“Some Of Us Just Go One God Further”

Reblogged from Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher here.

“Some of Us Just Go One God Further”

I’ve seen this quotation attributed to Richard Dawkins. From what I have read of him, it seems like something he would say. The idea, I take it, is that all gods are on a par, and so, given that everyone is an atheist with respect to some gods, one may as well make a clean sweep and be an atheist with respect to all gods. You don’t believe in Zeus or in a celestial teapot. Then why do you believe in the God of Isaac, Abraham, and Jacob?

What Dawkins and the gang seem to be assuming is that the following questions are either senseless or not to be taken seriously: ‘Is the Judeo-Christian god the true God?’ ‘Is any particular god the true God’ ‘Is any particular conception of deity adequate to the divine reality?’ The idea, then, is that all candidates for deity are in the same logical boat. Nothing could be divine. Since all theistic religions are false, there is no live question as to which such religion is true. It is not as if there is a divine reality and that some religions are more adequate to it than others. One could not say, for example, that Judaism is somewhat adequate to the divine reality, Christianity more adequate, and Buddhism not at all adequate. There just is no divine reality. There is nothing of a spiritual nature beyond the human horizon. There is no Mind beyond finite mind. Man is the measure.

That is the atheist’s deepest conviction. It seems so obvious to him that he cannot begin to genuinely doubt it, nor can he understand how anyone could genuinely believe the opposite. But why assume that there is nothing beyond the human horizon? The issue dividing theists and atheists can perhaps be put in terms of Jamesian ‘live options’:

EITHER: Some form of theism (hitherto undeveloped perhaps or only partially developed) is not only logically and epistemically possible, but also an ‘existential’ possibility, a live option;

OR: No form of theism is an existential possibility, a live option.

Theist-atheist dialog is made difficult by a certain asymmetry: whereas a sophisticated living faith involves a certain amount of purifying doubt, together with a groping beyond images and pat conceptualizations toward a transcendent reality, one misses any corresponding doubt or tentativeness on the part of sophisticated atheists. Dawkins and Co. seem so cocksure of their position. For them, theism is not a live option or existential possibility. This is obvious from their mocking comparisons of God to a celestial teapot, flying spaghetti monster, and the like.

For sophisticated theists, however, atheism is a live option. The existence of this asymmetry makes one wonder whether any productive dialog with atheists is possible.

5 comments on ““Some Of Us Just Go One God Further”

  1. Jay E. says:

    Truly, the stone-hard certainty of most atheists (and even some theists) is most off-putting.


  2. robalspaugh says:

    I generally tackle this with an affirmative defense: I do believe in (or am sympathetically agnostic about) the existence of Greek gods, Norse gods, Egyptian gods, Canaanite gods, etc. I am not sure if they exist and I hope that they do. In no way do they challenge monotheism, at least in the sense I take it.

    I do have to rule out the existence of competing “metaphysically ultimate” gods, but only in the sense that I rule out incorrect descriptions of my wife or my mother. The claim that two such beings exist is gibberish, and after that it’s just a matter of how true the competing claims about God are.

    Between those two thoughts, I can’t think of a meaningful way in which I am “atheist” about other gods.


    • Eve Keneinan says:

      This is well put. I have no doubt that there are spiritual powers, principalities, and intelligences of various sorts. We really know very little about such entities, whether they are the gods of the ancients or not, but what we do know is that whatever mode of being they have, they are contingent beings; they are not the absolute source and ground of Being.

      And you are quite right that “more than one absolute source and ground of Being” is nonsense.

      Assuming there are gods, they are largely irrelevant to theism as I use the term.

      It is a very unfortunate effect that the form of the words “polytheism” and “monotheism” occlude this fundamental distinction. As I have pointed out before, the mythology of the Norse gods includes the tale of Ragnarök, the event that results in the death of all the gods. Presumably, at some point late in the course of Ragnarök, there will be “one last god living.” Assuming there are any Norse-god worshipers alive, they would not suddenly become monotheists, for the simple reason that at this point only one god remains alive. Nor does the fact that Hindus worship or venerate thousands or even tens of thousands of gods detract in the slightest from the Vedic understanding that, prior to all gods, and utterly beyond them, is Brahman.

      Liked by 1 person

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