Wednesday, August 10, 2011

GAWD vs GWAR: intellectual dishonesty

I’ve said this often, but PZ puts it well.

Gods retreat into gaps as science advances. It’s inevitable and there’s nothing faith-heads can do about it but squirm dishonestly. Here’s how they do it:

They believe in a god with the various trappings of their religion, such as omnipotence, omnipresence and goodness. They believe their god created the universe. They believe in miracles.

As Dawkins has pointed out, many Christian priests dismiss Adam and Eve as metaphors if you confront them with genetic evidence, then go right back to describing that story as fact from the pulpit first thing Sunday morning. I’m sure there are similar attitudes from faith-heads of all varieties.

And when you confront them with evidence for the big bang, many appeal to a god that’s somehow ‘outside time’, whatever that means.

And when you ask them for evidence – any evidence – that their god exists, they go one step further still: they say that while they can’t prove their god exists, you can’t prove it doesn’t. God pervades the entire universe but exists somehow outside it and so can’t be detected within it. They’re right, of course, that nobody can prove that such a god doesn’t exist.

But there are two problems. First, such a being could never be the god their religion demands. That would require it to interfere with the universe in some way, whether it’s answering prayers, performing miracles, directing evolution or whatever. If it interferes with the universe, then we can throw that blasted science at it and further narrow the gap that god has to squeeze into, which is why they brought us here in the first place. Second, on Sunday morning they go right back to preaching about all the times their god has interfered with the universe anyway.

This flip-flopping between two concepts of god to avoid difficult questions is tiresome and that’s why PZ makes the distinction between what he calls GAWD (gods as working deities) and GWAR (gods who avoid reality) in the article linked above. It’s a smart and funny article, which should really annoy some non-thinkers.

I’ve dealt with this argument countless times, distressingly often from people close to me. I think they know they’re being dishonest. They know that there argument evaporates under scrutiny, but they’re less concerned with honesty than with fantasy.

So the questions remain:

If you believe in GAWD, tell me what you believe.  Tell me that you believe prayer works.  Or that miracles happen.  Tell me which things written in your holy books are true.  Or whatever.  Tell me what it is you believe, without obfuscation.  These are by definition testable claims and science can be applied.  I’m not scared of the outcome of properly conducted scientific tests of any of these things, are you?

If you believe GWAR, explain why.  Since GWAR doesn’t interfere with the universe, how do you even know about it?  You can’t point to a holy book, especially if – like most – it is claimed to either be written by or inspired by GAWD.  That would constitute an interference.  The books are all chock full of acts of GAWD.  You can’t point to personal revelation.  That would be interference again.

So either show us the evidence for your GAWD, or explain why you believe in GWAR.  There’s no middle ground.

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