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Discussion 1 to A Miscellany 117
Two Definitions

by: Will Petillo

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A Miscellany 117, distinguishing “God” from “a supreme being”, makes an interesting point and my first instinct after reading it was to consult my dictionary:

God = 1. The supreme or ultimate reality as:

(a) The Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe.

(b) The incorporeal divine Principle ruling over all as eternal spirit: infinite Mind.

As I had initially suspected, God is a rather fuzzy term that has been used in a variety of ways.  It appears to be synonymous with “Supreme Being” and does not necessarily require reverence — taking definition (b), one does not have to worship an entity just because it is infinite.  But since the dominant religions of today worship God, there is definitely a connotation of God as something to be revered, as in definition (a).

I cannot access the thought process John Tyrrell went through when writing the Articles of Faith, but my guess is that the use of “Supreme Being” was twofold.  First, it gets around the connotations surrounding “God” of today’s dominant monotheistic religions and speaks more generally about any form of Supreme Being, thus including belief sets that involve a Supreme Being of some sort but don’t call it “God”.  Such creeds may not have a term for “Supreme Being” either, but at least that term has fewer connotations attached and is more self-explanatory.  Second, it avoids making any claims about a belief set that defines God in such a way that provably does or does not exist (e.g. God = the laws of nature, whatever they are; God = a monkey that is just like any other except that it can throw lightning bolts, lives on a cloud, and is explicitly believed in by everyone).  The occasional use of “God” in the explanations, I am guessing, was because that word has fewer letters than “Supreme Being” and the meaning has already been made relatively clear.

Also, Articles of Faith could not be used to prove that God does not exist, nor do they seem to disprove the existence of the sort of God that one ought to worship, they state why Apathetic Agnostics do not choose to believe in God or any other form of Supreme Being.

The first article is simply an observation of that most religious people seem to think of their alleged Supreme Being in mystical terms.  Mystical means it cannot be explained; if it cannot be explained, it cannot be tested; and if it cannot be tested, then its existence is unknowable.  Anyone who claims to have faith agrees with this article whether they realize it or not (people who don’t realize it are generally just mixed up on their linguistics).  If society had taken a different course in its beliefs and the concept of a Supreme Being was not described in mystical, supernatural terms, then this article would not be valid.

The second article implies that everything in the universe can be explained through natural causes.  This is by far the most profound and controversial statement in the articles — possibly on the entire site — and the interpretation of it is the crux of where I disagree with Keith.  Whereas he seems to accept it as definitely true when he states: “If there is a superior or supreme being, it has not acted in a fashion toward us that we should revere it as our god.  Therefore, we can confidently and knowingly say that there is no god,” I consider its acceptance to be a personal statement of conviction (faith has connotations that I want to avoid).  Rationally speaking, the second article of faith is entirely valid[1], but one of the traits commonly attributed to a Supreme Being is that it transcends reason and is therefore immune to rational argument.  To attempt a rational discussion about the validity of this statement is to completely miss the point—but this has not stopped people from debating about it endlessly.

As for the third article, though it seems to logically follow from the second article (which, as discussed above, is entirely rational but might not be true), it is ultimately a statement of personal preference.  If a person takes comfort in the idea of the Christian God or any other form of Supreme Being (and doesn’t hurt anyone about it), good for them! 

As for your personal brand of atheism, Keith, I would call you an agnostic who completely rejects dominant monotheistic religion but is willing to accept a Supreme Being that does not require reverence — so long as no one calls it God.


  1. This statement deserves to be justified, but I will not do so here because that would require a much longer article and is rather tangential to the argument I am making here.