Sunday, March 03, 2013

Thousands of gods

Over the past ten thousand years there have been tens of thousands of religions and thousands of gods. Which one is the right one? To believers in each one they all appear unique. To an anthropologist from Mars they all look the same... . This clever book gives you the intellectual firepower you need when engaging believers, pointing out, for example, that they are religious skeptics, too—of all those other faiths. Some of us go one faith further in our skepticism. You will, too, after reading this testament to the power of reason.

–Michael Shermer

This is Shermer’s blurb for the “new” book by John Loftus. It’s also a good illustration of how infidels are self-deceived by their intellectual pride.

From his own perspective, the “power of reason” is simply the brain of an ape. A 3-lb lump of meat that evolved by trial-and-error.

Moreover, it’s demonstrably false that believers generally think their religion or their god is unique. To begin with, religions are traditionally polytheistic, so there’s nothing unique about being a god in a polytheistic faith. You have plenty of competition in a crowded field for that distinction.

Moreover, traditional religions are often syncretistic. Hinduism is syncretistic. Roman religion is syncretistic. Their gods are not unique. You can substitute one nations gods for another in the pantheon. Roman gods for Greek gods, or vice versa. Interchangeable gods. A war god. A sex goddess. Ishtar. Aphrodite. Venus. Mars. Ares.

Furthermore, atheists typically propound an evolutionary theory of religion, according to which religion was originally animistic. The gods were simply personifications of natural forces, like sun gods, fire gods, and storm gods. Well, aren’t all sun gods, fire gods, and storm gods cut from the same cloth?

Finally, atheists also distinguish between anthropomorphic conceptions of God, like Zeus or Thor–and philosophical conceptions of God, like Thomism or perfect being theology. So they wouldn’t all look the same to a Martian anthropologist.


  1. It's an odd argument; since you don't believe in lots of gods you should believe in none. Or, since you don't believe in everything you should believe in nothing.

    1. Yes, I've always wondered why you can't just substitute "philosophical preference" for "god" and get a situation where you should abandon atheism (another philosophical preference) because, clearly, we've got questions of philosophy wrong so many times before, what chance do we have that we've got them right now?

      The whole line of "reasoning" just assumes atheism is true and that atheists have a superior vantage point--that they are not like everyone else. But isn't that the very issue at hand? Arrogance at its finest.

  2. Michael Shermer said:

    "To believers in each one they all appear unique."

    Many of the Israelites tried to worship the golden calf as a god who brought them "out of Egypt" (e.g. Exod 32). Some of their descendants tried to incorporate other ANE gods like Baal into worship of the one true God. Apparently they didn't think the Lord God had to be exclusively worshiped. Indeed, the Bible is full of passages warning against idolatry, comparing idolatry to adultery, describing God as a jealous God, and so forth. G.K. Beale's We Become What We Worship has more examples. In fact, if anything, judging by the Bible itself, it seems it takes more rather than less effort only to believe in the God of the Bible. It seems easier to mix and match, combine, consolidate, or otherwise keep various gods undiffereniated from the God of the Bible than to stay true to the God of the Bible alone.

    "To an anthropologist from Mars they all look the same."

    Christianity is historically rooted in a way in which several other major religions are not. Take away Gautama Buddha and Buddhism can still stand more or less unchanged since it's the Buddha's ideas which are important not the Buddha himself. Likewise Allah could've picked a prophet other than Muhammad. Perhaps Abdul or Farooq or Achmed would've served Allah's purposes just as well. However, take away Jesus Christ's existence (let alone crucifixion and resurrection) and what's left of Christianity? At a minimum, one would think an anthropologist could distinguish between essential historical and ahistorical differences in religions.