Is God a bodiless person?

I found in my mailbox yesterday a letter from an staff member at “Awake,” the official publication of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs), and a magazine that many of us have probably been proffered in door to door proselytizing events.  I thumbed through it briefly, and found an article called “The Untold Story of Creation.” Surprisingly, that article seemed to accept evolution as the means God used to create life. While it says “Jehovah God created all the basic kinds of plant and animal life, as well as a perfect man and woman who were capable of self-awareness, love, wisdom, and justice,” it adds that “The kinds of animals and plants created by God have obviously undergone changes and have produced variations within the kinds. In many cases, the resulting life-forms are remarkably different from one another.”

That’s theistic  (“God guided”) evolution, of course, combined with a ex nihilo creation event at the outset, but it’s still a form of evolution. But the discussion of  the evolution of “kinds” is muddled, since most creationist Christians think of members of a “kind” as being fairly similar to one another (i.e., the “dog kind,” which includes wolves and jackals), and not “remarkably different from one another.” JW evolutionism is a bastard hybrid between Biblical creationism and theistic evolution.

But I digress. What struck me about the article was a section at the beginning describing the nature God. Here are some of his characteristics, taken verbatim from the piece:

  • “God is a person, an individual. He is not a vague force devoid of personality, floating aimlessly in the universe. He has thoughts, feelings, and goals.”
  • “God has infinite power and wisdom. This explains the complex design found everywhere in creation, especially in living things.” [JAC: I guess that the "changes" occurring within kinds come from God's design, not natural selection.]
  • “God has a personal name, which is used thousands of times in the Bible. That name is Jehovah.”

There are other traits listed, like God’s love for humans, but I wanted to point out that this religion, at least, sees god as a person—granted, not a physical person, but a disembodied mind that has the thoughts, feelings, and plans of a human person.

This view of God as a divine being that resembles a bodiless person (but with omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence) is not unique to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Eric MacDonald, as well as liberal religionists, tell us that the view of God adumbrated above is naive, and that Sophisticated Theologians™ don’t really believe that such a God exists, or, if He does, he’s an ineffable being whose qualities cannot be pinpointed.

But that claim about theologians is not true. Here’s a panoply of statements by various theologians and religionists, some of them Sophisticated™, that say otherwise, specifying the precise nature of God, often attributing to Him personlike qualities:

Attributes of God. Though God is one and simple, we form a better idea by applying characteristics to Him, such as: almighty, eternal,holy, immortal, immense, immutable, incomprehensible, ineffable, infinite, intelligent, invisible, just, loving, merciful, most high, most wise, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, patient, perfect, provident, self-dependent, supreme, true. (The National Catholic Almanac by the Frnciscan Clerics of Holy Name College).

If any theologian is regarded as Sophisticated™, it’s Richard Swinburne. Here’s how he sees God:

I take the proposition ‘God exists’ (and the equivalent proposition ‘There is a God’) to be logically equivalent to “there exists necessarily a person without a body (i.e. a spirit) who necessarily is eternal, perfectly free, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and the creator of all things.’ I use ‘God’ as the name of the person picked out by this description.” (Existence of God p. 7)

“That God is a person, yet one without a body, seems the most elementary claim of theism. It is by being told this or something that entails this (e.g. that God always listens to and sometimes grants us our prayers, he has plans for us, he forgives our sins, but he does not have a body) that young children are introduced to the concept of God.” (The Coherence of Theism, p. 101)

I believe Eric mentioned Alvin Plantinga as a Sophisticated Theologian™. What does he say about God?

“What he [Daniel Dennett] calls an “anthropomorphic” God, furthermore, is precisely what traditional Christians believe in—a god who is a person, the sort of being who is capable of knowledge, who has aims and ends, and who can and in fact does act on what he knows in such a way as to try to accomplish those aims.” (Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, p. 11)

“So believing in God is more than accepting the proposition that God exists. Still, it is at least that much. One can’t sensibly believe in God and thank Him for the mountains without believing that there is such a person to be thanked, and the He is in some way responsible for the mountains. Nor can one trust in God and commit oneself to Him without believing that He exists: ‘He who would come to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him’ (Heb. 11:6)'” (God, Freedom, and Evil, p. 2).

Those aren’t statements by people who don’t think that God actually exists, or, if he does, exists in some way beyond our understanding.

Finally, from a book for kids, a characterization of God that doesn’t materially differ from Plantinga’s.

“It’s really important to understand that God is not an impersonal force. Even though He is invisible, God is personal and He has all the characteristics of a person. He knows, he hears, he feels and he speaks.” (B. Bickel and S. Jantz, 1996, Bruce and Stan’s Pocket Guide to Talking With God, p. 40).

So here we have both Sophisticated and Unsophisticated Theologians claiming that God has person-like characteristics. I could multiply these examples almost indefinitely, or provide the statistics about the percentage of people who believe in a personal God who interacts with humans (67.5% in the US, 18.7% in France, 26.9% in Great Britain, 54% in Italy).

My questions to those like Eric MacDonald, who chastise us for not reading more of Sophisticated Theology™, are these:

1. If you think there is a God, like most Sophisticated Theologians™, why are you so sure that that God is not like a person, or ineffable, rather than like the humanoid god of Plantinga, Swinburne, et al? After all, there is no more evidence for an ineffable, ground-of-being God than there is for a personal, talking-to-you God. Where is the knowledge that makes someone like Karen Armstrong or Terry Eagleton more authoritative on the nature of God than, say, people like Plantinga, Swinburne, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Bruce and Stan?

2. If you think there is no God (Eric avers that David Bentley Hart thinks that, though I must read his book to see), then you are an atheist, and get no more benefits from believing in a nonexistent deity than from being a secular humanist. If you think there is no God, then you have no warrant to speak of a god.

What I am starting to realize is that what distinguishes Sophisticated Theology™ from regular theology (or regular belief) is its attempt to remove God from the realm of empiricism.  Its adherents do this in two ways: either by asserting that God does not exist (which means that it isn’t theology but philosophy with numinous overtones), or by claiming that God isn’t what we thought he was all along, but rather some nebulous Ground of Being or Force of Nature or Sustainer of Existence whose nature can’t be specified.

But that doesn’t work, either, and for two reasons.  First, it’s not the kind of God everyone believes in, and would not be recognizable as God even by people like  Swinburne or Plantinga. Second, the Ineffable God Claim still demands evidence, for it’s an assertion about what exists in the universe. And if you don’t provide that evidence, as well as evidence that your conception of God is more accurate than, say, Bruce and Stan’s, then we needn’t pay attention to your arguments.

It all boils down to evidence. If you want us to listen to your Sophisticated Theology™, first convince us that there is a God, however you define it. If you can’t do that, the game is over. Or, if you think there is no God but religion still has value, tell us why we should value something that makes false claims, and why it’s better than enlightened humanism.

I finish with a relevant cartoon from the website of reader Pliny the in Between:

Toon Background.021

 

185 Comments

  1. Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Love that passage from the Catholic Almanac that says “God is simple” and then provides a laundry list of complex attributes. Maybe if religious people could see the funny side of that, we could find some common ground.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      The reason the Catholics (and other theists) think they can get away with this contradiction is because they think of minds as “simple.” They are not composed of anything, they have no parts, they exist nowhere, they need no preconditions, they obey no natural laws, and they are timeless. Oh — and they work by magic, moving your finger by willpower, and creating imagined entities simply through the creative power of thought.

      Consult your own mind, and you will see this simplicity is obviously true.

      • gluonspring
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        You always say this so well, and it is really key to understanding the religious mindset. All the rest is, I think, mostly detail.

