Archives for posts with tag: Existence

Negative theology is approaching what we traditionally refer to as God and only describing It in negative terms. The idea is that God transcends human existence to such a degree that anything created by humans, language most particularly, cannot be used to define It. So for example, one could not say God is good because goodness is a term humans use to describe human events in such a way that we are capable of understanding it, and God in Its massivity would exist well beyond our capacity to understand Its characteristics to the point where ascribing “goodness” is nonsensical. The negative theologian would thus say that God is not-good. This might seem counter-intuitive and even anti-God, which leads to double-negative theology. Since broccoli is also not good, morally-speaking, and a comparison between the two is absurd, God would need to be described both as “not-good” and “not-not-good.” God could even be said to not exist under this framework, given that our human understanding of what it means to exist would be so far removed from God’s presence that the use of the word becomes too limiting. God would also certainly not-not-exist, but my amusement comes from using non-existence as a necessary divine trait.

There are three reasons that this approach appeals to me beyond the paradox of God’s non-existence describing God’s existence. Firstly, it coincides with my favourite “proof” of God. The human mind is quite finite and very likely incapable of a complete understanding of the universe, and given this reality it is again likely that there are things that exist in the realm outside of where our brains are able to comprehend. If what we refer to as God “exists”, It would exist in this realm and in turn would flummox our linguistic capabilities to the point where negative theology is the only theology that makes sense.

Second, language functions solely as social cohesion. It doesn’t point to anything. If I say the word chair, I’m not referring to a chair, I’m referring to my idea of a chair, and if your idea of a chair coincides with my own, you understand me. If I said chair, and you didn’t understand the word I was using, for instance if I used a foreign language or used the word cathedra (or something equally outlandish that might as well be a foreign language), there would be no understanding because the barrier between these social groups (non-English speakers and the pretentious against regular English speaking individuals) precludes a common linguistic grounding. We might both have the same idea of a chair, but because of that barrier we would not be able to communicate our shared idea. If my idea of a chair is four legs, a seat, and a back, and your idea of a chair is three legs, a seat, a cushion, and no back, and I ask you to help set up some chairs at a dinner party and you arrive with something that does not work for my seating arrangement, then again, understanding was not present. A barrier existed, but it was not in the language itself but in the idea. This is far more problematic since if no seating arrangement was ever necessary, then you can see how that lack of understanding might never present itself to ever be resolved.

So if language only exists within the shared understanding of a community, then as I said, it can’t point to anything real. If we are looking to describe something universal, then language is absolutely flawed in its capability to accomplish this. If I say “good”, understanding would only be possible under two conditions: we both share the same idea of the word, and I am expressing it in a language that is accessible to you. Those two requirements are only available in communal groups, so really, “God is good” is better used to describe the group that believes that God is good rather than to describe God.

Lastly, negative theology falls under the umbrella of my favourite philosophical doctrine, skepticism. If I can’t say anything about God, and you can’t say anything about God, then there’s no way we could ever actually disagree, even if our ideas of God are totally incoherent from one another. There would exist enough disbelief surrounding our ideas of God that fundamentalist dogmatism would become significantly more difficult to develop. I wouldn’t say impossible, since it is equally difficult to separate authoritarianism from organized religion even under the most compassionate doctrines, so I’ll hedge my bets on this one. Even still, anything that helps on the road to interfaith respect is a good thing.

Unfortunately, spoilsports dismiss this approach as removing God from any kind of religious pragmatism, and this is a valid criticism. If we can’t say anything about God, then why bother talking about It at all? Why worship something if we can’t even positively acknowledge that It exists? Why adhere to any doctrine? Part of Christianity’s appeal stems from the fact that Jesus is 100% a human man and 100% a God, and that makes Him far more relatable than the negative theologian’s unknowable God.

There are those who counter this, and say that we can point to events in the world, and use language to describe them with the understanding that it is being described in human terms. Like we can point to a rainfall after a long drought as God being good, because rain revitalizing our crops is something that would conform to a “good event” in a human sense. I disagree with this refutation because then some asshole could come along and say, well why was the drought so long to begin with? And that asshole would have a fair point. If we want to point to events in the world and describe them in a human context, then we would have to account for every event. God can’t work in mysterious ways if we just pointed to an event where we were quite comfortable using the word “good” to describe it.

