Thursday, 20 June 2013

What is God?

When we talk about God (capital G God) we're talking about what theists believe is the creator of the universe. I know there's pretty much as many definitions as there are theists but I think it's safe to say that most people think of God as the being that created everything and is in control of everything and who decides who gets to heaven and, if that religion has it, hell. Some people believe this being to be real. Others don't. Then there are poly-theists who believe in gods and goddesses rather than a single God.

But what is God really?

God is sometimes presented as a 'model' for the creation of the universe. God isn't a model. It isn't even a hypothesis. It's a wild guess at the very best. The 'god' answer to how the universe was 'created' is barely worth considering. It's a wild stab in the dark dreamt up by people who didn't yet know how to rationally investigate anything.

You might hear that 'someone' must have created the universe. But of course this is not true. What's more accurate is that 'someTHING' must have caused the universe to be in the form we see it today. There is no evidence to suggest that our universe was ever deliberately created.

When people posit God as a reasonable explanation for the existence of the universe they seem to be forgetting something - God has never been the verifiable conclusion to any mystery. Ever. There is no exception. To suggest that God created the universe is to go from the understanding that God is not demonstrably responsible for anything, to claiming that God is magically responsible for everything. We used to think God was responsible for lightning, eclipses, thunder, tides, epileptic fits, mountains, and so on. Investigation into these things shows they all have natural explanations - no god needed.

So God becomes the ultimate give-up answer. It's your answer when you can't be bothered looking any longer or the question seems too hard. God is how ancient peoples said 'I don't know'. Ancient people didn't investigate lightning and reach a verifiable conclusion that a god was throwing it across they sky. They had no idea what was causing it. They didn't yet have the means to investigate what was happening. They didn't know - so they called it God.

It's the classic argumentum ad ignorantiam or argument from ignorance. There is a gap in knowledge and rather than performing a thorough and detailed investigation, the claimant says 'God did it' and is very often believed but never, ever validated. 

Then there's the personal side of God. The part that people think answer prayers and gets us through tough times. Now we know prayer doesn't work. It's been shown time and time again and I needn't go into it here. If you doubt me (and you should) just give it a quick google.

Another part of the emotional god is the god that will get you through tough times. People will pray to this god for strength. They'll praise it when the tide turns and things look bright again. We all go through incredibly hard times in life, not all of us are praying to any god to get through them. But we still manage it and we know that it was us relying on other people (family, friends, colleagues, professionals) in combination with our own inner strength.

I recently had this exchange on twitter with a lady who I'll call S:

Me: I think a question theists don't ask enough is not why god, but why THEIR god? Why are they the religion they are and not another. I bet it's rare that they reached the age of reason and did a thorough, in-depth analysis of the various claims and came to a conclusion - - that just one of the religions was right and they therefore decided to join. No, it's that they are the religion of their parents. S: I was not baptised at birth and my father was Anglican I chose Catholicism. I do not subscribe to any now and yes I know that I baffle the crap out of ya. :( but generally speaking you would be correct. Children are usually baptised into the religion of the parents without a choice Me: And that's how religion survives. Imagine if you weren't allowed to teach religion to people until they were 25 and already had a scientific understanding of the universe. Religion would all but disappear in a generation. S: I understand what you are saying but it makes me sad to a degree. God has been my rock for many years. Me: I would suggest that YOU have been your rock. You've just labelled that part of you god. :)

S: Through my tears I want to say I love you for saying that and thank you. :)

I have no doubt that S is convinced that the god she happens to believe in was her 'rock' but I stand by what I said to her - SHE is the rock. Whatever she needed a rock for it was HER that got her through it. Her own strength was what she relied on, she just called it God. This leads to one of the things that bugs me about religion - it teaches people to discredit their own qualities.

Without any good reason to do so some people think they have a soul and this soul 'lives on' after a person dies. Many people don't want to think that this life is it, that dead is truly the end. To avoid this confrontational thought they imagine an afterlife where they hope to live 'forever' and, of course, to see loved ones again. God, they think, is this hope.

Another thing that happens is that people want to discriminate and oppress. Have a problem with homosexual people? Blame Leviticus 18:22. Want women to be submissive to their husbands? Ephesians 5:22-24. Or Qur'an 4:34 for instructions on how much a man can beat his wife. I could fill an entire blog on its on with instructions from the bible and the Qur'an on how to discriminate against and oppress people. The avenue that 'allows' this kind of thinking is, obviously, the word of 'God'. 

So what does it boil down to? What is God?

God is a cheat for intellectual laziness, a crutch for emotional frailty, a pacifier for the fear of death and an excuse for prejudice and discrimination.