      • wanderobo
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

        Didn’t Socrates and Plato have a similar view? To wit: “people who take the sun-lit world of the senses to be good and real are living pitifully in a den of evil and ignorance” (The Republic). And wasn’t it Aquinas who syncretized this Greek thought with Christianity. And isn’t “soul” the canvas for making the simple complex? All were pretty sharp thinkers for their times. Unfortunately for faith the good times are long over. Nowadays religion can’t keep up with reality but still needs to keep reinventing its enigmas to help the faithful survive the onslaught of science’s devastating command of explaining reality. Such a dilemma! How will theologians pay their graduate loans, feed their families and continue their misbegotten careers if they can’t keep making shit up?

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 13, 2014 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

          Thank goodness for The Enlightenment!

        • Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

          Plato did – we don’t know about Socrates enough to be sure.

          But Christianity is Judaism and Platonism thrown into a blender and pulsed on puree, so commonality isn’t surprising.

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 14, 2014 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

          ” How will theologians pay their graduate loans, feed their families and continue their misbegotten careers if they can’t keep making shit up?”

          Exactly. The only necessary response to sophisticated theologians is, “you’re making shit up.”

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted March 15, 2014 at 6:12 am | Permalink

            I said that to my dad when he said he could accept the idea that there is a vast unknowable intelligence even if he didn’t believe it. I said, yeah but you’re just making that shit up.

    • Darth Dog
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      It is hilarious.

      According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, ineffable means “incapable of being expressed in words”. So I find it rather funny that it is included in a list with twenty four other adjectives, all of which are supposed to describe God. Talk about eff’ing the ineffable.

      • Posted March 13, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

        unknowable and ineffable and yet so much verbiage aboot Him over the centuries, almost homeopathic

        truly, He does work in mysterious ways

        A pamphlet arrived in the mail from the JWs a while back:

        Can the dead really live again?

        Would you say:

        yes

        no

        maybe

        It then goes on to say you “can really believe what the Bibble says” “for at least three reasons”. These are God being the creator, having resurrected 8 times before and He is “eager” to do it again.

        Are Sophisticated Theologians saying the more rational denizens of Kingdom Halls don’t buy this?

  2. Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Theists have no choice but to change their god into a vague concept that cannot be defined and therefore cannot be argued against. The sad old god of Christianity is nothing more than the same sad old gods of the various ancient pantheons, and can be shown not to exist.

    Of course, this is a bit of a problem when a theist wants to claim concrete events and actions by their newly vague god.

  3. Barry Lyons
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    This just occurred to me (it can’t be a new idea): how come God doesn’t have a name? It seems to me that “God” is on par with saying, namelessly, “Parent” or “Cousin” or “Friend”.

    Can we start calling God “Shemp”? I think that’s a good moniker. “I believe in one Shemp, the father almighty, the maker of heaven and earth.”

    • Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      You mean Yahweh? He’s got a name in the Old Testament, but seeing as he’s the only one of his kind it’s not that much more useful than just “God”. Kind of like “Mom” or “Dad” in a family.

      “Shemp” would work too, seeing as it’s a term associated with another famous trinity.

      • moarscienceplz
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        Blasphemer!
        Every true believer knows that the One True Trinitarian God is the Larry, the Moe, and the Holy Curly!

        • Barry Lyons
          Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

          Funny.

          However, don’t forget (not many people seem to know this), that the original Three Stooges were Moe, Larry, and Shemp. Shemp left to pursue a solo career as a character actor just as the Stooges got their Columbia contract and only returned a dozen or so years later after Curly had a series of strokes from which he never recovered. But let’s not get off topic lest the ax from Jerry will come down!

          • moarscienceplz
            Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

            Shemp is the Zeppo of the Stooges.

            • Barry Lyons
              Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

              Nah, Shemp was a funny and seasoned, vaudeville-trained clown (one of my favorite Shemp shorts is “Who Done It”). If you want a Zeppo analogy, look to Joe DeRita, who was immensely unfunny (even Joe Besser was funnier than DeRita).

              • Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

                Gummo, then?

                /@

              • Barry Lyons
                Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

                Poor Gummo! I wonder if he ever regretted not being in front of the camera. I forget his story. Was he a sort of accountant or whatnot for his four brothers? But if I recall correctly, I don’t think he ever performed, not even on stage. Interesting how and why that happened. Maybe he figured that Zeppo already had a lock on the “straight man” part and therefore saw no role for himself. Dunno. (And then, as fans know, shortly after filming “Duck Soup” Zeppo decided he was tired of not doing anything and so he left the troupe.)

              • Latverian Diplomat
                Posted March 13, 2014 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

                Gummo was the first brother to perform on stage, and the first to leave the act.

                http://www.marx-brothers.org/biography/gummo.htm

              • Filippo
                Posted March 13, 2014 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

                Harpo is my favorite. He wrote the song “Guardian Angels” (if you can tolerate the title), a beautiful melody, and, if I correctly recall, played the harp on the recording by Mario Lanza.

      • Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        Or Jove … well, something like that.

        /@

      • Gordon
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

        Those amongst you who have read the Sophisticated Theologians might be able to tell me (cos the question just occurred) are the heavenly hosts – cherubim and angels etc – ineffable as well. Indeed were they part of the ineffable unknowable something or did Yahweh conjure them up to do the housework.

    • gluonspring
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, in the Bible God does have a name, perhaps more than one.

      It is interesting, though, that some Bible translators have seen fit to obscure the fact that the Bible god has a name. They do this by, for example, saying LORD in all caps, so that Jehovah (or Yahweh) God is rendered LORD God. Jews (or some of them at least) likewise do not speak the name of God when reading (or indeed even write it down fully, so that it is rendered YHWH without vowels). This passing over or otherwise obscuring the name (or as some say, The Name) is a neat trick, I think, for in addition to promoting an air of reverence it helps obscure the history of the god of the Bible as revealed in the text and helps to enhance the impression of god as being the only god. Having a name gives the sense that you need to distinguish YHWH from some other god, El or Baal, say, that you need to identify which god you are talking about. And when you read the OT with the name of god plainly evident a lot of the early stuff really does come across like god is one of many, as surely he was in the origins of the religion.

      • Dermot C
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        @JW allegations:

        “God has a personal name, which is used thousands of times in the Bible. That name is Jehovah.”

        This is untrue and could even be a lie, as it depends on which Bible you use. The word ‘Jehovah’ first appears in 16th century Christian texts. It does refer back etymologically to YHWH, via a theologically puerile and cringing route which I would feel polluted to explain. From memory, there are 2 words which appear ‘thousands of times in the Hebrew Bible’: one is ‘and’; the other is ‘Lord’, as in YHWH.

        The JWs have an intellectual problem in dating the rate of change of evolution: in their world-view, evolution must have re-started after the Flood. But which Bible do they use to date the Flood? The Samaritan Bible (maybe 5th to 2nd century BCE), when the flood can be dated at 1307 A.M. (Anno Mundi, in other words, after Creation – we are now in the year 5775 A.M.)? Or the Greek Septuagint (late 2nd century BCE), when the flood can be dated at 2242 A.M.? Or the Hebrew Masoretic text (7th – 10th century CE), when the flood can be dated at 1307 A.M.? I don’t know how the Dead Sea Scrolls date the Flood, but you can be sure that there are different Hebrew traditions about the date of the Flood: it must be very hard for them to determine the correct version, especially if you are a literalist.

        These evolutionarily-savvy JWs have a lot of work to do to explain the forms most varied in life’s grandeur. They could start by determining the date of the Flood: they have a range of traditions to sort the wheat from the chaff. They might like to read Stephen Jay Gould if they want to explain the astonishing speed of evolutionary change which they implicitly claim: then again that might be a misreading of SJG. Or perhaps another lie.

        Slaínte.

