God is "Unknowable," "Incomprehensible," or "Mysterious"
From George H. Smith's "Atheism: The Case Against God"
Smith first cites Leslie D. Weatherhead in order to express the theistic argument:
'How can man, an insect on a wayside planet, which is itself of no size or importance, amid a million galaxies that baffle the imagination, put the tiny tape of words around the doings of this august and unimaginable Being who created all that is in the heavens and the heaven of heavens?'
My commentary: This is the topic at hand. When theists claim that God is unknowable, incomprehensible, or mysterious, what implications for their theistic position does this have? [ie "God works in mysterious ways."] Is it damaging, helpful, or indifferent for them to use this argument?
Smith refutes the argument:
"The belief that god is basically unknowable is the most important epistemological element of theistic belief. It is shared by all theists to some extent, who disagree only with regard to what degree, if any, god's nature can be known.
We must remember that theism maintains not just that god's nature is unkown to man at the present time, but that god's nature is unknowable in principle. Man will never understand god, which is expressed by such terms as ineffable, inexpressible, transcendent and unfathomable.
The most extreme version of this belief is religious agnosticism, which holds that the nature of god is completely unknowable...
First, we must ask: If god cannot be known, how can god be known to exist? Quoting Nathaniel Branden, "To claim that a thing is unknowable, one must first know that it exists--but assert the existence of the unknowable is to claim knowledge of the unknowable, in which case it cannot be unknowable."
Second, if god cannot be comprehended, then none of his attributes can be known--including the attribute of incomprehensibility. To state that something is by nature unknowable is to pronounce knowledge of its nature, in which case we are agian involved in a contradiction.
When one claims that something is unknowable, CAN ONE PRODUCE KNOWLEDGE IN SUPPORT OF THIS CLAIM? If one cannot, one's assertion is arbitrary and utterly without merit. If one can, one has accomplished the impossible: one has knowledge of the unknowable...
To claim that god is incomprehensible is to say that one's concept of god is unintelligible, which is to confess that one does not know what one is talking about. The theist who is called upon to explain the content of his belief--and who then introduces the "unknowable" as a supposed characteristic of the concept itself--is saying, in effect: "I will explain the concept of god by pointing out that it cannot be explained."
Atheists have long contended that the concept of god is unintelligible, this being a major reason why it cannot be accepted by any rational man. The theist who openly admits this cannot expect to be taken seriously. The idea of the unknowable is an insult to the intellect, and it renders theism WHOLLY IMPLAUSIBLE."
END QUOTE OF SMITH
There is a spectrum of "unknowability" that will be claimed for different positions. Suppose we have a theologian on one end of the spectrum who claims that God can be intelligibly and rationally deduced, and on the other side of the spectrum, we have a true agnostic who claims that the question of God is completely unknowable.
Most theists lie somewhere in between the idea that God can be completely known or totally unknowable.
And we MUST differentiate and get away from layman's terminology. There is a STRICT DICHOTOMY between what is EMPIRICALLY knowable through sense experience and what is RATIONALLY knowable through logic and mental thought. I think all of us will agree, theists, atheists, and agnostics, that there is really no empirical proof for God's existence. Even the argument from design is a reason-based "a priori" argument in disguise. Some will claim that personal experience is empirical proof, but it's not testable or demonstratable to others, so it is really not empirical, just anecdotal.
So what we must focus on here is our ability to determine God's existence solely on the basis of reason. For instance, some theologians claim that the cosmological argument of requiring a "first cause"proves God's existence.
The same theist that advocates the cosmological argument will then pull a 180 degree flip on you later and tell you "god is mysterious" when you pose a tough question that requires a rational response that need not be based on empirical proof.
My favorite is theodicy. If god is all-good, how can natural disasters occur and kill people? Some theists will claim it's the fall of man from paradise (which is a bullshit answer), but others will tell you, "oh, God works in mysterious ways". Especially in cases like little kids being run over by buses. This is a deal-breaker for me.
I can remember a day about 6 years ago when I was running for exercise and I saw a little girl with a bandana on her head -- and I could tell she had cancer because she had no eyebrows. Killed me inside. That was one in a long line of occurrences that forced me to examine my faith. At that point, I had been going back to Catholic services after a long hiatus. I think I even sat down with a priest to discuss some of my issues with the church.
This "God works in mysterious ways" business is a crock. If one is able to use reason to deduce certain aspects of God, we need a very clear means by which to explicate why some attributes are knowable and some are not.
In this way, the traditional, average theist (who is a moderate on the spectrum of knowability on God's properties) cannot explain an intelligible version of God.
If one is not able to enter a debate with a case to debate, then what's the point? It's ambiguous gibberish.
So my position is not so much that ALL theists have poor arguments on this topic or that all theists suppose that God is unknowable. I am saying that theists who use this argument about incomprehensibility INCONSISTENTLY in the realm of a priori deductive reason really damages his case.
Any time someone uses the terms mentioned in the subject, you should raise your ears and inform them that they are doing their position a great deal of harm.
Either we can know the properties of God or we can't. It is not permissible for us to say he has certain properties and then say the justification for such assertions is "beyond human comprehension." The reasons for saying God has certain properties has some origin -- and if it's an idea cooked up by a bus driver hopped up on LSD, then we scarcely have any need to give creedence to a person espousing such a version of God.
Every argument has an origin. Figure out what it is and uproot it. Nothing about a theistic concept of God is unknowable, except the delusionally created version of God accepted by some theists.
REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM.