Thursday, July 26, 2007

The progress to monotheism that is absent.

Having graduated from a Christian high school, and having spent a few years in seminary, I’ve known a lot of Christians in my time. The reality is that very, very few of them have ever consciously considered the idea of whether or not a deity exists.

They accumulated a belief in a deity the way we accumulate many beliefs. Many such beliefs are true. For instance, most of us accept the theory of gravity and the idea that the earth revolves around the sun. Yet, very few of us could present a rational argument as to why these things are true.

How did we absorb such ideas? They were transmitted to us by various aspects of our culture. We may have heard references on the television set. Our parents may well have told us such things and assured us that it was true. The idea was presented to us, in films, books, and in the schools. Certainly in the last couple of centuries no other competing theory has really been given much play.

Luckily for us these beliefs that we accepted unconsciously are correct. They jive with the evidence.

A small number of theists, a very small number in my experience, claim to have rationally concluded that a deity exists. Of these most of them only draw the conclusion first and then “discover” the evidence after the fact. In other words, the evidence didn’t convince them. They were convinced first and then sought out arguments to justify their prior commitment to a specific conclusion.

Now, I’ve never heard an original argument for the existence of a god that actually seemed to have some merit. So, I never gave the matter much thought beyond that point. That is, I never thought about what would happen after they had “proven” their thesis.

But the other night, as I was falling asleep, I was contemplating a problem that a theist would have if he actually managed to prove the case he was setting out to prove. If there is evidence that a deity exists what is there in this evidence that leads him to instantly conclude the existence of just one such deity.

If one honestly believes they have proven, to their own satisfaction at least, that there is a supernatural being we call a god, then why must this god be a solitary creature? If his existence could happen once why not twice?

For example, I don’t believe that aliens from outer space have been visiting the earth. I find that thesis highly unlikely. Almost, though not quite, as unlikely as the existence of a deity. As an imprecise illustration I would suggest the likelihood of space aliens on earth as being several hundred million to one.

However, if I were to look out my window and see a space ship hovering a dozen floors above the ground I might revise my estimates. Then if one of those funny green men materialized on my balcony I would now assume that the chances of there being a second one to be somewhere around one to one.

The possibility of there being a second one is far greater than the possibility of there being the first one. The existence of one almost makes the existence of another certain. It could be the last of a dying species but the odds are now that a second one is floating around somewhere.

If a theist proves that a god exists then the possibility of there being a second or third god goes up dramatically. Yet, those who claim they were logically convinced of the existence of the first deity almost never entertain that idea. Their own “proofs” ought to be sufficient to prove that there are indeed two, three, four or more deities.

Certainly there is no need for a hierarchy of deities with bigger and smaller gods vying for space. The idea of coequal deities is no more absurd than the idea of any deity at all. They could be of one mind, in perfect harmony. Separate but equal. Much the way Christians claim concerning father, son and holy spook.

As I said, I suspect most, if not all, believers starts out with the conclusion and search for the evidence afterwards. They find what they need to justify the conclusion they have already drawn.

Consider the process of argumentation through which they would go. First, they would have to convince them self that a deity exists. But the immediate result of those proofs would be that the possibility of a second deity existing increases to almost certainty. Ditto for a third, fourth, etc.

They can then conclude that there could only be one such deity. But logically one wouldn’t draw a conclusion as to the number of a species prior to proving the species exists. Before you can start debating the nature of the entity, including how many there are, you have to prove the entity exists. But once you prove one exists the likelihood of there being more is almost certain. At this point you would need good evidence to then restrict the number of the beings to only the one.

I would think that the believer who claims to have been rationally convinced would first draw the conclusion that a deity exists. From that the most reasonable second, and virtually instantaneous, conclusion is that many such deities exist. Then one might contemplate this newly discovered entity and reduce it down to just one.

But I’ve never heard of a single monotheist who says he first concluded a deity exists, immediately saw that this meant that multiple gods were floating around and only then concluded there was just the one. The logical progression would be atheist, polytheist, and only then, monotheist.

I don’t know of a single believer who ever went through the polytheistic stage. They all seem to have jumped right to the end. It is not logic that would warrant that immediate assumption. Once one is convince a deity exists that doesn’t immediately tell you the numbers of that deity. To go straight to monotheism is evidence that the belief was not derived rationally. It indicates that the individual started out with a conclusion and only later invented a justification for that which he already believed. The progression of their own beliefs indicates the beliefs were not actually derived through reason.

