God and Analogies

On Stephen Law’s Blog he posted a response to his The Jesus Light, by Sebastian*: Jesus Light Switched Back On. This bugged me a little, so I had to get this off my chest.

Analogy – Helpful in the explanation of point A in terms of point B, where A is the subject being explained, and B is a more commonly understood point. But the use of an analogy, however effective, does not provide proof of the correctness or truth of the original point A; or even evidence for it. Analogies can often sound good but can be way off the mark.

In the particular case of providing analogies for God, the whole God idea is so vague a notion that almost any analogy could be concocted to explain God. The God concept is a dream come true for fantasy writing that has existed for thousands of years, and today shows up as ‘sophisticated theology’ wrapped in post-modern bullshit. Try it for yourself. It might even make a good party game. Here’s my attempt.

My personal analogy is that God is an invisible pet. I love my cats, I talk to them, communicate with them and can have quite complex conversations. I work from home, alone most of the day. My family are removed daily, though unlike Sebastian’s women they reappear each evening, fortunately. But, I have an inner drive to talk to someone. It’s often myself, but also my cats. I get great inner satisfaction from that. Some find solace in the company of machines – the Tamagotchi ‘pets’ of a few years ago. We have an inner yearning for companionship and communication, as do many animals. Along the evolutionary trail humans have picked up imagination. We’ve used that imagination to invent God as a perfect companion, who listens without complaint, anywhere any time – the perfect Tamagotchi. We can even delude ourselves that our own answers to our own problems have been provided by Him. Inventing human companionship in anything is easy. Anthropomorphism rules – ok?

I have no evidence that this analogy reflects any actual God that we might suppose is out there, because of course there is no evidence for such a God against which we can judge the analogy. I’ve based it, rather loosely, on what little I’ve read in popular books on psychology, evolution, biology, etc. I might even have read it somewhere explicitly, and using the great power of imagination convinced myself it’s my own idea.

I could also be convinced by **Steelman’s God. I’m a Manchester City supporter – I’m currently in purgatory, waiting to be saved by Thaiksin Shinawatra**. I’m certainly having my faith challenged. I know there are very convincing arguments why I should watch Manchester United** instead, but like any good theist, I’ll listen, digest, ignore, and plod on regardless.

Sebastian’s rejection of the ‘tooth-fairy’ myth is rejected simply because it’s not his myth. I may well have believed in fairies, Santa, God, The Lone Ranger, or any other myth, when I was a kid. But to suggest that anyone who discovers that they are myths would “fall into a state of lifelong depression” is a little presumptuous. I find it liberating to know that somewhere, sometime, there could be an answer to anything, just waiting to be discovered. The fact that I don’t and can’t know everything isn’t a problem. I’m happy to search for answers on the understanding that I won’t necessarily find them. I have no need for God. Quite the opposite – I find God to be an unsatisfactory answer to anything, a cop-out.

Maybe in the past God and religion have provided appropriate stop-gaps, until other ideas became more acceptable and the arguments clearer. Phlogiston provided a pretty good explanation for combustion, until oxidation supplanted it, but it’s still a passable analogy if you don’t know of or ignore evidence against it.

Despite all that’s said about the scientific method (by those that don’t get it), plenty of research begins with a hunch, or an unsubstantiated hypothesis. The scientific method comes into its own in evaluating evidence to support or reject the hypothesis. Cold fusion is an attractive idea that has had its proponents from time to time, but as yet no repeatable un-falsified evidence, so there aren’t many supporters of it. Alien abduction is another unsubstantiated popular myth, that thankfully has been debunked pretty thoroughly – but that doesn’t mean the evidence against it is conclusive, and so there are still people out there that believe in it. Similarly, the evidence against God is low – non-existent – we only have Ocham’s Razor, but since we apply that to the tooth-fairy and other myths, why not to the God myth. So far the God hypothesis has zero evidence in its favour. Plenty of imagination and analogy, but zero evidence.

I would suggest, though it’s only my own crack-pot hypothesis with no statistics to back it up, that most religious people believe in God because they haven’t thought about it enough, don’t understand the arguments (re Sebastian’s response to the Barefoot Bum), or are persuaded by charismatic intelligent con-men; and many of those con-men do a pretty good job of convincing themselves. Many don’t even believe in order to fill this internal desire that Sebastian speaks of. Most believe because they were indoctrinated, out of tradition, out of fear (see Law, Dwakins, etc.). That’s my understanding, based on the deplorably inadequate sample that consists of the few personal friends and relatives I’ve discussed it with, and on reading the ideas presented in print, in documentaries and on the internet by supporters of theist arguments. Statistics, for or against, anyone?


* – Sebastian, Steelman, Barefoot Bum – commenters on the Stephen Law post.

** – Update 2012 – This was written at a time when Manchester City was playing second fiddle to Manchester United, in Manchester, and was struggling to stake their place in the Premier League. How times change.

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