Sunday, April 26, 2009

Logic Rules Out the Christian God

Let me start by saying that the logical arguments that follow are not against the existence of a supreme being per se. I am not an atheist, but an agnostic. I acknowledge that a god might possibly exist. The arguments are against the premise that the Christian God exists.

So let us first define some terms:

The Christian God is the god of the bible, the main characteristics of whom are that he is a personal being who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. He also has, and has granted us, free will.

A personal being by the Christian definition is one who has free will. Omniscient means all-knowing. Omnipotent means having the ability to do anything at all. Omnipresent means existing everywhere at all times.

Free will means the ability to make a decision, to choose. The act of choosing simply means there must be an alternative present, one which could possibly be chosen. It also implies a deliberation, even if only a short one. And deliberation requires the passage of time.

First, let me concede that a god can be omnipresent, since omnipresence can be a characteristic of other entities, such as time itself.

But if God is omniscient he cannot also be omnipotent. An omniscient god knows everything – past, present, and future. If he knows everything, he already knows every decision he is ever going to make. If he already knows every decision, he cannot change his mind about them. If he cannot change his mind he is not omnipotent, because changing his mind is something God cannot do. If, on the other hand, he does change his mind, then he didn’t know everything from the beginning, so he is not omniscient. An omniscient being cannot also be omnipotent.

But what if God is omniscient? That means he already knows everything that is going to happen. It also means God is outside of time. Only a being who is outside of time can look at the fabric of time in its entirety. But if God is outside of time, it means he cannot deliberate, since the act of deliberation requires time. Therefore, God cannot make choices; he is stuck with the choices that he made when he created everything. Therefore, God cannot have free will. He is a robot.

If God is omniscient, it also means we have no free will. If God knows that tomorrow I will go to the store and purchase a gallon of milk, then I don’t have a choice to do otherwise. I might think I’m deciding to go to the store rather than stay at home, but if God already knows what I’m going to do, then how can I change my mind? If I cannot change my mind, then I don’t have free will.

What if I do change my mind? What if I had decided to stay home but then changed my mind and went to the store instead. If God is omniscient, he already knew I was going to change my mind, so it makes no difference. I still didn’t really have a choice. It was an illusion.

If I don’t have free will then prayer makes no sense. God already knows that I’m going to pray or not pray, so I have not made the choice myself. Also, if God is omniscient, he already knows everything that he is going to do in the future, so praying cannot alter God’s predetermined plans. Remember, God cannot change his mind if he is omniscient, and if he cannot change his mind, praying for something different to happen is futile.

God also cannot change his will. If God is omniscient, then his will is predetermined and unchangeable. Praying that something is God’s will is pointless. If it is God’s will, it will happen and not even God can change it, regardless of what you pray for. Prayer is a completely useless act.

In summary, I have logically shown that God cannot be both omniscient and have free will. He cannot be omniscient and also grant us free will. He cannot be omniscient if he is omnipotent. If God is not omniscient, if he does not have free will, and if he cannot grant us free will, then he is not the god of the bible. In fact, the god of the bible cannot exist.

Perhaps some lesser god does exist, one who is neither omniscient nor omnipotent but who is vastly superior in both knowledge and abilities to any human. In our view, he would still be worthy of the title of “god,” just not the god of the bible. The god of the bible cannot exist because the characteristics assigned him by Christian beliefs are mutually exclusive.

Prayer and free will only make sense if we assume that God is neither omniscient nor omnipotent. But if we make those assumptions, we are assuming that the Christian god is a fallacy.

I’ve heard all the counter-arguments. God is so far above us that he can do things we cannot possibly understand. That’s a cop-out. Even God cannot defy logical thought. If A is less than B and B is less than C then C has to be greater than A.

And then there is the observational God model. God knows what we are going to do in advance, but we are the ones who choose to do it. That’s fine if we assume that God didn’t create the universe and all the laws of nature that govern it. If it is his creation, then everything we do is caused by him.

