Ragged Clown

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A Slippery Trinity

Whenever there is a discussion of whether gods exist the discussion always flits between three distinct definitions of god.

  1. Old man with a beard who hears our prayers, created the earth and intervenes in our daily affairs and performs miracles. Someone a lot like the gods who are described in the Old Testament, Greek mythology and the Norse sagas. Let’s call him Pop God.
  2. Mysterious force that exists outside of the universe and outside of our comprehension. There cannot possibly be any evidence of this god because it does not interact with our universe in any way that is detectable by humans. This is the god of advanced theologians and eastern orthodox mystics. Let’s call it Mystical God.
  3. Future humans or alien civilizations with very advanced technology who are able to to do things that seem miraculous to us. Let’s call them Not Gods.

It’s helpful to pin down which definition of god you are discussing to avoid arguments like this:

Clearly Pop God does not exist but if you atheists would only read more advanced theology you would understand that sophisticated believers believe in a Mystical God who is outside our universe and incomprehensible to our puny minds. There is no evidence for this god and that’s the whole point. You can’t prove that this god does not exist, therefore I am justified in believing in him and, in fact, I am off to pray for my Aunt Jessie right now.

Or this one:

Clearly Pop God does not exist but it’s possible that there is an advanced alien civilization which has a technology sufficiently advanced that it is indistinguishable from magic. It’s possible that Not Gods exist, therefore your statement that there are no gods is founded on an unreasonable faith that is entirely equivalent to belief in Pop God.

This argument is sometimes stated more succinctly as:

Since it’s possible that there are Not Gods, clearly there are gods. Your previous statements about being certain that there are no gods and your claims to be an atheist are therefore invalid.

Let me restate my beliefs addressing each category in turn to avoid confusion.

  1. There is no evidence for Pop God. Never has been. All the stories about such a god were made up by men. No such god exists or has even existed. I am certain of it. With regard to Pop God, I am atheist.
  2. There is no evidence for Mystical God. Never has been and, according to its adherents, never will be. This god will never interact with my world in any meaningful way and for all practical purposes is indistinguishable from no god at all. With regard to Mystical God I am somewhere between atheist and whatever. I am certainly not agnostic on the topic of Mystical God.
  3. There is no evidence for Not Gods. Never has been. There might be one day, but I strongly doubt that I will encounter one in my lifetime. I am certain that none of the gods worshiped by past or existing religions were Not Gods. It’s possible that Not Gods exist but there is no evidence of them. Regarding Not Gods, I am an agnostic. At the very first piece of evidence, I will shed my agnosticism and become a believer.

To summarize:

There are no Gods (pop or mystical). I am certain of it. It’s possible that there are Not Gods though.

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6 responses to A Slippery Trinity

Kevin January 5, 2007

A couple of minor edits that I should have done before I hit ‘publish’ plus this whole paragraph:

This argument is sometimes stated more succinctly as:

Since it’s possible that there are Not Gods, clearly you believe in gods. Your previous statements about being certain there are no gods and your claims to be an atheists are invalid.

Matt January 5, 2007

Cool! By those definitions, which I’d tweak slightly but are still quite good, put me down as a true believer for #3. As there are IMHO zillions of such beings out there way more advanced than us, that makes me a pagan, which sounds extra fun.

Bob January 13, 2007

Quick read, as I am way overdue in taunting back, but I think you forgot the other type of God. The metaphorical, non-personal, God who represents all the wonder and mystery of the universe that science has not yet explained (Things like how the Universe began, why we are carbon-based, why you managed to get by with a close shave instead of being tragically wounded in that crazy stunt from whenever in your childhood, why nice people get destroyed and evil people win fame and fortune etc…). That is the God of Einstein, and other great thinkers IMHO. Though Dawkins wants to get all PC and tells them to stop because they are confusing the issue, he still grants their right to metaphor.

God Bless the metaphor!

Kevin January 13, 2007

Excellent point. With your permission, I will need to slip the Sense of Wonder into category three (Not God) or they will mess up my trinity.

Bob January 13, 2007

Granted :-). However, I worry about pushing this concept of God very far as I am unsure how it will hold up once subjected to things like categorization.

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