways that are, frequently, profoundly inconvenient: people who experience this 'call' often sacrifice materialistic comfort, as well as significant amounts of their time (the one irreplaceable resource) to try to meet the demands of this 'call'. This is hardly a weak, insignificant 'God'. The fact that most of the people who do these things personalize their experience with religious trappings, merely shows the limits of their consciousness; it does nothing to illuminate the actual nature of the source of their experience of 'being called'. Further, the fact that people trot out their religious dogma as a rationalization for doing appaling things, says everything about people, but nothing about the question of the existence or nature of God.
I think that you guys have a great show, but I think that you need to switch to a 90-minute format: you routinely run out of time, just as you finally wade through the historical reasoning on a topic, or you wind up compromising the discussion to avoid that problem.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, December 19, 2005 -- 4:00 PM

I'm a natural-born unbeliever. Even as a kid I cou

I'm a natural-born unbeliever. Even as a kid I couldn't fathom how my friends could believe that stuff. It just seemed obvious that the stories about an invisible guy in the sky, and talking "serpents," and a floating, home-made menagerie were all (or at least in pertinent part) made-up. None of it held nearly as much verisimilitude for me as, say, Superman. Or Bugs Bunny. (A ratiocinating rabbit--now that's at least plausible.) As I got older, the arguments (such as they were) got more rarefied and (so it seemed to me) obfuscatory, but as the dialectic ran its course the same old conclusion persevered.
I suppose if I had to name one argument I thought was the most dispositive, I guess it would be the problem of evil.
(One time when I was ten or so I do remember desperately calling out to God when I thought I was going to get in trouble about something. [I forgot to make my bed, or something.] As it happened, well...nothing happened, and as hoped for I didn't get in trouble. I suppose someone inclined to experience the world religiously would have taken my good fortune as evidence of God's grace. But, you know, God was characteristically mute on this issue of helping me out of the fix I thought I was in, so I didn't think he should get any credit.)

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, December 20, 2005 -- 4:00 PM

A wise man once said that ?God is like a school

A wise man once said that ?God is like a school of tiny fishes, and the human mind is like a net with a wide mesh.? Rational arguments, for and against a Supreme Being, make the dodgy assumption that human consciousness can pin down the spiritual dimension. Many theologians believe you?d have better luck nailing jello to a wall. Amongst the inexplicable in the universe, God has to be pretty close to the top.
Belief in God is a matter of faith, but what of belief in the power of reason, or of the scientific method? Are those not ultimately faith based? Yes, scientists run experiments and gather empirical proofs, but so do monks and mystics apply spiritual theory in their ?experiments? of living and practical application of universal principles. Gandhi and King, for instance, gave the teaching of turning the other cheek a spin, and many devout people seek to live their lives in harmony with what they believe to be divine inspiration.
Life is full of unprovable assumptions. I assume I am not a brain in a vat. I assume I am not a god dreaming the universe into existence. I assume that the reader of this message is also a conscious being. Faith isn?t a dirty word, it?s essential to getting on with life. If believing in God makes you a better person, more power to you, and visa versa.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, December 22, 2005 -- 4:00 PM

I believe that "God" is the universal laws of Natu

I believe that "God" is the universal laws of Nature cloaked in anthropomorphic poetry: "Omnipresent" as particles and gravity. "Omniscient" as cause-and-effect, yet mysterious as chaos theory and quantum physics. "Perfectly good" as Gaia, our living planet/organism, honed by millennia of constantly evolving ecosystems. "God" is a linguistic way for humans to wrap their heads around the concept of infinite and perfect. Certainly, the human brain appears to its owners to be the best model on the market, but what a brief flicker on the screen it is thus far! Actually, a mindless, even Zen-like, oneness with the inexorable flow of combinatorially-exploded cause and effect has proved to be a far better model for survival against the irresistable forces of entropy, as well as extremely efficient at mass-reproduction--the bacteria, the insect, the toad that buries itself innertly for years until rain. Indeed, it strikes us as intelligent that the way things are is a well-designed state of affairs, because we are gifted with a delightfully keen appreciation of the lot we are dealt. I believe that it may prove to be one of our "senses" to detect beauty and harmony. I believe there is every evolutionary reason to think so, since areas that strike us as beautiful and harmonious are environments which contribute better to our physical and reproductive well-being.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, December 26, 2005 -- 4:00 PM

