Nathan Tyree: God? What is that?
EDIT: I wish this argument had never ended

EDIT: Bumping this up, as Jestmeister and I are still arguing here.

Having written a few words about ethics got me to thinking that it could be good fun to lay out a bit more about my personal belief system. It could, I think, be instructive to explain my ideas on religion.

It is important to begin by explaining a few important points of logic. To be meaningful, a belief system must above all be internally coherent. All of the parts of it must fit together or else it will knock the pins from under itself and collapse. A person cannot believe that the Earth the center of the universe, and that the Earth orbits the sun. These two beliefs refute each other, and create a logical inconsistency.

The next thing to understand is that nothing that is internally incoherent can exist. It is often (erroneously) stated that one cannot “prove a negative.” This is utter and idiotic bunk. Negative claims come in two flavors: limited and universal.

A limited negative claim is any assertion of this sort: There are no cows in this room. Such claims can be proved or disproved easily. In this particular case we can simply search the room. If we exhaust every portion of the room that could hold a cow and find none we will have proven the claim that there are no cows in this room.

Universal negatives are another matter. If we claim that there are no black swans (anywhere) we are left with the problem that we cannot search the entire universe. No matter how long we look without finding a black swan there will still be places where one could hide. But, and this is key, some universal negative claims are provable. We can disprove the existence of a thing if that thing defies the rules of logical possibility.

Let me illustrate the point: I can make the universal negative claim that there are no square circles. Now we can consider what a square circle is. This entity has two parts to its definition. We will label them A and B. We can look at them separately.

A. Square
B. Circle

Each part of this thing poses no problem. Part A is a shape that has four sides of equal length. There are many such objects. Part B is a shape with a single side which is circular.

The problem comes in combining these two. By definition nothing that is square can be circular and nothing that is circular can be square. Thus, a square circle is an internally incoherent concept and cannot exist. If a thing cannot exist then it does not exist and we have disproved a universal negative claim.

We can do the same with married bachelors.

How does this apply to religion?

Let me explain. Religious people believe in a deity (or collection of deities). We can use the ideas I have so far discussed to explore the existence of said deity. As we’re getting started it will be important to define our terms. When we say ‘God’ we mean something, and in order to have a meaningful discourse we will all have to understand what it is that we mean. To that end I now plan to define GOD.

Since most of the believers I encounter worship the Judeo-Christian- Muslim god (the god of Abraham, as it were, which is normally called Jehovah, Yahweh, or Allah depending largely in your taste in vowels) that is the specific deity I will look at. This deity is normally considered to have the following traits:

Omni benevolence
Eternal Existence
Unchanging ness

Now that we know what God is, we can ask if there are any incompatibilities in these traits. Most anyone with even a modicum of education will recognize the first problem as the problem of evil (Epicurus gave us this wonderful argument), which goes like this:

An omnibenevolent god would desire that the world be free of evil. An omniscient god would be aware of any evil that does (or could) occur. An omniscient god would be able to stop all evil. Yet, evil exists. The rational conclusion is that either: 1. God does not exist or 2. God lacks one or more of the listed traits. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument that it is the latter. One could say that to be god, god must be all powerful and all knowing. That leaves us with benevolence as the missing trait. At this point we can safely change our definition of God to the following:

Eternal Existence
Unchanging ness

So now we look at our revised definition. We must ask if there are any further problems. We could ask a seemingly impertinent question like: can God feel pain? This question is more interesting than it may look on the surface. Pain is a physical sensation, and knowledge of it can only be had through personal experience. That is, to “know” pain one must be able to feel pain.

We ask again, can god feel pain? Either answer will be problematic. If God can feel pain then either he is always in pain, or he sometimes feel pain. To sometimes be in pain and sometimes not be in pain clearly shows a change from one state to another. So, if God can feel pain then either he is not unchanging, or he is not perfect (it seems that perfection, by definition, is inconsistent with a constant state of pain). Further, it seems that simply being able to experience pain implies imperfection. Pain itself is a failing. So, if God can feel pain it seems clear that he is imperfect, and also changeable.

So, we should then conclude that God cannot feel pain. But that is problematic as well. If God cannot feel pain, then there is something that God cannot do (feel pain). We see a similar problem when we pose the old chestnut “can god create a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?” If he can then there is something that he cannot do (lift a stone that could exist). If he cannot, then there is something that he cannot do (create that same stone). This seems to put the lid on omnipotence (There are other arguments that Omnipotence is a logical absurdity, the Christian philosopher Hartshorne handles the matter well in his book Omnipotence and other Theological mistakes).

