Atheists Disproving the Wrong God
by Tom Gilson
There is a particular brand of objection to Christian theism that I like to call disproving the wrong God. It’s refuting a God that no one believes in anyway. I wrote about this a long time ago under the heading, “The Wrong God Fallacy,” also known as the “straw god” error. It’s amazing how easy it is to disprove the existence of the wrong God.
I’ve just encountered one of the more sophisticated versions of this in Stuart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro’s outstanding 2008 book Naturalism. They quote the philosopher Jan Narveson saying:
Creation stories abound in human societies, as we know. Accounts describe the creation to various mythical beings, chief gods among a sizable polytheistic committee, giant tortoises, super-mom hens, and, one is tempted to say, God-knows-what. The Judeo-Christian account does no better, and perhaps does a bit worse, in proposing a “six-day” process of creation.
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It is plainly no surprise that details about just *how* all this was supposed to have happened are totally lacking when they are not, as I say, silly or simply poetic. For the fundamental idea is that some infinitely powerful mind simply willed it to be thus, and as they say, Lo!, it was so! If we aren’t ready to accept that as an explanatory description – as we should not be, since it plainly doesn’t *explain* anything, as distinct from merely asserting that it was in fact done – then where do we go from there? On all accounts, we at this point meet up with mystery. “How are we supposed to know the ways of the infinite and almighty God?” it is asked – as if that put-down made a decent substitute for an answer. But of course it doesn’t. If we are serious about “natural theology,” then we ought to be ready to supply content in our explication of theological hypotheses just as we do when we explicate the scientific hypotheses. Such explications carry the brunt of explanation. Why does water boil when heated? The scientific story supplies an analysis of matter in its liquid state, the effects of atmospheric pressure and heat, and so on until we see, in impressive detail, just how the thing works. An explanation’s right to be called “scientific” is, indeed, in considerable part earned precisely by its ability to provide such detail.
This amounts to an impressively effective refutation of a material, mechanical God: a God no one believes in.
I haven’t studied Narveson; I haven’t even read him beyond this quote. I’m bringing you this quote as representative of something I’ve seen in atheists including Steven Schafersman (see also here) and the (alas!) now-vanished commenters on this post. Because it’s representative I think it’s worth discussing…