Friday, 27 May 2011

The God of Personal Necessity

Words of Delusion
This is probably the second most popular religious fallacy and, like the God of the Gaps fallacy is accepted by very many otherwise intelligent people. Like the God of the Gaps fallacy it too is so ludicrous when spelled out that it's astonishing that it's even attempted, yet it crops up time and again in discussion with believers of all creeds.

It takes several forms but essentially the argument is always, there must be a god otherwise the consequences would be [something undesirable, unpleasant or otherwise unacceptable].

Some examples are:
  • There must be a god otherwise there would be no morality;
  • There must be a god otherwise there would be no purpose to my life;
  • There must be a god otherwise I would have nowhere to go when I die;
  • There must be a god otherwise I would not be so special that the universe was created for me;
  • There must be a god otherwise the explanation for everything would be too hard for me to understand;
  • There must be a god otherwise I would be just another animal and I’m too important for that;
  • There must be a god otherwise my invisible friend would not be real;
  • There must be a god otherwise I would just be talking to myself when I pray;
  • There must be a god otherwise my belief in it would be wrong. (This is often referred to as ‘faith’ – I believe it, therefore it must be true.)

There is always the unspoken subtext that this god is the locally popular god, or at the very least, the god I was told to believe in when I was a child. There is never any question that it might be a different one, even one no one has heard of.

And nor is there ever any consideration that things may indeed not be as the believer would like them to be. The idea that the universe may not be compliant and cosy is never considered

There is, of course, absolutely nothing at all in this argument unless it can be shown that somehow, personal necessity creates gods; that somehow gods are obliged to exist if and when believers require them to and these gods have exactly the right characteristics required by personal necessity.

The surprising thing is that this delusion often persists into adulthood and so allows believers to be duped by charlatans who earn a living partly by reassuring them that their god is indeed everything they need it to be. It’s probably the nice warm glow of self-affirmation which makes this such a persistent and attractive fallacy for both religious exploiters and their victims alike.

It's also one of the hardest fallacies to explain to a believer because so much of their persona is invested in this delusion. That their god fills their personal requirements so perfectly and completely is often the reason they subscribe to the 'faith' in the first place. To consider for one moment that their god might not conform to their requirements is to attack their entire reason to be deluded in the first place.

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  1. What is that great saying,"Man created god in his image." Funny that Gawd's personality is exactly like a humans. Often times, when talking to believers that have what I call a childlike faith, they 'reason', "OF course there is a God...isn't there(?). no explanations, no reasoning and to us, it makes no sense at all. Awesome buddy.


  2. Kriss

    True. The argument that there must be a god because 'everyone' believe in it, is absurdly parochial and ignores the fact that, world wide, no god is believe in by a majority of people. If the truth of any god's existence could be determined by a popularity poll, none would exist.

  3. I enjoyed this piece, It is refreshing to find like-minded people. I've subscribed, look forward to future posts.

  4. Awesome post, I love it.

    The thing I like most about it (other than it's the God's own truth heh) is that you manage to fit a good idea and an explanation for that idea into relatively few words. Your writing style is as awesome as your ideas.

  5. Hi Rosa,
    Long time, no talk. Hope all is well with you.

    Would you say then that morality (e.g. don't kill people, don't take what isn't yours, etc) is merely an agreed upon way of living that helps society thrive?

    Have a great day!

    1. Since I'm one of those people who think most behavior and nearly all personality is a genetically controlled trait (with some environmental modification, as with all genotypes), I think morality evolved as one of the strategies for survival of humans. Think of altruistic behavior of many species (cetaceans always come to mind for me), and it makes for a social ape like humans.

      I think a belief in a god (whichever one you want) evolved (not in a biological sense) in a society basically because explanations were required for the inexplicable. And certain individuals gained power by being the explainer. Fast forward 2-5 thousand years, and the inexplicable has been mostly explained. Religion isn't necessary.

      Anyways, Rosa says everything better.

