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The Big Picture

'Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons.' -- Vizzini from "The Princess Bride"

Friday, May 02, 2008

Nature of God is it Defined by Humans?

Jason Rosenhouse over at Evolutionblog has a very interesting post up regarding theistic evolution. I highly recommend that you read it. I'm not going to summarize it here. I am really only interested in his money-quote:
People like Ayala, Miller and Conway Morris are surely among the best theistic evolution has to offer, yet their arguments represent the crassest sort of desperation and special pleading. Ayala's argument for why evolution resolves the problem of evil is afflicted with obvious holes. (Lest you think that the Times article was too short for him to develop his argument seriously, let me assure you this is not the case. I have read his book, and he does not provide any additional illumination there.) Miller's argument is based on an obviously false premise, and even taken it at face value does not explain why Darwinian evolution specifically had to be the mechanism through which God created. Conway Morris' argument is almost certainly false biologically, but even leaving that aside it leaves us in no better position theologically than the ID folks. If we can not explain why God directly creates nasty creatures, we also can not
explain why he sets in motion a process that inevitably leads to nasty creatures. [Again, read Rosenhouse's article for this quote's context]

The tangent he presents here is what I am interested in. I rarely discuss theology here (I prefer the cold hard testimony found in the bible as the basis for my philosophical discussions and reasons to not believe in God.) But theology here is what is in question, and I think it is a very interesting question. The question is all about the nature of God. From the bible we are privy to many human-filtered aspects of God's nature; He is all-powerful, all-knowing, loving, jealous, vengeful, just, and above all perfectly moral (but only because he is defined that way -- or should I say that morality is solely defined against the background of what God considers moral). Thus when we come across passages in the bible such as this: "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things." [Isaiah 45:7 (KJV)]

If we define God to be all good and all moral, then it must be moral for God to create evil. This is the loophole that is used by all theistic evolutionists which Rosenhouse is discussing. He nails the root of the problem that whether God directly created nasty and vile things, or just set up the process which would lead to nasty and vile things is no different. In a weak analogy, it would be like a car designer actively causing a cars brakes to fail by cutting the brake lines, or passively causing the brakes to fail by designing the brakes to eventually wear out, but do nothing to inform the car-owner of this defect. In both cases the brakes fail and the driver is injured.

So what we really have here is a question about the nature of God. We have the creationists on one side who claim god created everything exactly as it is, and on the other we have theistic evolutionists who claim that God set in motion a process which would lead to humans and nasty and vile things. But both have the clear problem that God created evil and sin and nastiness and suffering. This was Rosenhouse's point.

I would like to build on that and step ever-so-lightly into the realm of theology. Clearly the bible and Christianity define the nature of God. Those are our only sources for what the nature of God is. We certainly cannot determine the nature of God from independent sources. Nature and our (humanity's) own personal experiences cannot ascertain God's nature, because of the simple fact that we can never intersect with God. The only way to know the nature of God is what He intentionally reveals to us through super-natural interactions. The only problem with this, is the we (humanity) and nature have no means with which to filter this information, for we have no access to the supernatural; we have no knowledge of the rules and "nature" of the supernatural. All we have is nature itself.

This leads inevitably to two possible conclusions. The first is that religion (Christianity) must, by default, re-interpret the nature of God via the nature of humanity. Thus God is defined by human terms and given human characteristics. The second is that if the supernatural is undefinable because its rules and nature are by definition, unknowable, then it cannot be determined in any sense to be real or imagined. That is the exact definition of agnosticism. (As a side note, then atheism would be defined as saying that anything that is unknowable is not real until it can be shown to be real -- in other words atheism is the simple rejection of the existence of anything that cannot be proven real.)

I am interested solely in the first proposition. That God is supernatural and His nature is defined in the only way possible, via human terms and knowledge and experience. Thus any conception of God is a product of the incomplete knowledge and experience of humanity. I think it is then obvious to say that God can only exist in the natural realm because of humans. Humans place upon god their very own qualities and characteristics. Humanity knows of power, knowledge, justice, compassion, hatred, violence, meekness, and fealty. Thus those are the very qualities that humanity bestows upon their god. Humanity's god(s) is (are) simply super-sized expressions of humanity's own characteristics. In fact there are no qualities bestowed upon God (any god) which are completely non-present within humanity.

