We’ve long departed the question format and are now delineating how many ways religion is merely a sop to ego and wishful thinking, and this one is perhaps the most distinctive evidence of that trait. So let’s look at how proving the existence of (a) god would barely even be a start.
I’ve encountered a lot of rationales behind believing in the existence of god – and the vast majority of believers seem to think that this could only be a singular thing, no recognition of the myriad gods throughout history and presently across the globe, no attempt to distinguish any in particular. With no exceptions that I can bring to mind, all of these were far from what we could charitably call, “robust;” most were so flimsy that they wouldn’t even make it to a standard arraignment, things like, “Everything must begin someplace,” and, “I had a vision,” and, “This many believers can’t be wrong,” and the latest that I’ve heard, “It’s impossible for all of this to happen by chance.” Yet I’m not here to point out the pathetic nature of these ‘proofs’ for an omnipotent being (even when this aspect really should be highlighted frequently,) nor that proving an omnipotent being is actually impossible. Instead, we’ll make a huge and unwarranted assumption that any given one really can serve as proof, and move on to the key topic, which can be characterized simply by saying, “And?”
Let’s take the latter argument first, the one saying that such things couldn’t happen by chance (again, impossible to prove in any way, but we’ll assume that it has been.) This establishes nothing more than a non-chance factor, which could be as simple as a new law of physics, or extra-dimensional interference, or yes, even a directed and sentient being. And everything in between. Choosing any one, or even ruling out any given aspect, would take a lot more evidence, some very specific proofs. When people started noticing how well the coastlines on both sides of the Atlantic seemed to fit together, as well as the similarity in both geology and fossil finds on opposing continents, and first proposed the idea of continental drift, the immediate response was, “But how are continents supposed to move?” While intriguing, the concept wasn’t considered very useful until this method of movement was not only proposed, it was proven to be taking place currently – this took no small number of interconnecting bits of evidence. Imagine, if you will, trying to establish the difference between a new law of physics and a dimensional rift, for something that happened nearly 14 billion years ago.
Or let’s assume that we’ve proven that a ‘vision’ was something more than imagination – somehow, I’ll let you hash out the details. How, exactly, would we know who or what it was? How could we trust anyone’s assurance that it was the virgin mary and not isis, or izanami-no-mikoto, or tiamat? I mean, none of them had their appearance recorded in any verifiable way, and none of them spoke English. We’d best be producing something a lot better than, “female” – especially if we want to convince the followers of all other religions. But for something useful, the message had better be pretty specific to account for all of the ways such a thing could be interpreted – which should not be outside of the powers of any supernatural being of course. It’d be pretty pathetic, really, for any such message or vision to have any vagueness whatsoever.
It gets far, far worse. No religion, no scripture, no faith, that I’ve ever come across is not rife with varying interpretations, multiple versions, different sects, and countless disputes, some of which get quite bloody. Oh, you’ve established that the christ story really took place? Well, is it the catholic god, or the protestant god? This isn’t a trivial distinction, since not only do they have wildly different accounts of afterlife and redemption, it remained a bone of contention between England and Ireland up until very recently. Even in the very early days of christianity (like within the first century,) there was a rift and disagreement over whether christ was a human with divine influence or a wholly supernatural being, something that scripture (no matter what version) fails to address entirely.
And the choices are not limited to only two – they may, in fact, be extremely difficult to count. I’ve said before that there’s more evidence for every religious person’s concept of god to be different from all others, rather than for any consistency even within a local church, so for religion to be of any guidance, pinning down these details is actually paramount. What are this being’s actual views on abortion? Especially given that it’s not actually spoken of anywhere within scripture. Is eating shellfish really a damnable sin? Are women really just baby-makers? And what’s with the huge disconnect between the creation stories and every last bit of physical evidence that we have? What kind of game was being played here?
Further, imagine now trying to convince muslims, and buddhists, and even jews, that they’re all wrong and this particular sect, whatever it is, is the correct one. I mean, you’ve got the evidence, right? So there’s no chance of abject denial, or pushback, or any further holy wars and conflict? I’ve long said that just having religious people agree on only one religion, even the broader interpretations, would be a start towards proving the existence of a god, and that’s because overcoming simple human nature in this manner would be a superhuman feat. So sure, prove me right.
