Tag Archives: one more god

The Hooked on Phonics Approach to Deities

fullContinuing 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.

But Would a Buddhist Agree With You?

out_of_left_fieldAn argument in favor of Islam or Hinduism is not an argument for atheism.

I make a point of this because so many people I’ve encountered seem to think otherwise. Specifically, arguments showing the frailties of materialism are often met with statements to the effect of “But that doesn’t prove that your religion is the right one.”.

Well, no. It doesn’t.

But that’s a separate conversation. It seems completely odd to me that many seem to think this is a point in favor of atheism. I know of no logical series of steps,  for instance, that will take me from “I don’t know whether Christianity or Islam is more likely.” to “I suppose I should just accept materialism, then.”.

So, unless the materialist in question is giving up on supporting his position, and admitting that we should move on to discussing which religion is the true one, this objection doesn’t make any sense.

Rather, it seems to be one more case of the completely unfounded belief that materialism is some sort of “default” position, to be embraced so long as there is reason to doubt any particular religion. Even if there is more reason to doubt materialism.

But this is no more reasonable than my demanding that, until the materialist can disprove platonism, Christianity is true. Arguments for God (like many other things) frequently begin from the general and get more specific as they advance. One can’t reject the more general arguments simply on the ground that they aren’t getting to the conclusion of Christianity fast enough for one’s personal tastes.

Or, at least, one can’t rationally do this.

This, along with the fact that the “there is no evidence” argument is without any logical force, means that the two most common objections given to theists’ arguments are completely invalid. This sets a pretty low bar for the theist who wishes to show that her position is better supported. Thoughtful atheists do what they can to distance themselves from these arguments.

But this, if one follows the argument far enough, means offering good reasons why materialism is true. And, so far, I’ve been completely unable to find such reasons.

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.