PS: I hate the title of this essay. But it is 4 am and I can't think of a better one for now. If you have a suggestion I'll appreciate it if you leave it in the comments.


Blogger IConrad said...

It occurs to me that this is a revision of the historical progression from animism, through pantheonism (polytheism), to monotheism, and as evidenced otherwise on to pantheism or atheism.

The idea of cultural constants or societally ubiquitous memes is also spot on, here; that we accept many beliefs because everyone around us does despite not knowing enough to prove them ourselves.

To answer your question more directly; "logically" speaking, the only sound answer to the number of deities are: 0, 1, ∞ (infinity). No other number is rational.

However, the choice between one and zero has a great deal to do with the fundamental argument from which your theism is based. If your argument is Teleological in nature, then by definition -- as we have only the one reality -- there can't be more than one "Creator" for said reality.

July 26, 2007

Blogger GodlessZone said...

Iconrad: I don't see why you conclude there can be only one creator based on teleological arguments. For instance the watchmaker argument doesn't mean only one watchmaker designed the piece. Genesis says: "Let US make man in OUR image." And didn't some of the first teleological arguments actually defnd a polytheistic view of the world?

July 27, 2007

Blogger IConrad said...

Once again, I reversed the cosmological and the teleological.

The cosmological argument is the "First Mover" argument; the effect without cause. This does not mesh well with polytheistic arguments as such.

But then, as we all know -- I'm just playing devil's advocate; the whole thing is rather silly.

July 27, 2007

Blogger IConrad said...

Re: "Let US" ... Individual members of royalty spoke in the third person plural. And then you have the name of God in Genesis: "Elohim"; the "one who is many."

By that standard, though, the Hindu faith is monotheistic; all things spring from Brahman.

July 27, 2007

Blogger GodlessZone said...

The cosmological argument, as I see it, is in the same boat. It really doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion of one deity. It merely states that the world, or the universe, must have a source for its creation. The source could just as well be a trinity, a monodeity, a group of deities, etc. What I’m not getting is why you think a cosmological argument doesn’t mesh with polytheism.

July 27, 2007

Blogger IConrad said...

In two words: infinite regression.

In a more loquacious style, however: It reduces to a single source. Take for example the monotheistic interpretation of the "Holy Trinity". A Prime Mover can only be a sole operating agent. It's the "causality connection". Even if, as with the Brahmin, that single entity diversifies post-de-facto, at the moment of inception there's only room for the one.

July 27, 2007

Blogger GodlessZone said...

It seems to me you are restating yourself without giving a real explanation as to why there can only be a singular entity who is the alleged “creative” source of existence. Infinite regression is a different issue as I see it. Certainly the Mormons I’ve debated would argue a cosmological proof for the existence of a god but they are also polytheists. They simply argue that the creator is the god of this world not the god of every world. And that they, through the church, will become gods of other worlds. I do see them having a problem of infinite regression.

But that problem exists for the singular deity as well. So I don’t see that as unique to polytheism or monotheism.

July 27, 2007

Blogger IConrad said...

Like I said -- it's all based on a false premise anyhow.

But again; in terms of this universe, even the Mormons are mechanically monotheistic. It's the "God-As-Creator"; since there can only be one "Prime Mover" per universe, there can only be one "creator god" per universe. This is, in fact, part of the reason why I am an atheist; the multiverse of M-theory abrogates both the teleological and the cosmological.

July 27, 2007

Blogger David said...

I heard a phrase that was used to describe what it's like trying to explain the excessive amounts of racism in Australian culture to an Australian, but I think it's pretty apt for this section,

"It's like trying to explain water to a fish"

"Designer" is just a word. I've never seen an objective argument that separates humans from animals on a level beyond what biology can explain. Free will itself could be explained by minute variations in environment and genetic disposition. The very concept of the word is flawed, like the concepts of god and free will, It's representative of a process we cannot fully explain.

July 27, 2007

Blogger Indioheathen said...

A few of you confuse monism with monotheism. Of the world's major religions, Taoism best describes a monistic ultimate source of all that exists as opposed to a monotheistic deity:

"There is a being, wonderful, perfect;
It existed before heaven and earth.
How quiet it is!
How spiritual it is!
It stands alone and it does not change.
It moves around and around, but does not on this account suffer.
All life comes from it.
It wraps everything with its love as in a garment,
and yet it claims no honor, it does not demand to be Lord.
I do not know its name, and so I call it Tao,
and I rejoice in its power ("te")."

Hinduism's concept of Brahman is also monistic as opposed to monotheistic. Hinduism is also polytheistic, in that it believes in demi-gods.

Most Indigenous American religions are a combination of monism, polytheism, pantheism, and animism, rather than just one of the above. "Monist" because what most Indigenous Americans refer to as "the creator" is really conceived as a creative force, similar to that described by Taoism above. "Polytheistic" because many Indigenous American religions believe in demi-gods associated with the elements of nature, and "pantheistic" because it is belived that those demi-gods express themselves through certain elements of nature, such as sun, rain, earth, and "corn", which represents all plant life. "Animist" because many Indigenous Americans believe in plant and animal spirits.

Indigenous American religions are not evangelistic and do not practice "blind faith", in that no one is expected to believe in anything metaphysical until they have perceived and experienced it directly themselves.

July 28, 2007

Blogger Ethereal said...

Then why believe in a deity at all if you do not have evidence?

To me, when I talk to those that believe in a deity and I ask them to offer evidence to prove that their deity exists, they cannot offer it or they say it's in the bible.

Anothe question if I may, To those that believe in a deity. When you think of god, what image do you get?

It is an fundamential question and so far, no person that belives in a diety cannot answer.


July 29, 2007

Blogger Indioheathen said...

From an indigenous perspective, the existence of deities cannot be demonstrated or proven scientifically. They can only be known through a direct perception that is called "silent knowledge". And again, no one is expected to believe in anything like that until they experience it themselves.

Jews, Christians,and Muslims in particiular tend not to have visions of what their god looks like. Michaelangelo portrayed the god of the Bible in his paintings as an old white man with long white hair and a long white beard. Others who claim to have visions of "God" usually describe the deity as an all-encompassing light.

As for those who claim to perceive images of other deities, they can appear in many different forms to different people, particularly in relation to each individual's religious upbringing and culture.

July 29, 2007

Blogger Richard said...

Title suggestion:

"If there's one god, why not more?"

July 31, 2007

Blogger Timothy said...

Let me start out by saying that I am just a college student. I don't have a degree yet, let alone a PhD.
However, I believe that I can still make a good argument for my case.
I believe in monotheism, Christianity. I do admit that that is the way I was raised - home, school, and church. Yet, as I have grown older, I have indeed questioned my beliefs greatly. So much so that an authority figure once told me that my intellect was getting in the way of faith.
Naturally, I wasn't going to let that deter me. I thought about the possibility of other beliefs being true, like polytheism.
Right now, I am taking a philosophy course at my college. Since I began it, I have studied it out even more. Basically, I think that monotheism is the only logical explanation for a God. And here is why.
What is God? Through logic and reasoning, we have determined that God would be a Greatest Conceivable Being (GCB). God would have to have certain characteristics, right? He would have to be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.
Now atheist have attacked those three points in different ways. But for now, let us assume that God (GCB) does exist. If there were more than one god, what would distinguish them?
There would have to be differences in the "gods" in order to distinctly understand each of them.
However, if there were, then that would mean there would no longer be a GCB. After all, you can only have one GCB. If there is more than one, than one would have/lack what another has, thus making it impossible for a GCB to exist. If it doesn't exist, then there could be no God because God HAS to be the GCB. It is commonsense.
Therefore, there can only be ONE GOD.

February 11, 2008

Blogger GodlessZone said...

Through what logic and whose reasoning have we determined that God must be the Greatest Conceivable Being? Actually that concept itself is pretty meaningless and based on what I see as the worst of Plato. Those arguments have been well debunked by various thinkers. And the problems of these various attributes, that supposedly make this invention perfect, have been discussed here already.

I also have problems with the idea that we should assume there is a god in order to debate the nature of god. But let’s run with the argument that there can only be one god because “there would have to be differences in the ‘gods’ in order to distinctly understand each them.” This, you say, proves monotheism because for there to be different gods each would have to have something different from the others to distinguish it. Therefore you can only have one perfect being. (I dispute the concept of the perfect being and say your premise is flawed.)

But let us take your Christianity then and your arguments. Jesus was god but so was Jehovah and so was the Spirit. Yet each had differences from the other. Jesus was in the flesh, Jehovah is supposedly a spirit (though in some parts of the Bible he is described as having body parts -- go figure). Jesus was clearly different from the “Father”. But for both to be God then both must be perfect. Is the one with the human body perfect or the one with the human body perfect? Which of the two is perfect? Whichever you pick would mean the other is not god. Welcome to the contradictions of theology.

February 12, 2008


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