Monday, February 16, 2009

All Gods Are One

Over at teh Pharyngula, there was an interesting idea brought up by one of the site's designated punching bags, Silver Fox. It is, as follows:
"Every other God?
What you're talking about is other NAMES. There is only one God. No matter if you're talking about the Toltec god who THEY THOUGHT demanded human sacrifice or Yehweh who THEY THOUGHT demanded rams and goats. There is only one God and that's a logical imperative. You need to get away from names and focus on the essential concept."

This is more or less the perspective of the Bah'ai faith, where all other faiths worship merely an aspect, or manifestation, of the true, slightly deistic creation deity that really exists. The qualities that others attribute to it do not matter (presumably). Of course, Silver Fox is instead using this concept (that every deity ever worshiped is merely a representation of the real god) to justify the Christian conception of God, which doesn't work nearly as well as he would like, I am sure.

The gods of history, which he is suggesting are just "other names" for the actual god, have contradictory characteristics, or only function in a network of larger deities. If they are just manifestations of a single god, that god may or may not have the characteristics of the vast array of deities that we have come to believe in. And that's exactly the problem: even if we grant that every god ever described is just a description of a single deity, we consequently have no idea what the characteristics of this real deity happen to be, due to all the disparities of details. We could dismiss the relevance of qualities all together, but that leaves us with a undefined deity, without any form of known traits to be extrapolated from all of the creatures that have been imagined based on its unknown nature. It is God for a vanishing definition of "God". And, otherwise, it is kind of hard to believe that Loki, Aphrodite, and Amaterasu are just different labels for the same deity, and even harder to find a way to actually find out the true qualities of a deity that could misinterpreted as all three of them.

But, perhaps I shouldn't bring that up, because polytheism isn't logical. Yes, that was sarcasm, and this is a segue.
"There can be no other gods. Why? Because God is perfection; anything possessed by another god would diminish the first god and that god would be less than perfect. So there can be only one God. Two gods would be a logical contradiction since it would imply that something can be perfect and imperfect at the same time. Now, you can call God by many names and attribute many different powers and characteristics to Him."

First off, you have to presume that "god" means "perfection" from the outset (namely, grant one of the many descriptions applied to the Christian God, but not necessarily of others, as true) in order for this argument to even get off the ground. Second off, perfect has an awfully slippery definition. Two gods would not be a logical contradiction if they were "perfect" by definitions all definitions, save maybe definition 2 (and definitions 9, 10, and 11 since they don't make much sense in this context). They could be "perfect", in the sense of completion, and yet be essentially different creatures: different kinds of "perfect". If you consider something only to be perfect if it has all qualities, and is complete to exclusion of all other things, then you may have described the universe, rather than a deity, but I digress. It is only when you are speaking of perfect by definition of "being without fault or blemish" that problems arise, primarily due to the qualities that are deemed to be "faults". For instance, the ontological argument is famous for the assumption that non-existence is a form of fault (therefore, something perfect must exist, because if it doesn't exist, it wouldn't be perfect). Indeed, in order to have two gods that weren't essentially clones of each other, they would need to relative "faults" by some measure. That's how polytheistic narratives worked: by having gods being essentially super-powered humanoid creatures who often had petty squabbles or conflicts with each other. But, I don't see how having two or more equally perfect clone gods would trigger any problems, or how simply having two or gods who are different kinds of perfect (i.e. there are no perfect personality traits, and the divine essence, in of itself, constitutes perfection) would be a problem either.

Oh, and one last issue!

"The atheist lives the negative proposition; "I do NOT believe in God". So, he is in a position where he has to prove there is no God. Only if he can do that is there a basis for affirming the negative proposition. This is problematic for him because he cannot prove a negative proposition."

Oooooo. I dealt with this one with Esteemed Lord Master Slick of the Intertubes. But, I guess it bears repeating: it is exactly BECAUSE one cannot prove a negative proposition that the burden of proof is on the one asserting the affirmative "God exists". Because, ostensibly, this can actually be proven. Atheism is a skeptical position, and it is consistent with the default position assumed by any logical human being about any similar positive proposition presented to them. It really is that simple .

Well...sort of.

19 comments:

Jared said...