Of course, the obvious solution is faith. There exists a feeling of God in a believer, and even if that feeling is not qualifiable by anything they could express, that does not negate the power or the drive that their faith brings them. That feeling may lead them to follow doctrines that they believe are most in line with their faith, even if relating them back to a God is again, impossible. Being unable to name God has never really been an obstacle before (notably Yahweh, and the fact that I’m not making this up and negative theology has a very long history predating Christianity), so I don’t see why it can’t be applicable now. Faith is a greater motivation than doctrine, and is far more honest in regards to its application.

Post-script: As I finish writing this, I now realize that double-negative theology is much better expressed as, “God is not good… OR IS IT???” rather than “God is not-good, and God is not-not-good.”

Everyone loves debating the existence of God. It’s been around since the beginning of God. Since it was only recently that the general population started to actually care about whether or not you can actually prove God through some logic or science or non-voodoo-esque methodology, it kind of baffles the mind a little bit that those who were trying to do it were doing it during a time when the belief in God was pretty much on par with the belief in air. But anyway, all the proofs for God that I know of are from way back in those days, so apparently now that people want more and more proof, it’s becoming less and less necessary to give it. Go figure.

So let’s look at some of these proofs and see which ones we like. And by we, I of course mean I. You’re not contributing anything to this, slacker. Keep in mind I’m not talking about the Christian God, or any particular God, just the notion of a creator being. These would be proofs for theism.

I’m going to breeze through a couple first before I get into the more complex ones. First off, the watchmaker proof. Say you find a watch on the beach, and see all the crazy shit that makes up how a watch works. You look at that crazy watch and you think, “Wow, this shit is fancy. Somebody must have built this!” The watch is too complex to exist uncreated, so its existence implies a watchmaker. The universe and all the junk in it are the watch in this obvious metaphor, and God would be the watchmaker. So because stuff is complicated, there must be a God. This is dumb because science happened, and now we know how things became complex. It’s because of science. Thanks, science!

The next one is morality. There has to be a source for Goodness in this universe, God is that source, therefore God must exist. This is dumb because no there doesn’t. Wishful thinking is not proof.

Next up is personal experiences. Witnessing miracles, near death experiences, all the things where people have “seen” or “experienced” the divine prove the existence of it. These might be very personal and subjective reasons to believe in God, but objectively they prove nothing. Judging things you can’t explain by attributing them to God is the same as attributing them to aliens. Or mole people. It also creates the problem of the “God of the Gaps”, which means that as these things become explained, the status of God is lessened until everything is explained and there is no longer any use for God. Once lightning is explained away by electrons and whatever the fuck else makes lightning happen (I studied the arts, give me a break), we no longer have need for Zeus. If you want God to be relevant, find another way to justify Him (Yes I just gendered God. It just makes life easier. I’ll use “Her” next time if it’ll make you feel better).

This next one is a bit more complicated and harder to explain away. However, it’s even more dumb than the previous proofs I’ve mentioned. This one can be blamed on St. Anselm the Asshole, who asks us to imagine thusly, “think of the most absolute perfect being. Now, what would be more perfect: if this being existed, or if it didn’t exist? It would be more perfect if this being existed, therefore ergo and badda bing, this being is God and God exists.” Anselm then tells us to “Suck on that, hosers!” and does a little victory dance because as ludicrous as this argument is, it’s very difficult to counter. Allow me, your lovely narrator, to try.

Our good friend Immanuel Kant has two counters to this argument. The first is that this proof splits God into two: God and the idea of God, which is a fairly shoddy God indeed. It doesn’t really disprove the argument, just suggests that it’s super ambiguous and lame, and therefore not good enough to be considered concrete proof. Kant goes on further to say that perfection is not predicated upon existence. Existence doesn’t make something better or worse; it’s merely Being, and therefore does not actually add anything to that being (pay attention, this is a lot of beings.)

