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Thread: God is not an Entity?

  1. Top | #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by bilby View Post
    People constantly and consistently underestimate and disregard the immense influence of the endocrine system on everything they think, believe, and do.

    If 'finding God' is anything like falling in love, then reason, rationality, and the brain have very little to do with any of it. Any attempt to reproduce the behaviour in others (ie to convert an atheist), or to reverse the process (ie to get a theist to renounce his faith and become an atheist), by means of reason, logic, or thought, is doomed.

    And of course, we observe that this is the case - very few people are ever persuaded by reasoned argument to change their position.

    Yet we persist in the irrational belief that rationality is somehow a driver of belief.

    I suspect that it's all part of the conceit that humans are somehow different from 'the animals'. But we are not different. We are animals. And our endocrine systems don't care if the brain wants to pretend to be in charge.
    The more I think about it, god is the most popular urban legend ever invented.

  2. Top | #42
    Industrial Grade Linguist Copernicus's Avatar
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    I don't really blame people for failing to define the words they use. Lexicographers seldom ask people to suggest definitions of words, because people make stuff up about their usage that just isn't true. If you want to discover the meaning of any word, including "God", then you need to examine the usage of that word. So dictionary makers gather examples of usage and form definitions that are based on evidence of actual usage rather than claimed usage. Such claims often mask other agendas.

    In the debate between theists and non-theists over the common noun "god" and the proper name "God", proffered definitions often have built-in safeguards against anticipated attacks from non-theists. Gods are historically anthropomorphic beings, but it is hard to defend that aspect of godhood, especially in modern times. So many theists try to avoid any hint of anthropomorphism. They offer elaborate defenses of deism, because the deist God does not carry all of the anthropomorphic baggage. Pantheism also helps to mask and water down religious anthropocentrism. Nevertheless, believers who avoid anthropomorphic definitions usually still relate to their god as if it were an entity with human traits. That is they usually still engage in prayer and attribute emotional states and moods to their god. There is not point in praying to an entity that doesn't at least possess some human traits.

  3. Top | #43
    Zen Hedonist Jobar's Avatar
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    Is 'god' a concrete entity, or an abstract one?

    I think even we atheists would agree that the noun 'god' has some abstract meaning, despite the difficulties we have getting those who believe in such a thing to give us a firm definition. But if it isn't a concrete entity, a thing- then how is it anything more words, or a pattern of neurons firing in a human brain?

    I expect to hear protests that abstractions- liberty, say, or truth- have no reality, if we insist that there has to be some physical being at their root. But we can treat them as real as long as we all are agreed on their general definitions, and don't insist that they are material entities in and of themselves. Are any believers here willing to treat 'god' as immaterial, totally abstract?

    I note that those who call god(s) 'supernatural' are pretty much admitting that god(s) have no concrete, physical, perceptible being. But not many seem willing to accede they're admitting it.

  4. Top | #44
    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jobar View Post
    Is 'god' a concrete entity, or an abstract one?

    I think even we atheists would agree that the noun 'god' has some abstract meaning, despite the difficulties we have getting those who believe in such a thing to give us a firm definition. But if it isn't a concrete entity, a thing- then how is it anything more words, or a pattern of neurons firing in a human brain?

    I expect to hear protests that abstractions- liberty, say, or truth- have no reality, if we insist that there has to be some physical being at their root. But we can treat them as real as long as we all are agreed on their general definitions, and don't insist that they are material entities in and of themselves. Are any believers here willing to treat 'god' as immaterial, totally abstract?

    I note that those who call god(s) 'supernatural' are pretty much admitting that god(s) have no concrete, physical, perceptible being. But not many seem willing to accede they're admitting it.
    Clearly the term God is routinely used in both fashions, abstract and concrete, whether or not they are real.

  5. Top | #45
    Industrial Grade Linguist Copernicus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jobar View Post
    Is 'god' a concrete entity, or an abstract one?

    I think even we atheists would agree that the noun 'god' has some abstract meaning, despite the difficulties we have getting those who believe in such a thing to give us a firm definition. But if it isn't a concrete entity, a thing- then how is it anything more words, or a pattern of neurons firing in a human brain?

    I expect to hear protests that abstractions- liberty, say, or truth- have no reality, if we insist that there has to be some physical being at their root. But we can treat them as real as long as we all are agreed on their general definitions, and don't insist that they are material entities in and of themselves. Are any believers here willing to treat 'god' as immaterial, totally abstract?