It gets even worse, because all this, so far, has assumed that at least one of our concepts of a god and its intentions is correct, while it remains distinctly possible (especially given the huge variations in religious thought across the globe) that none of them are, and we’d have to determine what, exactly, are the thoughts and goals of this supernatural being. None of the collections of scripture that we have are very comprehensive in that regard, usually far less so than we believe, since churches and priests and so on have been filling in the gaps and ‘interpreting the metaphors’ for centuries now; most christians, for instance, are unaware that hell receives no mention whatsoever in the old or new testaments, and remains a concept cribbed from the Mesopotamians. So there really should be a lot of legwork to determine what this god’s intentions for mankind are.
And that’s assuming that any communiqué that we receive is trustworthy, regardless of whether we feel comfortable with having a god that matches any of our previous descriptions. If we’re brutally honest with ourselves, many of the scriptural accounts are of beings too petty to put faith in, often demanding ego-stroking, and too often displaying a rather cavalier attitude towards its own previous pronouncements and ‘plans.’ Who’s to say that what we receive is actually truthful? Science fiction, at least, has made recognition that mere mortals may bear little to no significance to any being that can create at will, and let’s face it, we’re pretty damn petty ourselves, not really displaying a lot to be proud of. We could simply be a casual pastime, an experiment, or even the project of a sadist. How are we to know?
So yeah, the questions! There are millions of them, just regarding the proper interpretations of vague scripture all by themselves, to say absolutely nothing about the ones not covered or even hinted at. And then, then, you have the billions that would arise over the very existence, structure, and processes of a supernatural being itself, of enormous interest to the scientific community as well as the merely curious, or for that matter, everyone that is not simply looking for validation in their personal choice in the first place. And all of the Why questions? The purpose of it all, the rules of the game, the definition of evil (much less the necessity,) the processes of afterlife, and on and on and on. If you imagine the number of things we would have to study about any form of extraterrestrial life that we might actually encounter, multiply these exponentially for a supernatural being or force. To start.
This highlights something that I’ve pointed out numerous times before, and that’s the idea that real information, useful knowledge, isn’t about mere self-indulgence, but serves to advance us, improve our lives, enrich us, and so on. It answers questions even while posing more, but most of all, it gives us something to work with, something that predicts and explains and forms a building block for even more improvement – this describes virtually every scientific achievement that we’ve made over the centuries, even the ones that took decades to show their value. Just finding out, for example, that chocolate is the most popular ice-cream flavor can lead to questions about how and why, and what functions this provides within humans to become this way, maybe what areas of the brain it triggers, and so on. The bare fact of chocolate’s popularity is, by itself, of little use.
The kind of people that find some simple factor is acceptable as evidence of any kind of god are only seeking gratification, and to be sure, when it’s as vague as “god,” anyone can and will interpret that to mean their own; well, hooray for that tidbit. That puts us no closer to finding the True™ path than before. And in fact, when it comes to providing guidance for humans, to get along, to achieve peace, to improve ourselves and our culture – the one thing that all religions can agree is their primary value – this puts us even further away from it, promoting false confidence in “the way” rather than inducing any actions to actually find it.
Which introduces another telling aspect. Atheism, for instance, doesn’t have anything at stake: there’s no penalty for the wrong belief, other than what humans end up doing to themselves in the names of such beliefs (which is significant enough, to be sure, and where secular humanism picks up the reins.) But most religions across the globe are pretty adamant about the penalties of incorrect faith, of following false idols, or even just ignoring key tenets while following the correct ones. With this kind of danger hanging over their heads, consequences that may involve reincarnation as lesser beings all the way up to everlasting torment, you’d think that the search for exacting evidence, the support for the one proper path, would be absolutely paramount in the minds of the religious; they simply cannot afford to be wrong. And given many of the scriptural accounts of what happens when a god is displeased with humans – even if we (rashly) consider these to be only metaphorical – the consequences may go well beyond the strictly personal, so any and all individuals bear the responsibility of ensuring that they’re absolutely correct.
Thus, the criteria for evidence should be exceptionally demanding, shouldn’t it? In fact, it may become never-ending, but at the very least, anything that is open for interpretation, that could be mistaken for chance, that might apply to a range of the world’s deities (or a new law of physics, or extra-dimensional interference,) wouldn’t be anywhere near enough, and would likely not be considered evidence at all. If it can be questioned, it’s not sufficient – we can’t afford to screw up.
Given that this is hell and gone away from what we actually see from a very large percentage of religious folk, we can only wonder what they do believe, and/or what they’re hoping to accomplish when settling on their specific faith. But it’s safe to say that the benefit is minimal if not nonexistent.
Of course, I have to put this here: