God as a placeholder

Bellator

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Hello again Cr,

I don't know if anyone remembers me, but I made a few posts a couple years back, and I still browse these forums from time to time

Anyway, I've been thinking that the idea of God is nothing more than a placeholder for things we don't understand. (my apologies if there is already a topic on this) Think about it; when confronted with a strange phenomenon:

an atheist might say, "I don't know how it happened"

a theist might say, "God did it, but I don't know the mechanism"

when the phenomenon is explained

the atheist might say, "so, that's how it happened"

the theist might say, "so, this is the mechanism God used"

Are these views really that different? Especially when you consider that God is an infinite, incomprehensible thing that no human can understand. What is the point of inserting something you can’t understand as an explanation for something else you don’t understand?

God being used as a placeholder isn't just limited to explanations for how things work, either.

I've been looking into Buddhist philosophy a fair amount, and it makes a lot of sense to me. One of the basic ideas is "no self". It says that the idea of a self (something that IS you i.e. your soul, mind, etc) is an illusion. With this in mind you can “live for” more than just your self. In the same way you view yourself as a single organism you can view a group of people, your family for example, as a single organism. You can live for your family, but ultimately there is more than your family to live for. So you can live for your country. Beyond your country there is the human race, the entire earth, etc. It's kind of like a mathematical limit, going ever closer to infinity. (My apologies if this is a gross misrepresentation of anything Buddhist. Please let me know if it is. It’s just my attempt at explain my interpretation)

When you put God into the picture, this puts a placeholder directly at infinity. I can see the worth of this placeholder, but I don't think it is necessary. It frustrates me when I hear people say things like, "You can be a good person no matter religion you follow, as long as you believe in God it doesn't matter what you call him." Is nonbeleif really that different from belief?

What do you think?
 

Impqueen

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Sorry but I don't really understand what you mean by placeholder? Do you mean 'middle man'? :eek:

Is nonbeleif really that different from belief?
There is no such thing as a state of non belief. Atheists believe there is no God. However I agree that it's irritating when people assume that only the religious can be good people.

I don't think people simply stick God/gods into the equation because it's comforting or something (well, not all people anyway). They do it because they believe it. To suggest the concept of God is some kind of unnecessary stopgap rather belittles the faith and intelligence of the believer.
 

Dream

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Mathematical historians regard our appreciation of the need for a placeholding (zero) digit as one of the most important developments in mathematics. StarshipEnterprise suggested that God is a sort of placeholder in thought - a kind of add and carry for mental operations, if you will.

Wikipedia on the history of zero

By the mid 2nd millennium BC, the Babylonians had a sophisticated sexagesimal positional numeral system. The lack of a positional value (or zero) was indicated by a space between sexagesimal numerals. By 300 BC a punctuation symbol (two slanted wedges) was co-opted as a placeholder in the same Babylonian system. In a tablet unearthed at Kish (dating from perhaps as far back as 700 BC), the scribe Bêl-bân-aplu wrote his zeroes with three hooks, rather than two slanted wedges..........
 

Dream

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Trivia for you:

If you live in the US you will hear this placeholder idea a billion times before you graduate from High School. They usually say it like this: "Religion is man's way of explaining the unexplainable." This is one of the tenets of secular humanism when stated as fact, but it is never combined as a sentence with the name of any religion as the subject. You'd never hear a public high school teacher say "Mormonism is man's way of explaining the unexplainable," because it is legally a breach of 'Separation of church and state' for public servants to say that to minors. Religious teachers have their own tricks for inserting religious ideas into their classes, too. They can't openly tell students that "You really ought to consider joining such and such religion so that you may enjoy eternal bliss." They sometimes come up with other ways of passing it under the table. The placeholder phrase just happens to be one of the secular humanist teacher tricks. You might hear them say the placeholder phrase "Religion is man's way...," because a teacher who is a secular humanist can often get away with saying that if they don't mention specific religions. Regardless, the teachers are usually permitted to say what their religion is. They legally say "I am a secular humanist," or "I am a Christian," etc. There's nothing Mathematical about high school.
 

juantoo3

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Hello again Cr,

I don't know if anyone remembers me, but I made a few posts a couple years back, and I still browse these forums from time to time
Kindest Regards, Starship!

I do remember you, it's been quite a while now. How have you been?

Anyway, I've been thinking that the idea of God is nothing more than a placeholder for things we don't understand. (my apologies if there is already a topic on this) Think about it; when confronted with a strange phenomenon:

an atheist might say, "I don't know how it happened"

a theist might say, "God did it, but I don't know the mechanism"

when the phenomenon is explained

the atheist might say, "so, that's how it happened"

the theist might say, "so, this is the mechanism God used"

Are these views really that different? Especially when you consider that God is an infinite, incomprehensible thing that no human can understand. What is the point of inserting something you can’t understand as an explanation for something else you don’t understand?

God being used as a placeholder isn't just limited to explanations for how things work, either.

I suppose one could try to view things in such a manner. I tend to think personal experiences tend to color one's perceptions. For instance, I believe G-d exists. It isn't difficult to see that in my posts, even though I know I cannot use subjective truths to delineate an objective truth to another. My personal experiences do not translate well, afterall the slightest shred of doubt would cause another to think I was a kook or weirdo or otherwise mentally unstable, no? At least, that would be a very convenient excuse used to dismiss an uncomfortable argument that disagrees with another's cherished set of values that disclude G-d, no? Even if that would be an ad hominem fallacy, it would still be sufficient to dismiss an uncomfortable argument. People do so all the time.

I've been looking into Buddhist philosophy a fair amount, and it makes a lot of sense to me. One of the basic ideas is "no self". It says that the idea of a self (something that IS you i.e. your soul, mind, etc) is an illusion. With this in mind you can “live for” more than just your self. In the same way you view yourself as a single organism you can view a group of people, your family for example, as a single organism. You can live for your family, but ultimately there is more than your family to live for. So you can live for your country. Beyond your country there is the human race, the entire earth, etc. It's kind of like a mathematical limit, going ever closer to infinity. (My apologies if this is a gross misrepresentation of anything Buddhist. Please let me know if it is. It’s just my attempt at explain my interpretation)

I think Buddhism is a valid approach when done correctly, as I think the Monotheist faiths are valid approaches when done correctly, as I am sure there may be even more valid approaches. I keep coming back to the notion that it is not what we believe that matters...it is what we do with what we believe that matters. If I preach peace to you, yet force my beliefs at the point of a sword, there is a glaring contradiction that diminishes the value of my words and my deeds. This is true no matter the philosophy that carries it, including atheism.

When you put God into the picture, this puts a placeholder directly at infinity. I can see the worth of this placeholder, but I don't think it is necessary. It frustrates me when I hear people say things like, "You can be a good person no matter religion you follow, as long as you believe in God it doesn't matter what you call him." Is nonbeleif really that different from belief?

What do you think?
Perhaps. Then again, it may be dependent on your interpretation of "G-d." Is G-d to you an old grey beard reclining on a cloud with a fistful of lightning ready to hurl at those who displease Him?

Then too, infinity is quite a ways off. By definition unattainable, unreachable, unfathomable. Unless you hold another interpretation of infinity?
 

Bellator

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Sorry but I don't really understand what you mean by placeholder? Do you mean 'middle man'?

I think Dream hit the nail on the head here.

There is no such thing as a state of non belief. Atheists believe there is no God.

true true.

I don't think people simply stick God/gods into the equation because it's comforting or something (well, not all people anyway). They do it because they believe it. To suggest the concept of God is some kind of unnecessary stopgap rather belittles the faith and intelligence of the believer.

So, they believe, but why? From my own experience and what I hear from theists it sounds a lot like its because of personal feelings which include a need for comfort.

However, I must admit that my own atheism comes from personal feelings. There was a time when I started to doubt religion, but I still said to everyone--including myself--that I believed in God. Then one moment changed this. My mom said something about God, and my immediate mental reaction was "pff, whatever, I don't believe that." At that point I came to the realization that I actually didn't believe in God.

Like Juan said, personal experiences do not translate well.

I keep coming back to the notion that it is not what we believe that matters...it is what we do with what we believe that matters.

so true.
 

seattlegal

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I don't think that the "God as a placeholder" concept works very well, because God, or evidence for God, can be found in both the things we think we understand and the things we know we don't understand. Relegating God to the role of a placeholder for the unknown is like a scientist 'cherry picking the evidence,' that is, throwing out 'anomalous evidence' that doesn't fit with a theory they are trying to prove, rather than changing their theory to fit their observations/evidence, imo.
 

Impqueen

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They believe because they think it's true. The same way they believe in gravity and the necessity of oxygen. We need belief about the things we don't understand, but that doesn't just apply to theists.

Thanks for explaining the placeholder idea - I've never come across the phrase before. :)
 

seattlegal

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I don't think that the "God as a placeholder" concept works very well, because God, or evidence for God, can be found in both the things we think we understand and the things we know we don't understand. Relegating God to the role of a placeholder for the unknown is like a scientist 'cherry picking the evidence,' that is, throwing out 'anomalous evidence' that doesn't fit with a theory they are trying to prove, rather than changing their theory to fit their observations/evidence, imo.
Take thread illustrates the point I'm trying to make quite well:
http://www.comparative-religion.com/forum/142771-post1.html
 

path_of_one

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LOL- that's a great test! LOL

As for God as placeholder, maybe it's how it works for some, but not for others. Some scientists (including myself) believe in God but do not use God in this way. That is, I believe God permeates everything (as seattlegal points out)-- both the processes I understand and the processes we haven't figured out yet. In fact, the more I have studied and understood large scale processes, the closer I feel to God and the more I am in awe. The mystery deepens with each new mechanism or process I grasp.

That said, my God is not the "old man in the sky" concept. I think some ways of thinking about God will rub up against science and the modern world in discordant ways, while other ways of thinking about God will deepen one's experience of science and the modern world (and vice versa- science will deepen one's experience of God). God is God. But none of us really know how to define God, because we are so limited. So we are free to define God in any number of ways- either to define God in such ways that we are able to believe and embrace the spiritual experience or to define God in such ways that we are not, that we come to the conclusion that "God doesn't exist." But what that statement means is always quantified by what the individual denier has defined God to be, just as it is with theist's professions of belief.
 

Bellator

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I don't think that the "God as a placeholder" concept works very well, because God, or evidence for God, can be found in both the things we think we understand and the things we know we don't understand.

Please explain.

But none of us really know how to define God, because we are so limited. So we are free to define God in any number of ways- either to define God in such ways that we are able to believe and embrace the spiritual experience or to define God in such ways that we are not, that we come to the conclusion that "God doesn't exist." But what that statement means is always quantified by what the individual denier has defined God to be, just as it is with theist's professions of belief.

This is exactly what I am talking about. you say that God is infinite, undefinable, and unknowable. What is the point of this belief? How is it different from saying that there is much we don't know?

People have always wanted to personify things in nature. Poseidon was a personification of the sea, Zeus of the sky, Gaia of the earth, etc. Modern theism seems to try to personify "the infinite" (if there is such a thing)
 

seattlegal

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I don't think that the "God as a placeholder" concept works very well, because God, or evidence for God, can be found in both the things we think we understand and the things we know we don't understand.

Please explain.
It doesn't fit your definition of:
What is the point of inserting something you can’t understand as an explanation for something else you don’t understand?
Your argument is an exercise in circular reasoning in that your premise includes the claim that the premise is true. Rather, just because be cannot fully understand God, it does not mean that we cannot have any understanding whatsoever of God.
 
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SG said:
...God, or evidence for God, can be found in both the things we think we understand and the things we know we don't understand.

SG said:
Your argument is an exercise in circular reasoning in that your premise includes the claim that the premise is true.

Finding evidence for God in one's observations includes the premise that there is a God and the claim that that premise is true. Same circular reasoning.

Chris
 

Bellator

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Ok, so you can partially understand God but not fully. And you say God is present in both things we understand and things we don't. But specifically what understandable things do you find God in?
 

seattlegal

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Ok, so you can partially understand God but not fully. And you say God is present in both things we understand and things we don't. But specifically what understandable things do you find God in?
Here are a few:
  • I see evidence of God is in altruistic behavior of living creatures.
  • I see evidence of God in the finely tuned balance within the universe that we see, even though the odds of all these things happening by coincidence cannot be explained away by chance and happenstance.
  • I see evidence of God in living things such as a blade of grass, that all of our scientists with all of their knowledge cannot produce from scratch, yet we see grass springing up all over the place.
 

Ciel

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Mmmmm, so God as nature might see must be the Sun, only God could hold a pot so hot....... :)

- c -
 

Bellator

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  • I see evidence of God is in altruistic behavior of living creatures.

altruism in nature makes complete sense when explained by natural selection alone. An animal in instinctively altruistic in situations in which their sacrifice benefits the survival of the species. Even if this wasn't the case, altruism=evidence for an all powerful being, how?

  • I see evidence of God in the finely tuned balance within the universe that we see, even though the odds of all these things happening by coincidence cannot be explained away by chance and happenstance.

First of all, no one says that the universe happened by coincidence. Matter didn't suddenly take the form it is in right now in a single random event. Furthermore, this "finely tuned balance" is completely subjective. If you were a puddle of water, you might think that the hole you were in could never be created by chance because it fits you so perfectly. Intelligence has no special status in the universe. You are just as much a part of this earth as any rock on the face of a mountain.

  • I see evidence of God in living things such as a blade of grass, that all of our scientists with all of their knowledge cannot produce from scratch, yet we see grass springing up all over the place.

M'kay, this sounds like an implied watchmaker argument. We have not been able to create it but it exists. So? It is simple minded to think that everything that exists must have been created in the same way people create things.
 
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