Against the gods?
02-05-2013, 10:51 PM
Against the gods?
This is an article I had stashed away in documents for some time. Just re-found it. There is some stuff that I agree with and some that I'm not sure of. Thought it might be nice to share though.
I should warn you that this is a very very very very long article. If you don't have a desktop, laptop, or tablet then you might want to wait tell you get one. Or read it on those small screens. Here you go.
1 | P a g e A g a i n s t t h e G o d s ? F r e e d o m a i n R a d i o
Against the Gods?
By Stefan Molyneux, MAWhile strolling through the sunny woods one day, you spy a man slithering through the undergrowth, heavily camouflaged and gripping a bow and arrow.“What are you hunting?” you ask.“Dragons!” hisses the man proudly. You frown. “Dragons? But dragons don’t exist!” The man nods emphatically. “I completely agree with you! There ain’t no such thing as dragons. And I’m a-gonna shoot me one!” He raises his bow and arrow, narrows his eyes and glares through the trees, hungry to target the non-existent. At this point, you would surely take a series of slow and steady steps backwards, aiming to put some safer distance between you and a deranged man wielding a bow and arrow. This is one of the many, many challenges of atheism.
Host, Freedomain Radio
“Atheism” is a terrible word on many levels. The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, defines atheism as: “Disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a god.”
To any modern, rational thinker, this is an entirely unsatisfactory definition – which is exactly what you expect from a word originally defined by theists.
First of all, the OED definition implies that there is something personal in the rational rejection of a god. “Denial” is a word associated with defensive rejections of reality, such as Holocaust denier, climate change denier – or the generic avoidance of unpalatable emotional truths: “He’s in denial about her drinking.” Compare the above definition to this one:
“Atheism: The acceptance of the non-existence of imaginary entities such as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Bronze Age sky ghosts.”
The difference should be clear. Also, why is the phrase “a god” used? If I say that supernatural beings such as leprechauns do not exist, why would anyone imagine that I only disbelieved in a single leprechaun named “Bob”? Rational thinkers have nothing against any particular deity – any more than a mathematician dislikes in particular the proposition that two and two make five. If such a mathematician existed, and loudly proclaimed his opposition to that particular equation, and founded a society called “against two and two making five,” he would be considered beyond eccentric, and it would be generally understood that he had utterly failed to grasp the most basic principles of
mathematics. A thinker cannot logically differentiate the nonexistence of a deity from the nonexistence of any other thing which does not exist. Principles by definition apply in general, rather than in particular, just as a method of long division cannot only apply to one particular combination of numbers.
The criteria for existence versus nonexistence is a general standard, which applies equally to rocks, electricity, electrons, ghosts, dreams, square circles, concepts and unicorns. It cannot rationally focus its energies on only one entity – or even one category – otherwise it becomes mere prejudice, rather than the dispassionate application of a general principle. Defining “atheism” as being “against the gods” is thus a misnomer, since it takes a merely accidental subset of a larger set of principles and turns it into an arbitrary principle itself. There is no such thing as being “against the existence of gods,” any more than there is such a thing as
being “anti-leprechaun.” In fact, to say that you are against one leprechaun in particular is to imply that you believe in leprechauns overall, but find one of them in particular somehow offensive. We cannot rationally be “against gods,” just as we cannot be “against” square circles, or hostile to the idea of gravity in the absence of mass, or offended by the idea that human beings can live unaided on the surface of the sun. These propositions are simply false, according to reason
and evidence, and to create a second category of particular offense “against the gods” is irrational – and, fittingly enough, offensive, due to the implied prejudice.
Rational thinkers accept standards of existence that at least involve logical consistency and with any luck, empirical evidence. It is the first standard that beliefs in gods fail and as a result, there is little point looking for the second.
The word “atheist” also indicates that belief in gods is the standard, and atheism is the exception just as “sane” is the standard, and “insane” is the exception. This is a mere scrap of sophistic propaganda, since all theists are almost complete atheists, in that they do not believe in the vast majority of man’s gods. The rejection of gods is the default position; the acceptance of a deity remains extremely rare, though not as rare as atheists would like.
The Existence of Gods
Two main errors are generally made when examining the existence of gods.
The first is to ignore the basic fact that gods cannot logically exist, and the second is to accept such logical impossibilities, but to create some imaginary realm where gods may exist. Broadly speaking, the first error is made by theists, who argue that gods do exist, and the second by agnostics, who argue that they may exist.
In the first instance, gods are viewed as similar to unicorns. If we define a unicorn as a horse with a horn on its head, we cannot logically say that such a creature can never exist. There may be such a being on some other planet, or in some undiscovered place in this world, or perhaps a mutation may arise at some point in the future which pushes a horn out of the forehead of a standard-issue horse.
The concept of a horse with a horn on its head is not logically self-contradictory and thus such a being may exist, and it would be foolish to state otherwise.
In the same way, life forms based on silicon rather than carbon may exist somewhere in the universe such beings are not logically self-contradictory, and so their existence cannot be rationally eliminated. However, if I define a unicorn as a horse with a horn on its head that can fly through interstellar space, go backwards through time powered by its magical rainbow tail, and which existed prior
to the universe well, then we have moved into another category of assertion entirely. A horse cannot live in space, since there is no oxygen, or air pressure, or water and about a thousand other reasons. The properties and necessities of carbon-based life forms completely eliminate such a possibility.
