Sunday, October 25, 2015

Another Snippet from The Swedish Fish

I just thought I'd share another short snippet of the Swedish Fish, Deflating the Scuba Diver and Working the Rabbit's Foot by opening up the book at random and sharing with you all wherever my finger so happened to land. This time it's from Chapter 18, pages 175 to 178:

In chapter eighteen, “From Personal Cause to Most Perfect Being,” we find out that the vague and nebulous hypothetical personal agent who spawned the universe is, low and behold, the one and only Perfect being as described by Christian theology!

Coincidence? I think not. Although Randal admits that a ‘personal cause’ is not a satisfactory definition for God, he explains that

I’m certainly not claiming that the statement ‘personal cause of the universe’ is a religiously satisfactory definition of God. But even if that description doesn’t say all a Christian wants to say about God, it certainly says something important. Christians believe that God is the creator of all things and thus that the question ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ has a personal answer: God.

Who, apart from religious apologists and theologians, claim that the universe must have a personal cause? Who outside of these same apologists and theologians claim that the universe must have their preferred brand of metaphysics, onto which they simply tag their idea of God, as the most plausible?[1]

Once again Sheridan asks how Randal can be so certain it’s the Christian God and not some other deity. This is a point that Sheridan has raised nearly every chapter so far, and so it seems Randal’s reluctance to answer it right off the bat has something to do with him wanting to massage away the painful criticisms of God, via apologetics, before he tackles the issue. There really is no other reason to put it off for half the book as it is a pretty straight forward question.

It seems Randal has no way out this time so he addresses the question and says that the first step in proving that the Christian God is the creator of all things is to supply more “specificity to the general concept of God.”

Yes, this pretty much goes without saying. If you want to identify the general concept of a creator deity with your concept of God, then you will have to specify your concept of God. Thus Randal quotes the medieval Christian theologian Anselm’s definition of God, and goes on to state, “God is the greatest conceivable or most perfect being. It is not possible to conceive a greater being.”

Sheridan then contends that this is rather an abstract philosophical description for the “Christian God.” To which Randal responds:

If God exists, he simply must be the most perfect being. But as long as we’re positing God, it’s legitimate to define God as the most perfect being there could be.

For some reason Sheridan goes along with it. But it’s not that clear Randal has any real reasons to assume God is the most perfect being in the first place, aside from citing Anselm. Anselm, it seems to me, was explicitly appealing to a general conception of God which everyone can agree upon. “What else does anybody mean by ‘God’ than this?” It’s only apologists who begin redefining God from a general concept to their specific theologically laden concept and then saying since everyone agrees that we all must have the same conceptualization of God. My bet would be Randal has taken Anselm’s definition of God and simply mashed it in with his.

Sheridan lets it slide though, and demands to know where one goes with the definition of God after the one Anselm provided. Randal replies:

Well, saying that provides a helpful way to eliminate those descriptions that fail to meet the demands of the definition.

Talk about having your cake and eating it, too! Randal mixes things up a bit and cites the Mormon concept of God as an example which fails the test of meeting, with precision, the traditional Christian definition of God. But how is such a test not completely arbitrary? After all, Randal merely looked around and randomly selected the definition of God he liked best, in this case Anselm’s definition, which can apply to most other religions’ gods equally, such as Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, etc. The question is: what does he do about other God-concepts that meet all the criteria for the definition but are not the Christian God?

In Africa, the Akan people of Ghana believe that the deity Nyame is the God of All Things, and their theological description of Nyame meets all the criteria of Anselm’s definition, just to cite one example.

Of course, Randal would probably do what most apologists do and shift the goal posts, select another definition (most likely also at random) that is completely incompatible with the Akan people’s definition of God and then nitpick the details until he could find enough divergence between their theology and his to dismiss it as not-Christian enough.

The rub is that this goal post shifting strategy doesn’t actually prove the Christian definition true. All it really does is make it harder for others to stress the similarities by limiting the definition of God to precisely what works in the best interest of the apologist. That’s not a demonstration, mind you, it’s a cheat.

At the same time, the Akan people could likewise hold their template up to the Christian template, find where the Christian God diverges from their theology, and then dismiss the Christian God as not Akan enough to be considered the God of All Things, in this case the god Nyame.

Most apologists try to avoid this conundrum, of being held to the same standard they invoked in the first place, by simply denying the validity of other people’s idea about god out of the gate (sort of how Randal imagines scientists do it). But this is an undeniable bias, and one I would argue apologists need to try to avoid, especially if they’re going to contend that their God is the one you, and everyone else, ought to believe in.

[1] The William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll “God and Cosmology” debate at Greer-Heard Forum, February of 2014, is one of the best debates on cosmology and theism I have seen. If you’re interested in these questions, I highly recommend watching the video, available online at:

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Advocatus Atheist

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