On 10 Oct 2004 02:06:46 -0700, samde...
@hotmail.com (Sam's the Man)
>> Seems to me that the methodology does exist. It's just that there's an
>> unspoken social agreement that Science will not apply its methodology
>> to the question of God's existence, while Religion in return will not
>> have Science torn apart by screaming mobs, burned at the stake, or
>> deprived of research grants.
>Where then is this methodology? I hope you don't mean to imply that
>the scientific method can be applied to test for God's existence,
>because the scientific method is limited to only test observable or
>predictable phenomena, and God is BY DEFINITION neither observable nor
By whose definition? And why is their definition the correct one?
>Note that I don't say that merely because it is
>convenient for theists to say so, but because it is a fundamental
>property of the infinite that it cannot be observed from a finite
Again, who says so?
The trouble with this argument is that the mainstream (i.e. generic
Christian) concept of God is a chimera of two independently developed
and nearly opposite ideas. On the basis of seniority, people arguing
pro-God are allowed to use any part of the two concepts at will,
There's (to use a r.a.sf.w. term) the War God of Israel, the intensely
personal deity who gets involved. Healing and raising the dead over
here, smiting like heck over there. This is the God who fixes football
games, chooses winners in war, and helps grandmothers find their car
"By definition neither observable nor predictable" is the last
description anyone would apply or want to apply to this guy. This God,
bursting with personality, is all _about_ being observable and
predictable. He's supposed to get involved every day in every way in
the lives of his followers, and he's supposed to be utterly
predictable -- pronounced consistent. (I agree that consistency is a
good thing in people including deities, btw.) Sin and he smites you,
do right and he showers blessings in ways you least expect.
This guy is eminently testable; every prayer everwhere should
constitute a test. There's stuff in the Bible that clearly and
unambiguously promises you can test him -- handle poisonous snakes,
drink poison, move mountains. And as the only source of moral
goodness, he's also testable in the social sphere. There are songs
about it: "And they'll know we are Christians by our love."
The virtues of this guy are that he's lively and specific; believing
in him is interesting. But when people start poking around and
testing, that liveliness and specificity become his undoing. If you
_keep track,_ it turns out that the faith-healing and snake-handling
and prayers for car keys don't actually yield better results than
competing brands. Nor do his miraculously transformed followers, as a
whole, behave better than the spiritually dead knowlessmen who have
other religions or none. If the followers of this deity are silly
enough (or confident enough) to agree that testing _counts,_ then the
deity fails the tests.
Hence, they generally aren't that silly or (although they don't say so
as such) that confident. Beside the clear and unambiguous sacred texts
saying that the deity rewards good and punishes evil, and the ones
encouraging followers to take advantage of this, you get other texts
warning just as clearly about the evils of tempting the Lord thy God
or assuming that the smitten did something to deserve smiting. The
rules for miracles get stricter -- if it didn't work, you just didn't
have enough faith. Or, the ways of God are (now) hidden from us.
Customers are offered substitute outcomes. Okay, you didn't get the
miracle cure you wanted for your relative dying in agony. But you --
and he -- the whole family, really, got the fortitude to stand up to
the crisis, surely that's just as good.
Handily, enter the other side of the coin -- what might be called the
Philosopher's God. "By definition neither observable nor predictable"
is exactly what he promises, and no more. Not a
roll-up-your-sleeves-and-smite being but an austere, impersonal spirit
who hangs around everywhere and nowhere in the universe offering, on a
good day, a sort of Olympian moral support just by existing. He's much
too clever, in a serene and wise sort of way, to make any testable
promises that might be subject to disproof. He offers the ultimate in
any favorable adjective you want to apply -- omniscience, omnipotence,
etc. -- on condition that the worshipper doesn't actually try to cash
in any of the treasures laid up in heaven.
This God is utterly unshakeable and immune to disproof of any
conceivable kind. The down side is that he doesn't _do_ anything. The
Philosopher's God can never be disproven exactly because he takes care
to _behave as if_ he doesn't exist. Taken alone, he's not really worth
getting out of a warm bed on a Sunday morning for.
Taken together, though, they're perfect. If you're making a sales
pitch -- er, sharing the good news with a potential convert -- they
can be promised the active, roaring personal deity bending the forces
of the entire universe on their side. But when the good news doesn't
deliver the goods, then the impassive Philosopher's God in the
complaint department can remind the questioner from either inside or
outside the faith that this is ineffable, beyond our ken, etc.
_without ever admitting the bait and switch._
Make a statement about God that has content (as opposed to the
ultimate infinite omni stuff) and sure it's testable. The hard part is
getting the person who made the statement, afterward, to agree that
the test meant anything.
It's very much the same problem as testing dowsers or psychics or some
such. If the test result is in their favor, then see -- they have
proof! If it's not in their favor, somebody blocked the light or they
can't do it with you watching or your vision of what the test results
mean is too narrow. It's like playing checkers with a kid who claims
to be undefeated, and it turns out to be true only because he knocks
the board over any time he can see he's one move away from losing.