Sunday, December 27, 2015

Authenticating God

1.0 Introduction

How many times have you heard a Christian, Muslim, or other theist say something like:
I know I'm right because my beliefs are grounded in the ultimate truth of the Word of God.
There are a couple assumptions implicit to this claim:
  1. Identification: That the claimant has proven beyond any doubt that his particular "Word of God" are actually words of god. There's a long list things which people claim to be the word of a god:
    1. The Torah
    2. The Christian Bible
    3. The Quran
    4. The Book of Mormon
    5. Personal Revelation
    6. A wide range of ramblings from people suffering mental disorders
    In my experience, most theists will look at this list and beam with pride over their book, yet scoff at or mock the others as though they're no different from option "f". In short I have yet to meet a theist who can address this problem.   Most don't even seem to understand the issue.
  2. Honesty: That the particular god they've authenticated is incapable of lying or  for some reason will never chose to lie.
  3. Knowledge: That the particular god they've authenticated possesses or defines "ultimate truth". For example, is it possible that their god resides within a universe governed by another god? Their god might be completely unaware of this fact.  It could be that it knows everything about our universe, but is limited in its knowledge of the god's super-universe.
Complex infrastructure is used to authenticate users
on the internet
Authentication methods have been studied extensively in recent years. It turns out it's not trivial to authenticate a user.  It requires a common trusted agent (the Certificate  Authority or CA), a Registration Authority, which is trusted to store the registered certificates, and complex mathematics. It relies on algorithms which are easy to run in one direction, but difficult to run in reverse.  Specifically, two very large prime numbers can be multiplied together to form the digital key. It's secure because factoring that key essentially requires checking every possible number -- computationally prohibitive at least for the next several centuries.
Authentication is not easy, but it's possible. And even absent a trusted certificate authority, there are plausible mechanisms by which a god could have given evidence that authenticated itself in a holy book. None are present.

2.0 Identification

There's not a long list of ways that a text could authenticate. The most common method theists point to is prophecy. There might be others.

2.1 Prophecy!

The theists among you are no-doubt shouting, "But there's prophecy! That's proof that the Bible is divine." It isn't.  Not even close.  
  • Suppose I could successfully predict a set of 5 of two digit numbers that will be drawn at random from a set of two-digit numbers. Millions of people try to do this each day, motivated by the potential to win money and they nearly all fail, but I have succeeded and won the lottery. Is that prophecy?
    No. It's luck. It may seem to ME like it's a prophecy, but it happens to someone regularly.
  • Suppose I said that in 2016, there would be wars and storms and floods around the world.  Is that prophecy?
    No. There have always been wars and storms and floods. A person could make this claim about any year in human history and be correct.
  • Suppose I said that the country Israel would exist. Is that prophecy?
    No. Israel exists now, it has existed at many times in the past, and will likely continue to exist in varying forms throughout much of human future. (much like the book of Revelation)
But let's imagine that before it happened, I predicted that a meteor would strike Russia in the Winter of 2015. This is an unusual event, I had no means of fore-knowledge. It would sure seem that this is a prophecy.  If I had managed to make that prophecy, would you presume they're god-like? Or would you assume I just got lucky? Or maybe it's just a trick. Maybe I bribed people to say I made the claim earlier but actually made it AFTER. Regardless, does this one astonishing prediction in any imply that every word I say is true?

2.2 Other Options

We often seem to be confined in our thinking to methods which were available to barely-literate authors of the original Bible.  There are lots of other ways that a god could demonstrate its supernatural powers. These are:
  • Properly and accurately explain the origins of species and the beginning of the observable universe long before it was knowable
  • Be made of an unobtainable material (maybe even not atomic) and readable by all humans
  • Be present in all cultures and tribes around the world
  • Be unalterable, incorruptible, impossible to deface.
  • Be objectively clear and consistent throughout
  • Not endorse slavery or genocide.
  • Teach a morality where people are responsible for their own actions.   Not their great-great-great-…-grandmother's actions, and not excused by third-party torture.
  • Not borrow from earlier myths
These are just some examples I could easily think of.  (I know. The last couple are jabs at the Bible.)
]Finally, the best way that Yaweh could authenticate himself is simply by introducing himself. Now. To all humanity. Maybe a bit like the Vogons did in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

3.0 Honesty

In a relationship of approximately equal peers, it takes time to establish trust in honesty.  It's not something that can be simply declared by one party and accepted by the other. In the Abrahamic mythologies, we are expected to simply accept that Yaweh is always honest. No reason or justification for this is presented.  It's simply part of the traditional beliefs which people are expected to accept without cause.

4.0 Knowledge

The original claim was that god knows all things. This became problematic because if Yaweh knows the future, then it's not possible to do something he hasn't foreseen and free-will becomes an illusion. This result renders original sin even more problematic than it already was since Adam and Eve had essentially no other choice than to commit the sin God had foreseen. 
Worse still, there are problems like:
  • Can god know all possible things about himself or just his creation? 
  • Is it possible that god (who claims to have all knowledge) is simply deceived? A lot of people seem to fall into this category.
In the end, nobody I'm aware of has validated the claim that Yaweh is all-knowing. I'm not even sure such a thing is possible. If the god is NOT all-knowing, it's possible that this fact is not known to him.

5.0 Conclusion

It's  a long and up-hill battle to demonstrate the "divine and inerrant"  natures of the Bible. In the 2000 years of Christianity's existence no such demonstration has been shown.