A being which does not contradict the properties of existence may exist a proposed being which does, may not. Bertrand Russell argued for agnosticism by saying that there may be a little teapot orbiting somewhere in the solar system, but he considered it highly unlikely. This argument – with all due respect to Dr. Russell's genius – is incorrect. A teapot is not a self-contradictory entity. If I
could communicate with Dr. Russell in his current state of nonexistence, I would ask him whether he would consider it possible that an eternal living horse was floating somewhere in deep space – and I respect his knowledge of biology enough to be sure that he would answer in the negative. Gods are not like little teapots, or horses with horns, or very small Irishman with pots of gold – gods are entirely self-contradictory entities, the supernatural equivalent of square circles.
We do not have to hunt the entire universe to know that a square circle cannot exist, because it is a self-contradictory concept. We do not have to examine every rock on every planet to know that a rock cannot fall up and down at the same time. We do not have to count every object in the universe to know that two and two make four, not five. There is no possibility that selfcontradictory entities can exist anywhere in the universe. We know that an object cannot be a
teacup and an armchair and a horse with a horn at the same time. The Aristotelian laws of identity and non-contradiction deny us the luxury of believing that self-contradictory entities exist anywhere except in our own unreliable imaginations.
Why Are Gods Self-Contradictory?At the very minimum, a god is defined as an eternal being which exists independent of material form and detectable energy, and which usually possesses the rather enviable attributes of omniscience and omnipotence.
First of all, we know from biology that even if an eternal being could exist, it would be the simplest being conceivable. An eternal being could never have evolved, since it does not die and reproduce, and therefore biological evolution could never have layered levels of increasing complexity over its initial simplicity. We all understand that the human eye did not pop into existence without any prior development; and the human eye is infinitely less complex than an omniscient and omnipotent god. Since gods are portrayed as the most complex beings imaginable, they may well be many things, but eternal cannot be one of them.
Secondly, we also know that consciousness is an effect of matter – specifically biological matter, in the form of a brain. Believing that consciousness can exist in the absence of matter is like believing that gravity can be present in the absence of mass, or that light can exist in the absence of a light source, or that electricity can exist in the absence of energy. Consciousness is an effect of matter, and thus to postulate the existence of consciousness without matter is to
create an insurmountable paradox, which only proves the nonexistence of what is being proposed. If you doubt this, try telling your friends that that no woman can bear your company – and that you have a girlfriend. Having a girlfriend is an effect of female company, just as consciousness is an effect of brain matter. Alternatively, try speaking to someone without making a sound or a
movement. Speaking is an effect of movement, either in the vocal chords or somewhere else, and therefore it cannot exist in the absence of motion. (If someone insists that consciousness can exist without a brain, ask them to demonstrate the proposition without using his brain.) Thirdly, omniscience cannot coexist with omnipotence, since if a god knows what will happen tomorrow, said god will be unable to change it without invalidating its knowledge. If this god
retains the power to change what will happen tomorrow, then it cannot know with exact certainty what will happen tomorrow.
The usual response from theists – it is impossible to use the word ‘answer’ – is to place their god “outside of time,” but this is pure nonsense. When an entity is proven to be selfcontradictory,
creating a realm wherein self-contradictions are valid does not solve the problem.
If you tell me that a square circle cannot exist, and I then create an imaginary realm called “square circles can exist,” we are not at an impasse; I have just abandoned reality, rationality and quite possibly my sanity.
Theists who try this particular con should at least be consistent, and not pay their taxes, and then, when said taxes are demanded, say to the tax collector that they have created a universe
called “I paid my taxes,” and slam the door in his face. (Alternatively, if theists make a mistake on a history test, and claim that the American Revolution was in 1676, they should fight the resulting bad mark by claiming that their answer exists “outside of time.”)
The fourth objection to the existence of deities is that an object can only rationally be defined as existing when it can be detected in some manner, either directly, in the form of matter and/or energy, or indirectly, based upon its effects on the objects around it, such as a black hole. That which can be detected is that which exists, as anyone who has tried walking through a glass door can painfully tell you. Such a door is deemed to be open – or nonexistent – when we
can walk through it without detecting the glass with our soon-to-be-bloody nose. It would be epistemological madness to argue that an open door is synonymous with a closed door. If someone argues that existence is equal to nonexistence, challenge them to walk through a wall rather than an archway. (The fact that the wall might be an archway in another dimension will scarcely help their passage in this one.)
Differentiating between existence and nonexistence was something that my daughter was able to manage before she was 6 months old; we can only hope that modern philosophical thinkers are able to circle back and someday achieve her prodigious feats of knowledge.
A god – or at least any god that has been historically proposed or accepted – is that which cannot be detected by any material means, either directly or indirectly.
Ah, but what about the future? Might we find gods orbiting Betelgeuse in the 25th century?
Well, while it is true that at some point we may come across some seemingly magical being somewhere in the universe that may appear somewhat godlike to us, no one who has proposed the existence of gods in the past has ever met such a being, which we can tell because no test for existence has ever been proposed or accepted. Since “god” means “that which is undetectable, either directly or indirectly,” then the statement “gods exist” rationally breaks down to:
“That which does not exist, exists.” Thus not only is the concept of gods entirely self-contradictory, but even the proposition that they exist is self-contradictory.
Okay I think that's enough for now this is part one, part two will come later.
Just an outsider looking inn.