Biting Bullets for God

Rebecca pointed me to this interesting and thought-provoking quiz. However, I would have to say that it is impossible to explain and analyze one’s belief in God with a set of seventeen questions. The test tested, at best, logical consistencies. However I, for one, believe that God is beyond logic. As the good Doctor used to say: “logic simply allows us to be wrong, with authority.”

Rebecca won an award for her consistent belief in God, whereas I took two direct hits and bit three bullets but got honourably discharged. However, I have explanations for the answers that these folks supposedly caught me out on, and this test did not allow me to make my case.

Unfortunately, you have not won an award! However, you have been granted an honourable discharge!

The number of direct hits that you suffered and bullets that you bit as you progressed through this activity suggest that you need to give some thought to your beliefs about God.

The direct hits occurred because some of your answers implied logical contradictions. The bitten bullets occurred because you responded in ways that required that you held views that most people would have found strange, incredible or unpalatable.

Direct Hit 1

You have claimed that God exists, that she knows about suffering, wants to reduce it and can reduce it. But now you say you don’t think that there is any higher purpose which explains why people die horribly of painful diseases. Why then does God allow it? Surely, a God which knows about, wants to stop and can stop suffering would put an end to pointless suffering.

Hard as it is for me to say it, there is a place for suffering. Two places, actually. One is for contrast.

We live in a very relativistic world, controlled by our own perceptions, where each thing is defined against each other. Most everything that we measure as good is defined against that which we define as evil. Without pain and suffering, how would we know and appreciate pleasure and peace?

The other place for suffering is the realization that God can intervene in the world, but avoids doing so, because that is the only way for his universe to be anything more than just a clockwork device, and we just automatons wandering mindlessly through it. It is not our actions but our choices that define good or evil and if God were to intervene to prevent us from choosing evil and creating suffering, he would eliminate our ability to make those choices. Good and evil would thus be muted in his presence.

It’s related to the argument of free will versus predestination. I reject predestination in all ways except the most theoretical (the realization that God is beyond the Universe, looking down at choices that have already been made, or not made) because it negates God’s greatest gift to us: free will. God gave us free will to make these choices, and the ability to choose good only means anything if the possibility of choosing evil also exists. Thus a lot has been left to chance. Chance chooses between good and evil, pleasure and suffering, as well, and thus suffering exists in this world, as the only way that love can also exist.

I do not see the direct hit I’ve taken here.

Direct Hit 2

Earlier you said that it is justifiable to base one’s beliefs about the external world on a firm, inner conviction, regardless of the external evidence, or lack of it, for the truth or falsity of this conviction. But now you do not accept that the rapist Peter Sutcliffe was justified in doing just that. The example of the rapist has exposed that you do not in fact agree that any belief is justified just because one is convinced of its truth. So you need to revise your opinion here. The intellectual sniper has scored a bull’s-eye!

It is simplistic to say that my ability to believe in God regardless of external evidence correlates to an obviously insane serial killer believing that his actions are mandated by God. This is a bit of a straw-man argument. Sure, I believe in God despite the evidence that no God exists, but there are limits to my belief, as there are in everything. It’s like freedom of speech. In our society, freedom of speech is counted as one of the greatest political virtues, but even in the United States there are limits. The Docterine of Clear and Present Danger sets out criteria where this supposedly sancrosanct individual right can be limited for the good of the community.

I am justified in having a firm inner conviction on my own beliefs, regardless of the external evidence to the contrary, but when my beliefs interact with or come in conflict with somebody elses, we need a mechanism for the two to relate. As we are both humans, and thus imperfect creatures, that puts limits on us.

Bitten Bullet 1

You claimed earlier that any being which it is right to call God must want there to be as little suffering in the world as possible. But you say that God could make it so that everything now considered sinful becomes morally acceptable and everything that is now considered morally good becomes sinful. What this means is that God could make the reduction of suffering a sin… yet you’ve said that God must want to reduce suffering. There is a way out of this, but it means biting a bullet. So you’ve got to make a choice: (a) Bite the bullet and say that it is possible that God wants what is sinful or (b) Take a direct hit and say that this is an area where your beliefs are just in contradiction.

I earlier described just how incomprehensible God is, and how difficult it would likely be to understand the totality of his ways. Indeed, as an aside, I’m pretty sure that God is beyond gender, so what am I doing referring to him as a ‘he’? Well, I’m just coping with the shortcomings of my language with regard to explaining God. ‘He’ allows me to describe him best, even though the pronoun is probably wrong.

I relate this bitten bullet to my first direct hit. God, being the creator of everything, is all powerful, but he wants something of us that he can’t just take. He wants us to choose what is right, not because he is breathing down our necks, but because it is right. Sure, God could want something that is sinful, but I doubt that he will.

Bitten Bullet 2

You say that if there are no compelling arguments or evidence that show that God does not exist, then atheism is a matter of faith, not rationality. Therefore, it seems that you do not think that the mere absence of evidence for the existence of God is enough to justify believing that she does not exist. This view is also suggested by your earlier claim that it is not rational to believe that the Loch Ness monster does not exist even if, despite years of trying, no evidence has been presented to suggest that it does exist.

There is no logical inconsistency in your answers. But by denying that the absence of evidence, even where it has been sought, is enough to justify belief in the non-existence of things, you are required to countenance possibilities that most people would find bizarre. For example, do you really want to claim that it is not rationally justified to believe that intelligent aliens do not live on Mars?

Why not? Stranger things have happened. And I will point out that Mars is much smaller than God, and thus easier to look over thoroughly, and discover all of its secrets.

Bitten Bullet 3

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.

True enough. But there are two worlds, here. There is the world of God, which exists outside of and around and throughout everything, and then there is the world that we live in. We exist within God’s creation, completely bound by it, with people and other creatures who are just as imperfect as we are. Looking at God is like trying to look beyond a mirror, but looking at each other, at how our personal convictions relate to each other, is a different matter.

Our own personal belief in the existence of God (or the lack thereof) is unassailable, unless we wish it otherwise. The practical consequences of that belief is definitely open to debate.

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