Monday, August 8, 2016

Puny God Redux

A couple of years ago I made a post entitled "Puny God" wherein I talked about how odd I found it that God was so often depicted in modern media as, well, less than the omnipotent, omniscient, infallible being in whom most modern theists claim to actually believe.  At the time, I had just finished reading a set of novels upon which the FX Series "The Strain" was based, and [*SPOILER ALERT*] I was struck by how often God is depicted simultaneously as (a) wholly involved in this little teeny corner of all existence and (b) willing to let huge amounts of his creation suffer and die because of some oversight on His part.  I mean, we are not even talking about suffering caused by mankind's exercise of free will or living in a "fallen" world due to Adam's original sin or any other apologetic justification for why bad things happen to good people.  No, I'm talking about cases where an Angel rebels and decides to wipe out most of humanity.  Or where some ancient artifact once touched by God has been left behind to gather power until a servant of the Devil (or the Devil himself) is able to possess it and wreak havoc.

Anyway, today's redux comes after finishing the entire "Preacher" series of graphic novels, upon which the new AMC series of the same name is loosely based.  It's certainly an entertaining series (albeit a bit too heavy on the sex and nudity and foul language for my taste, even though it's clear that it all serves an important part of the story), but once again it just makes me wonder what sort of God is actually being worshiped here, anyway?

I know all about Young Earth Creationists and their literal view of scriptures.  Yeah, they believe the entire universe really was created 6000-10000 years ago, all the animal species alive today descended from the animals Noah brought with him on the ark 4000 years ago, all of humanity descended from a pair of human beings divinely created as-is in the Garden of Eden, etc.  And I know that many of them have even tried to explain that, since the universe is only 6000-7000 years old, it can't possibly be as big as astronomers want us to believe or, if it is, that's because God created it that big in the first place and set all the photons from distant stars and galaxies midway on their journey to us so it would only appear that they must have traveled millions or even billions of years to get to us.

But seriously, do any of them actually still believe that the Earth is flat, that the sun (and the entire universe) revolves around it once a day, that God is "up there" in the clouds somewhere and that Satan and Hell are "down there" below our feet?  I'm assuming the answer is no, but that just brings me back to my original question as to why God is always depicted as if that's exactly the way the universe is?  The majority of modern day theists seem to prefer to talk about a God who is immaterial, timeless, etc., whose love and intelligence fills the entire universe, as opposed to a glowing white guy with a beard who sits on his thrown in the sky looking down on us.  That presumably lets them maintain their belief in God specifically in the face of all the incontrovertible evidence that the universe is vastly old and vastly huge and that there is no heaven in the sky and no hell beneath our feet.  And, as I said, I don't think even the most die-hard literalists really think God is up there in the clouds somewhere.

So why, why, why does God keep getting portrayed as if our knowledge of the universe had not advanced a whit from the days of those who wrote the scriptures thousands of years ago?  What is this fascination with a version of God that most (if not all) theists agree couldn't possibly be correct?  I mean, I'm fine with it because I acknowledge that it is all fiction and quibbling with the way God is depicted would be like complaining because the Ewoks from Star Wars don't seem realistic enough.  But if theists really do believe that God is some immaterial, timeless being that has an entire universe to take care of, why isn't he ever actually portrayed that way and why are books and movies that portray him as a "puny God so darn popular?

Is it just because all these popular books and movies are produced by atheists?  Are the audiences that lap them up also atheists (even if they won't admit it publicly)?  Or do they, like me, just enjoy these stories as the fiction they are despite the fact that acknowledging them as wholly fictional undercuts the very foundation of their beliefs?

I would honestly like to hear from theists who like these sorts of movies, books, comics, etc.  Are they comfortable with God being literally depicted as the holy scriptures describe him instead of the way most "enlightened" theists talk about him today?  Or would it be more disturbing to actually depict God as he is usually described today (immaterial, timeless, etc.) instead of as a glorified, glowing figure in a white beard who sits in a thrown in the sky and comes down to chat every now and then?

I suspect that most "enlightened" theists today want to believe in a personal "Sky Daddy" of a God who, just like the scriptures teach, looks like us, watches over us, cares for us, and could possibly come down from his thrown and provide individual help if we needed it.  Of course, they can't actually say that's what they actually do believe, since they know they would be ridiculed for doing so (which is why they've come up with this whole idea of an "unprovable" God who doesn't show himself directly and whose very existence must be taken on faith alone).  But maybe that's why these depictions of God in movies, television, books, etc. are so popular -- because theists today desperately want to believe that God is how he is depicted in the scriptures and not the watered-down, science-accommodating, non-falsifiable "God is love" type of being that most theists seem to espouse these days.

That's just my theory, though.  I'd love to here what you think...

Thursday, August 4, 2016

"Molecules In Motion"

There's a recurring statement that comes up in a variety of contexts, whether it be discussions of free will, morality, evidence of God's existence, etc., that atheists believe that nothing exists in the universe except for matter and energy and therefore must think that human beings are nothing more than "molecules in motion" (or words to that effect).  For example, when discussing morality, a theist might claim that atheists have no way of justifying a belief in morality without a belief in God since, after all, atheists think we're all just a bunch of molecules in motion (or matter and energy) following Newton's laws of motion and acting in predetermined ways based on stimuli.  Or something like that.  So, the argument goes, how can there be any morality if we are not free to choose our own actions?

This same argument is used to explain why there supposedly can't be any sort of free will without there being a supernatural being to give us that free will.  Sometimes it's even used to prove the existence of God, since there's supposedly no other way that consciousness could possibly arise from "mere" matter and energy.

When this argument is raised, in whatever context, the person representing the atheist point of view often tries to defend how its possible to have morality based on natural laws that are wholly apart from human consciousness.  Or perhaps that it doesn't matter whether we "really" have free will as long as we think that we do and act in accordance with that belief.

Personally, I think trying to argue along these lines misses the boat.  Once again, theists are just presenting another form of "Argument from Ignorance" and claiming that, since atheists can't explain it, God must be the answer.  However, rather than falling into this trap and trying to explain something that may very well be inexplicable, I think it's better to simply acknowledge that we don't know how consciousness and free will could arise from matter and energy.  The fact that we can't explain it doesn't mean that it has to be God.  It just means that we can't explain it.  And it also doesn't mean that the theist explanation of God is the correct explanation, either.  I mean, if we're going to assume that any explanation must be better than no explanation, then I'll go ahead and posit that consciousness and free will arises due to the presence of immaterial and undetectable "mind" particles that permeate the universe and accumulate over time in our brains.  Sure, I have no evidence that these particles exist, let alone that they do what I claim they do, but apparently that doesn't matter as long as they explain the observed phenomena that we do have consciousness and free will, right?  And can anybody prove that my immaterial and undetectable particles don't exist?

The bottom line, as always, is that atheism is not a claim to have all the answers about everything in the universe -- it is simply a lack of belief in the claim made by theists that they do have all the answers to everything in the universe.  Sure, I suspect that scientists (not "atheists", mind you) will someday figure out just how consciousness and free will arises naturally from matter and energy.  Or perhaps they really will find evidence of the "mind" particle I joked about earlier.  But until they do, it doesn't mean that the "God" explanation must be true in the meantime, any more than it was true that Thor was responsible for thunder until we figured out how it was really caused.