Is it possible that we try to "rationalize" God too much?

I know there is a flaw in this question somewhere, but I’ll try to ask it to the best of my ability.

A Pastor (Presbyterian) told me once that his belief was that we try to “rationalize” God from our human point of view. He believed that it is impossible with our human understanding to understand why God does the things that he does.
(who, to define him, is the all knowing, all powerful creator of the universe who is present in this world to some extent)

I would have to agree to some extent. For example, I have asked several questions here and have read many of the others that were already posted, and I see posts like, “Well if God exists, why wouldn’t he show himself to us?”, etc. and I think that could be what this Pastor was referring to when he said we try to rationalize God too much.

So as for the question: is this an excuse that some Christians are making to try to defend God, or would you say that there could actually be some validity to the statement?

Posted: May 25th 2009

brian thomson www

To me, it’s quite simple: if I’m faced with a question, I first check whether it’s a serious question or not. If it’s not, I don’t feel I have to rationalize it much. An example might be: what shall I have for lunch? I feel like a cheese sandwich. Do I have to subject that feeling to scrutiny, and rationalize my choice? No: I’m having a cheese sandwich.

Religion, on the other had, is a serious question. Not because I say so, but because the answer you decide on has consequences. When you adopt a religion, you are not just making a gesture, a superficial act: you are deciding on the people you will associate with, and the positions you will adopt on all kinds of issues, public and private. It will affect your finances, your lifestyle, your schedule, and the way you think: you will accept propositions for which there is no evidence, and that is (in my opinion) a fundamental alteration in a person’s approach to life, the universe, and everything.

If you have a religion already, it probably seems “normal” to you, and not in need of serious rationalization. You’re “swimming in religion”, as I like to say – it’s your environment, like water to a fish. From the outside, however, what religious people say and do looks anything but “normal”. When I’ve had such choices presented to me in the past, you had better believe that I rationalized them to death and back again. Religion is such a serious, life-altering proposition, to someone who doesn’t already have one, that when it comes to rationalization, too much is never enough!

Posted: June 20th 2009

See all questions answered by brian thomson

George Ricker www

What the pastor is really saying is that it is a mistake to attempt to understand what is meant by the word “God.”

Since reason is how we apprehend and understand the real world, it’s entirely understandable that those who want to promote the irrational would seek to place it off limits to rational analysis.

However, once the concept “God” has been placed on the mountaintop of faith and all rational appoaches have been destroyed, then the concept itself becomes useless. In such circumstances “God” can mean anything, since rational description is off limits.

If the god-idea is not amenable to rational study, then the god-idea has nothing useful to say to us about either the universe or our place in it. A deity that is “the ineffable essence at the core of an otherwise inexpressible reality” may be called the creator of all that exists or an egg salad sandwich.

Posted: May 27th 2009

See all questions answered by George Ricker


I would have to say, “no”.

Christianity (and other faiths as well, though I know much less about them) has the saying, “who are you to know the mind of god?”

Basically, it’s a cop-out.

We know that god loves us. We know that he sent his son to save us. We know that he can see into our hearts. We know that he answers prayers.

These things are not open to discussion.

But when something happens that does not fit into the concept of what god is, it is automatically beyond the scope of human understanding.

It’s an intellectually dishonest position. Though I do find the “rationalize” terminology interesting, since that term normally refers either to making something more rational (thereby labelling the opposite behavior “irrational”), or to coming up with a justification for immoral or illogical behavior.

Posted: May 26th 2009

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

flagellant www

I wonder if I can point out the absurdity of the pastor’s position and how, knowingly or not, he is trying to hoodwink you. I hope you will then see the unsoundness of his arguments.

He puts it to you that God is essentially unknowable both as regards his real nature, and his motives. The way you express it sounds as though the pastor wants you to suspend your disbelief, and just 'believe’. First of all, isn’t that convenient? There’s this entity – God – who’s not susceptible to human logical rules, who is hidden from us, and lives by a totally different set of rules. Yet the pastor’s job is to represent this entity and tell you all about him. I would bet my bottom dollar that he doesn’t give sermons that say 'We can’t know God: I’m not going to tell you any more because I don’t know anything about this essentially unknowable entity. Anything further would be speculation. Let’s all go home.’ What price his job, then, eh?

Nor does he say 'God is love; he/she/it knows our every thought, and is open to prayer and supplication. He/she/it watches over and cares for everyone and, when you die, you’ll join him in heaven. All this is speculation, of course; I don’t really know that’s true because God isn’t susceptible to rationalization.’

