Deconstructing God

Detail of God from the Creation of the Sun and Moon by Michelangelo (1475-1564).
Detail of God from the Creation of the Sun and Moon by Michelangelo (1475-1564). | Source

Semantics and the Specification Hierarchy

The definition of anything can be unpacked using the specification hierarchy, which has the basic form {Generic{Specific}}. Thus, a specific thing will fall into a generic class of things, e.g. {mammal{primate}}.

The specification hierarchy models development, and can be extended in either direction, for example:

{...{dissipative structure{life form{eukaryote{animal{chordate{vertebrate{mammal{primate{ape{human being{...}}}}}}}}}}}.

Here's another example, taken from the world of inanimate objects: {...{musical instrument{stringed instrument{guitar{electric guitar{Fender Stratocaster{...}}}}}}}.

If you think about it you will see that the specification hierarchy takes the form of a tree, as each generic class gives rise to multiple specific classes, each of which in turn branches into even more specific classes. As far as we know the most generic class in the specification hierarchy describing the material universe is "matter".

Any definable entity can be placed into the context of a specification hierarchy that both defines that entity and models its development. Can God?

I don’t consider myself an atheist—at least not in the strict sense of the word. I don’t presume that God does not exist.

What I am is agnostic—which simply means I take my ‘reality’ with a grain of salt.

I think that the main reason atheists reject God is that the definitions of God that have been promulgated by theists are absurd.

Take, for example, the notion that the universe was created by a supernatural being that looks like a man. If you actually believe that then you are a few cards shy of a full deck.

Furthermore, it is obvious to anyone who is not delusional that the creation story in Genesis is not literally true.

And that is why many thoughtful people become atheists: the concept of “God”, as constructed by the canons of organized religion, is bereft of any kind of sensible meaning.

But that doesn’t logically negate the reality of God. It only negates a specific definition of God. It seems to me that in conflating a definition with the thing itself, atheists throw the baby out with the bathwater.

To be sure, rationally assessing God’s existence would require that “God” be defined. But is that possible?

I think not. For how would you go about defining the ineffable?

If God is not definable, then God is not specifically anything—which means that God is nothing. And this is what leads many rational folks to atheism. For nothing is generally equated with non-existence.

This, I think, is a mistake.

‘Nothing’, which is only meaningful in relation to something, can be interpreted in different ways. It can refer to absolute non-existence. But it can also refer to a lack of definition—the condition, in relation to something definite, of being indefinite.

It is axiomatic that nothing comes from nothing. But for every thing that exists there was a time when that thing did not exist. The existence of any specific thing entails the developmental transformation of a precursor that lacked the specific attributes that define the thing itself. Prior to their emergence, those attributes did not exist—they were ‘nothing’, mere possibilities. Since nothing comes from nothing, those possibilites were latent within something. But they were undeveloped, and hence not (yet) defined as actualities.

God is nothing objective, and nothing if not subjective. “In the beginning was the word...”

As any artist can attest, creativity comes from “out of nowhere” to make “something from nothing”. That indescribable “nothing” deserves a name.

Take your pick!

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Diagram of the names of God by Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680)
Diagram of the names of God by Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) | Source

Comments 29 comments

Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 6 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

Dogmatic evaluation is at best an opinion,as science is often a elimination of the subjective...

Joyus Crynoid profile image

Joyus Crynoid 6 years ago from Eden Author

Good point Mentalist acer. Science does try to eliminate the subjective. But it can never do so completely, because it needs an observer and a system of interpretance.

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

I find this hub very annoying Joyous...but only because I'm writing a hub called Deconstructing Love and now people might think I stole the title!!

It can get quite confusing - this difference between atheism and agnosticism . There's a tendency to read atheism as *close-minded and certain* and agnosticism as *open and reasonable*, yet I believe you can still be an atheist whilst not denying the possibility of things beyond our ken, such as, God/Gods.

I suppose it comes down to how you read the term. Our views here seem to be closely aligned, yet I call myself an atheist and you call yourself an agnostic.I don't actively believe in "God", thus the reason for my 'atheism' but at the same time wouldn't deny there are possibilities beyond my understanding. I'm just rejecting the Gods put forward thus far, for the reasons you mentioned...and want to make it clear I don't believe there's any reasonable possibility for their existence...just as there's no reasonable possibility for a giant bubble-gum stick with wings and a beard in the sky.

If a God came along that actually made sense and had some evidence to support it then of course I'd reconsider.I guess I'm an *agnostic atheist* as I don't intend to throw any babies out.

'Atheism'...'agnosticism'...there's not such a big divide between the two terms.

The term 'God' cannot be defined, as you acknowledged, yet you seem to be trying to slip one in with your description of a 'precurser situation'. God is the nothing from which something emerged...the 'indescribable nothing'. Thus you have defined what you claim cannot be defined. Eh..?? Not sure about that one.

