[The following paper was delivered on January 25th 2014. It was the Opening Statement for a debate on the existence of God.]
Ladies and gentlemen this is an old and well-worn trail, even as one can only wonder at the longevity of theistic sophistry.
As antiquity would have it, there are four common arguments for the existence of God:
i) The Cosmological Argument [which is an argument from the principle of cause.]
ii) The Teleological Argument [which is an argument from the analogy of man-made objects, to the conclusion of god-made objects.]
iii) The Ontological Argument [which is an argument from definition, though the theist would say, necessity.]
iv) Moral Argument [which is an argument from the existence of value.]
How long have men played with these sophistical forms? [Indeed, one can even ask why such powerful proofs would ever need revision, and yet the history of religion is nothing more than a history of revision, a history of qualification. It seems every epoch brings the identity of God closer and closer to that of nature.] When will the theist finally give up the ghost?
But we ask the more essential question; we ask the question regarding the nature of the proposition, which is the object of all these arguments. Clearly we admit that not all propositions are worthy of investigation, which means we have a criteria of propositional evaluation. Ladies and gentlemen, what we are being asked to believe matters very much to the nature of our investigation (as to whether or not the claim warrants an exhaustive examination). For the nature of some claims (it must be admitted) prove to us that they should simply be dismissed.
It has been said that the question of God is the most important question that can ever be asked… but is this contention necessarily true? What makes it true? [Well, “ideas have consequence” said the old philosopher.]
I posit that the question of God is only important in the same sense that the question of monsters under our bed is important, which is to say; it is important to know the futility of such questions. The question of God is important in a negative sense; but there are men who would tell us that the question is important in a positive sense, to which we might ask, how can this declaration be sustained? For before one can speak of “God being important” one must first define God… indeed, before one can speak of the existence of God one must first speak of the nature of God… indeed, before one can begin to make an argument for the existence of any deity one must first define the nature of that deity so as to show that it is compatible with the nature of one’s argument. To refuse this is to deny the existence of any particular God.
Before we can get to an argument for the existence of (X), we must first state the nature of (X)… but how do we know that (S) is the nature of (X)? Why not (q), or the proposition of (p)?
Should we presuppose the nature of God in order to play the game of the god-arguments? Why should we do this when this is not our burden to bear?
One thinks we should engage in repetitive dialectic… that we should walk the old line that has been walked a thousand times before. But why should we do this… why should we presuppose the nature of God; for this is not our burden to bear?
The audience is listening for talking points on both sides; and it seems a debater will be judged by how well he can rehash the common, popular phrase.
But my dear friends, we don’t want to play this game; we don’t want to presuppose the existence of God, our contention is to know whether or not there is any meaning, substance to this word God. But in order to know this the theist must first tell us what he means by God, which will of course, amount to what someone told him about God.
And is this not the crux of the issue; the centrality of the problem; for are we not dealing with the claim of a very specific ontology; of a very specific being? Why should we confuse ourselves with secondary issues if our theistic friend has not established the first? He would fight us on the second flood when he has not proven himself on the first.
Do you not see my friends; we cannot simply jump to the arguments for God without first defining what we mean by God. This means the question of God’s existence, is first and foremost, a question of how we know what we claim to know about God.
I posit that the dialectic of God is perhaps the oldest ideological conspiracy, that is to say, all the while, over the long ages of this contest, we have failed to see the central issue in relation to the existence of God, which is a conversation regarding the nature of God itself. We should not have been talking about the existence of God from the basis of nature until we first established the nature of God. For how can we say that the existence of God is deducible by nature unless we have first defined the nature of God? For how can we say that the cosmological argument (or any other argument for that matter) is in favor, that is to say, leads to the conclusion of the existence of God, unless we have first defined the nature of God itself?
Does this seem backwards? If the answer is yes, then we must be honest and ask ourselves how we get beyond nature from the premise of nature? We must be honest and ask ourselves how we can speak about the existence of a thing we have not first defined?
It seems the theist has managed to control this conversation regarding the existence of God by bypassing the question of nature (as to what he means when he uses the term God). [And what happens when we have this conversation, do we ever legitimately get to the question of cosmology or teleology; and even if we get there, do these notions still serve to prove our idea of God?]
I ask you, what comes first; the proof for God’s existence or the definition of what we mean by God? For how can we seek to prove what has not been defined?
And so we ask the theists here today; is your theism an honest form of theism? Is your notion of God (which is to say the God you believe in) compatible with your so-called proof? Can the premise of your proof equally account for the attributes you ascribe to your God? If not, then by what logic do you claim your theism is honest, let alone true?