Isn’t it amazing – and convenient – that he can say that it is wrong to apply reason to the matter of God, yet preach about his nature? Isn’t the real mystery that people should believe a whole series of things about God – his existence, for a start – and say that we should treat him/her/it as a thing apart, to which normal rules of enquiry and logic simply don’t apply?

The more one looks at it, objectively, applying the normal evidential rules for belief, the more threadbare the pastor’s position becomes. If I were to tell you that there’s a teacup and saucer, orbiting the sun directly opposite the Earth, so that you couldn’t see it, you’d demand proof wouldn’t you? Alternatively, I suppose, you might suggest I see a shrink.

There are many reasons for believing, none of them sound. These reasons include hoping that it’s true, accepting the word of someone whose job depends on your gullibility, or simply 'feeling’ that there has to be a God.

Well, atheists are a bit more cynical: if the religiosi tell us anything about this 'unknowable God’ – anything at all – like the pastor, they’re hoist with their own petard. The alternative is that God is extraordinarily well-known because he/she/it is a human construct.

Posted: May 26th 2009

See all questions answered by flagellant

SmartLX www

It could be valid, but it’s still an excuse either way.

The Christian God, if He exists, is an extraordinary being. It is indeed possible, though not certain given His existence, that human beings are incapable of understanding any given aspect of Him, including His motives.

To positively claim that this is the case, however, is an arbitrary human declaration without evidential support. We don’t even know whether God’s there, let alone what He’s like or whether He’s comprehensible.

The important thing about this idea is that it’s a major admission when a believer uses it. It means the believer him/herself doesn’t pretend to understand God’s logic either. God’s supposed actions don’t make sense to the believer any more than they do to you.

The question to ask then is, what other reasons does the believer have for believing? Because making sense of the universe apparently isn’t one.

Posted: May 25th 2009

See all questions answered by SmartLX

Paula Kirby www

Have you ever noticed that the only people who try to cast doubt on the value of reason as a means of understanding the world are those who are trying to get you to believe something utterly incompatible with it?

Mechanics don’t ask you not to rationalise how a car or a plane works – they can show you how it works, and they can explain it in ways that are entirely compatible with our reason. The same with medical scientists: they don’t ask you not to rationalise how antibiotics work – they can demonstrate why and how they work, in ways which, again, are entirely compatible with our reason. You are not asked not to rationalise how your computer works: you may not choose to go into the details and simply to take it on trust, but nevertheless the details are there, and explicable, and entirely rational. Your house does not fall down, your furniture does not float in mid-air, planes fly, you are accessing the internet right now, your fridge is keeping your food chilled, the Earth orbits the sun in a regular way – and all that and everything else we know or ever have known is compatible with our reason.

Indeed, it is BECAUSE it is compatible with our reason that we can be confident that these things are true.

Even those who are prepared to suspend their reason when it comes to the question of God would not dream of doing so in any other area of their lives. So why treat the question of God any differently? Why suspend your reason, when it serves you so well in every other aspect of your life?

And if you DO suspend your reason when dealing with questions about God, on what basis can you possibly assess the validity of what you are being told? The pastor is telling you to switch off your critical faculties, not ask too many questions, not rule something out just because it doesn’t make sense. Could it be because what he is asking you to believe is simply incompatible with sense and reason and rationality? And if it is – why should you believe it? On what basis can even he possibly be confident that it is true?

Posted: May 25th 2009

See all questions answered by Paula Kirby

bitbutter www

If the world around us doesn’t match with our understanding of the ways the biblical character God is described, then either God doesn’t exist, the characteristics claimed for God don’t reflect his nature, or we’d better stop using those terms to describe him because we don’t know what they mean.

If we assume that the Christian ideas about God’s powers are correct, then in every case of infant abuse, God has the power to intervene and prevent that baby from being abused. Yet in our world, babies do get abused, no supernatural agency prevents that abuse.

If an omnipotent god’s failure to prevent babies from being tortured is consistent with him being a loving god, then we don’t know what the term 'loving god’ means, and to save confusion, we should stop using it.

The pastor you mentioned should be reminded that the moment we attribute any qualities to God, we are guilty of trying to squeeze 'him’ into the inadequate box of 'fallen’, unworthy, finite mortal understanding.

There’s an excellent section in Atheism, the case against God that talks about this subject at greater length.

Posted: May 25th 2009

See all questions answered by bitbutter


Is your atheism a problem in your religious family or school?
Talk about it at the atheist nexus forum