Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How Degrees of Perfection Disproves God

The Argument from Degrees of Perfection is an argument often used to try to logically "prove" the existence of God. The argument basically says "not all things in nature are equal, some are better, more perfect than others in many ways. But things can be compared only by a standard; "better" means closer to the best. More perfect means closer to absolutely perfect. Thus, if degrees of perfection are real, then perfection is real. And that is another name for God: a really perfect being."


The miracle of this argument is how it makes the invention of a human ideal a God, and then concludes that there must be a God or we could never have been clever enough to conceive of such a human ideal in the first place.

"Degrees of Perfection" are simply a measurement of human invention applied through our faulty and ever changing human perception. "Perfection" is often a subjective thing, the product of time, place, and audience. A perfect poem or painting, or piece of music, for example, is often something from one person being measured by some other person(s). Or, it can be a person measuring them-self against them-self, or against someone else. Even a "perfect dog" in a Dog Show is "perfect" according to the particular people judging that particular dog, on that particular day, at that particular show.  That dog, however, may not be "perfect" according to other dogs, or even other Dog Show judges, or to the local cats, or for that matter Martians. The perfect athlete or student or performer, is measured for their "perfection" not by people who have a special insight of God as the perfect athlete, student, or performer,  but by people (i.e, "judges") who measure them against others to whom they are comparable.

In short, this argument presents a simple idea in theory that is as impossible to measure in practice as it is infinite in what and how it can be applied. In other words, the argument raises the further problem of determining how we should define different perfections for things or persons, and how should we determine how to define perfections for groups of things or persons. Is there a God for the perfect opera singer, tree house, rugby team, flower, aardvark, automobile, navy, barbershop quartet, political party, nation, religion, etc.? And if any one of these can be "perfect" for any one person at any one moment, must there be a God for every kind of "perfection" possible? Confused yet? Yeah, me to!

Additionally, to say something is "perfect" implies the question, "perfect for what?" The former can only be measured in the context of the latter otherwise the standard becomes meaningless. This second question can, for reasons of time, place and experience, make anyone and everyone "perfect" at least in some sense. Does that therefore mean we are all Gods, at some point? This takes Andy Warhol's "15 minutes to a whole new dimension! 

Also, if God is the "perfect being," than "perfection" is as infinite as God, which, again, only makes the standard meaningless. Such a divine yard stick is infinitely long, so that everything measured against it becomes equally unequal to it. Here's how.

 Using an infinite being as the standard by which we measure all finite beings makes every finite being equally unequal. A three foot long snake, for example, is just as "unequal" to an infinitely long yard stick as a ten foot snake, or a hundred foot snake. The hundred foot snake is only "more perfect" than the ten foot snake if we have a standard that says that "200 foot snakes are the most perfect snake possible."  In other words, a finite thing needs some kind of finite standard to be measured against, or the standard results in comparing things that are incomparable. A person who lives to the age of 121, for example, cannot be said to have lived a "perfectly healthy life" if only compared to someone who is immortal.

Hence, the only way perfection can be real is if it is obtainable, and therefore applicable, in this life. The Olympics, for example, measures the perfection of competing athletes not by comparing the athletes to the athleticism of the Gods of Greece, but by comparing them to each other.  If "degrees of perfection" suggest there is a "God," then each event in the Olympics may have a Greek God who is the measure of perfection for that event, against which all the competing athletes would be measured. But how could a person's athleticism be measured against that of a Gods, when we disqualify people for things as simple as just using steroids (allegedly)? Such a comparison would be like asking who is stronger, Ricky Schroeder, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Zeus. 

This makes measuring by such a standard completely meaningless because even the most imperfect thing imaginable by us is still infinitely better than an infinite number of other imperfect things, and any perfection imaginable by us will always be infinitely less perfect than an infinite number of more perfect things possible under the standard. Thus, the degrees of perfection are not measurements of a "perfect being" called God, but of human ideas and human ideals.

To use “degrees of perfection,” in other words, is simply to measure ourselves against our ideal self, not against a God who is the embodiment of an immeasurable, infinite ideal that we could never achieve. The latter would simply make attempts at the former as silly as asking who can jump to the Sun and back. Of course God could, but how is that any measure of an Olympians attempt at being a "perfect" high jumper?

 More perfect for what?

 Before we can say something is more perfect than something else, we must determine what that thing is more perfect for, exactly. A hawk is more perfect for flying than a fish, but the fish is more perfect for swimming than a kangaroo.  To conclude that a hawk is more perfect than a kangaroo only begs the question - "more perfect for what?"

This also raises the question of, who should decide this degree of "perfection," the hawk, the kangaroo, or the fish, or perhaps the rabbit. Or should perfection of any of these be left to human beings to decide, or Martians, or even the Gods themselves? And, to make the problem exponentially worse, how can we decide what standard is the "perfect" standard for determining degrees of perfection? And what standard should we use to determine the standard we should use? And who should decide all of this? Who, in other words, is "perfect" enough to figure out exactly what we mean by "perfect,"  then develop the perfect standard for applying what we mean, and then apply that standard perfectly, every time? We can say God is, but that doesn't help us prove that the "degrees of perfection" are real because it does not help us figure out how such a standard should be calculated and applied in the first place

 Hence, when the standard of perfection is said to be God who is infinite, the standard becomes infinite, and therefore unusable. And if the standard is infinite, than it does not need God, because the standard becomes equally as useless to finite beings who can no more measure the infinite degrees of perfection possible, than they can measure a God who is supposedly infinitely perfect in every possible way. In other words, if the degrees of perfection are God, than we can no more know the meaning of the one than we can prove the existence of the other.

Once again, this argument does not prove the existence of God, as much as the existence of God necessarily disproves the validity of this argument.  

In other words, we have yet to determine if the "degrees of perfection" are as "real" as this argument requires us to believe they are. It simply proposes that they are, without proof, or even what that means, or how such "degrees" could or should be applied, and quickly moves on to pronounce (before anyone can get their pants back on) that "therefore, God is real!"

I don't know about you, but this argument leaves me feeling like I've had a run in with a used car salesman who just sold me a perfect lemon.

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