(JBH) Greetings- I have a thought I'd like to toss out for discussion.

A blogger I read recently said he had "backslid" from atheism to agnosticism, because he had read a new and improved version of a certain philosophical argument for the existence of God. He was aware that many such arguments have been refuted, and some past refutations have been overcome by revisions in the pro-god arguments, and so forth. There are still some professional philosophers arguing over this issue, on both sides, and as time goes by they come up with new versions of pro-god arguments, and new refutations of same.

I wonder whether this game is worth playing at all. I wonder if any philosophical argument can ever suffice to reach the desired conclusion.

Consider what is meant by "God", a minimal sort of definition.

One classic argument for the existence of God was the "first cause" argument of Aquinas. Every event/thing has a cause, and that cause in turn must have a prior cause, but an infinite regress is just unimaginable, so there must have been a First Cause, which we call God. The Marquis de Sade replied in one of his books that if we toss a match into a basket of waste paper, and the flames leap up, we could say the match is the cause of the fire, could we not? Is the match Ommniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent? So... there may be a First Cause, but why does the First Cause have to be God? (There are other problems with the First Cause argument besides this.) My point is that to call something God, it must at least be intelligent, a "person" in the usual sense of the word.

Other arguments I've heard are similar to this. The Universe of time and space seems not to have existed eternally; it looks like it had a beginning, and by some arguments must have had a beginning. (Insert verbal hocus-pocus here.) Therefore there must have been an eternal Creator outside of time, who was capable of creating this Universe of time and space. Modern physicists (e.g. Stephen Hawking) have done mathematical hocus-pocus to conclude the Universe may have begun from the collapse of an unstable vacuum, or the collision of two Branes, or whatever. A pregnant vacuum, full of energy, capable of spawning virtual particles and other "real" things, may be the sort of thing that might exist eternally outside of time, but like the match, it may not be intelligent or a "person".

Another requirement: to be a "God" for a human religion, an intelligent creator must have US in mind. For the sake of argument, let us suppose that there is a grand, cosmic intelligence, a GOD, and this God created the Universe with a plan in mind. He carefully tuned the physical constants of this Universe so that it would develop stars with systems of planets, and planets hospitable for life; he then guided the evolution of life to produce intelligent, social creatures capable of awareness and choice. He watches the drama of their lives, sometimes intervening to move the story along a better path, favoring some individuals, peoples, and nations above others so as to carry out the drama and the story he wishes to see.

All of this is happening in a star cluster in the Andromeda Galaxy. That is where the central drama of the Universe is being played out, that is where God's attention is focused. Life on Earth is an accidental byproduct of the Universe being the kind of Universe where God's Plan can be enacted. He needed stars with planets hospitable for life, and made a Universe finely tuned to create them; he got enough for his purpose, and a few more scattered about in the hinterlands. We arose accidentally; God hasn't even noticed that we are here, and would not care about us if He did.

SO: There IS a meaning and a purpose for the Universe, but it's not about US.

Would that satisfy the folks who want to believe in a God? I think not. It just HAS to be all about US.

A "God" useful for a human religion must also, for some reason, choose to deliver messages to humankind by whispering to a selected few mortal men, and take action in response to obedience or disobedience, belief or nonbelief, or SOMETHING. It has to be an interventionist and a speaker to "prophets", unable or unwilling to speak to us all directly. ("If a god wishes me to do something, they should tell me, not you.") A Deist god who created the Universe and then let it run unhindered thereafter would not satisfy; it would make no sense to pray to such a god, or hope for an afterlife or any cosmic Justice. No priests or preachers could exhort their flocks to do this or that to please this god, if this god has given no indication that he/she/it wants our obedience or our worship. Some kind of "revelation", some promise of Divine response to human action, delivered through some specially-anointed human mouthpiece, is essential for any effective or satisfying theistic religion.

So, I ask you, could any philosophical argument, of any kind, ever hope to show the likelihood of an intelligent, interventionist God, who has human beings in mind?

And if an argument does not do that, is there any reason why we should bother to even try to refute it, to unravel the fallacies involved?

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Comment by Jeffrey P. Murphy on September 20, 2010 at 7:48pm
"But I've dedicated my LIFE to the religion of atheism...I just can't give up my evangelizing now!!!"

But seriously, I recently gave up having the 'ANYthing we can call god' argument. I now deal with (th|d)eists one at at time. If they take it to the 'ANYthing we can call god' route, I'll happily shoot down all their happy little fallacies.

I don't try to make appeals to the effect of 'there can't be a god', because if I really mean 'default position', I can't let them beg the question. I let them shoot themselves in the foot each time. I don't have to exercise much in the way of thought to be an atheist, really. I refute silly, illogical, fallacial arguments, but don't find cause to launch my own offensive. It's like swatting flies. They're annoying but can't really hurt you and it's not like you have to intentfully punch them in the face to make them go away. A flick of the wrist is all it takes.



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