Joyus Crynoid profile image

Joyus Crynoid 6 years ago from Eden Author

Hi Jane. It's all semantics, eh?

I agree that our views are closely aligned. I think we had this discussion before--we interpret the word 'atheist' a bit differently. To me atheism has always implied cocksure certainty (a la Richard Dawkins). I only recently became aware (from you and others here on Hubpages) that not everyone defines 'atheist' in this way...

I don't think that my description of God as 'nothing' is a definition. But I suppose that depends on your definition of definition!

My use of 'definition' is based on the specification hierarchy, which models development (see the Introduction in my hub "The Creation of Humanity, Part 1") by the relationship {Generic{Specific}} (or alternatively {Vague{Definite}} or {Implicit{Explicit}}. A concrete example would be {animal{human being}}: a human being is a defined (i.e. specific kind of) animal. Words are also hierarchically defined. So for example you might have {atheist{cocksure atheist}}...;-)

So my point is that God cannot be so defined.

But I suppose you are right, I have 'defined' God as that which cannot be defined. It reminds me of the liar's paradox ("this statement is false") that inpsired Kurt Goedel to prove that there are truths that cannot be proved!

Joyus Crynoid profile image

Joyus Crynoid 6 years ago from Eden Author

P.S. to Jane--another way of looking at it is that development transforms possibility into actuality. Whereas actuality is definite, possibility is indefinite.

lone77star profile image

lone77star 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Joyus, this was a delight to read. Thank you so much.

I too believe in the Nothing. I have experienced a few miracles--"God-like" creation. With all my training in science, electronics, logic and mathematics, these events transcended what I know of physical reality.

Logic would dictate that a cog in the machine cannot re-design the machine. A physical object cannot bend, break or circumvent the laws of physical reality. Therefore, what yielded those miracles is "something" that is "nothing"--perhaps what Rene Descartes described as "dieu en moi."

@Mentalist acer makes a good point about science. Scientific method demands a lack of bias and a use of complete objectivity. And yet science holds dear a paradigm which is steeped in bias--the "doubt" found in skepticism. Oh, well. "Restraint" and "humility" would make a much better paradigm. Sort of like the agnosticism you discussed. Perhaps the relative truths of science are not impossible to know, but there are many relative truths which remain outside of our reach, for the time being, at least.

And I remember similar illogic to your liar's paradox. On one episode of the original Star Trek, "I'm telling a lie." Got the computerized androids to melt a few circuits.

Pcunix profile image

Pcunix 6 years ago from SE MA

The word "god" implies a consciousness. it is THAT which I reject as completely impossible. Complexity HAS to come from simpler parts and therefore has to evolve - you can't have a conscious super being spring into existence. The parts that it consists of have to come first, therefore it would not be a god at all.

If this Universe was created by a conscious being, that being evolved itself and is no god.

Agnostics simply haven't thought things through :)

Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

Great post. I worship a benevolent God. If my God is not benevolent- I see no point. I worship more by trying to obey the Golden Rule as presented by every religion on Earth. If the religion does not adhere to this GR - that religion is false - temporarily or otherwise.

If the religious believe that the Garden of Eden was real and the true beginning - there were no carnivores in the Garden of Eden and therefore - meat is not the diet that God wants His people to have at all. Even after the flood Shadrack, Meshack, Abednego, and Daniel were very successful vegetarians. They believed in a good diet.

Americans and the world will eat nachos for the Super Stupid Bowl. The Soccer championships, and the Weed Eating Championships, etc. But the moralists will justify it all as well as hundreds of thousands of East Timorese killed by M16s made in America. The M16s were carried by Indonesians trained in the US by Blackwater now known as Xe Services. Go back to sleep America, Great post!

Joyus Crynoid profile image

Joyus Crynoid 6 years ago from Eden Author

lone77sar--thank you. Your statement that "a cog in the machine cannot re-design the machine" makes a good point about what I call the "Scientific Misconception of Life" (see my hub by that title). Living systems are not machines, and we will never understand life until we move beyond the machine metaphor. "Miracles" do happen. There is nothing supernatural about them however. It is just impossible for us to grasp nature in its entirety. It is simply too complex.

Pc--Good point regarding "god" implying consciousness. I reject that as well, but only to the extent that "consciousness" is defined. And you know where I stand on that--as far as I'm concerned human beings are the only animals that are conscious; and that capacity only developed recently in our history.

The thing is, you have to ask where consciousness came from. Before there was consciousness there was...what? The bicameral mind is one thing. But it is not conscious. It is a sentient precursor to consciousness.

I would venture that all animals are "sentient" (in one way or another). So we have {sentience{consciousness}}. This says that sentience is the unspecified precursor of consciousness. Then you have to ask: what is the precursor of sentience?

Well, all life is based on semiosis. Plants and unicellular life forms are not sentient, but they do make use of sign systems to survive and reproduce. So you have {semiosis{sentience{consciousness}}}...

And so on. The point is that nothing comes from nothing--and yet everything comes from something less definite.

I think this is what you are getting at when you say "Complexity HAS to come from simpler parts". My only quibble there is that I don't think "simpler" is the right word. Cells are not really any simpler than organisms--they just seem that way because they are so remote from our perception, that much of what we perceive when we study them is an average. Averaging removes complexity. The same argument can be made for atoms (e.g., atomic weights are averages).

We don't disagree--there is clealy no god that meets your definition (or any other). The only possibility for (a) god is possibility itself. And that is nothing.

As for agnostics not having thought things through: I would counter that many atheists think things through to an incorrect conclusion, simply because they start with a mistaken assumption:)

Micky--Thank you for once again putting things into proper perspective. The Golden Rule IS the ultimate standard for morality. And the beauty is you don't need some authoritative father figure to see that: it's as valid for the atheist as it is for the believer.

It does seem to me that we are asleep...and this reality we have created is fast becoming a nightmare.

Pcunix profile image

Pcunix 6 years ago from SE MA

As usual, we are quibbling rather than disagreeing.

When I say "simple", I mean fundamental particles. Any sentient or conscious being HAS to be made from "simple" parts. A monolithic mass can't be sentient.

Let's look at M-theory just as a possible starting point. If we have the vacuum state breaking apart, we can imagine that (given infinite time) a sentient being might be accidentally constructed - after all, that's how we got here. That the pressures of evolution are more likely to produce such things is obvious: tossing a deck of cards in the air MIGHT produce an ordered deck, but it is not the expected result.

But say we get a sentient super thing. So what? That thing is no god. It follows the physics of its reality just as we must. It has the same problems of entropy and the same needs for energy. No matter what your imagination conjures up, it is physical and can have none of the "omni" god traits.

So - such a thing is vanishingly unlikely and if it ever did exist, it is made from the same stuff we are and must obey the same physics. It is no god.

That's why I say there is no room for doubt. Atheism is the only intelligent choice.

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Why can't we all just get along? We don't need explanations! We are what we are. Everything in the universe exists now, has always existed, and always will. Isn't that enough? I say it's plenty!

Joyus Crynoid profile image

Joyus Crynoid 6 years ago from Eden Author

Pc--indeed, it is a quibble. A semantic argument actually. I would only add that if there be a god, it is not sentient. To be sentient you need to be an animal (at least)...

The problem, from my perspective, is that sentience, by its very nature, cannot grasp all possibilities. It is tuned to specificity, because that is the only way to survive. Indeterminacy is as real, and as important, as determinacy. So there will always be uncertainty. Therefore, there is always room for doubt. Atheism would be the only intelligent choice if reality were simple. But it's not, it's complex. And that's not the same thing as complicated. Complicated we can solve. Complexity, by nature, is ultimately unsolvable.

Austinstar--seems to me we're just having a friendly discussion here. We don't need explanations? I disagree. But I would say that explanations are not enough.

Perhaps everything in the universe has always existed; but it certainly hasn't always existed in its present form. Everything (including the universe as a whole) was 'born', and anything that exists develops for a time to an ever increasing level of specificity ('individuation'), gets old, and then dies, at which point it gets recycled.

I'm not sure what you mean by your question "isn't that enough?" I can't imagine that it is...inquiring minds do want to know! If they didn't we wouldn't have beautiful theories like evolution and relativity;-)

Pcunix profile image

Pcunix 6 years ago from SE MA

The problem I have is that when you use the word "agnostic" in such a tortured way, you give validation to theists because they assume you mean their god is possible. You understand that it is not, yet you use a word that, in common usage, means that it could be.

You also validate them by using a capital G when you are plainly speaking of not even a lower case version, but only a semantic word trick.

As I said to one theist many ages ago, if you are free to redefine words mid sentence , you can argue anything.

You don't like "atheist", but that is what you are.

Joyus Crynoid profile image

Joyus Crynoid 6 years ago from Eden Author

Perhaps you are right Pc. I'm not sure what you mean by my "tortured" use of "agnostic" however. For me the relation is:


So atheist is more definite. I don't ever want to get that definite, because such inflexibility is the fast track to senescence. And we all know where that leads!

I hope this is not merely a "semantic word trick". It IS semantic. That's the point I'm trying to make. But I am trying very hard NOT to redefine anything (and certainly not "mid-sentence"). I am trying to de-define something. That's why I used the word "deconstructing" in the title.

