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1.9b Now you know him, now you don't . . .
Two thousand years later, perceptions of God continue to change. As science and common sense continue to undermine the idea of a supernatural being who brought the universe into existence, created sentient beings and introduced them to unhappiness and pain, the only rational response for many who continue to believe in him is to see him as ever more distant and unknowable.
Unknowability explains the contradiction between a god who created the universe and a universe that does not need a creator. Unknowability also resolves the contradiction between the idea of a perfect God and the highly imperfect being who appears in scriptures - the appearance of imperfection tells us that our image is wrong and we can never know him. Unknowability allows believers to resolve a contradiction: we believe God exists but we cannot prove it, and we cannot prove it because God is unknowable.
1.9c Take your pick
We are nearing the end of our research into the nature of God. We now know that there are three options defining our relationship with the deity:
a. God is knowable. One or more scriptures is at least partially true; God has a
personality with human-like emotions. Believers can experience him directly.
b. God is unknowable. Scriptures tell us little or nothing about the deity. God
cannot be described in human terms and believers cannot experience him
c. God does not exist. Scriptures confuse history with myth and imagination. What believers experience is not God, but a reflection of their longing for a
The first option is the God of most Christians, somewhere between the angry Father of the Old Testament and the love represented by Jesus. It is the God of those who are certain not only that God exists but that they have a personal relationship with him. For some, scriptures are the unerring word of God; for others scriptures are man's fallible interpretation of God's words and will.
The second option - God is unknowable - is the stance of most Jews and Muslims, but it poses a problem for these two religions. On the one hand they say that God is unknowable - but on the other hand their faith is rooted in scriptures which both give a clear indication of God's personality and describe occasions when God has clearly made himself known to human beings. This idea - that God is both unknowable and revealed in literature - is contradictory; like the Christian Trinity uniting three personalities in one, it tries to reconcile opposite statements
An alternate vision of the unknowable God is the Deist version. This God is the most distant of all. He may have created the universe but now shows no interest in it or the human race. Alternately, he is interested in his creation but he is beyond experience, making scripture irrelevant. For the Deist God, faith is irrelevant; the Deist God comes closest to the Atheist God, for he either has no need of believers and cares nothing for them, or he cares for his believers but does not communicate with them.
1.9d From knowing to unknowing; from unknowing to nothingness
This path - from many gods to one; from one knowable god to a god that cannot be known - is one that millions of rational people have followed in their own lives. It is also the path that has been followed by Western and Middle Eastern cultures over the last three thousand years. Believers in a knowable God are stuck half-way along this path. Believers in an unknowable God have progressed further, but they insist that the path ends where they stand. Rationalists say they are wrong; the path - the argument - is not at an end, but can and should be followed to its logical conclusion, which is acceptance of the fact that there is no God.
Looking back, rationalists turn to those who have rejected the tempestuous God of the Bible and Islam and who cling to the idea of an unknowable God, and ask the question: if God is unknowable, how do we know if he exists?
Next: Chapter One: Section 10
Your god or mine?
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If God existed, he would...
admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create
recognize that eternity is meaningless
deny both heaven and hell
disown all men and women who speak in his name
denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"
help the human race to thrive without him
If God existed, he would be an atheist.
What is the difference between science and faith?
science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything
faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing
Which do you trust?
"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"
Check the answer