    I note that those who call god(s) 'supernatural' are pretty much admitting that god(s) have no concrete, physical, perceptible being. But not many seem willing to accede they're admitting it.
    You have to be careful when using terms like concrete and abstract. Although god entities may be thought of as immaterial, that doesn't make them abstract nouns. The reason is that substance (aka Cartesian) dualism entails belief in two different types of substance--material and spiritual. Spiritual entities are not really abstract in the sense that words like "justice" and "love" are. Spiritual events are thought to be able to cause physical events ("mind over matter"). The words "justice" and "love" name general conditions that people make judgments about. They are abstract in a different sense of the word. So I would prefer to use expressions like "immaterial entities" rather than "abstract entities".

  6. Top | #46
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    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Jobar View Post
    Is 'god' a concrete entity, or an abstract one?

    I think even we atheists would agree that the noun 'god' has some abstract meaning, despite the difficulties we have getting those who believe in such a thing to give us a firm definition. But if it isn't a concrete entity, a thing- then how is it anything more words, or a pattern of neurons firing in a human brain?

    I expect to hear protests that abstractions- liberty, say, or truth- have no reality, if we insist that there has to be some physical being at their root. But we can treat them as real as long as we all are agreed on their general definitions, and don't insist that they are material entities in and of themselves. Are any believers here willing to treat 'god' as immaterial, totally abstract?

    I note that those who call god(s) 'supernatural' are pretty much admitting that god(s) have no concrete, physical, perceptible being. But not many seem willing to accede they're admitting it.
    You have to be careful when using terms like concrete and abstract. Although god entities may be thought of as immaterial, that doesn't make them abstract nouns. The reason is that substance (aka Cartesian) dualism entails belief in two different types of substance--material and spiritual. Spiritual entities are not really abstract in the sense that words like "justice" and "love" are. Spiritual events are thought to be able to cause physical events ("mind over matter"). The words "justice" and "love" name general conditions that people make judgments about. They are abstract in a different sense of the word. So I would prefer to use expressions like "immaterial entities" rather than "abstract entities".
    Substance dualism is in direct contradiction to the Standard Model of particle physics. One is a vague theological and philosophical idea; The other is one of the most comprehensively tested theoretical models in the history of scientific thought. Belief in substance dualism is, therefore, slightly more irrational than belief that the moon is made from green cheese.

    Gods exist only in the same way that Harry Potter or Superman exist - ie, they are fictional constructs. They cannot have any other existence.

  7. Top | #47
    Industrial Grade Linguist Copernicus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bilby View Post
    ...

    Substance dualism is in direct contradiction to the Standard Model of particle physics. One is a vague theological and philosophical idea; The other is one of the most comprehensively tested theoretical models in the history of scientific thought. Belief in substance dualism is, therefore, slightly more irrational than belief that the moon is made from green cheese.
    Not to defend substance dualism, but I would quibble with your point about physics. It does not overturn substance dualism but operates under the assumption that all physical events have physical causal antecedents. I found this nice summary of the issue by Lawrence Lerner (See Methodological Naturalism vs Ontological or Philosophical Naturalism).

    Quote Originally Posted by Lawrence Learner
    It is standard intelligent design creationist jargon to deliberately confuse and misuse the terms ontological (philosophical) naturalism and methodological naturalism. The former is the view that nothing supernatural exists - a point which may engender heated debate among theologians and philosophers but is irrelevant to the pursuit of science.

    Methodological naturalism is not a "doctrine" but an essential aspect of the methodology of science, the study of the natural universe. If one believes that natural laws and theories based on them will not suffice to solve the problems attacked by scientists - that supernatural and thus nonscientific principles must be invoked from time to time - then one cannot have the confidence in scientific methodology that is prerequisite to doing science. The spectacular successes over four centuries of science based on methodological naturalism cannot be gainsaid. On the other hand, a scientist who, when stumped, invokes a supernatural cause for a phenomenon he or she is investigating is guaranteed that no scientific understanding of the problem will ensue.

    Here is an example. Let us imagine a geocentrist astronomer in the era of Newton. Newton uses his dynamics to account for the perturbation of the elliptical orbit of Mars around the Sun due to the gravitational influence of Jupiter, and cranks out numbers that are quickly verified by astronomical observation. The entire exercise makes no sense to the geocentrist, who (a) on the basis of the central importance of mankind in the eyes of God, does not grant the ellipticity of the orbit of Mars around the Sun but insists that the Earth be the center of the universe; (b) insists that the orbits of the planets (and the Sun) are guided by angels. The intelligent design creationist arguments may be couched more subtly and elusively than this geocentric view, but they are of the same kind.

    As for the phraseology, "not designed," there is here a slipping around the need to define the term "design." Living things certainly have organs and systems that are best described in terms of Aristotle's "final cause" - that is, the function which their form enables them to accomplish. But design can mean either of two things. It can mean the form itself, without reference to the way that the form came to be. No one doubts that the wings of birds are admirably designed to the function of flight, in this sense of design. What the intelligent design creationists are after, however, is the other meaning of design - the end-product of the work of a designer. Intelligent design creationists often hide the essentially theological nature of this meaning by insisting that the designer might have been some space aliens and not the God of their scriptures. But they do not maintain this position when addressing sympathetic church groups of their own or similar persuasion.
    Now I do agree with your point that the record of success produced by methodological naturalism lends strong support for the position of philosophical naturalism, but it is methodological naturalism that allows people of faith to also do science without rejecting substance dualism entirely. However, surveys do show that scientists are far more likely to self-identify as atheists than the general population.

    Quote Originally Posted by bilby View Post
    Gods exist only in the same way that Harry Potter or Superman exist - ie, they are fictional constructs. They cannot have any other existence.
    Agreed, but have you considered the possibility that even people we believe to exist are largely idealizations of reality--i.e. fictional constructs that we just happen to associate with what is real? The difference between a real person and a fictional person is just that experience continually reinforces our belief in the fictional model of the real person. It is only experience-based knowledge that allows us to distinguish real people from the fictional ones. Our internal models of people we know are always wrong in some ways. Sometimes horribly wrong. We can even mistakenly believe that people exist who are, or were, entirely fictional. For believers, God is one of those.

  8. Top | #48
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    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus View Post

    Not to defend substance dualism, but I would quibble with your point about physics. It does not overturn substance dualism but operates under the assumption that all physical events have physical causal antecedents. I found this nice summary of the issue by Lawrence Lerner (See Methodological Naturalism vs Ontological or Philosophical Naturalism).
    It's not an assumption, it's a very well tested theory. Those guys at the LHC are not just assuming that their experiments are supportive of the Standard Model to an astonishing degree of accuracy. They have ruled out the existence of any unknown influence on matter that could possibly apply on scales between that of an atomic nucleus, and that of solar systems. Therefore either there is no unknown way to influence an object on human scales (and therefore no way for a putative 'soul' or 'mind' to affect the human to which it belongs, without being readily detectable); OR the Standard Model is massively flawed in ways that should be blindingly obvious, and nobody has noticed despite vast numbers of tests and experiments.

    For Substance Dualism not to be wrong would require that every scientific advance in human history was just a lucky guess, because its theoretical underpinnings were in fact deeply wrong.

    As I said, it's far more reasonable to believe that the moon is made of dairy products than to believe in substance dualism.

    Now I do agree with your point that the record of success produced by methodological naturalism lends strong support for the position of philosophical naturalism, but it is methodological naturalism that allows people of faith to also do science without rejecting substance dualism entirely. However, surveys do show that scientists are far more likely to self-identify as atheists than the general population.

    Quote Originally Posted by bilby View Post
    Gods exist only in the same way that Harry Potter or Superman exist - ie, they are fictional constructs. They cannot have any other existence.
    Agreed, but have you considered the possibility that even people we believe to exist are largely idealizations of reality--i.e. fictional constructs that we just happen to associate with what is real? The difference between a real person and a fictional person is just that experience continually reinforces our belief in the fictional model of the real person. It is only experience-based knowledge that allows us to distinguish real people from the fictional ones. Our internal models of people we know are always wrong in some ways. Sometimes horribly wrong. We can even mistakenly believe that people exist who are, or were, entirely fictional. For believers, God is one of those.
    Not only have I considered it; I think it's pretty obvious. But there are degrees of fictionality - My fictional concept of my wife is far more 'based on a true story' than Superman, Harry Potter, or any gods.

  9. Top | #49
    Industrial Grade Linguist Copernicus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bilby View Post
    ...
    Not only have I considered it; I think it's pretty obvious. But there are degrees of fictionality - My fictional concept of my wife is far more 'based on a true story' than Superman, Harry Potter, or any gods.
    Usually, such judgments are true, but my own grandmother was raised by a woman who claimed to be her mother but was actually one of her aunts. Her mother had died and her father committed suicide, leaving her an orphan. The aunt did not want her to learn the truth and kept it from her for most of her life. She only learned the truth after her grandfather died and left her some money in his will. I'm sure that you know your wife as well as I know mine, but there is always some element of fictionality, as you acknowledge.

    We aren't really in fundamental disagreement here, but I did characterize my remarks as a quibble. I think that it is important to maintain a distinction between methodological and philosophical naturalism. For those who are heavily invested in god belief, God can be as hard to deny as any of the real people that they have an intimate relationship with. Losing God can be as traumatic as losing a family member, and they will do almost anything to hold onto the delusion.

  10. Top | #50
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    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus View Post
    For those who are heavily invested in god belief, God can be as hard to deny as any of the real people that they have an intimate relationship with. Losing God can be as traumatic as losing a family member, and they will do almost anything to hold onto the delusion.
    Particularly when we acknowledge that historically gods were personages. We say god, and it's quite generic, but the ancient Israelites said El and Baal and Ashera.

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