Sunday, February 14, 2010

Battleground God

Here's a quiz in which you answer questions about God. If you answer inconsistently, you take a hit.

I got two questions wrong, although I can explain why I disagree. I agreed with the following statement: "As long as there are no compelling arguments or evidence that show that God does not exist, atheism is a matter of faith, not rationality."

You see, I define atheism as the view that God does not exist (either probably or definitely). I know, I know, we can quibble about definitions all day. But that is my definition. Now, I think that in the absence of positive evidence for God, one can justifiably disbelieve in God because of Occam's razor (the simplest explanation is most probably correct) because God not existing is simpler than God existing. If the Occam's razor argument were somehow disproven (and there were no good arguments for or against God's existence) then we would be stuck with agnosticism. Not believing in something is a matter of faith if you have no reason to disbelieve it. However, in many cases, when there does not seem to be any positive or negative evidence/arguments for or against some hypothesis, we often forget that Occam's razor is the only reason we can disbelieve something in the absence of positive evidence.

Here's the other one I got wrong: "You say that God does not have the freedom and power to do impossible things such as create square circles, but in an earlier answer you said that any being which it is right to call God must be free and have the power to do anything. So, on your view, God is not free and does not have the power to do what is impossible. This requires that you accept - in common with most theologians, but contrary to your earlier answer - that God's freedom and power are not unbounded. He does not have the freedom and power to do literally anything."

In my view, illogical actions (like creating a square circle) are not actions at all, but merely words that purport to describe an action but do not in fact describe an action. So a being can be omnipotent without being able to perform illogical actions (which are not actions at all).


Jon Voisey said...

I took two "direct hits" there too. The first was the apparent contradiction that I said it's silly to believe in God without "proof" and that I believe evolution is generally correct.

I don't see this as a contradiction since there is "proof" (for a given definition) for evolution. If there were similar "proof" for God, I'd be convinced. The quiz is ambiguous on terms here.

The second hit was the question asking something to the effect of, "If God existed, should I be able to say 1 + 1 = 72?"

My answer was "no". They called this a direct hit because I'd previously answered that any being worthy of being called God should be able to undertake logical impossibilities (such as making 1 + 1 = 72), but the question didn't ask about God. It asked about "I" (whether it's supposed to be me personally, or the person writing the question is unclear, but either way, it's not God).

Thus again, there's no logical discrepancy. The quiz is just poorly written.

ShaunPhilly said...

Concerning the question of the definition of atheism:

A message for agnostics:

Katie (Old Profile-Please disregard) said...

Ooh. Don't really like the assumptions the quiz makes, personally. Wish there was a way to argue back with it! I took a hit because I said that for something to be called God it must want as little suffering as possible, but later said that if God existed, she could take all morality and make it sin and vice versa. The reason I say this is because I ALSO said earlier that God must be able to do all things. If God can't make all morals into sin, then there is something God can't do, thus making him/her no longer omnipotent.

The second one I got to was that it is foolish to belief in God without certain proof, but earlier I had said that evolution is essentially true. The quiz claimed that there is no certain proof of the theory of evolution. First of all, doesn't 'proof' technically only exist in mathematics? Second, the overwhelming evidence supporting evolution goes far beyond any evidence that any theist could ever come up with. Ever.

I will continue the quiz now, I think, but it isn't written in a way that a person can actually get through it without contradicting himself/herself because of the premises the author uses in his/her own reasoning.

Jer said...

Just so you know - I answered the question on logical impossibilities the other way. I said - sure, if there were a god and if I believe he can do anything, then surely he could make a square circle. My stance is that if we're going to allow for a creature that is omnipotent we shouldn't much around with what the word "omnipotent" means - if god existed and he wants to have square circles exist then being all-powerful he can edit reality to make square circles possible.

Anyway, the response I got back was this one:

You've just bitten a bullet! In saying that God has the freedom and power to do that which is logically impossible (like creating square circles), you are saying that any discussion of God and ultimate reality cannot be constrained by basic principles of rationality. This would seem to make rational discourse about God impossible. If rational discourse about God is impossible, there is nothing rational we can say about God and nothing rational we can say to support our belief or disbelief in God. To reject rational constraints on religious discourse in this fashion requires accepting that religious convictions, including your religious convictions, are beyond any debate or rational discussion. This is to bite a bullet.

So there's no "right" answer to that question - either you say "no, God can't do logical impossibilities" and take a hit if you've previously stated you believe God can do anything, or you say "yeah, sure God is all-powerful" and then remove yourself from the rational discussion of the attributes of God.

Also as far as your getting hit on the "atheism is a matter of faith" question - if you'd answered the same way for the Loch Ness Monster question, you wouldn't have taken a hit on the atheism is faith question. The quiz seems to be designed to show your inconsistencies in how you apply your beliefs to the question of God, not really to berate you on what beliefs you hold.

(Actually if you can present some thoughts on why you'd answer the Loch Ness monster question differently from the God question, I'd like to see that. I did the same thing, and I suspect that it may be because of the difference in how the two questions are worded.)