It also puts the lid on omniscience. If god cannot feel pain, then he cannot know what it is like to feel pain. Thus, there is something that God does not know. Also, we might argue that perfection goes as well. It seems clear that a perfect intelligence should be omniscient and omnipotent. When those crumble we can safely disregard perfection as well. That leaves us with:

Eternal Existence
Unchanging ness

We can now ask, what is it that we’ve defined? We have defined God as a non-physical thing that has always existed and does not change. I suppose that you could believe in such a thing, but it doesn’t really seem worthy of worship.

Is this the reason that I do not believe in God? Not really. This reasoning helped to shore up my belief system, but in truth I don’t believe in God(s) for the same reason that I don’t believe in Hobbits. There is simply no evidence for their existence.

If I could be persuaded that some sort of deity existed it would not likely be the Abrahamic god. Further, if that god did somehow exist, he would not be worthy of worship. Yahweh is a war god: a filthy, nasty, mean, jealous, infantile, bigoted, hateful construct. The bastard is (as described in the bible) pure evil. He commands murder, genocide, rape, plague, pestilence, hatred, stupidity, pedophilia, slavery, and every distasteful thing imaginable. We would be better of worshipping a syphilitic rat. Ted Bundy is more deserving of adulation. *

Belief in gods aside, it is worth asking whether religion is good or bad for humanity. Many Christians (as well as Muslims, Jews, etc) will argue that religion is good for people. That is wrong.

If were to make a list of the bad things that that religion has been the impetus for, we would see a torrent of suffering. I don’t claim that he following is a complete accounting, but it is a good start:

The crusades; the children’s crusade; the European Witch Trials; The Salem witch trials; the genocide of the Taino; the genocide of the Amerinds; the Irish ‘troubles’; the murder of Serverus; the slaughter of English Protestants by Catholics; the slaughter of English Catholics by Protestants; The Holocaust*; Darfur; 9-11; The Iraq War; the Bosnian crisis; the murder of Jean D’Arc; The Murder of Socrates (although we could also blame Democracy for that one); Slavery in the United States; more anti-gay hate crimes than you can count; bombing of abortion clinics; the murder of abortion doctors; bombing of the U.S.S. Cole; the murder and disfigurement of Quakers by Puritans; the rape of young girls by Warren Jeffs; the crucifixion of Jesus; Jonestown; The Israel Palestine conflict.

All of that is just off the top of my head. If I sat down to research it the list would be thousands of times as long. Religion kills. It also hates. It seems no coincidence that religious folks fight to subjugate certain groups (gays, atheists, free thinkers, members of other religions, etc, etc, etc).

Religious people do a lot of other bad things. They discriminate against gays. They try to block women’s reproductive rights. They defy the truth of science by pushing for creationist crap to be taught in schools. They obstruct important scientific and medical research (think stem cells). They stand in the way of sex education (in the process they cause more teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease). They block family planning in third world countries and in the process create famine, and further the AIDS epidemic. They destroy free speech. They ban (and burn) books. They kill my buzz.

Why then do people believe? I suppose that a number of logical fallacies and mistakes are at work. Wishful thinking and false pattern recognition are clearly prominent, but not the only things at issue. A lack of critical thinking skills also comes into play. Clearly religious Memes are powerful, but things are getting better. There are one billion Atheists in the world ( and that isn’t counting all of the Traditional Buddhists, Jains, and Taoists. Shintoists and Confucians who are atheist despite having a stated religion). The two wealthiest people on the planet are atheists and are using their vast wealth to improve the lot of humanity. We now have a professed Atheist in the U.S. Senate (Bernie Sanders). A lot of people are waking up to the dangers that religions pose to human happiness.

My conclusion is that religion is bad for the world, it is irrational and it is stupid. I am talking here of the major religions: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism (Mormonism and scientology as well). Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and other ‘graceful life’ philosophies are another matter. Although I don’t follow them, they are not deserving of as much scorn.

Maybe next time I’ll explain the mind body problem.


* See : Numbers

31:7 And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.

31:9-10 And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.

And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.

31:17-18 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourself

* Cagey Xtians will say that the Holocaust wasn’t caused by religion as such. They will make the popular claim that Hitler was an Atheist. This is bullshit of the worst sort. Hitler was a professed and practicing Christian, and was guided in his actions by hi Christian beliefs. If anyone bothers to make the idiotic claim that Adolph wasn’t a Christian I will take the time to present the quotes from Mein Kampf and from his speeches that demonstrate his rapt Christianity.**

** Fuck, my footnote deserves a footnote. Christians undertook a massive PR campaign to convince the world that Hitler wasn’t one of their own. After the war, when it was revealed that Goering was obsessed with ‘pagan’ religions the Jesus Gang thought that they had hit the jackpot and started the work of convincing the world that old Herman’s theology was THE nazi theology.

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