  6. ah now this is where Abtheism comes in..... I believe that IF there is a dominant creator god of the universe it is utterly alien and un-knowable to any sane human mind and almost certainly not interested in being a friend to a species that has barely just crawled out of the primordial slime. It certainly would not conform to any human concept of morality, or even reality and is as likely to be actively hostile to psychic or physical intrusion upon it's being as it is to simply ignore transient life..... now there is a god I can teach my kids about

  7. "It takes several forms but essentially the argument is always, there must be a god otherwise the consequences would be [something undesirable, unpleasant or otherwise unacceptable]. " Yeah your completely missing the point of these arguments for example: The existence of God and morality. This isn't about personal taste or undesirable consequences. that would be arguing from consequences. i.e. if that were true it would mean something bad so we shouldn't accept that as true.

    This "fallacy" completely misrepresents the argument. It's not about how the consequences of this are unacceptable. Rather the point is about commonly accepted truths. For example, no one believes it's ok to torture children for fun. I don't have to argue this I don't have to make a case for it. You accept it as a truth about life. Much like you accept the truth that the physical world is real, or that there is an intelligent person behind these words. It is a brute fact of life that objective morality exists. Evil exists. Otherwise why complain about "good God's" and "evil actions" if evil does not exist than no action is evil, even murdering 6 million Jews.
    You don't have to make a case that there is such a thing as right and wrong. We may debate about WHAT that right or wrong IS but that it exists? We really don't debate that. We accept it as a "given" truth, some things are right some things are wrong.

    When theist argue that if God doesn't exist than objective morality doesn't exist either the point is NOT that it's an icky feeling or that they trying to take advantage of peoples personal taboo's. Christians would argue this EVEN if you disagreed with the assertion that there is no Good or evil. Christians believe good and evil exist and that it is readily accessible to all. That's the point. We all recognize that good and evil exist and the point is, as Nietzsche points out, if there is no God, than good and evil do not exist. But, from common experience, we know that good and evil DO exist, Therefore God must exist. The argument does NOT rest on you feeling icky or it being an uncomfortable or unlikable consequence. The point is that we all know intuitively that good and evil exist, across cultures across time. If good and evil exist as a brute fact of life, than, in the same way, God must exist. There is no fallacy here. The argument is not based on emotions, although I understand the perception, but it's not. It's a logical point about ethics and morality. IF A causes B and we KNOW B exists, than A must exist. To refute this you need to refute Nietzsche's work in Beyond Good and Evil. Ie why is nietzsche wrong that without God all we are left with is the will to power.?

    1. >The point is that we all know intuitively that good and evil exist, across cultures across time. If good and evil exist as a brute fact of life, than, in the same way, God must exist. There is no fallacy here.<

      Except the fallacy of the non-sequitur.

      One could, with equal validity, argue that if good and evil exist them the moon must be made of green cheese.

      But of course the argument doesn't even establish that good and evil exist. Harmful and beneficial actions exist and the desire to carry out harmful and/or beneficial actions exist in the minds of people and probably other species but there is nothing in that to suggest that 'good' and 'evil' exist as some sort of entities or that these thoughts and actions have any causal relationship with them.

      The concepts are merely reifications of human thoughts; the modelling of our own psychology and propensity to model the world and to reify complex concepts to make them easier to understand.

      The final fallacy of course is to assign causality to an imaginary god even if you could establish that 'good' and 'evil' are real entities that have an existence outside the human mind. Until you have proven that god's exist there is no reason to assign causality to them, hence your argument that gods must exist because you can arbitrarily assign causality to them is mere post hoc rationalisation and a justification for believing something with no evidence in the first place.

      In fact, the argument boils down to two fallacies: the god of the gaps fallacy where you merely fill a gap in understanding with an arbitrary god (works for any god, or any other daft notion - try it) and the false dichotomy fallacy whereby the 'choice' is arbitrarily and falsely restricted to two choices - a natural explanation or the god you are promoting - and whose existence remains unproven.

      But the point the blog was making was that theists often argue the god of personal necessity fallacy in effect, not that such an argument has any validity. In fact, quite the opposite.


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