Let’s use a metaphor. God’s creation is a gigantic quilt. Every thread in that quilt represents a timeline. We, being on the quilt, cannot see where the thread meanders ahead. We can choose to turn left or right onto thread after thread, but we can’t see where the threads end or where new ones begin. But God, being on the outside, can see the entire quilt. He constructed it. He knows where every thread goes because he put it there. In other words, he created our destiny; our choice of threads has already been made for us. We only think we get to choose.

If you can come up with a logical way out, then you are free to leave a comment. But if your logic is based on nothing but faith, then it isn’t logic at all. I don’t see a way around the logic outlined above. If you do, please let me know.

20 comments:

Shana said...

Seems pretty fail-proof to me. But now I have a headache. lol

Wilma said...

"...If A is less than B and B is less than C then A must be greater than C..."

Doesn't this assume an undefinable limitation? I mean ABC is a sequence...however, only to a few people, races, cultures. So what if the sequence is different or even non existent. how do we assume that what we know is all there is? That said...

How do we know that our definition of omniscence, omnipresence, and omnipotence accurately describe this so far, indiscribable 'God/god'? How can logic be applied to the illogical? AND Vice Versa?

Interesting argument but the circles are "man made" and man-made logic. As humans are definitively finite creatures with severe limitations, then our logic really can do nothing more--with this premise--than sound like a really catchy tune...

but then...I'm only human.

Kenneth said...

Your statement, :" An omniscient god knows everything – past, present, and future. If he knows everything, he already knows every decision he is ever going to make. If he already knows every decision, he cannot change his mind about them." Is a flawed statement. God also has Free Will, and CAN change his mind about a decision. Ergo, since this is a premise on which you base your argument on, your argument is therefore false.

Kenneth said...

Your statement, :" An omniscient god knows everything – past, present, and future. If he knows everything, he already knows every decision he is ever going to make. If he already knows every decision, he cannot change his mind about them." Is a flawed statement. God also has Free Will, and CAN change his mind about a decision. Ergo, since this is a premise on which you base your argument on, your argument is therefore false.

Jerry Wilson said...

Wilma,
I posit that logic is not "man-made" in the since that cheese is man-made. It is something that existed, like mathematics. Humans just discovered how to use it.

Ryan said...

Well stated, Jerry. I agree.

Russell said...

sophist! casuist!

Celeste said...

Free will and an omniscient God are not mutually exclusive concepts. The best way to understand this is to think of it in terms of dimensions. Christians believe that their God transcends the dimension of time. Humans are bound by this dimension, but God is not. We make decisions and choices throughout our lives, but God knows the outcome because he is not bound by past or present since he completely transcends these limitations. God can see what we've chosen because he sees time all at once; he is above the dimension of time.

Jerry Wilson said...

Celeste,
I don't disagree with your premise that God might be in a different dimensional plain. But so what. Regardless of HOW he knows what all our choices are going to be, if he does know them, then we really don't have the choices, in the sense that our future has already been determined, whether by us or by God. If God knows it in advance, it has already been determined, because there is nothing we can do to change it.

Diego said...

You say that "Logic Rules out the Christian God". Several points needs to be made against your argument and why it is fallacious.
- You misrepresent "the Christian God" by misrepresenting what that bible says about God, i.e. erecting a straw man argument or missing the point, therefore your arguments do not apply. It is written God is all powerful, God chooses who goes to heaven and hell, God raise empires and destroys them, God creates and he destroys, he does all that he pleases, this includes evil. Further more the scriptures states explicitly or by good and necessarily inference that man has no free will. This could quickly turn into an Arminian / Calvinism debate where you could quote pro free will verses and the 10 commandments and I would then quote pro anti freewill verses, logic, prepositions and there implication. Let me head this off by saying that Calvinistic doctrine is logical and Calvin is disliked by the arminian camp for the very fact that he is logical. For a good treatment of this see Martin Luther "The Bondage of the Will" and "Predestination" by Gordon H. Clark.
- Second point is this, John 1.1 states "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The greek word translated "Word" is logos from where we get the word logic. Hence the verse can be translated validly In the beginning was the Logic, and the Logic was with God, and the Logic was God.
- If you are going to talk about logical arguments against the "the Christian God" you need to have the same terms that mean the same in you premises and conclusions. Otherwise you commit the fallacy of equivocation. Furthermore the burden of proof lies with you since the bible states God is Logic and you are making the initial clam that "Logic Rules Out the Christian God".