Unfortunately how much logic gets through to the thought processes of the blindly religious can be compared to the difference steering a single buffalo in a raging stamped would make. We must allow them to run themselves off the precipice, then walk down and pick up the pieces of the flat herd. This is most unfortunate, as point-by-point steering is far less... messy.

Stacy said...

Negative assertion sounds a little like ID ----- but THAT'S SCIENCE!!
(snark)

The Maze Monster said...

Ba'hai is a religion that I think was expected to combine all the major religions in the world.

What I can't get over is the fact that all religions stick to the same old, kill gays, rule over women idea.

pboyfloyd said...

I think that this fellow is playing the typical word-magic, compartmentalized thinking game.

He's just using an argument that he doesn't really believe himself for 'fun'.

He knows that God says that there are false Gods, if he's a Christian, the First Commandment and all.

He's just muddying the waters.

Asylum Seeker said...

"Unfortunately how much logic gets through to the thought processes of the blindly religious can be compared to the difference steering a single buffalo in a raging stamped would make."

Even more unfortunate are the folks who point that single controlled buffalo in an attempt to say that it isn't a raging stampede (or point to a buffalo that isn't part of said stampede, as pboy suggests is the case).


"What I can't get over is the fact that all religions stick to the same old, kill gays, rule over women idea."

Are the Eastern faiths like that? I am not sure what Buddhism and Hinduism's stance on homosexuality and women are (though I believe some forms of Buddhism don't allow women to become priests, so maybe they aren't so different after all!).

It's just all the most popular world religions that are like
that...

"He's just muddying the waters."

You know, I think I do see how that is a possibility. But I try to leave that assumption for people who are egregiously misrepresenting their religious positions (i.e. feigning deism to claim that fundamentalist Christianity is logical). I have no reason to believe that that is what he is doing here: he is just selectively ignoring things that contradict his stance on the matter, rather than saying something he doesn't believe. Of course, I am not really sure if that is a more forgiving assumption...

oneblood said...

The idea of perfection for a deity mostly Yahweh lies in abstraction and ambiguity. He has qualities (like He) but then is given some feminine qualities, and that He made man and woman in His image.

Yahweh is "powerful" "full of light" (and in a nod to Judeo/Christianity's very real henotheistic past) "above all other gods"

I'm impressed. What does it mean?

Then you get to the relational aspect of it. He is impersonal (YOUR GOD!) and personal (your god, "Hey whassup Yahweh? How you doin?"), true believers abstract and abstract until they swallow all the paradoxes this leads to.

Religion had to go to philosophy to try to explain all this. But it can't be explained (not simply because God doesn't exist), because of commonly held beliefs that contradict themselves.

Asylum Seeker said...

I'm sure that the male-female problems could be resolved by just dealing with the fact that we tend to have an arbitrary gender bias within certain languages, and use gendered labels for ungendered things ("man" formerly being an acceptable term to describe all of humanity, and also an acceptable suffix for certain careers, regardless of the gender of the professional, or how certain Romance languages assign objects a specific gender to determine what pronoun and article sets are associated with them). He is only a "He" out of tradition, convenience, language difficulties, etc.

The "above all other gods" is definitely poignant. An interesting English teacher I had brought up the fact that other gods were implied to exist, but Yahweh was simply better than they were, according to Old Testament narrative. Not sure if that is accurate, but it is an entertaining idea to say the least.

I think that religion going for philosophy is a good idea. But they go about it in an incredibly underhanded way: trying to justify the belief system they already have, regardless of contradictions, by scoring a few tangential philosophical points. If they got those philosophical points first, and then built the religious ideology from there, it would be better. There would be less clutter and it would probably be a bit harder to tack a political agenda on to it as well. Win-win, really.

Also: what happened to your blog?

oneblood said...

I went to access it and I noticed it was blank except for the sidebar. I couldn't really find a specific answer and I had wanted to stop blogging anyway until the semester was over. So instead of leaving people "hanging" for 6 months I just saved the articles and deleted the blog. I'll miss my blog title though (sniff).