        • Dermot C
          Posted March 13, 2014 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

          Erratum: Hebrew Masoretic text has 1656 A.M. for the Flood.

  4. gbjames
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    sub, without comment. For now.

    • Darrin M Carter
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      //

      • francis
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        ///

  5. jsoon71
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Yeah, I come from a Mormon background, and I can tell you they definitely believe that God is a person, their “Father in Heaven”, quite literally. They also believe he has a body, but that it is immortal and glorious beyond comprehension. Here’s a snippet from their website: “…[God] is our Father in Heaven. We are created in His image (Genesis 1:27). He has a body that looks like ours, but God’s body is immortal, perfected, and has a glory that words can’t describe. Because we are His children, He knows and loves each of us individually. He has a plan to help His children find joy in this life and return to live with Him when this life is over.”

    • Jeffery
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      Assuming that God is male (as most seem to)and that we are created in his image, the logical(?) questions are: Does God have nipples? Does God have a belly-button? Does God’s hair and beard have to be trimmed, from time to time?

      • John Taylor
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        Yes, yes and no.

        • Larry Gay
          Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

          It sounds to me as though you might be more of a fundamentalist than a ground-of-being kind of guy.

        • Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

          Meta-wiener? Yes or no?

    • John Taylor
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      I’ll bet he can eat all the ice cream he wants and still have rippling abdominal muscles. I’ll bet his hair looks carefree and blows in the breeze, even on a still day, while retaining a pristine orderliness.

      • John K.
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

        But can god create an ice cream cone so big that he cannot eat it?

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      has a glory that words can’t describe

      Seems like a description, albeit a paltry one, to me…

    • Sastra
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      I love imagining the Mormon version of a new atheist critic:

      “Why, that shallow Dawkins fellow seems to think that we believe that God is some Old Man in the Sky With a Beard! What rubbish! Nothing could be further from … from … oh, wait. I’m Mormon. God IS an Old Man in the Sky With a Beard. Never mind.”

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 14, 2014 at 5:20 am | Permalink

        From my limited exposure to religion, I think we all are being satirical about the old man with a beard, right? God is seen as a person, but that old man with a beard thing is something everyone just communally thinks but isn’t taught. Or am I wrong?

        • gbjames
          Posted March 14, 2014 at 5:25 am | Permalink

          Come on, Diana! We’ve got pictures of him!

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted March 14, 2014 at 5:47 am | Permalink

            Yeah but that just shows Michaelangelo was thinking the same thing we all were thinking. Personally, I like the South Park god rendition best.

            • gbjames
              Posted March 14, 2014 at 5:50 am | Permalink

              Jeeze, Diana, it’s in the Vatican! How much more proof do you need?

        • Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:26 am | Permalink

          It is how God appears on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, so presumably the pope is comfortable with that image… at least as a metaphor.

          • Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:27 am | Permalink

            Ahh, see I was a bit late with that comment :).

        • Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

          I dont recall what I was taught, but …

          At primary school (when I was about 8yo?) we were asked to draw pictures of God. Mine was a giant, clean-shaven, tonsured man (I guess I thought monks were trying to look like God) wearing a full length habit in narrow green and yellow stripes (well, it was the 60s), with angels fluttering about his shoulders. The boy next to me drew a vague white floaty thing with a featureless yellow “head”.

          Make of that what you will.

          /@

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:46 am | Permalink

            I wish I got to do that as a kid. I wonder what I would’ve drawn seeing as I was never taught about god.

        • Dermot C
          Posted March 14, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

          @Diana MacPherson

          “I think we all are being satirical about the old man with a beard, right? God is seen as a person, but that old man with a beard thing is something everyone just communally thinks but isn’t taught. Or am I wrong?”

          The Old Man with a Beard is biblical: the Book of Daniel is the first recording of him being called ‘The Ancient of Days’ – finished ca. 164 BCE. Remember, up till then YHWH, in official Judaism, was either invisible, could not be looked upon or was a sapphire stone.

          Descriptions of what God looked like seem to be connected with the wilder imaginings of Apocalypticists: possibly influenced by Hellenism which saw the appearance of the Greek pantheon as inherent in their nature.

          Slaínte.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted March 14, 2014 at 7:33 am | Permalink

            Interesting. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve heard Presbyterians literally believe in a heaven with streets of gold. Thanks.

            • Filippo
              Posted March 14, 2014 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

              Well, unless I’m mistaken, “The Book” (as I heard an old-timer refer to it), does mention streets of gold in Heaven. I didn’t think much of it (or apparently anything else ;)) as a youngster, but in later years became aware of the work of Hans Bethe and other physics luminaries regarding the formation of the heavier elements. I’d like to see a true believer reconcile a literal belief of Heavenly streets of gold with the work of Bethe, et al.

            • Richard Olson
              Posted March 14, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

              My mother forced me to attend Pesbyterian Sunday School & church service 51 weeks a year, and I was unable to avoid any of it until I got a Sunday job my senior year of high school. I never went near neither again afterward, except for a brief flirtation with UU for a few months decades later when I was briefly afflicted with a woo virus.

              I could not remember ever hearing about streets of gold in heaven. The Presby church I went to as a kid was about as close to UU as liberal Christian congregations get, and there may be others who make that fantasy a feature. Hell, the few times I ever gave the idea of a heaven any attention at all the only thing I pictured was some sort of Pearly Gates cartoon image.

              As I recall it, I never liked any parts of the Bible, but I particularly hated the hell out of that insane Book of Revelation and would have nothing to do with it. Turns out, that is where the business of streets of gold is located, although maybe that is more of a gold everything, buildings, fountains, commodes even? But not the gate.

              Except I learn the pearly gate is actually 12 gates, each an actual pearl carved just so. I didn’t come across any reference to Presby’s favoring this tidbit of horseshit to a higher degree than any other subsect of the sect, but somebody looking at this thread might know if what you heard about some faction of Presbyterians is accurate.

              Somehow I didn’t get the link included where I copied the paragraph below:

              The idea of the “Pearly Gates” and the golden streets of Heaven comes from just one verse in the New Testament. In Revelation 21:21, it says: “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.” This verse comes from the chapter in which the author of Revelation is describing what many believers refer to as the “New Jerusalem”.

          • Posted March 14, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

            Not very surprising that Jehovah looks very much like Jove/Jupiter/Zeus!

            /@

            • Filippo
              Posted March 14, 2014 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

              “Drink to me only with thine eyes
              And I will pledge with mine;
              Or leave a kiss within the cup
              And I’ll not ask for wine;

              The thirst that from the soul doth rise
              Doth ask a drink divine,
              But might I of Jove’s nectar sip
              I would not change for thine.”

              – Ben Jonson

          • Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

            On the other hand, it talks about “back parts” somewhere or other …

            • Dermot C
              Posted March 14, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

              Exodus 33:23; Slave, thou shalt only eyeball God’s arse.

              • Filippo
                Posted March 14, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

                Or, as an old Appalachian mountain preacher put it, commenting on living in “the last days”: “We’re a-livin’ in the World’s hind end – ahhh.”

                (The “ahh” business comes from taking a quick breath, so exercised does the preacher get while holding forth from behind the pulpit.)

        • Sastra
          Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

          Since almost all religions will make haste to assure its followers that God is invisible, everywhere, and has no physical body (He’s a unbodied Mind), then sure, we’re being satirical. It’s a metaphor for children. Theists however love to seize on that and pretend (to themselves and others) that no, we atheists are shallow, never got over childhood, and that’s all we can imagine. No believer truly thinks God is an old man with a beard in the sky.

          And then something like Heaven is For Real becomes a best seller and you wonder if there is anything too childish for the theists to believe.

