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.