Mandar Malum said...

the idea that all gods are the same god, just by a different name makes sense when you first say it, but when you give it a second thought it really doesn't work... Especially when referring to the previous Polytheistic religions, that is unless god has a case of schizophrenia(which he may, there is little we know about him...) in which case, I wonder if there are physiologist gods that help him though his multiple personalities? Perhaps!!! Maybe that's why there is only one god now... Perhaps I've just stumbled upon the ultimate secret of god!

Asylum Seeker said...

That is...an odd error. But, at least at least it helped to make it so that your blog wasn't a liability. I myself had to abandon this blog for a few months a while back. Luckily, no one knew about it back then so it didn't result in any problems.

"Especially when referring to the previous Polytheistic religions, that is unless god has a case of schizophrenia"

I'm of two minds on the matter (no very slight pun intended). One the one hand, I know that the religious personalities contradict each other by the very nature that polytheistic deities are made distinct in order for each to represent a distinct domain of human experience, so they necessarily represent very different natured beings. But, for that same reason, it could also make sense if the real god was a complete amalgamation of these beings, meshing all of the contradictory flavors into a bland, uniform, all-encompassing blend. The contradictions just cancel each other out, and what you get is the living embodiment of neutrality; representing all aspects of reality, and the human persona, and having no definable traits of its own as a result. Perfection for containing all traits within it, yet not being limited by needing to be described by those traits itself. In other words, it is Existence.

mac said...

Of course I can sum up all the gods of all time in one name.

BULLSHIT, that's the name I give 'em all !

Asylum Seeker said...

I'm sure "bullshit" is a much less offensive term in Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, Sanskrit, Latin, or whatever other form of moonspeak the collective pantheon of all-gods decided to reveal themselves in.

GearHedEd said...

I'm with mac:

why are we trying to find some sort of "inclusiveness accomodation"?

Harvey said...

Moreover, even if one chooses to accept that there may exist a "perfect" deity (?creator?)one still has the problem of why he/she/it either pays any notice or attention to us (perhaps like a drop of sweat that fell off his/her/its nose during the act of creation), let alone makes any demands upon our behavior (such as worship or observance of alledged "rules").

Asylum Seeker said...

"why are we trying to find some sort of "inclusiveness accomodation"?"

It makes argumentum ad populum easier, by "including" diverse perspectives under your own tent (for the sole purposes of scoring points in a debate, of course).

And, Harvey is speaking the truth. I think I've mentioned it elsewhere that these vague conceptions of "God" that we can attain through disingenuous philosophical arguments bring us to an idea so incredibly sparse of detail that you might as well not even call it a "god" if you want to be halfway honest about it. There is no reason why the deity that serves as inspiration for every man-conceived deity we have ever known should be anything more than a glorified version of "the collective unconscious". No agenda, no persona, no demands, and its special abilities....hard to say. Sadly, it is pretty clear that he meant to suggest that his own man-conceived deity was the genuine article, and all others were merely mistaken. The idea sounds so superficially appealing, but is just dogmatic at its core. Pity.

Harvey said...

"why are we trying to find some sort of "inclusiveness accomodation"?"

"It makes argumentum ad populum easier, by "including" diverse perspectives under your own tent (for the sole purposes of scoring points in a debate, of course)."

Even more to the point, believers need to convince as many other people as possible that they "have it right". Born agains and literalist Christinas, in particular, find support in numbers, but only among others in their immediate church or group. Less fundamentalist Christians (perhaps in a sincere effort to "spread the good news"???) will try to convince as many non-believers as possible that "just maybe" it might be worth talking to them or at least considering their arguments (I call this getting the camel's nose into the tent). In this regard they will often seem to try to make their "tent" as inclusive as possible. Hence, arguments like this one, suggesting that all "gods" may simply be manifestations (albeit incorrect or at least incomplete) of their "real one."

sunnyskeptic said...

I found out last night that Rainn Wilson is a Bah'ai nut. :( I was sooooooo sad. I know I shouldn't think less of people when they show their supernatural colors, but I really can't help it.

I also can't believe people are so stupid, and that they all still claim that everyone is getting 'god' wrong except them. I mean, wow, what a stupid thing to say! How can they not see that?

Stacy said...

That's the real question isn't it Sunny ... I think it's called being 'brainwashed'.

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