God to me is a word that is nebulous, but historic

God to me is a word that is nebulous, but historically has most commonly been used to gain some advantage for the person using it. This advantage may take the form of approval of one's parents, peer group, or prospective lover; or to achieve a position of power within a group. Tied up with this is a desire to experience something larger than ourselves. I think that this desire for the transcendent is embodied in our brains in some form that we have yet to unravel (e.g. spandrel). Being a 99.99999% atheist (0.00001% agnostic), if God does exist, my ability to understand God would be comparable to a chimpanzee understanding string theory - it ain't gonna happen! As Soren realized back in the 19th century, if you decide to believe, don't try to rationalize it - you can't. You simply have to take that irrational leap to the absurd and BELIEVE.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, January 5, 2006 -- 4:00 PM

God is real. God is Light. You know when people s

God is real. God is Light. You know when people say they die and see a light. They are not lying. That light is God. God goes beyond the rational and that is why philosophers can answer it. The only way to understand God is with God?s help. The human mind in its present human form cannot understand fully what is outside of it. It can never see the whole. Human perception that thing we use to make sense of the world outside of us is in fact flawed.
When you look at a sidewalk from where you stand to the far horizon, you see the parallel lines get closer together, when in fact you know that they are not getting closer in reality. How are you ever to explain God with a perception as flawed as that? You cannot understand God within the limits of human reason, but you can understand God?s creation nature. The closest way to understand nature is not only examining it like scientists do, but to also create with it like artists do. You have to work with the elements water, earth, fire, air, light. An example would be Leonardo Da Vinci, who not only examined the world, but tried to create with it experimenting with it to make his paintings. Try to draw a line with water! Now create shadow, form, beauty, perspective, even human grace. See how hard it is. Working with the Laws of Nature. Leonardo was a greater genius than Aristotle or Plato, because of his art. He was not only a philosopher but an artist. He also did not take his knowledge from previous philosophers but from nature, Gods work.
At one point in time, maybe outside of it, you will know that God does exist and then you will be complete. When that time comes you will not know it through reason. God goes beyond the limits of reason. When you understand that God exists you wont put much stock in human reason as before, thought human reason is very valuable. God is Beauty Supreme Knowledge and Wisdom, and Completeness. The perception of God is knowing that all else is illusion except for God, and being fully satisfied perceiving God.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, January 14, 2006 -- 4:00 PM

I think the question of the existence of God is be

I think the question of the existence of God is beside the point. I think a better question is whether believing in God makes a practical difference. There are nonbelievers who murder and believers who murder, nonbelievers who are pacifists and believers who are pacifists; happy people who are believers and unhappy people who are believers, unhappy people who are nonbelievers and happy people who are nonbelievers. It doesn't seem that belief in God makes any practical difference in one's life. If one were to say that an atheist were someone who had affirmative beliefs that God did not exist and a believer someone who had affirmative beliefs that God did exist, it seems that one could simply remain neutral in this battle by simply not adopting belief systems -- yea or nay -- if they won't practically improve one's life. If the atheist knocks on the door and says, "Hey, renounce God!" the question is, will that make a difference in my life? And if the believer knocks on the door and says, "Hey, accept God!" the question is, will that make a difference in my life? (If God exists, I might already be in sync with him before you knocked on my door; if he doesn't, adopting your belief system won't help me align with his wishes, because he is nonexistent.) Can't one simply not take sides on the question of whether God exists because it doesn't matter either way?

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 -- 4:00 PM

"You cannot petition the lord with prayer."

