Saturday, July 28, 2012

"What if God is puppies? You believe in puppies, don't you?"

I often see questions like this:

"what if god is time?"

"what if god is science?"

"what if god is simply the order in the universe?"

"what if god is love?"

"... how can you say you don't believe in god?"

Usually accompanied by some kind of assertion that an atheist is assuming a particular god in order to lack belief in gods.

I call this the 'god-is-puppies' argument.

The word 'god', like the word 'toaster', carries meaning. I can claim "When I say toaster I mean a can of minestrone soup" all I like, but if I say "thereby, your claim you don't own a toaster is false - there's a can of minestrone right here in the pantry", you'll get short shrift.

The purpose of words is communication, isn't it?

When you use a word, people tend to understand particular things. If you deliberately choose it to mean something else, and leave them to misunderstand, you're choosing to mislead them. And are thereby a cad and a bounder.

I can call my rat "A Thousand Bucks", but if I offer you a thousand bucks for your car and when you give me the keys, I hand you a rat, you'd rightly be miffed. You'd likely punch me in the nose and take back your keys. If I was lucky.

Where does the responsibility for the miscommunication lie?

It would lie with me, for knowingly using a term people use for one thing to refer to an unrelated thing, in order to convey a different meaning to the one I would claim to use.

Even if you tell them your bizarre definition, so that the deception is lost, the patience for the mental gymnastics required to keep replacing the ordinary word with your odd meaning is likely to be very limited.

So, to "what if god is time?" I say - we have a name for that concept already; it's called time.

If you care to communicate with people, you'll call it that.

When I say I lack belief in gods, I mean the ordinary understanding of the word 'god', like you might find in a dictionary. I'm prepared to adopt a fairly broad interpretation of it, but its basically something along the lines of a powerful supernatural being. Something with intent. Concepts of 'time' or 'science' or 'order' or 'puppies' simply don't have the intended attributes people generally mean when they say 'god'. I can encompass the vaguest of deistic creator-entity hand-waves, but a deity's a deity, not a can of soup.

I don't carry belief in any powerful supernatural beings with intent.

If you want to propose some variation on that ordinary meaning, then ask about that variation and I'll let you know if I carry belief in it, but if you pull the 'god is puppies' type of word-game, I may well be moved to reward your deceptive shenannigans with "You I love with all my heart, and by love I mean, lovingly punch in the snout."

If you're lucky.