The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > Great Debates

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 03-31-2007, 12:43 PM
Liberal Liberal is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 1999
Define God

I'd like to hear and discuss definitions of God. If you wouldn't mind a preemptive strike, I'd like to avoid drive-by potshot definitions from either extreme. Neither from one extreme I define God as a figment of your imagination nor from the other You'll know how I define God when you're burning in Hell will be helpful. If you think God is a figment of my imagination, then define it better than that because that's too broad. Do you mean hallucination? Made up lie? Brain damage? What exactly. And if you think God is going to send me to Hell, explain why. What quality or qualities does He possess that led Him to deem me to be worthless?

I think it's especially important for an atheist to make a cogent definition of what it is he does not believe in; otherwise, how can he know he does not believe in it? I do not believe in unicorns, but as an aunicornist, I can define for you what it is that I think does not exist. I suppose an agnostic might well say, "I don't know what God is", and in fact that view might well be the very root of his agnosticism. If you are an agnostic of that sort, explain what makes it difficult for you to pin down a definition.

We can discuss and question one another's definitions, but please let's keep it civil. Let's not pile-on any particular person, and let's respect the views of all who are participating sincerely and in, well, good faith.

For me, God in the broadest sense is that which exists necessarily, which means that He cannot not exist. He exists in every possible world, meaning that truth is contingent on Him. But more essentially, He is a free moral agent Who facilitates goodness, meaning that He freely and volitionally serves as the conduit through which goodness may be shared among free moral agents. Goodness I define as that which edifies, in other words that which creates, builds up, or improves. In my view, goodness is an aesthetic that is, it is something of value. Some people value it more than others do, and some people do not value it at all. God is the free moral agent Who values goodness above all else.

How do you define God?
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 03-31-2007, 01:06 PM
George Kaplin George Kaplin is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: UK
Posts: 893
God - Omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent, omnipresent, triune uncaused first cause. Inexplicably interested in human affairs. Quiet of late
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 03-31-2007, 01:14 PM
the PC apeman the PC apeman is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by Liberal
...
I think it's especially important for an atheist to make a cogent definition of what it is he does not believe in; otherwise, how can he know he does not believe in it? I do not believe in unicorns, but as an aunicornist, I can define for you what it is that I think does not exist. ...
I think this part of your question is terribly flawed. An atheist is one who doesn't believe in a god that someone else proposes. You are only an aunicornist because someone has sufficiently defined unicorns. How can you say if you are either a gurtilblawist or agurtilblawist without first having a sufficient definition of gurtilblaw?
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 03-31-2007, 01:21 PM
Smitty Smitty is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Well, to "define" something means to describe its limits. To say what it is, and just as importantly, what it is not. Most people regard God as George Kaplin just described him - as omni-everything.

Well, logically, if something has no limits, it cannot be defined. Even the universe itself has been described as "infinite, but bounded." That is still a limit that most people would not wish to ascribe to God. It almost gets into a zen-like statement of, "That which can be talked about is not the true God."

But here's where it gets interesting. What do we say of the mathematic statement x divided by zero? It is undefined. If, in our calculations, we come across an undefined statement, we know we are in error. That which is undefined cannot exist.

So, if God can be defined, he is not God. If he can't be defined, he doesn't exit.

Next, I will go on to prove that black equals white and get myself killed at the next zebra crossing.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 03-31-2007, 01:22 PM
Apos Apos is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2002
Quote:
Originally Posted by Liberal
I think it's especially important for an atheist to make a cogent definition of what it is he does not believe in; otherwise, how can he know he does not believe in it?
You've made this point before, but I hope to convince you that it is a mistake. As a non-believer in some grand metaphysical framework or idea, I really don't have to nail down specifically what version or exact sort of it I don't believe in.

Non-believers really DO have an advantage here in not needing to nail this down, because all they have to do to confirm that they don't believe in something is search for anything even vaguely fitting into the category, discover that there is nothing like that in their minds, and return the answer that they do not believe in God... in any sense that the word is used.

The other important point is that it is in the end really not our job or our responsibility to know the definitions of things we don't believe in. If what "God" really means is "teakettle" then I could see that might have a point: maybe atheists really are missing the awesome teakettleness of God. But since most concepts of God involve some pretty abstract and grand claims that would be pretty darn hard to overlook in our hypothetical "mind search," it's generally always safe to say that I don't believe in them even if I don't know of each and every last permutation of those claims. If someone thinks they have merit, then they can introduce me to them and present arguments for belief in them. Even theists do not know every last possible definition of other Gods they might not agree with before ever encountering those concepts. Atheists should not be placed under burdens or suspicions for being the same position as theists with specific definitions that do not encompass all possible Gods.

