Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Different kinds of God

It seems to me that there are three general classifications into which people's understandings of God can be grouped.
  1. The Supernatural God who works visible and spectacular miracles (or at least has done in the past).
  2. The Undetectable God who either does not intervene in the world or who works in such a subtle way that his work is not visible.
  3. The Metaphorical and Symbolic God, who doesn't have a separate existence but is used as a label applied to the good things of the world.
When discussing God, it is necessary to be sure that there is a common understanding of which of these three types we are dealing with, because they are really very different from each other.

I have no substantive disagreement with those whose conception of God falls into this third category. My only mild beef with such people (and it is very mild) is that by using the word in their own special and metaphorical way, they are liable to cause confusion amongst those (believers and atheists alike) who tend to reserve the word for more objective conceptions of God.

Regarding the Supernatural God, the question that needs to be asked is why these miracles never seem to happen when scientists are pointing their instruments in the right direction. Unless that happens, the fact is that the evidence for the existence of this kind of God which ought to be plentiful, is really rather thin.

Concerning the Undetectable God, all one can say about him is that all ideas about what he is like and what he does must be entirely made up, since his interventions (which by definition include his communication with us) are undetectable and therefore no ideas about his nature can even in principle be based on any kind of evidence.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jonathon, I think you need to add a fourth type of god, that of personal "religious experience". There seems to be a common (well perhaps not common but reasonably frequent) human experience of a) a helping or friendly presence where no such real person could be present b) an overwhelming feeling of being surrounded by a loving presence. These are the experiences of saints and ecstatics, but also of quite ordinary people usually in extreme circumstances. Discounting culturally based content descriptions these experiences appear to be remarkably similar worldwide.

    I myself had an analogous experience while severely ill.

    Personally I interpreted this experience as a product of my fevered brain, but I can certainly see how many people could interpret it as spirit, angel, god.

    As I'm sure you're aware, religion shows no signs of dying out; one of my interests is what maintains belief in god(s) despite the lack of evidence. I'm sure that these kinds of mental experiences are a crucial part of its support.