"You cannot petition the lord with prayer."
Jim Morrison (The Doors)
Armstrong wastes our time arguing against old socerer's recipes and desert crawler novels full of outdated metaphor and hence misunderstanding. (As in: There's more than one way to skin a cat? What?}
Zero was invented. Newton came along. Caculus is only a couple of hundred years old. These things are newer recipes. And there will be more. Gravity? Whats that? String theory, black holes, paralel universes, mandelbrot sets. There is a potential place for a god who answers prayers amongst even the current postulations of physics. A potential plus a few zillion years. Anything could happen.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, March 12, 2006 -- 4:00 PM

I'm with Joe Scwhartz:"God" is a easy catch-all

I'm with Joe Scwhartz:"God" is a easy catch-all explanation,and the bulk of disbelivers,which is the bulk of society,is also weak in that it avoids criticism from religion addicts.No wonder America is so sick.
I am an "out" atheist.I admit there is much about outer space that I do not know,and I could be wrong,but it is my experience that religous types are such bullies that I prefer to know in my own mind that I will not wilt to them.If I rupture a few sick religous fantasies along the way,all the better.Real men do NOT cling to anti-sexual philosophies.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, May 27, 2006 -- 5:00 PM

i dont know whether or not i've come to the right

i dont know whether or not i've come to the right place to advocate my thoughts. it seems to me as though there is a meaning to life, but we chose to ignore it.
the meaning of life is to make a difference in each others life by reminding ourselves that good things dont last for anybody, but bad things will never go away... (hence we are advised to appreciate good thigns because they all come to a drastic end) it will torment those who do not deserve to be tormented... it will make the innocent suffer and give selfish people privledge... it will continue lasting until only the selfish people can make a difference and make a choice out of their own good will to save the tormented. it will never give one person a balance in life of money and happiness until everybody makes a difference. i find that there is no one person in this world who finds their life completed, they find that there is isolation between even people of their own religion or race. This is because race is not what alienates us from one another, it is our character and willingness to give. this is the meaning of life... and this is why god continues to create suffering in new lives, in hope to heal present and future wounds. all in all, god is real to those who wish to keep faith that something good will come to heal the suffering in the world.. and he is artificial to those who expect satisfication with their life without no real input.
anonymous. dopei_chicyi@hotmail.com