Quote:
I suppose an agnostic might well say, "I don't know what God is", and in fact that view might well be the very root of his agnosticism. If you are an agnostic of that sort, explain what makes it difficult for you to pin down a definition.
While I think strong agnosticism (i.e. the belief that it is impossible to know what God is) is self-refuting, I think the atheist agnostic, or non-cognativist agnostic does generally have a strong point in arguing that in practice, most of the claimed God entities would be so far beyond human understanding that any statements about their motives, desires, intentions, moral goodness, or anything other of the sort is rendered almost incoherent, washed out by an infinite number of equally likely alternatives.

Last edited by Apos; 03-31-2007 at 01:25 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 03-31-2007, 01:25 PM
jjimm jjimm is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2001
The OP is flawed because it ignores polytheism as a religious possibility.

As usual in religious debates round these parts.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 03-31-2007, 01:34 PM
Apos Apos is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2002
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smitty
But here's where it gets interesting. What do we say of the mathematic statement x divided by zero? It is undefined. If, in our calculations, we come across an undefined statement, we know we are in error. That which is undefined cannot exist.

So, if God can be defined, he is not God. If he can't be defined, he doesn't exit.

Next, I will go on to prove that black equals white and get myself killed at the next zebra crossing.
I think you're trading in some semantic confusion here. Be careful in mixing terms like "undefined" between different disciplines.

It's a lot safer to point out that defining what you are claiming exists is a pre-requisite to successfully arguing that it does: or even believing that it does. This is the weak non-cognitivist position on the issue. And note the distinction between arguments and conclusions. The weak non-cognitivist position is that if you can't really define what something is, it's pointless to claim to be proving that it exists, or even to say that you believe in it. If you can't define it in some coherent fashion then saying you believe in it is like saying you believe in square circles. You can SAY you do, but "square circles" is just two words clumped together: no actual understanding of what a square circle looks like actually exists behind the words.

However, this is a sort of practical meta-position on ARGUMENTS. What you did in your post was jump to _conclusions_ i.e. argue that if we lack a definition for something, we can conclude that it therefore doesn't exist. But that's not going to work because we just before agreed that we lacked a good definition: you can no more claim a God you can't define DOESN'T exist than you can claim that it does. How would you know WHAT didn't exist if you already agreed that you didn't know!?

The reason is NOT that by asserting a non-cognitivist position that you have disproven some claim, but rather that you have simply called to everyones attention the disappointing reality that no one really knows what we're talking about.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 03-31-2007, 01:37 PM
Liberal Liberal is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 1999
Quote:
Originally Posted by the PC apeman
You are only an aunicornist because someone has sufficiently defined unicorns.
Right, but that's the point of this thread, "Define God". Hopefully, we can see how far apart our definitions are and whether there are any commonalities at all. If not, then we're no worse off. But if there are, then maybe atheists, theists, and agnostics can all communicate better.

I think I can understand you better when I know what you're talking about. Take for example your statement: "An atheist is one who doesn't believe in a god that someone else proposes." You have used a word god. In your mind, it must have a meaning (else, why use it). I would like to know what that meaning is so that I can understand you better.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 03-31-2007, 01:39 PM
Liberal Liberal is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 1999
Quote:
Originally Posted by jjimm
The OP is flawed because it ignores polytheism as a religious possibility.
I'm not sure what gave you that idea. I mean, I defined God as I see Him monotheistically, but that does not mean that anyone else has to. You can say you have multiple definitions comprising more than one God. I'd love to hear them.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 03-31-2007, 01:53 PM
DanBlather DanBlather is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2001
I'm an Athesit. I'll give my definition (even though I shouldn't have to). God is something that makes a difference in the universe; i.e., it has a tangible effect on something that otherwise would not occur within the set of "natural laws".

So to me, if someone says God exists but you can't see, hear, taste, or observe any tangible interaction with the universe I see it as mental masturbation similar to the contention that someone sneaks in every night and replaces everything I own with identical copies.

On the other hand, if they believe God does make some tangible difference we can at least have a discussion.

Last edited by DanBlather; 03-31-2007 at 01:53 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 03-31-2007, 02:05 PM
Smitty Smitty is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by Apos
I think you're trading in some semantic confusion here. Be careful in mixing terms like "undefined" between different disciplines.


However, this is a sort of practical meta-position on ARGUMENTS. What you did in your post was jump to _conclusions_ i.e. argue that if we lack a definition for something, we can conclude that it therefore doesn't exist. But that's not going to work because we just before agreed that we lacked a good definition: you can no more claim a God you can't define DOESN'T exist than you can claim that it does. How would you know WHAT didn't exist if you already agreed that you didn't know!?

