Descent into Madness: Challenging Christianity to be Rational
Beginning with this article, and in all future compositions, I consistently shall refer to the deity as "god," with a lower-case "g." I also shall use lower-case letters when referencing invisible garden banshees.—Ed.
I recently have been reading "Atheism: The Case Against God," by George H. Smith. It has inspired me to compose a list of a dozen arguments/questions for Christians. These are not the typical issues with which many Christians might be familiar, so I urge thoughtful consideration, rather than unthinking dismissiveness.
1. Is god supernatural? If god is natural, then we have to entirely redefine our god concept and, essentially, start over from scratch. If god is supernatural, we may continue.
2. If god is supernatural, then how can humans possess any knowledge of god? Humans are part of nature, and, as such, our knowledge is bounded by nature. The very notion of something existing beyond nature is wholly incomprehensible, given that our knowledge and thought processes are nature-bounded.
3. Does god possess any characteristics? Characteristics are determinative and limiting. That is, once a being has characteristics, those characteristics lead to certain capacities and abilities. Dogs, for example, can do certain things. However, dogs cannot build an umbrella; doing so would be contrary to their nature and their characteristics. Humans cannot undergo photosynthesis; doing so would be contrary to our nature and our characteristics. If god is possessed of any characteristics, then god is limited by them (if only in the sense that possessing Characteristic X means one cannot possess Characteristic Not-X). If god has no characteristics, then god is indistinguishable from nothingness.
4. Do you accept omnipotence, omniscience and consciousness as characteristics of god? If you do, we may continue.
5. Humans live in nature, and our knowledge is bounded by nature. There exists in nature nothing infinite. Therefore, humans have no comprehension of anything being “infinitely Characteristic X.” If humans cannot conceive of infinity, then how are the “omni” characteristics meaningful?
6. To say a being is omnipotent is to say the being has all power. Therefore, god need not engage in actions, processes or anything else in order to get what it wants. After all, a being possessed of all power need not do anything to achieve its desired results. [Upon further consideration, having a desire/purpose also might be unnecessary, because it is an extra step with which an omnipotent being should not need to concern itself.] In short, god’s power is incomprehensible since it involves getting its way without first possessing desires, taking actions or executing processes. How is this meaningful?
7. To say a being is omniscient is to say the being has all knowledge. In the natural world in which humans live, knowledge is gained by study/observation (learning) and verification (confirmation of that which is observed/learned). God never could have learned anything nor had any information verified, since that would imply a time during which god lacked comprehensive knowledge. Thus, god’s knowledge is wholly dissimilar to our own and utterly incomprehensible. How is this meaningful?
8. Free will cannot co-exist with an omniscient, creator deity. Let us say that I am a ten-year-old boy. God, being omniscient, knows that, on my thirtieth birthday, I will rob a convenience store and shoot the clerk. Is there any way for me to disprove god’s foreknowledge and not commit this heinous crime? If so, then god is not omniscient, since its foreknowledge can be disproved. If not, then I lack free will, since my actions are determined before they occur, and I cannot possibly change my destiny.
9. Omniscience and omnipotence are incompatible and lead to insoluble contradictions. Suppose that, on Monday the 14, god knows, based upon its omniscience, that it shall smite Bob Washburn on Thursday the 17. Come Wednesday the 16, can god change its mind and decide to spare Bob Washburn? If so, then god can disprove its own foreknowledge and cannot be categorized as omniscient. If not, then god cannot be called omnipotent, because it lacks the ability to change its mind (and thus disprove its own foreknowledge).
10. Is god conscious? Consciousness, as understood by humans, who are bounded by nature since we are products of nature, is an emergent quality of some biological life. Humans can conceive of no consciousness divorced from biological life, since such does not exist in nature and any such consciousness would be different not in degree but in kind. How do Christians resolve this?
11. Does god have any similarity with humans? It seems not. For example, humans have some knowledge, whereas god has all knowledge. However, we neither comprehend knowledge of an infinite kind (since humans only comprehend limited things) nor understand what knowledge might mean in a supernatural realm, which itself cannot be comprehended (since we are bounded by nature and cannot conceive beyond it). As another example, humans have some power, whereas god has all power. However, in god’s exercise of power, it does not employ purposes, actions or processes, since such would be encumbrances to limitless power—an obvious contradiction. This being the case, the word “power,” especially in an incomprehensible supernatural realm, signifies something of an unknowable, altogether different, kind. Christians, can this be made sensible?
12. Most Christians admit that god cannot cause logical impossibilities to occur. For example, god cannot craft a circular square or a deceased living rabbit. The theist might say nonsense is nonsense, and the deity cannot actualize an inherent contradiction. However, most Christians also say that god’s omnipotence allows it to perform miracles, which might be something as silly as making a desk lamp respire. However, is this not also logically impossible? A desk lamp is possessed of certain characteristics, which, in themselves, define it as being a desk lamp—and are both limiting and determinative. A square boasts four 90-degree angles and four straight, equally long sides. A desk lamp is inanimate, used to illuminate a workspace and does not respire. As such, a desk lamp cannot breathe anymore than a square can be a circle. Thus, omnipotence reveals itself as purveying logical impossibilities, be they obvious or subtle.
To any Christian considering responding, I implore thoughtful consideration.