Continuing on with the ways in which New Atheists misinterpret theism, we get to the argument from other religions. This is a popular meme within the group, and I think it touches on one of their most fundamental mistakes.
So, the topic for today:
If you think “God” and “god” mean the same thing, you aren’t talking about Christianity.
Simply because the words sound alike, are spelled (nearly) alike, and we could draw a few dubious parallels, does not make them the same. The idea that it does usually takes the form of “we’re both atheists with respect to every other god…” or “but, even if that showed that God exists, which god would it be?”.
Or, it simply comes in the form of someone repeatedly failing to capitalize the term “God” in writing. I suppose this is meant to squeeze in another insult to traditional theists, but it really only shows off one’s lack of understanding. And poor grammar doesn’t make for a good argument.
All this is to say that, asked by someone who’s genuinely interested in which particular religion might be true, the question of gods can be an important matter. As a reason to be an atheist, it’s completely worthless.
The only reason it isn’t instantly recognized as worthless is because there are many who simply don’t understand that gods are completely irrelevant to the arguments monotheists actually give for belief in God. Presumably, these same people understand that different proposed scientific theories, political philosophies, and ethical systems can be different–and that we can’t simply dismiss them all because most ideas will turn out to be false, but this same knowledge doesn’t seem to extend to deities.
Of course, I’m aware that it is often demanded that “there is as much evidence” for all gods. But, I’ve been over the “no evidence” argument. If there’s any point in bringing up ancient gods at all–that is, if it is supposed to be a legitimate point, and not just an emotional/rhetorical debate trick–it is to suggest that the reasons for rejecting God would be the same as the reasons to reject Thor or Apollo.
As such, it seems that anyone making this argument simply does not understand why the same reasons don’t apply.
The God of monotheism is transcendent–the ultimate explanation of all things. The gods of ancient temple religions were proposed physical entities, seen as immediate causes of physical events (and so overturned by science in a way that monotheism simply is not); God is an explanation as to why there are any physical events in the first place. The gods are (poor) explanations of the patterns in nature; God is an explanation as to why nature has patterns at all. The gods (purportedly) exist within the universe, and depend on it for existence; but the universe exists in God, and depends on him for its existence. The gods are subject to moral judgement; God is the paradigm of the good.
And so on it goes. Anyone who can’t see why arguments for God don’t defend the gods, and that arguments against the gods don’t refute God, simply doesn’t understand the basic terms of the conversation.
Nor does it do to simply respond by claiming that these ancient deities aren’t actually scientific either–that they are invisible or otherwise beyond scientific test, as if this somehow defended the point that all deities are the same.
Many have given me exactly this response, and it is easy to answer. If one is simply going to change, step by step, what is meant by the word “Zeus” until it perfectly matches a monotheist view, then one has abandoned everything about Zeus that discredited the idea in the first place. One could, I suppose, alter the meaning of “Zeus” until it is exactly like gravitational theory, but this wouldn’t discredit gravity.
Likewise, this doesn’t discredit monotheism.
What it does instead is drill home how different monotheism actually is from the religions it displaced. The difference between magic and spirit is hard to overstate. Magic is failed science; spirit is another topic altogether.
Of course, I’ve encountered those who, hearing this, insist that I’m simply altering the definition of the monotheist God. And there are two very obvious answers to this:
First is the fact that it simply isn’t true; anyone making this retort is simply unaware of the history of theology.
Second is the fact that it doesn’t, in the end, matter. Even if this were some completely new understanding of God, all this response would be is an admission that I’ve hit upon an idea of God that, while remaining an explanation for everything I’ve said (here and elsewhere) that God explains, is immune to the objections of the New Atheists.
Of course, I can’t claim to be anywhere near that clever. I’m really just presenting the traditional view of God, and pointing out what geniuses of the past have said. But the point is that the “you’re changing definitions” retort is a tacit concession, not a rebuttal.
In the end, one can believe or disbelieve in transcendence. But, if one is going to be rational, one must avoid the sloppy, fallacious thinking that the existence of a monotheist God can be tested in the same way that Poseidon would be.