No, what I said was that if something CAN'T be defined, we are safe in saying that it doesn't exist. Much like your example of square circles. I take your first point, though. I was being somewhat facetious in that.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 03-31-2007, 02:11 PM
Apos Apos is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2002
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smitty
No, what I said was that if something CAN'T be defined, we are safe in saying that it doesn't exist.
But as I pointed out, that wouldn't make any sense. WHAT are you saying doesn't exist? If you can't define what x is, making statements about "it's" non-existence is sort of bizarre, because you just admitted that you don't know to what those statements apply to. Once you've taken the non-cognitive position about a claim X, it doesn't make any sense to then jump to the position that X doesn't exist. The non-cognitive position stops the train at the station before any statements, pro or con, can get out.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 03-31-2007, 02:16 PM
Kalhoun Kalhoun is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2002
Quote:
Originally Posted by DanBlather
I'm an Athesit. I'll give my definition (even though I shouldn't have to). God is something that makes a difference in the universe; i.e., it has a tangible effect on something that otherwise would not occur within the set of "natural laws".
I think this is a great definition that encompasses all the main religions and most of the smaller ones. If god doesn't make a difference in the universe, there's no reason to worship it.
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 03-31-2007, 02:18 PM
Sampiro Sampiro is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2002
The best summation of God as I interpret God (whether God exists or not) is quite possibly- not surprising considering my demographics- in a showtune. It's the title song in The Color Purple (skip to caps) and its reprise .

Last edited by Sampiro; 03-31-2007 at 02:20 PM.. Reason: added reprise link to keep my gay credentials
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 03-31-2007, 02:32 PM
the PC apeman the PC apeman is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by Liberal
Right, but that's the point of this thread, "Define God". Hopefully, we can see how far apart our definitions are and whether there are any commonalities at all. If not, then we're no worse off. But if there are, then maybe atheists, theists, and agnostics can all communicate better.

I think I can understand you better when I know what you're talking about. Take for example your statement: "An atheist is one who doesn't believe in a god that someone else proposes." You have used a word god. In your mind, it must have a meaning (else, why use it). I would like to know what that meaning is so that I can understand you better.
You used the word 'god' first.

And like unicorns, fairies, and dragons, there are many god definitions one picks up by being in a culture. Each theistic concept I've encountered strikes me as either unfalsifiable, incoherent, or a silly semantic game. Therefore, I am an atheist. I'm sure I could not list all god concepts I heard even if I cared to. At their core, most claim gods to be something supernatural. A few seem to define gods as nature. The rest do a mixture of the two.

So there are two or three definitions of god for you. Not very detailed, right? That's my point. Atheists giving one usable definition of a god makes no sense because there are so many. Here's a challenge for you... define all the gods you don't believe in.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 03-31-2007, 02:33 PM
AHunter3 AHunter3 is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: NY (Manhattan) NY USA
Posts: 16,306
Quote:
Originally Posted by the PC apeman
I think this part of your question is terribly flawed. An atheist is one who doesn't believe in a god that someone else proposes. You are only an aunicornist because someone has sufficiently defined unicorns. How can you say if you are either a gurtilblawist or agurtilblawist without first having a sufficient definition of gurtilblaw?
There's a subtle but very important difference between responding to a unicornist (who has just defined unicorns) with "I am an aunicornist and I am prepared to debate the issue with you", on the one hand, and starting a conversation with "Hi, I am an aunicornist, any of you unicorn-believing folk wanna debate me?"
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 03-31-2007, 02:41 PM
the PC apeman the PC apeman is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by AHunter3
There's a subtle but very important difference between responding to a unicornist (who has just defined unicorns) with "I am an aunicornist and I am prepared to debate the issue with you", on the one hand, and starting a conversation with "Hi, I am an aunicornist, any of you unicorn-believing folk wanna debate me?"
Hi, I am someone responding to the "I think it's especially important for an atheist to make a cogent definition" statement and I don't see how your point relates.
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 03-31-2007, 02:48 PM
AHunter3 AHunter3 is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: NY (Manhattan) NY USA
Posts: 16,306
To answer the OP:

"God", as I use the term, means that there is cognizant intentionality that is successfully causing outcomes.

That's as close as I can come to outright "definitive"; there are other characteristics that I think properly apply to God, but if (for example) Liberal, Friar Ted, or WhyNot did not consider those characteristic to apply to God, I might nevertheless continue to think we were both discussing God and having a difference of opinion about the specific characteristics thereof; whereas if someone used the word "God" but considered "God" to exist but all cognizance and intentionality to not exist, I'd be more inclined to say "That word doesn't mean to you what it means to me".

Just to complicate things, I don't consider God to be an entity that possesses personal consciousness, human-style, e.g., experience of the passage of time or a tendency to start thinking about something on Monday, mull it over Tuesday through Thursday, come to a conclusion on Friday, rethink it the following Wednesday, etc... but rather that intentionality and consciousness as we understand them do exist in the world, in the patterns of how things are and the rules and laws that govern how things work.
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 03-31-2007, 02:54 PM
AHunter3 AHunter3 is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: NY (Manhattan) NY USA
Posts: 16,306
Quote:
Originally Posted by the PC apeman
Quote:
Originally Posted by AHunter3
There's a subtle but very important difference between responding to a unicornist (who has just defined unicorns) with "I am an aunicornist and I am prepared to debate the issue with you", on the one hand, and starting a conversation with "Hi, I am an aunicornist, any of you unicorn-believing folk wanna debate me?"
Hi, I am someone responding to the "I think it's especially important for an atheist to make a cogent definition" statement and I don't see how your point relates
I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you... if you only identify yourself as an aunicornist, atheist, agurtilblawist , etc, in response to someone else's exposition on the existence of unicorn, god, or gurtilblaw, there's a definition in place that of the person who so expounded and you're certainly entitled to disbelieve thereupon.

