And the Lord spake unto the philosopher, "I am the Lord thy God, and I am all-powerful. There is nothing that you can say that can't be done. It's easy!"
And the philosopher spake unto the Lord, "OK, your mightiness. Turn everything that is blue red and everything that is red blue."
The Lord spake, "Let there be colour inversion!" And there was colour inversion, much to the confusion of the flag bearers of Poland and San Marino.
And the philosopher then spake unto the Lord, "You want to impress me: make a square circle."
The Lord spake, "Let there be a square circle." And there was.
But the philosopher protesteth, "That's not a square circle. It's a square."
The Lord grew angry. "If I say it's a circle, it's a circle. Watch your impertinence or else I shall smite thee very roughly indeed."
But the philosopher insisteth, "I didn't ask you to change the meaning of the word 'circle' so it just means 'square'. I wanted a genuinely square circle. Admit it - that's one thing you can't do."
The Lord thought a short while, and then decided to answer by unleashing his mighty vengeance on the philosopher's smart little arse.
Baggini, J., The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten, 2005, p. 70.
Now, as Baggini explains it,
"The problem with such things as square circles is that they are logically impossible. ... This much rationality demands. So if we are to say that God's omnipotence means he can create shapes such as square circles, then we wave goodbye to rationality. For that reason most religious believers are happy to conclude that God's omnipotence means that he can do all that is logically possible. ... If we accept this concession, however, the door opens to rational scrutiny of the concept of God and the coherence of belief in him. By accepting that belief in God must be in harmony with reason, the religious believer is obliged to take seriously claims that belief in God is irrational. ... It is not good enough to say these are simply matters of faith, if you accept the requirement for faith to be compatible with reason. The alternative route for believers is even more unpalatable: deny that reason has anything to do with it and bank solely on faith instead. What appears contrary to reason is thus dismissed as simply a divine mystery. Such a route is open to us, but to abandon reason so readily in one sphere of life while living as a reasonable person the rest of the time is arguably to live a divided life."
This is a neat bit of rhetoric, but in my own experience, the fear of living "a divided life" is not really a problem for religious believers. They have never claimed the entire universe is rational and logical so they aren't uncomfortable having some divine mystery in their lives. I've already written a lot about the evolution of religion, the arguments for religion that all fail, and my hope for a world without religion, but this passage examining the irrationality of religion seems most appropriate to bring up again when thinking about Baggini's explanation of this thought experiment:
Another way to examine the issue of atheism vs. religion is through the idea that rational thought is a societal system for decision-making. Irrational thought cheats this system. Faith, by definition, is irrational, and as soon as one irrational belief is permitted, all irrational beliefs are allowed. If irrational thought is allowed to win arguments, then the system of rational thought is no longer evolutionarily stable. But clearly, we cannot allow irrational thought to become the norm - that leads to ignorance and the destruction of the species. Irrational thought must not be allowed to win. And yet, irrational thought does win, because it isn't playing the same game. By its own declaration, irrational thought cannot rationally lose an argument. In this way, irrational thought can never be entirely defeated through reason. Perhaps the best we can do in the short term is to stop societal decisions based on irrational beliefs. In the long term, the teaching of rational thought and the benefits of rational thought must be shown to be more attractive to individuals. The tangible, emotional benefits to shedding irrational beliefs must be improved and made better known. Control over one’s emotions, membership in beneficial social groups, better job opportunities, cooperative grants, happiness with life, lasting love - these are all areas where rational thinkers can and must outcompete irrational believers.
And with that, I'll get back to living the good life in Porto as a fine example of what life without gods can look like. Please do more of the same yourself. Obrigado!