Semantics are key to understanding. That's why it irks me when people use the phrase "semantic argument" pejoratively, as if that makes the argument trivial. Without semantic arguments communication breaks down, and that leads to war, so I don't think arguing about semantics is trivial.

Pcunix profile image

Pcunix 6 years ago from SE MA

No, of course it is not. By "tortured", I mean simply that your use doesn't match what most think it means. In a dictionary sense, we are all agnostic on just about any subject, but the common usage is someone who thinks a god is possible.

Semantics, of course :)

Joyus Crynoid profile image

Joyus Crynoid 6 years ago from Eden Author

Fair enough Pc. The only kind of god that I think is possible is that which is inherent in all of nature, including each of us. But that is not what most people mean by "god".

Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands

A committed Christian once told me that, really, we are all agnostics, for, as much as she was sure that she knew God, and as much as some atheists completely denounce the existence of God, we are all only human, and none of us can really 'know' ~ not for absolute certain ~ even if we 'feel' that we do.

Joyus Crynoid profile image

Joyus Crynoid 6 years ago from Eden Author

Hi Trish--I would agree with that. I don't think anyone is absolultely certain of anything (although they may act like they are). However, some folks are better at living with uncertainty than others...

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

When I tell people I am agnostic, they seem to react less appalled than when I say I am an atheist. Atheist has a bad/negative connotation. Agnostic has a hopeful kind of connotation. There's a small chance an agnostic might change their mind if only the religionists could find some "proof" that god exists. They think that "maybe I can bring this one back into the fold".

That's why I don't use the word agnostic anymore when someone asks. I am an atheist and not only that, I am an aggressive atheist that would love to stop you in your tracks before you even think you could convince me with your belief system. My time left on earth is short and I no longer have time for such ignorance. I also don't have time to teach you how to think or to see or to reason.

I am as certain as I need to be about "god". I will admit that there's a chance I could be wrong about things, I'm not perfect or omniscient or all powerful. But that's as far as I'm willing to go. I see infinity and all that there is, was, and ever will be. I don't know how to teach anyone how to see.

Joyus Crynoid profile image

Joyus Crynoid 6 years ago from Eden Author

I tend to prefer words with hopeful connotations over those that have bad/negative connotations, so I'll stick with agnostic. I don't think religionists have any more hope of converting me to their cult of belief.

My point here (and I am beginning to wonder if there is even any point in making it:) is that the universe is creative. Science (as it has been constructed) does not understand that creativity. Nor does religion. I think some mystics do (although I can't say that from first-hand experience, just from what I've read). As far as I can tell creativity requires (but is not entirely explained by) complexity and random chance, and manifests the second law of thermodynamics. But it is completely unpredictable, and can never be subsumed within any largest model. From an externalist perspective it is ultimately beyond us, as is infinity.

"God" is probably not the best descriptor, because the word has so much baggage. But in its most general sense it does get at that creative aspect of reality. That's why I tried to deconstruct the term. But perhaps that's as much a fool's errand as any attempt to define "god".

I don't know how to teach anyone how to see either. But that doesn't stop me from trying--that's what teachers do. The only ones who end up seeing are those who want to...

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Yep, you can lead a human to a telescope, but you can't make him look.

Joyus Crynoid profile image

Joyus Crynoid 6 years ago from Eden Author

Indeed! And some blind humans "see" reality more clearly than many humans with two good eyes...

Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands

I say that I am agnostic, because that's what I am, but I agree that the word 'atheist' does seem to cause problems for some people.

Joyus Crynoid profile image

Joyus Crynoid 6 years ago from Eden Author

Indeed. And despite what Pc says, I still don't consider myself an atheist. If anything I tend toward pantheism--which might be the subject of another hub. Perhaps I will call it "Reconstructing God"....

Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands

I have been told that I am an atheist, because, as an agnostic, I don't actually believe.

I think, though, that 'atheist' is too strong a word for what I am.

I do not say that I believe in nothing; I say that I do not believe in certain specific things, and that I am unsure about, or do not know about, others. That is not complete rejection.

I see a difference, anyway.

Not sure about Pantheism. :)

Joyus Crynoid profile image

Joyus Crynoid 6 years ago from Eden Author

Pantheism: the belief that God is everything. For the pantheist, God and Nature are one and the same.

Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands

Oh, right, then I think that I'd be fairly happy to go along with that :)

jrsearam profile image

jrsearam 6 years ago from San Juan, PR

Aha! Perhaps I should have read your deconstruction before your reconstruction, it would have made my question there unnecessary. Great vids....JR

Joyus Crynoid profile image

Joyus Crynoid 6 years ago from Eden Author

Thanks for stopping by JR:)

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