Without accusing you of doing so, I was noting that a hypothetical aunicornist could start a conversation with people who had as of yet expounded on the existence of no such thing, and that in such an environment as that, it is the aunicornist who needs to identify the definition because as of yet no such definition is in place within the confines of that conversation.
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 03-31-2007, 03:30 PM
the PC apeman the PC apeman is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by AHunter3
I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you... if you only identify yourself as an aunicornist, atheist, agurtilblawist , etc, in response to someone else's exposition on the existence of unicorn, god, or gurtilblaw, there's a definition in place that of the person who so expounded and you're certainly entitled to disbelieve thereupon.

Without accusing you of doing so, I was noting that a hypothetical aunicornist could start a conversation with people who had as of yet expounded on the existence of no such thing, and that in such an environment as that, it is the aunicornist who needs to identify the definition because as of yet no such definition is in place within the confines of that conversation.
It sound's like you have a point to make but I'm not getting it. At least not in the context in which it appears. Please reread Liberal's statement and my response and then tell me what therein prompted you to write what you did.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Liberal
...
I think it's especially important for an atheist to make a cogent definition of what it is he does not believe in; otherwise, how can he know he does not believe in it? I do not believe in unicorns, but as an aunicornist, I can define for you what it is that I think does not exist. ...
Quote:
Originally Posted by the PC apeman
I think this part of your question is terribly flawed. An atheist is one who doesn't believe in a god that someone else proposes. You are only an aunicornist because someone has sufficiently defined unicorns. How can you say if you are either a gurtilblawist or agurtilblawist without first having a sufficient definition of gurtilblaw?
Quote:
Originally Posted by AHunter3
There's a subtle but very important difference between responding to a unicornist (who has just defined unicorns) with "I am an aunicornist and I am prepared to debate the issue with you", on the one hand, and starting a conversation with "Hi, I am an aunicornist, any of you unicorn-believing folk wanna debate me?"
Reply With Quote
  #21  
Old 03-31-2007, 03:45 PM
Sage Rat Sage Rat is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: Howdy
Posts: 14,807
As a young kid I figured out a truism about people which is that you can convince yourself of anything. I told myself every day that "Pain exists to let your brain know that something is damaged. Once you've recognized the signal, there's no more point in feeling pain." And over time I was able to ignore pain whenever I wanted to. (Handy when you don't have an aspirin.)

Another thing I figured out I call "The pschology of control." The premise of this is that the thing people most care about is being able to control themselves. This makes sense since, controlling yourself is the only thing in the world you have any control over, and even here it's not 100%. But the thing is, when people experience something that they can't control, they will react wierdly to it, particularly if it's something to do with their own body, and particularly if they are very young. This is why molestation of children really messes with their minds, is because the pleasurable feelings aren't something that the child can control, while as the "I don't want to be doing this", logical part of their brain is forced to shush. It won't necesarily mess up the child, but the odds are higher.

Now a third item to present is evolution. Evolution works to create a physical set of capabilites, and a socialogical set of impulses, desires, and fears that are ingrained into our bodies because these have been found to work successfully in perpetuating the species. These are largely independent of rational thought.

And a fourth item, as shown in the threads about the Stanford Prison Experiment, is that humans are liable to turn off their brains and accept what the alpha wolf says.

Now tying this all together:

God is (or gods are) was the creation of storytellers to raise children with so that they could learn about the history of their people, learn respect for their people, and go out and die for their people. The god stories taught you to be brave or meek, humble or proud, as the storyteller or as society thought was needed. In a land before scientific experiment and empirical evidence, though, these stories became legends, and eventually fact. The parents would tell their children that "Our people are descended from the God Uktamata, who brought the sun to the sky and made this land for us" so that the children felt safe in the world, and proud. And the parents let it rest at that because there was no need to say anything different because it made them feel good to say it.

Now the reason that the child likes to hear such things, and parents to tell such is because when kids are with their parents and when parents are spending time teaching their children, mother nature is happy. This is an approved human attribute that has been introduced by evolution to perpetuate the species. Humans care for their young. They don't let the eggs hatch and fend for themselves.

Evolution enforces this behavior through chemicals in your brain which make you feel good. This is something that you have no control over. Just suddenly you feel good.

When you take care of your children, find a wife, fend for your family, grow food, look at green growing places and wide blue skies, fight for the the pack, we recognize these as being good things, and our brain gets drugged with endorphins. We experience a "high."

