What good is a slacker God?

It’s unbelievable how much mush-brained pablum about religion appears in The GuardianThis week’s helping is by philosophy professor H. E. Baber, who takes up a question that concerns us all:

What is the difference between an invisible, intangible, hidden God who makes no difference to the way the world works and no God at all?

Well, if you had any brains, you’d say, “None.”  But Baber, being a philosophy professor and a believer, has to find some way that an absentee God really matters.  Her solution is to see God as a Celestial Omphalos:

Still, even if it is not meaningless to claim that there exists a God who makes no difference to the way in which the natural world works one may ask: what is the point of believing in such a God? Why would anyone even want to believe in a God who makes no difference: a God who does not answer prayers, give our lives “meaning,” or imbue the universe with purpose, reveal moral truths, strengthen us to fight the good fight or, in some sense, ground values.

I can only speak for myself, though my answer is hardly original. God is an object of contemplation. It is remarkably hard to discover by introspection what one really thinks about these matters because they are so overlain by conventional pieties. I suppose what I believe is that God is the ultimate aesthetic object, ultimate beauty, glory and power, and that the vision of God embodies the quintessence of every aesthetic experience and every sensual pleasure. Religion is an escape from the world–not because the world is bad but because it isn’t good enough. Pleasures are fleeting and no matter how intense any aesthetic experience is, it could always be more intense. The vision of God is the asymptote they approach.

That’s what’s in it for me.

Only an intellectual could give an answer this ridiculous.  I, for one, would rather contemplate my next meal — at least it is forthcoming.

Over at Butterflies and Wheels, Ophelia Benson takes apart Baber’s fuzzy thinking.

14 Comments

  1. Posted August 27, 2009 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    “I suppose what I believe is that God is the ultimate aesthetic object, ultimate beauty, glory and power, and that the vision of God embodies the quintessence of every aesthetic experience and every sensual pleasure.”

    How about contemplating such things, but not calling them “God”? It saves us all a lot of confusion.

    Churchmen and politicians will find it much harder to manipulate people with ideas of “ultimate beauty” and the like than they do with “God”.

  2. Andrew N
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    I’m so angry at this comment:

    “Religion is an escape from the world–not because the world is bad but because it isn’t good enough. ”

    The universe is so awesome!!!! How can she say that!?!? Learn some fucking science lady. How do these people get PHDs.

    • Posted August 27, 2009 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      While the universe is awesome, our society could definitely use a few improvements. Like more sound reasoning.

  3. newenglandbob
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    This is just the babbling of a bad philosophy professor. She might as well contemplate her belly button and sing Kumbaya while sitting in a corn field.

    • Spirula
      Posted August 27, 2009 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      That’s similar to my first reaction; the virtues of navel gazing.

  4. ennui
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    She believes in god because the world isn’t good enough. I think the world isn’t good enough because people still believe in gods.

  5. Ploon
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    God as an abstract Ideal? Sure, but why call it God? Just muddies the waters. And show me one Christian who believes that.

    Newenglandbob re bellybutton: I bet that is what the Omphalos refers to, but maybe you already knew that.

  6. Posted August 27, 2009 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    As I said on Ophelia Benson’s blog, Baber is just trying really hard to avoid being criticized by atheists for believing all sorts of silly things, while at the same time avoiding being criticized by believers for not being spiritual enough, or being close-minded.

    I think she’s failing at both attempts.

  7. Posted August 27, 2009 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    “Religion is an escape from the world–not because the world is bad but because it isn’t good enough. Pleasures are fleeting and no matter how intense any aesthetic experience is, it could always be more intense.”

    This strikes me as a terribly unhealthy way of looking at the world. Seeing pleasure in almost an addictive sense, where it has to be more powerful, more intense, more permanent than what you could possibly have now is pretty unsustainable, and placing God as this vague sort of pie-in-the-sky who gives you that ultimate high is just foolish. What’s wrong with pleasure being transient, in context with everything else? What’s wrong with long-lasting pleasure that’s not incredibly intense? Like a lot of Christian thought I see, there’s essentially a devaluing of the world itself in favour of some fantasy version where everything is better. Not very mature or healthy, to my mind.

  8. Posted August 27, 2009 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    So, uh, god is of value because it’s a substitute for saying things like “life’s cool” or “the universe is awesome.”

    Wow, I didn’t know what I was missing.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  9. Posted August 27, 2009 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Now, I actually have some sympathy with this idea -

    “Pleasures are fleeting and no matter how intense any aesthetic experience is, it could always be more intense.”

    Some sympathy in the sense that I think I know what is meant, and I think I agree. But I can’t begin to see why that has anything to do with ‘God.’

    (Mind you – at the same time as I think I agree – I also think I don’t – I don’t want the pleasure of a given poem or sunset or painting to be any more intense because I want it to be what it is and not something different. I oscillate between the two.)

  10. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Purpose is (as all our species values such as moral et cetera) contingent and local. One can attach both objective and subjective elements – an example of the former is processes that proceeds through time according to their nature, and an example of the later is personal values – but in the end there is no evidence for universality. Extra-ordinary claims needs extra-ordinary evidence, and omphalos ain’t it.

    Pleasures are fleeting and no matter how intense any aesthetic experience is, it could always be more intense.

    This is a very problematic claim, to say the least. Pleasure is a local experience, so it is bounded by the observable universe.

    On Baber: Tegmark likes to discuss the spatial recurrence (multiverse) in an ordinary universe. [Because observations imply that inflation is ergodic, so our observable universe sample the rest of the distribution.]

    I.e. there’s a bound on events in physical universes. Even Baber’s non-naturally all-encompassing Omphalos observably doesn’t experience pleasure as Baber’s presumes.

  11. Critical Rationalist
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Andrew N @ #2:

    Yes, Baber should learn some science. She should also learn some philosophy.

    The problem with the logical positivists is that they equated verification with *linguistic* meaning. The statement, “God exists,” however, is indeed linguistically meaningful (ie, English speakers should have at least a basic idea of what is intended by someone who utters this statement). But she mistakenly infers that a non-empirical claim has any content, which, I would argue, it does not. The fact that the logical positivists were wrong about this one point does not mean that this bullshit is at all acceptable.

  12. Sam
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Baber is yet more living proof that more ‘sophisticated’ one’s belief gets, the more that belief starts to look and sound like atheism.


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