God As An Evil Super-Alien
Via morsec0de, an interesting observation:
I’m often told by Christians of certain stripes that they know God is good because the Bible says so. And thus, all the things he says in the Bible are good, regardless of how morally reprehensible they may seem to a secular humanist like me.
But if the Bible is all your evidence for God’s goodness, what’s to have stopped some powerful evil being from penning it and calling himself good? It certainly seems to match up with some of the Hebrew scriptures’ more wrathful picture of their deity. Not to mention a few of the more heinous teachings in the New Testament. (I’m looking at you, Paul and Revelation!)
Which brings up another group of believers: those who say it is through private revelation or their own feelings that they know that God is good.
Personally, I don’t see any reason why the Bible couldn’t have been inspired by Satan (or some other malevolent supernatural being), although in that case it would still be saddled with the problem of not having any obvious ‘otherworldly’ elements to distinguish it from any other holy text in existence. That’s not what this post is about, though.
While researching the Problem of Evil, I started to wonder what would happen if the argument was reversed. Assume the existence of an evil God, for whatever reason takes your fancy, and suddenly we’d have to talk about the ‘Problem of Good’. Even the counter-arguments would be largely identical in form – find an example of gratuitous goodness which is not counterbalanced by a greater example of evil and hey presto, the evidential argument from goodness is complete and our evil God is shown to probably not exist!
What started off as some idle musing on my part turned to serious consideration of a strange but oft-overlooked (by atheists) aspect of religious belief, which I’ll call ‘trust in God’. It falls under two headings.
1) Religious people will frequently hold the contradictory ideas that God is beyond our understanding and that they can somehow know certain facts about God.
This one is a bit of a no-brainer. God is apparently totally beyond our ken, existing in ways that we literally cannot conceive of. This claim frequently shows up when the arguments from hiddenness and evil start getting thrown around, at which point we are assured that any doubts we may have about God’s motivations are really just products of our own limited understanding – God is beyond our understanding.
God apparently loses that attribute as soon as one wishes to start listing what he likes or dislikes. God dislikes homosexuality – this we can know for sure. God is so just that he simply cannot help but condemn unbelievers to hell – this we can also know with certainty. But why does he allow suffering? And where is he, if we have yet to find him after hundreds of years of looking? And why did he wait such an astonishingly long time before making himself known, given that his word only came to us at the very last fraction of our existence so far?
There are two obvious counter-arguments to this. The first is that the Bible explains all (or at least all that we can know, and anything outside of it is mere speculation), but that gives up the claim to certainty. Anybody who’s sane will acknowledge that the Bible was, at the very least, not written directly by God. If God had any hand in it, his action was mediated through his fallible human followers. How do we know that their writings are trustworthy when it comes to facts about God which we cannot possibly verify? (For example: apart from the fact that it says so in the Bible, how could you know that God disapproves of homosexuality or adultery or even murder? How can you check if those ancient writers were correct?)
The second obvious (or at least common) counter argument is the idea that Christians (and Muslims and Jews and Hindus and, it seems, members of almost every other religion in existence) just know these things. Their knowledge is not empirical or verifiable – it just is. This is where the infamous ‘others ways of knowing’ tend to show up most frequently, for obvious reasons. To be frank, this kind of counter-argument is so weak that nothing more needs to be said about it. This sort of vague knowledge is just as unverifiable as the claims that it supposedly backs up, and is thus fairly useless.
2) Religious people will frequently hold the contradictory ideas that God is beyond our understanding that that they can somehow trust him utterly.
This is the one that really confuses me. God is apparently awe-inquiringly powerful and intelligent, on top of being beyond our understanding. Thank about that for a moment: you have a being who is supposedly all-powerful (or close to it), who knows everything (or close to it) and whose thought processes – if he has any – are totally inscrutable to us.
And we’re expected to trust a being like this? This is apparently where ‘faith’ comes into the equation, but let’s be honest – if God actually materalized in front of the world tomorrow, yet still had all of the properties I’ve just mentioned, who in their right mind would throw themselves at his feet and devote themselves utterly to him? How do you know he isn’t evil? How do you know that he isn’t systematically deceiving you (which, by your own admission, he could do with incredible ease if he wanted to)? How do you know that he is not, to use a cliche (and a misquote at that!), just a sufficiently advanced alien? How could you know? And keep in mind, in this scenario you at least have the luxury of knowing with certainty – with real, genuine ‘I’m-looking-at-him-right-now-and-so-is-everybody-else-on-Earth’ certainty – that this entity exists. In real life, all we have to go on is the testimony of some ancient writers. How difficult would it be for an evil god to mislead a few of the right people before sitting back and watching its work spread out through history like ripples in the surface of a pond?
The claim that God is somehow transmitting certainty into us is even more unsettling, because that is precisely what one would expect a powerful being to do if it wanted to undermine humanity. Actually, even if a good God was doing it, it would essentially be a form of mind control.
Why should we trust this supposed entity, which is so powerful and so beyond our understanding that, according to it (or at least its followers) we have no right to do anything but stand in awe before it?