And since we know that these things are now "good" things, we teach our children this, in the form of stories. "Uktamata took a wife. She bore his children. The gods gave gifts to the child, and swore to serve him. And the child would grow up to become the strongest fighter, the farest seeer, and he would lead the gods honestly, solving their struggles with the demons, or among themselves. And he protects us, for we are his children as well, and we give him gifts." And how do you know that he protects you? You know it because when you do anything that the "gods" approve of, we get a good feeling that we can't explain and that we don't control. Certainly that is the gods?

Now it also happens that as people come to believe in these gods that the leaders of the people become enslaved to the gods. If keeping the gods pleased is required to make sure that the gods protect us, then the government must make sure this happens. And surely the gods chose Lokatil as the chieftan of the people because he was the fiercest fighter, and had the levelest head. And as the collecter of the tales of the gods, shaman Okraty should always be consulted to make sure that we are doing what the gods really want.

So suddenly Lokatil and Okraty are empowered by the existence of the gods. And surely what they think is right, is what the gods think is right, since they were the ones chosen to know about and appease the gods.

So as time goes on, the choices of Lokatil and Okraty become the law of the gods, the people teach it to their young children as fact, the children feel a high which enforces what their (always honest) parents tell them, and convince themselves that this is true. And when the gods need them to die for the people, they know it is true, for they have felt it, and learned it, and now convinced themselves that it is true.

So that's my definition of what the gods are. People combining stories with a rationalization for what's happening when endorphins are released into your brain, and reinforced through the generations because as a society, it was useful and felt "right."

Last edited by Sage Rat; 03-31-2007 at 03:46 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #22  
Old 03-31-2007, 05:01 PM
Chief Pedant Chief Pedant is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
The concept of God refers to being(s) or force(s) able to create events outside of Natural Law.
Reply With Quote
  #23  
Old 03-31-2007, 05:02 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Quote:
Originally Posted by the PC apeman
I think this part of your question is terribly flawed. An atheist is one who doesn't believe in a god that someone else proposes. You are only an aunicornist because someone has sufficiently defined unicorns. How can you say if you are either a gurtilblawist or agurtilblawist without first having a sufficient definition of gurtilblaw?
I dunno, but I know my gurtilblaw is better than your gurtilblaw!
Reply With Quote
  #24  
Old 03-31-2007, 05:03 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chief Pedant
The concept of God refers to being(s) or force(s) able to create events outside of Natural Law.
But natural theology considers God a part of Natural Law.
Reply With Quote
  #25  
Old 03-31-2007, 05:05 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Quote:
Originally Posted by jjimm
The OP is flawed because it ignores polytheism as a religious possibility.
All right, so let's come up with a definition of a god as opposed to the God.
Reply With Quote
  #26  
Old 03-31-2007, 05:06 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kalhoun
If god doesn't make a difference in the universe, there's no reason to worship it.
Didn't stop the Deists.
Reply With Quote
  #27  
Old 03-31-2007, 05:08 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smitty
Well, logically, if something has no limits, it cannot be defined. Even the universe itself has been described as "infinite, but bounded."
But the universe, bounded or unbounded, is a concept that can be clearly, certainly and noncontroversially defined. Likewise with infinity and eternity.
Reply With Quote
  #28  
Old 03-31-2007, 05:21 PM
AHunter3 AHunter3 is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: NY (Manhattan) NY USA
Posts: 16,306
Quote:
Originally Posted by the PC apeman
It sound's like you have a point to make but I'm not getting it. At least not in the context in which it appears. Please reread Liberal's statement and my response and then tell me what therein prompted you to write what you did.
Unfortunately, at this point I'm at least as lost as you are. I have no idea what part of what I said you find less than compellingly self-explanatory at this point. Or how to make it clearer.

Unless maybe you're just saying "I don't see why you posted what you posted as a follow-up to my response to Liberal" ?
Reply With Quote
  #29  
Old 03-31-2007, 05:29 PM
Liberal Liberal is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 1999
Quote:
Originally Posted by BrainGlutton
But the universe, bounded or unbounded, is a concept that can be clearly, certainly and noncontroversially defined. Likewise with infinity and eternity.
I don't think so. SentientMeat and I have gone round and round on those very terms. Science uses lots of terms with nebulous definitions. Life, for example. As I used to say to Sentient, he seemed to want to define the universe as "everything conceivable plus everything that isn't," which makes it a meaningless term.
Reply With Quote
  #30  
Old 03-31-2007, 05:34 PM
DanBlather DanBlather is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2001
Quote:
Originally Posted by BrainGlutton
But natural theology considers God a part of Natural Law.
It's hard parsing that cite, but I think it falls in the masturbatory realm I mentioned. If God just put the natural laws in motion and stepped back, then it is indistinguishable from the natural laws always existing without God. And, if God has stepped back, then there is no purpose to worship him/it in any case.
Reply With Quote
  #31  
Old 03-31-2007, 06:04 PM
Chief Pedant Chief Pedant is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Quote:
Originally Posted by BrainGlutton
But natural theology considers God a part of Natural Law.
I don't think that is a correct assertion, although I'm not sure what it has to do with my definition.

