No, God Isn’t Just Another ‘Possible God’ to Dismiss With All the Rest

By David Marshall Published on November 18, 2017

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:

DoYouBelieveIn

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.

But the real problems with this argument run far deeper than ignorance; deeper than linguistic confusion or flexibility about details.

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”?

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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.

The confusion here is absolute, and it is deliberate.

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.

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  • I’ve come to realize that this assertion that there are a zillion religions, and how could we know which one is true if there are so many, is sophomoric at best. In fact, there are only three, count ’em three, options for what explains reality.

    One is pantheism, that God is everything and everything is God. The Eastern religions and animism of African religions, more or less. So reality for the pantheist is spiritual, but not personal. In fact, ultimate salvation in these religions is when the personal is completely obliterated into the cosmic oneness, or some such thing. This is implausible because we inhabit a reality filled with persons who recoil from the idea of their annihilation. Pantheism has zero explanatory power because it cannot describe why there are persons, nor how reality got here in the first place.

    The second option is atheism, which assumes (one cannot prove) that the material is all that exists of reality. There is no spiritual reality, and we are expected to believe that everything came from nothing for no reason at all. That anyone finds such a notion the least bit plausible tells you the depth of the sin and rebellion in fallen human nature. Atheism has absolutely zero explanatory power, even less in my opinion than pantheism, and that’s hard to do.

    The only other option is theism, that an omnipotent God created everything that exists. Of the great theistic religions, the only options are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and only Christianity with its doctrine of the Trinity can account for persons. Christianity has massive explanatory power, which cannot obviously be argued for in a blog post, but this quote from ex-atheist C.S. Lewis says it best why I find the evidence for Christianity so persuasive

    “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.”

    • Jonathan Vlietstra

      Dumbest argument ever.
      Obviously option 2 atheism is the best explanation as all we ever observe and experience is solely material and never supernatural.
      A universe of magic and angels and demons running around doing stuff all the time is the thing that is not plausible at all.

      • Jonathan, Thank you for your kind comments. Certainly what we observe and experience can be absolutely trusted to be the sole source of all true knowledge. Damn! I wish I has thought of that. Cheers!

      • Bryan

        “A universe of magic and angels and demons running around doing stuff all the time is the thing that is not plausible at all.”
        Actually given the fact that humans have consistently created gods to replace God gives me reason to believe that not only does God exist but that he works in the natural world. There may not be a Narnia, a Middle Earth, Hogwarts, or the Seven Realms, but the fact that we’ve created these places where magic is present, to me suggests, that somewhere in our past there was something to this and that it is plausible. It is actually only recently that man has assumed that everything in the universe has to be rational at all times. I believe in a reasonable universe and that reason can explain most things (even if we’re not sufficiently advanced to figure it out yet). But my belief in the reasonable and rational universe doesn’t mean that there is no room for the supernatural. In fact, it kind of demands a supernatural.

      • Peter Smartt

        Jonathan, atheism postulates supernatural miracles all the time – for instance (just a few examples):
        – Nothing exploded and became everything – for no reason
        – Random molecules can “self-assemble” to become “factories” capable of replicating themselves (among other things), against all the laws of physics and chemistry and the limits of complexity established by chaos theory
        – Little copying mistakes can be selected to produce something more advanced, in the same way that white noise or static in an analogue radio or TV broadcast could result in some meaningful alternative program content.
        – A collection of atoms and molecules can (without any outside interference) reach a level of complexity that gives them spooky, soulish properties – where they can be aware of their own existence, experience emotions, know what is right and wrong, be in relationships with others – end even yearn for a relationship with their creator.
        Atheism needs these miracles to have any coherence or explanatory power of the things we do observe. But I’m too skeptical to buy into any of this.

  • Zmirak

    Wonderful piece! I just went and got your book on Kindle.

  • JasonTorpy

    I don’t think any of your objections hold if you want to look exclusively at western gods. Infinite/eternal/all-powerful gods of Southern Baptists and Catholics and Unitarians and Mormons and Muslims and Jews… If you’re atheist about any one of them, then you should understand why atheists are atheist about all of them.

  • Jeremy Bullard

    It cannot be overstated that Christianity offers something that the vast majority of other religions cannot offer — falsifiability. It intentionally sets itself up for the possibility to be proven wrong, if in fact it is wrong.

    For just one example… the historicity of the resurrection is not dependent upon the witness of one person (as would be Islam’s dependency on Muhammed, or Mormonism’s dependency on Joseph Smith). If you debunked Mary Magdalene’s claim to Christ’s resurrection, you’d still have Peter’s, and Thomas’, and John’s, and a host of others. Further, if you debunked the claims of the core group of disciples, you’d still have the testimony of the thousands of people who lived at the time the Gospel was written (defensibly demonstrated to be within the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses). Had the Gospel been false — or even if the oral tradition of the Gospel had been false (should you disagree with the timing of its writing) — those living at the time would have called the testimony into question.

    Rule Number One of telling a lie — make it as unassailable as possible. Make it to where nobody can prove you wrong. Writing the Gospel so inherently falsifiable is the very LAST thing you want to do if you wanna just make up a religion. So to say that the Gospel writers could just write a falsehood uncontested, and then themselves DIE for that lie, is absolutely unreasonable.

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