Jerry Wilson said...

Diego. Interesting points. I guess maybe I should have specified which Christian god I meant, since there is not even agreement among Christians as to what God is like.

caradiane said...

i would argue that you are making the assumption that god has free will. god does not have free will. he MUST always be consistent with himself and his own nature, there is no other possibility. god does not change. he is not a robot because no one is making him do things and he was not created. robots cant question their last programing or question their own existence, there is no question about gods existence because he is omnipresent. he has always and will always exist. he is omnipotent because he can do ANYTHING within the bounds of his will and character. you might say that this was then contradictory because he cant do anything, only the things his character allows, but this is not the case, due to the fact that he defines his own will and character, he made the rule that he doesnt change. thus he could have done anything he wants, but he set up a certain set of his own laws he must abide by.

John said...

Jerry,
Please let me say that your arguments are well reasoned as far as they go. The do limit themselves to rather low level logical premises that are what might be termed proletarian or pedestrian arguments. You are correct in many of your observations in this and other of your articles about the illogical and contradictory nature of biblical statements and the many different takes that its followers have spun off into multifarious belief systems. Because of the distortional methods of transcription, the fact that there are no extant original manuscripts of the biblical record, and differences between extant manuscripts of the same books of the Bible there is really little likelihood that what we believe are “Biblical” teachings are what was believed by the writers – whoever they were. One would have to make at least a cursory study of the state of current Biblical historical and scholarly understanding rather than listen to words from the pulpit or other members of the congregation to grasp some of these.

Concerning your atheism, I would make the following points. I have a friend who says he is an atheist. I ask him what he bases his atheism on. He tells me his reasoning that he finds no evidence of God in science or other places he has looked, he tells me of illogical arguments made by believers, and he tells me it just feels right to him. I make this assertion to him and to you. No evidence of something does not equate to evidence of nothing. Stated another way, if the doctors tell you that they can find no evidence of cancer in your body after your surgery, chemo, and radiation treatment, that is not the same thing as them telling you that they have proof that there is no cancer in your body. So I tell my friend that what he is saying is that he “believes” there is no God based not on proof, but on a likelihood based on subjective feelings of reinforcement he has based on his own logic that is based on incomplete data. This sounds like “Faith” to me. When you went from the agnostic (not knowing) to the atheist (belief in no god) category you exercised faith (belief not based on proof). This would seem to me to be no better of a position than being in the community of believers. In fact you are in a community of believers. They are just more smug, probably better educated, and less socially cohesive, e.g. unwilling to raise your new barn when yours burns down (There are some good sociological reasons that religious belief systems and communities of believers survive).

Jerry Wilson said...

John,
I think you are not clear on what atheism means. Atheism is not a belief, but a lack of belief. It literally means "without belief in god." That is not the same thing as saying that I believe there is no god. I stick to my original contention that I doubt that there is a god, but I don't know for sure. I am open to the possibility; I just require more evidence.

In your example about the doctor, my daughter was in that situation. They suspected cancer, so she had to have many tests done and even surgery. After all the tests and the surgery, they found no cancer. Now does that prove she doesn't have it? No. But the she and her doctors are going under the logical assumption that she doesn't have it.

That is exactly how science works. Science uses inductive reasoning in the scientific method. Few things are ever proved, but the possibilities of a scientific theory not being true are very low, so low that they can be ignored for all practical purposes.

David said...

I don't claim to be a logical genius, I just happen to study my Bible a lot. I couldn't help but notice that the answer to a lot of your questions seem to revolve around God being bound by time.

The problem is that God is not bound by time, and don't shut me off there because I read your whole article and I realize you addressed it, but you neglected to mention the reason that God is not bound by time. According to the Bible and Christianity God created time.

