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The Problem of Defining God

By Wertbag ~ 

The simplest version of a God is the deist version, that is an unknown force behind the universe. Such a definition doesn't claim certain features, powers or even a mind, just that there is something beyond what we understand. Such a definition could be a force of nature, or a being, but it says that we don't know from our perspective. While this kind of vague definition is the hardest to disprove, due to its lack of any real claims or clarity, it is also possibly the least important, as any such force would be apathetic to us and if it doesn't interact or care, then its existence is irrelevant to us. So, the focus of apologists and counter apologists is on the claims of interactive, intelligent and supernatural beings who it is claimed have revealed themselves and their wishes to their chosen people. Even once we say we are looking at a being and not just a force of nature, the numerous possible claims and features this being can be said to have makes it a hard task just to get a single clear definition to talk about.

Is there one God or many? Does He have all the omni traits or is He limited in some ways? Does He care about us, or are we insignificant bugs to Him? How do we know the answers to any of these, and many similar questions? The usual answer is that there is a holy book, the Quran, Bible or Book of Mormon for example, which tells us about this being. Normally the book that is selected as revealing the truth is the one that you were raised to believe in, with the others hand waved away as false. If those books were destroyed the knowledge of this being would cease to exist. But outside of those books there is next to no way to learn any details about these claimed beings and their characteristics. Even with those books, many will say they are inspired by God but not written by His hand, so the writings are limited humans trying to describe the indescribable, and trying to report on visions or dreams which may not be coherent. With such views and the idea that parts of the holy books are metaphor, moral stories, parables or otherwise not literal fact, then how do we jump to the conclusion that what we are reading is actually a clear image of what God is or wants?

But even looking at the Christian God, there are debates within Christianity as to what He wants and what characteristics He has. Apologists like to speak with confidence that He is a certain way, yet such claims are not universal. There are some who put limits on His power, others say His love is for his followers and chosen people and not equal for all, while there is also disagreement on whether He can see the future with some saying this would be part of being all-knowing, while others say the future is not written, so it would not make sense to know that which doesn't exist. Even the famous phrase "made in God's image" is debated as to what His image even is. A lot of characteristics are shared with animals, such as joy, love, fear, community, communication, justice or rage, so unless you also wish to say dogs were made in His image too, then it has to be something else.

We have the claim made that He is a trinity, the father, son and holy spirit, all being facets of the same single being. This has been a long running debate, both as to why this unusual claim is required (with Unitarians saying God is one and the holy spirit is just His power manifest) and what it even means. Many definitions end up confusing and unclear, with proponents saying it's a core part of His being, while having to fight against all the issues that such a claim brings in, such as the many times Jesus doesn't appear to think of himself as God. When apologists say these 3 are completely separate entities, but fully the same entity, with all of the omni traits but only sometimes in certain forms and having both one will but also a separate will but one that aligns, it all just works to make the definition of what God is even harder to pin down and understand, and it is not even clear if the Bible makes this claim.

Is it even coherent to claim characteristics such as timeless, spaceless, ageless and immaterial? Existence can be defined as something having a location within space and time, so isn't something that doesn't exist within space and time by definition non-existent? Christians will say you can't start a big bang before time, as there is no time for the causing event to happen within, and yet are happy to say God could cause a physical effect outside of time via magic. Or say you can't posit ideas for the start of the universe such as multi-verses, big crunches or quantum waves as they break what we know from physics, while in turn positing God did it with magic. These definitions of God being outside of time and space seem to be used as an attempt to define God into existence. Only a force outside of the physic universe could start the universe, and I'm defining God to fit that space I've made for Him.

Some religious folks will say God is so great and far above our understanding that it would be like an ant trying to consider a human. While this imagery seems apt, if that logic was followed through then we should say we can't know anything about Him at all. God is mysterious or works in mysterious ways, if so, then why talk about Him and His wishes with any confidence at all? Even if a being made claims about itself, how would we know that those claims were true? A claim of being all-powerful or all-knowing would be impossible to test. Perhaps the being is a demon, supernatural and with vast power and knowledge but lying about who it is. Or perhaps it is an advanced alien, who can hover, read minds, heal and raise people from the dead using technology that we can't even comprehend. Is he God by lack of our understanding?

If Allah made Himself known, appearing to the world, you could guarantee that Christians would deny the being as false because he doesn't match the preconceived idea of what God should be, while in reverse the Christian God's appearance may not convince Muslims that He is actually God and not Satan trying to deceive them.

Originally posted in the Reasons for Disbelief thread on Ex-Christian.Net