          Years ago I was in a library book discussion group and we read The Lovely Bones, a fictional book about a murdered little girl who, among other things, writes about what heaven is like. Houses, and puppies, and whatever sort of stuff you like — that sort of thing. Since I was the only atheist in a room full of religious believers, I tried to sound them out as to whether they, themselves, imagined heaven this way.

          As I recall, the answer was a firm “yes … and no.” It was a way to imagine heaven. But probably not true. Definitely not. Unless some aspects were. But we couldn’t know. Maybe. But then again, no.

          I sometimes get the impression that if I were to go undercover and play a role — “OOh, this book shows Heaven JUST the way I really believe it is!” — I’d garner some support. When believers are amongst themselves (or think they are) I suspect they may let their guard down. I’ve seen that happen. Bizarre statements, a skeptical question, a hasty retraction now that it’s apparent the group is not homogenous and “open.”

  6. Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    📌

    • Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      “I thumbed through it briefly, and found an article called ‘The Untold Story of Creation.’”

      Ah, they were out in the streets of Harrogate with that the other week; I loudly remarked to my wife that “Untold” should be corrected to “Untrue”, but I’m not sure that any of the JWs heard.

      /@

    • Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      “seems the most elementary claim of theism”

      Ah, but Eric keeps telling us that “so much” of religion isn’t theism! (Without any regard to the percentages, however.)

      /@

      • darrelle
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

        Yeah. Even if that is true in some context, just what does that mean for religion? If the foundation is built on bullshit you’ll never get rid of the smell.

      • Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

        Eric’s point is a trivial one that I think we’d all acknowledge. I don’t see why it’s relevant.

        So much of murder isn’t killing. There’s the selection of where and when. There’s the selection of the weapon. There’s the acquisition of the weapon. There’s all the thought that goes into how to cover it up. Cultivating this kind of ability for planning and this kind of knack for thinking logistically would be extremely useful for many people. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

          I really like that.

          (Apologies to all if this appears twice. My computer hiccupped when I hit “post.”)

    • Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      “If you think there is no God, then you have no warrant to speak of a god.”

      Ah, but (Eric would say) the concept of God is useful as a limit concept… 

      I’m sorry, but this smacks of a “little people” argument, that people are too unsophisticated to do without some fiction to hang their life stance on (forgetting that even Dumbo managed to fly without his magic feather).

      /@

  7. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    In a sort of morbid way I’m almost hoping this G.O.B thing is the start of something great in western religion.

    A god so distant, weak and feeble that it’s barely worth a thought….after all there’s nothing left to think about.

    • Kevin
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      I agree. I like this attitude and hope it permeates the religious world view.

      Let god be that which can not be known, but postulated. Arbitrarily interpretable, but unreachable. Wholly fixed, but necessarily nebulous.

      Then religion, like the Sophisticated Theologians maintain, will transform into agnosticism without anyone blinking.

      • Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        Exactly. I was going to bring this up, but too busy and too slow once again….
        I wonder how the Greek/Roman gods faded out. How did the Egyptian gods disappear from culture? Was there a period where adherents clung to them as G.O.B. gods?

        • gluonspring
          Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

          My impression, based on no study of the matter, is that they didn’t so much ‘fade out’ as were made illegal or were otherwise persecuted out of existence.

          • Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

            Or were syncretized into new religions.

            • Dermot C
              Posted March 16, 2014 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

              Very late, I know, but the Roman/Greek gods were basically illegalized out of credibility in the 4th century by Constantine and his descendants when they gradually made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.

              I really don’t think that the point about synthesis of ancient religions gets you very far: of course ancient religions were synthetic, myths were shared and built upon, different cultures influenced each other, it’s a tautology. Yes, early Judaism shared certain characteristics and primitive ideas with Zoroastrianism but it developed, most notably morally and apocalyptically: that’s what makes it different, influential, interesting and not just the world-view with which it shares some common traits.

              I’m obviously getting to the Sam Harris position where you have to look seriously at the original pericopes of these religious founding documents in order to determine the way they and their descendants likely thought. It simply isn’t good enough – and it’s intellectually lazy – to write off all ancient religions as syncretistic (of course they were – so what?) and have done with it. We can all become enraged at the disgusting morality of the Hebrew Bible: it’s a lot more difficult to rile at the gentle, pacifistic Jains, presumably as syncretistic as the Judahites. And as religious.

              Slaínte.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Don’t get your hopes up. The ineffable Ground of Being of which we can say nothing except that it is a mystery beyond mysteries and can be known only through negation and the power and experience of love will still inspire two things:

      1.) Lots and lots and lots of books, essays, articles, posts, words, words, words.

      2.) A deep contempt and scorn for atheism — which is why everyone still needs to believe in this God.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        Probably so if experience is anything to go by. I’m still wondering though, how much revelation and wonder one can cramp into an entity that is widely regarded as non-interacting and without properties….if it came to pass, of course.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

          *cram…

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        God-based legislation would become much harder, though.

  8. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    “God has a personal name, which is used thousands of times in the Bible. That name is Jehovah.”

    YMMV

    Exodus 34:14: “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:”

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      And they get even that bit wrong, for the name of god in the OT is JHVH, which is probably best pronounced Yahweh. That is, when the singular god isn’t being referred to as Elohim, which properly is the name of the whole Canaanite pantheon.

      • wanderobo
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        Can’t Elohim also be translated LORD of Lords as is often done. This goes back to early Hebrew understandings of a pantheon of gods where El was top dog (sorry)… before monotheism got fixed.

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

          Which makes it occur to me that one of the cooler hymns refers to divine predecessors or contemporaries.

          King of kings forever and ever;
          Lord of lords, forever and ever,

        • Dermot C
          Posted March 14, 2014 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

          @ wanderobo and moarscienceplz

          Elohim is the normal Hebrew word for God, a plural for majesty. The singular form ‘Eloah’ occurs often in the Book of Job. The most common form ‘El’ refers to the chief god and as a general word for any god in other Semitic languages.

          Regarding the Canaanite pantheon, the archaeologist Israel Finkelstein makes the point that the early Canaanites were the Israelites. This probably explains the evidence we have of an early Israelite duotheon, at the minimum: Yahweh and Ashteroth, his consort, in the pictures of the two and the many figurines of Ashteroth which litter Syria-Palestinian archaeology.

          Slainte.

  9. Bruce Gregory
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I am afraid you will have to read Hart to appreciate the arguments for an Ineffable God. The arguments are not persuasive, of course, but it hardly makes any difference. You can grant Hart his God and still live your life exactly as you do now. The Ineffable God is like a quantum field that interacts with nothing. Hard to disprove, but easy to ignore.

    • Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      Like a quantum field… which reminds me of a cartoon I saw recently: We have antimatter, dark matter and now … doesn’t matter.

      /@

    • Sastra
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      If Hart’s God is really like a quantum field that interacts with nothing, then Hart would not get all hot and bothered over explicit atheism. He wrote a whole damn book complaining that atheism is a “delusion.” Find me one quantum physicist who thinks qm is that intuitive.

      No, I’m going to bet that this quantum field is the really the transcendent fullness of actuality, made of love … and it interacts with human beings through theological wanking and in their still, quiet moments — just kind of giving us a completely convincing vague hint, you know. Except for the vapid and childish atheists, who lack depth, feeling, historical erudition, and syllogistic rigor.

  10. John Harshman
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    My understanding is that God is a particle. On a related note, “Higgs Boson and the Large Hadron Colliders” would be an awesome name for a rock band.

    • TJR
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      More likely it will be a song by Man Or Astro-Man. They already did a song about the Stanford Linear Accelerator (and damn fine it is too).

      • moarscienceplz
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        Kids these days. Just a bunch of SLACkers! ;-)

    • Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      Already taken. (Well, partly.)

      /@

  11. Scote
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    If God doesn’t have a body then who the heck is Jesus?

