No, God Isn’t Just Another ‘Possible God’ to Dismiss With All the Rest
One of the most popular arguments against Christianity these days is what John Loftus christened the “Outsider Test for Faith.” I (and reviewers so far) think I not only refuted that argument in How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test, but showed that comparing Christianity with other religious traditions tends to confirm the Christian message.
But this “Outsider Test” is a monster that does not die. It merely changes shape, like Proteus. Here’s another form it shifts into from time to time:
And here’s the kicker: “When you understand why you dismiss all other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
Who is Stephan F. Roberts? He doesn’t appear to be a scholar of any sort. The most I can find is a somewhat self-deprecating comment about how this quote has gone viral. But that was only because he posted it at the beginning of the Internet Age and it seemed to strike a chord. But Roberts is certainly not a scholar of world religions.
Pardon, Your Ignorance is Showing
As someone who is, I find a few confusions in this meme. For instance, it includes both the Chinese Queen Mother of the West and a character named after her in some of Orson Scott Card’s Sci-Fi novels. It names both Ares and Mars, which the Greeks and Romans were so broad-minded as to consider the same god. It even names both Kuan Yin and Guanyin, though the first is the Wade-Giles romanization for the second, in the modern Chinese pinyin writing system.
In addition, Allah is just the Arabic word for “God.” Names in different languages for the same thing do not designate different objects. For instance, the fact that theEnglish look up in the sky and say “moon!” while Chinese say “yueliang” and Japanese say “tsuki” does not mean that Planet Earth has three (or ten thousand) moons. It means that people speaking different languages use different words for the same experienced reality.
Nor does the fact that Mohammed said false things about God mean “Allah” is a separate being. The sentence, “The moon is not made of green cheese” is not rendered incoherent just because some people may mistakenly think it is. Differing ideas about the nature of the moon don’t mean we’re talking about separate moons. Allah is the Arabic word, also used by Arab Christians, for the Creator.
But the real problems with this argument run far deeper than ignorance; deeper than linguistic confusion or flexibility about details. The simple fact is that most intelligent people find belief in God far more credible than belief in, say, Bacchus, Pan, or Huitzilopochtli . I’ll detail just one of those problems.
“God” is not “god.”
Many people are confused by the fact that the two words, “God” and “god,” are spelled the same. This is a much greater error than confusing, say, “I work for Apple Computer,” with “I ate an apple.”
“God” refers to the eternal, self-existence, all-knowing, everywhere-existing, non-contingent, perfectly good and loving, origin of all things.
There can be, by definition, only one such being, though He may be three in one, as Christians believe.
Arguments That Don’t Pan Out
Few of the arguments given to defend the existence of God would apply to his alleged competitors. For instance, one skeptic claimed that the existence of Pan might be supported as well as that of God by the Argument From Beauty. But that argument, as given by the Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne (pardon if I borrow from Wikipedia this time), goes as follows:
God has reason to make a basically beautiful world, although also reason to leave some of the beauty or ugliness of the world within the power of creatures to determine. … If the world is beautiful, that fact would be evidence for God’s existence. … Poets and painters and ordinary men down the centuries have long admired the beauty of the orderly procession of the heavenly bodies, the scattering of the galaxies through the heavens (in some ways random, in some ways orderly), and the rocks, sea, and wind interacting on earth.
Would this argument work just as well if you substituted the name “Pan” in place of “God”?
Of course not! First, Pan is not eternal. He is the son of some other god, perhaps Zeus or Hermes. They themselves were considered beings whose existence depended on some other being before them. Second and third, he is local, not universal, and he knows some things but not all. He is the god of the meadows, and took his habitation apparently in Arcadia.
So how could Pan be responsible for all the beauty in the universe?
If You’re Talking About God, You’re Talking About God
But suppose he were so responsible, and did have such powers after all. Then, as Augustine pointed out (in reference to Jupiter), then we’d be talking about God after all, though under another name. We would be arguing about words, not realities.
A god is not God. A god is a kind of ancient super-hero, more like a movie star. Indeed, modern Marvel movies get that just right: Thor can little more be confused with God in the Marvel (or ancient Norse) universe, than Tony Stark with his suit, flying around the sky battling bad guys and breaking hearts and expensive equipment.
Confusion, Deep and Deliberate
The confusion here is deep, and it is deliberate. There is but one point behind conflating “God” with this entirely different concept of “gods” or “divas” as we could also call them. It’s to muddle the head of the “skeptic” so that he misses the obvious. And everyone knows that. Which is why no one believes in Pan anymore, but most people find God vastly more credible.
The skeptic sees this too, which is exactly why he mocks God by comparing him to a goat. But neither God nor wise men will have reason so mocked.