Wednesday, September 6, 2017
The issue Isn’t “Theists vs. Atheists” but “Theists vs. Everybody Else”
In just about every debate regarding the existence of God, the opposing sides are usually theists (those who believe in God) and atheists (those who do not believe in God). Similarly, here on Quora, theists of all stripes typically post questions directed at “atheists” (or “agnostics,” under the mistaken belief, apparently, that an atheist is somebody who claims to know that God doesn’t exist while an agnostic merely is unsure). As a result, the issue in question is usually framed in terms of “There is a God” (or, perhaps, “It is rational to believe in God”) vs. “There is no God” (or, perhaps, “It is not rational to believe in God”).
However, this presumption that the issue is always (or even primarily) between theists and atheists involve a massive amount of hubris on the part of the theists. It requires the theist to assume as an absolute given that their particular concept of God, among all the many thousands of concepts of God throughout all of human history (including the many thousands of concepts of God held by religious people of all stripes in the world today) is the only concept of God worth discussing. When a Christian asks a question about why atheists don’t believe in “God,” or when a Muslim or a Hindu sets out to prove the existence of “God,” they don’t even bother to define the properties of the God they are discussing. For that matter, when a Baptist or a Born Again Christian or a Catholic or member of any other Christian denomination sets out to prove the existence of “God,” they never ever acknowledge that their understanding of God may be unique to their particular denomination of Christianity, let alone to Christianity in general. It’s always, “I know that [my] God exists, why can’t you atheists agree with me?”
This is, of course, why many atheists respond to questions posted by theists by first asking, “Which God?” And this seems to annoy many theists, who just can't seem to grasp the idea that there are billions of other people who have a different understanding of God (or gods) and who are just as sincere in their beliefs. “Obviously,” these theists seem to be saying, “all of those beliefs are just ignorant superstitions. We’re talking about my God who, unique in all of human history, just happens to be real.” Did I mention the hubris involved in such an assumption? Devout Christians are just as convinced that their concept of God is the right one, as devout Jews are convinced that their concept of God is the right one, as devout Muslims are convinced that their concept of God is the right one, as devout Hindus are convinced that their concept of God is the right one, as devout Zoroastrians are convinced that their concept of God is the right one, etc., and within each major religion the numerous sects are all equally convinced that their concept of God is the right one and that everybody else has got it wrong.
So, yes, it would be nice if theists would specify exactly what sort of “God” they are talking about when asking questions or attempting to make arguments about “God” instead of just assuming that (a) everybody knows what their concept of God is and (b) their concept of God is the only one worth discussing. And then, rather than framing the debate as a discussion as to whether “there is a God” (the theist side) or “there isn’t a God” (the atheist side), the theists should be forced to acknowledge that what they are really arguing for is the proposition, “My personal concept of God is the correct one and every other concept of God ever held throughout the entire history of humanity, including the belief that there is no God, is wrong.” And then they should be forced to defend that proposition instead of just using the same tired “logical” arguments to “prove” the existence of some sort of nebulous “creator” that applies equally well to most of the concepts of God worshiped by various religions.