    It seems to me that saying God doesn’t have a body is putting limitations upon God. If God is all powerful God can have a body if God darn well wants to have a body. So maybe he does or maybe he doesn’t, but it’s not up to theologians to say whether he does or doesn’t.

    • wanderobo
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      But yes it is. That’s all theologians do is say things.

    • Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      Indeed.

      And maybe god likes to switch it up every so often.

      Kind of like how some days I wear pants and some days I don’t.

      (Because I’m wearing shorts.)

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        Notice how you never see the holy ghost & Jesus in the same room….

        • Posted March 13, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

          I’ve noticed how I never see the holy ghost or Jesus *anywhere*…

        • Pliny the in Between
          Posted March 13, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

          I see them together in the strip all the time.

          • Richard Olson
            Posted March 13, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

            Yes you do, PtiB, and I for one get a nice laugh out of it each and every time.

          • Posted March 13, 2014 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

            You mean Vegas?

            Those are probably impersonators.

            (But they have some pretty good ones out there.)

        • Gordon
          Posted March 13, 2014 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

          Oh Diana
          Didn’t you look behind the door!

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted March 14, 2014 at 5:24 am | Permalink

            Sounds like a Stephen King novel. Holy Ghost: the Haunting.

  12. Friendlypig
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    If Dog doesn’t have a body then why do we? If we are made in his image.

    • Jeffery
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Wow! You just proved that God exists! If WE have bodies, and we’re created in his image, then, HE must have a body, too….wait a minute……

    • Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      Self-image. God just thinks He has a body.

      /@

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

        God is too sexy…

        • Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

          So he is Fred after all! Anthony Grayling will be pleased!

          /@

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted March 13, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

            So who’s gonna tell him he’s the new prophet?

    • wanderobo
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      God has a holographic body and we are the image of that.

  13. Alex Shuffell
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Does evidence matter to “Sophisticated Theologians”? Most of us here I assume are sympathetic to science, evidence being the most important reason for our beliefs.

    The anthropomorphic or religious gods are accused of having a definite affect on our universe, so they should be measurable, understandable. So to believers of these gods evidence is life itself. But so far all of these affects have been better described through non-supernatural means. To me this means these claims made in most Holy Books are wrong, so I can’t believe in any religious gods.

    The gods of sophisticated theologians are very different to any gods of religion (except perhaps Brahman), they seem to be defined into such a state as to make them irrelevant. But this opinion of mine comes very much from what I read on this website. I have tried to read some theology, I’ve read many of the holy books treating them all as equally true. Unless shown otherwise as in The Book of Mormon. They frustrate me too much to try further attempts when I could be reading science books. I always think “how do they know this?” and can’t understand anything useful in theology, apart from with a cultural or historical perspective.

  14. Rhetoric
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    I quite enjoy his “PFFFT” comic. One line:

    “Apologetics are irrelevant – only the fundamentalist doctrines matter – if the magic bits aren’t true, then all the sophisticated machinations in the world can’t turn philosophy into theology.”

    Which is why the energy released from turning gallons of water spontaneously into wine would turn the whole area into one giant crater.

    • Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      Well, I can turn beer into urine pretty fast…

      • Kevin
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        So can I and just about any other liquid I drink.

      • moarscienceplz
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        With some beers, there’s not much transforming required.

        • Larry Gay
          Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

          I don’t like Budweiser either.

  15. W.Benson
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Here is a 1901 thought from my favorite dead atheist:

    “The anthropomorphic dogma is likewise connected with the creation-myth of the three aforesaid religions [Mosaic, Christian, and Mohammedan], and of many others. It likens the creation and control of the world by God to the artificial creation of a talented engineer or mechanic, and to the administration of a wise ruler. God, as creator, sustainer, and ruler of the world, is thus represented after a purely human fashion in his thought and work. Hence it follows, in turn, that man is godlike. “God made man to His own image and likeness.” The older, naive mythology is pure “homotheism,” attributing human shape, flesh, and blood to the gods. It is more intelligible than the modern mystic theosophy that adores a personal God as an invisible properly speaking, gaseous being, yet makes him think, speak, and act in human fashion; it gives us the paradoxical picture of a “gaseous vertebrate.””
    Ernst Haeckel, Riddle of the Universe, p. 12.

    • Moarscienceplz
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      “Gaseous vertebrate” Now that is the best decription of god I’ve seen yet!

    • wanderobo
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      Yech! Gaseous vertebrate! Think pig farm?

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      I wouldn’t want to say “homotheism” around fundies.

      • Filippo
        Posted March 15, 2014 at 5:56 am | Permalink

        Just as David Frost learned not to utter “couturier” around (comedian Flip Wilson’s) “Geraldine.”

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 15, 2014 at 6:21 am | Permalink

        Or maybe you do – depends on what you’re going for & how much kevlar you’re wearing.

  16. Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    “Why, Son of Adam, don’t you know who is the king of beasts? Aslan is a LION!”

    • Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      And Aslan certainly had a body …

      On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if the JWs dislike CS Lewis’ stuff.

  17. Jeffery
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    My personal theory is that the very concept of a “God” is a “spandrel” produced by our dualistic mind’s efforts to perceive and identify the essential oneness of the universe (that “oneness” consisting of the fact that all things are equally “real”)- our attempts to do so (and to describe our doing so, in a dualism-based language system) automatically generates nonsense, confusion, and an endless string of paradoxes and internal contradictions: “Can God make a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it?”, etc.).
    The JWs are interesting in that they put out a lot of pamphlets supposedly based on the Babble that appear to logically “debunk” some of the Xtian nonsense out there (they don’t believe in Hell, for instance), but it ultimately ends with them just defending similar nonsense, like someone “proving” that what we think are angels are actually, in “fact”, aliens.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      Not terrifically surprising; after all, protestants and catholics spend a lot of time disproving each other’s theological tenets. Ditto for any two other non-identical subsects of christianity that you might care to name.

      And yet they seem to think that if, say, Gould and Dawkins differ on some detail about evolutionary theory, that somehow that means that evolution is wrong.

  18. Myron
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Both Swinburne and Plantinga state explicitly and unequivocally that God is a bodiless/immaterial/incorporeal person:

    “[T]heism is the belief that there is an all-powerful, all-knowing perfectly good immaterial person who has created the world, has created human beings ‘in his own image,’ and to whom we owe worship, obedience and allegiance. …God, according to theistic belief, is a person: a being who has knowledge, affection (likes and dislikes), and executive will, and who can act on his beliefs in order to achieve his ends.”

    (Plantinga, Alvin. “Religion and Science.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2010: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/religion-science)

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      Not only is god an incorporeal person, he’s also a married bachelor, a rich pauper, and a shabbily dressed Beau Brummell!

      For my next incredible feat of theology, I will use 10,000 words to describe in detail how god is unknowable and indescribable.

      • Gordon
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

        Actually he sounds like one of those dodgy finance companies that become ineffable and vanish up their own limited liability as soon as you ask for your money

  19. Tulse
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    “The kinds of animals and plants created by God have obviously undergone changes and have produced variations within the kinds. In many cases, the resulting life-forms are remarkably different from one another.”

    That’s theistic (“God guided”) evolution, of course, combined with a ex nihilo creation event at the outset, but it’s still a form of evolution

    Actually, that looks to me like garden-variety creationism, with the “microevolution vs. macroevolution” add-on that is standard nowadays.

    As for the “God is a person” claim, if their god isn’t a person, what’s the point in worshipping him/her/it? I really don’t get why the Sophisticated Theologians™ think that the god they posit, the Ground of Being or Sustainer of Existence, needs to be acknowledged at all. If it’s not a person, why would it even care about praise? Heck, if it’s not a person, how could it care about what we humans do?

