Thursday, December 31, 2015

Playing the Theist Game

A dishonest (but typical) theist once said:
If the universe is too big, the atheist will say it proves God couldn't possibly be interested in our tiny planet. If it's too small, he'll say that just shows there's no God because He should have created something bigger.

If we're the only intelligent life out there, the atheist will say that shows there's no God, else why all that wasted space. And if the universe is crammed full of intelligent life, then once again, we're claimed to be beneath any self respecting deity's interest.

I could continue, but you get the drift. I have no interest in playing. - Prokop
Oh but he is playing a game.  He's playing the same game that theists always play.  It's called projection.  This is something I have discussed before.

You see, for the theist, it doesn't matter what he sees, it doesn't matter what kind of thinking process is used, or indeed, whether thinking is involved at all.  Everything points to God.  Big universe or small, that's evidence for god.  A world specially created for mankind, or a world where man finds a tiny niche in which to live, that's evidence for God.  Universe or multiverse, it's all evidence for God, or so they say.  When it comes down to explaining why they believe in God, the evidence really makes no difference whatsoever.  It's always evidence for God, and the conclusion is always the same.

But this theist grossly mischaracterizes the appeal of evidence to the atheist.  We aren't like him.  We actually draw conclusions that are dependent on on the evidence we see.  This is what is known as a scientific approach to understanding our world.  And it's the single biggest difference between the way we see the world and the way he sees it.  A little historical perspective is in order.

There was a time when mankind had very little scientific understanding of the world.  Much of what we encountered was mysterious and unexplained.  So we needed gods to fill that explanatory gap.  A bolt of lightening was the spear of an angry god.  A volcanic eruption was the fire and brimstone that gods used to punish us for our failures.  The breath of life was the spirit imparted to us by the gods, that would eventually leave the body behind and return to the realm of the unseen.  Eventually, one god was elevated to become the chief among the gods, and then the only god worthy of worship, and finally the one and only God.  It was this God who was responsible for all creation and everything that happens in our world.

In those early times of superstitious human understanding, mankind was regarded as the crown of creation, made specially in the very image of God, and all the world was made specially as a home for man, and everything in the world was given to man as part of his dominion.  What did this specially-made world look like?  It was a flat earth at the center of everything, covered by a firmament, to which the stars were affixed.  It was made with the precise features needed to provide mankind with a home and the means to survive and thrive.  Its age was a few thousand years, traceable back through the mythical tales of the ancestors.  The sun made daily journeys across the sky to give us light and warmth.  All the animals and other forms of life were designed by God to fulfill the needs of mankind, and in some cases, to provide us with challenges in our journey through life, so that we could prove our worthiness to abide with God in the afterlife, when the spirit finally departs our body.  Because the idea of life ending was unthinkable.

And so we have a hubristic, self-centered, theistic view of what the world should be, as designed and created by God, specially for us.  And this was said to be the best of all possible worlds, because God could certainly do no less for his special creation.  And it was all made for our benefit.  Made by God, because God was the answer to every question about how things came to be and why they are the way they are.

But then came science.  We began to see things that violated this self-centered theistic understanding of what the world is and how it came to be.  The firmament wasn't really a firmament, and the earth wasn't really at the center of everything.  And animals weren't really designed, but they were constantly changing over time as they adapted to the conditions in which they lived and survived.  And they must have been doing that for a very long time.  And man, too, seems to be just one of those adaptations of animals, having evolved from a family of ape-like creatures.  Does that mean that we weren't specially created?  That would explain a lot.  Maybe we are just another animal that happens to have a more developed brain.  And the world turns out to be much bigger than we ever thought, with millions, even trillions of stars and other planets.  Was all this made just for us?  If the world was made for us, why does it seem that the vast majority of it is without purpose?  Maybe our little piece of it is equally without purpose.  That would explain so much about why things aren't they way they should be if the world was all about us.  Maybe we aren't the center of everything after all.

And we understand so much more these days, about so many things that were mysterious before we learned to examine our world scientifically.  We know how planets develop naturally, and there's nothing special about how ours came to be.  We know how animal species develop in response to changing environmental conditions, and that there's nothing different that led the development of the human species.  We know how lightening is produced and how volcanoes erupt, and it's not because God is angry.  In fact, God is no longer needed to answer any of those questions.  God as an explanation doesn't fit with the facts as wee see them.  God only gets in the way of understanding reality.  If we want to understand, we need to go where the evidence leads us, and that means no longer relying on God as the default explanation for all things that we don't yet understand.  The evidence tells us a different story.  And it is precisely because of the evidence that we no longer hold to the ancient superstitions about the realities of our world.  Were it not for this evidence, we would probably still be clinging to those superstitious beliefs.