Robert's picture

Robert

Thursday, June 28, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

Does God exist or to put it in a non-religious way

Does God exist or to put it in a non-religious way is there an unseen entity that designed and made/fabricated the universe and everything in it?
If the answer is yes it raises another question that is what is the nature/profile of God? If you were the parent of a very young child, you would not expect and demand that it admire, worship and genuflect to you because you are superior to it. The only thing you should desire is that it would love you as you loved it. So it clear that if an entity wanted/demanded worship it would have a very unwell mind.
I do not have beliefs only truths. That is things I know to be absolutely true and percentage probabilities that I am ready to update. I know absolutely that there is an entity that designed and made/fabricated the universe. I do not use the word create as it comes from the Latin and originally meant to begat, bring forth (sexual). Martin Rees (cosmologist) said, ?What is remarkable is that atoms have assembled into entities which are somehow able to ponder their origins?. What he should have said is ?From all the material that came into existence very soon after the theoretical Big Bang it is impossible for life to start?. ?Unintelligent atoms will always be that no matter what combinations they are joined in?. If you assume that I am right and remembering that the unseen entity has total control over its universe and everything in it would it want to hide or reveal itself? And what reason could it have for hiding? To answer that question let us look at the mind/nature/profile of the entity called God. And consider that if I am right it knows what I am writing/saying and can stop me any time it wants to.
The profile of God is of an eternal entity morally perfect and wise with absolute power to do whatever it/he desires and is the maker of everything. It /he desires/demands to be loved, admired, worshiped, knelt before and obeyed for reasons of the preceding qualities. Consider how puerile this is. If you were the father of a young boy or girl you would not say ?Because I am wiser than you and can do many things that you can not and was responsible for you being here kneel down and worship me?. If you did so, you would be mad. That is absolutely true of the biblical God. Open your eyes and think. At this point, I should point out that the biblical Satan desires the same as God that is for you to kneel down, worship, and admire him.
Worship (OE weordhscipe (WORTH, -SHIP)) worthiness, merit, recognition, honour & respect, reverent homage or service paid to God, adoration or devotion, adore as divine etc, etc.
For the purpose of this discussion let us suppose that an entity (God or whoever..the whoever is very important) designed and made/fabricated the Universe and everything in it. Remembering that he is perfect in every way; would he want or desire to make anything that was flawed? Or being God would not all of his works be perfect as he supposedly is? Consider your body. How extremely fallible it is in so many ways. Your reproductive areas (the penis, vagina etc) are right next to the part of your body that excretes waste matter (faeces). Would you design it like that? If you were living from before 200 years in the past how disgusting it must have been. Even now if society broke down and you had no soap or toilet paper think of how disgusting and smelly you would be. You live on a ball of very hot iron and molten rock with a thin unstable crust. It has a thin atmosphere and is continuously bombarded by radiation from the sun which if it was not for the earth?s magnetic field would destroy all life. This ball (the planet earth) travels at 18 miles each second through the black vacuum of space in a circle round the sun. Consider how bizarre and grotesque this is. Ask yourself; is the mind of God bizarre and grotesque?
The whole of Gods creation is ugly and flawed, any intelligent person can see that. Consider that it might be deliberate maliciousness on Gods part.
To be evil, malicious, harmful and a liar means that you are flawed (mad). Would a morally perfect entity (God) make anything that could become so? And even if he did, would he not remove it instantly if it did?
Putting aside the naïve, puerile fairy story of Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden consider the free will argument that religious people use to excuse the badness/ugliness of man and consider your position. A person that lies, cheats, or is malicious or amoral HAS NO FREE WILL. A mad flawed person does not have intelligence (understanding) or free will. He/she might be clever (most successful criminals are) but does not have free will. There is no logic in the argument of free will. Does the lion, tiger, leopard, eagle, crocodile, and shark, have free will when they stalk, kill and devour their prey? Does the suicide bomber, the person/soldier killing, raping or torturing, the embezzler, all the ones exploiting others, the thugs and uncaring criminals have free will? No, they do not. They do not have intelligence (understanding) or free will. According to the so-called Holy writing who is responsible? Where does the buck stop? If you are religious, the answer is God. He is supposedly both all-powerful and perfect in righteousness. How and why does this supposedly perfect entity for a microsecond allow all the evil and badness?
Consider that we are made in Gods image (Genesis 1:27). If we are corruptible and flawed..so is God. If God has perfect wisdom and is all powerful (as we attribute to him) he would have known and understood ALL the possibilities that lay ahead. Could you for one moment turn aside if you had the ability to stop a human being from being tortured? God has allowed thousands of years of lies, suffering, torment, degradation, torture, sadness, murder, slavery. NOTHING in this universe or elsewhere can excuse that. If he exists he is a mad, ugly, a criminal beyond belief.
Why do you not open your eyes?
Pause.
Now you might give the perfect stupid, worthless and puerile reply?God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. You might say..I have faith. Do you have faith that God will stop you from being burgled? Do you have faith that God will stop you from getting cancer and heal you when you do? Do you have faith that you will not be attacked at any time? Do you have faith that the world is good when it obviously is not? Do you have faith that God will guide all your footsteps and protect you? Do you have faith that the meek will inherit the earth..smile? Do you have faith that Allah will take you to paradise after you blow yourself up and everyone else in your vicinity? Do you have faith that all the bad and evil people will get there comeuppance? Do you have faith that a fictional person will give you an eternity in paradise when you die? Do you have faith when you are dieing of hunger that it is Gods good will? Do you have faith that when you are old and alone and your body hardly functions and your memory is almost gone that it is Gods will for you? Do you have faith when your child/husband/wife is taken from you that it is Gods will?
If you do, you are like Alice living in a fairytale wonderland.
All of this is only the tip of the Iceberg.
Robert robert77@fsmail.net

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, June 30, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

My contribution is in the form of a few questions.

