Aiming at the Wrong Target

cosGodI’ve never actually been given evidence that materialism is correct. But I like to think that, if I were, my reaction wouldn’t be to complain that the person offering the evidence didn’t simultaneously disprove every non-theistic life philosophy that I could name.

This may be, however, the most common response I get when offering support for my own position. Certainly, it is the New Atheists’ modus operandi. There seems to be a certain type that, upon hearing an argument for God’s existence, can’t resist naming off every god that comes to mind and proclaiming that there is “just as much” evidence for them.

I have to admit that I can’t understand this except in terms of rhetoric and slogan-style debating. The number of times that Quetzalcoatl’s name is mentioned (as if this were a serious point) stands as evidence that there are many out there who have no idea that the First Cause argument does absolutely nothing to support his existence.

Likewise, there isn’t the slightest thing that moral arguments for God’s existence does to support Zeus, Osiris, or Moloch. Nor have I seen anything about the fine-tuning argument which lends any credibility to the existence of Isis, Marduk, or Thor.

What’s going on here? To ask the question is to answer it. Those who delight in throwing out names of nearly forgotten deities as if that were somehow an argument against monotheism are almost always more interested in scoring rhetorical points than in getting at truth. There is a world of difference between the finite beings which were said to inhabit the physical cosmos by ancient temple religions and the transcendental, metaphysical God of modern book religion.

Really, only a near complete ignorance of what monotheism actually is, coupled with a hostility to learning, could lead one to think that asking about Poseidon has any bearing whatsoever on the debate between Christianity and materialists (except, I suppose, to explain the reasons why it isn’t relevant).

God, that is the God believed in by monotheists, simply isn’t an old man with a long beard flying around in space somewhere. If this seems tediously obvious to you, you may not realize that there is a large and growing body of evidence that many, many non-theists on the internet don’t realize this fact.

This is the reason why physical evidence is, at best, only marginally relevant. Christians have proposed a metaphysical concept outside the physical realm. One can consider that concept, debate it, believe or not believe it. But to respond by demanding that no one has ever seen God in a telescope is simply to misunderstand the most fundamental terms of the discussion.

And references to these other gods is no different than this, because they are exactly the sort of entity we should be able to spot with a telescope.

I am aware, of course, that there is a large and growing belief in materialism–of people who believe that there couldn’t possibly be anything that can’t be spotted with a telescope (or some other tool of science). Edward Feser has aptly titled this mentality “the last superstition”. It is as unsupported, both scientifically and philosophically, as Hades, Sep, or even Santa Claus.

Yet, somehow, this idea is proclaimed to be right on the grounds that, if we completely throw out all real understanding of what we are looking for, we haven’t found God. At the end of all the slogans and one-liners, it remains to be seen even the slightest reason why we should embrace the materialism that has so enchanted modern culture.

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3 responses to “Aiming at the Wrong Target

  • c emerson

    Your post is interesting as usual. However, how would you respond to materialists who specifically point to Mormonism, Scientology, and the Baha’i Faith, as relatively recent examples of religions which, like also purport to be true, but which are in obvious conflict with Christianity. And by ‘point to’ I mean as evidence that no religion can successfully demonstrate its truth, therefore materialism is overwhelmingly the more probable reality. Cheers.

    • Debilis

      Greetings (and apologies for the length)!

      I’m not sure that this is a valid point for an atheist to make. I agree that if, hypothetically, it can be demonstrated that some sort of God exists, it would be perfectly reasonable to point out that there is a great deal more work to be done in determining which God is the extant one.

      So the one who says “I agree, materialism is false, but I’m rather attracted to Baha’i. Do you have anything to say about that?” is being perfectly reasonable. What would not be reasonable would be to say “That is a good argument that materialism is false. But, since you haven’t shown that Baha’i is also false, I’ll remain a materialist.”

      (And, of course, the materialist who says “that is not a good argument, and this is why” without mentioning other religions is being reasonable.)

      But, if it is simply meant that no religion (including Christianity, of course) has been established. I have three thoughts:

      1. This is not a logical issue, but I feel it would cut back on confusion to say instead “Christianity has not been demonstrated”. The mention of religions which aren’t being argued for doesn’t help the materialist’s case.

      2. More to the point, establishing that no particular religion has been demonstrated as true isn’t an argument in support of materialism. It doesn’t show it to be more likely than theism in general, nor is it a valid response to arguments against materialism.

      3. I disagree with the statement itself, but I suppose that is expected.

      So, I honestly don’t see how any mention of not-argued-for religions defends materialism. It would need to be supported on other grounds.

      Okay, that’s quite long enough.
      Best to you out there!

  • c emerson

    add “Christianity,” after “like” – typo

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