I believe the concept of natural theology is not that God is a part of Natural Law but that his existence is revealed by nature as opposed to a separate special revelation.

If God is bound by natural law the concept of God is meaningless.
Reply With Quote
  #32  
Old 03-31-2007, 07:00 PM
the PC apeman the PC apeman is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by AHunter3
...
Unless maybe you're just saying "I don't see why you posted what you posted as a follow-up to my response to Liberal" ?
Bingo.
Reply With Quote
  #33  
Old 03-31-2007, 07:05 PM
the PC apeman the PC apeman is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by Liberal
I don't think so. SentientMeat and I have gone round and round on those very terms. Science uses lots of terms with nebulous definitions. Life, for example. As I used to say to Sentient, he seemed to want to define the universe as "everything conceivable plus everything that isn't," which makes it a meaningless term.
How does that make it meaningless? Why can't there be a meaningful term for everything, conceivable or not.
Reply With Quote
  #34  
Old 03-31-2007, 07:09 PM
Apos Apos is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2002
Quote:
Originally Posted by Liberal
I don't think so. SentientMeat and I have gone round and round on those very terms. Science uses lots of terms with nebulous definitions. Life, for example.
I don't think it's fair to conflate nebulous definitions: i.e. those without clear lines of demarcation, with those that people are saying are simply undefined or undefinable. We can very clearly say that a rock isn't alive and a frog isn't, even if we aren't quite sure where to place viruses. That really isn't the same problem as talking about characteristics like "existing outside time" that no one has any real clue how to even begin conceptualizing.

And strictly speaking science generally doesn't rest on having to make those exact classification definitions in the way that abstract philosophical arguments often do. In science, they are often used mostly for simplified speed and convenience: when we get down to brass tacks, it's not the classifications that matter as much as exactly what is being studied, how it works, and so forth.

Quote:
As I used to say to Sentient, he seemed to want to define the universe as "everything conceivable plus everything that isn't," which makes it a meaningless term.
We'd have to hear his take on it to be sure that was really his position: it sure doesn't sound like this is something he'd really mean.
Reply With Quote
  #35  
Old 03-31-2007, 07:13 PM
gonzomax gonzomax is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: May 2006
Location: michigan
Posts: 26,307
A dyslexics barking pet
Reply With Quote
  #36  
Old 03-31-2007, 07:13 PM
AHunter3 AHunter3 is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: NY (Manhattan) NY USA
Posts: 16,306
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chief Pedant
I don't think that is a correct assertion, although I'm not sure what it has to do with my definition.

I believe the concept of natural theology is not that God is a part of Natural Law but that his existence is revealed by nature as opposed to a separate special revelation.

If God is bound by natural law the concept of God is meaningless.
I would go beyond that and regard the statement "God is bound by natural law" to be unparseable and meaningless to start wtih. Whatsoever is an expression of the will of God will be noticed, ascertained, and understood, eventually, as a natural law. It's not like physicists live in a Godless vacuum until such time as they have created an unabridged compendium of natural law and then God manifests. No, however God is manifest, all of that which is attributable to God will be observable (unless it is not, in which case it isn't relevant to us), making it fall under the broad rubric of things that are observable. We make observations about that which is observable and whenever we come across something that appears to be an immutable pattern, we declare it to be a law of nature.

Last edited by AHunter3; 03-31-2007 at 07:16 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #37  
Old 03-31-2007, 07:18 PM
Revenant Threshold Revenant Threshold is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
My own personal definition of a god would be a being that not only is more powerful than anything else in existence (in terms of not being able to be affected by anything, unless they choose to act affected) but also to some extent is "outside" existence; if I were to say "Everything that exists is bound by this rule", a god would not be bound by it. That would be what makes it different from merely an extremly powerful being. Oh, and there would have to be some kind of thought process present, differentiating it from some mindless force. When I say that I am an atheist, then, I am saying that I do not believe that any beings matching this definition exist (and technically I may be saying that I don't believe in beings others consider gods but I don't, so i'd want to make a more detailed examination of those beings).

I'd be interested in asking a couple of people a question, though; i've defined what characteristics "a god" must have in order for me to say "Yep, that's a god. Er... nice god... please put down the thunderbolts...". The OP on the other hand has defined their God, as in the one that they personally believe in. I'd be interested to know how Liberal and other believers would define "a god" in general, rather than just "my God".
Reply With Quote
  #38  
Old 03-31-2007, 08:02 PM
Liberal Liberal is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 1999
Quote:
Originally Posted by the PC apeman
How does that make it meaningless? Why can't there be a meaningful term for everything, conceivable or not.
Well, there can. But then you'd have to concede that unicorns are a part of the universe. I can conceive them. You'd have to believe in God, too, at least as something that exists (however you might define it). In fact, you'd have to believe in all of them. And in contradictions as well. I can conceive those.

ETA: To clarify, that'd be if you used "universe" as that term.

Last edited by Liberal; 03-31-2007 at 08:05 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #39  
Old 03-31-2007, 08:04 PM
Liberal Liberal is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 1999
Quote:
Originally Posted by Revenant Threshold
I'd be interested to know how Liberal and other believers would define "a god" in general, rather than just "my God".
I don't really know that I can do that, but I hope that, after this thread, I'll be able to. When someone tells me they believe in multiple gods, I really don't know what they mean. Sentient beings more highly evolved than man? I just don't know.
Reply With Quote
  #40  
Old 03-31-2007, 08:11 PM
Diogenes the Cynic Diogenes the Cynic is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: St. Paul, MN
Posts: 58,797
I have no definition of God. It's a nonsense word to me. At best it's a superfluous hypothetical contrived explain things which can better be explained by natural processes. At worst it's an appeal to an undemonstrated moral authority by which some individual attempt to control others.
Reply With Quote
  #41  
Old 03-31-2007, 08:23 PM
the PC apeman the PC apeman is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by Liberal
Well, there can. But then you'd have to concede that unicorns are a part of the universe. I can conceive them. You'd have to believe in God, too, at least as something that exists (however you might define it). In fact, you'd have to believe in all of them. And in contradictions as well. I can conceive those.

ETA: To clarify, that'd be if you used "universe" as that term.
Ah. I see the problem then. Would you object to defining the universe as everything that exists, conceivable or not? This does not require unicorns or gods but it does not preclude them either. It doesn't solve any ontological disagreements but it is still a meaningful term. Based on what I've read of his, I'd say this is closer to SentientMeat's definition.
Reply With Quote
  #42  
Old 03-31-2007, 08:27 PM
Revenant Threshold Revenant Threshold is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by Liberal
I don't really know that I can do that, but I hope that, after this thread, I'll be able to. When someone tells me they believe in multiple gods, I really don't know what they mean. Sentient beings more highly evolved than man? I just don't know.
Well, let's see. You believe in your own God, and presumably he fulfils all your definitions of what a god would be. Are there any particular beings considered gods by other people who you would also acknowledge as gods, were they to exist?

I do see your point about pantheism; the problem with that with regards to a definition of god is that often one god can thwart another, so none can be considered a truly "supreme" being. OTOH, there are belief systems encompassing many beings considered gods, while still keeping an overall, "big" god who has dominion over all of them.

Under my system, a godlike being as part of a pantheon could be considered a god. If each god is independent to the extent that they are totally outside each other's influence (unless they choose to be), they'd be "gods". Not really something that's reflected in the classical Greco-Roman gods, for example, since they tend to kill each other off and meddle in each other's affairs pretty regularly. Under my system it would probably be fair to say that Zeus (for example) is technically not a god, since he can be thwarted by other gods. We could move the definition down one space and say "A god is a being that cannot be affected by anything else, except another god" and that would work. On the other counts, a pantheon of gods can easily be "outside" existence, and have a personality.

Is it the "no higher power" part that you find the biggest obstacle to considering a pantheon of gods?
Reply With Quote
  #43  
Old 03-31-2007, 08:38 PM
Diogenes the Cynic Diogenes the Cynic is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: St. Paul, MN
Posts: 58,797
Supremacy is not a necessary part of defitional critera for deities in some pantheistic systems. In some strains of Buddhism, for instance, people may pray to gods for help and guidance, but none of those gods have any ultimate moral authority. They're just as subject to the laws of karma as anybody else. A god does not have to be the "most powerful or the "most" anything to meet the dictionary definition. A god doesn't have to be a creator either.
Reply With Quote
  #44  
Old 03-31-2007, 08:40 PM
Revenant Threshold Revenant Threshold is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
That's why I was careful to talk about my own personal definition of a god. Supremacy is a necessary part of my defitional criteria of a deity.

Last edited by Revenant Threshold; 03-31-2007 at 08:42 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #45  
Old 03-31-2007, 08:41 PM
matt matt is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: A Brit in 'Stralia
Posts: 1,964
Atheist here, but I'll throw in a couple.

If there is purpose and intention underlying the Universe, then God is the Intender or Intender(s).

Analogy - regarding the Universe as software, then God is the programmer. The analogy implies a metauniverse for God and the structure running the software to exist in, of course...
Reply With Quote
  #46  
Old 03-31-2007, 08:44 PM
Nzinga, Seated Nzinga, Seated is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
God is everything that is good in me. The devil is everything bad in me. When I do good, it is I who has done good, and no one else, not even God gets the credit. When I do bad, that is me too. No one else gets the blame.

God to me is math, and science, the human tendency for empathy, sympathy, passion and love.

Yes, I do realize how corny I am, but my philosophy makes me able to experience heaven right here and now. Which is a heck of a lot better than waiting till I'm dead.
Reply With Quote
  #47  
Old 03-31-2007, 09:29 PM
Fatwater Fewl Fatwater Fewl is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2000
Atheist.

Any god I've ever heard of has been a supernatural entity with powers well beyond those of humanity.* All of these powers in some way involved the suspension or incomprehensibly fine manipulation of the laws of physics and/or the creation of those physical laws in the first place (whether or not there was any subsequent manipulation of those laws).

I believe God exists only as a concept in the minds of people. To clarify: I believe that the idea of God(s) originated in our tendency to seek or impose patterns in and on the world around us; that the concept of God(s) was an attempt to create a master pattern which could be used to parse meaning from (and thereby increase chances of survival in) a sometimes seemingly chaotic world.

I think our understanding of the world has reached a point where we can discard the concept of God(s) as meaningless and unnecessary. And I think we eventually will do just that.


*This is not quite true. Julian Jaynes postulated possibly the most fascinating concept of God I've ever run into in his 1976 book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, which I just read recently and have not yet absorbed completely so I am not yet sure exactly what I think of it.
Reply With Quote
  #48  
Old 03-31-2007, 09:35 PM
Chief Pedant Chief Pedant is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Based on all of the posts above...

"If God created us in his own image, we have more than reciprocated." (Voltaire, I think)
Reply With Quote
  #49  
Old 03-31-2007, 10:47 PM
RedFury RedFury is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: Hell's Den
Posts: 7,443
Lib, good thread in premise, but as an atheist, I can't possibly have a god definition that makes any sense to me. Otherwise, I'd be a believer of said definition.

Does that make any sense to you? Hope so.

OTOH, if you'd like, define your* god (generally speaking, I get the sense that a great majority of believers has their own brand of 'god'.That's why I am asking for yours in particular) in detail. Only then will I be able to asses how real such a being is, or could be, incorporated into my way of thinking. Tough task methinks, because there's simply no way you can come up with evidence.

IOW, 'god' is meaningless to me -- might as well say I believe in Superman. Lots more plausible anyway, due to the fact that is exactly what I am -- hell's bells, I even do him one better. I'm actually immune to kryptonite.

---

*But if you do, I beg of you to keep it in plain English. If you go off on some metaphysical tangent I am afraid we'll never even get close to some sort of middle ground, where while incapable of sharing and/or believing in said definition, it at least has some merit and logic to it from my POV.

On second though, forget the 'logic' part. I'll simply settle for 'merit'...because as I am sure you're well-aware, there's nothing logical about god-beliefs. OTOH I can think of at least a couple of logical reasons that justify religion/s themselves.

Last edited by RedFury; 03-31-2007 at 10:47 PM.. Reason: Coding
Reply With Quote
  #50  
Old 03-31-2007, 10:52 PM
BobPi BobPi is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Quote:
Originally Posted by Liberal
For me, God in the broadest sense is that which exists necessarily, which means that He cannot not exist.
Sorry, but I don't see how the one follows from the other. Why does anything have to exist necessarilly? Except possibly for nothing, I don't see that anything in particular has to necesarilly exist? Therefore by your definition God must be nothing. At least nothing in particular.

Quote:
He exists in every possible world, meaning that truth is contingent on Him.
Sorry, but again, I don't see how you reach that conclusion from the premise. Why does universal existence imply truth? And how did you go from there to a personification by the word "Him"?

Quote:
But more essentially, He is a free moral agent Who facilitates goodness, meaning that He freely and volitionally serves as the conduit through which goodness may be shared among free moral agents.
Why does free and moral follow? I see no logical necessity of these attributes. Perhaps you're forcing your definition of God to conform to a preconceived notion you've developed from other causes and for other reasons.

Quote:
Goodness I define as that which edifies, in other words that which creates, builds up, or improves.
Well, it's hard to understand the discussion of you're going to redefine terms without consideration of their normal meaning, especially if that redefinition is simply intended to align with your premise. Can't something be good because it is consistent and unchanging? You're implying that if something isn't getting always better then it's no good. Is that really what you wanted to say?

Quote:
In my view, goodness is an aesthetic that is, it is something of value. Some people value it more than others do, and some people do not value it at all. God is the free moral agent Who values goodness above all else.
What aesthetic does God believe in? Not necessarilly what you think God believes in. Can you accept that God's perception of the world differs from your own, and therefor motivation of "goodness" has nothing to do with yours, and may in some ways be diametrically opposed to yours? His How can you imagine that God's aesthetic and notions of "better" aligns with yours?

I don't mean to be insulting, but your definition seems like an attempt to elevate yourself, or at least your beliefs, into God. In my experience, that's the common mechanics of faith, the elevation of one's primary beliefs into God. Belief's don't come from God, God comes from prior beliefs.
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 11:54 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.