April 16, 2008

The God question II

Dale at Faith in Honest Doubt has recently had a number of interesting posts on religious belief and the nature of God. I've talked about the God question before but Dale's posts gave me an urge to revisit the issue.

When people say they believe in "God" they are not really saying anything sensible. That is, they are not postulating that some entity called God exists as part of objective reality. If they were saying such a thing then the question of God's existence could easily be put to the test: define the term "God" by reference to its physical properties, check you have a sensible definition that's consistent with the laws of physics and then undertake a universe-wide search for such an entity.

If you come across such a thing in the universe - congratulations, you've found God. If you don't, well the question is still open - at least you got a definition of God that makes sense.

As things stand, religious people can't even come up with a definition of God that's acceptable to other believers, never mind one that might make sense to anyone else. Sure, there are plenty of descriptions of God - the concept appears in a lot of picturesque fables, and believers are wont to attach all kinds of adjectives to it - but a hazy description (often comprising little more than a host of "good" qualities) is not the same thing as a working definition.

Of course, those who say they believe in God won't accept such practical methodology - that's why they're called believers; they have faith. And in the sense in which they use the word, faith has nothing whatsoever to due with objective reality. In fact, their faith involves a rejection of the world as revealed by the senses - such "faith" is, in effect, a peculiarly rigorous form of wishful thinking.

All of which means it's kind of difficult to have a discussion about God with people who take the idea seriously. Like Dale says:-
A telltale sign of a discussion that has landed precisely nowhere is the insistence that words no longer mean what they did when the conversation began, and yet won't be redefined.
He's talking about words like "goodness", "love" and "benevolence" but the thing that really needs to be defined at the outset is what people mean when they talk about God.

Unfortunately, there's nothing sensible to be said on the subject.