    It seems to me that worshipping the Ground of Being makes as much sense as worshipping Maxwell’s equations. Sure, they are fundamental to all existence as we know it, but would anyone make a religion out of them?

    • Bruce Gregory
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      I find the idea of worshipping Maxwell’s equations strangely appealing…

      • H.H.
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

        You’d fit right in with the Pythagoreans.

        • Filippo
          Posted March 14, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

          Do Maxwell’s eqns. involve the sqrt of -1, or sqrt of 2 or Pi? The Pythagoreans certainly didn’t like he latter two, if I correctly recall.

    • Darth Dog
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      “but would anyone make a religion out of them?”

      Even better than that. I have them on a tshirt.

  20. eric
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    it adds that “The kinds of animals and plants created by God have obviously undergone changes and have produced variations within the kinds. In many cases, the resulting life-forms are remarkably different from one another.”

    That’s theistic (“God guided”) evolution, of course, combined with a ex nihilo creation event at the outset, but it’s still a form of evolution.

    It may be a form of evolution, but its more YECy and creationist than theistic evolution. The giveaway is the author’s appeal to “kinds.” The Jehovah’s Witnesses who wrote the document you’re quoting are referring to God poofing into place an original zoo of sheep, cats, dogs, fish, dolphin, oak trees, etc… A theistic evolutionist like Ken Miller would disagree and object to that. They’d agree with you Jerry that all life on earth evolved from some prebiotic organic replicator, that all species of life evolved from this common ancestor, and that there are no such things as kinds. The “theistic” in theistic evolution refers to God messing with DNA to make the mutations he wants come about (or something like that – you’d have to ask them to get a more detailed answer). AFAIK, theistic evolutionists do NOT believe that God specially created different kinds of animals which then evolved within their kind.

    • Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

      I don’t reckon that Ken Miller would deny that evolution is a natural process and that natural selection occurs. How he then manages to reconcile that with the Catholic faith, I’m not sure, but inventing some formula is pretty easy: For instance, since god is omniscient he could have seeded the universe in a particular way that resulted in the life forms he wanted. Theology is easy – you just make stuff up.

      I think the official catholic position is that evolution occurred naturally, but god snuck in a soul at some stage.

      • Richard Olson
        Posted March 14, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        The bibble says in Genesis that when Adam drew breath, soul entered with it. “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7).

        More than one definition different from this has occupied pride of place in Church doctrine over 2 millennia since, with too many changes too often implemented in one place or another to list here.

        ‘The early Christian church held that ensoulement occurs at the moment of conception. For instance, the early Church father, Tertullian (160 – 220 CE), wrote:”Now we allow that life begins with conception because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does” (Apology 27).

        ‘However, some subsequent Christian leaders held contradicting views. For instance, early in the thirteenth century, the Roman Catholic Pope Innocent III stated that the soul enters the body of the fetus at the time of “quickening” – when the mother first felt movement of the fetus. …’ (http://www.infosources.org/what_is/Ensoulment.html)

        Protestants make up different rules to suit their reason du jure, also. I don’t know enough about the two other Abrahamic faiths or other main religions to comment other than to say it is unlikely they do not expand the list.

        Currently, of course, a worrisome number of US Christians, both Catholic & Protestant, propose both ensoulment and personhood begin at the instant of fertilization by a microscopic sperm with a microscopic egg. They align with a USSC mindset that might, given the opportunity, make it real via ruling (the opposite of the old contractual adage: “If it ain’t in writing, it ain’t real.”), proving that it is possible for unreality to become real in practice.

  21. Dave
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    A disembodied intelligence? A disembodied personality? How can that be? What is it made of? If it’s made of NOTHING, with no physical structure, then how does it store information? What determines its properties?

    In the world we know, intelligence and personality are emergent properties of brains – fleshy lumps consisting of millions of multi-connected nerve cells. Perhaps at a stretch one could suggest that advanced computers show the basics of some kind of intelligence – or if not now, then one day they might do so, but they’re still physical objects analogous to brains. The concept of a “disembodied” intelligence seems as me as meaningless as the concept of a”disembodied” erection, or a “disembodied” digestion. The words can be put together in the right order to designate the concept, but in the absence of a penis or a gut, no such thing can actually exist.

    • Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps they’re thinking of the Large Hardon Collider … 😇

      Ribaldry aside, it’s Sastra’s mental-first supernaturalism.

      /@

    • John K.
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      It seems like the whole Sophisticated Theologian gambit is to make a short and incoherent description of something, then go off on complex tangents where words don’t mean anything like they normally do as rubes are still confused and awed by the initial impossible description. “Bodiless Person” indeed. It makes about as much sense as an “odorless scent” or a “sightless color”. No amount of sophistication can save such incoherence. Use better language or don’t waste my time.

      The fortune teller may complain all she wants that I refuse to carefully examine and experience her wonderful tent and presentation, but I really have to insist that there be some evidence that fortune telling actually works before I am going to invest any significant time into it. When things actually work an end result demonstration is not all that difficult to produce, the complex explanations can come afterwards.

    • Richard Thomas
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      It’s always been interesting to me how often there are discussions about God and whether it exists, where the possibility of a non-physcial intelligence seems to be taken as given. To me this has always been the first stumbling block — that there is anything intelligible in the notion of a human-like intelligence that has no physicsl basis (no neurons, frontal lobes, corpus callosum, or their functional equivalents).

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

        Especially given that we are supposedly created in his image…

  22. Sastra
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    … or by claiming that God isn’t what we thought he was all along, but rather some nebulous Ground of Being or Force of Nature or Sustainer of Existence whose nature can’t be specified.

    I’m going to disagree here and point out that most theologians and apologists who have believed in and defended an anthropomorphic god have ALSO thrown in a lot of this “ineffable” Ground of Being tosh. It’s not a new tactic at all.

    They want it both ways and always have. God is nothing like us, nothing we can comprehend, high above our lowly capacities. The Mystery of mysteries transcends space, time, and any attempt to categorize it. And now I’m going to talk about God as if it was some sort of spirit person, with authority. It wants, it feels, it values, it cares, it does this and that and approves of this and disapproves of that. He’s a person and we call him “He.” But keep in mind — He’s totally ineffable.

    It’s not just the theologians who believe in a more obvious anthropomorphic God who do this. The so-called “sophisticated” theologians go back and forth also.

    Consider Susan Jacoby on Karen Armstrong:

    One of Armstrong’s chief arguments is that there is something extra-natural about “the transcendent”–that awe and insight are best and most fully experienced through religion.

    She connects an apophatic God which we can’t say or know anything about to love, to art, to poetry, to beauty, to emotions. These are MENTAL values. It’s an ANTHROPOMORPHISM. The term just doesn’t mean that there’s a resemblance to the human body: it can also mean there’s a resemblance to the human mind. God is pure mentality and resembles the best and highest aspects of our own thoughts.

    Take all the mental aspects out of “God” — remove everything that even smacks of intelligence, consciousness, awareness, intention, creativity, compassion, concern, love, justice, morals, beauty, joy, dualism, mysticism, experience — and you may be left with an ineffable numinous mystery which is a buzzing quantum fluctuation in the 43rd dimension which only the scientist who both understands this and wants to sell a book will call “God.”

    Everyone else will try to sneak the mind back in — because of the name.

    • Darth Dog
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      It seems to me that as soon as you claim God is ineffable, you should shut up.

      • Sastra
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        They never effin’ do.

      • kelskye
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

        Exactly, either God is ineffable in which case we can say nothing on the matter, or there’s some degree to which we can speak of God in which case the burden is on the theist to explain God’s literal nature. Otherwise people are using perfectly meaningful words in a meaningless way, creating the illusion of insight.

      • Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        In particular, one should also stop claiming to know what it wants.

        (Note that this is related to one way in which Descartes is subtly heterodox: he says that we should not be so arrogant to claim to take part in god’s plans. See the subtle anti-Christian remark there?)

  23. kelskye
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Calling God a person without a body runs the risk of being an irreducible analogy. Just what can it mean to be a person without a body? Everything about our identity of what it can be to think and act and have certain dispositions is intimately tied to our physical being. So *at best* person can only be used analogously when it comes to God, but analogous in what sense?

    It’s like someone describe God as an immaterial apple of infinite nutrition.

  24. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    According to most Christian stories the Holy Ghost (whatever that is) knocked up Mary, suggesting physical interaction. Jesus is said to have lived as a man, and some Christians reckon he was a bit of God at the same time. Plus, of course, there’s the magical transformation of bread and wine into flesh and blood (for some Christians).

    So it would appear that any sophisticated ‘ground of being’ type god is already not the Christian god…

    Perhaps we should call the sophisticated type god ‘Java’ because he is ground of bean?

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps we should call the sophisticated type god ‘Java’ because he is ground of bean?

      Would that require you to pray five times a day facing Mocca?

      • Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

        No, but you must make a pilgrimage to the Starbucks of Bethlehem.

        /@

  25. Diana MacPherson
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Sophisticated theologians & their supporters hide behind muddled language and when pressed, tell you that you must read volumes of works to get this “god”. It’s tantamount to the early church forbidding translations of the bible into the vernacular, preferring the Greek version & the Latin mass; everything gets to be hidden in language and asserted only by a few sophisticates that way.

  26. Sastra
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    You know, one thing which has I think been curiously absent from this debate (or maybe just understated) is what used to be one of the most important religious concepts: Spirit. God is a Spirit Being.

    What is “spirit?” Or “Spirit?”

    Oh, my. I used to collect definitions from various sources and have maybe a hundred pages of interpretations and descriptions. They come from traditional religion, they come from New Age, they come from ordinary people who just thought they “just knew” what it was.

    You get crap like this:

    What is Spirit? God energy that imbues all living and non-living things. God is thought in action. God is thought that manifests as form in accordance with the Law of Cause and Effect.

    “Spirit” is illogical in a three dimensional world, but we don’t just exist in three dimensions, but many more. It is an invisible dimension of reality, another lifeform.

    In short: spirit or atman is the living animating core within each of us, the driving force behind all that we think, say and do.

    Absolute, Divine Spirit is one with absolute Divine Substance: Parabrahm and Mulaprakriti are one in essence. Though our teachings insist upon the identity of spirit and matter, and though we say that spirit is potential matter, and matter simply crystallized spirit (e.g., as ice is solidified steam); yet since the original and eternal condition of the all is not spirit but meta-spirit, so to speak, (visible and solid matter being simply its periodical manifestations), we maintain that the term spirit can only be applied to the true individuality.

    So spirit is like numbers without the symbols we use to describe them, it is like mind or thought, it is self, minus the physical being, it is made out of — what? No substance at all, but information. God is spirit.

    Yikes. That’s just the first page.

    The obvious problem here is that the minute you try to get specific you sound like Deepok Chopra. It’s pseudoscience.

    No wonder the sophisticated theologians — who used to gladly sling around God-Is-Spirit without hesitation — don’t seem too keen on trotting it out for the atheists.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      Oh, those quotes are all from different sources — some of them Christian, some not. Though note how coherently they all hold together.

      For certain definitions of “coherence.”

    • Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      “Well, spirit is what gives a believer his or her power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the universe together.” – Church of the New Hope

      /@

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        Well, there is the Jedi religion.

    • kelskye
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 12:56 am | Permalink

      People sure do have a propensity for talking nonsense if given the opportunity. I’m wondering how many of them actually think they’re being insightful (as opposed to nonsensical) with such definitions.

      I really like your idea of keeping lists of stuff like that. There are times when I wish I had some of the nonsense said to me on hand as a reference point.

    • Chris
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 5:52 am | Permalink

      Gin, mainly, in my case.

  27. madscientist
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Ah, an incorporeal being with thought processes … how can it exist except in people’s imagination?

    • Posted March 13, 2014 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      it seems many people think thinking is incorporeal, so it follows His Nibs is or isn’t at His whim

  28. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Most theologians I have read really try to have God both ways at once by saying God is transpersonal but not impersonal. He is not personal in a !*limited*! way, but can !*seem*! personal to our limited minds. This is especially maintained by those who claim to be “panentheist”.

    There are really several questions:

    1) What is the payoff of believing in this Ground of Being? What difference does it make to how I live my life?

    2) What continuity are you claiming exists between this GofB and the traditional Judeo-Christian concept of God? And why?? (There are Buddhist authors who argue for a G of B, but think that Christian theologians are mistaken in claiming that the God of any Abrahamic relgion has anything to do with it.)

    3)What do believers in a Ground of Being say about the atheism of Jean-Paul Sartre (which traffics heavily in the much-vexed concept of “Being” which Sidney Hook argued well is ultimately incoherent) and the problem of evil??

    In a separate comment, re Jerry’s remark
    “Or, if you think there is no God but religion still has value, tell us why we should value something that makes false claims, and why it’s better than enlightened humanism.”

    I hold that !*some*! religion has value, but I hold that enlightened humanism is even better!!

  29. Latverian Diplomat
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    The only bodiless persons I’m aware of are corporations…which does give one a new perspective on the problem of evil.

  30. cornbread_r2
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Occasionally, EWTN, the Catholic television network, will host sophisticated Catholic theologians drolly opining that no one believes that God is an old man with a long, white beard, sitting on a cloud. If one stays tuned long enough though, eventually you’ll be treated to EWTN’s Mother Angelica selling books and rosaries and statues and pictures of God portrayed as an old man with a long, white beard and sitting on a cloud.

    • Posted March 13, 2014 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

      How is it that you know this?!

      /@

      • Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        Our friend cornbread_r2 no doubt has a bit of free time and a bit more patience than some of us ;)

      • cornbread_r2
        Posted March 14, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

        Consider it evidence of the paucity of my so-called life.

        I began watching EWTN at the request of my Catholic family and also stopped watching at their request — because it pissed me off so much. Still, it’s not the worse choice if one wants to take the pulse of the conservative arm of the RCC in the US — and a good source for Infant of Prague statues at very reasonable prices! :)

  31. Posted March 14, 2014 at 1:51 am | Permalink

    Why does God have to be perfect and omniscient?

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 1:56 am | Permalink

      Which one?

      • Posted March 14, 2014 at 7:42 am | Permalink

        Any creator god.
        Just because He could create a universe doesn’t mean He is omniscient – maybe universe-creating is his schtick, and he is crap at everything else.

        • Posted March 14, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

          I meant omnipotent rather than omniscient.

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted March 14, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

            Don’t worry. If it isn’t omnipotent we needn’t worry about it. It’s long gone and it left no clues behind of it’s existence.

            For all we know, the universe might have been an accident and worshipping something that doesn’t really know what it’s doing seems like a waste of time to me….but knock yourself out.

            • Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink

              I don’t know how you get the idea that I would be interested in worshipping it.
              Or even believe in it.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted March 14, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

                Cool, then there’s not much sense in us discussing it.

  32. antheahawdon
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 2:56 am | Permalink

    The greatest bit of propaganda the Abrahamic religions did was decree that you should have no graven image of Jahweh. It’s not that he doesn’t have a body, of course, he shows up a couple of times in the Old Testament, but you can’t make an image of him. If there were statues then you could easily see just how similar Jahweh is to the other middle eastern gods. Somehow being invisible makes a god’s existence so much more likely.