We must remember; the premise itself has a limit; there is an end to the possibility of the arguments for God [one cannot simply posit any being they desire, but one must conform to the possibilities of the argument itself.] Of course, the theist is always trying to add equations to his original premise, but this implies an entirely separate thesis, an entirely distinct argument with an entirely distinct set of possibilities (which merely serves to prove that the original argument for the existence of God was insufficient, even as the supplement is insufficient). If the original argument is so compelling then why does the theist seek to add to his equation, and if the addition is sufficient then why was it not the original argument in the first place? I posit that such arguments are not only insufficient by themselves, but constitute a violation of the dialectic when used together [and here the dialectic is that of the definition of God]. Let the truth be known; there is no theist that arrives at the conclusion of God, but all theists begin with a notion of God, which they seek to violently impose on nature, even though in humility, they claim to deduce it from nature.
Let us not listen for what is familiar, or what we know to be the refutation, but let us listen for the central issue behind what appears to be the central issue. How my friends, given the true referent of God, which is the ideological emphasis of man, can God be anything more than a linguistic conspiracy?
A Letter to Dr. Archer:
My argument did not fail--- it was simply misunderstood! Where I failed was my communication (I needed to spell it out in simpler terms)... but this will not be the memory of history. I know this because the argument is sound; all the information is contained in the introduction (I have done the math).
To say that (G) exists [one could substitute anything for (G)]… but (G) has no meaning until (G) is defined... but the problem gets worse...
What if we define (G) as a non-universe? The answer is simple; we know NOTHING about the existence of non-universes! [The attributes of God have no existence in reality; they are made-up properties! If the theist denies this he is obligated to prove that the attributes of his God have existence in reality.] (This is all a matter of the burden of proof).
This means the definition of (G) proves the impossibility of (G). Hence, the definition of (G) is vital to the possibility of the existence of (G). To deny this is to deny the necessity of attributes as they relate to the property of existence! That is to say, if the theist has no burden to define God in relation to existence, then how can he demand a definition for anything else?
God is the word being used, and as such, God is the thing which must be defined (this is the central issue in the question of God's existence), to deny this, is to posit that a word can have meaning without a definition, which is to say, without the qualification of attributes or properties, and this is just an ignorant thing to say.
Allow me to address one more issue. Someone raised the objection that this is backwards... of course; I also addressed this notion myself in the introduction. However, this individual sought to use an analogy of an already existent thing (a thing we all agree exists— an object without controversy) in order to posit that "we must first know it exists before we can be obligated to define it." Again, this is pure ignorance as to the observation of the existent thing which was just referenced by the objector! In other words, God is not like a rock, he is more like a Snark, and what is a Snark? A thing without a physical referent, which means an abstract idea, which means it can only be made intelligible by putting forth properties in the form of a definition and then determining whether or not the argument (or some kind of proof) can actually justify those properties. If we cannot point to God the same way we can point to a rock, then God is first and foremost a word... so the question is whether or not this word has any substance or meaning? But how can we determine this if we do not first define the word?
The first thing we ask when someone speaks about the existence of a Snark, is not what we can know about a Snark, but what one actually means when they use the word Snark. For only then can we determine whether or not a thing with the properties of a Snark actually exists? The problem with the objection is that the object in the analogy already had the property of physical existence (if this was equally true of God then we could simply deduce knowledge from his existence). Hence, we learn that the theist is really trying the assume God's existence before the attributes required to determine his existence (he is trying to force us to answer a loaded question).
Dr. Archer, you must understand that I addressed your approach in my introduction. To talk of the definition of God seems strange because the theist has managed to "control" the conversation. He wants you to respond exactly the way you think I should have responded, this allows him to insinuate the legitimacy of the word God (you assume his ideal; you play his sophistical game). We atheists are missing something here (there is a silver bullet against theism; there is a faster way!): to say a Snark exists is to make a non-statement. We have to attack the "central issue," and the "central issue" is God! How we define a Snark matters very much as to whether or not a Snark can actually exist. Had the theist actually met his burden of proof; he would have said, "God is (X)"--- now the conversation can begin! But low and behold, the burden of (X) is too great for the theist to bear... his definition has NOTHING to do with the traditional arguments (he can muster no proof, only assertions). Conversation is over!!! His theism is nothing more than wishful thinking. Case and point, there is no way to prove the eccentricities of (x), (y) and (z).
