A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Monday, January 12, 2015

All the gods I don't believe in.

One of the problems frequently encountered in religious debate is that everyone has a different definition of the god(s) they believe in. This creates a moving target for the atheist expressing skepticism regarding those beliefs. There are at last count something on the order of three thousand different gods that humans have worshiped; here's a non-canonical list of them. In addition, there are thousands of sects within various religions all claiming to worship the same god but attributing different personalities to them effectively creating new gods in the process. Then there are Deist gods who are undefined but nevertheless divine by nature and pantheism which holds that the universe and everything in it is some sort of manifestation of godhood. It's exhausting. So here I will go through a top-level list of gods I don't believe are real.

     1. I don't believe in any gods that are responsible for the creation or function of the universe.

If you have evidence to demonstrate that your god is the author of all and that nothing can exist without your god then show me the evidence. Your personal conviction is not evidence of anything except that you're convinced. I need more than words to believe, I need independently verified peer reviewed observation. That then brings me to my next point:

     2. I don't believe in any of the gods that must be argued into existence.

Philosophical arguments from Thomas Aquinas' Five Ways through to the modern modal ontological argument are not evidence, they're speculation. Speculation only ceases to be speculation when you can present evidence that can be independently reproduced and does not depend on a desire to believe before it can be observed. Claiming that life is dark and ugly without your god doesn't show me your god is real, it shows me you have no imagination. Invoking love and beauty doesn't prove your god is real, it proves you view life through a very narrow lens and I have no reason to limit myself like that. Threatening me with dire consequences doesn't convince me of anything except that you have no argument. Arguing for your god doesn't impress me, evidence does.

     3. I don't believe in any gods that are interested or interceding in our lives.

Gods have been depicted as everything from humans or familiar animals with super powers to a single omnimax entity greater than the whole of our universe. I could see how people might think the super-powered gods might take an interest in our affairs but the omnimax god doesn't make much sense. It would be like us focusing on a small batch of mitochondria within our bodies and declaring that everything revolves around them. But regardless of power level, I just don't see any reason to believe there are gods intervening in our lives. I get the same results praying to Zeus, Wotan, Jesus and Ganesh as I do to a jug of milk. Repeated studies find no effective change in outcomes from prayer except those corresponding with the placebo effect and you can replicate that result just by letting people know you're wishing them well.

     4. I don't believe in any gods that have the power to suspend natural laws to perform miracles.

Miracles are tricky things. They never happen when anyone can test or verify them. A discouraging number of them have been debunked, even the "official" ones. They're always held up by the faithful as evidence of their gods' power but they're rarely convincing to anyone else. I rarely hear of devout Hindus experiencing a miracle from the Christian god or devout Christians experiencing miracles performed by the Muslim god. But let's assume for the sake of argument that these miracles really did happen as claimed; where's the evidence? Even an ethereal, extra-temporal omnimax god would necessarily leave traces when interacting with our universe, also known as "evidence." The evidence presented for these miracles is always subjective and typically anecdotal. There's never any evidence that skeptical researchers can point to and say "that must be of supernatural origin, because it violates causality."

     5. I don't believe in any of the gods that have been presented to me because I've not been given convincing evidence that any of them exist.

I've said it before and I'll continue to say it as long as it continues to be applicable: I'll believe anything you tell me as long as you show me evidence appropriate to the claim. Nothing else will do, and you're only wasting your time if you think you've come up with a new argument or example for why I should believe. If your evidence wouldn't win you the Randi Foundation Million Dollar Prize then it won't move me, either.

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