  33. Richard Wein
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    >>1. If you think there is a God, like most Sophisticated Theologians™, why are you so sure that that God is not like a person, or ineffable, rather than like the humanoid god of Plantinga, Swinburne, et al? After all, there is no more evidence for an ineffable, ground-of-being God than there is for a personal, talking-to-you God.<>It all boils down to evidence.<<

    With "sophisticated" theology, I would say it more often boils down to language. "Sophisticated" theologians abuse language as a way of immunising themselves against reason and evidence.

    Wittgenstein famously said that philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intellect by our language. Some theologians, far from attempting to fight that bewitchment, do their best to maximise it.

    • Richard Wein
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 5:34 am | Permalink

      Oops, that came out wrong. I’ll try again.

      –1. If you think there is a God, like most Sophisticated Theologians™, why are you so sure that that God is not like a person, or ineffable, rather than like the humanoid god of Plantinga, Swinburne, et al? After all, there is no more evidence for an ineffable, ground-of-being God than there is for a personal, talking-to-you God.–

      I don’t think you should be so quick to accept that concepts like “non-personal God” or “ground-of-being God” are even coherent, or refer to types of God. Contrary to common belief (and Humpty Dumpty) we cannot sensibly use words to mean whatever we want them to mean. At least, if we redefine a word to mean something inconsistent with its established meaning, we’ve changed the subject. If I define “tree” to mean “dog”, and then say, “I have a pet tree”, I’m not talking about a type of tree. I’m taking about a dog, and just misleadingly labelling it a “tree”.

      The usual reason people adopt definitions or usages that are inconsistent with the established meanings of words is that it allows them to (unwittingly) equivocate. Most of the time they continue to use the word in its established sense, but they switch to the peculiar sense when it suits them to do so. So a “sophisticated” theologian like Terry Eagleton can insist that God is just something abstract like “the condition of possibility” of existence, which is not a person (and which he says does not even exist). But he fails to see the inconsistency between this and the fact that a few sentences earlier and later he was referring to God by the personal pronoun “He”, and attributing to God other properties of a person, such as loving.

      http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/terry-eagleton/lunging-flailing-mispunching

      It doesn’t seem to occur to Eagleton to try a simple substitution: “The condition of possibility of existence loves me.” Perhaps if he tried that he might see that he’s making an obvious category error. But that’s the beauty of equivocation. You seamlessly switch to whichever sense suits your current purpose. So such a substitution apparently never occurs to him.

      –It all boils down to evidence.–

      With “sophisticated” theology, I would say it more often boils down to language. “Sophisticated” theologians abuse language as a way of immunising themselves against reason and evidence.

      Wittgenstein famously said that philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intellect by our language. Theologians, far from attempting to fight that bewitchment, do their best to maximise it.

    • gbjames
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 5:41 am | Permalink

      Yep. Which is why we can never get a couple of paragraphs that summarize the Sophisticated Case™. It is hard to pack that much nuance (aka bewitchment) into a comprehensible statement.

  34. Dominic
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    God’s bodkin!

  35. AlanF
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Interesting that you received from the Jehovah’s Witnesses staff a copy of Awake! magazine with the article “The Untold Story of Creation”. I found out about this, and wrote a critique of it, just last weekend.

    Critique of JW Creation

    Just a bit of background on the Jehovah’s Witnesses view of creation:

    From the inception of their headquarters organization the Watchtower Society in the 1880s, until the mid-1980s, they were strict young-earth creationists. The main difference between their teachings and those of the Henry Morris crowd was that their “creative days” were 7,000 years long rather than 24 hours. This idea was largely borrowed from Jewish apocalyptic traditions going back to about the 6th century BCE. The ancient Jews in turn borrowed their ideas, mixed with various flavors of the magical notion of 1,000 year periods, from Persian Zoroastrianism. Some early Christians explicitly taught the idea of six 1,000 year “days” of human toil followed by a 1,000 year paradise, something like what appears in the Bible book of Revelation. This idea explicitly appears in the apocryphal book the “Epistle of Barnabas”.

    From the 1960s through the 1970s they borrowed many of their justifications for YECism from Henry Morris’ writings, shortly after Morris and Whitcomb published The Genesis Flood in 1961, and apparently also from the earlier writings of the crackpot Seventh-Day Adventist George McReady Price.

    Beginning in the early 1980s, in a move never publicly acknowledged, they abandoned Morris’ views and gradually moved away from explicitly teaching their brand of YECism, replacing all potential instances of “7,000 year creative days” with non-committal terms like “millennia” or “long periods of time”. I’m reminded of the way the publishers of Pandas and People replaced all instances of “creationism” with “intelligent design” in a 1987 draft, and were caught out at the Dover trial.

    Individual JWs today don’t know what they believe about the length of Genesis’ creative days because the Watchtower Society has not explicitly told them what to believe. So they don’t know if they’re YECs or old-earth creationists, or something else.

    The reason for this is simple: older JWs were taught and wholeheartedly believed in 7,000-year YECism, but younger ones have little or no idea of it, and don’t have the emotional investment that older ones do. So by the JW writers using non-committal terms like “millennia” they avoid triggering alarm in older JWs that a long-cherished belief has disappeared, and a realization in younger ones that their religion teaches something so grossly at odds with science. The JWs, like all cults, are very good at pulling the wool over their own eyes.

  36. Andrew Walls
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Although this is a bit tangential to the core topic of the post, I have always mused about whether God (as defined by whatever set of parameters you want to toss in the bucket) could have free will?

    Omnibenevolent? What choices would that leave? Could God choose to do less than the best thing and still remain god-like?

    If God does not have free will (as if such a thing exists!) then where’s the point of religion? God’s actions/decisions are deterministic by definition. If he/she does have free will, then what’s the point of religion (insert favourite Marcus Aurelius quotation here concerning leading a virtuous life)? Is a whimsical God that can choose to be sub-optimal in terms of goodness worthy of worship?

    Anyway, just a thought that bubbles up every once in a while…

    • Posted March 14, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      Ah, while a potentially suboptimal God might not by worthy of our worship, perhaps he needs our worship to persuade him to be good!

      Just as in some fantasy fiction (Tanith Lee’s, amongst others) — an maybe in some mythologies? – a god’s powers wax and wane with the number of their worshipers.

      If we praise Him for His goodness, does He become Good? If we praise Him for His justice, does He become Just? &c.

      /@

      • Filippo
        Posted March 14, 2014 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

        In the So. Baptist church in which I grew up, more often than not the pastor would end an intercessory congregational prayer (with soft underlying organ [but not piano] music – was that supposed to somehow influence the Author of the Universe as well as the congregation?) with words to-the-effect, “Do this, and we will give you all the honor and glory . . . .”

        It struck me then, as it does now, that this was a bit of a human tit-for-tat deal. I.e., God was going to do whatever He/She/It was going to do about this and that offered up for consideration. What standing or warrant would a group of humans have to “negotiate” with an omnipotent Creator?

        • Dermot C
          Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

          @ Filippo

          “What standing or warrant would a group of humans have to “negotiate” with an omnipotent Creator?”

          Because in Genesis, Abimelech complains before God responds ‘justly’ to his own error. Abraham has similar queries. By the time of Job (possibly 4th century BCE), God, who acts like disinterested Fate, does what he does and that’s just the way it is – very Hellenistic.

          These Baptists are Hebrews: your criticism is all Greek to them. Athenian anathema.

          Slainte.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] modern god of the theologians– some kind of “Ground of Being” is a recent and extremely boring invention, no matter how much they talk it up with fancy philosophizing. I’ve always found […]

  2. […] morality and/or punishes bad behavior. So someone who believes in a completely abstract “ground of being” god more than likely also believes that this god doesn’t care too much about morality. […]

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