My dear man, I am now an old hand at this... and what I know is that the way to refute the existence of God is to attack the idea of God itself!
[This was also the strategy of Sextus Empiricus— a man who always went for the jugular.] What you suggest assumes too much about God! Because the theist is "bold enough" to use this word he must defend it, justify it, and provide us with a definition... this is the first question, and as one who follows this line of reason will learn, it is also the last!
To topple a great structure it is best to attack the foundation.
Give me credit friend, I know what I'm doing, it's simply a matter of time before the power of the argument becomes clear.
We are very much on the same page, I agree with nearly everything you said (psychology is very important). I also think your "modest goal" is worth exploring.
"Your interlocutor did respond at one point to your request to define god, by saying something along the lines of "creator." But fundamentally the god "who lives in their hearts" is a slippery bugger. Psychologically, most theists are just fine with carrying around a fuzzy feeling of a caring Father/Creator/Friend, and most always will be."
Now notice what you admit here: the god they believe in is a kind of chameleon, fuzzy feeling, father figure, analogy of friend--- "and always will be."
This is it! The ontology of the belief immediately destroys the possibility of the thing itself existing. And because this is the way it will always be, it means we should attack the indefensibly of the thing that will always be. You agree that their notion of god, is not only psychological, but if examined in detail, will prove to be absurd, nay, evidentially impossible!
Consider; why do theists "want" to talk about the arguments for the existence of God without defining what they mean by God [an argument and God are two separate things]? They say DEFINING GOD IS NOT THE ISSUE! Why in gods name do we agree with them? I tell you my friend; this is the swiftest refutation of God [a bona fide silver bullet]! And what I have learned over the years is that a swift refutation of God is needed.
Just think about this more deeply. Ask yourself what the central issue is when someone raises the question of the existence of God? This is an ontological question! And therefore, to attack the ontology of the object (which simply means to clarify the attributes of the object) is to pit the object itself against the subject of existence!
This flattens the forest in one fell-swoop.
We have got to move on to better conversations [which means conversations beyond the make-believe of theism], but if the theist can get us to ignore the nature of his ontological claim (which means we assume its validity), or merely to agree with him regarding its insignificant status, he can then focus all his effort on the details of the argument (we are now trapped in the sophistical line!) all the while never being aware of the fact that we are presupposing the legitimacy of his assertions regarding the nature of God. This is like a man who wants to argue the truth of a book by noting its dimensions, author, color, popular status, all the while ignoring its content.
Do not be deceived; if the theist can smuggle in his ontology then he has already won the debate--- even if he loses the argument!
But I will tell you why men don't want to move in this superior direction-- because they want to play these sophistical games... they are after the glory of what the game can do for them and not after the power of the refutation.
As it seems to me we are speaking of two separate things; you are talking about "convincing" believers whereas I am talking about "refuting" them. Further, I have solid evidence that my argument did indeed function like a silver bullet. What did Mr. Jensen say when I asked him to explain his use of God? At first he postured, but then he said something very telling: "I'm not going to answer that question because it’s a trap." I had him and he knew it! This is not a legitimate maneuver in rational discourse. He sensed just how powerful the question was. He knew it would destroy the possibility of prolonged conversation (it would expose his outlandish, impossible presuppositions); he would have to admit the failure of natural theology in relation to his God.
...now I don't want to drag this on forever, but I want to make something clear; you say my approach is closer to sophistry? Then answer me a question, what is the central issue when it comes to the existence of God? If you say the predicate you are mistaken (existence is not controversial)// the central issue is the subject! The predicate has nothing to relate to until the subject is defined. You can say existence all day long, but when we ask the question of God we are asking if a very specific thing has existence. The central issue is the nature of that specific thing (without ascribing attributes to God there are no properties attached to the word to give the word meaning). If one defines God in such a way that he is antithetical to existence, then one cannot logically claim he exists, because one cannot know he exists, based on the nature of the predicate. (We might also note that God is not an object we find in nature, which is the same reason we cannot observe the object and then define its nature). Hence, it is sheer ignorance to claim our procedure is backwards.
Now here you are resisting what I say... I am curious as to why you think you know the superior way? Indeed, until you have defined the central issue you have not targeted the presupposition so as to expose the defect (and if you have not attacked the presupposition you have not penetrated the dialectic). What is the presupposition behind the question of God? [Please note: this is the nature of the Socratic Method, not arbitrary questions, not surface or secondary questions, but questions which target the unsupported assumptions behind the claim.]