A couple counters to THAT argument are that even if existence doesn’t necessarily make something better or worse, it does vastly change the concept of that being. Does it make it more perfect? Who knows. The other is that necessary existence (not boring, regular-type existence) IS a predicate (such as, a four-side triangle necessarily must not exist), and that’s what Anselm was talking about. However, I disagree that necessary existence is a thing, since all the examples I’ve come across have been closer to necessary non-existence, which I would argue is a completely different notion. Also, this is still confusing even for me, so let’s just look at my idea next which totally refutes the thing to such a point that all of these counter and counter-counter arguments are superfluous.

My idea is that perfection as a concept is flawed. Since Anselm is asking us to do the imagining, he is relying on subjective analysis to create this perfect being. So the problem is, my idea of a perfect being would be one who makes it rain beer, whereas some other person’s idea of a perfect being might be one that really hates beer (looking at you, Mormons). Since there can be no objective definition of perfection, the proof is invalid. Suck on that, Anselm, you jag.

The last argument I’m going to dismiss outright is Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover. Or the First Cause. It has a few names. What this one boils down to is that each event was caused by a previous event. You exist because your parents conceived you, they came from your grandparents, so on back to the apes, back to the primordial ooze, back to the beginning of the universe. If each event has been caused, there has to be something that started the chain. The finger that pushed the first domino, so to speak. That finger… is God. This God has been the God of the philosophers for a long-ass time, since it’s super logical and reasonable and smart people tend to eat that shit up. However, it’s not very popular because Deism is super boring, and not at all relevant to the goings-on of every day life. People typically prefer a more personable deity that they can relate to. One that shares similar values, etc.

Also, I don’t think that it necessarily proves the existence of an Unmoved Mover either. The question that started this was, “what caused everything?” Well, I have to ask, “What caused God?” The answer is, “Nothing caused God; God just is” which is the point of the Unmoved Mover. But how come God just is? Why can’t the universe just is? If the causal chain has to stop, what difference does it make whether it stops at the universe, or at God? Look at this shoddy diagram I’m going to attempt here:

God causes universe causes x causes y causes z….

compared to

Universe causes x causes y causes z….

The argument for what just is seems to be arbitrary. If the universe has to have a beginning (which I don’t necessarily think that it does) then why does it have to be a being that causes it, when it could be just a simple event like the big bang or something with the word quantum in front of it.

Now I’m going to offer one argument that has a bit of clout to it. The universe is bound by mathematical laws. For example, gravity will always be defined by its mathematical formula. Because these laws are absolute (and even if our current laws are wrong, newer ones will still prove this theory), there must be a lawmaker. God is a mathematician.

This still runs into a few of the problems we’ve encountered before. Like with the watchmaker, why does a law imply a lawmaker? But these laws have been here since the beginning of time, have never changed, and continue to define the universe, unlike the complex entities that the watchmaker theory refers to.

The best counter-argument I can come up with is one similar to the First Cause counter-argument. Just as the universe could easily be just is, so too could the laws that define it be as such.

My final proof, however, does prove the existence of God beyond the shadow of a doubt. It all comes down to a sociological theory called the Thomas theorem: “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” So for example, objectively speaking, race isn’t a real thing. There is no difference between white people and black people outside of the colour of their skin. However, if you’re a black person on trial in the American south during the Jim Crowe era, it really doesn’t matter that race isn’t a thing. You’re fucked. You know why? Because of your race. Same with being white-bread going into Harlem after dark. You can objectively state that race is real because the consequences of race are real.

So it is with God. People recover from addiction, they honestly repent their crimes, they find serenity and strength, they blow up buildings and drink suspicious kool-aid, all because of God. You tell any one of those people that God doesn’t exist, and they will show you the proof in the consequences. The addiction is gone, the criminal is reformed, the spirit is healed, the building is destroyed, and Jonestown is a graveyard. The consequences are measurably real, therefore the thing causing them must be real. So God is real. At least, sociologically speaking She is.