Defining God: Yours and Mine
(Top Posts - Distance From Belief
in theism - 022108)

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by Rodney Sheffer / February 20th, 2008
  http://dissidentvoice.org/2008/02/defining-god-yours-and-mine/
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Excerpts:

One day, late in my career as a biology teacher, we had
finished our lesson for the day on organic evolution, and
there were a few minutes left in the hour. A student asked
me if I believed in god.

I replied that the question was fair and well received, but
that the question was asked at the wrong time and place
as this was a science class that dealt with secular subjects
only, in a secular institution, supported by a secular state
and secular nation. I also made the point that science
addresses itself only to our questions about natural phe-
nomena, and has nothing whatever to say about theolog-
ical, extra-natural, or supernatural subjects.

If she were to ask me off campus if I believed in a god I
would first have to ask, “Which one?” because the word
“god” could be understood only in a generic context. People
have created literally thousands of gods, and therefore the
idea of “god” could mean disparate things to many people.

In the approximately 150,000 year history of modern human
beings, people have always created their own gods from their
own experience, and to suit their own purpose whether for
their perceived needs, or to control others.

I would have asked her, “Specifically, which god are you
asking about? If she had said, “The Christian God”, I would
have replied that I was still at something of a loss for an an-
swer because I did not know what she meant by “god.”

I would have explained that I had asked maybe a thousand
people, both professional and lay people, to define what they
meant by “god,” and that I had received an equal number of
definitions. One young mother had told me that she defined
“god” as, “the space between the molecules.”

I had read what scores and scores of theologians and philos-
ophers had to say about what, or who god was, or is, and
they all had different opinions, and they all thought they were
right, and that the others were wrong. Even the early Catholic
Church was rent asunder because different factions defined
their god in different terms. Now, we can only wonder how
many different concepts of “god” there are among 2500
denominations of Protestants.

Some Christian theologians had been accused and convicted
of heresy because their ideas about “god” were different from
some others. I knew that this had been going on for more than
twenty centuries, and there was still no resolution to the differ-
ences of opinion, even from those who allegedly knew the most
about the subject.

The likelihood that I understood “god” in the same context as
my student was so remote that if she were asking if I believed
in the same idea of god as she did, the answer would statistically
have to be, “Probably not.” This begs the question: “After more
than two millennia, are we any closer to having a clearer and
more universal understanding of who or what “god” is?

If she was asking if I believed in an anthropomorphic, paternal-
istic, patriarchal, personal, creator god (a kind of cosmic designer)
who chronically meddled in the lives of people, (a kind of cosmic
cop); or a kind of god who meted out rewards and punishments,
condemning some people to eternal damnation in a fiery hell for
disobedience or unbelief (a kind of cosmic judge) I would have
to say, “Surely, you jest.”

If she were asking if I believed in a god who blessed some people
with remarkable talents while denying them to others, or played
favorites by designating some people as his “Chosen People,” or
made countless egregious errors while creating millions of babies
born with horrifying genetic or congenital defects, I would have
said, “Not on your life.”

If she were asking if I believed in a god who played a role in the
generation of natural phenomena (earthquakes, volcanism, tsuna-
mis, tornadoes, hurricanes) without warning people, or who
played dice with the universe; or otherwise “watches over us”,
then all this is nothing more than worship of an idealized form of
ourselves.

Such a world view is not only elementary and primitive, it is intel-
lectually unsophisticated and indefensible in light of a more modern
understanding of natural phenomena. I would have to say, “You’ve
got to be kidding me–please don’t insult my intelligence!”

If the most authoritative god believers couldn’t agree about what or
who “god” was/is, what different believers believed really depended
on who they had been listening to; even then there was a lot of dis-
agreement.

Christians, Jews and Muslims all believe that there is only one God,
but they have profound differences in what they believe is true about
their God. The differences are so great that they have been killing
each other over their different beliefs for centuries; and it is still going
on.

Christians even kill other Christians over their differences. (See Ire-
land and Yugoslavia.) The same is true for Muslims (see Sunni’s and
Shia) even though all of them preach the “Golden Rule,” forgiveness,
charity, tolerance and “love one another.”

It seems as though, in spite of all of the rhetoric, the message has been
lost, or the message has made little impression on the believers, or that
their omniscient and omnipotent God has been either unwilling, incapa-
ble or indifferent about doing anything about it.

It seems as though there is an enormous amount of confusion about a
subject that should be universally simple, direct and consistent, espe-
cially among believers. Such is not the case, and resolution does not
appear to be forthcoming.

Some of my Christian friends have suggested that I, like they, should
love, honor, obey and worship their Hebrew god who, according to
the most learned theologians is: unknowable, indescribable, inscrutable,
ineffable, and completely incomprehensible.

If we cannot find consensus among theologians as to what, or who,
“God” is, then we cannot escape the idea that those who engage in
“God talk” really don’t know what they are talking about. We are left
hopelessly adrift without a rudder, in a stormy sea of semantic obfus-
cation and blinding confusion, falling headlong into a philosophical
black hole.

Are these people then, even worthy of our attention? Should we even
give consideration to their unverifiable claims and groundless asser-
tions?

I suggested that if we were created in the image of an omniscient
“god,” and that people have always created their gods in their own
image, then such a god must be a lot like us.

That being so, then worshiping such a deity would be little more than
another form of anthropomorphic idolatry which would be narcissism
at its worst. This is not only patently absurd, it is intellectually abhor-
rent.

So, back to my student’s original question–do I believe in God?

...

If we accept someone else’s concept of “God” on faith, then we
are allowing them to do our thinking for us. If people are inadequately
educated and/or incapable of thinking for themselves and defining their
own god, in their own terms, to their own purposes, then I suppose
that is the best they can do.

...

Will we educate our children with the highest level of our modern,
intellectual knowledge base, or indoctrinate them with ancient, and
archaic biases, prejudices and religio-political agendas derived from
a tribal mind set to solve the problems they will face in the 21st cen-
tury?

Do I believe in a god?

Certainly not in the context of any of the monotheistic religions which
are derived from a pre-modern knowledge base that can best be
described as somewhere between Paleolithic conjecture and Bronze
Age speculation.

I did believe in a god as a naive child because I was indoctrinated
with that idea before I could think critically and evaluate the arguments
and the evidence for and against the existence of a god. Like everyone
else, I was the product of my environment.

Subsequently, however, in the light of a modern, scientific knowledge
base, gods of any kind, whether one or many, cannot stand up to cri-
tical examination.

Gods, like all religions, are grounded in, and derived from, a profound
misunderstanding and misinterpretation of natural phenomena. Gods
cannot be reconciled with the realities of the known laws of the uni-
verse.

...

The burden of proof is always on the claimant, and thus far, no one
has ever provided a single scintilla of compelling evidence to support
the assertion that a god or gods exist.

Nearly everyone understands this. Believing in a god then, is a mat-
ter of choice–it is a personal option that is exercised according to
one’s perceived needs and reflects the level of one’s understanding
of the world and the cosmos in which one lives.

...

I define god as, “The nature of Nature.” This works for me. If it
doesn’t work for you I will NOT say that you are evil, or immoral,
or amoral, or doomed to spend eternity being seared in flames. I will
not label you as blasphemous, nor call you a heretic.

...

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