My contribution is in the form of a few questions.
How are your core beliefs working for you?
Are you at peace with yourself and others?
Do you have a strong sense of purpose in life?
How do your core beliefs help you achieve these things?

curmudgeon's picture

curmudgeon

Tuesday, July 3, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

Mack: are you saying that there is reason to belie

Mack: are you saying that there is reason to believe in God because it helps us obtain a set of core beliefs which work for us etc?
But surely if we are to obtain a set of core beliefs which works for us, and if we are to be at peace with ourselves, and if we are to have a strong sense of purpose in life, we should turn towards rational thought, reflection and PHILOSOPHY rather than blind faith in the existence of a God?
Hardly anyone takes every line of the Bible or Koran literally anymore - there are some teachings in them which are too abhorrent or are otherwise too inconsistent with our modern way of living. On what basis do we cherry-pick the lessons which we deem are right and useful from the others? Rational thought, reflection and Philosophy!
Pierre-Simon Laplace:
"I have no need to make such an assumption about the existence of God."

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, November 6, 2008 -- 4:00 PM

Great blog. We each possess a certain mass of elem

Great blog. We each possess a certain mass of elementary consciousness that can express a portion of original consciousness (God) that holds an extraordinary element bound by the conditions and development of its origin. This original portion cannot be separate from that which surrounds it. This fragment of original consciousness gradually extends itself and pushes that which makes it most itself to the surface of our awareness. Nothing can be done to effect this basic expanded state of fundamental consciousness if we want to consciously grasp the essence of its creation. Once we become aware of something that is original the critical point will emerge almost immediately because the threshold of our reflection brings forth in itself something explicit; and also because we are able to look clearly within the depths of our being to assess the meaning of our reflections...
Grace Of Distinction

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, January 1, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

I have for years go whene i am free to the desert

I have for years go whene i am free to the desert for days, and come to the co comclusion. God is the universe and the univers is God.That is where we came from.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, August 30, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

I wanted to clarify this Problem of Evil. As far

I wanted to clarify this Problem of Evil. As far as I know the problem is this: If God(i.e. an Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omni-benevolent being) exists, then Evil could not exist in the world. But Evil exists in the world, therefore, God as such does not exist.
The first thing to point out is that from such an argument one can only conclude that either: god is not all powerful, not all knowing, or not all good. I am fairly certain this would rule out the belief in the conception of God most present day people have. For any God to have real meaning, the first two characteristics seem more necessary than the third, Omni-benevolence. It is here that I wish to point out a problem with the soundness of the argument from the Problem of Evil.
Recall what Socrates inquired in perhaps his greatest moment: Does God love what is Good because it is Good, or is it Good because it is loved by God? Claiming that Evil exists in the world in the manner required to support the atheist's argument is tantamount to claiming that God loves what is Good because it is Good because the only way one could identify Evil in the world is if it exists independent of God. If such were the case, whether or not God exists would be of little value. If he does, that'd be great. We could praise him as we would a parent, and then some more for his infinite wisdom and power. If he does not exist, then we still have a source of morality. However, if you accept that what is Good is Good because it is loved by God, this together with God's Omnipotence and Omniscience are sufficient to deduce that Evil does NOT exist in the world(also assuming that God always will's what he loves to be the case, i.e. that he is supremely selfish). This makes the argument from the Problem of Evil either mostly irrelevant, if God loves what is Good because it is Good, or unsound, if what is Good is what is loved by God.
Having said all that, the more specific property of God as being all loving may still in fact pose a problem. In this case however, the problem is not Evil, but pain. How can we account for birth defects, the existence of diseases, or even the mortal and thus pain stricken nature of humanity with an all loving being? Moreover, pain which results from human behavior may be excusable on the basis of God wanting humanity to have free will, but how do we explain pain which results from non-intentional entities? And, perhaps the biggest generalization of this question: Why does Conflict in any form exist? If god is all loving, then he would not create two things, one of which has the ability to conflict with the other's will or existence generally.

 
 
 

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