This, to me, is the most fascinating (and shall I say, damning) aspect of God; either God is severely limiting only to humanistic qualities, or there exists no qualities beyond the grasp of humanity. In other words, God is nothing but a "super-sized" human. God's qualities are all the perfections of all human characteristics. God can kill in a more perfect way than humanity, God can save in a more perfect way than humans. god is more powerful, more knowing, etc. But then have we not defined just what the supernatural is?

If the supernatural realm in which God resides is simply a drastic expansion of the qualities of the natural, then we are left with a clear theological problem. The supernatural realm cannot possess qualities with which we have counterpart. For example, time must be drastically expanded in the supernatural. But this leads to a real problem. Just like the problem of God being all good, but by default God has to allow evil to exist, God is all-powerful, but he does not have the power to simple will the devil out of existence. There is a limit to God's infinite powers. There must also be a limit to time. Again, this is all because we have seen that everything in the natural realm is greatly expanded in the supernatural realm if there is to be a supernatural realm at all. Also there can be nothing in the supernatural which isn't also represented in the natural realm, because we would be helpless to grasp it at all. Thus time itself must exist in the supernatural. And like power and goodness, it has its limits as well.

This means one thing. Time had to begin in the supernatural just as it did in the natural. It also means that God is a slave to time just as we are.

Thus: If we attribute to God qualities which we have as humans, and we have to limit those powers of God because if the powers of God were unlimited, then the natural world would not look like it does (and that is our only possible evidence at all). Then all attributes we give over to God must be similarly limited. But this means God is also a slave to time as well. God cannot be infinitely old. God had to have a beginning. This is certainly true in the same way other qualities of God are so limited. But if God had a beginning, then he had a cause too. Maybe that is the super-supernatural realm. I.e. the god that God worships.

But here is the crux. God by godly-constraint, has to allow evil and nasty things to exist, and He had to create them because He is the creator of all. God had to do this because he had to give humans free-will to choose between good and evil. They could not have free will if there was no choice to make. Thus God is responsible directly and absolutely for all the nastiness and evil and vile things. This is the blight on the supernatural chacter of God. For that is not all-good. The alternative is that humans do not have free will. Then the case is that either all humans go to heaven becuase they had no freedom of will to do evil, or those that did evil were specifically designed by God to be evil humans condemned to eternity in hell. In the second case God is a monster who deserves no respect and is completely deviod of even the most basic morals of humanity. In the first case, God created beings who are irrelevant, their lives have no meaning whether they are mother Theresa or Adolf Hitler.

If God created evil and allows free will, then the morality of the will is dependant on humanity, not on God, because God is just as limited and flawed as all humanity, just on a magnified scale.

See how confusing that all is when you want to bring the supernatural into the natural, especially when you can only claim to know about the supernatural those things which you already know about the natural.

Isn't it all much simpler when you only pay attention to those things which you can know and determine? That being the purely natural world. And that world has no god.

[Update:] As an analogy, suppose you are an American. You live by all the rules of America. You are well informed of the culture and livelihood of America. Now you come across an obvious foreigner. That person also abides by all the rules and laws of America. You also learn that that person has lived in America since their onset of adulthood. But you are unconvinced. You want to research that person. You find that that person has never been arrested, and in fact, has been a part of catching the bad guys in America. You would judge that person to be just and moral by the rules and laws of America. But heres the thing, you do not know his country of origin, you do not know if that person is a criminal in that country at all. You have no idea what the laws and morality of that country is, so you has no means to judge or determine the goodness of that person based on the rules and laws of his country of origin. You only have the powers and knowledge of your own country. That is God. We can only judge him and evaluate him based on our own knowledge and experience. And that means that we have an independent means and method with which to judge God. Thus god is subject to our rules and knowledge and experience. Not the other way around. That means we have no need for a God in the first place. So not only do we have no way of knowing if he really exists, we do not need him in the first place.

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