But there are those who continue to deny what the evidence tells us.  There are theists who still see God as the reason and the explanation for everything.  Don't bother showing them evidence, because no matter what they see, it is always regarded as the work of God.  The beauty of creation?  That's God.  The ugliness and suffering?  That's God.  The earth that seems to fit our needs like a glove?  That's God.  The vast universe that is mostly hostile to life and mostly unseen by us?  That's God.  It doesn't matter what evidence they see.  It never leads to any conclusion other than what they have always believed.

Don't try to tell me that theists base their belief on evidence.  They are blind to evidence.  Evidence has absolutely no impact on their understanding of reality.  Understanding reality is a game that they have no interest in playing.


  1. 'God' is an explanation for everything. However, it is just a very bad explanation.

  2. Bob responds:

    First off, we need to disabuse ourselves of a very false notion of history. Atheists all too often accuse believers of employing a "God of the Gaps" manner of thinking, in which various natural phenomena have (temporarily) no explanation, so the believer will fall back on divine action to explain the mystery. But that is not how it appears to have happened in the real world. Read Hesiod's Theogony or The Epic of Gilgamesh, two of the earliest pieces of literature that remain to us, and what do you see? What you see is the exact reverse! The recognition of God comes first, and is only then is followed by making a connection between various natural phenomena and divine activity. Such a process could only be labeled a "God of the Filled In Spaces" method of reasoning.

    The perspective of the theist is always the presumption of God before any consideration of what exists or how it came to be. But this fails to address the issue. Where does this presumption come from? The earliest kinds of religious beliefs were actually animist, wherein all kinds of things were seen as having a spirit of some kind. But this did not answer the questions of how the world arose. For that, people needed to invent gods, and so we have a significant progression in religious belief. However, the presumption of God did not exist before God was invented as an answer to those questions.

    Secondly, there is a pervasive (and totally false) idea going around today that science has somehow over time displaced Man from a privileged place in the universe. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ancient and Medieval thinkers did not consider the Earth to be the center of the universe, but rather the bottom of it. It was the humblest, the lowliest, the least desirable location within it. And as for the significance of the Earth in the cosmos, even Ptolemy wrote that in comparison to the planetary spheres and the stars, the Earth should be regarded as no more than a mathematical point!

    Center or bottom, it doesn't matter. Earth was still at the central point. But it was only with the advent of the myth of "the fall of man" that some came to regard man's position in the world as "lowly". But all of that misses the point, which is that this view of cosmology was essentially egocentric. It is this hubristic, self-centered view that feeds into the God belief complex. It is no surprise that the church labeled scientific-based cosmology as heresy.

    The size of the universe is a giant neutral. ...

    Easy for you to say that, now that you know how vast he universe is. But the fact remains that this is a divergence from the self-centered view of th cosmos, and it only raises the question: why?

    C.S. Lewis pointed this out in his novel Out of the Silent Planet, when the Oyarsa cautioned Ransom "Do not think of these things [vast expanses of time and space]. You do not understand, and it makes you do reverence to nothings and pass by what is really great."

    That's perfect. In the face of information that argues against your theistic beliefs, the response of the faithful is to caution fellow believers not to think about it, lest rational thought be brought into play. That's the biggest threat to those beliefs.

  3. "That's perfect. In the face of information that argues against your theistic beliefs, the response of the faithful is to caution fellow believers not to think about it, lest rational thought be brought into play. That's the biggest threat to those beliefs."

    Even Augustine of Hippo expressed how information that flies in the face of christian belief should be viewed.

    “There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity. It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which man should not wish to learn.”

    This is an ellipsised version of a longer quote. [I can give the full quote if need be.] But it does not diminish the substance of Augustine's dislike of anything that might compromise his christian nonsense.

    1. And here's what Pope Leo XIII had to say about evolution theory:

      "It will not throw on Scripture the light that is sought, or prove any advantage to doctrine; it will only give rise to disagreement and dissension, those sure notes of error, which the critics in question so plentifully exhibit in their own persons; and seeing that most of them are tainted with false philosophy and rationalism, it must lead to the elimination from the sacred writings of all prophecy and miracles, and of everything that is outside the natural order."