Monday 28 September 2009

I saw the sign....

So there we have it: Pastor Sonny Manuel provides people passing the Palm Heights Baptist Chuch with the definitive answer to a conundrum that has been exercising philosophers for years.

Well, he almost does. I think he's actually trying to be funny.

...or maybe he's simply an accomplished surrealist? Isn't everyone in his line of work?

It's the certainty of it that annoys me most, I think. In "The God Delusion", Richard Dawkins talks about a continuous "spectrum of probabilities" between two extremes of opposite certainty, which can be represented on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 is certitude that God exists and 7 is certitude that God does not exist:
  1. Strong theist. 100% probablity of God. In the words of Carl Jung, 'I do not believe, I know.'
  2. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De facto theist. 'I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.'
  3. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. 'I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.'
  4. Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic. 'God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.'
  5. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. 'I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be sceptical.'
  6. Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. 'I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.'
  7. Strong atheist. 'I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung "knows" there is one.'

Dawkins rates himself as between a 6 and a 7: "I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there." He goes on to add that "I am agnostic, but only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden." His point is that although not many 'atheists' would score themselves as a 7, how many Christians would score themselves as anything other than a 1? I get the distinct impression that Pastor Sonny Manuel would score himself as a strong 1, don't you?

Still, they're easy targets, aren't they? Let's all have a laugh at those weird religious nutjobs and the funny signs they put up outside their churches. The sign above comes from a list of similarly idiotic signs that can be found here and was kindly sent to me by the numnum, but laughing at them seems to be a pretty popular sport: just go and look at Google and you'll see that the internet is full of them. An awful lot of them.

Surely they're not representative? For every one of those, there must surely be hundreds of perfectly reasonable signs outside churches, put there by nice, moderate people?

But why am I asking Google?

(That's certainly true, but am I alone in thinking that Google has probably provided more actual answers over the years than prayer?)

Then again, in the cold light of day, is saying something as sanctimonious, judgmental and smug as "I kissed a girl and I liked it... and then I went to hell" actually all that much more ridiculous than saying "
When the Son of Man comes, will He find Faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). Both statements ultimately display a level of certainty that I suspect leaves little room for rational debate. There was one outside the church around the corner from me the other week loudly declaring that "JESUS IS HOPE". There's not much room for doubt or negotiation there either.

Of course, as long as they don't insist on inflicting it on anyone else, people are entitled to believe what they want. If you ask me, I think that we'd be a whole lot better off basing our society upon the utopian ideals of the Wyld Stallyns:

Now just tell me the world wouldn't be a better place if we all lived by that one simple adage?

Here endeth the lesson.


  1. Party on dudes!


  2. "That's certainly true, but am I alone in thinking that Google has probably provided more actual answers over the years than prayer?"

    Maybe not, but the jury's out on the answer. Google's been around for, what, ten years? People have been praying for thousands. Billions of people have some form of faith. Many find "answers" in any form of contemplation, of which prayer is but one example.

    Anyway, that's probably nit-picking. I like that scale. I'm a definite 6. I don't think 7 is logically/philosophically possible. You can't prove a negative, all you can do is amass evidence to demonstrate that something hasn't yet conclusively manifested itself.

  3. That's a fair point - I was, of course, talking about actual divine intervention through prayer, but I was being flippant & take your point. I'm not sure I'd recommend the whole of the "God Delusion" to everyone, but the chapter where he discusses that scale and betrand russell's Celestial Teapot is well worth reading (it's a teapot orbiting around one of the planets in our solar system. You can't see it, but does that mean it's not there? What if there were loads of ancient documents saying it was there? Would you believe it then?) Very similar to your point about 7 on the scale.

    As Dawkins says, just because we can't categorically say something doesn't exist, doesn't make the odds that it does 50:50.

  4. This is a lovely post. Also Wyld Stallyns rool.

  5. You know, the town I live in has so many churches that you can't throw a baseball and not hit one...and the signs are everywhere.

    My local favorites?

    "The Easter Bunny didn't raise from the dead"

    "Forbidden friuts create bad jams"

    "A rumor can get around the world before the truth can put his pants on"

    They're everywhere. And most of them are sanctmonious.