One Argument against any God

[First posted on the Freethinkers Mailing List (http://groups NULL.google NULL.com/group/freethinkers-club/browse_thread/thread/bdce670b44e00d6e/e3fc56a98615713b#e3fc56a98615713b).]

Here’s an argument I’ve used twice in the past month, once
successfully. I thus throw it to the wolves…

All gods are considered supernatural, right? So what do we mean by
“supernatural?” The easiest definition is “not natural,” but of course
now we have to define what “natural” means. I’d argue that “exists
within the universe” is a reasonable definition, but now I have two
words to define: “universe” and “exists.”

Let’s start with “universe.” I’d argue that’s best defined as “the
collection of everything that exists.” (Tangent: note that this
implies the universe itself does not exist. Otherwise, a jar of
cookies would contain a jar of cookies! Also, we never interact with
the universe, only things contained by the universe, and as we’ll soon
see this rules out existence. This point has nothing to do with the
main argument, but since several proofs of God assert the universe
exists, it’s a good tangent to keep in mind.)

Now, “exist.” I’d define that as “anything which could interact with
me, even if only in theory” (Told you!). That leaves one word left,
“interact,” but I’m fine with letting my opponent define that one. If
I was pressed, I’d go with “the potential to change state via an
external entity.” So far, I haven’t been pressed.

All the pieces are in place! Now, we ask a simple question: can any
god interact with me?

If yes, then by definition that god exists, and by definition that
god is contained by the universe, thus that god is “natural.”
Contradiction!

If no, then by what rights can you argue that god exists? I can name
countless things which could never interact with me, but I wouldn’t
take a single one of them seriously. Why would a god be any different?


HJ Hornbeck

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6 Responses to One Argument against any God

  1. thinkellen (http://www NULL.defenestratedfeet NULL.com) says:

    An apparently logical, step-wise argument, but unfortunately one that does not carry much weight. It relies almost entirely on agreement of semantic meaning. The proposed definitions themselves over-complicate the matter to obscure the baseline argument. Let’s take a look at them:

    Supernatural = Not natural
    Natural = Existing in the Universe
    Universe = Collection of everything that exists
    Exist = Can interact with me

    Defining “natural” as “existing in the universe” is redundant. All it means, by your definition, is “existing within the group of things that exist.” The argument really contains only two ideas:

    “Anything supernatural does not exist,” and
    “Anything that can hypothetically interact with me, exists.”

    Which of course ends in the same contradictions, but communicates the premises with more transparency. Of course, you’d be hard-pressed to find a religious person who would agree with the above statements.

    Let’s eschew obfuscation, shall we?

  2. HJ Hornbeck says:

    An apparently logical, step-wise argument, but unfortunately one that does not carry much weight. It relies almost entirely on agreement of semantic meaning.

    And that’s exactly the point. If you agree to those definitions, then “supernatural” is a logical contradiction. Change the definitions, and the argument may no longer be valid.

    So how would you define “supernatural,” “natural,” “universe,” and/or “exist?”

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  4. Jim Baerg says:

    I think Richard Carrier did an excellent job of defining supernatural, with lots of examples to clarify his meaning.

    http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/01/defining-supernatural.html (http://richardcarrier NULL.blogspot NULL.com/2007/01/defining-supernatural NULL.html)

    By his definition ‘supernatural’ would not be selfcontradictory or undetectable, it is just something happens to be empirically not observed.

  5. HJ Hornbeck says:

    Hmmm… I’ve had a look, and I don’t agree. His definition of paranormal is as you describe, but that’s different from his definition of “supernatural.” Worse, Carrier is loose with his definitions. For instance, compare:

    I argue “naturalism” means, in the simplest terms, that every mental thing is entirely caused by fundamentally non-mental things, and is entirely dependent on non-mental things for its existence.

    to

    Let’s start with supernatural beings. […] These are all supernatural if if they have any mental property or power that is not reducible to a non-mental mechanism. If, however, all of their powers and properties can be reduced to non-mental mechanisms, then they are not supernatural beings after all, but natural ones.

    Note the subtle shift? He’s gone from requiring cognition in such entities to making it optional, and instead focusing on actions and properties. He also avoids defining “non-mental process,” but from his descriptions seems to imply anything which obeys causality qualifies. We can break that down as an entity that had “before” and “after” moments related to one or more of its properties, in a definite order, both of which are contingent on an entity separate from the first. For example, “I (external entity) laid (ordering, before = non-existence, after = existence) an egg (original entity).”

    In short, this external entity can “influence” the original one. Sound familiar? Remove the mind-related stuff, and Carrier’s definition reduces to my own, and thus my original logic still stands.

    Keep it in, and you wind up with contradictions. Take Brahman, for instance. Some Hindus would pooh-pooh the notion that it has a mind, so Carrier’s definition can’t decide on it. And yet most would call a universal law-giver a “supernatural” entity.

  6. Pingback: One Argument against any God, Part four | The Legion of Reason

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