How Likely is God?

Before discussing the likelihood of God, we first need to define who or what he is. Most people think of God as either the biblical God or as an absentee creator of the universe: either a personal God or an impersonal God. The biblical God is famous for his split personality, as portrayed by the Old and New Testaments. As a result, the biblical God may be something to be feared or to be loved; depending on your interpretations of his scripture. The other God, the impersonal creator of the universe, is the God of deists: a God who left his stamp on creation and determined how the universe would unfurl through eternity, then just let it be.

Both Gods are supernatural creators of the universe. The major difference between them is their level of interest in the morality of our behavior. The biblical God has formal rules we must obey or else suffer unimaginably severe consequences. The deist God, is more laissez-faire and is perfectly content with his creation the way it is and hasn’t formally indicated any kind of moral preferences (much less, consequences).

The deist God is impossible to confirm or to rule out – mostly because of his absentee status. If he doesn’t meddle with his creation, he doesn’t leave any evidence of his presence or actions. We can’t tell the difference between an absentee God and a nonexistent God, so the question of his likelihood comes down to Occam’s Razor: there’s no reason to assert the God hypothesis. Based on reason, I would be very surprised if this deist God exists . . . but it really doesn’t matter very much, other than knowing he’s out there. He’s aloof: makes no demands and threatens no punishment. That’s fine with me.

The biblical God is another matter entirely.

The biblical God is the God of Abraham: worshipped by Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Abrahamic religions have divergent ideas of what God represents (based on their particular scriptures) but there are some things they all share in common. At their core, all the Abrahamic religions believe that God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent. They all believe their creator is perfect and timeless.

But when one looks at the biblical God’s influence on humanity, one can’t help but notice contradictions to God’s omni-everything. If Jesus was right about judging a tree by its fruit, then it can be fairly asserted that the Abrahamic religions have been the most persistently divisive influence in the history of mankind. That’s not exactly a resounding endorsement of God’s omni-anything.

Either God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent or he isn’t. You can’t have it both ways. This means that, if you can reasonably disprove these qualities of God, you have reasonably disproved the existence of the biblical God. You only need to prove it once.

As it turns out, the very thing that distinguishes the biblical God from the cosmic one is also the very thing that disproves the existence of the biblical God. Namely, morality.

Of all God’s moral deficiencies, there’s one that’s special: human subjugation . . . slavery and male dominance over women. I’ve recently blogged about this moral weakness of God and his scripture. It’s called “The Death of Christian Apologetics”. Click the link to find out exactly how likely the biblical God really is.

© Copyright 2012

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Free Will in the Bible

The free will debate has raged, unabated, for millennia: still nobody can prove whether or not it really exists.  This post is not about the free will debate.  It’s about the inconsistent use of free will in the Bible.

Clearly, an interceding God presents problems for free will. However, a cosmic God – a Creator who does not intervene in human affairs – might be compatible with free will if he keeps his omniscience and omnipotence to himself. By the way, I personally believe that causality actually creates free will. Read my blog post, “Expressions of Causality” to find out how.

Despite the fact that most Christian denominations teach free will, the Bible itself is rife with determinism and predestination. Because we all live as if we have free will, we affirm it in the things we say and do. When we take credit for our actions or blame others for theirs, we’re paying lip service to free will. Thus, the Bible has many verses consistent with free will but is, nonetheless, a largely deterministic tome. Here are just a few examples (for brevity, just the verses are listed) that clearly state that God determines who is going to heaven or hell and that there’s nothing you can do about it:

Acts 13:48
Romans 8:29-30
2 Timothy 1:9
Ephesians 1:4-5
2 Thessalonians 2:11-13
Jude 4
Romans 9:11-22

Even the Lord’s Prayer contains 2 instances of determinism:

1.) Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.
2.) And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

In an effort to understand why the Bible is so inconsistent on this issue, I tried many Google searches, using many keywords. I couldn’t find dates for the concept of free will but I did find references to those who developed the concept. It appears that the concept of free will stems from the concept of freedom and that it grew very slowly, taking centuries to mature into a formal doctrine.

From the 4th century to the 2nd century B.C., the seeds of free will were being planted. Plato had a concept of rational governance which flirted with but skirted the concept of free will. Aristotle added an element of voluntary action but still skirted free will. The first, primitive, form of free will appears to arise with Epicurus, around 300 B.C. Determinism did not mesh with his observations. He diverged from the strictly deterministic Atomists of his day by claiming that atoms do not move in a pre-determined way. Making the motion of atoms random allowed him to break the perpetual causal chain of events kick-started by the Prime Mover. This opened the door for his assertion that man has free will. At around 50 A.D., Lucretius wrote his epic (6-book) philosophical poem, “De Rerum Natura”, explaining Epicurean physics. In it, he explained how atomic collisions can occur in the first place and why it is necessary to postulate randomness in the motions of atoms (“an unpredictable ‘swerve’ at no fixed place or time“), to account for the evident fact of free will. Otherwise we would all be automata, our motions determined by infinitely extended and unbreakable causal chains. This uncanny resemblance to the randomness postulated by modern quantum physics has helped make this passage a favorite in the free will debate. But it is, in fact, Epicurus, not Lucretius, who originated the idea of indeterminacy in the motion of atoms.

It’s hard to understand how the ramifications of free will would take centuries to fully reveal themselves to our ancient philosophers. With the introduction of Christianity and its morality, particularly after it became the state religion (Roman Catholic Church) of the Roman Empire in 326 A.D., the development of free will was given a boost. Free will matured into doctrine, thanks largely to St. Augustine. He began advocating free will, around 400 A.D, to promote good works and responsibility for our own actions.

That’s 700 to 800 years of free will as a neglected, fuzzy, immature concept! It’s hard to imagine when most of us are now familiar with the concept(s) of free will.

The Old Testament was sealed about 200 B.C. (others claim it was sealed between 500 and 100 B.C.) and the New Testament was written between 45 A.D. and 140 A.D. This means that the concept (much less doctrine!) of free will didn’t even exist in the region while the Old Testament was written and was, at best, a primitive and fuzzy concept when the New Testament was written. Free will still hadn’t been fleshed out when the Roman Catholic Church was created in 326 A.D.

So it appears that the Bible is so inconsistent with the application of free will because a formal concept of free will wasn’t available to the Bible authors. The authors believed in a deterministic world, so that’s (mostly) the way they wrote.

© Copyright 2011