Now if God created time then it is logical to assume that it does not apply to God which would throw a pretty good wrench in your logic here. I don't claim to understand how things can exist without time, but I would like to think that there would be at least some things about God that I wouldn't be able to understand due to my being a creation of His.

Jerry Wilson said...

David,

The problem you have with your assumption that God is outside of time because he created it lies in the act of creation. In order to create something, the creator had to exist prior to the creation. "Prior" implies time. If there is no before and no after, then there is no time. Therefore, time itself cannot be created, because that would imply there would have to be some existence "before" time, which is illogical and inconsistent with the idea of time.

Secondly, even if you assume that God is eternal and outside the bounds of time, then why would you need to assume a god at all? Why not just assume the universe itself is eternal. Either way, you have that danged infinity to deal with, and Occam's razor would suggest that in such a case, God is not necessary to the equation.

John said...

Jerry,
The "literal" meaning of atheism is not what we/I have been discussing here. The literature from the last century would indicate that atheism in society has a smorgasbord of belief categories. They have been variously defined by writers and philosophers with terminology like negative, positive, strong, weak, intrinsic and extrinsic, practical, theoretical, etc. These categories run the gamut from weak agnostic to strong atheistic (explicit belief that gods do not exist). Some writers include agnostics in the weak atheistic category, however many agnostics do not put themselves there for the same reason I stated in my initial response, i.e. that the movement to atheism from agnosticism in some way signifies a definite statement of "belief" requiring a leap (like Kierkegaard's leap to Christianity) to put oneself in the category.

The reason I classified your statements as I did previously was that you had stated in one of your pages that you used to be an agnostic and now after reading a recent book (I read it also) you were now classifying yourself as an atheist. Your position that you do not believe there IS a god is little different than a belief that there is NO god, i.e. the result is the same. Mathematically this might be expressed thusly:
-1 x X = Y
or
X = -1 x Y
Both sides of the equations are negative (given a positive multiplicand of course).
So, I think you are simply parsing your terms pretty closely. However, you have clarified your position for me by your statement above that, "I stick to my original contention that I doubt that there is a god, but I don't know for sure. I am open to the possibility; I just require more evidence." I believe this puts you squarely at the threshold of the agnostic/atheist transition. Not far from where I am in fact per Sagan's last sentence of his Invisible Dragon metaphor, "Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion."
It may be that Jefferson, Franklin, and poor old Thomas Paine had the right idea with their Deism. God just doesn't meddle with us.

On the other note concerning induction, you are well aware of the limits and proper usage. Applying inductive logic to prove non existence is not well advised in most cases, e.g. there were no black swans until there were.

guyberliner said...

The notion of "omniscience" is suspect on so many levels, based on modern science, that it seems to me we can regard it as a fairy tale per se. According to quantum mechanics, there are states of matter about which it is completely impossible to make definite statements as to their observable properties. There is inherent, complementary uncertainty between the momentum and position of a particle. Likewise, there is inherent, complementary uncertainty between the energy of a particle and the instant in time when the energy was measured.

But we could easily substitute for our naive understanding of the word "omniscience" a more sophisticated one, along the lines of "as complete a knowledge of a physical system as can be obtained within the limits set by physical laws." That would then be a form of omniscience, or as close to "omniscience" as one could ever theoretically get.

Jerry Wilson said...

That is precisely how some theologians get around the "omniscience" problem. God knows everything that is possible to know. The more conservative Christians would say that God is above the laws of physics, thus they are stuck with omniscience. It doesn't seem to bother them.

searcher1 said...

E=mc2 folks, so name your poison; either way, eternity is part of the big picture, whether a Creator set the whole shebang in motion, or no Creator exists. We humans like to make sense of our world, i.e., why things happen. In our history, the hard to understand was attributed to a higher being or beings, who need not play by our rules. And isn't that what all this discussion is about - the rules - who sets them and why. Believe or don't believe, but treat others the way you'd like to be treated; seems like a good rule and one that shouldn't require a Creator to justify obedience. If you die and existence, in some form, continues, kudos. If you die and have lived well, kudos.